For our annual summer vacation, my family and I traveled to Australia. We had gone to Australia the summer before, but left feeling like there was still more to see. This trip, we hit up Darwin, Launceston and Hobart in Tasmania, and Melbourne.
Our first stop was Darwin, at the northern tip of the Australian continent and a four-hour flight from the Philippines. My parents, younger sister and brother, and I arrived in Darwin a few hours before sunrise.
Darwin is the gateway to Asia and, like the Philippines, exhibits a tropical climate with only two seasons: wet and dry. The CBD is quite small, with sparse two-lane roads and a mostly-empty shopping strip lined with dinky stores, but much of the city’s appeal lies in the wildlife and national parks that surround it. For the first day, we explored the area around our hotel and Darwin’s main commercial district.
We had lunch at The Moorish Cafe, a restaurant inspired by the flavors of Spain, the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa. We ordered ten different tapas to share, including the grilled pork belly with rosemary, Berber spiced kangaroo with tomato jam, grilled chicken with thyme and sweet paprika, and garlic lamb strips with tzatiziki.
The portions lent themselves to sharing, which was nice because everything was gamey and delicious. My favorite was the slow cooked lamb ribs; the succulent meat fell of the bone, was drizzled in oil and well-complemented by the pomegranate reduction.
After lunch, we walked to Crocosaurus Cove, a tourist and kid-friendly crocodile attraction. The Cove has a show twice a day, where guests are taken around the crocodile enclosures while a staff member shares facts about the reptile and narrates the life stories of the Cove’s crocodiles.
The Cove had an enclosure of around 100 baby crocodiles, and guests were given the opportunity to feed them. I was handed a five-foot rod with a piece of meat pierced onto one end, and told to lower it into the other side of the shoulder-height glass barrier. Within a few seconds, a baby croc flung itself forward and snapped the meat up with its teeth.
Further along, guests could actually pose with a baby croc named Fluffy. Fluffy’s mouth was sealed shut with tape as I took pictures with it, its skin rubbery and cold. As the photographer instructed me to hold the crocodile in front of me and lean in for a kiss, Fluffy stared at me with its slitted, villainous-looking eyes, reminiscent of the crazed crocodile from Peter Pan.
Beyond the crocodiles, Crocosaurus Cove had an impressive collection of lizards, snakes and geckos.
At night, we headed north to the Mindill Sunset Beach Market. The market, which has over 60 food and 130 craft vendors, is open every Thursday and Sunday and is situated right by the beach. A crowd gathered to watch the sun set into the marmalade sky, with tourists like myself capturing the moment with their camera phones. My family decided to dip our toes into the sea, walking past college-aged kids throwing footballs and locals eating lamb kebabs while sitting on the sand, before we headed to the markets.
At the open air night market, craft stalls sold tie-dyed dresses and t-shirts, mosaic tiled art, decorated candle holders, and jewelry made with Australian rocks and pearls. Food stalls served fresh oysters, Asian seafood, charcoaled lamb and chicken, fish and chips, and Greek gyros and kebabs, infusing the air with smell of spices and the sea. Smoothie bars lined the path, as well as ice cream and sorbet shops.
I bought a charcoaled lamb and chicken, and an ice kechang (aka halo-halo… I know, what Filipino goes to Australia and gets halo-halo? In my defense, I had been craving it since I got back to the Philippines but didn’t have time to get any.) The market bustled with tourists, locals, and natives; it seemed like the whole population of Darwin congregated at the market that night.
As we left for the night, we passed by a stage where a middle-aged man with a scruffy long beard played the didgeridoo. Passersby stopped to take videos as he mixed in contemporary sounds reminiscent of beatboxing, offering a fresh take on the hollow rhythms of the wind instrument. It was a nice end to our first day in Darwin, and left me looking forward to the Aussie adventures that awaited us.