Check out from the Mercure was 10 am, and we wanted to pick up our camper van at 10:30 am so this lined up quite well in our planning. We got a good sleep in and woke up at 9. By the time we got showered and ready to go, we were checking out at about 9:45 am and called a taxi using the hotel’s free taxi phone.
The day was warm and very humid. Fortunately, being so close to the airport a taxi arrived in 5 minutes and off we went.
Hiring our campervan in Darwin
The Mighty Campers / Britz / Maui / Kea depot in Darwin is on the opposite side of the airport to the hotel and airport entrance. It is a bit inconvenient, but it only took 15 minutes to get there in the taxi. It cost $27.64, so the cost and time weren’t as bad as I was expecting them to be. We got there about half an hour earlier than planned, arriving at 10 am, and being our first time hiring a camper van I’m glad we did get there early. It took us until 10:45 am before we finally had the keys to our van and were able to leave. 45 minutes! That’s about twice as long as I expected.
Now there is more to it than hiring a regular car I will admit, but even so, as an Avis Preferred, Budget Fastbreak and Hertz Goldplus member, it takes about 60 seconds for me to pick up a hire car, less at Sydney airport or my local Avis depot that knows me. So 45 minutes was a huge shock! Even more so because I checked in online beforehand, something that they advertise as speeding up the collection process. Even so, I had to fill out the same form and provide all the same information again at the depot. So online check in was just a waste of time. Basically, it seemed like a poorly organised rigmarole that the company is trying to streamline but somewhere along the way the online automated side has gotten disconnected from the depot, and it just doesn’t work.
So onto what actually happened
The day before our van pickup I filled in the online check-in form. It asks for:
- your license information,
- your address and contact details, checking them against your booking
- the licensing, address and contact information of any additional drivers,
- your credit card details for the deposit if you don’t take out the excess reduction insurance
- it then asks you to confirm all your options,
- next, it tries to upsell you on the things you didn’t choose; and finally,
- requires you to accept the terms and conditions.
The online check-in covers all the bases pretty well I think.
When we arrived at the Darwin Mighty / Britz / Maui / Kea depot, I was asked for the booking name and was then told to take a seat and someone would bring me a tablet shortly to fill in my details. So I sat and waited for about 5 minutes, not too bad given there seemed to be a fair few other customers around. I was given a Samsung tablet with what looked like the same check-in form I had already filled out ready to go. I started anyway thinking maybe it was different.
Nope, after the first couple of pages it was clear that it is precisely the same form as the online check-in. I pressed on, but when it asked me for my credit card details again, I was starting to feel pretty suspicious about what kind of dodgy things this company was doing with my credit card and personal information.
I went to the lady behind the desk to clarify since I’d already filled it out and provided my credit card details. She told me that they can’t access any of that information, so I need to fill it out again. When I heard that I was not impressed and honestly ready to walk out the door, pick up a hire car and stay in hotels and cabins for the entire road trip. Besides wasting my time, the parent company of Mighty Campers, Tourism Holdings Ltd (Australia), is taking my information and doing something with it that seemingly has nothing to do with my booking since the depots can’t access it. Suspicious if you ask me.
We did really want to make the trip in the campervan, though, so I decided to take the risk and pursue it later if needed. I provided my credit card information again and once done I let the lady at the desk know. She, ever so helpfully, tells me that she couldn’t see my license details. I explained that I had filled them in, but she advised that the depots can’t actually access that information from the form and so to get around that I need to add myself as an additional driver and agree to pay the fee. What? Yep, that’s what I thought too. If I wasn’t already half out the door, I was now.
She clarified that she would then waive off the extra driver fee, it was just the only place she could see the license details. So she jumped the tablet back to that screen and on I went to do that. So why on earth do I need to fill out my license details separately in another location if they can’t see it? This whole thing makes me extremely suspect about their data security practices. The whole thing just seems off.
We didn’t have a choice if we wanted to get on with our trip the way we planned, so I put it in again anyway and agreed to the fee. After I had given the tablet back, she waived the extra driver fee and asked me to take a seat again until someone could show us to our van. At this point, 25 minutes had already passed.
10 minutes later another lady came to take us to our camper van. All I can say is that after spending that long there, I’m glad the office was air conditioned and had a water fountain.
