Monthly Archives: May 2021
The Ghan pulled into Alice Springs Station on time, around 11am. We had risen from our bunk slumbers for a 7.15am breakfast after which we had some time back in the cabin looking out the window at the passing scenery. Low olive green scrub set amongst the odd tree here and there, open plains and red dirt. The over whelming feature though is distance, the view just goes on and on. Allthego remembers a book he read many years ago, a classic Australian history book, ‘The Tyranny of Distance’. It was a treatise on how, in the author’s view, distance had first shaped Australia’s European settlement and then it’s subsequent social and economic development. I suspect that same distance also shaped Aboriginal development and history prior to what is now seen as the European invasion. Enough of that though, back to the Ghan.
On our way south from Katherine the train rocked and gently rolled along during the night. We had no trouble with sleeping. The train stopped from time to time, we had a couple of hours in a siding at Tennant Creek north of Alice. Once in Alice we were whisked away on buses for the selected excursions. The two of us went out to the Alice Springs Desert Park. This is a sprawling establishment set below the McDonald Ranges escarpment. Our guide took us around pointing out various plants, birdlife in the giant aviary and the residents in the nocturnal house. Some dingos were wandering around on leash, seemingly tame but one can never be sure with these fellows. After a good lunch there was a session with the local birds of prey. The birds are let out ‘to fly’ in the open skies, returning to their keeper for ‘treats’, also knowing they will be rewarded with a bigger treat for dinner later on. This was quite a spectacle, the various species soaring high and then zooming in low over our heads. The Desert Park is thoroughly recommended if you are into nature based attractions.
It was then back to the train for a brief time to clean up before dinner under the stars at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. It is a couple of kilometres out of town and is the original site of Alice Springs. The Telegraph Station was one of the thirteen repeater stations on the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin, which started operation back in the 1870s (not sure this date is right but it is pretty close), and which then connected to the submarine cable from Java and on to Europe. The Station is a great venue for a dinner, the grounds and buildings are well maintained. We were entertained by a three man band singing a range of 1960/70s hits well suited to the onlookers. They were joined by a didgeridoo player for a bracket of numbers, ‘We come from a Land Downunder’ really pounded out with the Didg reverberating that deep haunting sound out into the night sky. A memorable night.
It was back to the Ghan though to continue the journey to Coober Pedy. Allthego didn’t vary his bunk technique. All quite smooth and we again had a good sleep arriving at Manguri in the early hours for breakfast. There was at times a bit more rocking and rolling compared to the section from Darwin to Alice. The fellow in charge of our train section told me that this could be attributed to the track condition. The Darwin to Alice section was in much better condition having been completed in 2004, after originally being promised by Government in 1911. The original section from Adelaide to Alice Springs was completed in 1929. This track though was realigned in 1980 to avoid flood prone areas that severely disrupted the train and destroyed tracks and infrastructure.
We have had some really top eats and wines along this journey. A feature has been the use of bush tucker in some of the sauces and marinades. These are described in the colourful meal menus. Allthego could not resist picking up a few of these as souvenirs.
Manguri is a railway siding thirty kilometres from Coober Pedy. There are remnants here of a railway track maintenance community. Concrete pads as reminders of the small group of people who lived here many years ago.
Our off train excursion today took us out to the Breakaways. Pictures are better than words here. Remarkable place, remnant areas of the ancient sea floor being slowly eroded leaving rock formations and stream beds. After looking around here it was back towards town stopping at an opal mine turned tourist destination. We had lunch here after which it was down a short tunnel for a talk by an old opal miner about the use of gelignite and dynamite in the mining for opals. Interesting chat, not sure how he has lived to 94 working in this game! Last stop was an opal shop and museum in town, short talk followed by the opal hard sell. All very genteel though!
Back to the train and a drink as the sun slowly set at Manguri. On board we were off to dinner and then bed. It was the last overnight leg of the journey to Adelaide.
The weather turned on us a little with some heavy rain overnight but clearing as we came into Adelaide Station. It has been a great journey through the Australian Outback. We are looking forward to a few days in Adelaide before returning to Brisbane.
On the Ghan
Our trip on the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide takes three days and nights, with stops at Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy. The Coober Pedy stop is actually a railway siding at Manguri, a railway siding about thirty km from the town and buses take us into the town.
