Mindil Beach, Darwin, Northern Territory © Tourism NT/Nick Pincott
Felix Preval’s guide to Darwin
Darwin Festival’s artistic director Felix Preval reveals his favourite local spots in the ever-enigmatic Northern Territory capital.
Interviewed by Dan F Stapleton
Originally from New Zealand, Felix Preval hopped across to Australia as a young adult to begin his career as a festival programmer. After spending four successful years programming the Melbourne Fringe Festival, he relocated to Darwin in 2016, and was appointed artistic director of the Darwin Festival less than a year later. Felix says he fell in love with Darwin and the Northern Territory instantly and was particularly taken by the rich diversity of Aboriginal cultural experiences on offer. Here, he shares some of the secrets he’s discovered since relocating to Australia’s northernmost capital city.
Outdoor secret spot: Casuarina Beach & Café De la Plage
“There’s a lot of beautiful coastline to explore in Darwin, but Casuarina Beach, a 20-minute drive north of the city centre, is a particularly stunning stretch of sand on which to spend an afternoon. From early morning to late afternoon, Café De la Plage offers visitors a quintessentially Darwin dining experience, with beanbags, hammocks and pallet furniture spread over the lawn.
I love to spend a long dry-season afternoon sprawled in the shade reading or catching up with friends, eventually braving the sea (in the swimming season, between May and September), and inevitably staying for the sunsets, which are always stunning and best enjoyed with a cold beer. For the braver still, a short walk up the sand brings you to Darwin’s oldest official nudist beach – the bronzed devotees are sparse but committed!”
Lesser known suburb: Rapid Creek
“It’s hard to talk about Darwin and not mention the incredible weekend food markets – my favourite is the Rapid Creek Markets, just north of the city centre. Each Saturday and Sunday long before the sun rises, local vendors pile trestle tables high with exotic fruit and vegetables freshly picked from farms just down the road. As well as fresh produce, there’s plenty of hot food being served. No trip to Darwin is complete without a bowl of spicy, rich laksa [Malaysian soup] for brunch – yep, it’s a morning food here – complemented with a fresh mango, watermelon and lime juice, my personal favourite combo.
When I moved to Darwin, it was Rapid Creek Markets that made me realise how much closer to Dili (the capital of East Timor) than Sydney's Darlinghurst I now was. I loved the overwhelming flavours, scents and colours of the tropics that the markets capture and knew this would be home for a while!”
Eat street: Corner of Knuckey and Austin
“Dining in Darwin just keeps getting better: there’s a real scene building. I missed Melbourne’s nightlife before I’d even moved, but to my delight I found a burgeoning local scene and plenty of young people eager to eat, drink and make merry, the hub of which is the intersection of Knuckey Street and Austin Lane. Burger joint Good Thanks more than matches its hipster peers in Melbourne with a delicious range of meaty classics and a revolving selection of daily specials. Around the corner on Austin Lane, Little Miss Korea offers traditional barbecue with a local twist, while its sister bar The Loading Bay serves snacks and cocktails till late. Upstairs, Charlie’s of Darwin serves a tasty range of tapas and a staggering selection of gins – it’s the biggest gin menu I’ve ever seen.”
Favourite bar: Darwin Railway Club
“The Darwin Railway Club – AKA the Rails – is my local pub and a hidden gem, in Parap, less than 10 minutes’ drive north of the city centre. The bar opens onto a verandah and a lush tropical garden; depending on the season you could be serenaded by green tree frogs or entertained by the happy roost of chickens and ducks who call the garden home. Inside, the pub hosts a range of regular nights of entertainment – swing dance on Wednesdays is hugely popular, as is the Thursday quiz night (there’s a good chance you’ll be competing with a Darwin Festival team, so get serious - there are jugs of beer at stake!) On weekends, the stage is usually set for rock and roll; the venue hosts visiting acts from interstate and plenty of local bands, too. Like most places in Darwin, the dancefloor gets pretty sweaty, but it’s all part of the charm – after a particularly ecstatic Electric Fields show there last year we came out dripping but delighted!”
Destination shopping experience: Provenance Arts
“The opportunity to immerse myself in Aboriginal arts and culture was a huge drawcard for me when moving to Darwin, and the staggering richness and variety of artistic expression across the region continues to enthral me. There are plenty of great shops and galleries around Darwin selling Aboriginal arts and crafts, but a definite must for the serious shopper is Provenance Arts in Stuart Park, just outside the city centre. This social enterprise is 100 per cent owned by Injalak Arts, an Aboriginal not-for-profit that’s located in Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land, a three-hour drive east of Darwin. With a stunning gallery space, including a digital screening room, and a large gallery shop selling prints and bolts of fabric in a dazzling array of colours and designs, there’s a gift for every member of the family and something else for you.”
Only in Darwin: Darwin Festival
“At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, the Darwin Festival is Australia’s hottest winter arts festival. People should consider timing their visit to coincide with the festival in August: the weather is at its best and the city is abuzz with activity. Our 18-day program is packed with music, theatre, comedy, dance, circus and cabaret, as well as a number of keynote Indigenous arts events. Festival Park, the central hub of the festival, is an incredible place to eat, relax and soak in the magic atmosphere under the stars. There’s a strong sense of community ownership at the heart of the festival that’s really tangible – warm, welcoming and inclusive – and ultimately it's the thing that drew me to this place and kept me here, and the thing that makes Darwin Festival one of the most special arts events in the country.”
Favourite hotel: The Rozak House, Lake Bennett
“About an hour’s drive south of town, in the hills beside Lake Bennett, sits the marvellous Rozak House. Designed by local firm Troppo Architects in 2001, this award-winning home is both stunning and sustainable. Catch a breeze on the huge open-plan balconies of an afternoon, then watch the sun set over the lake below while enjoying a barbecue with friends. The lake is man-made and consequently crocodile-free, so it’s a great spot for kayaking in the mornings before the day heats up. This is a holiday destination like no other and a real treat for fans of contemporary design. Friends and I have stayed at Lake Bennett a few times now and it’s a wonderful overnight getaway close to the city.”