Our shuttle bus came to a halt amongst a grey cluster of low-rise buildings. Tourist information, the one to my left says. And then to my right, a wide pedestrianized street, flanked on each side by a row of characterless shops.
That was it. As hard as it was to believe, this was DARWIN’s city centre. It was strikingly banal, a perfect setting for Anywhereville, Australia.
Crocodiles, however, LOVE it here for some reason. There are more crocs in the northern territory than anywhere in the world, and I am pretty sure that it isn’t Darwin’s vibrancy that attracted them. Or the shopping.
I soon came face-to-face with one less than five minutes into our aimless meander.
It was a juvie saltwater croc, all muscles and armor, casually soaking up the rays on its keeper’s arms. “Salty” here looked harmless with its mouth duct-taped shut, but him and his kind would happily tear a grown man to pieces if given a chance.
For a closer look at Darwin’s most famous resident, you need to go on a Jumping Crocodiles Cruise in an estuary or head to the nearby Crocosaurus Cove with its 200 crocodiles.
As much as I would love to see these fearsome creatures in their natural environment instead of a fish tank, we were desperately pressed for time.
Located smack in the heart of the city, the Crocosaurus Cove, while compact, is the most exciting thing to happen to Darwin (save for the occasional typhoon). You get to watch giant crocs eating. And feeding. And fighting for food. Best of all however, you get to ogle and feel sorry for the scrawny mortals forking out AUD$170 per person just so they can swim in a plexiglass ‘Cage of Death’ surrounded by overfed crocs for the purpose of acquiring bragging rights.
If you’re all croc-ed out, there is a reptile enclosure featuring different varieties of snakes and lizards from the Top End, but let’s face it, they’re just the supporting acts and no one really cares. People spend most of their time in here because of the air-conditioning — it’s friggin’ 35C out there!
We bravely (and foolishly) ventured outside despite the boiling heat. The Botanic Gardens was a short cab right out of town, and it had so many tropical plants it felt as if we never left Southeast Asia. The only difference was that there wasn’t a SINGLE SOUL in sight — a refreshing change from Indonesia.
There were several shaded paths for the little ones to explore and this little adventure was cut short as soon as the children chanced upon playground built around a tree.
The remainder of the day was then devoted to watching our eldest play, and also coaxing him to stop because the ship was about to leave and DARWIN WAS THE LAST ISLAND MUMMY LIKED TO BE MAROONED ON.
We then attempted to walk back, but it soon became clear 15 minutes into our little jaunt that this idea was sheer lunacy so we called for a cab.
Along the way however, we were rewarded with views of the possibly croc-infested sea.
This was the site of the Mindil Markets from April to October, but it was now deserted except for a couple of rambunctious Aboriginal Australians, who seemed to share my goal of living la dolce vita by the beach. Sweet.
A few days later, we arrived in CAIRNS, the getaway to the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns town has a great vibe and is a lot less depressing than Darwin but people came here to marvel at the blue, blue ocean, which was winking at us from the bus window like a harlot. They didn’t have crocs but they made up for that with plenty of box jellyfish, which is smaller but just as dangerous. Whoopee.
And since it was stinger season — a delightful period when these deadly creatures descend en masse onto the shores of Queensland — the only way to jump in is if you rent a stinger suit, which looks like a burkini but ten times more ridiculous.
We’d be happy to risk public humiliation just to get a glimpse of earth’s largest living organism but they didn’t have stinger suits for babies so yeah, the only swimming we did was at the Esplanade Lagoon, a free — and massive — manmade pool with fake white sand and everything.
The heat was relentless but there were several canopies to take cover under, but they were designed for toddlers and not grown ass adults like us.
So with the nana keeping a watchful eye on them, we scurried away to join cyclists and joggers at the Esplanade Boardwalk, overlooking the vast expanse of the ocean. The tides have receded into the distance, revealing a seabed teeming with life. Crabs scuttled about as birds searched for their next meal.
A short walk brought us to Muddy’s Playground, which is touted as one of the best playgrounds in Australia, and I was secretly glad that my kids weren’t with us because they would insist on staying for at least 10 years.
I could totally see myself growing old and happy in Cairns though — just not in a playground as a hobo.
Our final stop before Brisbane was AIRLIE BEACH. Admit it: you’ve not heard of it and neither have I until I booked this cruise. But it was supposed to be a great stop off point for the Whitsundays, one of Australia’s iconic white sand beaches and also another favorite haunt of the box jellyfish.
We signed up for a jet ski tour of the surrounding islands and Whitsundays but were told on that day that the waves were not in our favor.
So we wandered into town using the Bicentennial Walkway, a pretty coastal footpath that stretches all the way from the yacht club to the quiet neighborhood of Cannonvale, passing cafes, beaches and gardens.
Along the way, we passed the Abell Point Marina and noticed there are helicopter tours to the Whitsundays for reasonable prices. But we decided to gawk at the multi-million dollar yachts there instead.
So we continued on our way — feeling bitter that we we didn’t own a super yacht and close to exploding from the heat — until we reached another lagoon that’s similar in size to that in Cairns. While it isn’t as scenic, the Airlie Beach Lagoon just as crowded as (mostly young, foolish) people who have decided that a good tan is worth the melanoma. But it has a dedicated area for toddlers so little ‘uns can wade in water under the shade and / or play in the playground right next to it.Ace.
We had a great lunch and an ice cold drink overlooking the half-naked — and occasionally shriveled — masses at Mr Bones, where the waitress told us temperatures are unusually high even for summer. Lucky us!
The nearby market and surf shops were too tempting though, and we ended up doing some shopping to ward of the pain caused by sunburn. We also guffawed at several sights along the way…
And so it continued that way until I caught a glimpse of my own reflection in a full length mirror. Was that me? Or was that Snooki from Jersey Shore? Time to call it a day.
Originally published at medium.com on May 22, 2017.