It was a 5am rise to prepare for and catch the 6am transfer bus to the Darwin railway station, twenty km out of town. At the station there were lots of people milling around, checking in with QR codes and answering COVID questions (despite having done this when getting on the bus back in the town). We have been assigned to car B which, not surprisingly, comes after car A. Cars C & D are then between us and the explorer lounge followed by the Queen Adelaide dining car. So we (the Gold Class people) seem to be grouped in sets of six cars. Memory tells us there were ten twin cabins in our car. Some cars have single cabins. There are also groups of Platinum Class people scattered in the car line up with their own lounges and dining cars. Platinum is a much flasher class of travel, double beds (no bunks) and more space. More cost too of course! All up there are thirty carriages, including staff and luggage/storage carriages. We are a tad over seven hundred metres long and are pulled by two diesel locomotives. Some of the Ghan journeys have more cars and stretch up to one kilometre long.
The train was due to leave at 9 am but didn’t set off until around 9.15am for Katherine. Soon after we were called into the dining car for brunch. Managed to squeeze a departure bubbles down in the lounge beforehand. More about the meal experiences on the train later, except to say that they were excellent!
We arrived at Katherine around midday and were quickly off on our cruise (from a choice of four options) on the Nitmiluk Gorge, it used to be called Katherine Gorge. In the north, as in the south, many of the locations and attractions are reverting to their indigenous names. This was a great guided experience cruising up the first two gorges and taking in the sights from the level of the river, rather than gazing down from the top of the cliffs. We have been here before, but did not do the gorge trip. It was a stop in the van along the way to Kakadu. Apart from the National Park there is not a lot else to see in Katherine itself, it is a service centre for the surrounding country. Some use it as a base from which day trips can be done to other parts.
We were back on the train around 4.30pm and headed off at 6.30pm. Dinner was at 7.15pm. What do you do in the train over this three hour period? Well, you go to the lounge car before dinner and have a chat with fellow travelers and look out the window at the scenery as the sun sinks slowly and the dark comes in.
After dinner we retired to our cabin for bed. In our absence the lounge in the cabin had been converted to a bed and the bunk from above dropped. The wet ensuite was a little tight, but who cares you don’t stay there long! Allthego had the top bunk, interesting getting in as the ladder up is near the pillow. Up you go, swing ones end onto the bed, do a little end shuffle towards the other end of the bunk and then swing the legs up. More nimble and agile types might do it a different way. But this technique worked, even in the early hours of the morning when nature calls. We are due to arrive in Alice Springs mid morning.
Last Days in Darwin
After the last blog effort Homealone suggested I should lighten up a bit. She thought it was a bit turgid and overly informative. Well I do not know whether she was right, but I do like a bit of detail sometimes to inform my good readers. As it turns out our last days in Darwin were fairly light on information wise.
First up was the must do visit to Crocosaurus Cove. This is right in the middle of Mitchell St, just up from Capitanos. Behind the street front entrance there is a sprawling complex of billabong tanks and nocturnal houses with various sized crocodiles and reptilian creatures. The big crocs are sort of rejects from the natural world. Difficult characters who if not relocated here may otherwise have been destroyed. They lie around on the concrete beaches and have the occasional swim around in the water. There is one particular fellow, Axel, who cruises around his tank while ‘brave’ souls descend in a perspex tank with goggles and watch him from below water line. Lots of snapping of jaws while he is fed in close proximity to the cage. This experience cost $270 for a caged couple. Now, Homealone was not keen to do this whilst Allthego was keen. It was not possible though, booked out for the next month! Lucky! It was an interesting couple of hours wandering around, saw big crocs, little crocs and various reptiles.
After surviving Crocosaurus Cove we had lunch and then recovery time back at Capitanos before attending the Deckchair Cinema down at the waterfront in the evening. Started at 6pm with an hour beforehand for dinner followed by the movie at 7 pm. We saw ‘My Salinger Year’, story about a young Uni graduate, who wants to be a poet, going off to work as a publisher’s assistant in New York leaving the boyfriend behind. The publisher acted for J D Salinger of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ fame. She had to answer his copious fan mail. Quite an engaging tale and I will not spoil it by revealing any more of the plot! Great under the clear night sky, cushions supplied for the deck chairs and insect repellent for the bugs.
