On my annual trip home to Australia, I decided to visit a place or two outside of my Canberra hometown. Having never been to the Northern Territory, and with one of my best friends living in Darwin, I decided to fly into our northernmost capital and spend a week soaking up the sun (and nursing my jetlag) before heading south for Christmas. Having boarded the plane in the bone-chilling Munich winter, landing in 30-degree heat and 70 percent humidity at the early hour of 5:00 was quite a shock. But, after a tearful greeting at the arrival gate and a 10-minute drive in a beaten-up-corolla, I found myself barefoot on the beach, watching the watercolor streaks of light as the sun rose over the ocean. Just as the colors were painting the sky, I could already sense that Darwin would leave some marks on me, too.
While there are many reasons you should visit Darwin during your Australian vacation, these are my top three motivations!
1 | Natural Beauty
A true nature lover, some of the things I miss most of all from my sunny home country are the wealth of weird and wonderful animals, the plentiful plant life, and the stunning scenery. After being away for a year, arriving in Darwin was like that first sip of beer on a stinking hot day, quenching my thirst for this part of Aussie life that I always miss so much.
The flora and fauna in Darwin is even livelier and brighter than that found down south — black cockatoos squawk noisily as they toss decimated gumnuts from the branches they perch on, the haunting call of the curlew cuts through the night, and huge bats beat their impressive wings as they drift between palm trees.
Unlike other cities where we have built the natural world out, people really co-exist with nature in Darwin. Frogs sit furtively under the toilet seat, geckos kiss at you from the bedroom ceiling, and mushrooms sprout up between the kitchen floorboards.
While I may not have been so fond of this aspect of Darwin if I had come face-to-face with a saltwater croc — responsible for rendering Darwin’s beautiful beaches as un-swimmable — my wildlife experience was thankfully limited to the less harmful creatures. And, although my beach bravado went only as far as getting my ankles wet (every rock and piece of driftwood looked suspiciously reptilian), the coastline was certainly not wasted on me, providing many the stunning sunrises, splendid sunsets, and spectacular lightning shows over the ocean.
2 | Multicultural Atmosphere
You can travel along the well-trodden coastline tracks of Australia, without experiencing much more than the standard metropolitan cities and smaller coastal towns. The larger capitals, such as Melbourne and Sydney, certainly have their flare, and the beach towns — Wollongong, Newcastle, Byron Bay — are perfect for relaxing and soaking up the Aussie sun.
But Australia is much more than its big cities and chilled-out surfing towns. What the typical backpacking routes often fail to provide is exposure to the rich and complex Indigenous cultures. Representing only 2.4 percent of the Australian populace, Indigenous Australians make up 29 percent of the population in the Northern Territory, resulting in a presence and visibility in contrast to the rest of the country. Whether it be Indigenous art galleries showcasing dot paintings on lengths of flattened bark, street buskers blowing hypnotically into their patterned digeridoos, or market stalls selling woven grass baskets, Darwin gave me a sense of Indigenous celebration that I have sadly not experienced elsewhere in Australia.
It is this high percentage of Indigenous Australians, coupled with the large number of immigrants, which makes the Northern Territory the most multicultural region in all of Australia. Given the balmy climate and proximity to south Asia, there is a large Asian population living in Darwin. Such a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures provides for a dynamic and vibrant city, of which I got a small taste at the local Parap markets, as I sampled a plethora of mouthwatering delicacies from all over Asia.
3 | Laidback Lifestyle
Yes — there is much more to Australia than the laidback way of life, but it’s one of those stereotypes that holds true for a reason. Australians are generally a very chilled bunch, but I found this even more so in Darwin. The people I met were particularly friendly, unpretentious, and always up for a chat.
Alongside the small-town friendly feel of Darwin, I wondered if the muggy climate contributed to this relaxed attitude — the warm weather creating a welcoming atmosphere, where locals are happy and unguarded. Unlike larger cities, people seemed to be largely unconcerned with fashion, choosing to simply wear whatever was coolest and most comfortable in the unrelenting heat — linen pants, flowy tops, and flipflops. Acclimatized to Europe’s winter, the Darwin humidity knocked me around at first, and I was embarrassed by the droplets of sweat persistently coating my top lip, and the moist patches that glued my clothes to my body. But I soon realized that sweat was an accepted part of everyday life in Darwin, something that is embraced rather than worried about. Arriving from snowy Munich, I delighted in the opportunity to strip off the layers and let my skin sweat again.
Over the week that I was I Darwin, I was completely blown away by the natural beauty and multicultural atmosphere of the small city and the laid-back lifestyle of the people who call the city home. For these reasons (and more!), Darwin is a must-see for those traveling in the land down under, and looking for a place a little off the beaten travel track.