Monday, June 2, 2014

The Top End: City Slickers

We had one day to explore the metropolis of Darwin (pop: 230,000).  One day is arguably plenty to see the city sights, but due to museums being located ridiculously far out of town and our lack of a car, I still didn't get to see everything I wanted to.

We started our day at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, a free museum that houses an exhibition on Cyclone Tracy, which was a massive storm (hurricane) that pretty much demolished Darwin in 1974.  There's a tiny dark room with a sound recording of the actual storm, and it's loud/scary as hell.  People died in that storm.  It was fierce.

I don't know why, but my favorite part of the museum was the recreations of 1970's living rooms, as they would have looked on Christmas eve 1974, the night the storm hit:

They also have a stuffed 5.1 meter (16.5+ foot) crocodile named Sweetheart, which they accidentally killed while trying to remove/transport, so they stuffed it and put it on display instead:

Fun fact: Despite his name Sweetheart is a dude
When we left the museum right outside the door we saw a place called the Darwin Ski Club, that consisted of ample seating, cold beer and shade provided by palm trees:


We continued on with the relaxing and the drinking at a different bar for a while, as the ocean view was just so nice and green!

Beware, though, that water is not for swimming.  There are crocodiles in there!  Not as many as in the Adelaide River (where we did the jumping croc cruise), but not a place I'd be comfortable swimming in!

If not for the shade and beer and snacks, we might have tried harder to get to the Defence of Darwin museum, which chronicles Darwin during WWII and the epic bombing it received.  I really wanted to see it, and learn more about Australia's involvement in WWII, but it was just too far out of town to bother with.  Darwin was the one and only place in Australia that got bombed during the war, I believe by the Japanese.  See, I don't even know because I didn't get to go there and learn stuff!  I'll be sure to hit up the museum if I'm ever in Darwin again.

After our ample chillaxing it was time to get back on the tourist/learning wagon, so we went to the Darwin Oil Tunnels.  WWII history, yay!  (I'm not being facetious here, I am legit interested in it.)

The oil tunnels are huge underground tunnels they built during WWII to house jet fuel, so bombs couldn't destroy the supply.  They never wound up actually storing fuel in the tunnels, as thankfully the war ended.

We then went to the Wharf Precinct, which is the place to hang out in Darwin.  They've got restaurants, a really kick ass wave pool, and they were setting up for a free concert in the park that evening.  This is the one part of town that would totally blend in in Sydney or Brisbane or someplace more metropolitan.

The Wharf Precinct houses a really cool restaurant area that faces the ocean, where you can order food from a variety of different places.  Everybody can choose a different place and there's communal seating.  There's even one storefront dedicated to the sale of booze!  A nifty concept.

My one and only culinary requirement while in Darwin was to eat crocodile.  Martin had eaten crocodile curry when he was first up in Darwin, so we sought it out and ate it again.

I've eaten croc in Brisbane before, but only a small bite on a fancy tasting platter.  It's a really tasty meat, not very different from chicken in color, texture and flavor.  I recommend it!

Our final city activity of the day was the Deckchair Cinema, which is hugely popular with the locals and is the #1 rated thing to do on TripAdvisor.

We had been to a similar outdoor cinema in Brisbane before, but when I looked at the schedule of movies playing I knew we had to make the trip.  We saw Tracks, an Australian film about the true story of a woman who walked - freaking walked - from Alice Springs (middle of Australia) to the ocean on the west coast.  There's no way she could be sane and do that, and I have absolutely no clue how she survived.  It is harsh, miserable desert out there.  It was a good movie, and I plan to read the book she wrote about her crazy experience.

The absolute one thing all visitors to Darwin must do on a Thursday or Sunday evening is visit the Mindil Beach Markets.  It's a little ways out of town (a common theme around here), so after our tour to Litchfield National Park we had the bus drop us off for dinner and "a show".  It is the place to kick back on the beach and watch the sunset from the best vantage point in (or should I say near) town.

Unfortunately our camera is rapidly crapping the bed, as evidenced by that big black patch you see obscuring the beautiful sunset.  It's not a UFO!

Australia loves a good market.  They do them well, too.  There's lots of interesting and exotic food to try (Sri Lankan!), people watching and live entertainment, and is generally a good place to kick back, relax and enjoy the view.

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