In Travel

The Essential Guide To Exploring Darwin And Beyond

As temperatures begin to plummet and the skies darken, many Australians start planning trips to Bali or Bangkok but there’s no need to leave the country to find a tropical paradise with great food and a wealth of cultural activities.

The smallest of our capital cities, Darwin is something of an anomaly. Closer to five international capitals than to our own seat of government, it’s a city that truly lives up to Australia’s multicultural ideal and as visitors quickly discover, there’s far more to the Northern Territory than crocs and rocks.

High And dry

The Top End is warm year round, but during the Dry Season – from roughly from May to October– the clouds disappear and clear blue skies seem to stretch out forever. Maximum temperatures hover in the low 30s for months on end and as these perfect days become the norm, the whole town comes alive.

The main strip on Mitchell Street is crowded with fluoro-clad tradies and backpacker bars offering questionable entertainment like jelly wrestling, but venture a little but further and you’ll discover another side to Darwin.

A short walk away, the bohemian Nirvana draws an eclectic crowd for live music and Southeast Asian food, and the open mic nights on Tuesday attract some seriously talented local musicians. If you’re looking for a place that’s open a bit later, a sweaty late night visit to the packed dancefloor and midnight drag show at Throb is a time-honoured Darwin tradition.

Civic Park, Darwin Festival Photo: Elise Derwin

The cultural calendar is centred around August, when the Darwin Festival transforms the green space of Civic Park into a pop-up bar, food court and performance space along with free live music at the Bamboo Bandstand. This year the program of acts includes Singaporean stand-up, avant-garde Indonesian metal, African theatre and a range of indigenous musicians, visual artists and storytellers.

Other events over the month include the Aboriginal Art Fair, Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Indigenous Music Awards and the open-air deckchair cinema playing new releases and classics.

Feed Your Curiosity

Mindil Beach Markets Photo: Shaana McNaught/Tourism NT

Darwin’s markets are legendary, none more so than the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets that take place every Thursday and Sunday. Just 3km from the centre of town, the lively open-air stalls offer a cornucopia of dishes from every imaginable cuisine (there are over 1,200 options in all). Add in some live music and a sandy beach perfect for watching the sun set over the Timor Sea and you have the perfect way to spend an evening.

For fresh produce, The Parap Markets on Saturday take place in suburban shopping centre and focus on local produce including Asian greens and a bewildering array of exotic fruits. Just down the road, the hip Saffron offers some of Darwin’s best Indian food – think baby squid pakoras or barramundi mooli with ginger, turmeric and coconut milk – with a strong emphasis on sustainability. The award-winning restaurant uses local produce including 100% NT seafood and was the first restaurant in Australia to receive Climate Action Certification – even their waste cooking oil goes to a local company that turns it into bio diesel.

Alley Cats Patisserie Photo: Shaana McNaught/Tourism NT

Closer to town, the new waterfront precinct boasts a range of dining and drinking options but it’s still easy to locate the grinning skulls and brightly striped tables of Hot Tamale. This Mexican restaurant boasts the largest collection of tequila in the southern hemisphere, and the smoky mezcals and fresh, fruity silver tequilas are available on their own or in a range of inventive award-winning cocktails along with ceviche, tacos and a range of Mexican and tex-mex dishes.

For a coffee fix, head to the ever so cool Alley Cats Patisserie, which also offers delightfully fluffy pastries fresh from the oven and sandwiches made with their much sought after sourdough.

Out Of Town

Litchfield National Park Photo: Sean Scott/Tourism NT

The Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has one of the best contemporary aboriginal art collections in the world, but if you want to see artists at work there’s no better option than the Tiwi By Design tour. Visits to Bathurst Island are by permit only for most of the year (the exception is football grand final day in March), so it’s a good way to escape the crowds and the tour includes a screen printing session with local artists as well as the chance to purchase artwork directly from the artists.

The water might look inviting on the ferry ride over, but only the most foolhardy locals risk the marauding crocs to swim in the ocean. A much better option is Litchfield National Park, just an hour and a half drive from the centre of Darwin. Huge magnetic termite mounds line the road in before you have your choice of swimming spots like Buley Rockhole where water gently cascades into small plunge pools or the huge pool below Wangi Falls that can accommodate hundreds of swimmers.

(Lead image: Litchfield National Park Photo: Dan Moore/Tourism NT)

Published 26 July, 2018