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Touring the Top End


John Gavin


This month we will skip luxury accommodation, crowds of people and man-made scenery. Instead there will be a quick look at Darwin, then by arrangement with Great Southern Rail, coach travel with AAT Kings Coach to Kakadu and Arnhem, Land.

A practice of PiandO is to take a taxi tour to acquaint them with a new city.

A driver standing in the sun at the Darwin Airport taxi rank seemed a likely source of transport. McNeil (Mac) Cooper

of Coopers Limousines delivered his passengers to Darwin Central Hotel. Later in the day, on Mac’s recommendation, a visit to an Irish Pub; Shenanigans in Mitchell Street, an interesting experience. Squires Tavern in Edmund Street was another visited during the stay.

Next day, Mac was engaged for a two hour tour of Darwin (population 136,245.) Mac first took a route that included the business district, Darwin Port and the wharves.  The green of the city, trees and shrubbery revealed a clean and prosperous.  town, As Mac explained, for those willing to work, there are job’s in Darwin. The city has a 0% unemployment rate.

To one side of the harbour, oil and gas storage tanks are enormous. American warships anchored on one side of the port with one at the wharf were indicative of the American presence. The tour continued to the residential areas and more palatial homes of Darwin. Toward the outskirts, building blocks were replaced by five-acre properties, most with homes, some with fruit trees and other cultivation.

The military base is a vast network and prior to 2011 it was possible to enter the complex. The sea surrounds Darwin on three sides and magnificent white beaches are visible.  Mac explained the districts and some of Darwin's history.

Dropping his passengers back in the city Mac said goodbye and headed off for a necessary appointment. Dinner at Crustaceans on the wharf, a great location with a seafood platter for two served on a waterside table while watching the western horizon as day turned to night. Darwin Harbour was a striking sight with ships at anchor and watercraft busy ferrying passengers from ship to shore; many of them United States Service Personnel.

Early morning on the day of departure for Kakadu, Will the coach captain, loaded his passengers into an AAT Kings Coach. On loan from the Alice Springs base, Will was temporarily attached to the Darwin office. Away on time, Will maintained a running commentary for a large part of the more than 150 kilometre journey via Arnhem Highway.  Once again the route lead past five-acre blocks and Mango Orchards. Will explained that a study has confirmed what people in the Top End have long known - soaring temperatures and overcast skies make tempers fray. It is known as Mango Madness and is present in October and November when the Mango is harvested, largely by back-packers.

During the tour with Mac Cooper, it became obvious that much more is happening in Darwin than is general knowledge. Oil and gas are only a part of this. Apart from Mango’s, agricultural properties were abundant in a landscape thick with eucalyptus and tropical growth; the soil quality together with the climate may contribute to this prolific growth. The presence of United States military personnel is not excluded. Will provided an informative account as the coach continued eastward with lessons for each part of the journey.

In the middle of no-where, in the Marrakai Plains deep into the Kakadu National Park. the coach came to a stop at the Bark Hut Inn, a café, bar halfway between Darwin and Kakadu National Park.  Passenger unloaded for morning tea, coffee and snacks. At the side of the Bark Hut two Water Buffalo and an Emu paraded for onlookers. Jack, the Buffalo wanted human company, not for the purpose of spearing with his pointed horns but to be friendly, pat him and scratch behind his ears.

The next stop some distance after the Bark Hut was to view the Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie Rock.  A ranger conducted this walk beneath overhanging cliffs where the rock art, maybe up to forty-thousand-years old had been painted. Some of the art was in positions high from ground level. Theories as to how these painting were achieved exist but over forty-thousand-years many changes have been caused by erosion, landslip and other factors. The guide explained Nourlangie Rock was known as the place of sickness and the first Australian's would never stay long in this place. 

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Once more the coach came to a stop. A short walk brought visitors to the banks of the Yellow Water Billabong and several boats at the piers.  A guide explained the billabong and its vast wildlife; Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese. Eagles souring in the blue sky.


Above: Jack, the Water Buffalo wants a pat:

Left: Kakadu Scenery:

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