And we were off on our north-south crossing of the continent! One thing I was looking forward to was to be able to watch the landscape change from my cabin window. Out of Darwin, it was a Savannah landscape common to a lot of Northern Australia, from Broome to Townsville.
It wasn’t long before we made our first trip to the restaurant, about 3 carriages away.
Lunch was in several sittings – we had an early sitting and the dining room was still quiet. It filled up pretty soon though.
The food in general was of a very high standard. A sample of some of the dishes we had…
Salmon mousse sushi for entree.
Chicken galantine as a main.
There was some emphasis on native Australian ingredients, so we had our share of crocodile, buffalo and kangaroo along with some native herbs, spices and fruits.
A sample of our breakfast menu shows that we never went hungry!
Darwin wasn’t the end of the trip but the mid-way point. Next, we were off on the Ghan – the famous train service that runs from Darwin through the centre of Australia to Adelaide – a route that is 2,979km long. The train is named after the Afghan cameleers that used to transport goods and services in Australia’s centre before the advent of the train or motor car.
We started off at the Darwin end at their railway station. Surprisingly, it’s a good 30 minutes from the city, but that’s because the Ghan required a mighty long platform – the train was almost a kilometre long with around 30 carriages. First task was to find our carriage. Luckily it was close by.
Inside our Gold Class carriage, it was pretty swish.
Our cabins were in day mode and were comfy and snug. Hint – any luggage larger than a backpack will get you in trouble. I saw people hauling large suitcases and wondered where they put them.
The bathroom was a bit of wonder for me. Shower, toilet and basin all in a 1.5m squared room. That’s tiny living!
Aside from the bombings, Darwin also experienced destruction in 1974, when it was razed to the ground by Cyclone Stacey. The old town hall was one building heavily hit. It was a very historic building before.
But after it was only a shell, though a well-preserved one.
The Anglican church also had a long history with the town and was razed to the ground by the cyclone.
But in this case, the city found an innovative way to integrate the old with the new.
We returned to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. I had been here once before, but only for a few days. We didn’t spend much more time this time around either, but we did see the newly created Waterfront. Aside from apartments and restaurants, it has a tiny beach (patrolled for crocs) and a much bigger wave pool.
Most of the jobs in Darwin these days is in the resources sector, particularly gas. You can see the gas refinery across Darwin Harbour (the box-shaped structure on the horizon) from the city.
But Darwin’s history is very much tied up with two big events. The first was the bombing of Darwin in 1942, which was the climax of the film Australia. Above the shore was a modest war memorial dedicated to those from the region who died in service.
Pretty soon it was our final evening at the camp (and a spectacular evening it was with our convivial camp hosts and guests).
And the following morning it was a fond goodbye to everyone before heading off to the airstrip in the troop carrier.
And then up in the Cesna, over the now familiar landscape.
We flew once again over the massive river delta that edges Kakadu National Park and Arnhemland.
And over the fantastic colours in Van Diemens Gulf.
Pretty soon we were back in Darwin, and civilisation. Don’t think we’d forget Mount Borradaile anytime soon, though.
Eight years ago I visited a place in the Northern Territory called Mount Borradaile. It’s a tourist camp (not a resort) within West Arnhemland that was full of all sorts of Top End wonders, both natural and indigenous. Even though I only stayed two nights, it made a deep impression, and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since.
I finally got the chance this year, this time with my mum, who is an avid amateur naturalist as well. It might be a strange time to go, in the Wet of late March, but having been up north in the Dry, we both wanted to see what the Wet brought.
The adventure started with an early morning flight in a six-seater plane from Darwin.
Luckily, the weather was calm in the morning, and we were soon flying amongst the clouds and looking down on the estuaries and wetlands that surround Darwin.
It’s definitely greener than in the Dry, isn’t it? Just compare it with a scene from my flight eight years ago, when I was flying through a smoky haze.
This is a relatively new favourite, but I’ve had quite a few smashing scallop dishes in the last year or so that I would now order scallops anytime that it appears on the menu.
Given that it’s such a delicate shellfish, it is more versatile than you might think. I had this scallop dish at the Golden Century, a good Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown. It’s very simply stir-fried with snowpeas and carrots, and a little seasoning.
I had this dish at Char, in Darwin. It has the fashionable paring of scallops and pork belly. Being Darwin, it was served with a south-east asian accompaniment of crunchy salad and peanut sauce. Luscious!
Last but not least, a more simpler take – but just as delicious as the two above – scallops wrapped in bacon, with aioli. I had this at Pearsons, a little bistro-style restaurant in Mortdale.
Mindil Beach Night Markets are a Darwin institution. On any given Thursday/Sunday night, it seems like all of Darwin (and about the same number of ring-ins) is there.
There’s an interesting mix of food stalls, nik-naks stalls of all kinds there. It shows you the true breadth of Darwin society, which certainly is impressive.
There were also some interesting entertainment options, too. It being the Territory, there had to be a bit of wildlife involved.
Well, we’re at the start of a very long journey through the Northern Territory, folks, although in reality the whole trip was only a fortnight. I must say that it’s the most invigorating as well as enlightening holiday I’ve had since Japan.
I began in Darwin, where I touched down after a long 4.5 hour flight. God, Australia is big! After crashing on the hotel bed, the next thought I had was of food. I’d heard about Char, and since it was only 2 blocks from my hotel wandered down on a balmy Darwin evening.
Now this is what al fresco dining is all about! It was good to defrost after the chilly Sydney winter weather. It was also good to taste the pork belly and scallops, served with an apple peanut salad and chilli caramel sauce. I was tempted to try this after watching George cook up a pork belly/scallop dish on Masterchef. The skin of the pork was nicely crisp and the scallops were cooked perfectly. The salad and nutty sauce (along with a glass of Riesling), and it was a lovely dish for a tropical climate.
I followed it up with a Mango Panna Cotta with passionfruit cream. The panna cotta was lovely and light, but I think they went too far with the passionfruit here, which was too bitter for my taste.
The restaurant seemed to be popular with locals and visitors alike and got very full, even for a midweek dinner. I’m just impressed that Darwin has such a sophisticated dining option.