When we arrived in Darwin back in June 2013, we were exhausted. We had just driven through the Kimberley and broken down on the road towards the Bungle Bungles and we were looking forward to spending some time in a city.
Darwin was not what we expected. The city is set among tropical bushland and it’s really small. The CBD doesn’t have any skyscrapers, there is only one main shopping centre in the northern suburbs and the airport is right in the middle of everything. There is heaps of vegetation around town, consisting of banyan trees, palm trees, screw pines and frangipanis and every now and then you’ll see a water tower. The people are totally laid back, with many of the inhabitants working in defence or the mining industry, and there’s a considerable percentage of pubs and taverns around town that offer free lunchtime strip shows.
There is heaps of wildlife around town. Green tree frogs, asian house geckos and tata lizards that are regular house guests, and you might even see the occasional python hanging around. Frilled neck lizard reserves are common and if you stick around long enough you’re bound to see one. Nearly every resident has a dog for security and nearly every dog still has their balls.
In the 10 months that we have been in Darwin, we’ve lived at four addresses, worked a variety of jobs and experienced the Wet Season, the Dry Season and the Build up. When the time comes for us to pack up and continue on our journey, it’ll be like leaving home all over again.
- Darwin is the smallest and most northerly Australian capital but is one of the fastest growing cities.
- The population is around 130,000 people, but this doubles during the Dry Season.
- Darwin participates in gas and oil production, the mining industry, and tropical horticulture, and the Port of Darwin is the main outlet for Australia’s live cattle export trade into Southeast Asia.
- There are two seasons in tropical Darwin – the stinking hot, sticky and sweaty wet season and the mild and balmy Dry season. The lightning storms of the wet season are spectacular and the average temperature during the year is around 30°C so stick to shorts, singlets and t-shirts during your visit – there is no need for pants or jackets… ever.
- There are a few aboriginal communities within the metropolitan area. While you generally don’t enter the communities out of respect, occasionally they’ll have festivals and invite people to come in for tours.
The Larrakia people are the traditional owners of the land and lived in the greater Darwin region before European settlement. They lived alongside the settlement and gave them food but many died of disease or were pushed away to camps on the outskirts of the city. After much struggle and adjustment, the Larrakia people prevailed and today they have an active role in the community and their nation is 2000 strong.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to swing past the area, but it wasn’t until 1839 during the second voyage of the HMS Beagle that a little colony got started. The first officer of the Beagle named the port after his buddy, Charles Darwin, who sailed with them on the Beagle’s first voyage in 1836, but the settlement was established as Palmerston in 1869. After a gold rush in Pine Creek in 1870, the population of the colony more than doubled from 135 to 300 and when the NT was transferred under federal administration in 1911, it was renamed Darwin, but didn’t reach city status until 1959.
Darwin has been rebuilt twice. The first time was after 1942 when the same Japanese warplanes that bombed Pearl Harbour attacked Darwin. The town was severely damaged and 243 people were killed, but what the air raid showed was how close the World War got to Australia.
The second time Darwin had to be rebuilt was after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. This category 3 storm hit on Christmas Eve, devastated the city, killed over 70 people and destroyed more than 70% of the buildings in Darwin. Most of the population was evacuated to either Alice Springs, Adelaide or Sydney, and about 60% didn’t return. After the cyclone, new building codes were put in place to construct houses that could withstand high winds and provide protection for the residents.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Darwin has all the typical attractions, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and George Brown Botanical Gardens, which is not only fantastic but totally free to enter, as well as a few special treats that you can’t find anywhere else.
We cannot emphasise to you how awesome Crocosaurus Cove is. Entry is a total bargain for the goodies inside and if you go on the Big Croc Feeding Experience with a guided tour, you’ll have a day that you’ll never forget.
You might think that feeding the fish sounds mundane but this place is really cool. They have a great display of marble statues and pretty gardens. While the majority of fish are diamondscale mullet, you might spot a shark or batfish.
