2 Days in Tropical Darwin

March 30, 2010 by

Australia & the Pacific, Bike Tours, Bus Tours, Day Trips, Suggested Itineraries

For many visitors to Australia, Darwin is little more than the departure point for other more exotic adventures east, west or south, but Darwin is an intriguing city in itself. Weathering cyclones (occasionally), hungry crocodiles (generally), and air raids (during WWII), Darwin is a city that takes these events and the often-horrendous humidity in its stride.

So, set aside a couple of days to get over that jet-lag, and take in the museums, markets, multiculturalism and, of course, the odd refreshing ale, in the steamy capital of the Northern Territory.

Things to Do in Darwin: Day 1

Moonshadow, Darwin

Moonshadow Villas, Darwin

Check into some lush lodgings! For a city with a frontier feel, checking into a hotel with a casino seems appropriate. But SkyCity attracts more than just slot-machine addicts, it’s actually Darwin’s best hotel, with contemporary renovated rooms, lush gardens, an inviting infinity swimming pool and the city’s best restaurant, EVOO.

However, I don’t think we’ve ever felt more at home while on the road than we did at Moonshadow Villas. These tropical-style villas are a delight, with a stocked fridge (including champagne and beer), espresso machine, CD/DVD player, and a plunge pool under the palms. They also have several chic apartments in the CBD.

For those on a more modest budget, Melaleuca on Mitchell is the best backpackers – and the two pools and bar don’t hurt either.

Get your bearings with a tour. No trip to Australia is complete without an Aboriginal-led tour, so experience Darwin through the eyes of an Aboriginal guide with indigenous-owned Batji Tours. Or the hop-on-hop-off minibus is a good deal as it visits most of the big sights in town. For a more active tour, check out the city on bike or foot with a Darwin walking & bicycle tour. If you only want the bike, they deliver to your hotel. Farther afield you can tour Kakadu National Park or Litchfield National Park on a day trip from Darwin.

Dinner at EVOO, Darwin

Dinner at EVOO, Darwin

Get a culture fix. Spend the hottest part of the day indoors and hit Darwin’s excellent state museum. If it’s your first experience of a significant Aboriginal Art collection, you’re off to a great start at the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT. The Indigenous Art collection is stunning, featuring art by the local Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville islands, bark paintings from nearby Arnhem Land, and the iconic dot-paintings by artists from the Central Desert.

The exhibit on Darwin’s tragic destruction on Christmas Eve 1974 by Cyclone Tracy is touching and terrifying – the terror factor is only surpassed by the appearance of Sweetheart – a (thankfully stuffed) 5.1m saltwater crocodile that was 50 years old and weighed 780kg when it was accidentally killed. The museum café is a good choice for lunch.

Smile at a crocodile – from a safe distance. And speaking of those colossal local inhabitants… to see them very much alive rather than taxidermal, head to Crocosaurus Cove. You think reptiles are boring? Three words for you: Cage – of – Death. A Perspex cage is lowered into the croc enclosure… with you in it. It’s one of those love-it or hate-it things. Or – less frightening and perhaps more educational – Crocodylus Park has guided tours and croc feedings, as well as a museum on these massive man-eaters. You can also take a crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River from Darwin. Considering the recent attacks in the Top End, you should learn as much as possible before heading bush!

Hit the markets. For a small city, Darwin boasts two particularly vibrant markets. During the dry season (May–Oct), the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are a must. First up, find a possie on the sandy beach, which gets packed with locals and visitors who bring their fold-up chairs and beer-filled eskies to watch the sunset while they enjoy a couple of brews. That done, the Asian food stall aromas should lure you over the dunes and into the market itself.

Mindil Beach, Darwin

Mindil Beach, Darwin

Tip: look for the Indonesian satay guy first – you should see the long line of locals before you spot him fanning his delicious peanut satay sticks on a grill over some coals – he runs out of fast! Then there’s plenty of entertainment (from indigenous bands to fire-jugglers) and stalls to wander around.

