Tag Archives: australia
January 9, 2017

Top food and drink in Fremantle, Western Australia

Top food and drink in Fremantle, Western Australia
Sail and Anchor beers Fremantle

Sail and Anchor beers

For a small city, Fremantle, on the coast of Western Australia, punches well above its weight in terms of great places to eat, drink and have fun. Not only does it have a great many excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, there are a number of micro-breweries, bakeries, delicatessens and quirky foodie outlets to suit all tastes. Many of them are housed in heritage buildings, for Fremantle is one of Australia’s oldest cities with a busy working port and a vibrant, creative heart.

Attic Cafe – Bannister Street

Attic Cafe Fremantle Western Australia

Attic Cafe

One of the best cafes in town, the Attic Cafe, opposite the Hougoumont Hotel in Bannister Street is a great place for breakfast, coffee or take-away. They have a tasty selection of freshly made pies, fritters wraps, salads and rolls, including honey roast pumpkin and salt beef. For breakfast you could choose baked oats with berry compote, smashed avocado with lime, feta and quinoa or more exotic Shakshouka; eggs poached in a Tunisian style sauce with white cheese. I had perfectly cooked scrambled eggs with olive oil, greens and sourdough bread. Their cakes are to die for …

Attic Cafe food Fremantle Western Australia

Attic Cafe food

A night out in Fremantle

Pakenham Street Fremantle at night

Pakenham Street

I stayed in Fremantle for two nights and loved its attractive architecture, lively vibe and youthful outlook. Rusty Creighton, Two Feet and a Heartbeat Tours, font of local knowledge, not just on food and drink, but just about every aspect of Fremantle culture, history and people, took a group of us on a historical night tour. We started off at our hotel, the Hougoumont, named after a 19th c ship which was the last vessel to transport convicts to Australia. Their names and crimes are listed on the hotel wall.

Hougoumont Hotel Fremantle

Hougoumont Hotel

After crisp-baked pizza and a drink we set off along the main street, lined with beautiful buildings dating back to the 19th century, very old by Australian standards.

The National Hotel – High Street

The Boxing Kangaroo - Swan Lager - National Hotel - Fremantle - photo zoe dawes

The Boxing Kangaroo

Rusty pointed out a mural of a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, holding a can of Swan Lager. “The Swan Brewery has closed but the Boxing Kangaroo became the symbol of America’s Cup win in 1983, as it was used on a team flag. The original flag is now in the Western Australia Museum in Freo.” It’s on the side of the National Hotel, another famous Fremantle institution. It’s been a hotel since 1886 and has intricate wrought iron balconies.

The National Hotel in Fremantle

The National Hotel

There’s a lively bar and popular restaurant, serving decent pub grub, including good value steak and chips. We’d eaten there the night before, in the upstairs dining room. Downstairs there was a group playing covers of popular songs with impromptu dancing round the tables. A door decorated with orange and red stained glass flames commemorates a serious fire in 1975.

Bread in Common – Pakenham Street

Bread in Common Fremantle

Bread in Common display

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted all around as we entered the bakery. But this was not just any bakery, this was Bread in Common, a bakery with restaurant, bar, delicatessen counter and vegetable garden attached. Actually the vegetable garden is a couple of raised beds in the street in front of the 1898 Listed Building, growing a very healthy display of lettuces, herbs and other fresh produce. From Hansel and Gretel, the two massive wood-fired ovens, come a wide variety of breads, made using the freshest ingredients including different flours, sourdough, fruits and spices.

Bread in Common Bakery and Restaurant Fremantle

Bread in Common

We watched as the bustling open kitchen prepared meals and admired the excellent wines displayed above the bar. House specialties include roasted pork belly with fermented kohlrabi, pear, radish and mustard, and salmon with baby peppers, kale and pineapple vinegar.

Fremantle Markets – South Terrace & Henderson Street

Fremantle Market

Fremantle Market

Within a purpose-built market hall, erected in 1897, are a collection of markets, including fresh fruit and veg, clothes, cooked food and household goods. You can buy enormous Indian samosas, admire beautifully carved melons, papayas and apples, buy a big, knobbly custard apple or try a guaranteed hangover cure. A ‘Stunned Emu‘ advertises quirky magnets and other souvenirs. I can highly recommend Small Batch flavoured chocolate bars.

