What a surprise when we woke up on our first morning in Darwin to the sight of 60 or more boats in the anchorage! We had anchored in Fannie Bay the previous night, and could only spot 3 anchor lights, so figured that the anchorage was pretty deserted. Some of them hadn’t had anchor lights on, but we’d also (somehow) missed spotting the others – I think they’d blended into the lights on the land. Anyway, we were glad we’d been prudent and anchored far offshore!
My first priority that morning was to get onto land and enjoy a hearty brunch in a cool café. I’d done some research the previous day (thanks TripAdvisor) and had picked out a spot called “Laneway Speciality Coffee”, which was voted on of the top deli/cafés in Darwin, and was also, conveniently, within walking distance of the Darwin Sailing Club, where we could leave our dinghy. It turned out to be a really funky vibey café, with great breakfasts and coffee. What a treat! We stocked up on a couple of expensive groceries from Parap Fine Foods (only place nearby), and then headed back to the Sailing Club, where we spent the afternoon.
Darwin Sailing Club is a total gem. It is situated right on the beach in Fannie Bay, and has huge lawns that overlook the bay. There is open-air seating for at least 500 people – and it’s pretty much full every evening, even during the week! There are deck chairs for those just wanting drinks, a playground for kids, a restaurant and bar, and a big clubhouse. The beach varies in width from about a metre to about 30m in width, depending on the tide (8m tidal differences!). One has to plan quite carefully when leaving the dinghy on the beach – if you arrive at high tide and get back to the dinghy at low tide, you’ll end up having to drag it a long way! Alternatively, if you arrive at low tide, you have to pull it up really far to avoid having to wallow in the crocodile-filled sea for too long.
Anyway, we made extremely good use of the Darwin Sailing Club. We spent many afternoons and evenings on the beach and having sundowners at the club. The boys enjoyed stretching their legs and playing Frisbee, beach bats and soccer. Noah loved flying his new drone and getting great aerial footage of the bay. I loved just relaxing on the lawns, reading a book or watching the boats coming and going. I became a temporary member ($15 for a week), which gave me access to the laundry and showers. I only used each once (I did shower more often – but on the boat) – but I must say that I relished every moment of that shower!
We had quite a few errands to do in Darwin – the most important of which was applying for our Indonesian visas. We decided to take the dinghy around the headland to the CBD, and then walk from there. Whew, we hadn’t anticipated how far it actually was, and that the last half would be straight into the wind! After about an hour and a half in the dinghy we made it to the main jetty, looking wet and windblown. We quickly tied up the dinghy and raced off to the Indonesian embassy to make it on time. We got there 10 minutes before closing time – but the officials were friendly and seemed to be in no rush. The application was straightforward and painless, and we were told to come and fetch our passports a week later.
From then onwards, we used to buses to get around. The bus network in Darwin is great – children are free, and adults pay $3 for 3 hours’ use. It was a 10-minute trip into the CBD, and similar time to the various other shops and suppliers that Marco needed to get to. There was a rather long (and boring) list of things we needed to buy – boat spares, gas fittings, oils, a bigger pump for our watermaker etc, and it took a number of days for Marco to source the right parts, check availability and track them all down. There were a couple of irritations when the wrong parts were given, or the parts weren’t actually available etc. I don’t think the shopowners quite appreciated the effort involved in actually getting to their businesses – it’s a little more difficult than just jumping in your car and driving to them. Eventually all the chores were done and parts purchased.
We decided to beach our boat in order to clean the hull, change the saildrive oil and check and replaces the anodes. The beach in front of the Sailing Club is perfect for that, as long as you time it well so you don’t end up stranded! We ended up with 4 hours in which to complete these jobs, which was just enough time. I also used the convenience of being able to step off the boat to my advantage – I took all the salty sticky bedding to the laundry, and got Coles to deliver some supplies.
We did fit in some fun stuff too. One of the boys’ highlights was the wave pool at the Darwin Waterfront. Darwin is a hot place – the temperature was probably around 30 degrees most days, but not too humid with it being winter (yes, that’s 30 degrees in winter!). Unfortunately the sea isn’t a great place to swim as it’s full of saltwater crocodiles, and one really does want to cool off. The wavepool was built for this purpose then – and is so refreshing! The waves are pretty relentless and come from different angles, but people just seem to love bobbing around on inflatable tubes or boogie boards. The boys, obviously, tried to ride the waves, which wasn’t that easy to do as they didn’t really peel.
We all really enjoyed Darwin as a city. The CBD had a good feel to it – a cool pedestrian street with bookshops and cafes, restored old buildings near the main bus terminal, and a well laid out pedestrian route from the CBD to the more modern waterfront, with an array of apartments, cafes, restaurants and swimming pools. There are a number of weekly markets too – we went to the Parap Food Market, but it didn’t come close to Rusty’s in Cairns in terms of fresh produce. We did find some good smoothies and laksas there though, and enjoyed them under a shady tree whilst listening to some funky tunes from DidgEra, all the way from the Sunshine Coast.
There seems to be quite a big arts and music scene (as judged from our perusal of the Darwin newspapers). We were (involuntarily) privy to an all-night/morning rave that boomed out across the bay from a warehouse near the beach. I woke up at various times of the night wondering when the continual thudding would stop. Rob described his night as “angry”, but Marco said the music rocked him to sleep. Either way, I can definitely conclude that sound travels better over water than land!
Our visas were ready when promised, and we made an appointment to clear out with immigration the following day. We decided to anchor in Francis Bay, which was nearer the CBD and also to the refuelling dock. One of Paul’s friends had just arrived as crew on a superyacht right next to us – what a complete coincidence! She invited us to come for a visit, which was a real treat – especially for Noah, who loves designing boats and their interiors. It felt like like walking into a penthouse apartment, so immaculate and beautifully laid out. And so it should be – it gets rented out at $160,000 a week! The thought of cleaning all that space freaks me out though – imagine how much clutter one (or one’s husband) could fit into it! And how much it would cost to fix anything! So back to reality we went, back to our “little” boat with “little” problems.
Immigration clearance was straightforward, refuelling was pretty easy (we just had to remember to keep lengthening the lines as the tide went out), and we set out on one last shop for fresh produce. And then we were ready – ready to set sail for Indonesia! Bye bye Darwin, bye bye Australia – we’re off to Indo!