The ‘highlight’ of Darwin was on our last day. The Waterfront Wave Pool. Allthego took to this like a duck to water. The waves work for ten minutes and then it all goes quiet for twenty minutes, then ten minutes of waves etc …… all day. Homealone did not partake, had a quiet chardonnay looking on from the bar and reading a book. Water was warm about a metre and half deep, people bouncing all over the place. It was an all age fun place. Allthego survived for about forty minutes before retiring to the bar to recover and have lunch.
On the way back to Capitanos, to ready for the next mornings pick up for the Ghan, Allthego took a short detour to see some of the street art that is in the lane ways around the city. Quite a variety, although there is a significant indigenous flavour to the creations.
Darwin’s WW11 experiences
Over the last couple of days we have been in and out of a number of the Darwin WW11 ‘experiences’. The February 1942 bombing raid by the Japanese, along with Cyclone Tracy, are prominent tourist ‘traps’. The sort of things Australians, rather than foreigners, are ‘supposed’ to see. The foreigners go to Kakadu and other nature based activities. The Aussies seem to want to see old relics and sites from the city’s past. Nothing wrong with that of course, we did it!
But a short interlude, Althego thought it might be good to hire a car for a few days to get around the sites. It seems that hiring a car is like trying to get hotel rooms. All booked out for days in advance. Budget Rentals our next door neighbours said we could have one on 27 May, ten days hence. So the lesson is to book well ahead if you plan in coming to these parts. So we jumped on and off the Big Red Bus to get around to the sites.
We have ‘done’ four of the attractions. All very interesting and bring different perspectives to the story. The Oil Storage Tunnels were built under the Darwin waterfront cliff line following the bombing of the nearby above ground storage tanks. They were horseshoe shaped, concrete formed and steel lined. Most of the tunnels are over 150 metres long and 3 metres or so high. A lot of oil could have been stored in them. They didn’t really work and never held oil. Bit of a lemon it seems, plagued with location, geological and design issues. An interesting walk through them.
The bombing of Darwin Harbour is also featured in the Royal Flying Doctor Service tourist facility on Stokes Wharf. This was quite impressive. A hologram of the Captain of the USS Peary, which was sunk in the harbour, along with some computer animated footage of the attack is quite confronting. There is also an a headphone experience with animations all around you of the attack, puts you in the thick of it. A life size replica of a Zero hangs from the ceiling along with other bits and pieces including a cross section of a Japanese bomb. Down the back the RFDS takes over with their story, including a John Flynn hologram and footage. We have done this story before at Cloncurry and elsewhere, had a look inside one of their planes, quite a set up.
Next port of call was the Territory Museum. This is very good. Excellent display of wildlife and habitats, not overdone with information boards. They have an excellent taxidermist! Very big crocodile on display, Sweetheart. Died while being captured, big fellow that was creating havoc for us humans on the waterways, attacking boats etc. The main thing here for us though was the Cyclone Tracy displays and videos. Very detailed telling of the physical power of this cyclone and the destruction caused on that early Christmas morning in 1974. There is a small room, pitch black darkness, to stand in and hear a recording of the actual storm roaring around and ripping apart buildings. Very unnerving indeed.
The final instalment was at the Military Museum out on East Point. The Darwin bombing experience here was very different to the one at the RFDS. Bit more precision to it all. The main video presentation was a collection of actual footage from the time and included personal reflections of service people and civilians who experienced the action. Numerous people seem to have donated things to the display, illustrating their experiences of the time. It was therefore on a different plane to the RFDS experience. One could be more moved by the drama and their sacrifice. Upon reflection I am not sure which was superior, both have their place I suppose.
On a different note we have had an evening out on the harbour aboard Cape Adieu for a sunset dinner cruise. It is an old converted fishing boat. It leaves from Stokes Wharf and cruises along the harbour front and then back takes about three hours. Plenty of great sea food and views of the city. Quite a good sunset too. Guess is there were about fifty on the boat, spread over three decks. So it was a good laid back experience without crowds of people on a couple of the larger boats that mirror this trip.
We set off tomorrow on the Ghan to Adelaide. Will catch up on the remainder of our time in Darwin when we get there in three days time.
