Life at the top

Make the most of pools and prom­e­nades in sul­try Dar­win

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LEX HALL

1. Dar­win Ski Club: My mother nar­rowly es­caped death once at the Dar­win Ski Club at Fan­nie Bay. But that’s no rea­son to avoid it. She hap­pened to be seated un­der a co­conut tree when it dropped its cargo. Thank­fully it landed on the ta­ble.

Her gin and tonic in­tact, my mother put the in­ci­dent be­hind her and took it as an ex­hor­ta­tion to savour the Dar­win sun­set un­fold­ing be­fore her. Herein lies the chief rea­son to visit this tran­quil set­ting just a few min­utes from the CBD — not to dodge co­conuts but to drink in this lateafter­noon spec­tac­u­lar.

Cerise, apri­cot, pink and blue swirl above as an­other Top End day melts into the Ara­fura Sea. En­try is free, there’s a bistro and live mu­sic that is never too in­tru­sive. It’s the ideal way to round out a Satur­day af­ter a visit to the ad­ja­cent Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, which has a rich col­lec­tion of in­dige­nous art and a va­ri­ety of his­tor­i­cal dis­plays.

There’s also a com­fort­able cafe: an­other ideal van­tage point to take in the sun­set, but with­out the ran­dom co­conuts. More: dar­win­s­ki­club.com.au; magnt.nt.gov.au. 2. Strolling and Nightcliff: Per­spir­ing is one of Dar­win’s in­evitable ex­pe­ri­ences. The trop­i­cal north­ern cap­i­tal is not renowned as a place for walk­ing, yet the flat and pretty to­pog­ra­phy is one of its charms. In the dry sea­son months from June to Septem­ber, be­fore the sap­ping hu­mid­ity of the wet sea­son build-up, Dar­win is ideal for strolling.

Among the many ar­eas worth dis­cov­er­ing on foot is the north­ern sub­urb of Nightcliff, about a 15-minute drive from the city. I’d say Nightcliff ’s a bo­hemian equiv­a­lent of Syd­ney’s Bondi, with a dash of Glebe. Test this com­par­i­son by vis­it­ing on a Sun­day morn­ing, which is mar­ket day, and nab­bing a ta­ble at the aptly named Groove Cafe in the mall.

Here, un­der a wob­bly ceil­ing fan, a typ­i­cal week­end Dar­win scene plays out: tarot read­ers and jew­ellery ven­dors sit along­side bustling Thai beau­ties poised over blenders con­coct­ing an ar­ray of restora­tive juices.

Af­ter the mar­ket, walk along Progress Drive to the Nightcliff fore­shore route. About 20 min­utes north you’ll come across a Dar­win oa­sis, the Nightcliff Pool, ar­guably one of the coun­try’s most pic­turesque for its spec­tac­u­lar sea views. 3. Pools and parks: Given the ever-present threat of croc­o­diles and box jel­ly­fish, it’s de­press­ing to look at the ocean know­ing you can’t swim in it for much of the year, but there are sev­eral places to cool off in­land. As well as Night- cliff, there’s Parap Pool, an ideal stop-off af­ter ex­plor­ing the lively Satur­day Parap vil­lage mar­ket. The 50m pool and ad­join­ing chil­dren’s splash area also have am­ple grass on which to find a shady refuge. A five-minute drive down East Point Road leads to an­other sleepy trea­sure, Lake Alexan­dria. This salt­wa­ter lake gives Dar­winites a place to go to es­cape the stingers. The site has cook­tops and show­ers, and there’s a bike path.

Dar­win’s CBD is known for its wave pool, but it’s ex­pen­sive and, iron­i­cally, prone to flood­ing. For an equally rowdy splash, it’s worth head­ing a lit­tle fur­ther north­east to the Leanyer Re­cre­ation Park (free en­try) with its 50m pool and three ser­pen­tine wa­ter­slides. More: en­joy-dar­win.com/ swim­ming-pool. 4. Gov­ern­ment House: The ma­jes­tic Par­lia­ment House is nat­u­rally the scene of the Ter­ri­tory’s best po­lit­i­cal brawls. But in 1918 hun­dreds of men stormed the nearby Gov­ern­ment House in protest at what they saw as wide­spread corruption by ad­min­is­tra­tor John Gil­ruth. When an ef­figy of him was torched in the grounds, Gil­ruth took the hint and sent for a ship to whisk him to safety.

To­day the 1.4ha grounds of Gov­ern­ment House, at the bot­tom of The Es­planade in the CBD, are a pic­ture of seren­ity. Built in 1870 us­ing por­cel­lan­ite quar­ried from the cliffs of Fan­nie Bay and Larrakeyah, the house was made part of the Na­tional Es­tate in 1980.

Al­though it lacks the breath­tak­ing view of the chief min­is­ter’s fifth-floor of­fice across the road, Gov­ern­ment House boasts ter­raced walks and a trop­i­cal grove of na­tive and ex­otic plants to ri­val the bet­ter-known Ge­orge Brown Botanic Gar­dens.