So out to the van we went. We were shown how to turn the gas on and off and set up the table and convert it to the bed. She also removed everything from the van that we hadn’t booked and gave us some tips on storing our bags. Given they knew what we booked in advance, I’m not sure why the van wasn’t already set up based on our booking. If we changed something during that last minute check-in then sure, add or remove it, but we didn’t. So apparently checking in online the day before had absolutely no impact on their preparedness for us.
Next, she showed us the TomTom but explained that it wasn’t charging and that she had put in a Navman for us as well. Lastly, she went around the van with us noting down on the damage report any dents, scratches or other marks already on the van.
She was very thorough and marked down pretty much anything, except the things we pointed out which she just said weren’t a problem. I was a little surprised some of these things were fine, though, like paint chips around door frames, little chips in the window edges around the sides of the van, small chips in the windscreen that had not cracked and so on.
It did make me feel a little bit more at ease, though, that they weren’t worried about those little things. She also made sure we were aware that even though the speed limit in parts of the Northern Territory is 130km/h, we are only allowed to do a maximum of 110km/h in the vans, and they are monitored. Nice to know.
It was good to see how thorough she was with the damage report but at the same time, this whole process added another 20 minutes, which was about the total time I had expected it all to take. After all, I had already checked in online and every single thing I did in the office I had already done the day before. 20 minutes to show us the van thoroughly and go through a damage report is reasonable, even the 10-minute wait to be shown to the van I don’t have a problem with given how busy they appeared to be, but why did we need to waste 25 minutes checking in again? I just don’t get it.
Anyway, enough harping on about that. For all it’s faults and failures, our Mighty Campervan was actually pretty decent, a 2010 model. It was quite comfortable and went well, and in spite of the terrible check-in process, nothing untoward has happened with my credit card or personal information so we would go with them again. So, we got our van, I took some extra photos of the damage we had noted just to be on the safe side, and then we got on our way.
Our first stop heading South out of Darwin was at Palmerston Coles to pick up some groceries.
Since we had a fridge, microwave and stove that went with us everywhere in our van we wanted to try and eat as close as possible to what we would at home so we can keep our food costs down and eat healthier food than take away. So we picked up some fresh fruit, vegetables, some lean sausages, chicken, muesli bars and a few other little bits and pieces. The smartest thing we did though was to buy a 24 pack of water bottles and 6 pack of Powerade. The reason we got them is the heat, humidity and air conditioning would dehydrate us easily. We are carrying 20L of water in the van tank anyway, but this means we can always keep a few bottles in the fridge and if we felt like we were dehydrated we could have a Powerade with the extra electrolytes. Day one was actually the day this was the most important. We emptied a couple of water bottles and still felt dehydrated before we got to Edith Falls. So I would definitely recommend carrying and drinking a lot of water!
That little aside out of the way, we got back on the Stuart Highway to Katherine and off we went. A little over an hour down the road we were passing through the tiny township of Adelaide River and saw a sign to the war memorial and cemetery, so we decided to take a short break and go pay our respects.
The war memorial and cemetery is beautiful and peaceful. It’s well maintained and feels like an oasis in an otherwise dry and arid landscape. We actually ended up spending a little longer than we intended it was so nice and also has public toilet facilities available if you need them. If you are driving through, do stop in and pay your respects to those that died in service to Australia.
Progressing on from Adelaide River we followed the Stuart Highway down to Pine Creek, a quaint little town just off the highway. It turns out there is a lot of rail history there, including a small museum and some old locomotives.
Unfortunately, the museum was closed, but there was some interesting reading on the signs around the old trains.
Pine Creek is also home to old goldfields, with a lookout just out of town. The lookout provides a view of Enterprise Pit, the old Pine Creek goldfields, which, now full of water, resembles a lake.
It turns out that Pine Creek is also the adopted home of one of the oldest mining buildings in Australia, relocated to Pine Creek, it now serves as a heritage museum. Unfortunately, we were not able to see it either, so after our leg-stretch, we continued South.
The turn off to Edith Falls is about 20km North of Katherine, and it is then an 8km drive on a sealed road into the car park. It’s an easy 125m walk to the lower falls swimming areas.
