This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2011 Travels February 7

MONDAY FEBRUARY 7     DARWIN

I had a great night’s sleep. The bed was king size and it was so wonderful to be able to spread out. It had already started me thinking about changing our bed at home to a king sized one. The room temperature was conducive to sleeping and when I’d wandered out onto the balcony, before bed, to have a look, the night seemed almost cool.

John got dressed and went down to the Sunset Restaurant for breakfast. I could lounge around in nightclothes for a while as I’d ordered two slices of bread to toast, from the room service menu. There was a toaster provided in the room. But my two bread slices cost $8.50. John’s breakfast – all he could eat, from a great variety – wasn’t much more  expensive than mine.

I texted son and mentioned the breakfast experience. From his prior experience of working in hotel management, he texted back, in capitals: NEVER, EVER, EAT BREAKFAST IN HOTELS.

The Tour Tub bus, for which we had all day get on/get off vouchers from Great Southern Rail, phoned to say they’d altered their schedule to a standard guided tour. I said we didn’t want that – the man seemed miffed. But there was a world of difference between making up one’s own schedule of sights to see, and for how long, and being herded into a tour that someone else dictates.

In view of this, I phoned Thrifty to see if we could get our hire car a day early; no problems doing so. Not the busy season in Darwin so not that much demand, I guessed.

It was already obvious that a number of tourist attractions were not open during this part of the Wet. Fortunately, we’d already spent plenty of time in Darwin in the dry time of year,  so were not disappointed by closures. But any visitor coming here for the first time at this time of year would have to be prepared for a limited choice of attractions.

We went to the Casino and joined their Action Club. This gave us some “free” money to use in the place. Since we were confident of our ability to be disciplined in the Casino environment, I saw no issues with availing ourselves of offered freebies.

Caught a taxi to the Thrifty depot. The paperwork for the hire car took ages to finalize – mainly because John was being obtuse and asking the staff questions to which I already knew the answers – because I’d read all the information beforehand and he hadn’t bothered.

We were upgraded to a Mitsubishi Lancer, which was great. It did take John a little while to get the hang of driving it – more modern than anything he’d driven before, and very different  to our 1996 Defender and 1986 Barina!

Out of the controlled environment of the hotel, it was hot and extremely humid.

We went to the NT Museum, had a coffee at the cafe there, then browsed in the establishment.

There was a feature exhibition of the music group AC/DC history and memorabilia. It was really interesting, including letters from Bon Scott, who had died at age 33, that made it clear he was heavily into booze and drugs.

Another interesting display featured fossils and reconstructed skeleton models of some prehistoric critters.

I made sure John also saw the stuffed form of Sweetheart – the very large crocodile who made himself unpopular attacking outboard motors on fishing dinghies at a popular fishing location. Over five metres long, he accidentally died after  being trapped for relocation.

Sweetheart

Another must-do at the museum was the Cyclone Tracey exhibit. This was an extensive display. Particularly memorable was the experience that replicates the darkness, wind noise and general clattering and banging that those who lived through the cyclone in 1974 would have known. It was scary, even though we knew it wasn’t “real”.

There was much debate going on in Darwin, at the moment over whether Cyclone Tracey or Cyclone Yasi was bigger. NT people seemed indignant that Tracey might be overshadowed!

I always enjoyed the art gallery section here, featuring an extensive collection of various forms of aboriginal art.

By now it was well and truly late lunch time. Went to the nearby Nightcliff shops. John didn’t want anything, having had such a huge breakfast, but I was really hungry. John was getting tired and impatient, so I grabbed a bread roll from Brumbys, but didn’t stop to eat it because John didn’t want to linger. So we did a quick shop at the nearby Woolworths – coffee, milk (the long life milk in our room was awful), bottled water. John bought Coca Cola. I wanted to get fruit but John didn’t want to go there. Then he decided to do a big alcohol buy up: wine, scotch, Jim Beam, rum! I’d have preferred food.

Back to our room, where John had a sleep and I read.

Seen from our balcony

I’d tried to phone old boss, P, this morning, but the mobile number he left was wrong, and there was no answer at the number of the office he maintained in Darwin. A former student of our school was now a lawyer in Darwin who had a lot of contact with P, so I phoned and left a message at the law office. P rang me while John was asleep, wanting to arrange dinner at Bogarts, an eatery at Parap. We  agreed on Wed evening. Old student M and his wife would be there too. P would pick us up here at 7pm.

