Our next stop in our travels in Australia is Darwin which is the youngest of the Australian capitals and it is the only seaport in the Northern Territory. This city mixes its culture and food with an Asian flair. It offers great museums, beautiful gardens and vibrant waterfronts.
Visitors to Darwin really love the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, held every Thursday and Sunday evening from April 25 to October. Among the highlights at the market is the food offering Thai, Sri Lankan, Portuguese, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Brazilian and Malaysian cuisines. There is also a selection of unique gifts and while you’re enjoying the market you can delight in the lovely sunset all about.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is located in a tropical garden on Darwin Harbor. The gallery offers an impressive collection of Aboriginal, Southeast Asian and Oceanic art. There are also artworks by Australian painters. A must to see is “Sweetheart” the stuffed crocodile which is one of the largest captured in northern Australia. Visitors can look into the region’s ecology in The Natural History Room. Some of the other highlights are exhibits on local history, among them photos of Darwin before and after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. When you’re done touring the complex you can relax in the cafe.
An exciting area to visit is the Darwin Wharf Precinct packed with shops, restaurants, entertainment places and attractions. Visitors can do some shopping or embark on a harbor cruise. You can look into the history of pearl fishing at the Australian Pearling Exhibition and visit the large aquarium, Indo Pacific Marine with living corals and tropical creatures.
Among the popular attractions is the Deckchair Cinema, operated by the Darwin Film Society. This open-air cinema features films seven days a week during the dry season. On hot days families can enjoy the Wave and Recreation Lagoon.
Commemorating the bombing of Darwin in 1942 is the Darwin Military Museum. Here multimedia presentations and firsthand accounts tell the story of Darwin’s role in WW II and explores the impact of the war on the city’s residents. The museum is located in a beautiful setting surrounded by tropical gardens near the sea in the East Point Nature Reserve.
Visitors can see 19 aircraft at the Australian Aviation Heritage Center, among them Sabre jets, a Spitfire replica and helicopters. There are videos on aviation and the bombing of Darwin.
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens stretch for 42 hectares. Here both estuary and marine plants grow naturally. These gardens were laid out in 1891 by Russian immigrant Maurice Holtze. There are many tropical plants including both native and exotic species. Among the highlights are palms, a miniature rain forest with a waterfall and pond, an orchid garden and a collection of baobabs in the woodland section. Visitors can walk along a network of paths. An amphitheater gives live performances.
Right in the heart of Darwin’s central business district is Crocosaurus Cove, with the largest display of Australian reptiles in the world. Those who love wildlife can come face to face with the formidable saltwater crocodile in the “Cage of Death”. Visitors can feed the crocs, check out the barramundi and sawfish in the aquarium.
Darwin’s wide streets offer visitors lots to delight in such as lots of shops and galleries that sell everything from didgeridoos to leather goods and Aboriginal bark paintings. There are many modern buildings among some distinctive landmarks such as the Christchurch Cathedral that was damaged by Japanese bombing during WW II and destroyed by Cyclone Tracy. The cathedral is an octagonal building with a narrow porch and adjoining wall, which survived the cyclone.
An impressive colonial style white building is the Government House, built between 1870 and 1878. It stands 70 m above the sea with great views of the harbor.
Take a walk on the Esplanade that stretches along the lovely Bicentennial Park. It runs north from Government House to Old Admiralty House. There is also the Chinese Temple built in 1887 for Darwin’s Chinese community.
In the courtyard of the Civic Center you’ll find the Tree of Knowledge, a sprawling banyan tree that offers plenty of shade in summer days.
When it is high tide at the north end of the Esplanade at Doctor’s Gully tourists gather to hand feed hundreds of friendly mullet, milkfish, batfish, barramundi and bream. This has been happening since the 1950s and has become a popular tourist attraction known as Aquascene. Children particularly love feeding the fish.
Those who enjoy wildlife can take a 45-minute drive south of Darwin to the Territory Wildlife Park. This is a popular wildlife park that has become home to many animals from the region living in wetland, woodland and monsoon vine forest habitats. There are walking trails and free shuttle links between attractions including an aquarium, aviary and nocturnal house. Among the highlights are the excellent raptor show, the spitting archerfish and freshwater whipray encounters.
When you want to see so much more and commune with nature it’s time to get out into the great outdoors. The Olgas or Kata Tjuta which to the Aboriginal people translates to “many heads” derives its name from the amazing group of 36 massive red rock outcrops making up this natural wonder. The highest of these outcrops is Mount Olga rising 546 meters above the desert floor. Visitors can take one hour to five hour walks through the gorges and around the outcrops.
Some of the best 4 WD tracks in Australia can be found in The Simpson Desert. There are many undulating sand dunes and the desert is also home to some fantastic geological monuments among them Chambers Pillar, Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve and Rainbow Valley. These vast red plains and impressive natural landmarks had a deep significance to the local Arrernte people.
Like a single beacon Chambers Pillar rises up from the red plains and was a navigational landmark to the early pioneers. You can walk up the hill to the 50 meter sandstone pillar’s base and see the markings that were once made by 19th century explorers, who carved their names into the sandstone.
You’ll find the incredible Devil’s Marbles here. These are huge granite boulders scattered across a wide, shallow valley 100 kilometers south of Tennant Creek. They are located in the traditional country of the Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra and Warlpiri people. These people call the Devil’s Marbles Karlu Karlu which literally means “round boulders”. These were found by erosion millions of years ago and are made of granite. They vary in size from 50 cm up to six m across. A lot of these giant stones are precariously balance one atop of the other. Today they continue to crack and erode.
Finally if you are really into something wild and crazy and totally unusual then get to Alice Springs on the last Sunday in August when a sailing and rowing regatta is held upon a dry river bed. It’s called the Henley-on-Todd – an annual regatta. You can see such things are pirate ship firing flour bombs, people paddling canoes with sand shovels and even bathtubs on legs. At this time the sandy bed of the Todd River becomes a race track. There are Vikings shooting water cannons from their battle ships and life-savers hauling swimmers from the sand. After all where else can you see bottomless yachts and white water kayaks, five-person boogie boards and sand skis.