The 2023 Chariots of Thunder Blog
The CoT 23 tour pushed out of the pits on Wednesday August 16th when the 28 strong group arrived in Darwin from every state of Australia.
If you’d like to find out about all our daily escapades you are welcome to read this Global Speedway Tours’ Blog to not only find out what we did, but to see how we did it, courtesy of words, photos and videos.
Don’t forget you can click or tap on every one of the 102 photos for them to come alive in enlarged form on your device ….. and the 10 videos only need you to tap or click the play button to begin rolling.
Fully updated from start to finish.
Day zero: Tuesday August 15th, 2023
An early arrival for the host today saw many last minute aspects of the tour put in place with suppliers. Things which can’t be done via today’s electronic age, but can be achieved with face to face visits to wrangle additional favours. One example was the arrangement of a larger Jetboat for next Tuesday’s Fish ‘n Chips sunset cruise. Another was to secure good tables and seating for 28 at the Fan Appreciation Day at the Precinct on Thursday week. Not to mention 20% off all food and drinks.
The 2023 tour group is 28 in size this year, our largest yet, which in turn demands some more lateral thinking with a lot of the arrangements. A further task was to estimate and purchase the expected amount of alcohol that would be needed across 13 days. Time will tell whether $935 worth will be enough!
There are significant differences between touring in Darwin, compared to the USA. The first one is that we sleep in the same bed every night. In the US it can be 12 nights in 12 different hotels. The wonderful ambience of the Level 16 bar and lounge at our Ramada Zen Apartments also means that the afternoon and early evening is spent drinking ….. in the view and the sunset that is, from up there in between cocktails.
In Darwin there is very little tailgating done at the speedway with tour members anxious to secure prime seating in the Chariots’ Lounge from 3.30pm onwards. As soon as the buses are parked, they are off like a bride’s nightie. A few people hang around at the back of the buses, but the absence of any grass in the car park makes for not a good environment for a chinwag and a drink. Hence, to use a good old Aussie expression, “I reckon I might be left with a lot of booze on my hands”.
Day 1: Wednesday August 16th, 2023
Remembering the glorious sun rises from last year prompted me to be awake and alert at 6.58am with camera in hand to record the event from the apartment balcony. And then send it to all the folks readying themselves to leave from airports across the country for the top end. Just to whet their whistle!
Then before I knew, it was time to meet up with the 27 who were about to join us today from all states of Australia. Not surprisingly, incoming flights were many and varied, ranging from the first out of Adelaide at 10.45am and the last from Launceston at 11.59pm. In all, five trips out along the Stuart Highway, into Bagot Road, past the site of the original Darwin Speedway on McMillan’s Road, past the BWS shop that got all my business yesterday, past Bunnings where I bought a second esky to keep the punters hydrated and then a short cruise into Budget’s private car park at the airport.
It all went seamlessly as dozens of planes disgorged thousands of previously freezing cold passengers from the south who, not surprisingly, voluntarily stripped off layer after layer of clothing immediately upon exiting the terminal.
I should make mention at this point, considering what happened on the last day of our tour, that on the same Virgin flight as Glenn Southern’s from Brisbane were 70 or so US Marines who were starting the first day of the next six months training in the Northern Territory. Whether any of them were on the Osprey helicopter which crashed on Melville Island, killing three, is not known.
Tonight was the first of our group dinners with this one being an included buffet provided by the Ramada Zen up on Level 16. The occasion coincided with the Matildas playing England in the World Cup semi-final and we were seated in a horseshoe around the big TV cheering the girls on. The only missing folk were Phil & Andrea who were still in the air and Bec, who is due in next Monday.
Day 2: Thursday August 17th, 2023
There weren’t too many sore heads at breakfast which, for the next 12 mornings is always in the Horizen Café on Level 3 overlooking the magnificent and extremely busy Darwin Harbour. It’s a real working harbour with constant activity punctuating every one of its 3,227 square kilometres of sea water. Just for your info, Sydney Harbour is 55 square kilometres in size!
A degree of qualification on those numbers however is required. They are Wikipedia quotes, with their estimates including all the Darwin mangrove swamps when the tide is in. Thus increasing the size of the surface water significantly. Darwin has a maximum tidal rise and fall of eight metres and is easily noticeable from the Zen balconies believe me. Otherwise, the general rule of thumb is that Darwin’s harbour is seven times bigger that Sydney.
The first duty for today was to make our way to the bar at “Tap on Mitchell” where tables were secured for viewing the sprintcar motorcade due to (very noisily) go past at about 12.30pm. Straight down the main street of the city. The frothies flowed well before the yardarm passed midday, but that’s OK because we’re on holiday.
