A city where adventure and spectacle come with the Territory, and where each of Australia's cultural strands have something to offer to the intrepid visitor.
Darwin is as close to a border town as you're going to get on the vast island-continent of Australia. Lying at the tropical tip of northern Australia's coast, it is only a few hundred kilometres from here to Indonesia. The populated coasts around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are over 3000 kilometres away. That makes a Darwin a stand-alone kind of a city.
It's also the sort of city you'll only ever fly into – roads are measured in days, not kilometres. Once here, though, you'll be wowed by the climate (it's as wonderfully sunny in the dry season as it is abysmal in the monsoon), by the beauty of its unspoilt beaches and crystal-blue seas – and by how close you can get to the Dreamtime world of the first Australians. Darwin is the gateway to the splendid isolation of Kakadu National Park, with its rock art, wallabies, lizards and dingoes.
Much of the old town was destroyed by two catastrophic events – the Japanese air raids of 1942, and Cyclone Tracy of 1974. Most of Darwin's buildings had to be rebuilt after that last episode. What it does have is an endless line of unspoilt and dramatic beaches, little-marked by man (though marked by a little danger – crocodiles and jellyfish can be fatal here). Mindil Beach and Casuarina Beach are the most frequented, and safest to explore and swim, outside the monsoon season. Or you could try Aquascene, a cove where the fish come to you, with no snorkelling required.
The city also takes its Australian nonchalance very seriously. It is home to an open-air cinema – the Deckchair Cinema. It is also the only place in the world where you can pay to swim with a hungry 5-metre long salt-water crocodile. The “salties”, as the locals call them, infest the coastal swamps and rivers around Darwin. A great place to get educated about them is at the Crocodylus Park, close to town. But if you go to the Crocosaurus Cove, you can take it a step further – getting within centimetres of all 24 of their razor-sharp teeth. You will be safely tucked inside a narrow glass-walled cylinder at the time, you'll be glad to hear.
Darwin does less adrenalin-fuelled activity too. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory makes aboriginal art and culture a special focus. It hosts the annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, one of the most important in the world of indigenous art. Another museum worth visiting is the newly built Defence of Darwin Experience, which gives you an insight into the conflict visited on Darwin during the Second World War.
And go to the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, and you'll see how Darwin became the last furlong for the transcontinental air races that were all the rage in the 1920s and 30s. Daring and excitement come easy to the city of Darwin, it seems.