Fremantle Market goods

Downtown Fremantle

From the market we headed off down-town, along South Terrace towards the sea. We passed cosy wine bars, noisy pubs, cool cafes and cosmopolitan restaurants serving food from around the globe. People were queuing good-naturedly to get inside Metropolis nightclub and nearby Salt and Anchor was heaving with beer-lovers quaffing over 20 Aussie and international craft beers on tap and many more bottled beers. On the pavement a street artist played jazz and Latin tunes on his electric organ and a couple we’re doing a salsa. We crossed the Esplanade and passed the skate park; my son would be very impressed with its contemporary design. At Fishing Boat Harbour is one of Fremantle’s most famous eateries, Little Creatures.

Little Creatures Brewery – Fishing Boat Harbour

Little Creatures Brewery bicycle Fremantle Western Australia

Little Creatures Bar

Entering the brewery, housed in a converted boathouse, the noise and delicious smell of food hit us full on. We made our way past the enormous metal cyclinders of brewing beers and rows of trestle tables and found a table at the back of the restaurant area. Upstairs more tables line a narrow corridor which has an eclectic collection of local modern art. It’s a fascinating place, attracting a mix of all ages who come for the excellent beer (their Pale Ale and seasonal beers are most popular), wood-fired pizzas, sharing platters and hearty mains such as slow-cooked brisket.

Little Creatures Brewery Fremantle Western Australia

We ordered a whole load of plates including pumpkin and mushroom pizzas, kangaroo and tomato chutney, marinated octopus, veggie nachos, sticky lamb ribs and sea-salty fresh oysters. It was a real feast of colourful, well-cooked food, great flavours and generous portions. We drank vast quantities of their beer and excellent wines whilst Rusty regaled us with fascinating stories ending the evening feeling very merry and full of Freo joie de vivre …

Cheers from Little Creatures in Fremantle Western Australia

Cheers from ‘Little Creatures’ in Fremantle

That morning we’d got the ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island and spent the day there. Read about my search for the quirky quokka of Rottnest Island here.

Rottnest Island Bus - Western Australia

Rottnest Island Bus

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA. I’d like to thank everyone, including my fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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Fremantle Food & Drink


November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.


The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

November 4, 2016

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka
In search of the quokka - Rottnest Express - Fremantle - image zoedawes

The Rottnest Express in Fremantle

What on earth is a quokka?

Aye, that is the question. I get an email outlining the itinerary for our blog trip to Western Australia and there, on Day 1, it says we’ll be visiting Rottnest Island, with its ‘casual atmosphere, picturesque scenery and some of the world’s finest beaches.‘ Sounds lovely but I’ve never heard of Rottnest Island. As soon as I type Rottnest Island into Google, the words ‘quokka‘ and ‘animals‘ come up. I am intrigued. I need to know more …

Parker Point Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Parker Point on Rottnest Island

Western Australia website says, ‘… you’ll meet the cutest mini marsupial, found only in Western Australia, the world famous quokka, as well as many unique plant and animal species. Apparently, Rottnest Island Golf Course is being ‘plagued by an explosion of quokkas.’  It’s described as the ‘happiest animal in the world’ and the internet is alive with photos of grinning quokkas.  Good heavens. What on earth is a quokka?

The quokka - happiest animal in the world.

The quokka – ‘happiest animal in the world’. Photos from internet

The Quokka

The quokka is small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath. Wikipedia

Even more intrigued, I am now really looking forward to seeing one of these quirky creatures.

Quokka eating a leaf - Rottnest Island in Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Quokka eating a leaf

Rottnest Island

We board the Rottnest Express in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia and in less than half an hour we’ve arrived in another world, where life moves at a more leisurely pace, bicycles replace cars and the elusive quokka has taken over the golf course …

Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Thomson Bay

We get on our hired bikes and pedal off towards the Visitor Information Centre. Whilst a helfpful guide shows us where to go on a map, all I want to know is where the quokkas are. Will I get to see one easily? Are they shy? Where’s the best place to see them? ‘Oh they’re all over the place. You’ll see plenty in and around town and they’re not at all shy. You can take photos but please don’t touch them or feed them.’ I’m starting to feel quietly excited …

Rottnest Settlement and quokka - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Settlement and quokka

Downtown Rottnest (the Settlement) is a short tree-lined walk of shops, cafes and a bakery. We leave our bikes and there, next to the bike stand, is a chubby quokka fast asleep under a tree. I stoop down to take a photo and the quokka wakes up. It gives me a quick stare then starts grooming its tummy. Looks cute but definitely more rat than cat-like! Outside the bakery a quokka is on the table eating crumbs, surrounded by ooohing and aaahing admirers. In front of the supermarket, one is hopping along looking vaguely shifty; there’s a big sign saying No Quokkas.

