Darwin and the Tropical North

Darwin is a city unlike any other in OZ. It is a tropical city, so expect a warm and humid environment. It has a wet and dry season. The best time to visit is just after the wet season, say April or May, when all the rivers and streams are full and the waterfalls are wondrous, but the heavy rains have passed. Of course, as with everywhere, that is when every one goes, so Darwin and all the surrounding National Parks will be packed. Kakadu and Litchfield are both big draws for tourists during that time of year.

Darwin has a lovely little down town. It is an easy walk to anywhere within the CBD, and there are very few tall buildings, and no high rises, so it doesn’t feel like a big city. Even though it is not the concrete jungle of Sydney or Perth, there are plenty of shops and restaurants within the CBD, and there is no shortage of things to. Just south of the CBD is the waterfront. This area was my personal favorite. It has numerous little restaurants and cafes, a lovely view of a protected bay, and a water park and swimming area where one can hang out and enjoy the tropical weather. It is also significantly quieter then the CBD. There is also a wonderful outdoor movie theater at the north end that is open during the dry seasons. We went and saw three different movies while we were there because we loved it so much.

Another thing that we enjoyed thoroughly while we were there were the Mindl Beach Markets. These outdoor markets run every Thursday-Sunday starting on the last Thursday in April through the last Thursday in October. There are numerous food vendors of all types selling delights from all over the world. We had some lovely Indian food and some fantastic homemade ice cream. Many of the vendors are local craftspeople selling amazing and unique items such as clothes, bags, jewelry, and art of all types. There are musicians and busquers who perform, and even a fantastic whip show put on by the whip company, which was surprisingly entertaining. The markets open at five and run till ten. Grab some food and head out onto the white sand beach to watch the sunset, then do some shopping and enjoy the entertainment.

We also took a sunset catamaran dinner cruise on one of our final nights. it was a tapas style dinner, and there was significantly more champagne then actual food. The sailing and the views were fantastic though, so I am certainly not going to complain.

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Because Darwin has the closest international airport to Europe it is quite a party town. There are numerous bars and nightclubs in the small down town zone, and you can always expect there to be plenty of people about on a Friday and Saturday night, or any night really. This also means that the hostels are quite loud on the weekends. It can be a fun time, but it’s not conducive to sleeping, or saving money. A lot of drunk young people also means you are going to get the occasional thief about. It usually only goes as far as leftovers or beer getting stolen from the shared fridges, but not always. There are some upsides to the amount of backpackers there though. There are always people leaving to go either east or west, so finding travel companions is easy, and there are always vehicles available for purchase. There also seems to be not shortage of jobs about, as most every one we met there had found one, sometimes two jobs rather easily.

The other major draw for Darwin is the surrounding national parks. Kakadu and Litchfield are both reported to be fantastic. We spent a couple days in Kakadu on our way up to Darwin so I can only speak of Kakadu personally. We were there at the very end of the dry season, and for the most part it was unimpressive. There are some wonderful little walks out to ancient rock painting and other historical sights, which we thoroughly enjoyed. The view from atop the rocks at Ubirr was especially fantastic. We also thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Aurora Kakadu resort on our way out of the park.

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Beyond that it was rather dry and much of it was on fire. Controlled burns were used by the Aboriginals to maintain the land for thousands of years, and the practice is still done in many places today. While it was not really a danger to us, much of the park was covered in a haze of smoke, which on top of the hot and humid weather, made hiking and camping a bit unpleasant. From what we have gathered the park is at its best at the end of the wet season, when all the rivers and creeks are full, the waterfalls are spectacular, and the landscape is luscious and green. That also means that the park is packed with tourists, where as we had it largely to our selves, so as always there is a trade off.

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On our way into Darwin from Kakadu we stopped and did the jumping crocs tour on the Adelaide river. The bloke that runs the tour is a funny fellow, and has been doing it for years, so he knows all the crocs by name and where they all are. Using meat on a pole he gets the crocs to jump out of the water in spectacular fashion. Come at the right time of year and you might even see some big males. Not only does he do the crocs, but he also gets some of the local raptors involved in the show. Watching them come down to swoop food out of the air is quite fun. The tour was well worth the money.

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Darwin is well worth the visit if you can make time for it on your travels. It is a bit out of the way, depending on your time frame, but well worth a stop. It also happens to be a great city from which to venture to Bali or father up into Southeast Asia.

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