Day 2 of the Northern Territory Top End Road Trip was all about getting acquainted with the beautifully modernized city of Darwin.
Rising and shining bright and early before the sun had risen and the world had awoken, I took off to capture the sunrise on one of Darwin’s iconic Mindil Beach.
With a bit of confusion with the access road and the sun hastily ascending, I managed to find the closest car park, haul up the camera gear and just made it as the rising sun began casting long shadows across the golden sands of Darwin’s most famous beach.
Whilst enjoying the peace and serenity that comes with visiting a location during those bleary morning moments when the world arises to meet a new day, I spied something with my little eye.
Way off in the distance down the other end of the beach, something big, long and black made its way onto the shore. A crocodile? A happy dance ensued that I prayed no one was watching. Whoo!!! My first wild croc, maybe?!
After getting my fill of photographs from where I was, I mosied on down the shore to get a closer look. When people have started arriving for their morning stroll and walking past it quite close, I knew it wasn’t a man-eater. Anti-climatically, it, uh… it turned out to be a dilapidated log, and there was nothing to afraid of, or intrigued by, for that matter. Gosh, darn it!
Lookout At The Top Of The Hill
The walk down the beach to self-embarrassingly discover the “crocodile” wasn’t a modern-day dinosaur wasn’t a total loss. I spied a lookout perched upon the eastern headland that was only noticed while investigating the “log-o-dile”.
The short walk from the beach to the headland lookout leads through a small section of George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. While it provides a bit of protection from the sun, which feels like its burns through all the epidermis layers even with sunscreen, strolling through there makes it feels like all the world’s insects are out to get you.
Unless you’re willing to kung-fu your way through so the little biting shits can’t land on you and feast on your blood like ravenous vampirical bloodsuckers they are, I highly suggest showering in insect spray. For such a short walk, it felt like the world of mosquitos had descended upon me to syphon off my blood as I made my way to the top.
Museum And Art Gallery Northern Territory (MAGNT)
After heading back to the hotel and getting some free eats from the complimentary continental breakfast that came with the room, I headed towards the Fannie Bay Gaol but got sidetracked and ended up at another place in my itinerary: the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, aka MAGNT.
Although museums aren’t a usual haunt of mine, I found this one to be quite engaging. Displays that were particularly transfixing were the sculpted aboriginal totems, superhero masks, and the array of aboriginal artwork. I also enjoyed the Cyclone Tracy exhibit, the Unruly Days section showcasing early white settlement and conflicts, and the gallery of wooden boats from northern Australia, South East Asia and the Western Pacific. The last one, while still inside the building, wasn’t air conditioned. Rather it has slots to let the crazy hot outside air in, which hilariously, and annoyingly instantly fogged over my camera.
There were also the usual taxidermied animals. Although they were presented in a gorgeously eerie sci-fi display to highlight their unique beauty, which was fascinating to see up close, it was also sad to see them taken out of the wild in their prime and preserved like this.
What was less sombre to look at knowing your species didn’t pluck their spark of life was seeing the fossilised reconstructions of the megafauna that roamed Northern Australia. As it turns out, ‘Straya used to be home to a rhino-style creature and a giant goose who you would not want chasing you for chips. But damn, times sure would have been nothing if not way more adventurous back then had humans been fending on these bad boys from their fried snacks.
- I haven’t put any pictures of Aboriginals included in the displays or of the beautiful aboriginal art at the MAGNT as I’m not sure of the protocols regarding putting them up on my website and do not want to unintentionally offend anyone by doing so.
In(vesty)gating Vestys Beach & Vestys Lagoon
Passing way too much time at MAGNT, I sadly didn’t have time to fit in the Fannie Bay Gaol, which closes at 2 pm. I hoped to see it when I came back to Darwin at the end of the trip. (P.S. – I didn’t, but I definitely will be when I come back in the dry season, whenever that may be.)
