Monday, 1 June 2015

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia - a sparkling, modern, tropical city

Fishing harbour
Until you visit a place your impression of it is naturally based on what you have seen
in the media or from conversations with people who have visited before you.  Since I have never really spoken to anyone about their trip to Darwin my mental image of the city was of the news items from the time when the catastrophic Cyclone Tracey hit the city on Christmas Day 1974.  Although that is a full 40 years ago those terrifying images were seared firmly into my brain, so, despite researching the city a bit before visiting, I was still expecting to find a small, dusty, outback town with old fashioned houses and little infrastructure.  How wrong could I be?
Cullen Bay
 Darwin is a lovely tropical city, modern, fresh, clean and sparkling in the sun shine.  For my few days there I stayed at Hotel Mantra on the Esplanade with a sea view from my room and a large, verdant park/reserve right opposite. The reserve was the perfect place to stroll among the huge, fragrant, frangipani trees early in the morning or to watch the sunset filtering through the palms at the end of the day. Mitchell St, the main street, and a stop for the Hop on Hop off bus, is through a short arcade behind the hotel. The bus costs $35 for a day pass and, with an excellent commentary, is good value.  I took the bus early one day visiting the Museum/Art Gallery which is some distance from the town centre. I particularly enjoyed the Aboriginal art and the display of unusual South East Asian boats but the most interesting thing to me was the Cyclone Tracey exhibition.  It is a wonder anything survived that maelstrom!  Winds of up to 240kms an hour ripped the city to shreds, destroying 70% of all buildings and killing 71 people.  There is a small darkened booth where you can hear sound recordings of the storm. It is terrifying to say the least but it is thanks to Cyclone Tracey that Darwin is now such an attractive city, it had to be virtually rebuilt.
An attractive colonial style house near my hotel

  With a population of around 140,000, half the total population of the vast Northern Territory State, Darwin is home to the Aboriginal Larrakia language group of people and includes ex-patriots from many countries. It is a city of culture, boasting its own symphony orchestra, holding occasional opera performances and supporting an annual sculpture exhibition. The large ex pat population also ensures plenty of ethnic restaurants to choose from.

The new Anglican Cathedral attached to the
original porch
The Governors Residence
After a complete circuit of the city on the bus I followed the City Walk map for a closer look at points of interest.  Many of the original old stone buildings, destroyed in the cyclone, have been rebuilt. The Anglican Cathedral is very modern but has retained the original stone entrance.  The attractive Governors Residence is a charming, shuttered, colonial style house which escaped the cyclone.  Parliament building, across the road, is large, square and ornate.  The local joke is that it is a wedding cake....white, beautifully decorated and full of fruit
and nuts mixed with alcohol.

There is a recently developed marine bay with modern hotels and restaurants and a popular wave pool for swimming, easily accessed by an over road walkway from the city centre.  NB: you cannot swim in the sea due to salt water crocodiles all year and the lethal box jelly fish which frequent the waters October to May.

Later in the day I once again boarded the bus.  The afternoon route includes a trip out to the Military Museum through the wonderfully named Fannie Bay to East Point Reserve.  It is a beautiful trip, past glamorous tropical houses, through the very pretty reserve and past a fresh water lake free of crocodiles and jelly fish, a popular swimming spot. 

The rest of my time in Darwin I spent strolling, swimming in the hotel pool, it was a hot 34 degrees, and relaxing.  One evening I went to Mindil Beach Market, fantastic fun which I will write about next time.

So, I am pleased to say that my old mental image of Darwin as a dusty, run down, outback town has disappeared and been replaced with the reality...a modern, sparkling, go ahead, tropical town, one I liked very much indeed.