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In pictures: From the top end, Darwin unearthed

January 17, 2013 - Jo Lane

IN 2012 Lonely Planet named Darwin as one of the world’s best cities to visit. I didn’t visit Darwin because of this but I did happen to pass through in 2012 and I was suitably impressed.

I hadn’t been to Darwin in about 10 years and the transformation was impressive. Not that I would have called Darwin a backwater in the early 2000s but the urban planning changes have been dramatic and created a really dynamic city.

Darwin's new urban planning has transformed the city. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Darwin, located in the very north of the Northern Territory, is one of those unusual capitals – a long way from the rest of the state like Brisbane is to Queensland, and yet a very thriving metropolis despite a population of just 130,000. Here’s what Lonely Planet had to say:

It was once easy to dismiss Darwin as a frontier town full of brawling fishermen, dreamy hippies and redneck truckers. But with a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia’s Top End. Beat the crowds to the redeveloping Waterfront Precinct with its wave pool, bars and wharf eateries; or score some brilliant Indigenous art before East Coast galleries snap it up and charge double. Nose your way through the food stalls at Mindil Beach Sunset Market, then watch the sun melt into the Timor Sea. When southern Australia is chilling through winter, here it’s blue skies, party nights and sleeping late.

Pig hunter near Darwin. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Having said that though it is nice to see these types still exist in Darwin and a trip out of the city one day led us to pig hunters displaying their kills on the back of their utes. It was a true Territory moment.

The deckchair cinema in Darwin. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

There’s now a wave pool and a man made beach in Darwin’s waterfront precinct, an awesome deckchair cinema where an array of top flicks are shown during the dry season, plenty of chances to see the famous crocodiles like at Crocosaurus Cove, the eclectic and youthful markets at Mindil Beach but also at Nightcliff and Parap, excellent biking and walking tracks along the coast, incredible sunsets particularly over at Mandorah – a short ferry ride away, amazing WWII sites like the oil storage tunnels you can wander through, plenty of thumping nightlife and good food.

Didgeridoo player, Mindil Markets. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

There are also some fun annual events like the July beer can regatta, in which participants make boats from beer cans and race them in the waters of Mindil Beach. The all day event also includes thong throwing, kayak races, tug of war and sand castle competitions.

The fun of the Beer Can Regatta, an annual event on Darwin's Mindil Beach. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

If that’s not enough, Darwin is also a stepping stone from exploring some of the more wild parts of the state such as the world famous Kakadu National Park with its aboriginal rock art and incredible wildlife and waterfalls. Litchfield National Park is also suitably popular with its many rock water holes and waterfalls that are safe for swimming.

WWII oil storage tunnels. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

The fantastic climate in the top end also makes it an excellent place to visit year round and I discovered that for a lot of backpackers it was their city of choice during the winter months as effectively up here there is summer all year round. Given the influx of backpackers and the mining boom it can however mean accommodation is hard to come by so book well ahead.

Find accommodation in Darwin to suit your budget at Agoda.com

The Darwin wave pool. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

I came back to Brisbane full of praise for the city, something friends at home couldn’t quite fathom, particularly ones that had been there before. But these comments from Charles Rawlings-Way, one of the Lonely Planet authors for Darwin, were spot on.

“It is a bit of a surprise for Australians in particular to see Darwin shaping up as a vibrant tourist destination,” Mr Rawlings-Way said.

The city has had a major face-lift in recent times, growing from a town full of fisherman, hippies and “redneck truckers” to a very young and energetic city, he said.

“In the 80s and even 90s it was pretty grim up there and its appeal was limited. Cyclone Tracey levelled the place and taken long time for Darwin to rebuild from that,” he said.

“Darwin is gathering pace, it’s not somewhere Aussies think of going for a holiday but its position is really interesting in the world.”

While Lonely Planet now has a new list of top cities to visit in 2013, and Darwin is not on that list, it’s still a fantastic place to visit this year.

A suitably impressive sunset at Mindil Beach. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com


Find accommodation in Darwin to suit your budget at Agoda.com

In pictures: From the top end, Darwin unearthed
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