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Darwin The Top End's top town


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.


Map of Darwin, Northern Territory

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. 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. Alternatively, jump on board with Sea Darwin Eco Tours and Cruises for a unique look at Darwin's highlights, history and nature. Sea Darwin Eco Tours operate year-round, giving visitors every opportunity to discover and connect with this fascinating harbour city.

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 CruisesAdelaide River Queen and Spectacular Crocodile Cruises. Each offers a one-hour journey through croc-infested waters that are also patrolled by brown whistling kites.

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 birdsThe 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 (2.5 miles) from Berry Springs, and has an on-site restaurant featuring plenty of mango on the menu.

Explore Darwin's military history

Scattered across Darwin are numerous historic sites and museums dedicated to sharing the story of how the city (then a small town) was exposed to war. On 19 February 1942, Japanese planes dropped more than 300 bombs on Darwin Harbour. Despite its sizeable military base, Darwin was ill-equipped to deal with Australia's first enemy attack. Today, visit the bunker of the Darwin Military Museum, see the oil storage tunnels, wander through the Aviation Museum to see original B-52 bomber planes, or follow a self-drive itinerary to see as much or as little as you like. The waterfront precinct is where many of the historic military sites are, so base yourself at one of the hotels there, such as the Hilton Darwin or Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront.

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