Dispatch from Sea: Going Underground in Darwin

dawn princess darwinAs the first port of call on the Dawn Princess World Cruise, Darwin, Australia was a sight for sore eyes after 5 days at sea. Don’t get me wrong – it was smooth sailing along the way, with great views of the east Australian coastline as we travelled north from Sydney. But as a confined land lover, I was happy to get my feet firmly back on terra firma.

As soon as the Dawn Princess docked, I was ready to head down the gangplank and check out Darwin, a place that has been on my travel bucket wish list as long as I can remember.

But here’s the dilemma that cruise travel creates. You travel to interesting and exotic places but once there, your time is limited. After all, how much can you actually see of a new place in eight hours?.

Mulling over this question, I head first for the information center to gather up some brochures and a map, and then make my way to the Roma Bar, a café recommended not only for it’s good coffee but also, it’s free wireless internet.

An hour later, I’ve had my caffeine fix and managed to put a couple of locals on the spot by asking them ‘what is the one thing they recommend as a must see for visitors with limited time?’

Their response, after a few minutes of head scratching, was the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, home to Sweetheart, the Northern Territory’s icon crocodile that gain darwin oil storage tunnelsnotoriety in the 1970’s by attacking a number of aluminium dinghies at a popular Darwin fishing spot. Caught, and accidentally drowned in 1979, Sweetheart has now taken up pride of place in the museum. Of course, there is more to the museum than just a stuffed crocodile. For example, there’s the Cyclone Tracy exhibition that highlights the almost total destruction of Darwin in 1974, plus a number of indigenous art and history exhibits.But the Museum & Art Galley of the Northern Territory is located outside the immediate city center, and so, reluctantly, I crossed it off the list.

Instead, I decided to head underground and check out old World War II Oil Storage Tunnels just a couple of hundred yards from where the Dawn Princess was docked.

Given that I’m not keen on tunnels, caves, or any enclosed spaces, this was something of a nerve-wracking event. But sometimes you just have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. And I’m sure glad I did.

Following the bombing  of the fuel oil storage tanks on Darwin’s waterfront on Stokes Hill by the Japanese on 19 February 1942, the Australian government ordered the Civil Construction Corps to build some underground tunnels. These tunnels were designed to protect Darwin’s supply of fuel and oil from any further bombardment by the Japanese. As a result, the a large area underneath Darwin has been transformed into an amazing series of tunnels. Most of the tunnels are closed to the public, but tunnels 5 and 6, located alongside Kitchener Drive on the waterfront, has been restored and turned into a tourist attraction.

After listening to an informative overview of the tunnels from Tony, the enthusiastic tour guide on duty, I followed the others into the tunnels. It was like steeping into a bygone time.

darwin oil storage tunnels 1 darwin oil storage tunnels 3

Dark, damp, and dingy, the tunnels really highlight the fear that Darwin had that they would be bombed again. But they also highlighted my own fears of enclosed spaces. While others lingered at each stop, I must admit I focused more on my breathing and the lights at the end of tunnel than the actual tunnel. But along the way, I did manage to check out the fascinating photographic display featuring the men and women who served to protect Australia during WWII.

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