As an Australian, it’s always interesting to hear what other people think of when imagining my homeland. Often it seems, people associate Australia with unattainably attractive surfers, red dirt, ‘shrimp on the barbie’ (which is perplexing, considering the fact we call ‘shrimp’ prawns out here) and having Kangaroos as pets (I swear if I had $1 for every time someone had asked me if I ride a Kangaroo to school/work…). Even as an Australian myself, I find that I too have some stereotypical ideas for what each part of the country looks like.
On a recent trip I took to Darwin, I was surprised to see that upon landing, Darwin was more like a tropical oasis – a small city surrounded by breezy blue waters (that you can’t swim in due to crocodiles and sharks – such a tease in the hot weather!) and loads of luscious green shrubbery; not the barren red landscape I’d always imagined it to be!
Despite the fact that I’ve grown up in Australia, it was being in Darwin that made me realise just how diverse and expansive my country is. How was it possible that only hours earlier I was in cold, rainy Sydney and a short 4-hour plane ride later had me in sub-tropical Darwin?
Maybe it was the element of surprise that won me over, or the lack of expectations I had for the city, or maybe even a combination of the two. I found that the more time I spent there, the more I enjoyed being there. The only problem was though, that I was there during the tail end of the wet season, so many tourists attractions were closed. However, this certainly didn’t stop me from having fun!
Whether you’re visiting the Top End during the wet season, or simply want to go where the tourists aren’t in the dry season, here is a list of some of my favourite Darwin activities:
Parap Village Markets
There’s no need to lose sleep over the fact that the Myndal Markets don’t run during the wet season (or are ridiculously over-crowded during the dry season), when you discover the less-touristy Parap Markets. Located just 7 minutes (driving) from Darwin’s CBD, this market, which is held every Saturday, is a great spot to try many different cuisines and nab a few bargains.
Picnic at the Waterfront
Pack a picnic and head out to the Waterfront. Darwin’s Waterfront is a great spot to spend an entire day with the family. With a wave-pool, swimming area, plenty of dining options, grassy shaded areas and views; you’ll be spoilt with options on how to use your time!
Litchfield National Park
Located only a 90-minute drive from the city; a day spent at Litchfield National Park is a must! Experience the outback on the drive out – ten minutes outside of the city, you’ll be driving down red-dusted roads at 130km per hour! Then, experience a whole new level of something else from within the park. Some highlights include the Magnetic Termite Mounds, Tolmer Falls and Wangi Plunge Pool.
Catch a Sunset
When in Darwin, watching a seaside sunset kind of goes without saying. While most people flock to the Myndal Markets to watch the sunset and gobble down a kebab, some other (less crowded and equally appeasing) sunset watching locations include Cullen Bay, Nightcliff and the Waterfront.
Stroll in the Park
There are so many parks within walking distance of the city. It’s a nice way to chill out and explore a new area. I particularly enjoyed spending a morning walking up the Esplanade and through Bicentennial Park.
If come the end of the weekend you still have some time up your sleeve, some other notable activities (that I’ve had to put on my ‘to do when I return’ list) include:
Despite being the capital of the Northern Territory, prior to WWII, Darwin was more like a small country town. However, due to its strategic positioning in northern Australia, both the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force constructed bases near the capital in the 1930’s. In the early stages of the Second World War, Darwin played a key role in the South Pacific air ferry route. As the Pacific War broke out, defence in Darwin was strengthened and the city became an Allied Base for the defence of the Netherlands East Indies. Between 1942-43, there were over 100 air raids against Australia. On the 19th February 1942, 242 Japanese aircrafts attacked the town of Darwin, ships in the harbour and two airfields in an attempt to prevent the allies from using them as bases to contest the invasion of Timor and Java. This was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power in Australia, and has been since known as the Bombing of Darwin.
Within the city of Darwin and its surrounds, there are lots of WWII Tourist Sites that can be visited. Including gun emplacements, oil storage tunnels, bunkers, military airstrips and lookout posts. Most of these places are easily accessible and free of charge.
Jumping Crocodile Cruise
A one-hour drive out of Darwin will land you at the location of the ‘Jumping Crocodile Cruise’. A great way to see crocodiles up close, the Jumping Crocodile Cruise takes groups of people down their privately owned stretch of the Adelaide River for a real up-close and personal experience.
Immerse yourself in the regions indigenous culture. There is so much art, history and beliefs that we can learn from the lands traditional owners. Visit a locally owned art gallery or take a tour of the city with an Indigenous guide.