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.
“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.
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).
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).
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.)
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.
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.
WHAT TO DO:
- Discover the fascinating exhibitions at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
- Try to catch a fish at Barramundi Adventures
- Go for a spin around Darwin Harbour with 00Seven Jet Ski Adventures
- See the sunset from a catamaran with Darwin Harbour Cruises
- Explore the street art throughout the city centre
WHERE TO EAT:
- Try one of the laksa dishes that are part of this year’s Darwin International Laksa Festival
- For fun modern dishes, there’s Phat Mango in the city centre
- Darwin has amazing Asian cuisine and one of the best options is Little Miss Korea
- With fresh seafood, Snapper Rocks has a great location at the Waterfront
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: