The stay in Pine Tree Hotel in Katherine was comfortable and I was in a happy frame of mind as the backlog of blogs and all other documentation had been caught up on. I delayed the start for Darwin as it was just a four hour drive away. I had breakfast of muesli and milk after a cup of coffee. When I went to the reception to deposit the key I was told that buffet breakfast is free with the room. I skipped it because I was quite full. The Thai girl at the reception was surprised because she expected me to take advantage of the lovely spread.
The drive from Katherine to Darwin went off without any incident. The speed limit continued to be 130 kph and that has been the surprise package in the visit to Northern Territory. One of the sights in Northern Territory are the large number of termite mounds on either side of the road. I felt that the indigenes worshipped them, because some of them were ‘clothed’ and some others had markings on them.
I reached Darwin by noon and I found to my consternation that there was no parking near the YHA. With some difficulty I found a slot not very far away and, being Sunday, the slot was free too. The young lady at the reception confirmed the booking for a private en suite room; I changed to the private room from shared accommodation for privacy and room to empty the car when I give her for service. The lady, however, told me that the room would be ready only by 2 pm. I had almost two hours to kill in hot and humid conditions. I was pouring with sweat. She told me that the Crocosaurus Cove nearby would be a good place to spend some time getting familiar with the most famous inhabitant of the Northern Territory – the crocodile. I was keen to taste its meat too and the lady told me that The Tap next door offered options with crocodile meat. Fortunately, it was not difficult to find the free YHA parking after going through the directions given at the reception.
The Tap seemed to be a popular food and drink joint. The place was mightily busy at the time, possibly because it was a Sunday too. I ordered a Croc Snitzel and waited with some amount of unease for the order to mature. How would it taste? Would it be smelly? Would the meat be tough? The girl who took the order suggested garlic sauce with the Snitzel and I accepted the suggestion. The humungous portion, as is wont in Australia, arrived with a mound of fries, a lot of fresh leaves(!) and two large pieces of the crumb fried croc meat, which were arranged to look like the jaws of the crocodile. The meat was neither smelly nor tough; it tasted just like chicken, the same consistency. I was determined not to waste the food and I sat there for nearly an hour to finish the meal with many glasses of cold water. I normally avoid cold water, but the heat and the humidity was getting to me.
Once the Snitzel was polished off I walked to the Crocosaurus Cove and took a discounted ticket on offer for YHA residents and members. The ticket was unique in that it permits one to walk in and out of the facility till closing time at 6 pm. Besides going through the displays in the Cove I was keen on watching the crocodile feeding at 2.30 pm. The Cove has a large ‘collection’ of saltwater crocodiles and the manner in which some of them came to be in the Cove is very interestingly mentioned. Myths and facts about crocodiles and their interrelationship in the ecosystem are vividly described. It is possible to get up close and personal with the crocodiles in the Cage of Death. Most of the crocodiles seemed uninterested in the humans lowered in the acrylic cage while the humans thrashed around trying to get the crocs interested and give the humans close-ups. The Cove also boasts of one of the largest display of reptiles and turtles. Various sizes and shapes of goannas and snakes are displayed in their natural setting. The huge aquarium has large sized Barramundis, Whiprays and Archer Fish. The crocodile feeding session was most unprofessionally handled. The exit from the Cove is through a souvenir store from where one can pick up stuff made of crocodile skin or other keepsakes.
By the time I finished the Cove visit the room was ready for occupation. I was disappointed that Wi-Fi was not provided free of cost with the private room. I was told that the communal kitchen is on level 1 and laundry on level 2. The large sized room had a bunk bed with a double bed at the bottom and a single on top. Lockers were provided too. I put the bags in and took a snooze. The heat had exhausted me. In an hour I was up, refreshed and ready to explore the city on foot.
At the reception I got a general idea of what I could do in the next few hours. My destination was Stokes Hill Wharf and I set out in that direction. The YHA is in the heart of the city with the stately Hilton just a five minute walk from it. Further down the road was the majestic modern building that housed the Parliament of the Northern Territory. From the plaques on display I could make out that the building with most modern facilities was built between 1990 and 1994. There was not a security guard on display or anything else to show that the Legislative Assembly functioned here. A stone’s throw away from there is the Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court in a State or Territory in Australia is akin to the High Court of a State in India, with full powers in civil, criminal and appeal cases with the jurisdiction of the State. Here again, there was no security or trappings of that office on show.
Just past these two seats of temporal power was the spiritual seat of power, the Christ Church Cathedral of the Anglican Church. The magnificent church was rebuilt, with donations gratefully acknowledged by the church, after the devastation it suffered from Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Almost opposite the cathedral church are three important sites. One is the bronze casting of a frogmouth owl which, according to Larrakiya legend, is a manifestation of the ancestral spirit that protects the Darwin waterfront area. The next is the site where the first overland telegraph (OT) pole was erected on 15 September 1870. The OT line was completed in 1872 linking Port Darwin to Port Augusta (3200 km) and thereafter by undersea cable to Java by August 1872. A stupendous achievement by any standards, particularly considering the hostile terrain and the rudimentary implements available. The third is the Administrator’s Office, which had in the past served as a court house and a police station. The Administrator of a Territory is like the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry or Delhi. While the State Assembly is headed by the Chief Minister, the Administrator is appointed by the Federal Government, which has a larger say in the functioning of a Territory. The Administrator is normally from the Defense forces and lives in the Government House, a magnificent building overlooking the Darwin waterfront.
The Darwin skywalk offers unimaginably magical views of the Darwin Waterfront Precinct that houses restaurants, bars, a wave pool, an artificial beach and the Convention Centre, which can accommodate up to 4000 delegates and comprises nearly 23,000 square meters of floor space. A short distance from it are the oil storage tunnels that were built during WWII to protect oil from attack of the Japanese forces. Two of them are now open for public viewing. Darwin suffered one of the worst bombings in WWII in January 1942 by the Japanese. Sacrifice and heroism during and after the attack are etched in stone and bronze all over the city, particularly in Stokes Hill Wharf. The Wharf has some of the best eating places in the city and was crowded, mostly by Asians at the time of my visit. Incredible India is one of the eateries here, but none of those inside the restaurant seemed to be from India!
There is a free Darwin waterfront service form the Wharf to the skywalk. I took one of them. On the way the driver warned one of the visitors from parking in a no-parking zone. He told me that he has powers to warn them and even issue them a ticket after two warnings! The walk back to the YHA through the Bi-centennial park was a gut-wrenching one. Massive trees lay uprooted everywhere; the entire city is full of scars it suffered from the cyclone that made landfall the previous weekend. Walkways were blocked and large areas of parks remained forded off. The wind speed could very well be imagined.
Back in the room after a three hour walk I was ready for a couple of bottles of beer. Being a licensed premise I had to buy liquor from the bar and I couldn’t drink in the privacy of the room. The bar and pool were far too noisy for my liking after the long walk. I quickly had a bath and settled or a Heat&Eat item – spaghetti with chicken mince curry. The AC in the room was not functioning well. When I spoke with Uzal, a Nepali boy manning the reception, he changed my room. That was it for the day; a long one.