Darwin and Surrounds – Travel

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Brace yourself, winter’s nearly here. Travellers’ thoughts are turning to warmer climes. It’s the perfect time to consider Darwin as a holiday destination.

As autumn draws to a close intending tourists begin consulting travel agents or the net seeking a spot in the sun – same old Bali, Thailand, Fiji and so on – yet overlook a remarkable experience that awaits here at home. Our well-travelled population visits numerous far-flung places but so few have experienced Darwin. They’re missing out.

There’s a buzz in the air in Darwin unlike any other spot on our map. I find it akin to the indefinable exuberance that typifies locations such as New York (but not L.A.), Istanbul (but not Athens), Beirut (though not Cairo). It’s a shame so many travellers overlook this intriguing city and its surrounds. Northern Territory Tourism’s noted visitor numbers declining since the year 2000. It’s not that Darwin and the Territory have been lacking but rather the dollar’s strength and greater air travel options have induced holidaymakers to travel abroad. The gap between outbound tourism and inbound tourism was never greater. But now that’s changing; the decline in our currency – and maybe south-east Asia ennui – is impacting the desire for overseas travel. So, time to reassess. With the official end of the wet season on April 30, northern Australia’s transitioning to the Dry. According to the Met Bureau, humidity’s already dropped in the tropical north. While Darwin’s average temperature hovers in the low 30s year-round, the dry season, May to September, offers warm sunny days with low stickiness and little rainfall. Time to go!

HOTELS: Dozens of Darwin hotels across a range of room rates, many with modern self-catering kitchens, provide an excellent base for exploring the city and environs. If the budget doesn’t permit luxury, many more humble choices (but not all!) are fine: they’ll have standard Territory amenities of air-con and ceiling fans, essential for a comfy night’s sleep.

DARWIN SAILING CLUB: Everyone’s welcome at this glorious spot on Darwin Harbour famous for its superb sunsets, friendly ambience and palm-fringed foreshore beer garden for brunch, lunch, dinner and BBQs. Learn To Sail courses, Twilight Sailing, or accept a likely invitation of a berth on a local’s boat on race day. A must-do.

MINDIL BEACH SUNSET MARKETS: Moments from Darwin’s CBD, the generous stretch of Mindil Beach hosts Australia’s best mixed markets every Thursday and Sunday evening. Darwin’s marvellous multicultural heritage is showcased in an array of grab-and-go exotic cuisines from some 60 food trucks and stalls, and the crafts of more than 100 vendors. Picnic barefoot on the grass or sand for a stunning sunset view, free musical and mingling with new friends in the warm night air. (Takeaway in containers for stocking the hotel fridge). On Saturdays also visit superb Parap Markets for fresh produce and the best fragrant laksa, and Cullen Bay Marina for fish & chips any time – both locations also adjacent to the CBD.

DARWIN WHARF: Yet another attraction on your doorstep, the massive historic Wharf is open daily until late, offering a vast cast of al fresco dining options and a fine seafood restaurant. Darwin’s a cornucopia of fresh seafood that practically jumps off the trawlers moored at the city’s edge. Take a harbour cruise or simply toss a line into the depths: satisfying results guaranteed. Free live entertainment under the stars, those beautiful sunsets and refreshing sea breezes.

FOR FAMILIES: The Wave Pool on the waterfront is a huge landscaped swim lagoon that creates thrilling tube-riding and boogie-boarding when a regular siren signal starts a pulsating swell of waves. Wading pools for toddlers. Also in the heart of town, Crocosaurus Cove has an awesome display of Australian reptiles. Swim with the crocs, fish for crocs from a platform, or enter the Cage of Death for a full-on man-eater encounter. Barramundi, sawfish and turtles in the aquarium.

JUST OUT OF TOWN: An overwhelming natural environment of red ochre and green wetlands and waterfalls. Self-drive is easy or pick from many wonderful guided tours. There’s Kakadu of course, and a terrific day out swimming at Litchfield. Territory Wildlife Park, 60km away, is just the best zoo, with magnificent displays. Free shuttle train around the park carries wheelchairs and strollers, both available here.

GETTING THERE, STAYING THERE: Sydney’s the gateway for direct flights at reasonable advance fares. Stay 7-10 days at least; I don’t see the point of the many three-night packages on offer. Explore www.travelnt.com

This article was from issue 116 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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