No quokkas here - Rottnest Island

No quokkas here

I set off with the other bloggers on a bike ride round the island, but it starts to rain so I decide to go to the little Museum, housed in one of the Victorian buildings left from the days when Rottnest was a prison island for Aboriginal People. There is an excellent exhibition telling the sad story of these prisoners, as well artefacts from the days when the island became a holiday resort. In the middle of the room is a cabinet with a stuffed quokka, bearing the title, The controversial Quokka. 

Stuffed quokka in Rottnest museum

Stuffed quokka in museum

Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people and Rotto by many), was named Rotte Nest (Rat’s Nest) by a Dutch explorer in 1696. The island was overrun with quokkas but the introduction of foxes and destruction of their natural habitat meant their numbers dwindled almost to extinction. The island is now a designated protected area and there are about 12,000 quokkas living on Rottnest.

Quokka on the town - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka on the town

When the rain stops, I get the Hop-on, Hop-off Explorer Bus which goes round the coast. The island is ringed with gorgeous, sandy beaches and enticing bays. I get off at Parker Point and go for a paddle in the shallow, translucent waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a bit chilly but the sun’s out and I can imagine how refreshing it must be in the height of summer.

Rottnest Island Beaches Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Island Beaches

Walking on round the coast, people pass on bikes, waving hello as they glide by. I flag down another bus at Salmon Point and we head off past Wadjemup Lighthouse towards Cape Vlamingh at the western end of the island. At the bus-stop a group of tourists are gathered round a quokka on its hind legs, begging for food. Cameras and videos capture the moment; these little creatures are real super-stars of Western Australia.

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh

The bus winds its way past the Salt Lakes and holiday homes before arriving back at Thomson Bay. I get off and have a look at the historic buildings. As well as the old prison Quod, there’s a chapel and a quaint little Picture House, showing Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. Quokkas are everywhere, particularly under the Island Tea Tree and Rottnest Island Pines, where they find their favourite food. I see a group of them in a wooded area near the Picture House and sit down to watch them. One wanders over to have a look at my rucksack, which has some fruit inside. This curious chap clambers all over my bag and camera trying to get at them. He’s very close and the temptation to reach out and stroke his furry back is almost overwhelming. I grab my iPhone and video him (or maybe it’s a her?). I take a photo; my hand is shaking at being so near, not wanting to scare him away …

Up close with a quokka - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Up close with a quokka

Eventually he gives up and potters off. It’s time to meet up with the others at Hotel Rottnest for a bite to eat before we leave the island to return to Fremantle. I’ve not managed to get the famous ‘quokka selfie’ but I have got VERY close to one of the world’s rarest and cutest wild animals. It’s our first day here and already I’m a bit in love with this part of Australia, but even more, I’m totally besotted with the quirky quokka.

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island

You can see more of beautiful Rottnest Island in this Quirky Travel Guide video, which also features the quokka clambering over my rucksack!

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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In search of the quirky quokka - zoedawes


February 5, 2016

The quirkily creative Potters of Hermannsburg

The quirkily creative Potters of Hermannsburg

Some of the most charming and very definitely quirky artwork to come out of Australia is made by the Potters of Hermannsburg in the remote Northern Territory.  Various utentsils including pots, vases and bowls are decorated with just about every type of native Aussie creature from the kangaroo to the witchety grub.

Hermannsburg potters australia - zoedawes

In 1990, senior law man Nashasson Ungwanaka invited accomplished potter and teacher Naomi Sharp to come and teach pottery to families, many of whom at this time were living on their traditional country at outstations.

“I started driving out for three days and back in for two days. I had a kiln in Hermannsburg, made in the early 1960’s. That is what we started with; that was in the shack that we are still in at Hermannsburg. But I was hired originally as an oustation project. So that is why I loaded the car with clay and glazes and went out to outstations.”

– NAOMI SHARP, QUOTED IN ISAACS 2000 from The Hermannsurg Potters

Hermannsburg pottery - Australia - zoedawes

About 130 km south of Alice Springs, the drive to the tiny village where the pottery is situated, takes you through spectacular Outback scenery, past straggly eucalyptus trees, scrubby bush and misty mountains. Arriving in Hermannsburg Historic Precinct is to enter a little world caught in a time-warp. Low-level white-washed buildings were built when this area was a Lutheran Mission centre in the 19th c. The German church still stands, alongside a school, houses and numerous outbuildings. There’s a little shop and an Art Gallery exhibiting paintings by one of Australia’smost renowned artists, Albert Namatjira.