And then a growing rumble was heard from several hundred metres up Mitchell Street and the punters flocked from their tables to line the side of the road to view the spectacle. Your correspondent crossed the road to get a view of not only the cars, but the fans.
First the winged cars ……
Followed by the wingless who (to their credit) were to put on a great show on each night of the four we were at Northline Speedway.
28 people then went their own ways to explore Darwin, which for many was a first-time experience. Battery powered scooters hadn’t been discovered at this point, but they would be by the tour’s end. With Scott, Steve, Thomas, Kevvie and Blayke putting their money on the line for a week’s worth of boot scooting.
Later in the afternoon the bulk text went out as a reminder that the buses would be leaving for the Mindil Beach markets at 4.02pm. Expected to be a spectacular night, it turned out to be exactly that with the sunset blowing everyone away, including the Darwin regulars. It was one of the best in recent months. “Mindil Money” was dispersed in order for guests to buy their dinner choice from literally dozens of food vans lining the pathways of Mindil Beach Park.
Ranging from Spanish paella to fresh NT seafood (barramundi and mud crabs were in abundance), Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, Indonesian, indigenous Aboriginal, crocodile, buffalo, Vietnamese, Turkish, Indian and more.
Like last year we were in the VIP area, fenced off by a quaint white picket fence. This grassed area is adjacent to the pathway to the beach where it appears everyone except the stall holders gather to watch the sun set over Darwin Harbour. The beach is packed with tourists eager to photograph the sun rapidly dropping out of the sky.
The camera on your phone is so very important for everyone in the world. But in Darwin, so is a Great Northern beer can to keep your phone upright on a fence post!
It’s a “drink watcha brung” environment, so GST brought along the BYO for welcome drinks and they were thirstily consumed along with the many different choices of food.
Just before leaving, Kevvie Arnold was keen to re-pit his negotiation skills up against the man in the donut trailer. Three for $10 was the usual street price, but our Kev approached him with $50 of left over Mindil Money and bargained. He came back with 30 extra large, freshly cooked, piping hot donuts just for us. Easily beating last year’s dismal result, but overlooking the fact that he has now considerably raised the bar for next year!
8.30pm saw the lights out at Mindil and the buses took everyone back to the Zen for drinks up on Level 16 … or sleep for those who needed it.
Day 3 / Friday August 18th, 2023
Having experienced Darwin for the first time via last year’s Chariots of Thunder tour, I became utterly amazed at how involved the city was in World War 2. And amazed at how much I didn’t know about what the population lived through during 1942/43. For 21 long months, the northern Australian coastal mainland was attacked 111 times by the Imperial Japanese Airforce in an attempt to hinder Darwin’s potential (as a base) to launch a counter-offensive and also to damage Australian morale.
No learning, or education, at school about our engagement in the war. Especially February 19th, 1942 when 188 enemy aircraft were launched off four Japanese aircraft carriers anchored in the Timor Sea. Which is why our Global Speedway Tours’ trips to Darwin will always visit two specific places in particular.
Firstly, it’s the Darwin Military Museum out on East Point which magnificently explains how and why it happened. A powerful audio visual presentation occurs when you least expect it. Called the “Defence of Darwin Experience” an air raid siren sounds and the enclosed glass cabinets you are looking at suddenly come alive with voices and vision. The first words heard, in a broad Aussie voice, are “geez not another bloody false alarm”. Make sure you see it unfold one day.
The museum’s collections include archives of personal and official documents, photographs, film and video material, oral history recordings, an extensive library, a large art collection, examples of military vehicles and aircraft, equipment, and other artefacts.
Read Gunner’s story here.
As well as excellent exhibits inside, the exterior has its own stories to tell through wrecked tanks, trucks, 18 pounder field and anti-aircraft artillery, plus a massive 9.2 inch concrete gun emplacement. The magnesium fired searchlights at these guns had a range (in 1942!!) of an incredible 25 kilometres out to sea to locate encroaching warships.
From the Military Museum we headed for the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT which houses a small Cyclone Tracy exhibition. But we detoured on the way to an old heritage listed 1934 Qantas hangar. It is built on land which was the first civil aerodrome in Darwin at Parap. Nearby Ross Smith Avenue, now with suburban housing up and down the street, was the original runway on which Ross and Keith Smith landed in 1919 to receive 10,000 pounds for winning the first England to Australia air race. The plane they did it in has now been on display at Adelaide Airport for over 100 years.
