Darwin Military Museum

There are many reminders in the Northern Territory of Australia’s involvement in World War II and a visit to Darwin Military Museum gives a fascinating insight into just how close the Japanese invasion came. On 19th February 1942, the Japanese bombed Darwin, killing 252 people, destroying aircraft, sinking 10 ships and severely damaging the township. Over the next 21 months, the Northern Territory was subjected to a further 97 air attacks by the Japanese, including 51 bombing raids.

Since the mid-1960s, the Royal Australian Artillery Association has been accumulating war memorabilia and the vast collection includes artefacts from the Boer War to the present day. Once past the entrance display,

I realised there were far too many intriguing items to photograph, not least this painted feather. The MV Manunda was launched in 1929 as a passenger liner and souvenirs of voyages, such as this, were common. The vessel became HMAS Manunda and served as a hospital ship during World War II before returning to civilian life in 1946. Ten years later, in an ironic twist of fate, she was sold to a Japanese Shipping Company, broken up and used for scrap.

We continued our exploration outside, where larger artillery pieces and military vehicles are scattered through tropical gardens and various outbuildings. A memorial to the Australian Digger stands adjacent to one dedicated to Gunner, a kelpie credited with the ability to alert his squadron when Japanese aircraft were approaching.

The sheer scale of some of the exhibits is boggling, it is difficult to fathom the logistics of deploying this equipment in the field. Boom net buoys were used to suspend the huge cable for the anti-submarine net stretched across Darwin Harbour. For added security, a massive metal detecting loop was laid on the floor of the harbour to detect any submarine activity.

Vehicle-mounted workshops were primarily used for maintenance in the field, with small engines under the bench to run electrical items such as grinders and compressors.

Probably the most terrifying place to be on the fighter planes was the ball gun turret. Suspended underneath the aircraft, the gunner, usually the smallest man in the crew, had to assume a foetal-like position on missions of up to ten hours.

Some remnants of wartime are still being found in the N.T., like this Japanese drop tank. The tanks carried extra fuel to extend the range of the aircraft and, once empty, could be released to reduce drag in combat situations.

There are several engines and propellors on display, each with their own story. This one separated from the fuselage of a Kittyhawk during a forced landing in 1942. Fortunately, the pilot survived.

Almost as uncomfortable as the ball turret, two personnel would be squeezed into the hot, noisy cabin of the Ferret scout car. One would drive and the other would man the machine gun and grenade launchers.

On a much larger scale, the Buffalo was used as an amphibious transport vehicle, though its design meant it could only operate in the calmest of seas without taking on too much water.

Looking suspiciously like a missile, paravanes were actually used in minesweeping operations. With a cutting cable attached, they were dragged behind a minesweeper at a pre-determined depth and, once the enemy mine was located and detached, it was destroyed by small-arms fire. Sometimes the paravane received collateral damage.

The big guns were just around the corner, an impressive collection of field and anti-aircraft guns, all of which must have been onerous to manoeuvre in battle.

Knowing where to aim the artillery pieces was a little more complicated than it is these days. A rangefinder was used to determine the angle and distance to the target, this one is the largest in the world and was installed at the East Point gun emplacements.

The information was then passed via telephone to the plotters manning the ‘fire direction table’ where they computed such things as wind speed, air pressure, humidity and temperature, all of which affected the shell’s flight.

The gunners were then able to set the correct bearing and elevation to hit the target. The initial 6” guns were replaced by two 9.2” guns but they didn’t arrive until February 1944. Consequently, the only rounds fired from these were three proof rounds, the war ended and, in 1959, both guns were sold to a Japanese salvage firm and cut up for scrap metal. The replicas that now stand on the site are quite impressive.

Operating in conjunction with the rangefinder crews, massive searchlights with a range around 25 kilometres were used to spot enemy ships.

There are many displays of assorted paraphernalia

and a tribute to the military horse troops. Around 1500 horses and men of the North Australia Observation Unit, known as Nackeroos, were stationed in remote locations to watch for enemy activity.

The final outbuilding contained a wonderful array of service vehicles from trucks to Bren Gun carriers.

The most recognisable is the 1942 Willys Jeep. Originally designated a ‘Vehicle General Purpose’ or ’Vehicle GP’, the name resulted in the term ‘jeep’. Willys were the original designers and manufacturers of the Jeep and then contracted the building of them to Ford.

