Darwin all about lifestyle
The Northern Territory’s capital captures Top End charm in its eateries and activities
WINTER has attacked, retreated, and attacked again a few times this year.
Jumpers and jackets have been pulled from wardrobes and the clever among us have remembered the handy art of layering.
Those folk with even more cleverness know there’s a place where winter doesn’t exist: Darwin.
It was six degrees in Brisbane when I made my way to the airport. It was 33 degrees when I landed in the Top End.
The difference was breathtaking and a welcome respite for my winter-loathing joints.
Darwin is like Cairns but more sunburnt, like Canberra but warmer, and like the Sunlookout shine Coast but more compact.
In your first hour in the central business district you understand that people here aren’t in a hurry.
It is hard to escape the overwhelming notion that, unlike any other capital city in Australia, Darwin is about lifestyle.
Like Wellington in New Zealand, there seems to be a pub here for every three people.
Take a walk down the main drag and you’re flooded with options for sitting down with a few mates and having a meal and beer.
The action in the CBD is split. Mitchell St between Daly and Bennett St is where most of the nightlife, drinking, and shopping exists, while the waterfront area below Survivor’s just down the street is where the more upmarket restaurants and kid-friendly activities can be found.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a large wave pool near Darwin Convention Centre.
Even on a Wednesday afternoon the place was packed with people enjoying the humanmade waves.
If you’re in town on a Thursday or Sunday, the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are a must-do.
Given the relatively relaxed ambience in the CBD, I wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the crowd at the markets.
The health food message has not quite pervaded everything here yet so the food options are especially varied and enticing.
A colleague and I grabbed some of the best laksa I have had in years, sat ourselves on the beach, and ate while watching the sunset, surrounded by hundreds of happy people.
One name that kept popping up in my glances at the tourist info was the Oyster Bar.
Being a recent convert to the glory of oysters I made my way down to the waterfront precinct and tried an assortment of their different types: natural, kilpatrick, chilli cheese and darleyfella. All were remarkable examples of their breed but I am yet to find somewhere that can improve upon oysters as nature serves them.
I threw a dart at a tourist map and wound up having dinner at the Ducks Nuts on Mitchell St.
It is slightly smaller than most of the pubs I saw along the way but their harissa kingfish tasted exactly how locally sourced seafood should.
Given how small Darwin really is, it should not be hard for you to find somewhere on Mitchell St for a feed just by eyeballing the places as you walk past.
I was impressed by the general level of friendliness in the service staff.
Staff were obliging, personable, and capable at each of the places I visited.
If you are down by the waterfront, it is worth checking out both the old Second World War oil tunnels and the Deckchair Cinema.
The tunnels are a great way of connecting with the attacks on Australian soil in 1942.
And the cinema has deckchairs, how good is that?
The Thirsty Zac juice bar also earns a mention for having the most endearing staff member I have encountered in a long time.
If you are coming to Darwin, it makes sense to use it as a waypoint for further adventures elsewhere in the Top End.
There is plenty of fishing, sight-seeing, and tourist-focussed things to do if you have brought a fully laden credit card with you, but the real wonders of the Northern Territory lie just beyond places such as Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.
The writer travelled as a guest of the NATSIAA organisers.
PRETTY: Mindil Beach, in Darwin, attracts visitors to watch the spectacular sunsets; above right, Second World War tunnels and, bottom right, the The Mindil Markets draw a crowd.