Forget images of a dusty, “last frontier” outpost, today Darwin is a cosmopolitan, multicultural city with a myriad of exotic, diverse and world class experiences which has become a great destination as a romantic getaway. Darwin is best known as the gateway to the ‘Top End’s’ national wildlife parks, and it has a bit of a reputation as a hard drinking town with a distinctly outback attitude to life. But in recent years all that’s changed and it’s developing a new reputation as a bit of a foodie’s haven with some luxury acccommodations and hotels beginning to emerge. Darwin also has some of the best breakfast joints in Australia. It’s still a knockabout type of place, but there’s plenty to see and do within striking distance of the city.
Crocodylus Park and Zoo
No trip to Darwin is complete without a visit to Crocodylus Park and Zoo (815 McMillans Road, Berrimah, +61 (8) 8922 4504, www.crocodyluspark.com.) There are four daily guided tours of the crocs starting at 10 am, and after witnessing their terrifying might with a feeding demonstrating, you can get your own back by chowing down on a croc burger in the park café. Crocodylus Park is a privately funded wildlife research and breeding facility which specialises in wildlife conservation and the highlight is the croc feeding. They’re fed twice daily in the main pond where they exhibit their ability to propel themselves vertically to catch their food. There is an educational museum dedicated to crocodiles and there’s also a range of other local and exotic native wildlife on display at the park, including rare wallabies, kangaroos, parrots and a cassowary.
Territory Wildlife Park
Along with Crocodylus Park, the Territory Wildlife Park (Cox Peninsula Rd, Berry Springs +61 (8) 8988 7200, www.territorywildlifepark.com.au) is one of those Top End experiences which shouldn’t be missed, and it’s a 45 minute drive south of Darwin’s CBD. The highlight here is the Birds of Prey Show where you can see several of these amazing animals up close, with guides on hand to explain the behaviour of these flying predators. The 400 hectare park is set in natural bush and other highlights include the billabong aquarium with walk through tunnel, the nocturnal house and one of the largest dome aviaries (walk through) in Australia. The Berry Springs Conservation reserve is right next door and is a great place for a cooling swim in the beautiful natural springs.
Take a Sunset Cruise
One of the best ways to beat Darwin’s heat, and finish off a day in the city, is to take to the water. Every day at 5.15pm, the Tumlaren (Darwin Harbour Cruises, +61 (8) 8942 3131, www.darwinharbourcruises.com.au) departs from Stokes Hill Wharf for a leisurely two-and-a-half hour cruise around Darwin Harbour. Costing $66 for adults, guests get to take in the local sights while enjoying gourmet antipasto and sparkling wine, while catching a sunset. If you want to splash out a bit more, opt for a sunset dinner cruise aboard its sister ship, the Alfred Noble. Costing $105 for adults, and departing at 5.45pm daily, guests are treated to an Australian Gourmet dinner featuring chilled local seafood, and a barbecue of locally caught fish.
Sample the food
It’s said that Darwin boasts over 50 nationalities of food and cuisine styles, which can make choosing what, and where to eat a dilemma. The best breakfasts can be found in the CBD at joints like Cafe 21 (21 Smith St, +61 (8)8942 3111 and Salvatores Cafe (21 Knuckey St, +61 (8) 8941 9823). At Hanuman Restaurant (93 Mitchell Street, +61 (8) 8941 3500), you can experience three classic Asian styles in one meal. Owned by local foodie legend, Jimmy Shu, the eclectic menu features Indian, Thai and traditional Nonya-style Malaysian dishes. Other joints which attract rave reviews include Char Restaurant @ Admiralty (Cnr The Esplanade and Knuckey Street, +61 (8) 8981 4544). The menu features everything from steaks and seafood to eclectic vegetarian dishes, all of which are created with the best of local produce and touched with European and Asian accents. Pee Wee’s At The Point (Alec Fong Lim Drive, East Point Reserve, +61 (8) 8981 6868) boasts uninterrupted views across the Arafura Sea, and a menu featuring local specialties including fish and seafood. And for great Spanish tapas with a distinctly local accent, try the downtown Moorish Cafe (37 Knuckey Street, +61 (8) 8981 0010).
(Take a look at our Darwin Restaurant Reviews and our tips for the best breakfasts in Darwin)
Visit one of the Markets
For many Darwin locals, Saturday morning involves a trip out to Parap Village Market (Parap Road, Parap, +61 (8) 8942 0805). Established in 1982, it’s the best-known of Darwin’s famous markets, as well as the place to check out local produce including flowers, fruits and veggies, and rub shoulders with some quirky local characters. Other incentives include the cheap eats from the Asian food stalls, including Mary’s famous Laksa and Bobby’s Indonesian satay. On Thursdays and Sundays during the dry season (May to Oct) a great alternative is the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (opposite SkyCity Casino on Mindil Beach, off Gilruth Avenue, The Gardens, +61 (8) 8981 3454), and the Rapid Creek Markets (28 Trower Rd, Milner) is Darwin’s oldest and most authentic Asian style market. It’s open Friday 3pm till late and on Sunday 6.30am to 1pm.