Darwin is a city with a buzz about it. It’s growing fast and is a completely different place to the one that was so famously devastated by Cyclone Tracy a few decades back. It’s tropical, multicultural, relaxed and unique.
The big draw – besides the weather – for most visitors is the markets that sell all sorts of Asian foods, veges and arts and crafts. The biggest is the famed Mindil Beach Sunset Market which is held every Thursday during the Dry Season. A smaller version is also held on Sundays. The markets are incredibly popular and a small army of buskers and hawkers add to the colour and vibrancy of a memorable occasion. Don’t miss out.
The former pioneer outpost of Darwin has blossomed, bloomed and boomed in recent years, helped in no small measure by the regular arrival of caravan parks full of grey nomads. While it might have been mining and the military which helped Darwin’s original growth, it is the tourism industry which is now really putting it on the map. While some 130,000 people call the tropical oasis home permanently, an awful lot more do so during the fabled dry season. It’s the climate which is the biggest attraction to shivering southern-based grey nomads. The dry season runs from April/May to October delivering ludicrously consistent warm and sunny days. Virtually every day hovers around the 30 degree mark.
The city was named is honour of Chares Darwin, who sailed on the HMS Beagle shortly before it dropped anchor here in 1839. The city has had an eventful life since European discovery but, of course, it all began long before with the Larrakia people being the original inhabitants of the area.
As well as learning more about the Aboriginal history, many grey nomads enjoy finding out what has gone on since … the foundation of the pearl industry and the 1933 Gold Rush were events that really helped the community to flourish. Darwin has, of course, famously been rebuilt twice … once after the Japanese bombing in the Second World War and once after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
Double reconstruction has made for a modern, clean city but it is geography and nature’s kindness which ensures Darwin is endlessly interesting and inherently beautiful. It sits on the edge of a harbour which is bigger than Sydney’s, and boasts a fascinating coastline, fish-filled rivers and incredible sunsets.
It also has plenty of man-made attractions including the Fannie Bay Gaol which originally opened in 1883, the spectacular botanic gardens, the Charles Darwin National Park, the Australian Heritage Aviation Centre and World War II Oil Storage Tunnels to name but a few.
This is a multicultural city. Darwin is closer to the capitals of five other countries than to the capital of Australia: Darwin is 3,137 kilometres away from Canberra … with Dili (East Timor); Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea); Jakarta (Indonesia); Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei); and Melekeok (Palau) all being closer. The cosmopolitan character of Darwin is most openly celebrated and showcased by its wonderful, colourful, vibrant markets.
Besides the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets which are held Thursday and Sunday night from April to October, experience-hungry grey nomads can also enjoy the Saturday morning Parap Village Markets, the Sunday morning Nightcliff Markets and Rapid Creek Markets, and Palmerston’s Friday night markets.
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are, of course, named in honour of both the beach where they are held and the spectacular nightly act of nature to farewell the day. A Northern Territory sunset is like no other on earth and, all along the coast, mini parties kick off as people bring their campchairs and a bottle of wine to enjoy the nightly show.
There are some nice beaches in Darwin but there are also crocodiles and most locals steer clear of the water. Fishing, though, is a different matter and barramundi is the big prize for most nomads heading this far north. A boat is good but not essential for landing that elusive barra. Buffalo Creek just north of the city near Lee Point is a top spot for giving it a go and don’t forget your mudcrab traps if you want to have a back-up plan.
IN THE AREA
If you are looking to get out in the wilds of the Northern Territory, the numerous attractions of both Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks are a shortish drive away. Similarly, Berry Springs Nature Park is about an hour away. It has a small waterfall and plenty of natural swimming pools. Howard Springs Nature Park is about 40km south of Darwin and is a great place to view tropical flora and faua.
MAKE SURE YOU …
Go to one or more of the city’s vibrant markets and then go back again; learn about the Territory’s aviation history at the impressive Australian Aviation Heritage Centre; visit the Heritage-listed Burnett House which was built in the 1930s; enjoy spectacular sunset after spectacular sunset (the Casuarina Coastal Reserve is just one excellent spot to so); marvel at the hue King Tides; stroll around Stokes Hill Wharf and Waterfront Precinct; visit the East Point Military Museum at East Point Reserve near Lake Alexander (another top sunset viewing spot); go to the Indo Pacific Marine centre to enjoy the ‘coral reef by night’ program and learn more about our fragile environment.
WHERE TO CAMP
A range of caravan parks in the city cater to the needs of the dry season army of grey nomads. Naturally, there is also superb camping opportunities at national parks in the area, including Kakadu and Litchfield. Free camping possibilities within striking distance of the city’s attractions are limited. Gunn Point, some 40km away, is one option if you don’t mind getting your wheels dusty.