Friday, 22 July 2011

Darwin and the NT.

July 8 – 20
The first two days in the marina after 16 days at sea were busy as you’d expect with Colin and Milin taking care of a mile of administrative issues while the crew, Karen, Mark and Rob, set to cleaning down the boat from top to bottom, making two weeks plus of rubbish disappear in the marina’s industrial bin and making more than a reasonable sized donation at the Laundromat to get all our washing done.

Nae Hassle as seen from the masthead 70 feet up

There was also a trip into the CBD to meet with Australian Customs regarding our checking out procedures when we leave on the 23rd and a visit to the Indonesian Consulate to organise our special 60 day visas and the boats CAIT (Cruising Permit). We topped up our fishing supplies and then while the owners caught up with some friends it was definitely time for the crew to hit the nearest Pub and enjoy a fairly long, lazy lunch, all the while ensuring we conditioned ourselves to Darwin’s warm weather by keeping up our fluid intake all afternoon. We also took the opportunity to plan a side trip to see some of the sites of the Northern Territory.
Saturday was spent on some more boat maintenance including Rob going up the mast in the bosun’s chair to tighten a loose radio aerial. He also took the opportunity to get some great photos of Nae Hassle and the marina from 70 feet above.

Darwin's love of beer & thongs combined at the beer can regattta.

On Sunday the crew abandoned ship for a while. We three crew grabbed a hire car and started checking out the tourist highlights. Very conveniently, Darwin’s annual Beer Can Regatta was being held at Mindle Beach which, combined with the nationally famous markets, made a great first stop. Plenty of fun and unbelievable food. The huge, fresh oysters in particular were absolutely outstanding. Marc was specialy interested in the P.A. announcements for the upcoming Lady's Thong Throwing Competition until we burst his bubble explaining that in Australia a thong is a form of rubber sandle rather than a tiny item of lady's lingerie.
Darwin was Australia’s frontline in WW2 and many people don’t realise that the Japanese actually dropped more bombs on this northern city than Pearl Harbour. There are many reminders of the wartime activities around the Northern Territory but the Military Museum and gun emplacements at East Point are definitely a must see for anyone visiting Darwin. The museum has a huge range of items, exhibits and audio visuals that dramatically portray the city’s wartime experiences.
We finished a great day with dinner and drinks sitting over the water on the famous harbour jetty.

Small termite nest beside the highway

Next morning it was up early to head south on the Stuart Highway. First stop Adelaide River and a stop at the War Cemetery where the graves of the 350+ killed in the first air raid on Darwin were interned along with many, many more from subsequent actions in the region. Particularly moving is the separate section that holds the graves of the Darwin Postmaster, his family and staff who were all killed by a direct hit on the Post Office which cut the vital telegraph contact with the rest of Australia.
A quick stop in Pine Creek provided a glimpse of the area’s gold mining history, with shafts everywhere and a view from the lookout of the now water filled open cut mine.
The Northern Territory used to have no speed limit on its highways but in these days of political correctness and  the nanny state, there is now a 130kph limit. While this should of still ensured a reasonably rapid trip it didn’t work out that way –BLOODY GREY NOMADS AND THEIR CARAVANS.  The Territory in July clearly has the highest concentration of these mobile chicanes travelling at 50 kph UNDER the speed limit in closely bunched convoys ever assembled in the nation’s history.  We are talking literally three or four hundred  in the three hundred kilometre stretch to Katherine. Definitely bad for the driver’s blood pressure. Buy a boat and get off the roads you bastards. No forget that idea stay on the roads and leave the seas to us.

Marc, Rob and Karen at about to cool off at Edith Falls

We needed a stop at Edith Falls to cool off.  What a gem of a spot. We elected not to jump in the huge swimming area near the car park but took the 2.4k walk to the upper pools. What a good decision. The trail crosses beautiful billabongs teeming with birdlife before climbing up the escarpment to provide unbelievable views of the country side and the falls themselves. Diving into the rock pool at the base of one of the falls was refreshing to say the least.

