Saturday, July 10, 2010
We spent our first full night in the Northern Territories aboard Inti... a yacht! We met Rob in virtual reality through Couchsurfing. He invited us to spend a night in his home, which happens to be a boat. We talked about life as nomads, philosophy, politics, economics, and all the other things that make the world go 'round. I feel like I met a kindred spirit in Rob. It was inspirational to meet someone who has lived according to his own vision and values well past the age when certain pressures to "grow up" subdue even the most dedicated idealist. Rob, you have a home wherever we are, and I look forward to the day when our paths cross again!
Darwin turned out to be much more expensive and crowded than we anticipated, as we didn't realize it was peak tourist season (one potential downside to showing up in places randomly). We tried one night in a hostel, but even though we didn't arrive until 3:00 a.m, still I barely slept. So, it's back to sleeping outside! We rented a "ute," or a utility vehicle, actually a small pick-up truck, for only a few more dollars per day than a hostel booking for two. Grabbed a canister of butane for the camp stove and a mosquito net and it was back to nights with nothing but clouds between my closed eyelids and the universe.
(Side note: we obtained two camping mattresses via legal but dubious means. The first night we used them, we spent +/- 3 hours determining whether they were infested with bedbugs via careful application of the scientific method. No, not kidding. Verdict: no bedbugs!)
We spent a few days wandering around Litchfield National Park, which was crowded with mostly Aussie vacationers. Memories... every night, there was a very bright object in the sky, perhaps a planet. One night after dinner, a teeny tiny frog hopped up my skirt and landed on my thigh. Once I was done screaming and hopping around like a frog myself, that was pretty funny. Wild cockatoos are enchanting and goofy. It was so hot that everything slowed to a crawl: my thoughts wandered out of my brain, my feet simply refused to get a move on.
The most memorable tourist attraction in the park was a non-tourist attraction. It wasn't on any map. We stopped to explore some interesting rocks. They reminded me of some sort of ruins, the way they were stacked up in the middle of an otherwise flat, dry landscape. Clumps of grass switched at my calves as I tiptoed around, putting footprints in sand that hasn't seen human feet in a long, long time. One potential upside to showing up in places randomly, I'd say.
On the way back to Darwin, we stopped at Territory Wildlife Park, sponsored by Northern Territory government and featuring only species native to the region. This was the single touristy thing we did, and I'm happy with that. Highlights for me were the wedge-tailed eagle, the "saltie" or saltwater crocodile, and the rock wallabies.
On our last night in Darwin, we drove out to what we expected would be a quiet, dark, deserted park. Imagine my curiosity when a group of flashlight-weilding, rubber-glove-wearing, plastic-bag toting adults and children started wandering around the truck! I approached one of the kids, Brandon, who eagerly explained that they were searching for cane toads to grind into mulch.
Turns out cane toads are a non-native pest animal here, interfering with hermit crab populations, like possums and stoats interfere with bird populations in New Zealand. "Do you wanna join me? Please?" little Brandon asked. As if he had to ask! Dave got a pair of rubber gloves to protect his hands from the skin irritants in the toads' warts and I got a plastic bag. Brandon entertained us with his stealthy yet showy ninja toad catching moves as we wandered around the park. And thus we caught toads until it was time for bed.
Here are a few suggestions for Darwin and Northern Territory:
From what I can tell, freedom camping is illegal in Darwin itself. There is cheap camping in Litchfield National Park, but we didn't have a reservation, so we discretely parked in an out-of-the-way corner of a parking lot for two nights. On the third night, we were warned against parking in the Coastal Reserve (apparently aborigines sleep in the park while visiting relatives in the nearby hospital, and consequently police regularly patrol the park). We also checked out Lee Point, but we were warned against staying there, too. In the end, we found a parking lot in the Nightcliff neighborhood. Not completely dark, but there were no "No Camping/ Overnight Parking" signs that I could see. Your mileage may vary, and don't blame me if you get ticketed. As always, be quiet and leave no trace (including toilet paper—there are public toilets just around the corner in the larger parking areas).
There is free wireless internet at the library in the Parliment House. Be nice the librarians; they have to put up with the backpacker crowds. If you compliment their facility, they will be very happy.
The public bus system in Darwin is easy to understand; use it when you can. If you want to go to the Casuarina shopping center, I highly recommend you take the bus. The parking ramp was full when we stopped in.
The Nightcliff Market on Sunday morning was ok but not worth scheduling around it. It reminded me of the Ithaca Farmers' Market, but more batik and fewer veggies.
The hostels on the eastern end of Mitchell Street seem to be the most advertised, the busiest, and the most expensive. It might be worth checking out other areas of the city for a quieter, cheaper night's sleep. Still, expect to pay AUD$30 per night for a dorm bed during the peak tourist season.