Feeding and eating fish
After a bit of a sleep in we set off for a walk through Bicentennial Park which runs along the foreshore cliff tops fronting Darwin Harbour. First stop though was at Doctors Gully, named ‘Doctor’ after surgeon Peel, He was a member of the Goyder surveying team that in 1869 surveyed the site of Palmerston, to later become Darwin in 1911. There are the remnants of an old water well here that was the source of Palmerston’s water supply in the early years. A creek flows from this area down to the harbour, the whole area was originally given over to agricultural pursuits. During WW11 the Catalina flying boats were moored here.
Now, there is a tourist attraction here. Aquascene, it is focused on a fish feeding frenzy that happens here every high tide. There are also some pieces of rusting wartime relics on display. Fish in their hundreds arrive here to be fed by milling tourists of all ages tossing in pieces of bread. Big mullet seem to be the main species, cat fish and milk fish (large salmon like fish) also prevalent. Allthego could not resist the temptation of doing some bread tossing.
After an hour or so at Acquascene, we climbed the stairs back up to the walkway and continued along the cliff line. There are a number of lookouts with great views of the harbour. Memorials pin point various historical events, particularly Darwin’s experience of Japanese bombing in WW11. On one high point Darwin’s Cenotaph stands backed by stone work commemorating the involvement of Australian defence forces in all the theatres of war since the Crimean war through to Afghanistan. Ominously, 3 or 4 slots on the wall following Afghanistan have been left empty. There is also quite a display of memorial plaques to the various defence units taking part in the campaign. They overlook Darwin Harbour where all the action took place back on 19 February 1942 when Japan conducted the first of many bombing raids on Darwin and the Top End. But more about that another time.
Time was getting on and the feet weary so it was lunch time at the Waterfront. An Irish pub where we consumed a rather large portion of beer battered Barramundi and chips. It was very meaty and could have done with a little longer in the oil to fully crisp up the batter, it was a little soggy in parts. The chips were excellent. Now my readers might recall that on our trips we normally select a ‘food’ and see if we can find the ‘best one’ along the way. But we are not doing that this time, trip not long enough to good a big enough sample!
The walkers felt that we had done enough for the day and wandered back to Capitanos to recover.
We have arrived in Darwin and are staying in some very salubrious accommodation. Capitanos is it’s name. Right on Mitchell Street one block back from the Esplanade, although a short walk to the main part of town and a somewhat longer walk down to the Waterfront and docks. The accommodation is an upgraded and recently renovated old backpackers establishment. We have our own room and facilities, the pool overlooks a side alley and a construction site. Bargain Car Rentals and their car lot is next door as is the Entertainment Centre. Inside we have a double bed beside a double bunk. Their is a kitchenette, but no wine glasses. So glass tumblers it is! The shower nozzle wont stay up. There is no room servicing. We are here for six nights.
Now the owners of this little establishment are really taking advantage of the absolute lack of accommodation in Darwin at the moment. Daylight robbery for this place but no other choice. Got it by sheer luck, it seems every ‘man and his dog’ has come to Darwin.
We are here for the start of our Ghan rail journey down to Adelaide, we had secured one of the last remaining cabins on the train. We have not been to Darwin and decided to come for a few days before the train trip to see the local sights and sites. The trip had been a late decision following having to call off our van trip to the Kimberleys and the Gibb River Road due to the need to undertake some repairs to the van. The problems were discovered at the last minute but needing nearly two months to fix because of parts availability and delays.
It has just been on eighteen months since our last plane flight together, although Homealone went over to the US to see Mitchell and Piper in November 2019 just prior to COVID striking leaving Allthego home alone. There were two new things experienced on the flight up to Darwin from Brisbane.
The first is mask wearing on the plane, quite a sight with all the crew and passengers masked up. Socially distancing on the way to and from the loos. You are permitted to take them off while eating the late breakfast culinary delicacies.
The second experience was in the Brisbane airport security check in process. Allthego set off the alarm with his new knee replacement and had an extended pat down and scan. This was a first and we will need to allow a little more time in the future for this process.
So after our taxi ride from Darwin Airport we settled into Capitanos and went off for a wander around town, including some shopping at the local Coles to stock up with some breakfast foods and a couple of light fast dinners for the eat in occasions. Tried out the near by Lizards Sports Bar and had some rather large traditional parmies for dinner! They were pretty big, not bad but not the best parmies we have had.
Tomorrow we start in earnest to see the town!