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Darwin Travel Guide

Today’s Darwin, largely rebuilt since Cyclone Tracy is a relatively small city of some 80,000 inhabitants made up of at least 50 ethnic groups. Although the city inescapably has an outback feel, it is also quite noticeably a vibrant and cosmopolitan place with a young population.

Some building reflecting the pioneering and colonial history of Darwin still remain and are well worth visiting, most notably, the ornate Victoria Hotel, Brown’s Mart and the Old Police Station. The Victoria Hotel, by the way, is now one of Darwin’s most popular and laid back pubs for both locals and visitors alike.

The problem of attracting tourism to Darwin had always been one of isolation. After all why visit a city a thousand miles from anywhere that is built largely of corrugated iron and not much more? Then along came Crocodile Dundee! The 1986 film of the same name portrayed to millions of moviegoer’s worldwide the wetland wilderness, the unique wildlife and delicate ecosystems of Kakadu and the Northern Territory. Today, Darwin and the amazing natural attractions of the region are a “must do” on most visitors’ Australian itinerary.

Culturally, in the modern sense of the word, Darwin would not argue with the theatrical and artistic might of distant Melbourne and Sydney, although the city does have a lively theatre and cinema.

There are also one or two museums worth visiting, notably The Indo Pacific Marine and Australian Pearling Exhibition. Housed somewhat inauspiciously in a former port authority garage at the Wharf Precinct these displays provide a fascinating insight into the delicate balance required to protect Australia’s coral reefs and the long history of pearling in the region.

For anyone with an interest in Aboriginal art The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is well worth a visit as is the Fannie Bay Gaol Museum on the edge of the city.

Within half an hours drive of Darwin there are some fine beaches, Vestey’s is probably the closest if not the best. Mindil beach is altogether more attractive, and has the added bonus of being the venue each Thursday from about 6 pm of a lively and bustling Asian type market. Hugely popular with locals and tourists the market is a foodie’s paradise, choose from dozens of cuisines, grab a beer and sit under a palm tree and watch the sun go down. Bliss. During the wet season Mindil market moves to nearby Rapid Creek.

There are several other transient food markets in and around the town and beaches in addition to several small permanent food halls in the town centre. Downtown Darwin has the all the usual fast food and pizza establishments but is hardly a gastronomic oasis. There are one or two better restaurants opening around the wharf specialising in excellent local seafood, at the moment Christo’s On The Wharf is probably the best of the bunch.

Apart from the odd cultural bastion such as The Performing Arts centre on Mitchell Street, which stages occasional pantomimes, concerts and plays, entertainment in Darwin generally follows a more liquid and noisy pattern. The number of bars has grown in recent years, largely to cater for the growing number of visitors who use Darwin as a base for visits to Kakadu and Litchfield National Park.

The aforementioned Victoria Hotel is a popular drinking hole; others include the busy Blue Heeler Bar on the corner of Herbert and Mitchell Streets. Apart from selling some of the best pub food in town, the Blue Heeler has live music or a DJ every night; they also have just about the best range of beers in town. The now internationally ubiquitous Irish Pub manifests itself in Darwin in the name of Kitty O’Sheas. A home from home for ex-pat Brits and Irish doing the “big trip” Kitty’s is the place for a nostalgic pint of Guinness and a plate of Irish Stew. They have good music most nights of the week too. Other bars worth checking out are Rorkes Drift Café Bar and The Top End Hotel’s Beachcomber Pub, they also have good value accommodation.

Although Darwin has a few grand hotels of the international type, budget accommodation is largely predominant. Backpackers are particularly well catered for, with Frogshollow Backpackers and the Darwin City Youth Hostel being two of the most popular. The aptly named Darwin Hotel provides good value for money in the middle range, whilst at the top end The Saville Park Suites Aparthotel on the Esplanade is very popular.

Located close to the Tropic of Capricorn the city is essentially tropical and has two fairly distinct seasons, dry and hot from May to October, and wet and hot for the rest of the year, although it can rain at anytime. During the wet season rainfall can be intense enough to make much of the region impassable. Also during the wet season avoid swimming off Darwin’s beaches unless the local authorities permit it. This is ‘Stinger’ (Box Jellyfish) time; most stings from this creature are fatal. Crocodiles appear around the coast and inland waters of Darwin and are generally harmless. Rogue ‘crocs’ are usually arrested and moved by the local ‘croc squad’.

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