Diving is a popular pastime in the Northern Territory, even though mangroves fringe the coastline, crocodiles and box jellyfish inhabit the offshore waters, and strong tidal currents and low visibility affect diving on the reefs and wrecks.
The entire Darwin Harbour and all the off shore islands can be regarded as the largest "muck dive" in the world. Its best to dive on neap tides and be selective as to which localaties are best. This information and access to most sites can be scheduled through the local dive shops. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Darwin has Australias best collection of World War II shipwrecks and plane wrecks. As well, the coral reefs off the city have a rich diversity of reef fish and invertebrates. Manta rays, reef sharks, turtles, schools of pelagic fish and even whale sharks are found on the reefs off the Gove Peninsula, in quite clear water at certain times of the year.
The Northern Territory, which covers 1.4 million sq km, is a land of contrasts. Most of the Territory is hot, dry desert. The top end, however, is hot and humid, and receives a deluge of rain each summer (October to April) from the tropical monsoons. The temperature varies little, daytime temperatures are always around 30¼C, while overnight temperatures range from 20-30¼C. The dry interior has scorching summer days reaching 40¼C, and winter days when the temperature varies from 20-30¼C, however, the overnight temperature can drop to 0¼C.
The English attempt to settle the Northern Territory was to prevent the French and the Dutch from establishing a foothold in the Great Southern Land. Several forts were built between 1824 and 1838, but all were quickly abandoned. Darwin Harbour (named after Charles Darwin) was finally chosen as the location for a settlement in 1869. The town grew quickly after gold was discovered at Pine Creek, but did not develop into a major port until World War II. During the war, many Allied ships and planes, involved in attacks on Japanese positions, were based in Darwin. The city was bombed by the Japanese on 64 occasions.
Cyclones have always been a summertime threat to Darwin. Few match the destructive force of Cyclone Tracy, which flattened much of the town on Christmas Eve in 1974. Darwin has since been rebuilt, and is now one of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in Australia. A number of small towns are scattered throughout the Northern Territory, however the only other major town is Alice Springs, right in the heart of Australia.
Over 150,000 people live in the Territory, representing a diverse mixture of ethnic groups. It has an itinerant population although you are not considered a Territorian until you have suffered the extremes of climate for several years.
One-third of the Territory is now owned by the Aboriginal people, who make up one quarter of the population. A permit is required to enter Aboriginal land. A few tribes welcome tourists, and teach Aboriginal culture and crafts, bark painting, how to throw the spear and boomerang, and how to play the didgeridoo. Visitors can sample the native tucker (food). Aboriginal rock paintings, some of which are over 20,000 years old can be seen throughout the Northern Territory.
Kakadu National Park, with its abundant bird and animal life, sandstone cliffs, flood plains, billabongs (water holes) and magnificent rock painting sites can be reached from Darwin. The Katherine Gorge, 13 gorges on the Katherine River, is best explored by canoe. Close to Darwin is the Litchfield National Park, noted for its springs, rainforests waterfalls and wildlife. In the city and surrounds are crocodile farms, wildlife parks, natural springs (free of crocodiles) markets, a casino, and an excellent range of good cafes, restaurants and pubs.
Although there is plenty to see on the 1500 km drive from Darwin to Alice Springs, most tourists choose to fly the distance. Around Alice Springs are numerous national parks, including the Eastern and Western MacDonnell Ranges, which can be explored by 4WD, walking tours or camel treks. Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the equally spectacular Olgas are located 450 km west of Alice Springs. The Henburg Meteorite Crater and Kings Canyon are other places of interest.
Currently there are two diving centres in the Northern Territory, the Darwin area (which is serviced by a handful of dive shops and charter boats) and the Gove Peninsula, on the eastern tip of Arnhem Land. Diving is best enjoyed off Darwin in the dry season (from April to September) when there is little rain, few box jellyfish and clearer water (up to 10 m on some days). The opposite is true for the Gove Peninsula, which is best dived in the wet season (September-April).
The Territorys coastal waters are always warm, ranging from 24-32¼C. Divers should always wear some form of protection against box jellyfish. While there are plenty of coral reefs and marine life around Bathurst Island, Melville Island, Cobourg Peninsula and Groote Eylandt, these areas lack facilities, and can only be explored by divers with their own boats.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around the reefs off Northern Territory.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)