If you miss Mindil, the year-round Parap Village Market is on every Saturday morning and while not as exciting as the Mindil Beach markets, you can still score some spicy Asian food and browse the stalls selling crafts, hippy clothes, and Aboriginal Art.

Tuck into some tasty Australia seafood by the sea. And speaking of nibbly things… if you didn’t fill up at the markets, head to one of the marinas for something more filling. Dinner by the water is a must-do in Darwin. Whether it’s fish and chips wrapped in paper and washed down with a beer on the boardwalk, or a more elegant seafood feast at Crustacean’s (tel. 08/8981 8658), Stokes Hill Wharf is a great option.

Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin

Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin

Cullen Bay Marina also has a great selection of eateries that are perfect for a moonlit feast. YOTS Greek Taverna (tel. 08/8981 4433) is a favourite; the waterfront setting and freshly shucked oysters are sublime. Foodies should head for EVOO at SkyCity where chef Rebecca Bridges serves up the most inventive cuisine in town.

Things to Do in Darwin: Day 2

Take a walk in the park – and around the town. You will see mad dogs and Englishpersons out in the midday sun and yes, it is foolish. Darwin’s city centre is compact but first thing in the morning (or late afternoon) are the best times for a stroll. Smith Street Mall is a good place to start, with plenty of galleries and gift shops selling everything from kitschy Aussie souvenirs to Aboriginal art. Walk to the end of Smith Street to the Esplanade, then turn right and you’ll find the rather gracious old Government House building on your left, the striking Parliament House on your right, and around the corner, leafy Bicentennial Park looking over the aquamarine sea – it’s a wonderful place for a stroll. You’ll find loads of good cafés and restaurants for lunch dotted around the centre.

Appreciate the devastation of Darwin in WWII. The continual bombing of Darwin over almost two years by the Japanese profoundly affected the city – and the Australian psyche – so much so that the general public were not told of the extent of the damage or losses.

The fascinating East Point Military Museum (tel. 08/8981 9702) describes the events at the time and has a fascinating collection of military memorabilia as well as massive gun placements from the time. After WWII, Darwin remained a significant military base and the Aviation Heritage Centre has a mind-blowing B-52 bomber on loan from the US Air Force.

Darwin's Aviation Museum

Darwin's Aviation Museum

Savour the sunset under some sails. The sunsets are amazing in Darwin and (aside from Mindil Beach) there is no better way to savour them than on an historic pearl lugger such as the 1959 Streeter, built in Broome in 1959. Pearling experience not required.

You just need to sip champagne and nibble delicious finger food. Another cruise is the Spirit of Darwin leaving from Cullen Bay Marina. Both boats have bars, of course, and sail around 6pm.

Down a few drinks with some Darwinites. We’ve saved Darwin’s favourite pastime for last – Darwin’s alcohol consumption is well above the already heady national average. Mitchell Street is where the drinking and live-music action is. You can stroll the street and find your niche, or start with The Cavenagh, known as ‘The Cav’, which attracts an animated young crowd who come for the live music. The rather stylish yet boisterous Ducks Nuts at the Top End Hotel is hugely popular, while Lizards Bar and Grill has DJs from 10pm. Things do get a little rowdy as the night wears on – hence the rather large gentlemen who greet you at the doors of these establishments. Be polite.

Terry Carter and Lara Dunston

Planning a trip? Browse all of Viator’s Darwin tours & things to do, everything from Darwin day trips to Katherine Gorge cruises to Kakadu National Park tours.



2 Responses to “2 Days in Tropical Darwin”

  1. Moya Buckley Says:

    Hi and thank you for the write up on our beautiful tropical city Darwin. Loved the photos and the descriptions of Bobby the Satay guy and was really pleased about the mention of Moonshadow Villas. We do try very hard to give guests a true tropical holiday! We love that you felt ‘at home’ with us. Regards, Moya