Sunday, January 15, 2017

DARWIN BEACHES



I didn't go to Darwin for its beaches. You want good beaches on Australia's northern facing coast, go to the BROOME area. Unfortunately I visited BROOME well before this blog and in my TRAVEL-LITE period when I didn't carry a camera - so I can't do a retrospective on that great section of coast.

But naturally, as a beaches fan, when in DARWIN I checked out the silica.

BEST BEACH - CASUARINA
Part of CASUARINA BEACH is DARWIN’s official nude beach. And being a naturists since the ‘60s I naturally (groan!) wanted to check it out.
But don’t scroll away if you are non-nudist. CASUARINA is probably DARWIN’s best ocean beach and only a central, fairly isolated 500m of over 6km is clothing optional. You may find some useful info below.


My official rating: as a nude beach: big on space and privacy (nude section looking north above) Not all that good for swimming on account of croc and stinger warning signs (latter wet season only). Overall – 2 stars (below average).


As a beach in general: great if you like looong, wide (low tide at least) pretty featureless expanses of sand as above. I like to dive into or at least sit in the water every now and then plus I favour small compact beaches book-ended by headlands and backed by more than low scrubland (um, some CASUARINA sections are backed by low dripstone cliffs – which apparently can be a turn-on for geology nerds). 


Dripstone cliffs on south Casuarina Beach (image WILIS'S WALKABOUTS


And I understand the sunsets are pretty good – hell they are pretty good anywhere along DARWIN’s waterfront regardless of the beach quality.

Just after sunset from DARWIN SKI CLUB - south FANNIE BAY BEACH

When I finally reached the nude section there were in fact only a handful of beach-goers  – despite both my visits being on very sunny early wet season days and the second on a weekend, there were probably fewer than a dozen nudists and a couple of textiles in the nude area. My opening comment on “privacy” is ensured by so few people over such a big area.
Probably only a dozen people elsewhere on my 1500m walk up the beach – some native Australian beach-combers, a few sunbathers, fishermen and windsurfers**
It was nearly low tide on one of the month’s lowest tide days – the beach has a very flat profile and was extremely wide (see pic 3 above), maybe 250m in most places. I could see the previous (very) high tide had only left 10-15m of dry sand. Behind the sand was a low foredune – some trees were offering good shade over the back of the beach at least until mid-afternoon.

**WINDSURFERS and CROCS/STINGERS? How does that work?
Well for a start I guess the mantra is DON’T FALL OFF!! 
And as far as crocs are concerned, I gained the idea that locals are not as fazed as visitors re crocs off beaches. Maybe this is because the “salties” proper name is ESTUARINE CROCODILE. Their preferred habitat is river estuaries and of course they have no objection to moving up stream and even across to water holes if there is the chance of mugging some unsuspecting critter come down for a drink.

They are found off beaches less frequently – but some DO take voyages along the coast (I think a lot may be males who have lost a fight for dominance and are looking for a new habitat), and so it pays to keep an eye out for cruising muggers any time you are at the beach. In this respect I think TOP ENDERS’ attitude to crocs is a bit the same as southerners’ to sharks – they can be around but less often than outsiders worry about.

 A nice result of the low tide was that several shallow pools had been stranded. A textile down near the SURF CLUB was sitting in one while she read. A good cool option on this very hot and humid day – but check any pool closely: I understand those stingers are a bit hard to see.
Outgoing tide starts to isolate lower areas (image ENJOY DARWIN)

LOCATION/GETTING THERE – CASUARINA BCH is in the very north of the rather spread out greater Darwin conurbation. Some of the easiest access is via the DARWIN SURF CLUB abt 15km north of DARWIN CITY.
Fair stretch from Darwin Central. DARWIN CBD is actually just above the B of "CBD"


This is a loooong strip of silica – it runs 6.5km from behind the UNIVERSITY in the south to LEE POINT in the north. I think there may be local names for the southern and northern-most sections – I read somewhere that the latter is sometimes called LEE POINT BEACH (IMAGE - MODIFIED GOOGLE EARTH as are all the "satellite maps" on this page).

BY CAR
If you want to access one of the better non-nude sections, head for DRIPSTONE PARK just south of the SURF CLUB. Best access is off TROWER RD which separates the suburban areas of BRINKIN and TIWI. Plenty of parking here – cross the park and access the beach via the metal stairway down the 4m dripstone cliff-face.
The SURF CLUB is about 300m north – take the smaller road leading into the scrub from the near-beach roundabout on TROWER: parking at the club.
For the nude section continue on the small road another 800m north to the parking lot. Take the bush track the short distance across to the beach – the nude section starts about 500m further north: look for the sign on the low foredune back of beach (SEE PIC BELOW).



BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT
I found the quickest access was via bus#4 (runs every 40min or so) to the UNIVERSITY (abt 45min from downtown) – from the roundabout out front I walked 900m north along ELLENGOWAN DR, hung a left at the end onto TROWER and waked another 750m to the beach park. Once on the beach I walked north past the nearby small headland and continued on for another 900-1000m to the curve of the beach to the right - from where the start of the clothing-optional section is another 500-600m.
Total walking time abt 45mins – maybe half on the beach. I preferred to walk the beach for the last section – a nice sea breeze was blowing and I thought the sight of a few nudists on the sand would locate me better than walking around on the bush tracks behind.
Bus #1 from CASUARINA INTERCHANGE will get you to within 600m of the beach on TROWER but it runs less often. You can stay on #4 to the interchange (only a few mins past the university) – bus #10 from downtown is quicker and as frequent. Timing connections with #1 are a matter of luck.


BTW – CASUARINA BUS INTERCHANGE is adjacent the big CASUARINA SQUARE shopping mall, one of DARWIN’s biggest - has many outlets missing downtown – a good post beach excursion.



OTHER OKAY DARWIN BEACHES

CITY BEACH
For people who don’t mind artificial beaches, CITY BEACH at the man-made lagoon in the WHARF PRECINCT immediately south of the CBD is pretty neat (and protected from crocs and stingers). Entry if free, there are plenty of lawn, shade trees and picnic facilities. No shortage of restaurants and fast food places in the retail section of THE WHARF DEVELOPMENT behind camera.
Also part of the WHARF PRECINCT but with an admission charge is the....

WAVE LAGOON
No real beach here, but the family will have a ton of fun. About a dozen different wave types with a 10minute break between. Plenty of shade and some smaller still pools for toddlers.


WHARF PRECINCT: A-CITY BEACH  B-WAVE LAGOON  C-CONVENTION CENTER  D-SHOPS/RESTAURANT-BARS (ground), HOTELS AND CONDOS (upper)  E-UNIVERSITY DEVELOPMENT (CRUISE TERMINAL out of image to south)  F-SKYBRIDGE shortcut to city  G-NT ADMINISTRATIVE QUARTER  H-SOUTHERN CBD  J-STOKES HILL WHARF (restaurants, tourist cruises, small ships).
There is paid parking in the precinct. Bus #14 runs down here from CULLEN BAY via THE CITY.
You can walk from the southern CBD via the SKYBRIDGE (onto level 5 of VIBE HOTEL wing) in abt 10min.


LAKE ALEXANDER
Another artificial beach lines the northern shores of LAKE ALEXANDER, a former marshy swamp which had been dredged, cleared of crocs and stingers (filters and traps ensure no further encroachment) and improved by grassy surrounds, picnic and bbq facilities, a big kids' playground and of course change sheds. Water is constantly circulated from the bay outside (image TripAdvisor)


ALEXANDER is kinda peanut shaped – max length north south abt 400m, Width varying from around 150m each end to 70m in the middle. There’s plenty of sitting/wading depth water at the northern end close to the sand and it gets to about 2m deep 150m off the beach – a sign said it is up to 8m deep in the southern watercraft zone. The water is refreshed and filtered constantly from the adjacent bay.

LOCATION – LAKE ALEXANDER is in the EAST POINT RESERVE (free entry) abt 6km north of downtown DARWIN. Head 5km north along the main coastal road and turn left at the big sweeping right hand corner onto EAST POINT RD. Go another km to the RESERVE ENTRANCE GATE. No entrance fee. The lake begins less than 200m past the gate on the right. Plenty of free parking, particularly at the far end.
Without a car, the best bet is to jump on one of the fairly frequent (abt half hourly) BUS#4s and travel 15-20m to the first stop past FANNIE BAY JAIL (the driver will know where to put you off). Walk back 200m to the sweeping corner across from the jail, walk directly ahead thru one of Darwin’s more upmarket suburbs for about 1km to the Reserve entrance. Bus 6 will get you a bit closer to the entrance gates but runs less frequently.


Once again: I've miss-placed the DARWIN CBD marker - should be abt a cm inland from that waterfront area bottom right of image.


When in the EAST POINT RESERVE area don't miss the DEFENCE OF DARWIN MUSEUM near the north end of the peninsula - probably the best 3 hours I spent in Darwin. 
OTHER RESERVE ATTRACTIONS include a mangrove boardwalk, a mangrove forest nature trail..... and adjacent to LAKE ALEXANDER, the nicer northern section of FANNIE BAY BEACH....

NORTHERN FANNIE BAY BEACH



Northern most 500m of FANNIE BAY BCH was probably the second best ocean beach area I saw in DARWIN. Note width at low tide - check high tide mark back of beach:not too much sand left.


NFBB had the usual croc warning signs. Low tide width and high water mark seen well in this image.


Most other areas of FANNIE BAY BCH are not as attractive - this is abt 2500m south, adjacent DARWIN SKI CLUB: the club has a nice long launching ramp to get their ski boats into the water when the tide is down. 



BEACHES AROUND DARWIN

I didn't go searching for good DARWIN AREA beaches. I saw the following during other sightseeing activities....

WAGAIT BEACH 
Across the other side of the big inlet from DARWIN, I thought this beach was as good as NORTH FANNIE BAY. Once again you can see what different tide levels do to beach width. 
I didn't bother abt a dip despite the 40c temps - the ubiquitous croc and stinger warnings dissuaded me.


I didn't intend to go to WAGAIT BCH - ended up here during my cut-rate "harbour cruise" on SEALINK's Mandorah Ferry.
Ferry at MANDORAH PIER - way down there on account of lowest tide of the YEAR (had to postpone arrival an hour to allow enough water - website has details of normal times (fairly frequent because a lot of "EAST BAYERS" commute to DARWIN: the 6km 40 min voyage is a lot less than the 125km drive around the south of the bay) - and timetable variations due to tide.


SEALINK leaves from the CULLEN BAY terminal about 4km north-west of the CBD (marker in right position here) - bus 14 runs between frequently:timed to meet the ferry.

I got a shock on arrival at MANDORAH - the only thing there is the pier! Even the old tourist pub closed years ago. But a friendly local gave me a lift 4 km to the nearest town - WAGAIT BCH.

I'll do a page on my MANDORAH visit when I get a chance.

TIWI ISLAND BEACHES


This was another SEALINK ferry trip - but a much longer one at 2.5 hours each way. I simply took it to say I'd been to the TIWI ISLANDS, a pretty well-known part of the TOP END. 


I wasn't all that interested in the beaches. Although I noticed some pretty good stretches of silica from the ferry on the way into APSLEY STRAIT which separates TIWI's BATHURST AND MELVILLE ISLANDS.

Thing is I was a fair distance offshore and my elcheapo compact digital couldn't cop any good pix, so I got these off the web:


Both look pretty nice - makes sense:with a very low population over a big area (DID YOU KNOW MELVILLE IS AUSTRARLIA'S SECOND BIGGEST ISLAND?) you can expect much CLEANER beaches. 
But of course the beaches are subject to the usual crocs and wet season stingers.
IMAGES - TRAVELLER


The rest of my TIWI visit was a bit of a hoot. I'll put a link to a separate page when I get a chance to do one.



THE REST OF THE TOP END

As mentioned, I didn't come to DARWIN to check the beaches. So what was I interested in?
Well naturally DARWIN itself was worth checking out IMHO.
Taking it easy by the pool at a DARWIN backpacker joint


And in the area you would naturally want to do:
 KAKADU
Dinner coming up on my overnight tour of KAKADU


LITCHFIELD NP
WANGI FALLS at LITCHFIELD


KATHERINE GORGE
Cruising GORGE TWO 


and MATARANKA HOT SPRINGS. 
This is MATARANKA's second hot springs area, BITTER SPRINGS. Arguably better than MATARANKA HOMESTEAD THERMAL POOL.
I'll do a page on each of the above and link them when I get a chance.


THE BEACH AND THE WEATHER

I visited in the second half of NOV/early DEC. This is EARLY WET SEASON. Already things had slowed down - way fewer visitors, bargain airfares etc. You would think it's not such a good time to visit - either beach wise or for doing those other places. 
How wrong - the weather was great! Over my 3 weeks it rained on 3 days and abt 10 nights, all short sharp stuff. Days were 80% sunshine. Locals told me this is normal for time of year. 
Blue sky day one - off to a good start.

Our trip guides said tell all our friends how good early wet season weather is - because as soon as THE DRY officially ends in October, visitor numbers drop away and they have trouble filling their tours. Point out that there are often walk-in vacancies and discounts, they said. Popular places in KAKADU and LITCHFIELD which suffer serious overcrowding in high season are uncrowded.
Downsides include some places of interest closing (seem to run on the calendar rather than conditions), unfilled tours sometimes having to be rescheduled and some tours just not running.

Note as I write this in early January, the weather has changed - the full wet seems to have hit, with several days of prolonged heavy rain. However guides told me more normal full wet season weather has still plenty of sunshine but with more/heavier rain. But if a monsoon trough moves in (as it did these past few weeks) then prolonged rain can feature.



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