This hangar is a treasure trove of anything mechanical and is well worth a 30 minute stop to wander through it.
After viewing the Cyclone Tracy exhibition, it was a very pleasant lunch at the Darwin Ski Club across the road, while soaking up the view across the harbour.
From there we returned briefly to the Zen for 16 diehards to change into their speedway gear and the 3.15pm early buses took them out to Northline Speedway, just 12 minutes or so away at Hidden Valley. After all this is what we all came for …. Chariots of Thunder 2023.
These guys are the GST advance guard who line up below the Chariots Lounge waiting for the charge upstairs to secure the prime spots with tables and bar stools overlooking turn 1. Just like the Warrnambool race up Mt Max to get favoured fold up chair positions.
The balance of the 28 tour members prefer to take a more leisurely approach with a 4.15pm departure, followed by some tailgating in the carpark under two of the only four available trees for shade. Then a stroll into the complex to join their buddies who have done all the hard work.
Sweep winners on the night were:
1st: Brock Hallett owned by Blayke McCoy / $45.00
2nd: Ryan Jones owned by Deryk Hartwick / $15.00
3rd: Matt Egel owned by Phil and Andrea Holmes / $10.00
First to flip in the A main : Ben Atkinson owned by Tim Physick / $30.00
Day 4 / Saturday August 19th, 2023
Keeping the WW2 theme going, today saw us head out to the Darwin RAAF base (they share the runways of Darwin Airport with commercial airliners) to take a look see at the Aviation Museum. If you are going to do this one day, then make sure you buy the combo ticket at the Museum which includes a later visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Experience. Or vice versa.
The centrepiece of this museum is a giant B52 Stratofortress aircraft. It takes up 40% of the space, with the most unique feature being the ability to sit in the bomb bay and watch films about this giant Boeing BUFF! BUFF being “Big Ugly Fat Fu@#er” as it became informally known. In fighting mode it carried 32,000 kgs (that’s 34 ton) of bombs, the wingspan is 9 metres wider than the plane is long, its empty weight is 82 ton, its max take off weight is 218 ton and it carries 181,000 litres of fuel. And is this the most astonishing stat of all? With all that weight, the BUFF can climb into the air at 32 metres per second.
A section of this museum is devoted to a photographic record of the 1942 carnage inflicted on Darwin by the Japanese. Included are quotations from various parties involved and the photo below provides some of them for you. The most telling for me being from US Brigadier-General Patrick Hurley. He reported back to HQ in America that in the next day’s papers around Australia, there were more stories about horse racing than about what had happened to Darwin. Indicative of the apathy at the time and much later when schools omitted to teach their students anything about the Australian mainland’s involvement in WW2.
An old Australian favourite is the F111. Interesting to note in the explanatory signs accompanying this plane is that despite the age and use by date specified by the manufacturers, Australia continued to fly the F111 for 14 years after the US retired them from service.
This museum also pays homage to the Smith brothers by displaying their life size images at the front door to greet you on the way in and out.
Next on the sightseeing agenda was Stokes Hill Wharf down on the Darwin Precinct. Many things happen on this wharf in peace time, but in 1942 it was smashed to smithereens by the Jap attack. As were many ships tied up there and moored in the Harbour. The RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) Experience was set up for two reasons. One to publicise John Flynn OBE for his services in establishing the RFDS and secondly to further highlight the attack on Darwin Harbour at exactly the spot which was bombed incessantly.
By far the best thing in there is the Virtual Reality experience with headphones and goggles (with a built in screen) to give a 360 degree panorama of what it would have been like on the wharf at the time of the bombing. Lasting for a good five minutes or so, it has you squirming in your seat, wildly and randomly looking in all angles up, down and sideways as you struggle to capture everything that is going on inside your head. Outstanding.
In the middle of the exhibition is a small, slightly elevated “boxing ring” shape square with a screen as the floor. It attracts you immediately to look at the screen which is a map of Darwin. The map gradually accumulates Japanese fighter planes and shows where they went across Darwin in their efforts to tear the city apart.
While this is going on, an air raid siren sounds and people look around to see what the hell is happening. Then another big screen comes to life. A vertical one this time – if it was a window we would see Darwin Harbour in all its glory. It shows the planes approaching in formation. And from multiple angles. It’s not fair to say that people are stunned, but they are totally engrossed in this excellent display. They soon become stunned when bombs drop over their heads and “into the water” before exploding right across the screen. With accompanying audio effects.
