The bird hops out of sight, but not before you’ve glimpsed that flash of brilliant sky-blue and scarlet. You crouch down and peer through the foliage for a better view. There it is: a Rainbow Pitta. This stunning jewel of a bird poses briefly for your camera, before snatching up a worm and hopping out of sight again.
Amid the filtered light, creeping vegetation and humid, insect hum, you could be deep in the heart of a tropical rainforest. In fact, you are just on the outskirts of cosmopolitan Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. The city’s rich habitat mosaic — its harbour, mangroves, billabongs, savannah and seasonal wetlands — are home to more than 400 species of bird: a birding paradise within minutes of your downtown hotel.
Your first stop this morning was Buffalo Creek, just north of town, where you spied an elusive Chestnut Rail creeping around the muddy mangroves and Red-headed Honeyeaters flitting overhead. Now you’re just along the coast at East Point, where — in addition to your pitta — other monsoon forest specials include Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove calling from the canopy and Orange-footed Scrubfowl scratching around the leaf-litter. From here, a winding walking trail leads you out to the Casuarina Reserve, where you spy Beach Stone-curlews on the shoreline and a party of agile wallabies grazing the open grasslands.
Darwin isn’t only about wildlife — no matter how keen a birder you are — so after a couple of hours, with an impressive list of sightings under your belt, you head back into town to explore some of the city’s cultural attractions. The choice of museums and art galleries is overwhelming. With time limited you opt for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where you admire ancient Aboriginal artefacts, shudder at the sheer size of Sweetheart — a giant stuffed saltwater crocodile — and marvel at an interactive exhibit on Cyclone Tracey, which devastated the city on Christmas Day 1974.
After lunch, with more time at your disposal, you could head for one of the city’s many galleries, which showcase Top End art in all its forms: sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics. However, with nature still topping your agenda, you opt for an afternoon trip out of town to one of the nearby reserves.
Just 40 km south of the city centre, on the doorstep of Palmerston, lies the delightful Howard Springs Nature Park. This pristine pocket of natural monsoon forest, with its lake, stream and natural spring, is a popular picnic and barbecue spot for city-dwellers. A 1.8-km trail reveals plentiful wildlife, from birds such as the Rainbow Pitta (if you didn’t catch enough pitta action this morning) and Imperial Pigeon, to aquatic creatures such as Barramundi, File Snakes and Yellow-faced Turtles.
You return to Darwin from your afternoon excursion in time for a sunset stroll through the George Brown Botanical Gardens. Not only does this delightful city oasis introduce you to all the Top End’s rich flora, from orchids and bromeliads to palms and tree ferns, but you might also spy an elusive Rufous Owl. Dusk falls to the haunting call of Bush Stone-curlews, while Red-tailed Black Cockatoos wing over the city to their roost.
Your day’s immersion in Darwin’s nature and culture would not be complete without sampling the city’s renowned cuisine. From outstanding oriental restaurants in town — Japanese, Vietnamese, North Indian — to fine local seafood and stunning sea views at a swanky restaurant on The Point, you’ll find a dish for every palate and wallet. Even crocodile — if you’re snappy.
- Birdwatch Australia — Birdwatch Australia and its parent company Australia-Naturally Travel have been arranging bird watching and nature-viewing tours throughout Australia for over 20 years.
- Northern Territory — www.northernterritory.com
- South Australia — www.southaustralia.com
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