Stokes Hill Wharf & Darwin Waterfront
The Darwin Waterfront is the equivalent of Docklands in Melbourne, but more frequently used. The grassed area is a great place for a picnic or Sunday Session during the Dry Season and the surrounding restaurants are quite good. The Darwin Convention Centre and Wave Lagoon are also nearby.
Stokes Hill Wharf is a short walk from the Waterfront and is a great platform for fishing. At the end of the Wharf is a small plaza with some food outlets. It has much historical significance as it bore the brunt of the Japanese bombing on the 19th of February 1942 – over 240 people died and many ships were sunk in the vicinity.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
On July 1st, Territorians celebrate Territory Day. There’s quite a build-up to the event, with fireworks for sale on nearly every corner! It’s not a public holiday (yet) and in the evenings, everyone floods to Mindil Beach for the markets and food stalls, and to watch the amazing firework show on the shore.
Fireworks continue through the night as everyone lets off their crackers. We found a quiet place next to Port Darwin to let off our fireworks while others let theirs off in their front garden or on the street. Spot fires arose throughout the city and evidence of the madness showed the morning after.
Beer Can Regatta
Possibly the most Territorian event other than Territory Day, the Beer Can Regatta is a great opportunity to let your love for beer shine. Mindil Beach is flooded with tourists and locals for the markets, the food and the activities on the shore. We spent the day on the Grogmonster and watched the beer can boat race.
If bull riding, motorbike jumps and bucking broncos is your thing, the Noonamah Rodeo is definitely worth a look. There are plenty of interesting characters to watch too, heaps of food stalls and overpriced beer, and the atmosphere is true country.
Ethnic Community Events
Darwin is very multicultural and during the Dry Season, they hold many cultural festivals. India@Mindil was very colourful with dance performances and plenty of delicious foods to try. The Cyprus Festival was also orientated around food and dance. Both of these events were free.
The Hidden Valley Raceway is a popular spot to unleash your inner bogan. They’ve got drag races, burnouts, motocross, supercars and it is the starting line of the Australia Day Ute Run.
The All Ford Day was also on while we were in Darwin and there was a great display of both old and new cars. Juz got the opportunity to take a seat in one of the drag cars for the Beat the Heat Off Street drag racing event.
Darwin is a market haven. Between Thursday and Sunday during the Dry Season, there are about 5 or 6 different markets that you can go to, and each offers something a little different. If you’re after a decent feed, you can’t do much better for value than at the markets. A large tub of curry can be as cheap as $10 or prepare to pay about $7 for a bowl of delicious chicken wonton soup.
FOOD & DRINK
Even though we lived 15 minutes away from Shenannigans, it was our local. We’d go there every week to have dinner and play trivia. The menu is awesome and has all the regular pub meals like steak and chicken parmigiana, yummy salads and a few goodies like the Territory grill and chicken supreme. The prices are awesome too and if you’re not that hungry, you could just grab a side of spiced crocodile or a bowl of beef chilli for $5.
Tasty Vietnamese and south east asian food on the Waterfront, Chow! is fully licenced and has some awesome cocktails on the menu.
Yotz Greek Taverna
Dave took Juz here for her 30th Birthday dinner and it blew her socks off. Even though it’s quite fancy and pricy, we dined right next to the Cullen Bay marina and the moussaka was to die for.
Tim’s Surf & Turf
If you love an outrageous amount of fried food piled up on your place, you’ll love Tim’s Surf and Turf. The portion sizes are horrifying but the food tastes great and they have a magician that wafts from table to table performing nifty card tricks.
Darwinbus is the only public transport network that operates in Darwin and has services that run between the city, Casuarina and Palmerston interchanges, as well as a few rural locations. While most of the services run 7 days a week, they’re not regular and may only have 2 services in the morning and another 2 or 3 runs after work, so if you miss your bus, you’re walking!
INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION
Tourism Top End Information Centre – 6 Bennett Street, Darwin, Phone: 1300 138 886
Darwin YHA – 97 Mitchell Street, Darwin, Phone: 08 8981 5385