Travelling on a budget can take many forms – and who doesn’t want to save a bit of money where they can in order to splurge in other areas? The money saved on accommodation – one of the most costly parts of travelling – can be spent on slap-up dinners or treats like helicopter rides or exclusive (and expensive) tours. Or not spent at all, of course, if the budget is tight.
House-swapping has been around for years now, and the advent of Airbnb has widened accommodation choices for everyone, but I’m still a fan of house-sitting.
So I jumped at the chance to house-sit for friends who live in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, and recently spent 10 days luxuriating in the comfort of their lovely home while reacquainting myself with this small but interesting city.
My friends are yachties, taking a month off to sail the Kimberley coastline, along Australia’s north-west coast. Some years ago, I was lucky enough to take a small-ship expedition cruise along that route, from Broome to Darwin, and so I envied them their adventure. I’ve also been lucky enough to sail with them along the Queensland coast and knew they’d be having a lovely languid holiday.
Their delightful home was at Tipperary Waters, opening up onto one of Darwin’s small marinas, with the moorings right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows across the front of the house. And with sunrise at around 7am, it was no hardship to get up in time to enjoy the breaking day, with a cup of tea on the deck.
Living like a local is one of the joys of house-sitting; you’re likely to be in a neighbourhood you’d never explore as a tourist. While Darwin has several marinas, the most well-known is Cullen Bay, a hot-spot for bars and restaurants; Tipperary Waters, however, has a small cluster of shops that include a grocery store, newsagent, a couple of restaurants and a cafe/takeaway joint. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that the local fish-and-chip shop – only about two minutes walk from “home” – had been awarded Best Fish & Chips in the Northern Territory at last year’s Seafood Industry Awards. Worth giving it the taste test? You bet! I was already intrigued by the name, Frying Nemo, so was easily convinced. The locally-caught barramundi was moist and tasty and the chips were just perfect. I took them home, poured a glass of crisp white wine, and enjoyed the view from the deck. Bliss.
Another great thing about staying in someone else’s home is that you get to browse in their bookcases. Oh joy…a whole new library to dip into (and plenty of time, in this case, to get a book finished before leaving). My choice was Burial Rites, by Australian author Hannah Kent. I’d never heard of it, or of the author (it’s her first novel) but was soon engrossed in the tale of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who in 1830 was the last woman executed for murder in Iceland (the book is based on a true story). Highly recommended reading.
There are other joys too – admiring someone else’s art collection (here, mostly Australian indigenous art) and the little things that show the home-owners’ personalities. I chortled when I pulled this coffee cup out of the kitchen cupboard – and did my best to live up to the sentiment while in Darwin!
And so I set out to explore. It’s been about five years since I was last in Darwin, and quite a few things have changed while the old favourites were still there to be visited…the Parap Markets (every Saturday), where Asia meets Australia and laksa and pho are de rigeur for breakfast or lunch; the wonderful Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where Sweetheart the crocodile reigns; the World War II history (Darwin was bombed 64 times by the Japanese); and sunset at the Mindil Beach markets.
Then there were some out of town trips: Litchfield National Park, with its towering termite mounds and gushing waterfalls; Berry Springs, for a dip in a natural “spa” under a waterfall and a refreshing swim in deep freshwater pools; and further afield to the magnificent Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. More on these in upcoming blogs.
Another advantage of being in a house, instead of a hotel, is the ability to self-cater. But I confess that not once in 10 days did I cook. There are too many places in Darwin to eat well and affordably! But I still saved – breakfast at home most days, and lunch sometimes…but dinner sounded too much like hard work! It was hard to beat a bucket of prawns and a beer at the Darwin Ski Club, overlooking the water at sunset….
Ah yes…sunset. There’s nowhere in the world that can beat a Darwin sunset, in my opinion. Every day closes with a spectacular display as the sun sinks into the sea. I never got tired of seeing what it would bring, and some bushfires in the distance added to the drama some nights. This is just one of the sunset memories I’ll keep with me until I get back to Darwin again…