With everything from Asian food markets and crocodile encounters to open-air movies and sunset cruises, Darwin may be laid-back but it could never be described as dull.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
Welcome to the Northern Territory's unhurried capital, Darwin, with its balmy nights, colourful characters and outdoor adventures. As well as markets, crocodiles and cruises, you'll find strong Aboriginal cultures here, as evidenced by the array of languages spoken in the streets, and the vibrant Aboriginal art that fills the city's galleries and museums. The city's proximity to Asia means you'll also find strong Asian influences, especially in the energetic food scene and night markets.
How to Get There
Flights to Darwin are available from most Australian capital cities and take between 3 and 4 hours.
- Meander around Mindil Beach Sunset Market
- Snorkel at Berry Springs
- Gaze at saltwater crocodiles in the wild
TOP THINGS TO DO IN DARWIN
Set sail on a sunset harbour cruise
There's a saying among locals: "If you don't like sunsets and markets, you won’t like Darwin." Embrace the first part of this equation with a sunset harbour cruise. These depart at around 5pm from Stokes Hill Wharf, just beyond the city centre. They typically run for two to three hours and include a drink and canapes. The Champagne Sunset Sail by Sail Darwin takes place on a 50 foot luxury catamaran that features inbuilt "floor hammocks", through which you can peer as you recline and watch the ocean rushing past below.
Catch a film under the stars at Deckchair Cinema
Descend the rainforest-walled steps near Parliament House to arrive at Deckchair Cinema – "the Deckie" to locals. Under open skies, this Darwin Film Society venue projects a mix of art house and mainstream movies. All screenings begin at 7.30pm; on weekends you can attend a double session. Local eateries such as Thai restaurant Hanuman and Ken's Crepes operate pop-up food stalls on alternate nights of the week, while the cinema bar sells frozen mango cheeks to keep you cool, as well as a revolving craft beer of the month.
Spy on a saltwater crocodile
To feast your eyes on a live crocodile, pop into Crocosaurus Cove in the city, where, if you're really brave, you can go cage swimming with a croc too. Alternatively, hire a car and drive 100 kilometres (60 miles) along the Arnhem Highway to the Mary River to join a jumping crocodile cruise in which wild crocs jump from the water to eat buffalo meat dangling from long hooks. There are three operators to choose from: Adelaide River Cruises, Adelaide River Queen and Spectacular Crocodile Cruises. Each offers a one hour journey through croc-infested waters that are also patrolled by brown whistling kites.
Spend an afternoon in Nightcliff
While Darwin's centre is the main hub for the restaurant and bar scene, a further 15 minutes north sits the suburb of Nightcliff – home to an evening food van scene, weekend markets and beachside beauty (owing to the picturesque cliffs and ocean that hug Nightcliff's extensive parklands). Arrive on a Sunday lunchtime to visit Nightcliff Markets for Vietnamese rice paper rolls, fresh coconut and lime juice or spanakopita (a Greek spinach and feta pie) at the precinct's hip, artsy café Lucky Bat. Next, head to the foreshore area for a stroll to Nightcliff Jetty, a coffee at the Foreshore Café, an ice cream at Jay’s food van, fish and chips at Jetty & the Fish, or a dip in Nightcliff Pool.
Wander around Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Amid the breezy dry season air on Thursday and Sunday evenings, Mindil Beach Sunset Market hosts street performers, musicians, craft stalls and a large collection of international food stalls on the stretch of parkland behind Mindil Beach. Arrive early (about 6pm) to beat the crowds. Immerse your tastebuds in Darwin's Asian food culture with a Malaysian laksa, a savoury Japanese pancake or a Thai green papaya salad. For dessert, visit Petra's Raw Cakes and munch on a raw brownie ball, or a slice of lime and macadamia cheesecake.
Splash into sparkling waterholes at Berry Springs
Hire a car and drive 45 minutes south of the city centre to Berry Springs Nature Park. Here you can snorkel and swim in a series of three adjoining waterholes surrounded by flocks of bright-winged birds. The park's lawns are great for barbecuing or sunbaking, and the kiosk is run by local mango farmers, who produce a collection of homemade ice creams (including mango flavour, of course). If you have time, visit the mango farm itself: Crazy Acres is just four kilometres (2 1/2 miles) from Berry Springs, and has an on-site restaurant featuring plenty of mango on the menu.
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