The little “boxing ring” suddenly and without warning springs back into play by spurting cold water all over the legs of the watching guests as though it is spray from the exploding bombs. A highly effective demo indeed. A theatrette is also available if you also want to sit quietly and watch films about the bombing and the RFDS. A little known fact about February 19, 1942 is that the same Japanese fighter planes dropped more bombs on Darwin that day than they did on Pearl Harbour 74 days earlier.
After all that we needed a drink and a feed so we chose the restaurant area on the wharf and each person could make their selection from any one of six eateries, mainly seafood.
Night 2 at Northline Speedway beckoned again at 3.15pm with the pioneers leaving the Zen to pave the way for the others at 4.15pm. Two buses take the first group down (the track is only 12 minutes away) and then return within plenty of time to transport the others. The same thing happens again. The eskies are brought out and drinks consumed under the shade of the same two trees. It’s 34 or 35 degrees, but no one complains because there is minimal humidity.
Besides who would complain on a speedway night?
An editorial comment is warranted here.
An apology is hereby issued to all South Australian and Tasmanian sprintcar fans. I have underestimated the strength of racing in your states for years. I started to realise that last year at CoT 22 and have now had it firmly cemented in my mind by the first two night’s results.
Last night South Aussies took out the A Main trifecta and tonight they finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th. A huge effort. And of course a Tasmanian trounced the field and as it turned out, he would go on to do so again on nights 3 and 4 as well. Jock Goodyer is a star, just in case any US sprintcar owners are reading this Blog.
Sweep winners on the second evening were:
1st: Jock Goodyer owned by Dayle & Chris Bramich / $45.00
2nd: Matt Egel owned by Peter Green / $15.00
3rd: Luke Dillon owned by Fiona Bootland / $10.00
First to flip in the A main : Tate Frost owned by Gavin and Carmel / $30.00
Day 5 / Sunday August 20th, 2023
As with last year, Monday was set aside for those who wanted to visit Kakadu and / or Katherine Gorge on the big commercial coaches. It was considered that to do the 750 km round trip in a 12 seater bus may not be a relaxing exercise. Deryk was the only one who took advantage of the opportunity when he travelled to Kakadu, having been to Katherine last year.
Others did their own thing including a visit to Crocodylus Park. Some went to Cullen Bay with its lovely marina, splendid housing, leafy resorts, shopping and dining, not to mention Eat Street and the Cullen Bay pub. The pool at the Zen was popular as was the Precinct area for protected Harbour swimming on the man-made sea water beach. The crocs can’t penetrate the sea wall.
There surely can’t be anything like a Darwin sunset, no matter where you see it from. But there’s certainly something about watching it from Level 16 enjoying Michael’s drinks before dinner. I think everyone was up there except Deryk ….. oh and Mick and Darren who rang from the Cullen Bay pub to advise they were stranded there and would have to stay a bit longer.
In the evening the group jumped in the buses and were taken to the Hotel Darwin for Rib night. Except Darren and Mick who were unfortunately still trapped in the pub. And Deryk …. but he returned safe and sound from Kakadu around 7.45pm just in time to order his $21 ribs, usually $39 on any other night.
From memory the evening finished up long into the night up on Level 16 ….
Day 7 / Tuesday August 22nd, 2023
Recovery time after a long night is important on tour and some daylight hours today were allocated exactly for that reason. Tour organisers are trained to pick in advance what nights are going to be bigger than others and plan accordingly. (And if it doesn’t, they make it happen!!) Hence nothing was required of guests until 4.30pm when the buses made the short trip back to Stokes Hill Wharf #2 and the Sea Darwin jetboat which was waiting to take us out for the Fish ‘n Chips sunset cruise.
This “Flatback” was specially designed and built for Darwin’s coastal conditions in 2016. Powered by quadruple 300hp Yamaha 4 stroke outboards, making it capable of 40+ knots, means it can easily do trips to the Tiwi islands (for example) to deliver urgent goods. Or as it did tonight, give 28 rev heads a fast spin around the harbour for 90 minutes.
An initial 20 minute squirt covered quite a bit of territory during which we learned a lot about the harbour and in particular the monstrous new structures over on the East Arm, courtesy of the US Airforce. The now finished facility of eleven tanks hold 300 million litres of stored aviation fuel to support US military training in the Top End and, if necessary, US regional military operations. Plus, I would politely suggest, to also look after Pine Gap. This surveillance base, 18 kms southwest of Alice Springs is now the most strategically important American intelligence facility outside the USA.
Further down the East Arm of the harbour are the LPG gas storage tanks and berthing facilities for tankers which come and go at all times of the day and night. By far the largest is Ichthy’s LNG Pacific Breeze. Clicking on the link will show you the size of the ship and also provides an explanation for the massive “flame offs” we saw from the city side of the harbour every now and again.
