Days 454 – 462 Darwin (Australia) / motorbike GS Dakar RTW overland adventure traveller

  • Left –
  • 2nd – 10th July 2015
  • Miles rode – 

My daughter Beth had been ill with glandular fever and had spent the previous few days in hospital, I told her not to come to the airport to meet me but she did, having not seen each other for six months it was wonderful being reunited again.

Darwin was a culture shock, the bus took us into the city on perfect tarmac roads with white lines down the middle, cars stopped at traffic lights… I’m not sure I want to be here I thought? I went to a bar that evening and it was full of white people, very strange, it didn’t feel chilled out at all… I’m not sure I want to be here I thought?
I booked myself into the same hostel as Beth. It was late when I arrived and it was the following morning before I realised quite how small the dorm was. I was on the top bunk and there were 3 young girls in the other bunks, it was so small, like a broom cupboard… I’m not sure I want to be here I thought?

As normal I wanted a shower and as I put my hand under it to see how cold the water was I shocked to not only feel warmth but it got so hot I had to add cold, it was the hottest shower I had in a year and I stayed under the steaming hot water for 30 minutes.

I needed a SIM card so walked to the mobile phone shop and was instantly stuck but the fact that nobody smiled, nobody looked happy, there were only white people and there were far more fat people that I was used to seeing. I’m used to buying SIM cards when I arrive in a new country, the person in the mobile shop was polite and tried to ‘up sell’ me to a SIM contract I didn’t need and even tried to sell me a new mobile. There was a problem getting the SIM to work and the store manager said it was my mobile that was faulty and I couldn’t have a refund on the SIM I had just paid for, after an awkward exchange of words they realised I wasn’t accepting the situation and eventually got it working and didn’t charge me the additional money they said they would normally charge people. I’m not sure I want to be here I thought?

It was lunchtime before I ate so I was hungry and ordered a wrap, what arrived was a wrap big enough for two people and a massive portion of chips, double what I needed. I looked around and a disproportionally high amount of people were overweight, one mum said to her chubby 5 year old boy ‘eat everything up’, there must have been enough food on his plate for at least 5 boys of his age. I’m not sure I want to be here I thought?

After a couple of days Stefan (who shipped his bike with me from East Timor to Darwin) and I decided to start the process of getting our bikes from the port. As I understood it we had to get the shipping container booked into be cleaned externally as there is a risk of external contamination on all containers coming from East Timor, book an appointment with The Austrailain Quarantine people to inspect our bikes for contamination, book a road worthiness test (MOT in the UK) and buy bike insurance.

Stefan was staying with Dave, an Australian biker who has helped many overlanders negotiate the complicated and protracted process of getting their bikes out of Darwin port. Dave is a saint. What transpired Is that ANL, the shipping company Stefan and I paid a huge amount of money to are useless, have extremely poor communication skills and really don’t care about their customers. ANL didn’t do their job so it was left to Stefan and I to work out the complicated procedure, or it would have been had ‘Saint Dave’ not taken control and arrange everything for us which took many hours driving from customs office to quarantine office and over 10 phone calls to arrange everything. It would have taken a week or two had Dave not helped to get it all sorted, it would be a few days later we would go to the port and hopefully ride our bikes away.

I had a number of free days to ‘get to know’ Darwin. Darwin is clean, tidy, orderly, new, shiny and functional, it feels like it’s been asleep for a while and hasn’t quite woken up yet. I thought I loved the space and complete lack of traffic and people. Had I entered the set of ‘The Truman Show’ I wouldn’t have been surprised. The people of Darwin seem controlled, they are orderly and comply with crazy rules, they do not cross a road when the pedestrian crossing signal is red even if there isn’t a car within a mile (the roads are permanently quiet), you can’t take a beer to the beach or a BBQ. I haven’t been in Australia for 25 years but I remember having a BBQ & beer at the beach being quintessentially Australian as a ‘cream tea’ is English.

Over the days I became more and more bored with Darwin. Darwin in boring. Darwin is dull. Darwin has nothing to offer anyone with a pulse. Maybe it’s hidden but I couldn’t find anything cultural, decent music, anything interesting or anything stimulating. I want to here someone laugh, cry, shout or scream. Darwin feels wealthy and sterile, a cross between a hospital operating theatre and Milton Keynes. Is this what the people of Darwin really want? Give me graffiti, tears and laughter, give me life.