Cutta Cutta Caves - Katherine

In Katherine we caught up with Alan and Noi from the boat Rogue who were also off playing tourists and we had a great feed and a few Coronas in what the barmaid at the pub had assured us was the best place in town. She was spot on, so if you’re ever looking for a place to eat in Katherine, don’t go past the Chinese takeaway in the main street.
Next morning we headed south past Tindal RAAF base to visit the Cutta Cutta Caves. Well worth the drive. We’ve been in a number of limestone cave systems but this one is different because it’s almost totally dry for much of the year. Cutta Cutta is local dialect which translates to “many, many stars” and with its high quartz content mixed with the limestone it definitely sparkles like the inland sky.

Katherine Gorge boat cruise was amazzing

On to Katherine Gorge for a climb up to the lookout at the mouth of the Gorge and then back down for a two hour boat trip up the first two of the fourteen sections of one of Australia’s most incredible geographic features. Later in the dry season you can canoe and swim in the Gorge but the National Parks and Wildlife Service hadn’t quite finished their surveys and audits to make sure there were no Saltwater Crocs left in the Gorge that had made their way upstream during the wet season.  Each year they trap and relocate the salties after the wet and the rocky rapids then act as a natural barrier to them until the next year’s flows.
All of us were simply in awe of this ancient paradise. The Northern Territory’s tourism slogan of “You’ll never never know if you never ever go” is actually right. If you haven’t been here and don’t currently have Katherine Gorge on your bucket list, add it NOW.

 Kakadu rock art - legend says he was a very naughty boy.

Next morning we headed back north but this time through the legendary Kakadu National Park. Although it’s better to visit this area before the wetlands dry up and recede after the rainy season, it was still very humbling to walk through caverns covered with rock art produced over the thousands of years of human occupation of this area and marvel at the natural rock formations and incredible escarpments. You really would need to spend a week to even scratch the surface of the natural and ancient man made marvels of the park – but – we were in a hurry. We had to be back in Darwin that night and the jumping crocodiles of Adelaide River were waiting.

5.5 metre Barabos the croc likes his buffalo meat

A quick dash through Jabiru to Humpty Doo saw us board a small aluminium boat made famous the day before by a photo of a huge 5 metre croc leaping out of the water on the front page of  Darwin’s daily newspaper. While so called experts around the world debated the photo’s authenticity we found out first hand it was definitely ‘the real thing”. It was incredible getting so up close and personal with these living dinosaurs. 25 years of tourism have the crocs in this stretch of the river well conditioned to leaping for lunch as they are offered lumps of buffalo meat. When Harry, the skipper, lured a five and half metre specimen off the mud banks we all felt a little insignificant as it was as long as the boat and bumped around against the hull eyeballing us at it waited for its next morsel. Very cool! Marc had his Croc encounter ticked off and that night we were back on Nae Hassle in Darwin with plenty of crocadile stories to tell all and sundry over sundowners.

Time to go sailing

Next morning Rob headed back for a flying visit home Ipswich to complete his last motor racing commentary event. He had announced his retirement as of the annual Winternationals event in June which is Australia’s largest drag race. Unfortunately the last two days of the race meeting had to be postponed until July due to rain and Willowbank Raceway elected to fly Rob back from Darwin to “finish the job” for his final appearance. Unbelievably rain re-appeared on the Sunday afternoon with only a few semi-finals and the finals remaining to run and his final work in commentary was unfortunately announcing the abandonment of the event to the waiting crowd and racers. Bugger! The raceway’s President, John Winterburn, made a lovely  presentation to Rob on the startline during the first weekend of the event and Lex Swayn wrote a great article in “Dragster Australia” magazine which Rob really appreciated.
As disappointing as the weather was it was a great opportunity for Rob to catch up with the family though, particularly all four grandkids, and good to celebrate daughter Yasmin’s 25th birthday with her.
We’re now all set to head to Kupang, West Timor with the Sail Indonesia Rally on Saturday 23rd and are booked to head out through the marina’s lock at 9.15am before joining with the 109 boats on the rally for an 11.00am departure from Darwin Harbour.

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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.

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