Our skipper helpfully pointed out that the Pacific Breeze generates $1 billion dollars for every four voyages she makes from Darwin to Taiwan with a full load of LPG. It takes 10 days to sail to Taiwan and 10 to come back. Work out the income for yourself. Hang on, I’ll help you. Allowing for refill time, that makes it eight billion dollars each year, from just one ship.
We continued “floating” around the harbour past various shipping, with this one giving us a friendly g’day with the ship’s foghorn as we cruised by.
All of the above happened before we returned to Stokes Hill Wharf to pick up the barramundi and chips for everyone. While waiting for it to arrive, Skip said the other fish ‘n chip shop at Cullen Bay had gone broke. They were now using one on the wharf, but sadly I didn’t catch the name. The product however was fantastic quality. 28 takeaway meals all served piping hot with still crunchy fish and chips. Apparently both were cooked in cottonseed oil which provided a brilliant taste along with the requisite lemon and tartare sauce.
Dinner with complimentary beer or wine was consumed out on the harbour as we slowly floated past the best parts of town on our way to sit off Mindil Beach to watch the sunset. A lovely evening indeed.
Day 8 / Wednesday August 23rd, 2023
Up early with the Horizen Café getting a workout from the GST folk. Sitting outside to watch the sunrise is always a special treat.
An extra-large brekky this morning as lunch was seven or so hours away at Wangi Falls. It appears that Eggs Benedict was the most popular with Blayke, seeing as how he ordered them 12 days in a row …..
Some of our guests chose to give Litchfield National Park a miss today as they were on board last year and were correct in their assumption that it hadn’t changed much. Although, as you will read, we did add in Berry Springs on the end before returning to the Zen.
At 115 kms, Litchfield is way closer to Darwin than Kakadu, or Katherine Gorge. Hence it is a much more unhurried escape and there is time to have longer stops at various attractions. We took Tiger Brennan Drive out past Hidden Valley and although the bus wanted to turn off at the exit to the speedway, I fought the wheel to prevent it doing so.
We quickly came into Palmerston, which interestingly enough was the original name of what we today know as Darwin. It was in 1839 that the good ship HMS Beagle, skippered by Commander John Wickham, sailed into waters at the very top end of Australia. He was fascinated by what he saw and immediately named it Darwin Harbour after the British evolutionist Lord Charles Darwin, even though the fellow was not on board and had never been near the place. They ignored the fact that the Dutch had already been there in the 17th century and left their mark with such famous Dutch names as Arnhem (a city on the Rhine in the Netherlands) Land and Groote Eylandt (large island).
Anyway it was not until 1869 that a permanent settlement was established in what had become known as Port Darwin. A South Australian government surveyor, George Goyder, prepared a plan for a colony on the shores of Port Darwin, mainly with English born pioneers. However, when the first settlers arrived at the location, they refused to honour the man who made the monkey’s uncle more serious than a joke. They refused to call it Darwin.
Instead it was named Palmerston after a former Prime Minister of England. This name was to be commonly used until the death of Queen Victoria. Eventually, in 1911, Palmerston was officially renamed Darwin by the (4th) Governor General of Australia, the Earl of Dudley.
(I might add at this point that the honourable Lord Dudley also had a Sydney pub named after him at 236 Jersey Rd in Woollahra. If you’re an English pub aficionado, then you must one day visit the Dudley.)
But back to Darwin. 69 years later, in 1980, the city fathers decided that Darwin couldn’t cope with its 6% pa growth and a new metropolis was required. So they planned one out past Hidden Valley on land that was the domain of no one. The plan was to create a new town development and just for old time’s sake “why don’t we call it Palmerston?” Using the latest planning techniques to build superior services and facilities from the start, they were able to provide land at a price affordable to people wanting to build a house.
Palmerston is now a thriving city in its own right with 18 separate suburbs and surrounding light industrial developments. Fancy that? Building the infrastructure first, before allowing the people in. What a good idea!
Just after the first 130 kph speed limit sign on the Stuart Highway is the turn off to Batchelor, essentially the gateway to Litchfield NP. The first ‘must do thing’ along B30, the road through the park, is the Magnetic Termite Mounds. You will see plenty of them on the side of the road on the lead up to this stop, but the greatest concentration of them, along with explanations, are here.