The upper falls are longer, and we didn’t have the time or the energy to do the walk there. It was about 4 pm, hot and humid. So we just wanted to get in the water. After confirming that there should not be any saltwater crocodiles in the area and that freshwater crocodiles typically only come out around 7 pm, we got changed and headed for the water.
I will note here, we had a young lady come up to us just before we left for the water to see if we were heading back to Katherine, particularly the national park. She had hiked from the national park to Edith Falls which is apparently a 5-day hike. She was hoping for a ride back. It seems a lot of people go on this walk and then need to get back, so something to be aware of.
Now, there are three spots near the carpark that have been setup for easy water access, two are closer than the third, and these are the two we went to.
Both have stonework up to the waters edge and stairs into the water. The first that you will encounter from the carpark is in a more sheltered spot. Of the three locations on the map, it is the one in the middle.
It has stone steps in and does not open directly onto the lake at the base of the falls. Instead, it is an inlet separated from the lake by a small isthmus of land.
We didn’t swim here, but it looks like it is very shallow with sand on the bottom and from the footpath walking past we could see a few bigger fish in the water nearby.
The second spot you can get in the water is a little further down the footpath, just before you get to the bridge over the creek.
This is where we decided to go swimming because we could just sit and watch the falls.
The stairs into this one are steel over a rocky bank. Once you step off the submerged steel platform, you are straight onto rocks and into fairly deep water.
I’m 6’1”, and the water was chin-deep for me, so if you are uncertain about your swimming ability, be especially careful. This swimming spot is near where the lake flows out through the creek, but there is no discernible current.
You can easily watch the falls from this spot, and it is very relaxing to just sit on some rocks near the water’s edge and take in the serenity.
It was absolutely perfect. The falls themselves are gorgeous and well worth visiting for their beauty, and the water was so pleasant. We didn’t swim out far as we were pretty exhausted from our late night combined with the heat and humidity but just being in the water was amazing.
It is surprisingly transparent, so it’s easy to see what is in the water, and there are all sorts of different fish. The water gets deep quickly, but sitting in the shallows, we didn’t have to stay still for long before the smaller fish started nibbling at the dead skin on our feet. The last time I experienced that I had to pay for it at the Hakone Yunessen in Japan!
Besides all the little fish which are easy to see through the water, there are a lot of bigger fish down deeper. They aren’t quite as easy to see, and they mostly stayed a little further away, but we did spot a few of them. To be honest, I can’t believe how many species of fish are in this small lake and creek. According to the signs, some of the species include:
- Common Archerfish / Riflefish
- Banded Grunter
- Red-Tailed Rainbow Fish
- Salmon Catfish
- Black Bream
We spent about half an hour in the water before noticing the sun was getting lower and deciding we should probably get back on the road. Neither of us wanted to leave, it was just so peaceful, beautiful and refreshing but unfortunately, we had to.
The sun was just starting to set as we reached the outskirts of Katherine. We were planning on staying at the Big 4, and we saw it sign posted just as we were starting to see signs of a town. Thus we turned off and followed the signs. If you do this, it will feel like it takes forever to get there! It’s quicker than going through town, but when you don’t know exactly how far it is, it seems like you are on a bit of a wild goose chase that’s taking you away from town. We did eventually get there, and it turns out that it’s only a few minutes drive past it to get into town. We still had a little bit of light, so we decided to head into Katherine to get some fuel and find out how to get to Nitmiluk National Park. On our way back we also stopped at the Katherine Hot Springs. In hindsight, I wish we had done the hot springs first while there was still some light. By the time we got there the sun had just gone down and it was starting to get dark.
Nevertheless, we went and checked out the springs. Other people were there and told us there had been no signs of crocs, so we put our feet in. We decided though with no lights to see, it just wasn’t safe enough to stay, or worth it without being able to see it or the stairs going back up the hill. Plus we were tired and ready for dinner and bed. So we went back to the caravan park, got the after hours check in paperwork and found a good looking site near the ablutions.
That’s it for day one, it was a long day but a very, very good day. Be sure to check back for day two. I’ll put in some links later for more info on the Darwin Mercure Airport Hotel and the Katherine Big 4 Caravan Park. If you have any questions about what we did or have your own experiences to share, please do let me know in the comments!