It’s hard to be­lieve that more than 70 years af­ter it was built, this Edenic res­i­dence took a di­rect hit when Ja­panese war­planes emerged from a trop­i­cal sun on Fe­bru­ary 19, 1942, ham­mer­ing the city and sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Among the bougainvil­lea and the car­pen­taria palms stands a plaque in mem­ory of Daisy Martin, an Abo­rig­i­nal or­phan and maid at the res­i­dence, who died in the at­tack. More: nt.gov.au/ad­min­is­tra­tor. 5. Arts and minds: Fol­low the frangi­pani petals that lit­ter the path to one of the city’s most charm­ing spots, the Dar­win Vis­ual Arts As­so­ci­a­tion. Be­hind the bright red doors, cul­ture-vul­ture Dar­winites comes to hang out, talk and share in the con­tem­po­rary art scene. Open from 10am to 3pm, the DVAA is an artist-run space for emerg­ing tal­ents to work in as well as ex­hibit.

The time to go is the first Fri­day of the month, when the gallery hosts solo and group ex­hi­bi­tions. There’s a makeshift bar that opens on to a large gar­den. The at­mos­phere is friendly and no one will frown if you put an ice cube into your red wine.

There is also an artists’ mar­ket on the first Sun­day of the month.

Then saunter up to the Deck Bar at the bot­tom of Mitchell Street, Dar­win’s main drag, for a drink and to see how the pub­lic ser­vants party.

Satur­day morn­ing is an ideal time to visit an­other Dar­win art gem: Karen Brown’s gallery, which fea­tures works by ac­claimed in­dige­nous artists, in­clud­ing An­gelina Ge­orge, Di­nah Garadji and Eva Rogers. More: karen­brown­gallery.com; dvaa.net.au. 6. Bog­art’s Bar and Grill: Few places are less con­vivial than Dar­win Mag­is­trates Court. I was there as a re­porter at a bail hear­ing for a man ac­cused of fire­bomb­ing an in­surance of­fice. The man’s court-ap­pointed lawyer waved me away as she dis­ap­peared into her of­fice. No com­ment and much grief from my edi­tor. That night I dropped in at Bog­art’s Bar and Grill on Gre­gory Street. Is that the same lawyer sitting at the next ta­ble, star­ing into her gin and tonic? I ven­ture over. Within min­utes she’s given me a full brief­ing on the man’s mo­tives and cir­cum­stances. I put it down to Bog­art’s.

The wait­resses may no longer get about in lin­gerie as they once did, but it’s still one of Dar­win’s most re­laxed haunts. It’s where the press and legal corps min­gle in dark and shad­owy sur­rounds.

The low-hang­ing horse­shoe­shaped bar is sur­rounded by cowhide arm­chairs and chaise longues that lead into a large din­ing room and stage, which once hosted bur­lesque shows. The decor may be de­lib­er­ately kitsch but the menu isn’t. Lars Holm, the ec­cen­tric Swedish pro­pri­etor, has turned Bog­art’s into one of the city’s most taste­ful and affordable places to dine. Try it on a Fri­day night, when there’s usu­ally a reg­gae duo. 7. Daytrip to Man­do­rah: The turquoise wa­ter boils and ed­dies as the skip­per of the Sea Cat hits full throt­tle for the 15-minute ferry trip across Dar­win Har­bour to the shores of Man­do­rah.

Be­fore long the Dar­win CBD and the white­washed walls of Cullen Bay ma­rina blur in the heat haze. Lo­cal fam­i­lies busily stow their sup­plies as they pre­pare to head back home.

The Sea Cat docks at the iso­lated jetty and from here a short track writhes through the scrub to the main at­trac­tion: the Man­do­rah Beach Ho­tel. It’s a spartan set-up: the bar is long and opens to a large con­crete space with ta­bles and chairs — it could be a French For­eign Le­gion out­post in Dji­bouti.

But the fa­mil­iar em­blems of north­ern Aus­tralia sug­gest other­wise: poly­styrene stubby hold­ers are planted at each ta­ble and coun­try mu­sic plays faintly above as lunch­ers take in the breeze and the vista. Some like it so much, they spend a few days by the pool at the bun­ga­low-style ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Un­til 1849 the Ter­ri­tory was part of a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son that be­longed to NSW, and at Man­do­rah it feels not very much has changed. More: sea­cat. com. au; trop­i­cal­dar­win.com/Man­do­rah.htm. Lex Hall is a for­mer Dar­win-based cor­re­spon­dent for The Aus­tralian. Next week in our se­cret seven se­ries: Mel­bourne.

trav­elnt.com

TOURISM NT

An­gry lo­cals stormed Gov­ern­ment House in 1918 but to­day the 1.4ha grounds are a pic­ture of seren­ity

TOURISM NT

The Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory

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