As an Aussie we often don’t consider Darwin as a holiday destination – it just seems too far away, so a recent visit to the Top End capital pleasantly surprised me. And I confess, I too had the same impression of Darwin as Lonely Planet describes: “It was once easy to dismiss Darwin as a frontier town full of brawling fishermen, dreamy hippies and redneck truckers.
But with a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia’s Top End
This is a city about to bloom. Named as one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 destinations in 2012 I can see why. The city is spotless and gives us southern states some real lessons in keeping our cities beautiful. The local culture is a delightful mix of cultures and the island lifestyle of Australia is evident. Someone mentioned to me that it is only $39 one way to Bali – so yes it is also on the doorstep to other great destinations.
My only advice is DON’T visit in the wet season (Australia’s summer). The humidity is oppressive and unlike any other I have experienced anywhere in the world. Leaving my air-conditioned hotel room was akin to stepping into a sauna and noticeable too. My sun glasses literally fogged up! Funny thing was for this heat there aren’t ‘slip slop slap’ sunscreen signs everywhere, rather you content with BEWARE crocodiles! Signage is everywhere, around most waterways, on beaches and as you travel towards Kakadu National Park.
The newly redeveloped Waterfront Precinct with its wave pool, bars and wharf eateries is stunning! Although coming from Sydney it felt somewhat lonely without the crowds but a blessing in that heat. Darwin’s population is tiny by comparison with other capital cities – only about 100,000.
Sadly you can’t swim in the sea in this region – crocodiles and deadly stingers, so the beach areas are deserted. It’s a funny feeling noticing a beach in Australia literally with no people on them, but then again there are lots of walkways so you can still enjoy the tranquility of walking near the sea.
Unfortunately the renowned Mindil Beach Sunset Market were closed for the wet season (which incidentally we didn’t see thanks to the strange weather Australia is currently experiencing). I can however imagine easily how this becomes an outside town when southern Australia is chilling through winter, here it’s blue skies, party nights and sleeping late.
Neverthless, there is lots to do in Darwin – the World War 2 Museum is amazing and one of the better modern history museums I have been to. Darwin was bombed over 60 times during World War 2, something I didn’t learn a lot about at school. The Cyclone Tracy Museum gives you an opportunity to experience a simulated cyclone, something most of us hope we never experience in real life but part and parcel of living in the Top End. Darwin has been rebuilt since Cyclone Tracy – the city now has building standards suitable for the climate and with that I suppose the city has decided to put its best foot forward and showcase its location. There is a bit of an ‘X Factor’ attached now to this city.
We stayed at the Skycity Casino, which has only recently added a stunning new wing – facing directly onto a swim from your room pool, that makes this venue a resort in itself. The rooms were finely furnished, the linen crisp and clean and the service helpful. The casino has a fine array of restaurants and bars to enjoy so it is possible to stay here for a few days just to chill and be spoilt.
Now to the service in Darwin, it was a bit of shock to dine in some of the better restaurants have my wine glass filled to the top – almost over pouring, or to ask directions from a parking inspector only to be told he didn’t know. That’s Darwin – it’s a bit rough around the edges and once you get used to that it makes for some great stories. Finding labour in Darwin is difficult, the population is transient, lots of backpackers begin their travels around Australia in Darwin and now with major mining and energy work in the region, labour populations fly in and fly out.
Tomorrow I’ll post about my reason being in Darwin – visiting the work of the wonderful Fred Hollows Foundation, but for now I just wanted share a city that should go onto your families bucket list. If you get the opportunity to go, grab it. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a peek.