From Darwin

DARWIN, AUSTRALIA: Budget Travel Guide 2016

When Captain John Lort Stokes of the Beagle reached a harbor in Northern Australia in 1839, he thought about a friend and former shipmate who would probably like the area had he been part of the crew — Charles Darwin. Yet, the Darwin himself never set foot in the port city that would later be named in his honor.

When asked why the Captain named it after the renowned evolutionist, no one in our group was certain. “Perhaps he saw the many remarkable species that walked the land at the time,” our tour guide theorized. And it could be true. From the white ibis birds that roam the shores to the saltwater crocodiles that rule the rivers, Australia’s biodiversity is quite fascinating, to say the least.

Despite its natural beauty, however, Darwin isn’t really the first that comes to mind when we think of Australian cities. It’s the Jon Snow among the Stark children, the Tyrion among the Lannister siblings, the Dorne of the Seven Kingdoms. Isolated. Outcast. Somewhat out of place. It’s laidback when the others are bustling, tropical when others are temperate. Yet, it survives, thrives, and leaves a unique imprint among the lucky souls who would come visit.

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Darwin YHA Hostel: Where to Stay in Darwin, Australia

We arrived a quarter to six. In a few minutes, the hostel would open, but instead of calling the staff to accommodate us, we chose to just stay outside and wait for the right time. That July morning was cooler than we expected, and we didn’t mind killing time by watching passersby, some evidently had a drink (or seemed like it). Darwin just before dawn was quiet.

The first stop in our six-city tour across the Northern Territory and Queensland, Darwin would give us our initial impression of the Australian continent.

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10 FREE or Cheap Things to Do in Darwin, Australia

It didn’t take very long for it to dawn on me: Darwin is expensive. Well, Australia in general is expensive, but being the first stop, Darwin shocked me.

Imagine how big my eyes got and how low my jaw dropped when I got hold of my first bottle of soda at a convenience store. Four dollars a bottle is quadruple the price I am used to. As a frugal guy who spent most of his life in Southeast Asia (where almost everything is cheaper than in almost anywhere else in the world), in my early days in Oz, I bled every time I wanted to eat. But you know what they say, stop converting, otherwise you’ll spoil the fun.

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Mindil Beach Sunset Market in Darwin, Australia

I spotted a stranger walking in my direction. His smile was shining, and his eyes were fixed on me as he leisurely trod through the crowd. If there was one thing I did not expect in Darwin, it is how friendly the people are. Any local we crossed paths with would greet us a joyous “G’day.” But I did not have this realization at the time; it was only my second night in Australia.

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Freshies, Salties, and Birdies: Mary River Wetlands Tour, Kakadu National Park, Australia

There was a lot to be nervous about during the cruise.

For starters, we would be cruising down the Mary River, one of the eight Top End rivers and is known for having the world’s highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles. “There are two major species of crocs here in Kakadu: Saltwater crocodiles or salties, and freshwater crocodiles or freshies,” shares our guide Ray. “There are plenty of both in the wild.”

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Ubirr Rock Art Walk in Kakadu National Park, Australia

Our tour guide Ray called everyone to gather around a particular stick figure of a man with barbed spears and a dilly bag above a signage that says, “A Lesson in Good Behavior.”

The image is that of Mabuyu, a hunter. “He was dragging his catch on a string after a day of fishing,” Ray narrated, “when someone cut it and took the fish. He followed the culprit and waited until they have had their meal, hoping that there would still be a few fish left and that they would share them with him. There was none. That night, as the thieves slept inside a cave, he blocked it with a huge rock, trapping everyone inside it.”

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8 Popular Stops in Litchfield National Park, Australia: A Day Tour Itinerary

On that bus, I was the only one below 40.

As I made my way to my seat, I was greeted with cheery hello’s by a bus-ful of middle aged to senior tourists, all ready to explore the wilderness. It was not my usual travel company, but it was a welcome addition to my growing list of first times here in Australia. The bus, or coach as locals call it, was bound for Litchfield National Park, 100 km southwest of Darwin, roughly an hour-and-a-half drive.

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