Darwin, now what?

May 1st 2020

Living on a boat in a city that we never intended to visit is a strange place to find ourselves. Where to from here I wonder?

Fannie Bay - our Darwin address

West to the Kimberly is not an option as the Western Australia border is firmly shut. It is the beginning of the dry season here in the Australian north, which means cool weather, no rain and strong SE winds eliminating the second and last alternative, namely heading East to Queensland. A bit of a pickle really but we try to focus on the positive.

Such as this sunset over the anchorage
Corona stories trickle in from everywhere. Overseas, cruisers are stuck in foreign countries, some are not even allowed to leave the boat and rely on willing locals to deliver the necessities of life. Back at home, other states are in full lockdown, people are losing jobs, business etc etc. No matter how much I tell myself we have it relatively good, I pine for the loss of freedom to go wherever we wish and for all the unexplored anchorages left behind in Indonesia and beyond.
Sundowners with friends help
Our release from quarantine coincides exactly with the NT government’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Darwin. Apparently, the Territory, as it’s colloquially known here, is now covid-free except for already identified (and hospitalised) cases. On our first day out, we decide to get a test since NT Health never bothered to give us one. It is highly unlikely that we have brought the virus back from Indonesia since we’d been living on our boat in isolation for over a month before leaving. However dealing with all the unmasked Australian police officers who in turn deal with returned travellers has made us nervous. It’d be hilarious catching the virus from them, wouldn’t it?

It’s a short bus ride into the CBD from Fannie Bay. We barely step off the bus before a local TV crew corner us and shove a microphone in Graham’s face. The angle of the story is clear from the first question posed by the young and enthusiastic reporter: “Isn’t Darwin the best place to be right now?”. I quietly step back before my sarcastic reply turns me into an unwilling viral sensation. Graham pauses then gives a non committal I guess so. Further questions elicit even less enthusiasm from him and the crew quickly move on. We feel slightly bad, but our particular case and especially the day’s errand hardly suited the narrative they were chasing. We test negative.

This rocky start is thankfully not reflective of our time in Darwin. It takes a few days to shake off any residual quarantine anxiety as we start exploring around. The buses are free courtesy of corona so we take full advantage to zoom around all over the city.

Three for two

This is May 2020 and the Territory is the only place in Australia where social gatherings are allowed. We hang out with Storyteller and take the kids to the beach and the pool.

Our local cliffs
Fun at wave pool
Darwin rock colours
Hermit crabs gather for a chat
We visit a turtle sanctuary at CDU

Graham is happy to focus on long neglected boat projects for a few weeks - installing more solar and replacing the failed composting toilet (he gives it a much less flattering nickname).

Scooter fuel run - can't take fuel on the bus!
We join Darwin library which proves to be an absolute treasure trove of all the latest books for the whole family. We make this a weekly excursion and the kids devour the collection.

Lake Alexander is a favourite hang out

Kids wrestle a croc

We meet a Canberra family who are also corona refugees in Darwin, recently returned from Laos. The kids instantly take to each other and this new friendship significantly improves our social circle.

Hair and sunsets on Toc

Slowly, more boats arrive from Indonesia coming from as far as Thailand and India. The stories get more outrageous, unfriendly locals chasing people away with guns, people sailing or motoring non-stop for months only stopping for pre-arranged fuel and re-provisioning. We pat ourselves on the back for leaving just in time.

Slowly, restrictions ease further. By June, everything is open and we explore museums, pools and restaurants with barely anyone else around.

B52 at the aviation museum
Locals are at work and there are no tourists so we have every attraction pretty much to ourselves.

Mindil Markets reopen, we celebrate with potato

Sunset at Mindil beach

This somewhat makes up for the fact that the beach is off limits for swimming. We are assured Fannie Bay is safe, apparently the crocs skip this bay on their way into Darwin Harbour proper. We see people doing all manner of water sports almost on a daily basis but we opt out for fear of a stray croc and/or stingers.

Local art makes me think I am right to stay out of the water

Anchor swinging while we clean the bottom

In June, the NT government opens up the rest of the territory and we are free to explore. We immediately book a motorhome and head to The Red Centre.