I lived in Darwin between 1998 and 2002, and it’s from where I left Australia to come to London. My family have since moved, so I won’t be going back there where I go “home”, and I’m a bit gutted about that.
Darwin seems to have a reputation as a bit of a cowboy town, and like most cities if you hang around the backpacker strip (which is Mitchell Street in the CBD and then into the suburb of Larrakeyah) then that’s all you’ll see. But it’s worth getting out into the suburbs: the city’s not that big and you’ve gone so damn far to get there you may as well have a sticky-poke at why people choose to live there.
1. Mindil Beach. Okay so that’s a given but but must be done: even if the market does tend to shift inside for the Wet Season there is nothing quite like watching the sun set into the ocean off Fannie Bay. You also get the same view from the Museum/Art Gallery which is further along Fannie Bay; and even from Dripstone Cliffs at Casuarina: but you can’t beat Mindil on market night when the crowds abandon the stalls and all go onto the sand to watch the sun set, and then go back to the yiros and the boomerangs. Parap Market (in Parap) is better for arty stuff: again its incense and sarongs but with the “action” taking place n Sunday morning its all pretty laid back.
2. Go in the Wet! Darwin is two different cities sharing the same location, and you’ll find July and January to be completely foreign to each other, (and the rest of Australia). The Dry is mid year, so while the rest of the country is in Uggies and Flannies the Darwinites (Darwinians?) are still in shorts. The city fills up with grey nomads, and it’s the time when all the action takes place for tourists. But Darwin is worth a visit in the tropical Wet just for the experience. As Londoners now we know that July can be hot, but only in Darwin can rain be warm. Many of the tour operators close down over the Wet as the tourists don’t come, so you can often get better deals in hotels. My family used to go to stay in a 5* hotel in the CBD for Christmas Day and even that as a bit of a tourist-magnet day was good value.
3. If you’re in Darwin in the Wet, and the streets seem empty, everyone is probably at Casuarina Square. It’s the major shopping centre in the Northern Suburbs and is pretty much Darwin’s “village green” with its big airconditioned foodcourt and loads of shops. Locals go there for a cool down during the humid days, especially on Sunday when the offices are shut.