Hermannsburg Historic Precinct map by Albert -Namatjira Australia - zoedawes

On our visit we had excellent scones and jam in the quaint Kata Anga Tea Room before wandering around the little settlement. The blazing Aussie sun beat down relentlessly and the noon-day air was still and mesmerising. Rusting tractors and ancient farm implements were scattered about the village. Huge red gum trees and date palms gave welcome shade.

Hermannsburg Historic Precinct - NT Australia - zoedawes

Green refuse bins against the picket fence seemed somehow incongruous at this historic site …

The Potters of Hermannsburg

Hermannsburg Pottery NT Australia zoedawes

Wandering over to the Hermannsburg Pottery, we entered yet another world, this time of whacky figures adorning colourful vessels painted in vibrant colours. Seated at tables littered with paints, brushes, pots, paper, scissors, newspaper and cups of tea, the Aboriginal women of the Aranda tribe sat quietly creating unique masterpieces. They are shy but used to visitors admiring their handicraft. Dawn Wheeler Ngala showed me her pretty turquoise scenes (see above) and Hayley Coultard Panangka demonstrated how she made the standing figure on her table.


Everywhere we looked there were gloriously quirky objects. In the middle of one of the trestle tables was a large white cockatoo and a grey kangaroo with a tiny joey peeping out of her pouch. These were the creations of Judith Inkamala Pungkarta; she was mixing paint for the stripes on the kangaroo’s tail. (Yes, stripes – and no, I’ve never seen stripes on a kangaroo’s tail either, but that’s what makes these such original artworks.) You can see profiles of the Hermannsburg potters here.Judith-Hermannsburg-potters-NT Australia-zoedawes

In a store room off the main art room was shelf after shelf of pottery ready to be shipped over the America for a big exhibition. Price tags on some of the works showed just how commercially successful this venture is; one large vase was priced at $1,500. All profits are shared between and the artists and ploughed back into the Pottery venture.

Hermannsburg Pottery NT Australia - zoedawes

Having spent an hour or more admiring the work of the wonderful Potters of Hermannsburg, I emerged into the afternoon sunlight feeling inspired and strangely rejuvenated. There is something childishly impish about this pottery that brings a smile to all who see it …


I travelled to Hermannsburg courtesy of Northern Territory Australia.

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The Potters of Hermannsburg Pinterest - zoedawes

March 21, 2014

The Lone Dingo, Alice Springs – Quirky Travel Photo

The Lone Dingo, Alice Springs – Quirky Travel Photo

“The Lone Dingo seems to symbolise what so many of us are seeking when we head outdoors.  Isolation, intimacy with the environment, a simple existence, a better understanding of ourselves, the motivation behind so many of life’s journeys.”

The Lone Dingo - Alice Springs - Northern Territory, Australia

This beautifully simple mural was painted onto the side of a building on the main street in down-town Alice Springs, surely one of the most idiosyncratic and yes, quirky towns in Australia.  Evolved from the vast expanse of  unforgiving red earth that is the Northern Territory, Alice Springs has a unique ambiance that is both welcoming and slightly bonkers.

Built by the early pioneers who colonised Australia in the 19th century, it has an air of the wild west about it.  You suspect it has its own laws and answers to no-one.  With its many bars, cafes, restaurants and travel agents offering trips to the most iconic (yes, for once that word is justified) natural monuments on our planet – Uluru, the town buzzes with vitality and spirit. Bounded by the bumpily mountainous McDonnell Range, part of the challenging Larapinta Trail and home to the world-famous Flying Doctor service, it is proud of its place in Aussie legend.  Like many Australians I met on a brief trip to this compelling region, Alice Springs has a strong, vibrant personality, friendly and welcoming but with an unsuspected depth and sensitivity.  This image says it all …

September 1, 2013

5 Things to Do in Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia

5 Things to Do in Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia

On my first visit to Australia, to see glorious Uluru and quirky Alice Springs, I stayed in Darwin, capital city of the Northern Territory.  It's a laid-back port with a steamy sub-tropical climate, some very quirky sights and rather unprepossessing architecture.  It was badly bombed in WWII and on Christmas Eve 1974 Cyclone Tracy effectively destroyed a large part of the city the Japanese bombing had missed. Darwin is well worth taking a couple of days to explore prior to setting off into the Red Centre of Australia. Here are my 5 Top Things to Do in Darwin.

Darwin Coast, Northern Territory, Australia

1.  Go walkabout on The Batji Tour with Robby Mills, without doubt the best way to learn about Darwin's Aboriginal history and it significance to the indigenous Larrakia people who are the Traditional Owners of this area.

Batji tour of Darwin with Robbie Mills

Robby takes you on a gentle stroll along the Esplanade explained the use of local plants for bush medicine and food and to a small pocket of original rainforest by the beach. Telling gripping stories of the Larrakia animal totems, Robby stops every few minutes to pick from the trees, bushes and dusty ground.  He encourages everyone to try various berries, twigs and insects that have been used to feed and heal his people for centuries.  (I said ‘no’ to the bitey ants.) He's clearly well-known in the city and highly respected by all.

2.  Dive with crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove, with the largest collection of Australian reptiles in the world. The main attraction is the Saltwater Crocodile, the planet's biggest reptile; they have monsters up 5.5 metres long.

Saltwater Crocodile underwater at Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin

The very brave (or barmy) can dive into the crocodile-filled water in the ‘CAGE OF DEATH'.  For the slightly less adventurous, I can highly recommend the Big Croc Feed Experience, which includes a guided tour of the Centre but more importantly you get to feed adult and young crocs via a feeding pole (they snap very hard), hand-feed rays and barramundi and hold a baby crocodile. It's great fun and gives you a unique experience you can brag about when you get home.

Feed the fish at Aquascene where mullet, catfish, milkfish, bream and barramundi thrash about at high tide eager to be fed handfuls of bread.

Feeding fish at Aquascene, Darwin

Nestling in a lushly wooded bay called Doctor’s Gully. Feeling those fish grabbing at the bread is a very strange sensation and the shrieks of laughter from the many children there mingles with  informative commentary during feeding time.  I was fascinated to see so much marine life and the sense of whacky occasion this daily event evokes.  The grounds are festooned with a weird and wonderful collection of Asian statuary, inspired by discovering the find of a small statue of the Taoist God Shou Lao in 1879, possibly left by the Chinese settlers who landed here to mine the gold and silver.  Do check what time it’s open – all depends on the tide.

Lyons Cottage Telegraph Station is also known as BAT (British Australian Telegraph) House. It has great historic significance in Australia for in 1872 a single wire finally connected this northern outpost with southern Adelaide and the country was united in communication.  Built in 1925 it is the oldest stone building in Darwin and only surviving colonial-style bungalow.

Aboriginal gifts at Lyons Cottage Telegraph Station, Darwin

It now houses Aboriginal Bush Traders, an organisation promoting Indigenous tourism experiences as well as arts, crafts and bush harvest items. The Crocodile Soap makes an unusual souvenir …

Chill out at Mindil Beach Sunset Market.  Mindil Beach is the place locals gravitate towards at the end of the day to watch the sun go down.But before that, they graze on food stalls selling snacks from more than 50 countries.

Food stall Mindil Beach, Darwin

Musicians play and artist sell their crafts to an appreciative audience who relish the chance to get a taste and flavour of this diverse city. You can visit the market any time between April and October but the sun sets in spectacular glory every day of the year – a perfect way to appreciate the view from this colourful edge of Australia.

Sunset at Mindil Beach, Darwin

There’s a lot more to do in and around Darwin. Bill Bryson made a special trip to visit the Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory where he got to experience the effect of Cyclone Tracey -and see some of the region’s infamous wildlife in stuffed safety.  If you’ve an interest in WWII there are a couple of excellent museums dedicated to that conflict and Australia’s key role. There are plenty of Art Galleries exhibiting Aboriginal arts and crafts.  For kids the Wave Lagoon at Darwin Waterfront Precinct is a must, with plenty of restauarants, bars and cafes nearby. I didn’t have time to go across to the Tiwi Islands, visit nearby Mary River or Litchfield Park but they apparently they also make great days out, so you can see there’s plenty of interesting things to see at the Top End.

I stayed at the Darwin Central Hotel and explored part of the Northern Territory courtesy of Australia Outback. You can find them on Face Book and Twitter @AusOutbackNT

March 18, 2013

Getting away from it all in Queensland

Getting away from it all in Queensland

When writer and entrepreneur, Martin Dunford and his family went travelling round Australia, they discovered a haven of natural beauty in the heart of Queensland, Australia.  In our latest World Travel Blogger article, he describes some of the highlights of that trip.

