Gallery of art, history, cinema and street food

Darwin's Waterfront Precinct.PHOTO: PAM JONES
Darwin's Waterfront Precinct.PHOTO: PAM JONES
Spicy salt squid at "Chow", on the Darwin waterfront. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Spicy salt squid at "Chow", on the Darwin waterfront. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Stokes Hill Wharft, Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Stokes Hill Wharft, Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Bust of Charles Darwin in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Bust of Charles Darwin in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Darwin Tours owner Rob Marchant shows one of the interpretative panels in Darwin's World War 2...
Darwin Tours owner Rob Marchant shows one of the interpretative panels in Darwin's World War 2 Oil Storage Tunnels. PHOTO: PAM JONES
The annual Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards exhibition at the...
The annual Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
RFDS Darwin Tourist facility manager Sam Bennett. PHOTO: PAM JONES
RFDS Darwin Tourist facility manager Sam Bennett. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Darwin's Deckchair Cinema. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Darwin's Deckchair Cinema. PHOTO: PAM JONES

Crocs and culture provide a walk on the wild side during an adventure in Darwin for Pam Jones who, in the second of a two-part Northern Territory series, reflects on the city's adrenaline vibe and softer side. 

Sometimes you need to embrace your inner tourist.

So sure, I'll throw the husband into the water with a saltwater crocodile, 5m of prehistoric reptile eyeballing him and giving the odd nudge now and then.

Forget Crocodile Rock, this is a crocodile dive. A "cage of death", they call it, where you sign your life away through a disclaimer delivered by a staff member who simultaneously makes croc jokes and soothes your nerves.

Life insurance up to date? Yep. Underwater GoPro charged up? Goes without saying.

Nuno Vilela, of Alexandra, meets a croc through a perspex screen at Crocosaurus Cove, in Darwin....
Nuno Vilela, of Alexandra, meets a croc through a perspex screen at Crocosaurus Cove, in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
So dive away as you are lowered in a perspex cylinder into the concrete croc enclosure at Crocosaurus Cove, then come up for air and choose a bar in which to celebrate with a drink and snacks. Crocodile spring rolls anyone? Wild crocodiles deserve our respect. But farmed ones suffer the same fate as the mammals we digest all the time.

The cove was a touristy experience, but there's nothing like diving with a croc to get your heart thumping and set the tone for adventure.

Darwin's a city on the move, both relaxed and adventurous, where you feel like you're always on the brink of something (a subtropical downpour here, a croc encounter there).

But, of course, there's more to it than crocs.

We find art galleries and historic experiences, sunsets and streetfood as we explore the well-kept streets and learn about the Northern Territory's contribution to outback rescue and wartime, both honoured in the RFDS Darwin Tourist Facility.

This is a stylish and gripping "two for one" experience, combining the story of the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) with static and interactive displays about the bombing of Darwin during World War 2.

Lawrence Walker, of "Paella @ Sunset" serves up dinner at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, in...
Lawrence Walker, of "Paella @ Sunset" serves up dinner at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
The facility's virtual reality technology is award-winning (and tear-bringing), visitors are immersed through a headset simulator into the February 19, 1942, bombing of Darwin that killed 237 people.

There are also storyboard and hologram displays, a full-size replica Japanese Zero hanging from the ceiling, and a replica of Camilla, the flying boat that escaped Darwin Harbour.

The RFDS service is also honoured, an actual RFDS plane on show apparently a special drawcard for those who have been rescued and sometimes return to take another look at the plane during calmer circumstances.

The harbourside facility is on Stokes Hill Wharf, which also boasts a mix of eateries providing anything from mango smoothies to Asian food to beer-battered barramundi.

Nearby, the Darwin Waterfront Precinct has an even greater array of cuisine, including the rightly-famous, so-good-we-went-there-twice Chow, which dished up a spicy salt squid; a creamy roast duck laksa; and a caramelised fish clay pot, blending Atlantic salmon with pork belly in a salty caramel sauce.

On the way we had called in at another Darwin institution, the Deckchair Cinema.

The outdoor cinema has an "American '50s" vibe as soft rock `n' roll drifts out from speakers while people amble in.

The sun was setting while cinema-goers chose a cushion and a snack and we wished we weren't due somewhere else so we could sit back and watch a screening. Sunday is an especially big day for the cinema, which has a "something for everyone" mix of movies and donates the proceeds from alcoholic drinks sold at the bar every Sunday to Darwin-based community groups.

