Buffalo and camel burgers followed by a night in the basement of a converted old-style stilt house - what better way for LEO OWEN to say goodbye to Australia's Northern Territory
Nearer to Indonesia than any other Australian state capital, Darwin is famously a place where bizarre things happen. The first local newspaper headline we see doesn’t disappoint: ‘Nude Bandit Robs Motel’.
With its hotels, motels, hostels, bars and restaurants, Mitchell Street is clearly the place to be (or to avoid) pretty much any night of the week. This is where Ibiza fans and younger tourists can revel in pumping bar music and wet T-shirt competitions.
The real Darwin
In contrast, Rapid Creek and Nightcliff markets provide a more authentic slice of local life with cheaper and less touristy souvenirs.
Bicentennial Park, along the Esplanade, and Lake Alexander are great places to stretch the legs – but think carefully before entering the water. Although it’s supposed to be safe to swim her, signs proclaiming ‘Swim At Your Own Risk’ seem to suggest otherwise.
Crocodylus Park is devoted to the Northern Territories’ most famous locals, and offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with these terrifying creatures.
The sheer height these reptiles are able to lunge to reach the meat dangling above the enclosure from fishing lines is awesome, while the powerful sound of their gnashers smacking is frankly jaw-dropping.
To top this surreal experience, I suddenly have the inexplicable urge to hold a baby croc and coil a ginger snake around my neck.
Afterwards, nerves still in check, I’m relieved to drop off a now exceedingly lived-in 23 day-old camper van.
Temporary home deposited, we finally venture into Darwin’s centre, grabbing a tasty snack in Parap market before bunking down at local legend ‘The Cav’.
Offering welcome respite from the heat and humidity, the impressive Parliament House, the vast Northern Territory museum/art galleries and Fannie Bay Gaol are all well worth a visit.
During the wet season, the temperature in Darwin hits between 31 and 36 degrees celsius on average – but for a more accurate sense of how it feels in the extreme humidity, add an extra seven to ten degrees.
This city is known for its tropical cyclones and monsoon rains. On Christmas Day 1974, Cyclone Tracy mercilessly devastated Darwin, leaving only 400 of the original flimsy structures standing and forcing the evacuation of the entire population.
Our last days in Darwin are spent visiting one of these surviving houses, having met yet another fascinating and extremely hospitable local: an ex-music journalist who’s now a novelist, and author of the Northern Territory Book Of The Year.
Holed up in his affectionately named lattice-work walled ‘bunker’, we finally gain some insight into the reality of the relationship between the aboriginal and so-called ‘white’ communities.
Bodies wilted but minds enlightened, it’s time to leave this weird city where anything goes.
Having seen the beauty of Darwin’s luscious wet season, survived its punishing heat and made friends with the locals, we’re keen to return and take on Darwin’s dry season.
Need to Know
Australian tourist visas are valid for 12 months, permitting a maximum stay of 90 days for a mere £20. They are now issued electronically and known as Electronic Travel Authority or ETA and are available at this Australian travel website.
British Airways flies London to Darwin from £598.
The Australian wet season runs for approximately six months between December and March.