Before we arrived at Rose Gums, Queensland we had thought there was only one kind of kangaroo. In fact there are several and, as Peta has promised, we are lucky enough to see several musky rat kangaroos the morning after our arrival at the rainforest.  They emerge from the bushes to feast on the corn she has put out for them, before being chased off by the omnipresent brush turkeys that roam everywhere around the compound. Afterwards, we sit on the terrace and watch hoards of rainbow lorikeets fight it out for food – a gloriously colourful sight that keeps my daughters rapt with attention.

Rainbow lorikeets - Rose Gums Retreat

Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat is an eco-friendly place in the heart of the rainforest in tropical Queensland's Atherton Tablelands – a mixed highland area an hour inland from Cairns that varies from dense rainforest to green rolling pasture to bare outback sprinkled with banana groves and orchards. Peta and John bought the 230 acres that makes up Rose Gums almost 20 years ago, replanting much of its indigenous plant life and building themselves a dream home in the process, the first of the stunning treehouses that hide among the trees at Rose Gums.  It's beautifully done, the houses comfortable yet rustic and close up to nature. They're also well spaced out; indeed you could come here and barely notice any other buildings at all.

Peta proves to be a knowledgeable and genial host, pointing out the best walks and chances to spot wildlife in this Queensland area. We are on a quest to spot platypus, and go off in search of them our first morning, following a well-marked path down to a creek, where we swim in crystal clear waters below overhanging trees.

Martin at the creek

We are disappointed on the platypus front – not just that morning but every morning; but perhaps we had been a little spoilt on a previous trip, when we witnessed a multitude of the little critters happily splashing about in a highland creek at the fabulous Yungara park to the south of here.

No matter: the rain-forest walk we do is gorgeous , the canopy alive with life and movement as we tread carefully along the path like pith-helmeted explorers of old, desperate for a glimpse of a snake or exotic birdlife.

Tree canopy

We catch a glimpse of a large grey monitor lizard on the path in front of us, but he's gone in a flash as he clocks our approach; down by the water there are turtles and enormous frogs, and something slithers up the bank as we approach – who knows what? We shush each other and the excitement builds as our eyes try to pierce the dense forest undergrowth and see deep into the muddy waters; but as Peta reminds us, although Aussie wildlife is fabulously abundant, most of it was hunted by the Aboriginals for centuries, some species to the brink of extinction, and most creatures don't hang about long enough to discover whether we're friend or foe.

Rose Gums Retreat, Australia - by Martin Dunford

Our lodge is, in any case, reward enough, its balcony facing a magnificent stage-set of forest birdlife, which we fixate on over drinks early evening, accompanied by the constant call of the well-named whipbird and chattering kookaburras. We never see either of these, but the host of other birdlife more than make up for it – honeyeaters of myriad colours and varieties feasting on the flowers that overhang our treehouse, blue-chested drongoes, red-faced king parrots and shrieking white cockatoos – the unruly hooligans of the rainforest – before the cicadas raise the volume to number 11 just after dark – an extraordinary loud and rhythmic sound that we mistake at first for a kitchen alarm.

The immediate area is full of interest, too – we swim in the clear waters of volcanic Lake Eacham, afterwards spotting the amethystene pythons that bask on its banks, snakes that we spot from a boat-trip on nearby Lake Bureen, along with forest dragons, erect and alert on overhanging tree branches, more turtles, ranks of cormorants arranged on logs, and big black eels which emerge from under the boat hoping for scraps of food.

Australian waters

Afterwards we repair to the balcony of the elegant boathouse for a cream tea of scones of jam – a peculiar juxtaposition you could only find in Australia. Nearby are one-horse towns like Yungaburra and Malanda – large villages, really, which cluster around vintage hotels, and where we come across the extraordinary sight of Yungaburra's magnificent Curtain Fig  – actually a majestic turpentine tree, strangled by the tendrils of a strangler fig years ago, in its full triffid-like glory.

The platypus remain resolutely in the burrows, but who cares? We have our treehouse to go back to with its glorious views and, as we stroll up to our front door, our resident big-bottomed bandicoot scuttles by in shy, silent greeting ….

Martin Dunford is one of the co-founders and the former publisher of Rough Guides, and now works as a writer and independent consultant and investor. Find out more about his digital travel busines Cool Places.

Other articles you might like about Australia include Sunrise at Uluru, Aboriginal Bush Tucker Walk and Best Beaches around Sydney.

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