The muffled roar of an accelerating boat engine got my attention early this morning. Looking outside from my cabin I saw the pilot boat speeding back toward Darwin after delivering the harbor pilot to the Amsterdam. We would be arriving in Darwin about 10am and leaving at 8pm. A little different schedule than normal, but I enjoyed the chance to sleep in a bit on a port day and since we have main seating we would be sitting down for dinner right when we would be leaving port.
I was surprised to observe that Darwin had such a significant skyline as I was expecting a very small outback town based on conversations with other Australians earlier in our trip. When I discussed this with some locals here in Darwin, they chuckled and commented that many Australians have never been to Darwin and were basing their perception on 40 year old memories.
As we closed toward our berth in Darwin, we spun 180 degrees and backed into our spot, with our bow pointing out to sea. The Pacific Princess, also on a world cruise, was already well established alongside her pier, and would be gone by the time we returned to the ship about 6:30pm.
We left the ship around 11:30 and proceeded thru a small, but very nice cruise terminal. Once again we didn’t see any Australian agricultural inspectors or dogs looking over arriving passengers.
Right outside the terminal, there was a shuttle bus available to take passengers to the downtown area, less than a mile away, but unlike some other ports there was no restriction on walking into town if desired. Our plan was to rent a car at the airport and then head out toward the Adelaide River to watch the Jumping Crocodiles. The ship offered a tour to the see the same Jumping Crocodiles, but by renting a car we would have more options to see other attractions along the way. Even though I would be driving some 50 miles from the ship, the traffic was very light and I determined the risk of missing the ship to be low.
We jumped into a waiting taxi very near the shuttle bus stop and headed off to the airport to pick up our rental car. Twenty minutes and $35AUS later we arrived at a very modern airport and found the rental car counters near baggage claim. I had a reservation so my car was waiting and once the agent checked my driver’s license I was on my way. I used to get an international driver’s license but learned years ago that they were never necessary so I no longer take the time to get one before leaving the USA. The agent advised me that there were no local traffic issues to be concerned with and my proposed trip was very reasonable in the time I had allocated.
Driving thru Darwin was a breeze as the roads were wide and well-marked. Speed and red-light cameras are everywhere, so we were extra careful to avoid exceeding any limits or pushing a yellow light on this trip. After 15 minutes of working our way thru the city we settled onto the major two lane road heading south east towards the Adelaide River and the jumping crocodiles. The speed limit was 110 KPH and passing slower trucks was very easy as the roads were straight with good sight lines. Along the way we came across one of the Australian road trains coming the other direction. A road train consists of a standard looking truck tractor cab but now pulling four trailers, with each trailer having 8 wheels. It was very long, looked very heavy and was making good time on this two lane highway.
After about 30 minutes we passed a sign announcing the turnoff for the Jumping Crocodiles cruise, but an adjacent sign indicated that the ORIGINAL Jumping Crocodile Cruise was only 3KM down the road. We kept going and pulled into the parking lot for the ORIGINAL Jumping Crocodile Cruise. The next tour was in 30 minutes – 2PM – but we were disappointed to learn that the cruise ships had chartered the entire boat for the this tour and had nothing to sell. They suggested we go back to the other Jumping Crocodile Cruise for their 3PM cruise as they knew that there was space available.
Before heading back to the first Jumping Crocodile Cruise tour we headed 23KM further east to Corroboree Park Tavern, a small roadside café that had a couple of crocs on display. It was a pleasant little café but the crocs were snoozing in the shallow water of their pens and were difficult to see and not very impressive. Back in the car, we headed back towards the first Jumping Crocodile Cruise we came across earlier. Tickets were $40 AUS for this cruise, $5 cheaper than the ORIGINAL jumping crocodile cruise. One of the workers confided in me that the two competing cruises were essentially identical and you couldn’t go wrong with either one.
While waiting for the cruise, one of the workers brought out a snake they had on display and she offered to drape the snake around your neck and let you take some photos. It was a good time and the snake felt more like a large rubber hose more than a live animal.
They use a two level, flat bottom boat for the cruises. There were only about 20 people on our tour – the boat would easily hold over 100 – so we had plenty of room to spread out once aboard. On either side of the boat there was a small perch on the upper level where one of the crew would stand while dangling a hunk of meat slightly smaller than a soccer ball over and into the water, attracting the crocs from nearby banks.
Once underway, we didn’t travel very far before we had our first encounter with a large male salt water crocodile that we saw cruising toward our boat from the adjacent river bank.
When the croc was close to the boat, the crew would dip the meat in the water and then pull it up abruptly to entice the croc to jump. After some back and forth the croc jumped several times on our side and then they maneuvered the boat so the croc would jump on the other side. After about three good jumps per side, the croc was allowed to keep the meat, and swallow it down whole, before he headed back to the bank for a nap. The tour guides remarked that the local crocs are used to the sounds of the tour boats and almost appear automatically whenever they sense the boats are close.
The boat continued down the river and repeated the meat dipping, croc jumping exercise with two different female crocodiles. We learned that female crocodiles are much smaller than the males, but it was equally impressive to see them up close. After we watched the females jump, it was time to head back to shore and we were back on land an hour after we left.
The weather was hot and humid, so the cars air-conditioning was wonderful as we headed west back to Darwin. Once back in town, we stopped at a local Woolworths for gasoline and to get some post cards. We were surprised to see that the Woolworths was a grocery store as opposed to a department store like they were in the USA. I am not sure if Woolworths even exist in the USA any longer or if the Australian Woolworths is related to the USA version at all.
Returning the car was a breeze and unlike most rentals only the first 100KM was included, with the rest charged at 25 cents per KM. The total cost for the car, including the $20AUS for gasoline was $107 AUS. If you factor in the $35 cab fare each way, renting a car cost $177 AUS.
We were back on the ship at 6:15 pm and had until 7pm to meet with the Australian Customs agents to apply for a tax refund for the taxes we paid on clothes we purchased in Cairns. The agent was in the Hudson room and filing for the refund was a breeze. The ship had everyone’s passports in the room and that was all she needed along with our receipt and the actual items we bought. Sitting behind her were 3 other Australian Immigration agents busily going thru all the passports processing them for our departure from Australia.
Greg Andrew, who performed as Elton John a few nights ago, joined our table for dinner. We shared our story of trying to guess his play list and asked him to tell us how he came to perform which songs and in which order. Not surprisingly he said he would use Elton John’s most popular songs and start with a high energy favorite and then end with Crocodile Rock. He joked that he could probably play Crocodile Rock at the beginning, middle and end and most people would think that was great. We asked why he didn’t wear any of the outlandish glasses Elton made famous and learned that while Elton wore those in the 70’s he hasn’t worn them in over 20 years and Greg’s show reflects the current version of the Elton John show. Greg acknowledged that many people, like those at our table, haven’t seen Elton in years and our memory of him remains that from his earlier days.
The entertainment this evening was a screening of the movie “The Martian” in the Queens Lounge. We took a pass and turned in a little earlier than normal.
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