• Tropical Darwin

    Tropical Darwin

    Tourism Australia

    Tropical Darwin

    Australia's Top End is like nowhere else on this diverse continent, and tropical Darwin is a great place to start, writes Janet McGarry.


    A darkened room; wind swirling, debris flying, your senses assaulted. The dark sends shivers down your spine. Cyclone Tracy revisited. 

    The Northern Territory National Museum in Darwin is a smallish museum that manages somehow to capture the essence of its location. A combination of Aboriginal and Tiwi Islander art, an extensive display of boats of the SE Asia region, and its famous Cyclone Tracy exhibit is a great introduction to Australia’s most northern capital city. The tropical outdoor café overlooking the Arafura Sea offers cool respite from the sticky heat (along with yummy iced coffees).

    Earlier, sitting outside a café on Mitchell Street, it was easy to think I was in any Australian city. It’s a bit warmer, and yes, in summer it’s a bit stickier than its southern counterparts, but downtown Darwin resembles most towns and cities around the country. 

    Darwin cafe

    It’s only when you round the corner to the Esplanade and gaze out on the aquamarine blue of the Arafura Sea that you realise that you are truly at the top of Australia and in a world apart.  It seems like every second car is a well-worn 4WD covered in fine red dust, sporting petrol containers on roof racks. As you drive south through the suburbs the signposts declare Alice Springs to be a mere 1,464 kms away. It’s enough to give me the travelling bug.  

    Mindil Beach markets. Credit - Tourism NT

    Darwin is a city that has reinvented itself a number of times – after being bombed by the Japanese in 1942, and then being flattened by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. It’s still re-inventing itself, but this time the motivating factor is economic growth. The town has the feeling of being on the move. 

    It’s also one of Australia’s most pleasant cities to amble around for a few days. There’s a long winding bike track that follows the coast out to East Point Reserve. Along the way, it’s worth a wander round the de-commissioned Fannie Bay Gaol, including the room where two men were hanged in 1952. Or at high tide, throw some food to the well-fed fish at Aquascene. Cullen Bay. Credit - Tourism NT

    Thursday nights in the dry season finds what seems like the whole of town decamped to Mindil Beach for the markets. Locals arrived prepared with picnic baskets and chairs, to kick back with friends, listen to the music and enjoy the sunset. As the sun drops towards the horizon, the beach gets crowded but no-one ventures into the water, which feels weird on a balmy day except when you start wondering what lurks in it. Better to play safe with a dip in one of the two pools at Darwin YHA – Melaleuca on Mitchell

    After dusk, the tropical atmosphere of the market encourages browsing – take your pick of food stalls, or buy a souvenir or two. And if you’re not in town on a Thursday, there are other weekend markets. 

    What’s great about Darwin is that you can skip from the historic to the right up-to-date as your mood dictates. Downtown, on a hot day, the place to go is the historic tunnels, which were developed as oil storage tunnels during Japanese bombing raids in WWII. Or stop by the National Trust preserved Myilly Point houses – some of the few remaining tropical style homes that used to feature all around the city before Tracy.

    Then, on a warm evening, there is nowhere better than the chic Cullen Bay Marina with its choice of restaurants and bars. Sit back with a cool one, admire the marine real estate, and picture yourself cruising out in to the Timor Sea.