Tropical Darwin, set in the Northern Territories, is unique in Australia for its multiculturalism and combination of laid-back charm, cosmopolitan ambience and Indian Ocean location. Its 120,000 inhabitants comprise no less than 50 nationalities, working and living together in harmony. The ‘man in the street’ here could be anything from a local Aboriginal artist, an Aussie crocodile hunter or an Asian musician to a Greek fishing boat operator – with food, culture and languages from across the world found in this one small city.
This magical diversity is recognised by the Australian National Trust as a ‘Multicultural Icon of National Significance’, contributing hugely to the city’s relaxed lifestyle, as does its tropical climate. For visitors, it’s a hub for journeys along its beautiful coastline or into the mysterious interior of the country’s outback as far as remote Alice Springs. From the air, Darwin’s peninsular cityscape glows with emerald green bordering the azure ocean, with blocks of white buildings interspersed with more green spaces fanning out from the city centre.
Darwin’s international airport is the air hub for the Northern Territories, although its international aspect is limited to Bali, Vietnam, the Philippine capital of Manila and Singapore. Domestic flights run to all major cities and many far-flung regional towns, offering convenience at good prices. Domestic air travel is the norm here due to the vast distances between settlements, providing a great way to see this huge country. Short cruises from Darwin Harbour to coastal villages and offshore islands are also becoming popular with visitors.
For visitors fascinated by the history and culture of the continent’s pre-colonial inhabitants, Darwin is the place to be. The city has the highest concentration of Aboriginal peoples of all Australian cities and is a hub for the highly collectable Aboriginal art. The Tiwi Islands, 100kms from the city and just 20 minutes by air, are famed for their Aboriginal art and culture Another significant percentage of its population hails from South East Asia, giving the picturesque weekend markets as well as the restaurant scene a strong Asian flavour.
Tourism plays a major part in the city’s economy, and there’s plenty to see and do here, even without venturing outside town. Festivals are held regularly, as they were in each community’s home country, with the Chinese New Year, the Greek Glenti and India Mindil three of the best. The range of musical, theatrical, performance and other cultural events is amazing, from classical music concerts to the annual Darwin Festival and Fringe. The city’s few Victorian heritage buildings attest to the lives of 19th and early 20th century settlers and are well worth visiting, with several converted to Darwin hotels .
Tropical climates suggest tropical beaches, and there’s no shortage both in Darwin and along the coastline. Wide sandy strands lapped by clear blue waters and backed by woodland draw visitors and locals alike, and the city beaches are well-maintained and attended by lifeguards. However, swimming from October to May is dangerous due to the annual incursion of swarms of deadly box jellyfish. The occasional salt-water crocodile is spotted in the bay and Darwin harbour.
Outdoor sports fans are in heaven here, both in the water and on land, with surfing, diving, snorkelling and fishing plus hiking, walking and exploring the three national parks within reach of Darwin. Kakudo National Park is famous for its aboriginal rock art; smaller Lichfield National Park holds dramatic waterfalls, ‘magnetic’ termite mounds, a great selection of wildlife and the majestic Reynolds River. Katherine township is where the tropics meet the outback on the edge of Nitmiluk National Park, with unique ecosystems, a variety of wildlife and the breathtaking Katherine Gorge.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Darwin Hotels content.