A local’s guide to Darwin: soul-stirring sunsets, enlivening art and multicultural markets

Proud Larrakia woman Nicole Brown – Darwin’s 2022 Citizen of the Year – shares her favourite places to eat, unwind and connect with her ancestors in the saltwater city

Food

For Indigenous people, our life revolves around food and bringing people together. It’s social. In Darwin, we’re spoilt for multicultural choices.

Every Saturday morning [8am to 2pm], I head to Parap Village Markets. The aromas take you to every continent on earth. Everyone raves about Mary’s laksas … [but] I always get frozen fruit, shaved ice and Bobby’s chicken and beef satays. His peanut sauce is unique – I haven’t found anything better around the world yet.

Bobby’s flame-grilled chicken satays at Parap Markets
Bobby’s flame-grilled chicken satays at Parap Markets. Photograph: Nannette Holliday/The Guardian

Outside of Saturday, I’m a chicken parmigiana girl, and Hotel Darwin and The Deck Bar serve large, juicy parmis.

For deliciously fresh seafood, head to Oyster Bar at the Darwin Waterfront Precinct. Char Restaurant, in Old Admiralty House, does the best aged steaks. For Thai/Indian, it’s Hanuman, and The Parap Tavern for the beef pie. For relaxed family meals and incredible sunsets, Darwin Trailer Boat Club and Darwin Sailing Club, both in Fannie Bay, are my go-tos, or Eat A Pizza in Cullen Bay.

In the dry season [April to October], Mindil Beach Sunset Market has the best desserts. I always head there after Sunday roast at mum’s. I grab a few honey puffs or a churro smothered in chocolate, marshmallow and cookie crumble, then savour their sweet gooeyness.

Inspiration

I get lost in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) among the history and Indigenous art displays. I was born after Cyclone Tracy, which flattened Darwin in 1974. After viewing the devastation and destruction shown at the museum, I reflect [on how Darwin has recovered] when walking through our beautiful, vibrant city today. There have been many changes in my 37 years too.

Nicole Brown wears a print by Aaron McTaggart of Merrepen Arts in the Daly River region, from Secret Platypus.
Nicole Brown wears a print by Aaron McTaggart of Merrepen Arts in the Daly River region, from Secret Platypus. Photograph: Nicole Brown

The city is filled with enlivening street art – and more is added each year. But you can download the Darwin Street Art Festival app [which includes an interactive map] to learn about the pieces and artists any time.

Aboriginal Bush Traders on Bennett Street [in the CBD] has authentic Indigenous products and a cafe with native foods. Rather than wall art, I’m an avid collector of wearable Indigenous fashion, handcrafted earrings and jewellery – ideal for all the events I attend. Many of my dresses also come from Raw Cloth. The one-off designs by [founder] Rhonda Dunne often use Daly River region designer fabrics.

Neighbourhood

The human-made waterfront lagoon has croc-free swimming right in the city
The human-made waterfront lagoon has croc-free swimming right in the city. Photograph: Shaana McNaught/Tourism NT

The Darwin Waterfront Precinct is an ideal meeting place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a wave lagoon for safe swimming or you can just laze by the [human-made] beach under the shady trees. You’re surrounded by food there too: seafood, steaks, Asian, Mexican, Italian and more.

During the dry season, on the last Friday afternoon of the month in April to September, join Dr Richard Fejo as he performs a saltwater welcome ceremony. It’s a cleansing ceremony where Larrakia people welcome you on to country. Your sweat washes into the saltwater. Ancestors then have your scent and smell and will keep you safe while you are on Larrakia land.

Green space

A day trip to Litchfield national park, a 90-minute drive south of Darwin, is popular – the many waterfalls and safe swimming holes are refreshing and cool.

Sunset over East Point Reserve
‘East Point is my magical place. It’s where I reflect on the same surroundings and sunsets my ancestors viewed for over 65,000 years.’ Photograph: PRLX/Felix Baker/Tourism NT

Around town, along Darwin’s foreshores – from the Waterfront and the Esplanade to Cullen Bay, Mindil, Fannie Bay, East Point, Nightcliff and Casuarina – are expansive sandy beaches and lawns that are gathering places for families and friends. None of these areas are safe for swimming though, as crocodiles live in these waters.

Personally, East Point is my magical place. It’s where I reflect on the same surroundings and sunsets my ancestors viewed for over 65,000 years. Darwin’s sunsets always reverberate within my soul. The blues, deep reds, oranges, purples and yellows epitomise my home.

Nightlife

As a cocktail girl, Darwin’s growing bar scene captures me. Our little speakeasy, Hanky Panky; Stone House Wine Bar in the old Chinese opium storerooms and gin joint Charlie’s of Darwin are all ideal for catching up with friends.

The Loading Bay, a bar connected to K-BBQ restaurant Little Miss Korea, does excellent caramel espresso martinis, and nearby along the graffiti lane, Phat Mango’s green ant panna cotta [seasonally available] is mouthwatering.

For a rowdy dinner with music, dancing and plate smashing, Meraki Greek Taverna serves traditional food; it’s like being transported to Greece and diners can join in.

The Deckchair outdoor cinema beside the harbour is a perfect dry season venue. Be one with nature, try different cuisines each night as the sizzling sun goes down, all while watching a program that varies from great arthouse movies and short films to blockbusters.

Where to stay

Darwin isn’t cheap, especially during the popular dry season. Outside peak times, the H on Smith and H on Mitchell apartment hotels are centrally located in the city and are good value at around $145 a night.

As told to Nannette Holliday

The GuardianTramp

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