Florence Falls is a superb spectacle which, for first time water hole gazers, draws breath in big gulps. It’s impossible to think that such an oasis can exist within the recently ‘bushfire burnt’ countryside. The 135 steps back up (after going down them) are only a deterrent to the disabled or elderly. The roar of the falls acts like a magnet to get you there faster and then to keep you longer in the water hole once you’ve transgressed the slippery rocks.
Next stop was further up the source of the water for Florence Falls. Buley Rockhole is magnificent, although for one of our guests it wasn’t a pleasant memory. Andrea stumbled on the slippery rocks and took a fall, damaging her foot to the extent a moon boot was required for the rest of the tour. But she gamely battled on and saw out the rest of the day before succumbing to husband Phil’s pleas for a hospital x-ray.
Not sure whether there could be a more peaceful place on mother earth, but I guess there is.
Before describing our third visitation, it’s fair to say that there are way more than three places to sightsee at in Litchfield National Park. However, when balancing available time and type of automobile, it comes down to these three. If we were spending several days camping with a four wheel drive vehicle, then we would go much further afield and walk substantially longer distances to see other waterfalls and swimming holes.
Wangi Falls (pronounced wong-guy according to the locals), is a wonderful spot to stop for a late lunch. Apparently crocodiles sometimes use the place to look for lunch as well, based on the scare just before we left when a 2.4 metre salt water croc attacked a swimmer in the lagoon. It was quickly caught by highly concerned tourist officials (sorry, Park rangers) and dispatched to the handbag factory. It didn’t halt day trippers from stopping off for a swim for long though, because today there were dozens of swimmers in there.
Including most of our group …. and Glenn who swam up and around the waterfall, only to discover the largest “possum cage” he has ever seen. Except that we both agreed it was probably for another stray croc that may randomly drop in to peruse the menu.
Time for home which involved a picturesque 70 km alternative drive out of the Park that took us to Berry Springs, well known today for the Berry Springs Nature Park. It’s a most beautiful place to cool off and relax in the natural watering holes and because of its proximity to Darwin, it also served as a very useful home for 100,000+ armed forces personnel during WW2. Plus crocodiles …..
The evening brought forth a most unusual public gathering up on the Zen’s Level 16. Bingo, with Darwin’s hottest drag queens, Sherri Lee Volua and Prawn Cracker Spice! Balls out was at 7.00pm and our boys and girls participated strongly, with Fiona bringing home the top reward of the night, at $100. All of which went in posting home her prized purchase from last week at Mindil Beach …. an authentic didgeridoo.
Day 9 / Thursday August 24th, 2023
It was lucky the morning was free from any official duties because we had cause to revisit Budget after an overnight incident rendered Peter’s bus a little risky to drive.
As usual, Budget’s customer service was 10/10 with a replacement 12-seater being called up from the airport holding yard and 50 minutes later I was back in the driving seat steering it to the Zen. It is identical to bus #1 (and Tim’s) except for the lack of a large Global Speedway Tours sticker on the back window. PS: The unusual appendages to the two vehicles are as a result of them being fitted out as mining buses. They are rented by mining companies and often go underground, hence the myriad of flashing lights. These lights became quite handy one night after the races in the speedway carpark when an impromptu “pop up discothèque” started under the two trees. Red wine was a contributing factor I’m told.
Thursday afternoon and evening in Darwin on Chariots of Thunder week always belongs to the Precinct Tavern on the waterfront. A terrific venue that lends itself well to the exposure of the sport by permitting a dozen or so sprintcars to be lined up on the manicured lawns (which otherwise are usually a beer garden). And inside the premises as well for close up inspections by folks who understandably lean over to have a closer look and then unfortunately tip beer into the car. Saw it once, saw it a dozen times.
A bucking bronco was secured for the night and the drivers were coerced into “having a go” with some very, very good and others quite the opposite. The fans lapped it all up, including our GST folk who had a bar tab for meals and drinks of $1,820. Adding in a further 20% group discount provided by the Precinct, meant the final total was out of reach, even for us after 4½ hours.
An excellent night indeed with plenty and fun, laughs and friendship. (With many thanks to Rick Buckingham for the use of his photos from the night.)
Day 10 / Friday August 25th, 2023
Today we stopped jumping to conclusions by going to see the jumping crocodiles who had us immediately jumping to attention.
It’s an attraction I didn’t think would be as good as it was. Spectacular might be another word to describe the morning we had down on the Adelaide River. All 28 of us loaded up in the 12-seater buses (yes we had a one day RAV 4 rental to accommodate the overflow), and happily made the 66 km journey southeast to the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise.
