That great Northern Territory pastime of drinking cold beer on a hot day took hold of us almost immediately upon landing at Darwin airport. In fact as soon as we’d parked the hire car and unpacked our gear we headed straight to the historic Hotel Darwin for a couple of quiet pale ales.
To be sure, there are plenty of cool bars around Darwin but we figured what better way to get into the heart and soul of Darwin than to sit out on the veranda of a classic old pub and complain about the heat. Well, it wasn’t actually that hot, around 25C, but we were in Darwin and just wanted to carry on about it to get in the mood.
For our week in Darwin we’d be staying with Dave’s cousin Peter and his wife Pauline (yes, they of the cocktail campers) and we’d also be catching up with another glamping cousin Tom and his wife Lorna.
For our first night we decided relaxing under the stars at the famous Deckchair Cinema would be the perfect way to kick off the week. When we found out Rocketman would be playing that sealed the deal.
Pauline guided us through the protocols of securing a good seat near the front, where to order drinks and how to buy food. I’m sure we could’ve coped well enough on our own (they do speak English), but having a couple of locals with us made it easy and comfortable to navigate the process.
Peter mentioned a Darwin audio walking tour app he’d come across and because we love to explore a town by foot, we paid $2.99 and downloaded the app. The best money ever spent on a walking tour, it was outstanding.
The narrator is a fascinating local character called Charlie King, a much-admired Darwin ABC radio presenter. One of the funniest things about Charlie’s commentary was as we walked we could hear his footsteps behind us, or as we were crossing the road we could hear a bus or car coming and him telling us to be careful – all through our headsets.
When the tour skirted around the edges of the CBD we caught glimpses of giant murals on building walls but because we needed to follow Charlie’s script we couldn’t go off track to get a better look. We would come back to see what they were all about.
“Look up and look back” are reminders we often give ourselves when wandering around a new place, and that really paid off when the next day we ventured out again around Darwin’s laneways seeking out the street art.
What we were not expecting to find in Darwin was the once-drab concrete structures that have been given life with colour and passion. We really did experience some amazing WOW moments as we lost ourselves in the backstreets.
Try as I might though, I could not find a map or guide of the murals anywhere online so we wandered around on our own, anticipating our next discovery. So I guess in a way it was more enjoyable without a map because we had that element of surprise.
Of course there are times when you just don’t want to walk everywhere and that’s where the “hop on hop off” bus comes in handy. Yes, you can really get the feel of a place by walking but then looking at everything from above has its merits too.
Like everyone else on the bus, we wanted to be up on the top deck under the shade cover. You could tell the folk from overseas because they were the ones sitting right up the back in the full sun. They had no idea what they were in for and before too long they were sheepishly wandering to the front looking for (slightly) cooler spare seats.
The bus took us through some of the lush, beautiful suburbs along the waterfront areas, before heading out to the Defence of Darwin museum.
We were already aware that Darwin had been shelled by the Japanese in the Second World War but there was so much we didn’t know, and we were about to find out.
It made us wonder how many people realise that during WWII, Japanese air raids hit Darwin with massive devastation and great loss of life.
On 19th February 1942, the Japanese launched air attacks on Darwin and in just a few hours over 680 bombs were dropped, more than 250 people killed, 400 wounded, 11 ships sunk, around 30 aircraft destroyed, and a huge number of military and civilian facilities wiped out.
The air attacks on Darwin by the Japanese lasted almost 2 years. By November 1943 Darwin had been bombed 64 times.
photo credits: abc.net.au
The Defence of Darwin is a brilliantly curated museum and although none of us could ever imagine how it would have been to live through such a devastating time, this facility provides a realistic backdrop to their retelling of events from those dark days of WWII.
Getting on the next bus a couple of hours later, we didn’t get too comfortable because we wanted to visit the Museum & Art Gallery, just down the road.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but I remember on the morning of Boxing Day 1974, waking to the news that Darwin had been almost completely obliterated by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day.
I also remember watching the news to see thousands of people making their way across the Darwin airport tarmac to board planes that would evacuate them to southern cities, and I wondered where they would all go and what they would do when they got there. It was such a traumatic time for them. Many never returned to Darwin.
This is a great Youtube video, capturing the situation and feelings in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy. It is worth watching.
Tracy has been declared the second worst cyclone in recorded history, when 65 people died and hundreds injured. At least 90% of homes in Darwin were demolished or badly damaged.
The walking tour gave a great overview of Darwin’s dramatic history, and the museums filled in gaps and elaborated on human stories of loss, heroism, resilience and renewal.
A lot of the renewal is focussed around the waterfront and much of what was not destroyed by bombs or cyclones has been incorporated into some wonderful public parkland and a marvel of modern engineering – a wave pool. It’s something I’ve been fascinated with, and swimming in a wave pool would be a first for both of us.
Loved, loved, loved it! Mind you, it did feel a bit odd catching waves in a giant concrete pool but with our pool noodles and swimming rings (provided free) we bobbed around with everyone else and had the time of our lives, with the comfort of knowing that no deadly sea creatures were going to nibble our toes.
On our last night we managed to fit in a classic Darwin tradition … sit by the ocean to witness a famous Darwin sunset.
Together with Peter & Pauline, Tom & Lorna, we positioned ourselves comfortably on the lawn of the Darwin Surf Club in anticipation of the main event.
Who would’ve thought there’d be a surf club in Darwin? Not us. In fact we’ve since found out that there are actually 3 surf clubs in the NT, with 2 of them in Darwin and the other in Nhulunbuy/Gove.
There are some places we didn’t get to in Darwin including the Nightcliff Market and the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Everyone says that a visit to Darwin is not complete without visiting these iconic markets but our timing just didn’t allow it.
We loved Darwin so much and we would go back in a heartbeat, there is so much to this place and we couldn’t get enough.
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Great article Sue. We too loved Darwin and you have discovered things we didn’t know about – street art & walking tour. Must be time for us to go back.
Andrew we should try to coordinate a combined visit, would be fun.