Venture to Australia’s Top End between April and October, and you can enjoy Darwin at its sunny, lively best, with everything from jumping crocodiles to didgeridoo drum 'n' bass
Darwin is a tiny speck of remote civilisation at the brink of the vast Northern Territory, and closer to Asian cities than most of its Australian counterparts. As such, it shares the same tropical climate, with a wet season from around November to March, which sees extreme heat, humidity and downpours, and a more temperate dry season from April to October. This is when the weather transforms into faultlessly sunny days and mild nights, and Darwin’s many attractions are best enjoyed.
Due to its location and large Aboriginal population, Darwin is extremely diverse and has a unique culture. A good place to experience this is the Mindil beach sunset market (Thursdays 5-10pm and Sundays 4pm-9pm, from 30th April; www.mindil.com.au). Stalls, performers and music attract the crowds to the beachfront, along with an abundance of dishes from around the world. Head to the Road Kill Café, where barbecued possum and crocodile are among the delicacies on offer, and don’t miss the fusion of traditional didgeridoo with drum 'n’ bass rhythms produced by the unforgettable eMDee, who have young and old alike dancing in the sand.
Music is a vital part of Darwin’s culture and is celebrated in August in the Darwin Festival, which showcases local and guest performing artists and dance groups. Everyone gets involved to experience live open-air performances, whether they're taking place on stage or given at an impromptu private after-party by a local Aboriginal man with a guitar and a catchy one-song repertoire. Also in the dry season is the infamous Beer Can Regatta (July), which takes place on Mindil beach and sees extraordinary creations made from beer cans embark on a perilous voyage out to sea. Spectators can try their hand at the Thong (flip-flop) Throwing competition - the champion can expect some glory in the local newspaper and the respect of all the locals.
Darwin exploits its positioning as a port with fantastic seafood restaurants and fishing opportunities. For those who would like to get close to some live fish, there’s the chance to hand-feed them at Aquascene (www.aquascene.com.au), a private residence that opens itself up to the public every day and provides information about the varied local species. For the non-squeamish looking for a rather bizarre sensation, the fish don’t seem to mind where they take the bread from, be it a hand or a pair of toes.
Darwin offers endless opportunities to explore nature, as it boasts several outstanding national parks on its doorstep. These include Litchfield, which is close enough to be done in a day trip and has idyllic natural pools and waterfalls for swimming in. For a real outback adventure, head to World Heritage-listed Kakadu, where you can explore nearly 20,000 square kilometres of natural and geographical beauty, as well as seeing some of the best Aboriginal rock art in Australia. However, hold off from having a dip here, as it is notorious for its population of crocodiles, one of Darwin’s trademarks and another key industry alongside fishing. For the best crocodile experience, take a riverboat tour to see the jumping crocodiles on the Adelaide river. These are not to be missed, and deliver exactly what they promise; huge, 6ft crocodiles leaping out of the river and snapping their jaws around meat being dangled from a wizened tour guide, who will have so many stories the two-hour trip will fly by (www.jumpingcrocodilecruises.com.au).
If this sounds a little bit daunting, pop down Mitchell Street to Melaleuca on Mitchell, a hostel where they have their very own resident baby crocodile, which it's possible to have a hold of it (with its jaws securely closed, of course). In fact, this hostel is a real gem for backpackers, offering budget accomodation with two pools, a plunge pool, bar, pool table and darts board. It’s also next door to a popular Darwin hangout called The Tap, an open-air bar with a famous tree growing up through the middle of it - climb it, and you won’t be going there again for one of their gigantic fish-bowl cocktails. The backpacker scene explodes in the dry season, and from live music acts at superclub Discovery to cheap food and dancing on tables at the Vic, there’s enough to entertain the masses at night.