The beaches of the inner north are idyllic in the dry season, but can be deadly during the build-up to the wet season when box jellyfish float in shallow waters along the shoreline.
This is one of Darwin’s most popular attractions, where visitors can handfeed fish that live in Darwin Harbour. Opening times depend on the high tide, but Aquascene publishes feeding times every day in the Northern Territory News and weekly timetables can be found at Tourism Top End. Aquascene not only offers the chance to interact with the marine life of the harbour, but also an opportunity to learn about northern Australian creatures through informative talks. Doctors Gully Rd.
Cullen Bay Marina
Cullen Bay is a popular dining and recreational area where waterside mansions and berths for yachts are built alongside holiday apartments. A wide walking path fringes a gently sloping, sandy beach, and a variety of restaurants and cafes overlook the blue waters of the marina. A regular ferry service crosses Darwin Harbour to Mandorah, departing from the front of the lock at Cullen Bay, while sunset and evening charters are based within the marina itself.
At about a kilometre north of central Darwin, the road down to the marina (Kahlin Avenue) passes Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. This small group of pre-World War II houses was constructed for senior public servants and survived cyclone Tracy; they are considered excellent examples of tropical residential architecture, with louvred windows and vibrant gardens. Burnett House is located here and is the headquarters of the National Trust. The buildings are open to the public at different times. National Trust; (08) 8981 2848.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are Darwin’s most popular tourist attraction. Located off Gilruth Avenue, the markets operate on Thursday evenings (with a smaller version on Sunday evenings) from the end of April to the end of October, taking advantage of the superb dry-season weather. Up to 10 000 people enjoy the food of more than 30 nations and wander between stalls that offer everything from Aboriginal arts and Asian crafts to tarot-card readings, massages and kangaroo sausages. Live performances by theatrical and singing troupes are spiced with whip-cracking and poetry readings. Bands play at night and there is an occasional offshore fireworks display. At sunset, people often walk over the sand dunes to the beach to experience a quintessential Darwin moment.
Also on Mindil Beach, SKYCITY casino lies next to the market strips. As well as the attraction of gambling, the casino also frequently holds concerts on its lawns. With the beach only metres away, this is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening. There are several restaurants in the casino, and this is the hub of the horseracing scene in August when a gala ball is held on the lawns. Gilruth Ave, Mindil Beach.
George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
The botanic gardens have paths that wind through one of the best collections of tropical plants in Australia. Established in the 1870s, the gardens cover an area of 42 hectares and contain attractions such as an extensive collection of tropical orchids and palms, and a self-guide Aboriginal plant-use trail. The gardens are popular with family groups and wedding parties. A wonderful tree house incorporated into a huge African mahogany is a hit with kids. Geranium St, The Gardens.
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is one of Darwin’s foremost cultural venues. This institution houses one of the finest Aboriginal art collections in Australia, which is enhanced every year with the work of entrants in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. A spine-tingling cyclone Tracy gallery details what happened during and after that fateful Christmas in 1974. The museum also possesses an excellent natural history display of fauna and flora of the Top End and South-East Asia. The Maritime Boatshed, a vast room filled with all sorts of vessels that have travelled to northern Australia over the years, is impressive in its size and in the diversity of its exhibits from tiny jukung, with their slender outriggers and woven sails, to the large fishing vessels that limped to Australian shores overloaded with refugees. The nearby Territory Craft Darwin exhibits the work of local artists and craft producers. Conacher St, Bullocky Point; open daily; general admission free.
One of the pleasures of visiting Darwin is being able to enjoy a meal by the beach as the sun sets over Fannie Bay. There are several popular dining venues, such as the Darwin Ski Club, on the beach at Fannie Bay next to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and the popular Darwin Sailing Club, just 200 metres further along the coast on Atkins Drive.
Fannie Bay Gaol Museum
One of Darwin’s most interesting destinations is Fannie Bay Gaol Museum, which served as Darwin’s prison between 1883 and 1979. Located barely 300 metres from the Sailing Club, the gaol housed some of Darwin’s most desperate criminals. The cells and gallows provide a sobering display for visitors, but are sometimes used as a backdrop for dinner parties and social events. East Point Rd; open daily; admission free.