Tourists trapped, the lasting impression of Darwin’s Aquascene, a fish feeding attraction beloved by the locals. When the tide is in, schools of wild fish come to the waters edge of Doctors Gully to be hand fed. Sounds good right?
This remarkable fish feeding tradition started in the 1950’s when the owner of the property began feeding a few resident fish some food scraps. Through the years the fish population grew until it became an official tourist attraction established in 1981. Aquascene was suppose to be one of the highlights of Darwin, unfortunately it left us feeling underwhelmed and disappointed (well the parents at least).
The much anticipated wait
Aquascene is only open during high tide, it’s best to check open times to plan a visit. We arrived on a day when it was closed and planned the following day’s activities to make sure we didn’t miss the feeding times.
When we arrived at Aquascene, there was already a long line formed from the wrought iron gate entry at the car park. As we joined the queue our expectations were heightened, surely the large crowds meant we were onto a winner?
Once the gates opened, we moved surprisingly quickly. In next to no time we were at one of the two counters. Each with a lady, methodically taking the $40 entry fee (for a family of four, kids under 3 free) and adding it to the constantly ringing tills of the cash register. Once paid we were ushered quickly through so the next tourist can hand over their cash.
The fish feeding event
A series of concrete steps surrounding the murky water formed the main fish feeding and viewing area, where visitors jostled for a shady spot to see mainly mullet and the occasional milk fish, swimming around in a frenzy below. To be fair, Aquascene cannot determine which species of fish come in for a feed. However, the regulars are the mullet. For a more initimate fish feeding experience, there is also a boat ramp that leads into knee deep water.
Each tourist can help themselves to two slices of stale bread to feed the fish. This rule is understandable, there needs to be a limit on the amount of bread offered to wild fish so that they are not overfed or become dependent on humans. However, it felt like the two slice policy was just a front for fish conservation or at least showing the regulators that they are seen to be doing something.
The bread rule was not monitored and many were not adhering to the guidelines. The fish have been hand fed almost every day and often twice daily for the past 33 years. You can safely assume that even if the fish aren’t dependent on this easy source of food they have grown accustomed to it. If the privately owned Aquascene were putting the fish before profit perhaps they would feed them something more nutritional than day old bread?
The kids benefited with three slices of bread each as we the parents sacrificed our bread allotment for the kids. Even so, three slices of bread does not last long, quicker still as my two year old daughter threw a whole piece of bread into the water on her first try.
As the kids delighted in feeding the fish, we listened to the unenthusiastic lady on the viewing platform mumble a few fishy facts over a squeaky microphone. It’s actually a breath of fresh air to find someone presenting in a way that’s not over the top like a sea-world tribute to dolphins. True to the laid back culture of Darwin the discussion was done in a simple, matter of fact style. She did note that they had some winds push mud and silt into the gully and the water was usually much clearer.
What else is there to do at Aquascene?
We stretched the fish feeding for 20 minutes before asking what we could do for the next hour os so? Aquascene is open for three hours, many including ourselves did not stay the duration.
Murky water, expensive entry and bread rations aside, the kids had a great time. Even more so when they waded ankle deep into water to get close to some hungry mullet. If intending to get in the water, wear appropriate gear and bring a change of clothes for the kids, just in case.
After the excitement of fish feeding we wondered around the property. It’s a curious place, more like a grandpa’s backyard as there is a residential home backing onto Doctors Gully with a fishing boat parked by the toilet block. This person is very fond of large marble statues, there are Asian deity’s, monkeys, birds and roman figures imported from Vietnam and scattered throughout the property.
Nearby is a pet cockatoo where it appears it had a two slice policy also, people were seen feeding their bread ration to it. There’s an old swing set and a pond of carnivorous freshwater fish, where we happened to see the lady with the microphone throw in scraps of meat. If this was a fish feeding demonstration, it wasn’t announced or everyone must have been too busy to notice. No matter, it lasted a hot minute.
Should you goto Aquascene with kids?
As I watched my son opportunistically gather dropped bread to toss over the edge with another little girl, I began chatting with the girls mum who was on a family holiday from Perth. When asked what she thought she replied, “The kids are having a ball!”. Which didn’t quite answer the question. But she was right, the kids were happy.
As I continued chatting with the mum, I further gleaned from her “…but 43 bucks, it’s a bit steep, isn’t it?”.
That’s just it, for $40+ a family, Aquascene isn’t exactly great value for money. For me, it did not live up to expectations, feeling more like a money making exercise than a unique Darwin experience. It can be overcrowded with indifferent staff and little to do after tossing some bread into the water. Even if the water was clearer, the experience is much like feeding the local Koi at the park.
It would be money better spent to pay $18 a family (kids under 2 free) for a day at the Wave Lagoon in Darwin’s Waterfront Precinct or head to the excellent free Museum and Art Gallery of NT, where the kids will have just as much if not more fun. There are some other great places to visit in Darwin. Read the Darwin with kids city guide here.
Have you been to Aquascene, do you think it’s value for money? Love to hear your thoughts below: