Following our chilly visit to Tasmania, we decided to warm our frozen souls by heading back to Darwin in the Northern Territory. In winter the population of the city swells as everyone and their wife heads north for some sunshine. Backpackers, international holiday makers and Aussies alike flock to warm their cockles in the tropical city. This exodus really pushes up the price of accommodation and can make it more difficult to find a room in Darwin than on Christmas eve in Bethlehem.
Darwin is a party city, the bars on the main strip pulse with punters jostling to buy cold beers and cocktails. It feels a lot like the package holiday towns of the Balearics, rammed full of sunburnt 18-30 year old’s. Although Darwin does have a few great features which took us by surprise. The lagoon is beautiful spot for lazing in the sun or cooling off in croc free waters. There is also a charming deckchair cinema which screens films under the stars in the balmy evening air.
The best thing to do in Darwin is in fact to leave it. A trip to the many waterfalls of Kakadu and Litchfield national parks is, in our opinion, unmissable. Exploring the aboriginal rock art sites in Ubirr and spotting crocodiles on the Mary River wetlands is a real highlight and a world away from the sweaty streets of Darwin.
Having seen the sights of the big city and explored the surrounding area on a previous trip, we picked up a little rental camper-van and started to drive. With three weeks to cover the entire west coast of Australia, the van would be our home and transport on the final leg of our Ozzie adventure. We hit the road and began to feel very pleased with ourselves as we let our eyes adjust to the blue skies and orange earth of the world around us.
A quick stop on the Stuart highway revealed, to our surprise, purple wheelie bins. Something we hadn’t seen since leaving Liverpool a year and a half ago. (A quick explanation for our overseas readers: a wheelie bin is a large garbage/trash can, most UK homes have three, one for recycling, one for garden waste and one for general waste. They are usually green, brown or black, some are blue or even red, but the city of Liverpool is the only place where the residents have purple wheelie bins. Naturally, the purple wheelie bin has become a enviable status symbol which many are jealous of). Obviously Liverpool city council are making a bit of cash on the side by selling surplus wheelie bins to the Northern Territory.
We pulled off the highway at the little town of Pine Creek and were surprised to see hundreds of cars and a huge crowd of people by the river. Investigating, we quickly realised we had stumbled across the Northern Territory Gold Panning Championship (apparently that’s a thing). We watched as NT residents of all ages rolled up their jeans and squatted in the creek under their wide brim hats. It was as strange as you would imagine a small town gold panning festival to be, we left Pine Creek feeling equally amused and perplexed by what we had just witnessed.
Our next stop was Leliyan (Edith Falls), a stunning set of cascading waterfalls and pools in Nitmiluk national park, just north of Katherine. Cooling off from the afternoon heat we took a dip in the lower pool, swimming against a backdrop of sprawling escarpments and bright blue sky. We decided to camp overnight at the falls, which cost around $8 and allowed us to explore the area at a leisurely pace. The following morning we set out early and hiked to the top pools. As the heat of the day began to take hold we found ourselves at the cascading swimming holes on top of the rugged escarpment. We jumped in to cool off from the hike and soothe our weary bodies in the crystal clear water. We stayed for a while basking in the sun and enjoying the natural beauty of the area before hiking back down and carrying on towards Katherine.