Darwin is a town located in the top bit of the rugged outback of the Northern Territory in Australia. A thriving social microcosm, the population is roughly divided into rednecks and hippies. Beer is plentiful, and flows freely. Impress the locals with your worldly wit and you're bound to get some action.
Despite its rough and ready reputation, Darwin is a nice town, rebuilt and modern after Cyclone Tracy wiped it out in 1974, and obviously full of freaks, like all places at the end of long roads with nowhere else to go. People pull in here and just stay.
If your car breaks down, you will get help. If you see someone broken down, help them. Share your booze, and booze will be shared with you. And finally, carry spare water and petrol in your car.
Darwin's environs is rich in all the wildlife inevitably associated with Australia, such as kangaroos, goannas, and koalas. The city parks and gardens of Darwin attract many of the regions incredible variety of birds and butterflies. Of all the abundant native fauna, two ancient inhabitants command instant respect:
Salt Water Crocodile - This 'critter' has existed in its current form (or one very like it) for several millennia and has seen no need to change. Where is the evolution in that? Why has it stagnated in this backwater of evolution when everything else was off inventing the wheel, marvelling at fire or playing with their opposable thumbs? It 'stagnated' because it is the perfect estuarine killing machine and can take down a large buffalo in no time flat... let alone a soft, squishy human.
Traps are set in Darwin Harbour, in order to control the number of salties1; and not being eaten by one is fairly easy if you avoid hanging about on the banks of creeks or star gazing on the beach. Swimming, of course, is right out... even if you're Ian Thorpe.
Box Jellyfish - This is one of the major predators in the region and it can't even lay claim to volition. This creature appears here, when the wind sees fit, for around six months and then is blown away again, after causing several cases of horrific scaring and a heart attack or two.
Do not swim between October to May or you risk being attacked by box jellyfish. If you do get stung, do not do the usual routine of urinating on the wound to dull the pain. Any native of Darwin worth his salt carries a bottle of vinegar to achieve the same purpose, so make sure you bring some too.
Between them, these two animals are, by virtue of the fact that they make the beach a dangerous place, the worst things about Darwin; although they certainly make the place interesting. For six months of the year you can't go in the water for fear of an almost certain exposure to horrific injuries due to a box jellyfish sting, and for 12 months there is a decent chance that a raw hand bag is going to take you from your beach towel and swallow you whole.
The vast majority of tourist accommodation, even camping grounds, will have at least one pool; and virtually every indoor venue is air-conditioned. So, although the Timor Sea and the creeks may be tempting, staying out of them is no real hardship.
Dry Season - If there was ever a city that required access to a decent beach it is Darwin. In the Australian winter the weather is great, fantastic even: 30 - 32°C for six months; and if you see two clouds in a day it is called overcast. This is the best weather ever for getting into the water, if it weren't for the horrors lurking below.
Wet Season - Then for the other six months, the Australian summer, the weather is 32 - 34°C, with a humidity of around 95% on average. While the temperature is not that hot, it is the humidity that is the killer. As any one who has spent any time in high humidity will attest, it is like hell... only wetter.
Most of the people that you meet in Darwin will fall into two categories. The first category is that of the Locals. The other category is the Visitors.
Visitors move through Darwin with startling alacrity. They all disgorge from the buses and planes full of high hopes and grand plans, that are quickly either melted by the heat or eaten by a crocodile. Some profess a desire to stay here and work; and some even go so far as to get jobs. These jobs rarely last long, usually just long enough to get the money required to buy a ticket out of Darwin.
The locals in Darwin will like to get to know you if you do venture to Darwin, as there is a good possibility that you are not related to them... as most of the other locals tend to be. The visitors may befriend you and tell you grand stories about the adventures they have had, the places they have seen, and the jobs they work at. They will then just as quickly and with a silver tongue try to sell you their tickets to 'places they cant get to' or get you to take over their jobs so they don't need to give the boss notice. When this happens, and it will, think carefully about why they are getting rid of the stuff before you part with any money.
If Darwin had a beach that was safe, then maybe other things would rank higher on the social agenda; and people would spend less time drinking. There isn't, so they do. Several cities and places throughout the world think they know how to drink, but nowhere else is quite like Darwin.
While Australia as a country makes a good showing every year in the annual beer consumption figures, Darwin has the highest annual beer consumption per capita of any city in the world. This is helped in some small part by the back packers who flock here during the dry season and in some big part by the locals during the wet season.
When and Where
Come in the dry season - April to July is best - and you will have a good time. The beer is cold and plentiful and the locals are OK. Most transient residents of Darwin will spend a lot of time on Mitchell Street. This has all three of the major pubs in Darwin on it within 600 metres of each other. There are several that offer cheap food for travellers, such as, Blue Healer Bar, Mitchell St, and The Vic, Smith St Mall, and a few others. Offers like 'buy a pint of beer and receive a meal' are commonplace in the dry season.
The Darwin Museum is excellent, as are the numerous war memorials dotting the landscape. The Aviation Museum has an impressive B-52, one of only four on display in the world. Visit the territory wildlife park too: it is world-class.
Darwin, like many places in the tropics, is where Mother Nature shows her extremes. Watching things go green overnight, as the first rains hit after 'the dry', is magical. Places like Kakadu National Park and the Katherine Gorge are world-renowned natural heritage areas for good reason.
In the morning, have a coffee at the Roma Bar on Cavenagh St, recommended variously by locals and former locals as 'the place where the hoi polloi hangs out' and 'Communist Party HQ, as far as the establishment is concerned'. The owner's brother ran the royal commission into corruption in Queensland in the early 1980s. Good coffee, too.