We also spent a morning at the World War 2 oil storage tunnels, built following the bombing of the fuel oil storage tanks at nearby Stokes Hill in the first Japanese air raid.

They were amazing, whether you were a war historian or not: a series of connected underground tunnels - the longest nearly 200m long - reopened in 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin. In 2015, impressive interpretation boards were installed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Anzac Gallipoli landing.

Turned out, the tunnels leaked and were never actually used to store oil, but now they're a pretty incredible tourist attraction, honouring those who contributed to the war effort and reminding of the idiocy of war in the first place. Take a tour with the truly excellent Rob Marchant, of Darwin Tours, to get the most out of this experience.

We also filled one of our days with art.

There's no shortage of it in Darwin, at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), numerous smaller galleries and shops selling Aboriginal art, and the occasional street installation.

We already know some Aboriginal art outlets provide particular encouragement and payment to Aboriginal artists (that's a story for another time), and visit four especially ethical galleries recommended to us: Provenance Arts, Aboriginal Bush Traders, Mbantua Gallery and Aboriginal Fine Arts Gallery.

Street art in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Street art in Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Provenance and Bush Traders are indigenous owned and put profits back into initiatives such as demonstrations and workshops delivered by Aboriginal artists, their galleries having become community and cultural hubs.

All display beautiful work, their authenticated art accompanied by short bios and sometimes photos of the artists.

MAGNT also houses good collections of Aboriginal art, as well as another bonus on our trip - the exhibition for the gallery's annual Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards happened to be on while we were there. The most significant awards of their kind in Australia, the exhibition had a mix of smaller and super-sized works, including some video installations.

We timed our visit to MAGNT with the Thursday Mindil Beach Sunset Markets; they're barely a 30-minute walk apart along the coast (do take a hat, sunnies and bottle of water though).

The Mindil markets are world-famous for a reason and a highlight of our trip.

Arrive early (the markets are held from 4pm-9pm Thursdays and Sundays during the dry season, from April to October) to wander freely around the food, art and craft stalls (there is also live music and entertainment).

The jacuzzi at Palms City Resort, Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
The jacuzzi at Palms City Resort, Darwin. PHOTO: PAM JONES
We eat until we (truly) can't eat any more: there is laksa, souvlaki, paella, curry, churros, stir-fries, sushi burgers, mangos every which way (fresh/juiced/smoothies/dessert) and the (by now) obligatory crocodile spring rolls and gourmet croc and roo burgers.

Then it was back to our fale-style room and jacuzzi at Darwin's Palms City Resort. Did I mention the jacuzzi?!

The Palms City Resort is right by the city and right on the esplanade, an oasis in the middle of Darwin.

As well as the jacuzzis with some rooms (a nice touch of Hollywood glamour in an already exciting/exotic trip), the resort has a tropical-style swimming pool for other guests.

But how lucky were we.

We sat back in the jacuzzi with a cold gin and ice, swept away by the fun of it all, deciding Darwin did the dry season well.

Wouldn't it be great to try the wet season too ...

The facts

Darwin’s heat packs a punch, but it’s completely do-able and actually a lot of fun. If you want cooler/more manageable temperatures, the dry season is between May and October, when the average temperature ranges from about 21degC overnight to 32degC during the day. Humidity levels are also much lower in the dry season, about 60%-65%. If you want to add a little extra spice, the wet season (and its spectacular storms) is from November to April. Temperatures range from 25degC overnight to 33degC during the day, and humidity can reach more than 80%.

As well as exploring the city of Darwin, there are lots of day trips from the area. If you’re heading out, remember to be prepared for the heat and stay ‘‘crocwise’’. For safety tips, visit northernterritory.com/plan/useful-information/safety-information

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

For NT Tourism tips, visit northernterritory.com

For accommodation, palmscityresort.com

For Darwin’s waterfront and World War 2 oil storage tunnels, waterfront.nt.gov.au/darwin-waterfront-precinct/history/world-war-ii-tunnells and waterfront.nt.gov.au/darwin-waterfront-precinct-restaurants-and-eateries

For art, magnt.net.au, facebook.com/provenancearts, aboriginalbushtraders.com, mbantua.com.au and aaia.com.au

For the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, mindil.com.au

For the RFDS Tourist Facility, rfdsdarwin.com.au

Pam Jones travelled with the assistance of Tourism NT

 

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