Before popping over to feed some wild fishies at the only-open-at-high-tide Aquascene, I quickly popped down to Vesty’s Beach and Vesty’s Lagoon. The former was a picturesque rocky beach, while the latter was a short casual stroll inland, which was a lovely place to pause and appreciate the calm surroundings in a lively small city.
Arriving at Aquascene for the allotted opening time in the mid-afternoon, excitement filled the veins as I prepared myself for an experience with some wild fish that voluntarily make their way to the feeding venue for a fill of bread*.
The Fish Of Doctors Gully
Being the first to arrive, after handing over my $15, I was given some bread by the friendly Aquascene lady, and she introduced me to a few of the fish species that had gathered. Fish such as carp, catfish and mullet were plentiful and friendly. Uber squee!
Meanwhile, she cautioned us to be careful of the handful of very dangerous and fascinating pufferfish swiming around as well as the blue-green Teira Batfish that had sharp and powerful teeth. You had to watch the pufferfish so there’s no “poison running through your veins” (although one lady did get bitten by a pufferfish. I hope she’s okay), or the batfish so it wouldn’t bite you in a revenge attack for all the fish fingers you ate. Uber eek!
It was so delightful seeing these wild fish freely clustered together so close by and being able to feed the sweet creatures that live beneath the waters of Doctor’s Gully that wouldn’t ordinarily be able to be seen, especially with enthusiastically optimistic chompy crocodiles lurking in the drink. (There’s nowhere in Darwin where you want to get that close to open water.)
Ordinarily, the rules are two slices of bread per person, but because I was in “my own little world, it was population: me” and then later a handful of other people came in total, she didn’t monitor it. There wasn’t a whole heap of us over the three hour opening period because I guess it was a really slow day. But that meant more for me, which made the price of entry more worth it because it is pretty steep for what it is.
The Other Visitors
On the other side of the ramp beside the sitting area, the Aquascene lady also pointed out a whole heap of stingrays lying in almost perfect camouflage close to the shore.
Distracted by the schools of fish that were lapping at the shoreline, brazen cockatoos we’d been told not to feed cheekily swooped down to the breadbasket that no one was paying much attention to and stole big chunks of the fluffy white stuff like the adorable daytime thieves they are.
In between the looking, the feeding and the cockatoos thievery, the tides had progressively been coming in. Darwin is known for having some big tides, and the longer I stayed, the more evident it became.
Upon first arriving, I was able to stand on the bottom step of the main feeding area without getting wet. As time went by and the sun dipped lower in the sky, the water slowly but surely lapped up higher and higher upon the staircase. Incidentally experiencing the natural tidal phenomenon while engaging in a fun aquatic wild animal activity was a lovely 2-for-1 way to spend the afternoon.
Had it not been for the Aquascene man being very offputting, it would have been the perfect way to cap off my first full day of activity in Darwin.
- *I’ve since learnt that bread is not good for fish. Had i known before I went, I would not have gone.
Stokes Hill Wharf
After asking the lovely lady at Aquascene where a nice place would be to see the sunset, she said Stokes Hill Wharf was nice this time of day, so that’s where I headed. Parking at the end, then looking for a suitable place to capture my first setting sun in this new city, time was against me.
Walking at a brisk pace to not miss one of Darwin’s iconic sunsets, I found a spot halfway back upon the pier which I drive along. Thinking it wasn’t going to happen with heavy clouds upon the horizon, I still set up my gear hoping for a miracle to happen.
Lo and behold, the cloudscape ignited with breathtakingly vivid colours that transformed the skies from being dark and moody to something that looked like it came from a fantasy series. Like all things that burn so bright, the spectacular atmospheric display only lasted a few glorious minutes before dying into the night. Fingers crossed it was a sign of sunsets to come.
With the day done and the sunset captured, the belly was starting to scream, “Feed me. FEED ME, WOMAN!!!” Alright, alright, settle down.
With food on my mind, I strolled back down to the end of the wharf, looking for eats that would satisfy my tastebuds and get the stomach to shut the hell up.
Even though there were a few eateries to om nom nom at, they were bizarrely all Asian cuisines. Umm… where was the variety? I’m not sure anything there was Vegan either.
Upon leaving to seek out some cruelty-free eats, a storm began rolling in. It was way, way off in the distance, but still. Uber Squee!!!
But the call of the stomach was still beckoning me toward food. “You will die if you don’t feed me. Do you want to die?” Fine, fine. Geez, so dramatic.
Smith Street Mall
In the quest to satisfy the hunger, I found my way to Smith Street Mall. Not intentionally. It just happened. I liked the look of the place on the corner while driving the quiet streets of the crisp and clean modernized Darwin and was thinking of eating there if nowhere better was to be found.
Figuring I may as well check out the mall seeing as I had chanced upon it and I hadn’t had time to see it earlier. Going against all survival and self-preservation instincts, I mosied on through the eerily quiet mall and checked it out after dark. Turns out, there’s a lot of closed shops. I was not expecting that so soon after dark. Yo, Darwin, what’s up?
Sapphire Bar And Grill
Not a total loss though. I wasn’t there to shop, but even if I was, I wouldn’t. Except for souvenirs. HORDE SOUVENIRS! There was, however, a restaurant around the corner at the other end and the brains, the tastebuds and stomach all whispered to each other, “Yes, yes, that’ll do.” Sorry to the other place, you’ve been overruled.
Stepping in from the noise and chaos of Darwin’s midweek nightlife into the much calmer and quieter Sapphire Bar and Grill restaurant, I ordered a grilled vegetable salad and asked for a drink menu.
Before getting the chance to look it over at all and decide, the friendly bartender who’d given me the list asked my preferences and pointed to the fruity cocktail section. The pomegranate one sounded divine, but because it ‘happened in a blink, it happened in a flash, it happened in the time it took to look back,” I didn’t realise mint was involved. Shit, that herb is overpowering. Omit, omit, omit. Ah, it was too late. Blergh.
While waiting for the food to arrive, a man came around asking the outside dining guests for money. The hostess politely told him to carry on. It was then that the storm that had been manifesting way out in the distance decided to dump its payload.
The rain did not come in lightly then intensify. It beseemingly unleashed all its everything in one fell swoop, kind of like those waterparks for children with the tipping bucket, like as if to say, “Here, drown Darwin, drown, you measly little northern city. Drown!”
Going outside to enjoy the monsoonal rains underneath the verandah, I joined the two guys who were asked to spare some change also got up to appreciate the rainfall. A short conversation ensued about the weather, and I expressed how “if I hadn’t just ordered something, I would dance in it.” They dared me to do so. I politely replied that “I don’t think the restaurant would appreciate me walking back in sopping wet,” whilst thinking to myself, “My shameful dancing is only for me.” Because while I’m only mixed caucasian, I dance just as bad, if not worse than a full blood caucasian. And I do not want to be internet infamous for the bizarre moves I might pull. You seem nice, buddy, but I have to say no for your benefit. Have to do that away from eyeballs.
Not long after, the food was ready and looking healthy and delicious. Cooked to perfection were the roast vegetables, and one of the dips on top well well with the dish, the other, while not terrible by itself, took me out of the food experience as it didnt go with everything else. It’s was like when you’re intensely engaged in a movie, and your co-watcher keeps asking questions, crinkling noisy packaging or having bathroom breaks, and you glare at them for impacting the experience. “Why, why must you do this to me?”
Calling It A Night
Finishing up at Sapphire with the belly sated, I thanked the lovely wait staff for the delightful dinner, and headed back
to the Argus and crashed for the night. (Shoutout to guys watching the rain wishing me luck with the lightning shots while I was in the territory. I didn’t get any as all the storms were far, far away but I appreciated the well wishes.)
Tomorrow, I’d be ticking off some places I didn’t get around to see around the city before saying a temporary
- Travelled February 2021
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