The Last Frontier

History hasn’t always been kind to Darwin – often labelled as Australia’s Last Frontier – but in recent years the steamy capital of the Northern Territory (known as the ‘Top End’) has been transformed into one of the country’s most modern cities. If you like your crocodiles combined with sophisticated galleries and museums and great shopping (think South Sea pearls and wonderful indigenous art), then Darwin won’t disappoint. To top it off, you’re almost guaranteed the magnificent sight of a fiery red sunset over the Arafura Sea.

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What to do in Darwin

Pick up a copy of the local NT News and it’s soon apparent that crocodiles are a continuing source of fascination here. Crocs are almost synonymous with the Northern Territory and there are plenty of places where you can get (safely) up close and personal with these prehistoric monsters.

Downtown Darwin is home to Crocosaurus Cove, the inner-city habitat of several huge crocs including Chopper, who weighs in at 790kg, plus some 70 species of reptile from the Top End. Test your nerve in the ‘Cage of Death’ by being lowered into their waters, but be warned: these territorial creatures aren’t usually happy with the intrusion, as the scratch marks on the 145mm thick walls of the cage attest. Another great place to see Australian wildlife is the Territory Wildlife Park, where you’ll find freshwater crocodiles, wallabies, water monitors, and birdlife.

From its front-line role in WW II (Darwin was bombed 64 times) to the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974, this is a city with many stories to tell. Both events take centre stage at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. In the Cyclone Tracy gallery, stand in a small, dark room as the sound of the cyclone rages around you. At Stokes Hill Wharf, the combined Royal Flying Doctor Service/Bombing of Darwin Harbour museum tells the story of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, founded in 1939, and of Darwin’s wartime history. Make time for the seven-minute virtual reality experience, which transports you to the bombings of 1942.

Finding gifts to take home is easy at Darwin’s colourful markets. On Saturdays, the Parap Markets are a small but exotic taste of Asia; on Thursdays and Sundays (April to October), head to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market for cheap eats, live music, street performers and arts-and-crafts stalls. At dusk, everyone flocks to the sand to watch the sun sink into the sea.

Darwin is also the perfect base to explore two of Australia’s wonderful national parks: Litchfield National Park, with its hundreds of fantastic red ‘magnetic’ termite mounds (some up to six feet high) is an ideal day trip, while longer is needed for the World Heritage listed Kakadu, about 257km east of Darwin.

Life in Darwin is different from elsewhere in Australia: isolation, monsoons, crocodiles, snakes and other dangers make life tough in the Top End, but it’s certainly a city you won’t forget in a hurry.

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