If you are planning a visit to the museum, allow plenty of time, there was so much more to see.

Zealandia

One of the places on our ‘must see’ list while in Aotearoa was Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. For millions of years, native and endemic species had evolved without the need to defend themselves – until humans, and the mammals they introduced, managed to render at least 51 bird, 3 frog, 3 lizard, 1 freshwater fish, 1 bat, 4 plant, and a number of invertebrate species extinct. Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, the 225 hectares (just under a square mile) of forest, surrounded by 8.6 kilometres of pest-exclusion fencing, has reintroduced 18 species of wildlife to the area after being absent for over 100 years. We exited the visitor centre to the magnificent view of Karori Reservoir.

Completed in 1878, the Karori Dam and valve tower hailed the beginning of the municipal water supply to Wellington City and continued to contribute until the late 20th century.

There are many kilometres of walking trails through the sanctuary, we headed up the main path that followed the lake.

It wasn’t long before we encountered a gorgeous family of pied shags. Known in many countries as cormorants, they are brilliant swimmers and, because their feathers are not waterproof, can stay underwater for up to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, this means they get quickly waterlogged and cold and need to spend a lot of time preening and drying their feathers.

When a predator approaches a nesting colony, the chicks will jump into the water long before they can fly and are very good at climbing back up to the nest. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed their adorable  young.

Further along the path, we encountered a pair of birds enjoying a drink at a sugar water bar.

The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. The word kā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori and so the name kākā is thought to be a reference to their loud call. Effectively extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century, fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred from zoos between 2002 and 2007 and breeding has been very successful at Zealandia.

As the trail narrowed and foliage thickened,

we could hear unusual clicks, croaks and bell-like sounds. Looking up, we spied a beautiful black bird with white pom-poms at its throat.

The tūī is known for its complex vocabulary and can mimic other birds, ringtones of phones, door chimes and even human speech thanks to its ‘double voice-box’. While watching and listening, mesmerised, it became evident in the sunlight that the dark plumage was actually a dazzling iridescent green.

We stumbled upon what appeared to be old iron railway tracks in a clearing. Alluvial gold was discovered in the area in 1869 and local residents flocked to lay a claim. Two years later, quartz mining took its place with water wheels and crushing machinery installed. Presumably, these are remnants of the mine sites.

We traversed the upper dam wall, completed in 1908

and paused to take in the stunning vista across the upper reservoir toward urban Wellington.

We crossed a suspension bridge, enveloped by dense forest

to travel a different route back to our starting point. We didn’t expect to see the elusive tuatara but the mainly nocturnal creatures were basking in the sun.

Tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ in Māori and they are considered to be messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster. Scientists refer to them as ‘living fossils’ because they are the only living members left of the Rhynchocophalian order. All other members became extinct around 65 millions years ago.

We first spotted these birds while staying at Motuoapa Bay. Though not a native species, the California quail is a welcome substitute for the now extinct New Zealand quail, helping to balance the ecosystem.

With a hint from this Tūī that lunch time was nigh,

we left Zealandia in search of sustenance.

boating bliss

Winter is the perfect time of year to visit friends in Darwin, especially when they own a boat.

No, not that one….this one.

We set off on a sea of glass from Cullen Bay Ferry Wharf

and rounded the headland,

before the hint of tropical houses in the suburb of Larrakeyah peeked at us through the trees.

In the distance, Darwin city cut the colour blue with a swathe of silver and green.

Larrakeyah was one of the first parts of the city to be developed, with the colony’s first hospital built in 1874. It is named after the Larrakia people, the traditional custodians of the land.

In 1869, Dr. Robert Peel, a surgeon with the first survey team, found water ‘…in a gully between Fort Point and Point Emery’. Aptly named Doctors Gully, it soon became a landing point. In the early 1950s, a nearby resident started throwing bread scraps to the fish that would gather at high tide and in 1981, Aquascene Fish Feeding was established. Visitors can now stand in the shallows and hand feed the fish in the waters of this official marine sanctuary.

The Esplanade runs the length of the waterfront overlooking Darwin Harbour and alongside, Bicentennial Park is home to monuments and memorials as part of the WWII walking trail. Lookout Point is a good place to start.

