Heads up for Dar­win

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHY RUSH­TON

WHEN­pack­ing for Dar­win, keep it light, hold the dress to im­press and for­get about sta­tus sym­bols. They won’t be needed and you might de­cide they never were. Con­sider this uniquely egal­i­tar­ian city an op­por­tu­nity sim­ply to be your­self.

On ar­rival at the air­port, the fren­zied race to the carousel is im­peded by the saunter-and-stroll pace of the lo­cals. The young re­cep­tion­ist at the hire-car desk could not be more help­ful to the curs­ing trav­eller who has ar­rived sans driver’s li­cence. ‘‘Here’s my mo­bile num­ber,’’ she says. ‘‘Can some­one at home send a photo of your li­cence to my phone?’’ (I’d never give my mo­bile num­ber to any­one.) ‘‘Leave your bags here if you like,’’ she con­tin­ues. (She’s not wor­ried about bombs?) ‘‘Leave them near those flow­ers. My boyfriend and I broke up and my friends are try­ing to cheer me up.’’ (Re­ally? We just met . . .)

Af­ter a day or two, ur­ban ten­sion dis­si­pates and you find your­self sit­ting on Mindil Beach hoe­ing into croc­o­dile hot dogs and watch­ing a set­ting sun the colour of red pa­paya. You ac­cli­ma­tise to the 32C norm and the open smiles (none of that ‘‘How can I help you?’’ pro­fes­sional false­ness), and the unas­sum­ing cul­tural tol­er­ance.

Syd­ney trades on its har­bour and beaches, Melbourne on its cafes and shops, but Top End tourists must love the croc. You can be low­ered into a glass en­clo­sure (at great cost) in the city cen­tre’s Crocodilus Cove to have them cruise along­side you; see them jump for raw meat off Ade­laide River Cruises’ barge on the Daly River; or view them in all sizes at a plethora of an­i­mal parks.

While soldiers of the World War II al­lied forces frolicked in Fan­nie Bay and Mindil Beach free of crocfeast­ing, to­day very few vis­i­tors or lo­cals take the risk. It is frus­trat­ing for vis­i­tors to Dar­win that cool­ing off has more in com­mon with coun­cil swim­ming baths at, say, Tam­worth or Toowoomba than the invit­ing har­bour fore­shore.

A visit to Litch­field National Park (more con­ve­nient than Kakadu) is a must-do 80km day trip from Dar­win. Be di­verted by gi­ant ter­mite mounds and gobsmacked at what a short walk through seem­ingly fea­ture­less bush ter­rain can re­veal. The ma­jes­tic Florence and Wangi falls beckon swim­mers while less chal­leng­ing but more fam­ily-friendly are the warmer wa­ters of Berry Springs, where a free aqua mas­sage can bring squeals of joy. Pity about the chap who hap­pens to men­tion the 3m croc fished out of the creek 20m up­stream.

Dar­win’s other pre­oc­cu­pa­tion feeds into the con­tem­po­rary nos­tal­gic fo­cus on the mil­i­tary. This was, af­ter all, the first place in Aus­tralia to suf­fer a wartime at­tack and Dar­win re­mains a strate­gic and en­gaged mil­i­tary pres­ence. A visit to the Mil­i­tary Mu­seum at East Point be­gins with a 20-minute doc­u­men­tary about the 1942 bomb­ing of the city. The ex­hibits bring to life the col­lec­tion of tanks, swords and mem­o­ra­bilia.

Dar­win is restora­tive. It re­minds you that it’s not a crime to be re­laxed, non-com­pet­i­tive, free of ex­pec­ta­tion, non-pa­tro­n­is­ing and even nice.

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