Cruise Report # Twenty-Four– Day 40 – Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

From the Ships Navigator

Today we will embark the local pilot at 6:00am. Thereafter we will sail on a southeasterly heading towards our berth in Darwin. The weather forecast predicts an outside temperature of 86 degrees and gentle breeze blowing from the East with a force of 3.

Note: All quoted old words are in “Australian Vernacular”

G’day Mates, Welcome to Darwin, Australia “The Lucky Country”

Darwin is the territorial capital and most populous city of Australia’s Northern Territory; however, it is the least populous of the Australian capitals. The Larrakia Peoples had trading routes with Southeast Asia, and imported goods from as far as South and Western Australia. Established “songlines” penetrated throughout the country, allowing stories and histories to be told and retold along the routes. The Dutch visited Australia’s northern coastline in the 1600s, and created the first European maps of he area, hence the Dutch names in the area, such as Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt, which still bear the original old Dutch spelling for “great island,” The first British person to sight Darwin’s harbor was Lieutenant John Lort Stokes of HMS Beagle in 1839 The ship’s captain, Commander John Clenents Wickham, named the port after naturalist Charles Darwin, who had sailed with them both on the earlier second expedition of the Beagle. In 1870, the first poles for the Overland Telegraph were erected here connecting Australia to the rest of the world. The discovery of gold at Pine Creek in the 1880’s further boosted the colony’s development. In 1911, Darwin became the city’s official name.

Our Visit

Our day started early, early for Barbara that is, as I am usually up around 5am everyday. Every passenger had to report the Queen’s Lounge between the hours of 6 and 8am to see the Australian Immigration Officials for a face-to-passport check. Only after this took place were you issued a yellow Shore Pass that you had to show at the gangway before going ashore. This necessary procedure went a lot smoother than it did when we visited Russia, however, as the Russians only had one or two officials to do the check, where the Aussies had 12. It took less than two hours as “traffic” was well directed by the ships staff. The Aussies were also very friendly, which was not the case in Russia.

After a leisurely “brekkie”, Barbara and I sat around waiting for our tour number to be called. We were headed for an excursion to the “Outback” of Litchfield National Park, some two hours south of Darwin. As we were to later learn, the Outback is pretty much any place beyond the outskirts of town. Soon we were onboard our 21 passenger bus and on our way. We left with three seats vacant and our guide/driver/loader thought we might be one passenger shy, but “no worries”, we’ll stop if we see anyone a running”. “The “top-enders” are a very laid back “blokes” and don’t get too worked-up about anything”. In these first few words to us, Andrew set the tone for the day.

Once again we were on a speeding bus, ‘heading out’, to have a “Captain Cook” at the “Top End”, although this time it was as though we were on a modern roadway somewhere in our southern states back home. Wide, well maintained highways were to be the order of the day. Once we reached the outskirts of the city, Andrew maintained a speed of over 100 “clicks”. He said that until recently there were no speed limits in the “territory”, but deaths had been on the rise so the government stepped in and established limits for all roads. Like most guides we have had on previous excursions, Andrew was a “fair dinkum” Australian with a lot to tell us about his country. He was also very patient with a couple of “earbashing” women that seemed to “Yabber” with endless questions, including some that he had had already explained – in detail. After a while several folks were getting “as cross as a Frog in a sock”. It has amazed me on this cruise as to how many people do so little advance preparation for the countries in which they will be traveling. Especially annoying are those people who when in a confined space, seem to have only one volume to their voice – loud! Then there are those who, are so pampered on the ship, expect the same on excursions. Buses should have isles three feet wide and entry doors 6 inches off the ground.

There, now that I gotten that off my chest, now I can quit “whinging” and move on!

Litchfield NP features four spectacular waterfalls (Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, Tolmer Falls and Sandy Creek Falls) we were to visit Florence and Wangi today. These four falls feed a wetlands region of red-grained mountains carved into valleys and gorges and blanketed with lush rain forest. I was surprised at how green the countryside was throughout our drive. The Northern Territory has two seasons; “the Wet” and the “the Dry”, the “dry” season was just ending and the area would soon be deluged with monsoon rains. A unique phenomenon of the geographic makeup of Litchfield NP is the Tabletop Range where woodlands and forests dominate this huge sandstone plateau where the falls are located that has the ability to absorb and store so much of this moisture that the falls run continuously throughout the “dry” season. There are times in the “wet” when access to the falls is restricted because of the heavy water flow and flooding.

Before our arrival at Florence Falls, we drove through landscape that was a “forest” of termite mounds of every shape and size, with some being as tall as two meters. There are three types of mounds in this area; those built with soil, tree borers and magnetic. The magnetic mounds were the most interesting was they were in an open field taking on the appearance of an ancient graveyard. The mounds are like enormous magnetic compasses with their thin edges pointing north-south and broad backs east-west, minimizing their exposure to the sun, thereby keeping the mounds cool for the termites inside. All mounds are built to minimize the heat inside. Like ant colonies, workers and warriors maintain and protect the mound and its queen. Solid as cement, the only danger to the colony comes from man and a lizard species, whose claws can open the mound. Once a year, in December, the workers will open the tops of the mounds and termites with wings will float skyward “like smoke from a chimney” to establish other colonies. Wherever the wind currents deposit them is where the new colony will be built, whether it be a tree, a rock, or as I saw yesterday, an exposed city water main. Those that land on trees, will bore out the inside of the tree, however, the tree will not be killed as that part beneath the bark is not harmed and the tree keeps healthy and growing. The magnetic mounds are only built in a swampy open area devoid of trees and bush. After a trip to “a Bush” loo, we continued south to Florence Falls. Visitors are permitted to wade and swim in the pools below the falls, but only during “the dry”. Since we were on a tight time schedule and it was quite a walk down to the pools, we only stayed long enough to take pictures. Once again, the heat was oppressive.

Our next stop was for lunch at the Monsoon Café at the farthest point south we would travel. We “bogged in” on steak “on the Barbie” or Barramundi (SP) fish, salad and a drink, (Coldie, Amber liquid for me, wine for Barbara) served out in the open under a huge dining fly. Everything was great, except we couldn’t figure out what the “French” salad dressing was made of, since it looked like vinegar and water. It was amazing to see how big a “mob” of tourists this small outpost could feed in an hour.

After “vegging out” we returned to the road and headed for our final stop; Wanji Falls. Those who brought their “bathers” were invited to take a short dip, I waded in a bit. Andrew put a species of small ant on his finger and explained that when consumed in large quantities, can sustain life in the bush. He was very careful to return the ant unharmed to the ground, as all living things in the park are protected. Gosh, what about all those flies we killed on the bus? On a short walk we also observed huge fruit bats hanging/sleeping in the trees above our heads. It was a restful stop before heading back to Darwin. We thought we could get some rest, however the “yappers” were at it again and a couple of people were getting “as mad as a cut snake”, and one women behind me was “getting her knickers in a knot”! We passed one truck stop where the “truckies” and their “road trains” were taking a break before heading “beyond the black stump”.

Andrew was kind enough drop some of us off downtown to do some shopping; however most of the shops had closed at 5pm, so we had a light Italian dinner. Since we were still feeling quite good and the evening was inviting, we decided to walk along the Esplanade that overlooked the harbor and make our way back to the ship. It had been a great day and as we settled into our stateroom with our glasses of wine, we were both “grinning like a shot fox”.

We sailed around midnight heading for Cairns, our next stop on Sunday. Till then we bid you farewell, from where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet; the Araufura Sea.

Jack and Barbara

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s