En route to Darwin we stopped at Robin Falls free camp just outside of Adelaide River. It was a peaceful spot by a clear subtropical stream with a short rocky walk up to a three tiered fall. Beautiful semi-naked young people climbing sylph-like under the rocky falls made it look like a setting from The Beach or a Cleo Magazine shoot. We brought a more waterpark feel to the scene taking it in turns to squeal and flap under the cold cascading water.

We made it into Darwin the next day and set up camp at Lee Point Village Resort. The name was a furphy with nothing about our patch of grass under the trees resembling a resort, but we were happy with the open space and simple but clean amenities. It also happened to be adjacent to an area of bushland where a recently discovered flock of Gouldian finches had been making a flutter in conservation circles. The fairly nondescript area of sparsely wooded grassland is earmarked for a housing development. The arrival of the endangered bird has added some weight to the cause of Friends of Lee Point who are trying to save the remnant habitat. I joined an organised walk with other Gouldian enthusiasts and was lucky to get another great sighting of the little painted finch, as well as many other beauties including the chestnut-breasted mannikin, which was a first for me.

I imagine reaching Darwin is a big-ticket event for any "big lapper". For us it held extra significance. It was in Darwin that we would meet Oma, flying all the way from Germany to join us on our travels.

Oma had been scheduled to land at 5am the day after we checked in, but a 12 hour delay made for a much more convenient arrival time and a nightmarishly long journey for the anxious traveller. Initially fully supportive of Brigitte joining us, particularly as it would be great for the kids, I then got the wobbles in Karratha when we hit a low point and I just couldn’t imagine how we could accommodate a travel companion for a whole 7-8 weeks. By the time we reached Darwin I’d come full circle and I was very excited at what we were about to share. We’d find a way to squeeze her in. Claire however, who had never met Oma, was actively against the pending intrusion, telling us "I don’t want Oma come, Oma not love me". Whereas Hugh was very excited and already making plans to include her.

It was a long tense wait at the arrivals gate, the anticipation mounting every time the frosted glass doors slid open. After watching many other families have their "Love Actually" moment, the doors finally opened on our weary but glowing Oma. Both kids went strangely coy but it didn’t take them long to warm up, especially when Oma found a treat for them each in her bag and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Remarkably, right from the word go, Hugh spoke German with her, and he’s kept at it ever since. He even sleep-talks in German. He used to say the occasional sentence with us, when we insisted. I never imagined he’d launch so seemlessly into full German for her.

I loved Darwin and would have happily stayed longer than four nights, especially as I lost a day (and my date night with good friend and Darwin local, Jane) to sickness, coming down with some 48 hour bug on our last day. Luckily Janey and I snuck in a brief catch up before I got sick. I did my first ever RAT test feeling sure that COVID must have finally caught up with us, but no, it was just some other virus at large.

We indulged at the Mindil Beach Markets, enjoying another shared moment with fictional Grace from "Are with there yet" and watching the sun set with a beach packed full of other tourists. We munched fish and chips and watched another liquid sunset at the much quieter Nightcliff. The free water parks were reason enough on their own to spend longer in Darwin. Hugh missed out on riding the three huge tunnel slides at Leanyer Water Park by a mere 2cm in height. But Matthias and I weren’t going to miss out on the fun.

Our visit coincided with the Garrmalang Festival. We took part in the opening smoking ceremony and were captivated by some traditional dancing and ballet. I joined Jane for a heavy panel discussion on Crime and Youth Justice as part of the festival. One speaker in particular, Mililma May, stood out as an impressive voice and young leader I’d like to hear more from.

We took in the waterfront, walked the esplanade past Government House, watched the sunset from the cenotaph war memorial and picnicked in Bicentennial Park. While I was feeling poorly the others had fun at the museum and botanic gardens. We were all awed and fooled by the giant albino carpet snake that inhabits the gardens. And a visit to Darwin wouldn’t have been complete without stopping at the Parap markets for a smoothy and one of Mary’s famous laksas (hands down the best laksa I’ve ever had).

Could Darwin have moved into top position of places I’d consider living? Converse to Esperance and Albany, where the cold winters put me off, I’m not sure whether I’d handle Darwin’s summers. But it’s certainly a city I hope to return to.



A family of four, touring Australia in a camper trailer.

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