I’m also fed up with white Australians saying ‘I’m not rasist but’ preceding a negative comment about an Aboriginal person. I will make a massive effort whilst in Australia to engage with aboriginal people and have my own opinion by the time I leave.

And then I discovered ‘Roma Bar’, ‘Mindil Beach Sunset Market’ and Dave invited me to stay at his place in the outback and my faith that Darwin had a pulse was restored. Roma Bar was a cafe that was verging on being cool (this was a great development) and Mindil Beach Sunset Market was moving away from the usual tacky tourist stuff being sold in downtown Darwin.

Dave is a biker, very cool and a wonderful host. I spent my time in the outback with nature, beautiful birds dawn & dust, loved the nature out of the city. Dave has lived in and around Darwin all of his life and spending time with him and his friends gave me a good insite into the real Darwin. Darwin feels like it’s a tough place with tough people who know how to survive in a tough part of the country. Dave introduced me to eucalpitus trees, beautiful birds (the feathered type), dry red dirt roads and genuine good people.

Darwin feels very controlled with a law or regulation on everything, can the people of Darwin not think for themselves?

It took about a week but eventually we got our bikes and we were free.

On my last night in Darwin I went into the city (small town actually) to have a meal with Beth and whilst in a bar happened to be sitting next to Stephen & Bruno, aboriginal guys, over the following two hours we discussed many subjects as I would with anyone. I heard so much negative comment about aboriginal people and I had such a positive experience, strange that. Stephen & Bruno are great guys and Beth and I had a great time with them.

I can’t wait to explore Australia, I’m like a child on Christmas Eve with hope and expectation.

My experience of shipping Dili – Darwin;

Getting to East Timor can take a while as ferries from most islands only go there once a week and getting an ‘on-line visa authorisation code’ for East Timor is very nearly impossible. It took me over a month and many phone calls to the East Timor embassy in London who really helped me out. Once in Dili like many overlanders I stayed at ‘East Timor Backpackers’ who let me use the car park and water to spend time cleaning my bike (I took 3 days). Lenor works in the office at ANL at the shipping yard and arranges everything. In addition you have to go to the port and visit customs who stamp your carnet out of the country. Once you’ve strapped your bike into the shipping container at ANL’s yard get the first flight out of town, I chose Bali.

The ship Dili – Darwin (via Singapore) takes 14 days.

Once the ship has departed (roughly every 10 days) Lenor mails you the ‘bill of lading’ and informs Jason at ANL in Australia that the bikes have left.

Jason mails you a number of days before the ship arrives in Darwin telling you when it’s expected. The process to get your bike away from Darwin port takes an absolute minimum of 1 week so unless you want to spend a fortune in Darwin stay on the beach and arrange to arrive in Darwin 1 week after the bike arrives.

As the container is coming from Dili it has be externally inspected, our container took 1 week to be inspected. PJ’S CUSTOMS BROKERS AND DARWIN FORWARDING then collect the container from the port and take it to their yard. Mel who works for PJ’S is really friendly and arranges this. Once at the yard the bike is in quarantine and an inspection is needed before it will be released. Contact AQIS (Auastralian Quarantine Inspection Service) and make an appointment (and pay for it) this will take a few days. You have to be present with your carnet at the inspection, this is where you bite your nails and hope the inspector is in a good mood.

Once passed you visit the customs office and get your carnet stamped.

You can now return to PJ’s and collect your bike. And breath ?

Now straight to the Motor Vehicle Registry (MVR) to get the ‘road worthiness test’ (like the UK MOT) and buy ‘Compulsory Third Party Insurance’ (CTP) which covers bodily injury for the 3rd party in case of an accident.

What a long, protracted, beurocratic and expensive process!

The costs are below;

  • ANL: Dili US$816 / Darwin AUS$319 = £685
  • Australian Gov – AQIS inspection / MVR inspection and 3 month CTP: AUS$395 = £190


  • £875
  • AUS$1,845
  • US$1,350
  • EURO 1,215

2 Responses

  1. G’day Dan,
    Excellent writing which I enjoyed. I have heard nothing but good reports re Saint Dave for a couple of years now. What a good person.
    I rode Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, London in 1973. It really was the trip of a lifetime – I want to make more long trips and SOON As I just turned 70. My wife Serah and me have a homestay in Lombok. For the last 10 years I’ve been riding east Indonesia and just love it so much. I write for ‘Adventure Bike Rider’ and have a feature coming up in May/ June or thereabouts.
    I’m going to enjoy reading your work so very glad to have come across you.