I Heart My City: Jennifer’s Darwin

Three years ago, Jennifer Pinkerton cashed in her life as a features editor in Sydney for a life of global adventure. After teaching English at the Dalai Lama’s temple in India, losing her hair in Zambia, and taking on French school in the Loire Valley, she ventured to the desert and put down roots in Darwin, the capital of one of Australia’s most remote and least populated areas.

Nowadays, the freelance travel journalist spends her off-time gazing at electrical storms, getting her fill of fresh fruit, and exploring the Top End of the Northern Territory. “From the tropical weather (those ceiling fans rarely turn off) right down to the faces you’ll see in its streets, Darwin is exotic,” Jennifer says. “Thirty percent of Darwinians were born overseas and another ten percent are Aboriginal, which brings depth, buzz, and a slew of sensory benefits for visitors—and for locals like me!”

Here are a few of Jennifer’s favorite things about the tropical wonderland she is proud to call home.

Darwin Is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to watch the sun go down at East Point Reserve, the city’s largest park. There’s a saying among locals: “If you don’t like sunsets and markets, you won’t like Darwin.” Our sunsets are particularly spectacular, as they’re often tinged with every shade of pink imaginable.

August is the best time to visit my city because the weather is at its most comfortable. There are only two seasons in Darwin: wet and dry. Humidity and rainfall levels are the key variability factors.

You can see my city best from Darwin harbor, preferably during a sunset champagne cruise.

Locals know to skip Crocosaurus Cove and its caged reptiles and check out crocodiles in their natural habitat on a Jumping Croc Cruise on the Adelaide River instead.

Nomad Art, a gallery specializing in works by Australian and Aboriginal artists, is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like songstress Jessica Mauboy, actor Chris Hemsworth, and writer Peter Goldsworthy have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory because it’s free, fascinating, and houses a 17-foot stuffed croc named Sweetheart as well as an exhibit that simulates the experience of Cyclone Tracy, the natural disaster that destroyed much of Darwin in 1974.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Nightcliff foreshore, which runs along an expanse of milky blue ocean and ocher cliffs. A path winds around the beach’s edge, which, at sunset, fills with walkers, runners, bikers, and roller skaters. Bring a picnic blanket and park at the jetty, perched on the foreshore’s northern end. Here, you can feast on burgers and fries from Harry’s Yurios Van or try Jay’s Coffee Bar food truck, which serves up ice cream and coffee on weekends.

My city really knows how to celebrate Territory Day, which is held on July 1 and commemorates the Northern Territory’s self-governance. On this occasion, fireworks (which are normally banned) fill the sky and Darwinians gather at the water’s edge. Mindil Beach is a great launch pad from which to witness the show.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they’re wearing flip-flops, stubby shorts, and a tank top, and have a disposition that’s so laid back they almost appear asleep.

For a fancy night out, I dress up and make a trip to EVOO, shorthand for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This fine-dining restaurant boasts a degustation menu featuring seven Australian- and Mediterranean-inspired courses—with wines to match.

Just outside my city, you can visit the cascading, breathtaking waterfalls of Litchfield National Park. Don’t miss visits to Buley Rockhole‘s swimming area, Florence Falls, or Wangi Falls.

My city is known for being a frontier town, but it’s really youthful, multicultural, and lively.

The best outdoor market in my city is Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which fronts Mindil Beach. Each Thursday and Sunday night, parking spaces becomes highly coveted as residents and tourists pile in to sip fresh juices and deliberate over dinner options from the seemingly endless stretch of food stalls (many of which offer Southeast Asian cuisine). For a taste of local flavor, look for the Aussie Burgers and Hotdogs stall, which sells barramundi, crocodile, and buffalo burgers.

Ken’s Crepes at Nightcliff Markets is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and pubs in the city center (what locals call the CBD) are the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Off the Leash, a free monthly entertainment magazine that can be found at cafés around town or at the Northern Territory Library.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I pick up a roti wrap or a papaya salad from Rapid Creek markets and take a short drive out to Dripstone Cliffs for a picnic. Alternately, I swim at Leanyer Recreation Park, which has three slides, a watery playground for kids, and free parking included.

To escape the crowds, I visit Casuarina Coastal Reserve for a stroll along its secluded stretch of beach or I drive out of town for a night in Batchelor, a sleepy former tin mining village that serves as a gateway to Litchfield National Park.

The dish that represents my city best is spicy laksa soup and ice-cold beer is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Chow and the Humpty Doo Hotel, respectively.

The Railway Club—which feels like a ski lodge littered with vintage furniture and decor (and has a beer garden that resembles someone’s slightly unkempt backyard)—is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Discovery or Throb, a local gay nightclub.

The Darwin Lions’ Beer Can Regatta, an annual tradition since 1974 where participants craft boats from empty beer cans and then race them at Mindil Beach, could only happen in my city.

In the dry season you should join in on one of the city’s many cultural festivals. The three-week Darwin Festival—full of cabaret, live music, dance, and stand-up—is my favorite. I also love the roll call of Aboriginal festivals that take place around Darwin, most notably the Barunga and Walking With Spirits festivals.

In the wet season you should drop by Nightcliff Jetty and watch the waves crash over the footbridge during a tropical storm.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the wave pool at the Darwin Waterfront, especially during the “build-up”—the sticky season that occurs during the transition between the dry and wet seasons.

The best book about my city is Darwin, by anthropologist Tess Lea, because it gives intelligent and up-to-date insights into Darwin’s modern history, in all its colorful glory.

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