It only took 2086 kms to thaw out from Uluru and arrive in this magical city where it’s 33 degrees in the middle of winter. It was a speedy trek from the centre to the top end, but we managed to fit in the Devils Marbles, outback pubs, hot springs and waterfalls before relaxing on a beach with a champers watching the sun set …over all those crocs and jellyfish that are lurking out there.
I look at all the smiling faces of travelling families on instagram and Facebook and see captions about strengthening family bonds and loving having so much time together (#blessed). Sometimes I am jealous, sometimes I want to vomit and a lot of the time I wonder if they’re really giving the full picture. Because almost 6 months in and our family has trundled on as normal – the kids are like cats in a bag and fight ALL the time, and we scream at them. A lot. We have a loads of good times as well – but living in a camper trailer, not having tv and driving really long distances certainly hasn’t produced some family bonding nirvana or a magical formula for sibling harmony. That said, we were pleased and surprised at how well the kids handled the huge few days of driving up the Stuart Highway. Audiobooks have been our godsend and, casual sexism and racism of a few Enid Blyton series aside, made for a relatively peaceful and pleasant trek up North.
It also gave us some conversation starters about housekeeping not just being for girls (remember Anne from the Famous Five?)
We had some delightful pit stops
We camped under the Devils Marbles. I mean right under. And we hoped that whatever had mysteriously kept the giant boulders balancing precariously on each other for thousands of years would last one more night and that we wouldn’t be crushed by rolling marbles. We weren’t – phew.
We spent a night at Daly Waters Pub. An absolute must do. It had everything you could possibly want from an outback pub. It had beef, it had barra, it had a pool, it had music and loads of grey nomads who wanted to dance with our kids. It had kids activities that involved the kids roaming the pub and looking for clues to a quiz – and which did not require parental supervision, and for which they were rewarded with free ice creams. And, wait for it, it had….outstanding customer service!! (not always a given in the territory). Great night.
And then there was the oasis of the hot springs in Mataranka. A few days of blissful floating in crystal clear turquoise blue natural springs surrounded by palm trees. The only thing missing was a pina colada bar.
And here we had our first introduction to crocs. They are everywhere. We were camped next to a river and told there were a few freshies upstream but they wouldn’t bother us. And they didn’t. But on our first night there, one jumped right out of the water in front of us to catch a bird. Which was spectacular – and terrifying. And none of us got a camera out in time to capture it, because we were too busy shitting ourselves.
Winter is coming – unless you’re in Darwin (and don’t have HBO – no GOT spoilers pls??!!)*
Now we’re in Darwin, which at this time of year is truly Paradise City. 33 degrees every day and about 24 at night. Perfect swimming and then sleeping weather.
We have had our city fixes of going out for brekky, takeaway indian dinners, markets. But without typical city headaches.
There is no traffic.
We had a brekky just like any in inner west Sydney complete with quinoa, kale, pulled pork, campos coffee and many other hipster trappings and we were able to drive there in 5 minutes in “peak” hour, park right outside and get a table straight away. Our indian takeaway was from Saffron, which has been named the best indian restaurant in Australia and was sublime. The night markets are on a beach where you can BYO champers, watch an amazing sunset, eat paella and, yes, easily get a park.
There is a wave pool that is not crowded even in the middle of school holidays. There are free waterslide parks that are also not crowded, with cafes where you don’t have to queue an hour (or at all) for an iced latte.
There are incredible waterfalls and swimming holes (which we were assured have been cleared of crocs) within an hour’s drive of the city. Imagine that in Sydney – you would have to get up at 5am to get in and by 8am the whole thing would be closed because of crowds – and would probably cost $50+ in fees and parking.
We have caught up with friends who have discovered the secret to that elusive work-life balance. It involves living in Darwin, paying far less rent than in Sydney, finishing work at 5 and having loads of things to eat, drink and do in the evenings and weekends.
If only you could swim at the beautiful beaches here – they are such a tease. You can look but not touch, due to that small problem of saltwater crocs and box jellyfish. I also hear it gets a bit (unbearably for many) steamier in the summer / wet. But right now it is glorious.
Chock full of crocs
Apparently no waterway in the top end is safe. And as thorough as all those park rangers have tried to be in “re-locating” these monsters during the dry season to clear the “designated swimming areas”, it is still extremely disconcerting to swim out into a pristine waterhole with 10 metres of unknown below you.
Especially after seeing these guys up close. Very close. So close. Too close. I looked at the two life jackets on board the very small tin boat, in which we were floating down a croc infested river, and wondered how they were going to help us if the tin can (which was smaller than many of the crocs that bumped against it) capsized. As we boarded, the captain/meat dangler said “Do not stand up or put anything through the bars. You will die and, even more importantly, you will screw up my insurance”.
We got got out of there unscathed but there were way too many “what-ifs” for me to repeat that particular adventure.
Kakadu next!! (And hopefully there will be some Jon Snow in the near future)
* I am writing this at the exact time the first episode of Game of Thrones is playing, to distract myself from not having TV, wfi, or any access to HBO. It is excruciating. I WILL find a way to get me some Jon Snow, hopefully pronto, but in the meantime I will have to avoid all social media for fear of spoilers.