Discovering there is plenty to see and do in the Top End’s evolving capital.
“It’ll be hot and humid; after all, it is the wet season,” I’m warned as I pack for a three-day adventure in the Top End. Humidity and I aren’t the best of friends, so I’m slightly apprehensive as I board the early morning flight.
Lucky enough to snag a window seat, I watch in amazement as the red dirt of the desert gives way to lush green as we approach Darwin.
After disembarking, it’s with pleasure that I learn any trepidation on my part weather-wise was unfounded. Yes, it’s hot, but delightfully so. The humidity is not oppressive and it instantly feels like I’m on holiday.
On the way to the DoubleTree Hilton, my home for the next three days, the roads are quiet. There are no traffic jams and the buildings slip lazily past.
On arrival, I’m greeted with smiling faces and the hotel’s signature warm cookie. Every guest at every DoubleTree Hilton throughout the world gets one on check-in. It’s delicious and hard not to eat as I’m shown to my room. Set on the Darwin Esplanade with harbour views, the Doubletree Hilton has 184 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, and fantastic pool. My room is clean and spacious, with a comfortable bed and air-conditioning.
After freshening up, I head out to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility on Stokes Hill Wharf. A modern building, the facility tells the story not only of the RFDS, a vital service in any of Australia’s remote areas, but also of Darwin’s World War II history. I knew Darwin had been bombed during WWII, but I’m stunned to learn the city was the target of more than 64 air raids.
I’m also blown away by the centre’s visual displays. Stories of the bombings are told through holograms before a bomb raid alarm sounds and we gather at the centre of the facility for a birds-eye view re-creation of the carnage caused. The centre also has films on the bombing and the formation of the RFDS told through holograms. The amazing technology is very lifelike and unlike anything I have seen before.
Already impressed, I make my way to the virtual reality display. I sit in the chair and pop the goggles on. Wow. It’s totally immersive: I glance around and I am on a ship, watching the planes fly overhead.
Then I hear the sounds of the bombs and watch as other ships are destroyed and debris flies into the water. I’m left with the feeling that I have had an intimate look into what it would have been like for the soldiers on the ground.
Later, on the way to dinner, the sun begins to set. It seems to me to be bigger up here than at home. A brilliant red, it seems so close you could almost reach out and touch it. It hangs in the air for a while as I marvel at it, but as I go to get a better photograph, it seems to speed up and slips into the water before I get my camera sorted. The hotel staff assure me all is not lost: the sunsets in this part of the world are amazing and there is always tomorrow.
Crocs are what instantly comes to mind when you think of the Northern Territory. Not being lucky — or unlucky — enough to catch a glimpse of these prehistoric creatures in the wild, I pop down to Crocosaurus Cove on Mitchell Street in Darwin. I’m hoping it’s a bit kitsch, and I’m not disappointed. The perfect place for a family outing, Crocosaurus Cove contains all things croc, from static displays and information to outdoor enclosures where some of the Territory’s biggest live.
Many of these crocodiles were removed from the wild due to a penchant for causing hassle on stations and then banned from breeding programs for aggression towards females, so they now live in the centre of Darwin. The enclosures are structured so you can see them from underneath while they swim, and I never thought it possible that something so big and cumbersome could move with such grace and speed.
The Cove also has feeding sessions, freshwater displays, a reptile house and information on the bite force of a croc — did you know that if a croc bites you on the foot, the force is the same as if a truck rolled over it? There’s also a chance to enter the Cage of Death, a popular experience that allows to you get up close and personal with the crocs, which sells out in advance. All I can think is, only in the NT.
If animals in captivity aren’t your thing, a visit to Provenance Arts should be on your list. The Aboriginal arts centre, which opened in July, features work from artists from around Australia and doubles as an exhibition and education space, with a focus on reconciliation through togetherness and information.
The day I visit, Lily Roy — a Yilan homeland woman, who lives in Milingimbi — is holding a basket-weaving demonstration. Her fingers nimbly fly over the pandanus leaves as she separates the sharp, spiky outsides from the softer, stronger part used in the weaving. She is left with long strips, which she splits in two, all in a matter of seconds. Lily has been doing this since she was in her early twenties and it’s a skill passed down through the family.
Would I like to try, she asks. I sit down full of confidence. My fingers feel fat and useless as I struggle to make the first split in the leaf, let alone work it into anything usable. Lily is full of laughter and a few admonishments as we decide the reason I’m not getting it is because I’m left-handed and she is right-handed, so it must be the way she’s teaching me. It’s definitely not, but the demonstration gives me an insight into the work that goes into creating the products for sale in the centre.
Dining is one area in which Darwin seems keen to reinvent itself. There are myriad options and I sample a range of local delicacies both at the DoubleTree Hilton and a couple of restaurants in town. The food at the hotel is prepared under the watchful eye of executive chef Madusha Olupathage, and it is delicious — my picks are the crocodile canapes and the desserts, in particular the mango cheesecake and the dragon fruit and raspberry mousse.
For dining with a view, we head to Wharf One at the Darwin Waterfront. The setting is relaxed yet elegant and the restaurant specialises in wood-grill cooking using local ingredients. It’s a great place to watch the sun go down with a glass of chardonnay, and I’d recommend sharing some entrees — I loved the beef carpaccio, gin-cured Atlantic salmon and the salad of grains. All the main dishes were similarly delicious and generously sized. The desserts are a winner, too.
For scrumptious Asian food, look no further than Hanuman, owned and operated by former Melbourne restaurateur Jimmy Shu. A shared approach is the way to go here, with the Hanuman oysters and gobi Manchurian my favourite entrees. The beef vindaloo is the best I’ve ever had — sorry, Dad — and the eggplant pachadi is to die for. Save room for dessert, though, because the satisfying crack as you dig in to the black rice brulee is the perfect way to finish any evening.
- Tickets for the RFDS Darwin Tourist Facility are $28, with discounts for children, concessions and families. Opening hours vary according to the season. rfdsdarwin.com.au
- Crocosaurus Cove is open everyday, apart from Christmas. Entry is from $35 for adults. crocosaurus cove.com
- For more on Provenance Arts, see provenancearts. com.au.
- For the DoubleTree Darwin, see esplanadedarwin. doubletree.com.
- For more on visiting the Northern Territory, visit northern territory.com.
DisclaimerShannon Beven was a guest of DoubleTree Darwin and Tourism NT. They have not seen or approved this story.
You may also like
A different side to Darwin
The Royal Flying Doctor Service has a tourist facility in Darwin that explains its history. RFDS was founded by the Reverend John Flynn in the Northern Territory in 1939. In 1942, what is known as the Bombing of Darwin Harbour shocked Australia.
Our World: Pristine place to paddle about in
BONITA GRIMA discovers Australia’s very own everglades — in Noosa, Queensland
Podcast: The Pod Well Travelled Episode 12
WILL YEOMAN and MICHAEL FERRANTE navigate stormy seas to find a safe haven in the world of storytelling and vicarious travel