The sideroad into the attraction was an experience in itself. No such thing as bitumen here. Just an old dirt road through the Wetlands loaded with horses, cows and buffaloes. Plus corrugations in the road that could make your back teeth drop out. We found that like an idling sprintcar, we handled the ruts a lot better by driving faster. After all it is a speedway tour!
We were welcomed into the place by the largest crocodile on earth I’d say. At 8.5 metres long, we were damn lucky he was made of concrete.
After a complimentary “last meal” of tea, coffee and a biscuit, we were ushered onto the cruise boat. Passengers could sit either side, front or second row, because all attempts to feed the crocs and later the kites were conducted from both sides.
As explained by our excellent guide, whilst a crocodile can jump just like a human on land, it is impossible for them to jump in a river as it has nothing to launch itself from. Instead it propels itself out of the water using its incredibly powerful tail and in much the same way a snake coils its body to spring, a croc creates the same motion with its tail under water to create the leap. And boy oh boy does it happen quickly!
All in all we located three crocodiles who wanted to play games for food. Or should I say the crocs found us. Rather than overfeed these amphibious animals, the ones we saw patiently waited for the 11.00am cruise. The 9.30am cruise crocs had already been fed, so didn’t bother swimming out to meet us. The 1.00pm crocs were just waking up ready for a late breakfast in a couple of hours. It’s all regimented, but great fun.
Towards the end of the cruise the black-shouldered kites joined the party. I don’t have any photos or video of them as they were too quick to swoop and catch the food in mid-air. But the link provides info about these highly entertaining birds.
12.30pm and it was time for our lunch. Given that we would drive straight past the Humpty Doo pub on our way back to Darwin, it was natural that we would stop at this famous establishment. Built in 1971 it hasn’t been around long enough to be called old, but it certainly has character. And monstrous meals, as Kevvie Arnold found out with his chicken parmy.
It’s not surprising that about now people started glancing at their watches every five minutes. A sign that all tour members knew Friday night is Speedway night. Yes, night 3 of Chariots of Thunder was on and the first bus needed to be back at the Zen ready to go again at 3.15pm. A time frame we easily achieved which included restocking the eskies with water and adult drinks.
Tonight, courtesy of Jac Ekins at the speedway (and Andrea who broke a bone in her foot at Buley Rockhole), we were permitted to drive down into the track and park in the VIP parking lot. There was no way Andrea could have negotiated the hill down, let alone back up. Tonight was also Bec’s first ever night at a speedway and all eyes were on her as to what the reaction would be.
Another first tonight was Kevin Arnold and long-time Global Speedway Tours member Terry Barry combining to get some GST folk very excited over the next 48 hours. The pace car Northline uses has two seats welded onto the tray of the ute. Seatbelts have been fitted and bingo two people can have the ride of their lives sitting backwards and locked into place. Can’t move and can’t fall out. But at least their arms are free to hold the mobile phone in camera mode.
All up Blayke, Thomas, Glenn, Dayle and Fiona had a turn and each came back raving about the experience. To view what it was like from Fiona’s perspective click this link. From where we sat up in the Chariots Lounge this is how we saw them.
And thanks to various photographers, here they are in all their glory.
Sweep winners on night 3 were:
1st: Jock Goodyer owned by Darren Bould / $45.00
2nd: Matt Egel owned by Deryk Hartwick / $15.00
3rd: Jordan Charge owned by Gavin Barr & Carmel Clarke / $10.00
First to flip in the A main : Matt Dumesny owned by Dennis and Patricia Little / $30.00
PS: Bec so much loved what she saw, heard, smelt and felt tonight, that she immediately announced her keenness to sign on again for tomorrow. Once again thanks to Jac Ekins, a Saturday night ticket was secured for the Chariots’ Lounge.
Day 11 / Saturday August 26th, 2023
Pretty much sprintcars all day today.
We secured the use of the Level 16 Mindil Room and its big TV and hooked up the USAC racing from Kokomo in Indiana for Night 2 of Smackdown. A most enjoyable morning indeed after breakfast at dawn and a huge GST shoutout from Flo Racing’s Chet Christner during the telecast.
Lunches were many and varied around the city with most not wanting to venture too far from the Zen owing to an even earlier start today for the track. Northline have announced that gates will open an hour ahead of usual today to allow the expected overflow crowd to feed in progressively throughout the afternoon.
At 2.45pm the first convoy left for Hidden Valley laden with traditionalists who wanted to line up to get the prime spots for the final night. The rest of us thanked them profusely of course!
But the speedway gave them a long wait this time. They were still waiting, even when the GST ambulance pulled up with Hoppalong and the rest of the gang to give them a mammoth walk of about 20 metres to the Lounge entrance.