With calm waters and stupendous scenery, it was time to serve drinks and nibbles.

Continuing down the coast toward the end of the park,

the Deckchair Cinema operates seven nights a week in the dry season. Established in 1954, Darwin’s only independent cinema gives audiences the chance to watch a diverse range of movies that would otherwise go unseen on the big screen.

Adjacent to the cinema, Parliament House was opened in 1994 on the site of the Darwin Post Office that was bombed in February 1942.

On the other side of the cinema, Government House is well hidden from view. It is the oldest European building in the Northern Territory and has been home to Government Residents and Administrators since 1871.

At the end of the Esplanade, Jervois Park marked our point of return

as the evening sun cast the cityscape in a new light.

The occupants of this fishing boat should probably have looked behind them.

On the horizon, eight jet skiers resembled the riders of the Apocolypse, fortunately not close enough to shatter the serenity.

As Sol descended,

we returned to Cullen Bay

and another day came to a spectacular close.

Low Head

There are so many beautiful places to visit along the Tamar River, and a scenic forty minute drive from Launceston, the most sublime can be found as the waters empty into Bass Strait. It is impossible to feel anything other than calm when arriving at Low Head, surrounded by the blues and greens that only nature can bestow. This fabulous old Queenslander can be rented as holiday accommodation, with a view like that I don’t think I would ever want to leave.

In 1798, explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania in their vessel, Norfolk and proved the existence of a strait separating the island from Australia (apparently, it took a long time to dig that ditch). With much difficulty, they located the mouth of the Tamar River and made landfall seven kilometres up river at Port Dalrymple, now called Georgetown. Ten years later, the crew of Hebe found the entrance more than ‘difficult’ and came to grief on the treacherous reef, the first of nine shipwrecks to come. Consequently, convict labour set to work to construct Tasmania’s second (Australia’s third) lighthouse from local rubble with a coat of stucco to help with durability and a lantern room built of timber.

First lit in December 1833, the structure slowly deteriorated and was replaced in 1888 with the double brick version still standing today. Originally painted solid white, the red band was added in 1926 to improve visibility during daylight.

The initial four-roomed lighthouse keeper’s quarters were attached to the base of the tower, as seen in this illustration that is exhibited at the site.

A new Head Keeper’s quarters was built in 1890 (now available as holiday rental) and an Assistant Keeper’s quarters followed in 1916.

Tasmania’s only foghorn was installed at Low Head in 1929. For those who might understand, it is one of the largest Type G diaphones ever constructed and is one of only two of the type functioning in the world today. Decommissioned in 1973, it was restored by a group of volunteers and became operational again in April 2001.

The foghorn is sounded at noon each Sunday and can be heard up to thirty kilometres out to sea.

The area around the lighthouse encompasses Low Head Coastal Reserve, home to little penguins, the smallest of all penguin species. Also known as fairy penguins, they are the only species of penguin that are dark blue and white rather than black and white. The Penguin Tour experience sees them waddling back to their burrows after a day in the sea under cover of darkness. We were fortunate to spy this lovely creature settled on the nest, apparently accustomed to human presence.

Mangaweka Gorge

We had no particular plan for sightseeing on the drive from Motuoapa Bay to Wellington but it wasn’t long before we saw a sign indicating the presence of a historic bridge. Of course, we went to investigate and found the Mangaweka Bridge. Built in 1904, it is the only cantilever road bridge left in New Zealand.

The bridge itself is quite impressive but the views from the centre of the Mangaweka Gorge are truly magnificent.

Across the bridge we were surprised to find Awastone Riverside Haven, comprising accommodation, a campground and café. We enjoyed coffee and cake along with a different perspective of the bridge, rising 17 metres above the riverbed and the vertical white ‘papa’ cliffs.

The Rangitikei River, one of New Zealand’s longest at 253 kilometres, has cut spectacular gorges through the soft clay on its way to the Tasman Sea. The dramatic backdrop and series of rapids along the way make it a popular destination for a memorable kayaking experience.

Since our visit, a new bridge has been built to cross the river at this point because of safety concerns. The old bridge will be retained as a tourist icon for foot traffic and cyclists and those wanting to take in the majestic views.