Darwin has a vibe that draws you in … warm, welcoming, laid back and all amid a melting pot of culture and flavours. She’s a city that’s more like a country town, the capital of the Northern Territory but closer to Borneo or Port Moresby than any capital city in Australia.
Our week was relaxed and unhurried and a highlight for me was catching up with two old friends who left Victoria for Darwin over 20 years ago. Now I know why. Like them, I could have stayed longer than we did, but it gave us a taste … and it was tantalising.
Dinner on Stokes Hill Wharf
When I asked my ole school buddy LeeAnne where to meet the answer was obvious. Stokes Hill Wharf is the casual meeting place in Darwin. Once the site of the city’s prominent pearling industry and the tragic bombing of Darwin, the wharf is now a great place to catch up, unwind and learn stories about the city’s past, all while watching the boats come in.
There’s lots of great eateries here, right on the Darwin waterfront, from the freshest fish and chips to Thai curries.
Both my friends are practically locals so I asked them for recommendations on favourite places to visit. Here’s what they said:
Cafe de la Plage: we can vouch this is a stunning location, family and dog friendly, with a relaxing vibe, great coffee and awesome pizza right on the Causarina beach front.
Ebb and Flow: a vegetarian cafe loved by even meat lovers so I’m told and set in a stunning marina location.
Willing Distillery: a family owned and new distillery in Winnellie producing and serving the finest gin, wine, and spirit cocktails at their cellar door.
Deck Chair Cinema: a tropical night under the stars with a giant screen. where you’ll have a hard time deciding whether to watch the sunset or the movie.
Kitty Cat: for those who want a fun feline experience paired with their food.
Lola’s Pergola: is a funky waterhole, quirky, fun and a great place to chill on the docks on lovely Cullen Bay with burgers, beers and cocktails.
Eva’s Cafe: is great for a full breakfast or lunch in the gorgeous Botanical Gardens.
Picnic on Cullen Bay: a fully catered for spread makes life easy but we settled for our own picnic near the Nightcliff Jetty.
Of course a sunset cruise from the harbour is a must. With so many to choose from we opted for Sea Darwin, a small, casual, fish and chips cruise. Two hours of fast and fun cruising on board the Sea Darwin. It was a sensational way to spend our last night here.
Step back in time at the WWII Tunnels
Learn about the history of Darwin and the war by going underground and visiting the WWII tunnels. They’re within walking distance of the waterfront and fascinating to learn about their role in the Second World War.
These tunnels, hidden beneath a cliff right in the city, are the original tunnels built during WWII and were used to store fuel.
For a small entry fee you can walk through some of the tunnels, for an insight into their use during the war. They’re lit up and filled with lots of interesting information boards.
MAGNT – Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Darwin has a pretty cool museum and art gallery and it’s completely free.
The Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery are both in the same building located a 5-minute drive from the city center.
The exhibits on during 2021 include stories on Cyclone Tracy through to maritime, ecological, an exhibition on Unruly Days and Territory Life. They have a fascinating exhibit on evolution as well as one on Sweetheart the Crocodile.
If you want to see traditional Aboriginal artwork this is the place to go with the gallery showcasing the best of Indigenous art from all over the country.
The NT Museum and Art Gallery is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day. It’s easy to get around Darwin and on weekends the parking is free all around the city.
Market Days and Sunset Nights
Darwin is famous for its sunsets (if you haven’t already gathered) and it’s markets. The most well known, Mindil Beach Sunset Market, is held every Thursday and Sunday from 4 till 9pm. A tip: get there early to find a park. It also gives you time to browse all the amazing food choices so that you can go back later and try your favourites, whether it’s Thai, Vietnamese, Asian, Greek, Italian or even a bit of road kill.
Live music, tantalising aromas, market stalls and of course that sensational sunset is all part of a night at Mindil. Even with smoke hanging over the city it’s magic.
There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.
Head to the Mindil Beach Resort and Casino if you want a touch of glamour or you could do as we did and drive to Casuarina Reserve or Nightcliff Jetty which was just ten minutes from our caravan park at Lee Point.
There’s so many waterfront places to enjoy a bbq or picnic with food and coffee vans lined across the foreshore. Alfresco dining is a way of life here, the perfect way to enjoy the balmy weather and nature’s marvels.
A Great Base for Day Tripping
Though we mostly stayed in Darwin for our week, it’s easy to get to some awesome places. Our longest day trip was to Berry Springs, just 45 minutes away and a tropical oasis in every sense of the word. The natural warm swimming pools rivalled Bitter Springs with an added waterfall that, when you were under it, felt like the ultimate body massage
Darwin is close to Litchfield National Park, jumping crocodile tours and more waterfalls but Litchfield will be a separate journey. We were here to relax and enjoy Darwin. And that we did. In this colourful city the ordinary things became extraordinary.
For those of you who don’t know it’s history, Darwin Harbour was bombed by the Japanese in 1942 during WW11 and then devastated and almost flattened by Cyclone Tracy on December 24. 1974. She hasn’t had it easy.
But here she stands, in 2021, rebuilt, resilient, not as flashy as other Australian capital cities perhaps but beautiful nonetheless, strong and tempered by both the wet and dry seasons and a melting pot of cultures. Darwin stands a long way from any other capital city in Australia but maybe that’s why she’s unique. She has her own story, a will and free spirit that peserveres no matter what. Maybe that’s a lesson for humanity today.
Wherever you are, may you have love in your heart, freedom in your soul and empowerment on the journey.
Catch you on the next step of our adventure wherever that might be.
Love and light