Here’s what we saw from the carpark while having a sneaky bourbon from the esky. The rest of the short video covers off some action from across the night.
I knew throughout the tour that Darren and Mick were two blokes who I should look up to while at the speedway. So I did!
Every year Carmel has her birthday on the 26th of August which, for the last two years anyway, has fallen on a night at Chariots of Thunder. Clearly she enjoys birthday cakes with dust as the icing. Fiona led the other girls in arranging a rather large cake (it did have to feed 28 people) which was transported in the ambulance hidden at the front under a blanket where it couldn’t be seen by prying eyes from the first row of seats.
For several hours it sat in the fridge next to the Jack Daniels and coke cans until it was decided it should be presented to Carmel along with a resounding version of Happy Birthday sweet xx. Don’t worry I’m not giving that away Carmel …..
The racing continued despite Fiona’s attempt to stop it with the cake. I took the camera downstairs though for the A Main and captured some footage from up at the fence line.
Sweep winners on night 4 were:
1st: Jock Goodyer owned by Deryk Hartwick / $45.00
2nd: Brock Hallett owned by Kasey Reid / $15.00
3rd: Tate Frost owned by Bob Blackman / $10.00
First to flip in the A main : Matt Egel owned by Wayne & Leanne Rolls / $30.00
Level 16 was long closed by the time we got back to the Zen so, as we have on several other nights, an outdoor area near the Hotel’s front door became a bar for a couple of hours. After all the owner of the eskies had a lot of product to get rid of. Thankfully we did a very good job of reducing excess stock tonight in warm balmy weather, ideally suited to drinking adult beverages.
Day 12 / Sunday August 27th, 2023
A double booking in the Level 16 speedway viewing room denied us the opportunity of watching the Smackdown final from Kokomo. I’m not sure that it greatly bothered anyone, except Bob who didn’t get the message, and was seen attempting to get into the room. I’m not sure he would have learnt much from the Ballroom dancers.
Midday came and the buses went …. this time to the Darwin Trailer Boat Club on Atkins Drive in Fannie Bay for our farewell lunch. The scooter boys used up the one day left on their lengthy deal which allowed them 90 minutes per day of travel. We met them there, but brought them back in one of four different charter services throughout the afternoon.
Like last year we had one long table with 28 people lined up ready to attack the seafood which the club is renowned for. With everyone dressed in the regulation 2023 Chariots of Thunder grey and green polo shirt, we must have looked like a delegation from the local jail in downtown Fannie Bay.
The plan was to grab a group shot under the palm trees on the beach outside the Club. Which we did and it worked perfectly. As you can see right here.
As well as the group shot, individual and couples photos were taken which are displayed below so you can remember your new found friends. They are in no particular order.
Remember that to look at a full screen version of any photo, just tap or click on it.
Our 2023 Chariots of Thunder guests
A great bunch of people indeed and I thank them so much for joining Tim and I on a boutique holiday that is now becoming highly popular.
Dinner time was mainly spent upstairs on Level 16 with stories swapped left right and centre about the last 12 days before folks reluctantly drifted off to packing duties. For those who travel light, the opportunity arose to again visit the “pop up ground floor outdoor bar” for an hour or two, mainly to assist hotel goers get in the front doors after coming home from a night out. (It’s amazing how many aren’t aware that the hotel pass is their open sesame key for them.)
Day 13 / Monday August 28th, 2023
28 people going out on eight different flights was the conundrum for today. We took 11 (four separate flights) and all their luggage to the airport at 9.35am. It’s amazing how quiet the last bus trip of the holiday can be. Especially when all you have on board with you is the luggage! The owners were in Tim’s bus.
The second trip left the Zen at 11.35am with nine aboard for three more flights. The difference being that this time the buses were left with Budget in their airport compound until next year. The remaining eight had late afternoon flights so stayed just a little longer in the Zen (or the pub) before securing a ride to DRW with the Airport shuttle, thus bringing to a close our 2023 Global Speedway Tours’ Chariots of Thunder tour.
At the time of writing dates have not yet been announced for CoT 2024 but we believe that it may still be possible to offer a 12 night tour which will take in five nights of racing. Plus all the usual sightseeing. It may be a little later in the year than previous Chariots, but we will know that soon enough.
If you are interested in returning to Darwin, or going there for the first time in 2024, please use the Contact Us link on the website to let Peter know. Or call him on 0419 264159.
PS: The Zen did benefit from left over unopened drinks, but then again they do deserve it for giving us such a great venue to stay in.