Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Down under to Darwin

Day 1 (Thu, 31 May 2012)

After our good experience with Jetstar to New Zealand last December, we picked the carrier again when we were deciding on a holiday. We wanted to get away for a while, just as a break from all the school exams but didn't really want to spend too much. Darwin, Australia was the destination that popped up.

It's only a four-and-a-half hour flight, very manageable, even though we landed in Darwin at the ungodly hour of 4.20am. With half asleep kids in tow, we went to collect our pre-booked rental car from Bargain Car Rentals. It's a pretty ingenious system - the company leaves the car at an airport parking lot, stows the key in a locked box hanging from the car window and then informs us of the car number and the combination to the box.

I guess in a town where flights routinely arrive in the middle of the night, it's the next best arrangement to a 24-hour service. We had a nice surprise too - we'd booked a Toyota Corolla but was given a free upgrade to a Camry.

We drove to our hotel, Travelodge Mirambeena Resort, which was relatively easy to find considering we were in a foreign city in the middle of the night. The hotel is conveniently located right in the city centre, just a 20-minute drive from the airport via the main highway, Stuart Highway.

Another pleasant surprise - we'd booked a standard room but was given a free upgrade to a two-storey townhouse, which came complete with a large kitchenette and dining area. The upper level alcove had a king-sized bed while the sofa downstairs converted into queen bed with an additional rollaway. Very comfy!

We didn't even bother with pajamas, just hopped into bed to catch our zzzz's. At the saner hour of 10.30am, we arose from our power nap and took a leisurely stroll to Mitchell Street, just two streets from Travelodge, where most of the cafes and restaurants are located. Brunched on typical Aussie fare - burgers and fish and chips - at a little cafe. Barramundi is the local fish here for most fish and chips.

This is called the "trigger happy syndrome".

The itinerary for that afternoon was Aquascene. This unusual attraction takes place during the few hours of high tide at Doctors Gully everyday, where hundreds of local wild fish swim to the shallow shoreline in search of food. Since the 1950s, locals have been hand feeding these fish with bread, so much so that the fish have become accustomed to it and are unafraid of humans.

The tide times change daily so you have to check the feeding times for your visit.

It's really a unique experience. I've never fed wild fish by hand - they're so used to humans they eat the bread right from your fingers. They even make a weird slurping sound like a Japanese drinking miso soup. And no, they don't bite your fingers.

It takes some getting used to, having them swim around your legs and their tails flick against you. A little squirmy and ticklish but in a good way. You can even stroke them from the top - I imagined they would feel soft but they're actually quite tough and scaley, yet slimy to the touch.

Most of the fish we fed were scaled mullet but on the side were also the larger and more aggressive milkfish that would leap for the bread. Those were fed by throwing bread into the water, not by hand. The guy in charge let Andre throw a basketful of bread into the water but he misjudged his aim and showered bread over the unfortunate nearby spectators. Heh.

We even saw stingrays, which was pretty cool. No, obviously we couldn't feed those!

Back to the hotel for a quick shower, then we headed off to Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Such a happening place - tourists and locals thronged the place in droves. They even set up picnic areas with their own chairs and tables.

There were all types of food stalls. Funnily enough, they were predominantly Asian, from Chinese to Thai and Vietnamese to Turkish. Honey chicken, kebabs and spring rolls seem to be popular fare. Of course, you also had the usual hotdogs and burgers.

The highlight though, has to be the sunset by the beach. From about 5.45pm, the beach began to be bathed in an ethereal, candlelit glow. People gathered by the sand to soak in the sight.

Right up to 6.30pm, we saw the golden egg yolk slowly descend into the horizon, setting the beach aflame. Magnificent.

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