Darwin is Australia’s top end capital city. Although remarkably small, its quiet, relaxed vibe is a natural gateway for those seeking adventure in the Northern Territory. Attractions like Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks, Katherine Gorge, crocodile spotting and outback desert experiences await unsuspecting visitors. This time however, we were not in Darwin for any of these reasons, rather to catch a cruise ship to Singapore which also happened to coincide with the celebration of our first wedding anniversary.
We arrived on a Saturday to spend two days before our departure and to sample what surprises Darwin had to offer. The weather was at its best, perfect early days of August were dry, mildly hot, low humidity and brilliant sunny, blue skies stretching endlessly into the ‘never never’. Our Uber driver said, “It doesn’t get better than this in Darwin”.
With military bases all around Darwin packed with Australian sailors, army and airforce personnel, as well as a major United States marine base located close by, it’s no wonder there are good looking hunks everywhere in this steamy, sizzling part of the country.
On check in at our hotel we discovered the Darwin Cup (see this 2020 suggested itinerary) was being held the same weekend we were in town.
The carnival atmosphere permeated the city centre and the Waterfront with its free outdoor stage shows, Wave Lagoon thrills, undiscovered buskers, and night lantern shows, which all preceded a Gala Ball and culminated in the highly prized horse races. The first weekend in August is indeed the best time to visit Darwin.
The main area in Darwin for tourists is the Waterfront Precinct with hotels, an Oyster Bar, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. We were spoilt for choice. The Waterfront also has a small lagoon where tourists relax on the grass listening to cool tones from a guitarist while pondering what they might purchase in the market stalls dotted around the adjoining park.
We caught up with friends the first night at Manoli’s Greek Taverna in Smith Street. From the moment you enter you can’t help but recognise the Greek family hospitality which welcomes you. The food was fresh and delicious and the bouzouki player in the background set the mood perfectly and rounded out a totally fun night.
Conveniently located right next door was Throb Nightclub, the only gay venue in town. The place is open only on Friday and Saturday nights and by the look of the eye candy going in, the place attracts a very good looking crowd. On this occasion we opted to finish our night with a couple of drinks at the chill out open air bar at Brown’s Mart, a theatre space which sometimes doubles as a nightclub. This was a quieter but more appropriate option for a longer catch up with friends we hadn’t seen for some time, so Throb will have to wait for a return visit.
The next day we pondered a tour on the Red Bus around Darwin or an Army Truck ride to the Darwin War Museum. We decided on the lazy option back down by the Waterfront, starting with a coffee at Lime Cafe, a swim in the Lagoon and a beautiful Asian lunch at Chow Restaurant. The chicken Phô, crispy pork spring rolls and spicy Nasi Goreng were authentic and sensational. After a walk around the town centre we returned to our hotel to prepare ourselves for a special dinner.
We had a long standing booking at Pee Wee’s at the Point Restaurant for our first wedding anniversary and, with the Darwin Cup the next day, the restaurant was totally packed. The location overlooking Fannie Bay is simply stunning. Some diners ate early to catch the famous orange sunset over the Point. However, we arrived on dark and started with a glass of French bubbly, as you do to begin any significant anniversary. The twinkling lights of Darwin stretched around the bay and we were seated right next to the lapping water which made the moment and the celebration very special indeed.
For entrée we opted for the gourmet sharing plate, a delectable selection of tantalising, marinated seafood treats with an accompaniment of homemade pâté. For main we both chose the double roasted half duck with prosciutto wrapped asparagus spears, pastry fleuron, finished with Kakadu plum and tamarind sauce, a taste sensation. Dessert consisted of Fifty Shades of Chocolate and the Cassava Cake with orange syrup and pink pepper ice cream, and both were heavenly. This meal really showcased the best produce the top end has to offer in one of the most romantic settings you could ever wish for.
The following day our friends called us to wish us a happy anniversary and told us they had been a lot more adventurous and spent their day exploring Wangi Falls and Plunge Pool in the Lichfield National Park.
While swimming and enjoying the extraordinary natural beauty and serenity of the place the local rangers descended on the pool and raised the alarm for all swimmers to exit the water immediately because a croc had been spotted. Just another day enjoying the exciting fauna and flora of Darwin and it’s surrounds.
The next morning we met our friends for a final coffee catch up at their hotel, Oaks Elan Darwin. The hotel has great views all over Darwin and a great restaurant. With their newly purchased race hats they were off to the Darwin Cup. We walked to the Harbourside to see if our ship had arrived. There it stood in its magnificent marine livery, eagerly anticipating our arrival and the exciting journey to Singapore.
As it was the 5th Of August and International Oyster Day how could we pass up the opportunity to visit the Oyster Bar for a dozen freshly sucked oysters and a cold, crisp glass of rosé to finish our visit to this delightful city? To top off a delicious experience there were some tempting, shirtless backpackers sunning themselves on the lawns below. It was hard to drag ourselves away but it was time to board the ship.
Darwin for us was not the usual experience of National Parks, swimming in waterholes and visiting museums. However we found the city on the Darwin Cup long weekend abuzz with wall to wall men, busy social bars and restaurants and discovered the Waterfront, the perfect place to enjoy Darwin at its very best.