We went down to eat dinner at the Sunset Restaurant, which offered 20% off their meals Monday to Wednesday. It was a seafood buffet. Lots of choice, and delicious food. I was super hungry, having only had a couple of bites of a bread roll since my toast this morning. I wrapped some wedges of camembert in a serviette and took them back to our room for later.

John watched TV. I read, wrote up diary.

So far, the anticipated spectacular lightning displays had not eventuated, much to John’s disappointment. Plenty of dramatic cloudy skies but that was it.


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2011 Travels February 6

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 6     TO DARWIN

An early start was needed. There was packing to finalize with last minute items.

Breakfast was only a coffee for me – I was a little apprehensive, mostly about the drive to the airport. There was a time when traffic in Melbourne on a Sunday morning was really light, but no more.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 2pm and we were to have our baggage checked in by 1.15 at the latest. I had printed off our paperwork at home, which made it easier at the airport.

My little car was deposited at Jetport Parking at 11am, their bus had us at the airport at 11.15. All quite seamless. Baggage for our Jetstar flight was not being accepted until midday, so we sat and read the Sunday Age.

Our combined baggage weighed in at 40.3kg, but no fuss was made about the surplus .3. My share of it was 17kg; in our family I am the economical packer!

Going  through the security check was the usual three-ring circus act that we’d experienced in 2006-7. John had to take off his belt and shoes – and try to hold his trousers up. His metal hips set off alerts. Whilst waiting for him to get through, I scored an explosives check – a new experience for me. How conceivable was it that a would-be terrorist would come in the  guise of a 65 year old grandmother with a somewhat bumbling partner?

Bought lunch. I had a herbed pizza roll, John had the same with cheese and a container of chips. We both had coffees – the best part of the meal, by far.

Our plane was late arriving from wherever, by 30 minutes, so we left Melbourne 20 minutes later than scheduled, but arrived in Darwin on time, at 4.50 CST – so the flight lasted four hours.

I had paid extra when booking the flight, for seats with extra leg room, by the emergency exit. They did have lots of space, but no window to look out of. I was annoyed that this fact was not made clear in the booking blurb. As it happened, we travelled over thick cloud all the way – more Yasi aftermath – so wouldn’t have seen much. Another annoyance was that I could have taken a bottle of water on board with me, despite all the prior information suggesting otherwise.

The flight was smoother than I’d expected, given the prevailing weather conditions across the continent. The staff were pleasant. The refreshments that were served were eminently forgettable.

Our plane was continuing on to Ho Chi Minh City, so baggage came off quickly.

Once out of the terminal, we were hit by a wave of hot and steamy air. with that hard-to-define but pleasant smell that I associated with Darwin. John was somewhat taken aback by how thick the humid air seemed. I had been here before in the Wet Season, but he hadn’t, so it was new for him. It felt like the temperature was around 30 degrees and the humidity well up the scale.

A taxi conveyed us to our chosen accommodation at Sky City – the hotel associated with the Casino, but one with frontage to Fannie Bay and the Timor Sea – and hopefully where John would see his storm displays. We were allocated Room 307, which gave us an outlook to the ocean view, to the Star City groomed lawns leading to the beach, and also a glimpse of the pool.

The hotel had a series of inner open air atriums, so that from the lift lobby, we walked internal balconies to get to our room, past tall palm trees and other tropical vegetation growing in the central atrium. That was a great effect – one did not feel shut in, like in normal hotel corridors.

The central atrium that gave access to our room

Our room was pleasant without being ultra luxurious: big enough, clean, but there was only one armchair. The balcony was tiny. We could stand out on it to look at the view, but it was not big enough to sit out on in any comfort.

Sky city room

A  message was waiting when I turned my phone back on, from my former boss, who had just arrived in Darwin – where he spent a lot of time, and had a base. He was suggesting we might catch up for tea. We were not in the mood for group socializing, so I ignored it.

After unpacking and settling in, we went to the Dragon Court Chinese restaurant in the hotel, for dinner. The meal was lovely. John had a duck dish, I had crispy pork belly and we shared fried rice. Indulged in a bottle of crouchen reisling. John – whose mindset was still anchored in frugal caravan travel – was a bit uptight at the overall cost of the meal, especially as the bottle of wine was $34. But it was our first night and thus warranted a little celebration in style, I thought.

Went and looked at the Casino part of the establishment, and briefly played the poker machines, giving ourselves a $10 cap each, and both taking a small profit, rather than ploughing it back into the machines.

