Darwin is the place to be: fishing, crocs, art and breath-taking sunsets

Dinner with a view on a catamaran with Darwin Harbour Cruises. Picture: Michael Turtle
Dinner with a view on a catamaran with Darwin Harbour Cruises. Picture: Michael Turtle

I don't consider myself much of a fisherman - and it seems the barramundi agree. But Dorian Rondot has some reassuring words for me.

"Barras are assholes," he says.

"They're very moody and temperamental. You can see them there and unless they want to eat, they won't touch anything. You can see why it's so hard out in the wild and why it's so rewarding when you catch one."

Luckily Dorian has made it a bit easier and created Barramundi Adventures, just outside of Darwin. He's created a controlled fishing environment where you can cast in a line from a deck into a large pool well stocked with Barramundi.

It still takes skill and technique (and a bit of luck) but if you're struggling by the end of your session, Dorian has a few tricks up his sleeve - which is nice for visitors like me who don't want to be bettered by a fussy fish.

Successful fishers Emma Jolley and Chase and Addison Bradbury (L-R) at Barramundi Adventures. Picture: Michael Turtle

Successful fishers Emma Jolley and Chase and Addison Bradbury (L-R) at Barramundi Adventures. Picture: Michael Turtle

"When you come to Darwin, you've got the three bucket list things you've gotta do - go to the waterfalls, see a crocodile, catch a barra," he tells me.

So, having caught a barramundi (yes, Dorian helped), and knowing I'll be seeing waterfalls at Litchfield National Park the next day, I need to tick off the crocodile... so I head to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

It's cheating, I know, but it's here I find Sweetheart, Darwin's most famous saltwater crocodile. The 780-kilogram beast became notorious in the 1970s for attacking boats around the city and, after his accidental death, was stuffed and taken on tour, his 5.1-metre length aweing crowds around the country.

These days Sweetheart stares, jaws agape, into the gallery currently holding the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, a wonderful collection of works with traditional and contemporary influence, on display until January 31.

Darwin's famous crocodile, Sweetheart, at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Picture: Michael Turtle

Darwin's famous crocodile, Sweetheart, at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Picture: Michael Turtle

The most popular permanent exhibition here takes you through the story of 1974's Cyclone Tracy which changed the shape of the city - physically and figuratively. Along with recreations of living rooms and damaged property, it presents media from the time. A headline from 1970 catches my eye: "Darwin as cultural capital of the north" in relation to the formation of the museum (which moved to its current location after the original was damaged in the cyclone).

Some of the street art in the alleys of Darwin's CBD. Picture: Michael Turtle

Some of the street art in the alleys of Darwin's CBD. Picture: Michael Turtle

I feel the headline wouldn't look out of place in the Darwin of today, which has lived up to that promise and continues to add new features every year. You might even call it a cultural evolution (something Darwin's namesake would probably appreciate).

An obvious recent change is the city's street art, a product of the Darwin Street Art Festival that began in 2017. There are now more than 50 large colourful murals in the CBD, many related to local issues.

Recent years have also seen the openings of more new bars and cafes than usual and, if you haven't been to Darwin for a while, you might find the city is quite different to the one you remember.

One of the latest restaurants is Phat Mango, only a few weeks old, where I eat a laksa with crocodile (possibly contradicting natural selection's food chain).

Phat Mango, one of Darwin's newest restaurants. Picture: Michael Turtle

Phat Mango, one of Darwin's newest restaurants. Picture: Michael Turtle

It's one of 68 dishes that are part of the Darwin International Laksa Festival, running until November 29, which celebrates the Top End's love of the dish.

The festival intentionally falls in the wet season, when tourist numbers can drop.

But, although the weather does get hotter and more humid, with more chance of afternoon storms, it can be a fantastic time to visit. (And the NT Government is currently offering up to $1000 off a holiday until the end of March.)

Some of the works in the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Picture: Michael Turtle

Some of the works in the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Picture: Michael Turtle

I do question why it's called the wet season, with the sun shining brightly on the afternoon that I jump on a jet ski and head out into Darwin Harbour with the new 00Seven Jet Ski Adventures.

Our guide, Dan Broeckx, leads the small group of riders by creating a trail to follow in his wake, leading us across the harbour and down an estuary.

When I ask if there are any crocodiles in the brackish water, he gives me a quizzical look and replies "Uhhhh... yeah!" with the tone a naive Southerner like me probably deserves.

Dan Broeckx leads a tour of Darwin Harbour with 00Seven Jet Ski Adventures. Picture: Michael Turtle

Dan Broeckx leads a tour of Darwin Harbour with 00Seven Jet Ski Adventures. Picture: Michael Turtle

Of course, we're not going to come across any crocs on the jet ski (the days of Sweetheart attacking dinghies is long gone) and the adrenaline instead comes from the sharp turns and sprints as we bounce across the water.

Amongst the action, there's still plenty of time to take in the views of Darwin from across the harbour and then up close, as we ride beneath the oldest building in the NT, Government House with its white tropical verandah, and the imposing modern Parliament House nearby.

There's even more time to take in the view when I pass through the same waters another evening on a sunset cruise, sitting back with a glass of bubbly on board a catamaran with Darwin Harbour Cruises. You can choose to have dinner included, with an excellent selection of fresh seafood, or just relax on the upper deck with panoramic views.

It seems a bit strange to be so relaxed for a few hours on a visit that's been full of adventure, from fishing to jet skis, eating crocodile and exploring the street art. But that's part of the variety Darwin offers, and it's a good taste of what lies beyond the city limits.

The wave pool at the Waterfront, on the edge of Darwin Harbour. Picture: Michael Turtle

The wave pool at the Waterfront, on the edge of Darwin Harbour. Picture: Michael Turtle

WHAT TO DO:

WHERE TO EAT:

WHERE TO DRINK:

  • For great coffee, head to Postie (which also serves generous toasties)
  • With a raintree terrace, Charlie's of Darwin is a wonderful new gin bar
  • You'll find a fantastic atmosphere and cocktails at The Trader Bar
  • Or relax by the water at the famous Darwin Ski Club, which has been here for 50 years!

WHERE TO STAY:

Michael Turtle will be bringing you new ideas each week for travel within Australia. He was supported by Tourism Australia and Tourism Northern Territory. You can see more details on his Travel Australia Today website.

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This story Darwin is the place to be: fishing, crocs, art and breath-taking sunsets first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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