Friday, February 6, 2009

FEBRUARY 5, 2009 - DARWIN (DAY 1)

FEBRUARY 5, 2009 - 28/104 - DARWIN (DAY 1)

The alarm goes off at 5:00AM and we are out the door heading for the Perth Airport by 6:20. The traffic is very light and it takes us about 30 minutes to reach it. The rental car return area is very inconvenient as the airport is under some major reconstruction. We have to walk quite some way to the check-in counter. Security is the usual hassle, but there is no line and goes as smoothly as it ever does and we have something over an hour to wait for boarding time for our 8:30 flight. The Perth airport, at least where we are, is quite comfortable and the wait passes quickly. Carolyn roams the shops and finds some more tiny puzzles.

Our flight leaves on time and we fly across a great, red ocean for about three hours before we began to see green and flowing water again. For this four hour flight, we had elected to fly economy class to save $1500 and lucked out with just the two of us in our three abreast row of seats. Plus much to our surprise, Qantas is very nice in economy. They served a nice continental breakfast and a snack. They have "Australia" as the in flight movie so Carolyn watches it again. About an hour out of Darwin, a deck of clouds appeared below us and was broken to solid the rest of the way. We did get a look at the Darwin area on final approach and our impression was of a very tropical land with palm trees, red dirt and showers all about the area.

Our first Hertz rental car, despite their cars being non-smoking, reeks of cigarette smoke so we get it swapped for a clean one and get a $27 credit on the bill for our trouble. Then, we are off to find the Mantra Esplanade Hotel on the Esplanade in Darwin. It is easy to find. How hard can it be in Darwin? Our room is on the 5th floor overlooking the harbor. From our balcony, all we can really see is Esplanade Park, a small pleasure boat park to our right (NW), gray/blue/green water of the harbor and land in the distance to the southwest. The industrial and fishing harbor is to our left (SE) and around a bend in the land.
It is showery but we need a late lunch so we venture forth and find, nearby, an open air Irish Pub named "Shenanigans". The posted menu looks promising, we go in and order the "catch of the day". This, like most places in Australia and New Zealand, is basically fish and chips. The fish is a huge filet and with the chips and salad it makes more than a meal. Evidently the Aussies do not use ketchup nor do they use vinegar on their fried fish. The condiment offering is a homemade tartar sauce that is OK but the fish and chips would be so much better with vinegar and/or ketchup. It is an Irish pub and they have at lest twenty beers on tap and another 50-60 by the bottle. Dick picks a tap beer at random and pronounces it good.

We then go exploring the downtown area on foot. The heat and humidity are stifling and within ten minutes, neither if us own a dry thread of clothes. We are amazed at how few of the shops are air-conditioned. Working in them all day must be a real trial; or, maybe you get used to it. It reminds Carolyn of shopping as a kid before A/C!

Carolyn fulfills one of her trip’s shopping goals when she discovers a shop called the "Pearl Gallery." It is operated by two ladies and the owner makes her a good deal on two unset South Sea Australia farmed pearls from the farms near Broome. She is tempted by four, fairly small, baroque, natural pearls from the same area but, at $500AU each, she passes. Evidently, natural, uncultured, pearls are becoming quite rare as the success of pearl farming continues to grow. Anyway, there are still opal(s) to buy.

We return to the hotel and retrieve the AIR-CONDITIONED car and begin a more comfortable exploration of the city. Our first destination is an area called Cullen Bay. It contains some shops and a few restaurants and is the embarkation point for a trip to Tiwi Island. Tiwi is an aboriginal community and, for the mere sum of $250AU you too can ride out and spend the day; including lunch. We are sure it would be interesting but it is a little steep for our blood and we don’t want to spend a whole day in that way.

We next head for Stokes Hill Wharf. At first glance it appears to be just a fishing pier but at the end is a closed off area with open air restaurants offering, mainly, oriental dishes or cold or fried sea foods. It contains one, apparently, nice restaurant, called "Crustaceans on the Wharf" but they are closed. The sign on the door reads, "We will be closed from December 21 until March 9. We are taking the boat fishing. Please visit us when we return and try our new menu items." Carolyn does not trust the oriental food and we have had our fried food for the day so we pass.

Stokes Hill Wharf is the target sight of the first bomb to be dropped during the Japanese air raid on February 19, 1942. You know, the air raid that is shown in the movie, "AUSTRALIA." There is a substantial bronze plaque mounted on the wharf marking the event. The wharf of that time was destroyed in the raid and several ships were sunk. Today’s wharf was constructed in 1946. By the way, Darwin does not look anything like the Darwin in the movie. Surprise, surprise!!

We continue our explorations by taking a look at several historic buildings and an Anglican church. Most of Darwin was destroyed Christmas Day 1974 by a typhoon. Most of the old stone buildings, from the mid to late 1800s, were destroyed or heavily damaged as was the rest of the city. Ruins of some of the historic buildings have been restored, or stabilized ( the Town Hall), or incorporated into new construction (the Church) and the result is quite interesting.
By now, it is all of 7:00PM and we are exhausted what with the heat, humidity and the early start to our day. By 8:00PM Dick is asleep and Carolyn is well on her way to the same destination.

1 comment:

Orlando Vic said...

What made you decide on staying at the Mantra Esplanade Hotel? Did you find it yourself, use wotif.com or did someone else recommend it?

What do you think of it in terms of quality, price and location?