We did not stay up late – it had been a long day – and our bodies were still operating on Melbourne time anyway.


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2011 Travels February 5

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 5

We were woken early by a phone call cancelling the bowls scheduled for John today.

Melbourne was flooded in places. Our pool had overflowed, as had the gutters on John’s shed.

Gotta be able to catch those, somehow…..

When John came back from unblocking the shed gutters – absolutely drenched – he went off to shower and change, inadvertently leaving his glasses where Birdy dog could access them. I spotted her with the neatly folded up spectacles in her mouth, and managed to retrieve them. The earpieces were a bit chewed, the frame a bit bent, and a lens had popped out. I found that on the lounge floor and John managed to put it back.

After lunch, took Birdy to the kennels for her stay away. We had to take a very round about route to get there as the police had blocked off a number of flooded roads.

At the kennels, a staff person took our girl away quickly – there were no prolonged farewells. She trotted off happily without a backward glance! We left her favourite blanket and toys for her. It was arranged that she should have training in coming when called, and obeying the instruction to “drop it”! Both greatly needed skills she had so far resisted acquiring.

I felt very sad on the drive home, and rather guilty at leaving her and just hoped she would adjust with no fretting. Troublesome though she was, at times, we both loved her dearly.

Was time to get serious about packing the brand new suitcases we’d bought for this trip. It had been a couple of decades since I had needed a suitcase for travel – soft bags and backpacks had been appropriate until now. Suitcase technology had certainly changed in the interim. Wheels….

We used our bathroom scales to check our baggage weight. We could each have 20kg. Mine seemed comfortably under that. John’s appeared to weigh over it, but he decided that the scales were wrong. We needed to include a smaller, soft luggage bag, for the train; there would not be room in our compartment for the two cases.

Friend M visited us later in the day. I gave her the perishables from our fridge. She was in the process of having her Troopy converted into a pop-top camper, which she hoped would make it more comfortable and convenient and do away with the need for some sort of separate “living” arrangement, like the tent she had last year. She was having some issues to do with changing the registration and insurances, though.

At night, despite our excitement, the house felt wrong, with no dog keeping us company.


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2011 Travels

BEFORE FEBRUARY 5…..

After his health problems of recent times, John decided it was time to get serious about some of his “bucket list” items. A couple of these could be bundled together: to travel on the Ghan train, and to spend time in Darwin in the storm season – because he wanted to see the spectacular lightning displays there at that time.

To my later chagrin, I have to admit that I was not really keen on the idea of travel on the Ghan. Back in Uni days, had done a couple of trips between Adelaide and Melbourne on the Overland train, sitting up in seats all night, and had not enjoyed that. But The Ghan was something John really wanted to do, so I went along with the idea.

The Ghan train

I’d worked out a trip that would see us, in February,  fly to Darwin, spend some time there, then travel on the Ghan to Adelaide, from which we would fly back to Melbourne. An initial idea, of driving one way and putting the vehicle on the train one way, did not work out. Truck was over the height limit for the train. John said my Barina car was too small and uncomfortable for distance travel – and it was not air conditioned.

I had attempted to make a booking for the Ghan online, but kept getting stuck in one of those endless loops of no progress and much frustration. Eventually phoned Great Southern Rail direct. It turned out that the online glitch was a very fortunate one, because GSR offered me a package deal that worked out much cheaper: our rail travel, five nights accommodation in Darwin at a venue of our choice, and a day pass on the Darwin Explorer bus. All for less than I would have paid for our rail fares alone, had I managed to book them online!

I built the rest of the plan around the Ghan trip dates, and booked our flights; arranged car hire in Darwin and parking of my car near Melbourne Airport; accommodation in Adelaide, Kakadu National Park, and a second stay in Darwin, for after we returned from a jaunt to Kakadu.

Birdy dog was booked into kennels, which we had visited and inspected first. They also offered some behavioural training – an attractive proposition!

Training……what ‘dat?

As our February 6 departure date was approaching, we watched with awe and trepidation as Category 5 Cyclone Yasi approached the north Qld coast. Apart from its impact on places there that we had visited and loved, there was the possibility that it might behave as previous cyclones in those parts had – continue west, re-form over the Gulf, then hammer the Top End. That could impact our travel plans. In the event, it made landfall further south than originally predicted and dissipated across SW Qld.

The path of Cyclone Yasi (BOM)

The tail end of Yasi did, however, feed into a low pressure trough that brought a deluge to Melbourne on 4-5 Feb.