After living in Melbourne for a couple of years, one of the biggest tricks to making it through the Big Cold & Grey months is actually to just yeet north for a long weekend. Not only does it give you a break from the seasonal depression that only comes with living under a blanket of cloud for months, but getting into the sun boosts your Vitamin D and you get the serotonin hit of a little holiday in the middle of the year.

While international travel is pretty much off the cards until next year sometime (which means you can’t get to the tropics of Indonesia) the next best thing is going to the top end of the country – Darwin. And now we’ve gotten through probably one of the longest Melbourne winters – physically and emotionally – what better way to celebrate than to bugger off up north for a bit.

Earlier this year when Melbourne was between lockdowns, NT Tourism asked if I wanted to rack off up north for a few days, and I couldn’t have said yes fast enough. Going from Melbourne’s 8º and rain marathon to the start of the dry season filled with sunshine and 30º and over every day? Yes. Fucking. Please.

A four hour flight from the arse of the country to the Top End had me tripping over the big red centre, watching out the window as the landscape went from ripples of red into lush greens and shimmering floodplains. Cultural burns blurred the horizon as I flew over the border into the Northern Territory, while winding rivers connected the earth to the Arafura Sea in the north.

Darwin itself is gorgeous – it’s got enough happening that you’ve always got something to do but isn’t as hectic as other major cities that you end up feeling a bit overwhelmed. Especially coming out of a long year of not really being around masses of people, it was the perfect way to ease myself back into travelling new places.

Get There At The Right Time To Avoid The Big Wet

My first piece of advice is to go during the dry season, with May probably being the best balance of warm weather with manageable humidity so you don’t end up a sweaty mess 24/7.

The Larrakia peoples of the Darwin area have six different seasons in their gulumoerrgin or calendar – based on what happens in those times – ranging from dalay (monsoon season) between January and April, to damibila (barramundi and bush fruit time) between April and June, to the dalirrgang (build-up, hot and humid season) between September and October.

Local Larrikia man Trent Lee welcomed me to country as a traditional owner and custodian of the land, and on our cultural tour at Brinkin Beach, he taught us about the history of the Larrikia peoples, how to throw spears with a woomera, how to start and build a fire, and how they create string and rope with the plants and trees that grow along the coastline.

Have A Taste Of The Local Grub

As Darwin’s a pretty big fly in, fly out (FIFO) and defence city, a big trick is to know where to go for a good feed that won’t cost a mint. On the first night we jumped on a food tour with Gourmet Food Tours, who took us to some of the best kitchens in the city. As well as getting around the food, Darrel took us through some of the history of the city, as well as some of the incredible street art hiding down alleys and up on the sides of buildings around Darwin.

Honestly I was dreaming about the snapper wings and salt & pepper crocodile from Snapper Rocks for weeks after Darrel took us there.

darwin travel when to visit snapper rocks gourmet food tour
DELICIOUS. [Image: Courtney Fry]
There are also a bunch of really cool little bars around Darwin, if you’re not wanting to join the ratbag energy along the backpacker pubs on Mitchell St. around Austin Lane, where we stopped in for a bite at Little Miss Korea, a lot of sneaky little bars have set up shop.

Spots like Babylon Bar, Charlie’s, The Loading Dock, and Stone House wine bar were among the faves, and we went back to that little strip a couple of times over our visit.

Darwin is also known as the laksa capital of Australia, which feels a bit strange that such a tropical city would be home to some of the best spicy noodle soups in the country.

You can find some of the best broths at both the Parap and Mindil Beach markets, with people lining up to top and tail their days with a bowl of insanely delicious soup. It’s truly always time for laksa in Darwin, and it just works.

Don’t Miss The Iconic Darwin Sunset

One of the things that Darwin’s known for is its incredible sunsets. The benefit of being on a bit of the country that points back towards the mainland is that one side of the coast points west, and the sun sets over the waters of Fannie Bay. Mindil Beach is one of the best vantage points to watch the sunsets (around 6:32pm every day during the dry season), and people flock there to cheer that big ball of gas and flames as it dips below the horizon.

darwin travel sunset mindil market
[Image: Courtney Fry]
If you don’t want to sit on the sand to watch the magic happen, you can go for a dip in the infinity pool over at Mindil Beach Casino, which looks out over the bay. No matter what way you do it, I highly recommend checking out the sunset at least once while you’re up the Top End.

Catch A Drag Show At The Only Gay Club In Town

If you’re after a bit of a boogie, the local Darwin gay club should be at the top of your list. Yes, it’s called Throb, and yes it is incredible. I caught the midnight (1am club time) drag show on a Saturday night and it was next level. The club itself is upstairs on Smith St, and for the evening’s show everyone clears the dance floor and takes a seat wherever they can. Hot tip: around midnight stick to the edge of the dance floor you can sit right in the front row, on the carpeted floor.

For the all-important recovery the next morning, De La Plage on the beach at Brinkin just north of the city is perfect. The little café is in with the local surf lifesaving club right on the beach (which you really can’t swim in due to crocs), and tables, beanbags, and day beds are out on the grass right before you hit the sand. Absolutely ideal areas to stretch out with a coffee and dry out from the night before.

Croc On, Babe

It also wouldn’t be a trip to the Northern Territory without meeting some of the scaly locals. I got the chance to head out to the floodplains and river systems just northwest of the Litchfield National Park with Top End Safari Camp.

An hour and a half out of town, we explored the area around Sweets Lagoon (named after Sweetheart, the giant croc who once lived there) by cruise boat, helicopter, and airboat – very much living out my dreams of being on Swamp People and travelling exclusively by a fast boat with a big-ass fan on the back.

We met Otis, the current alpha croc of the lagoon, and ran into a couple of his mating partners, as well as old Bone Cruncher who’s missing an eye, half his bottom jaw, and lives very much out of Otis’ way.

darwin bonecruncher crocodile top end safari
Boney love pats [Image: Courtney Fry]
The safari camp team also work to rehabilitate crocs that are either in their twilight years, have been kept illegally or in unsuitable conditions. We got the chance to meet a few of the crocs for their feeding time, who put on a fair bit of a display for us.

Scoot EVERYWHERE

Darwin has a huge fleet of electric scooters that you can hire and zip around on, and they’re actually used and not ditched in the nearest major river like in other cities. Flying around on these scooters was my favourite way to get around the city, and they’re honestly all over the place. Cheaper than a taxi or Uber, and you get to hoon along the streets and park up wherever you need to. Everyone’s doing it too, just lean in and live your best scootie life.

My one word of warning with these scooters though: don’t even try and ride them down Mitchell St when the pubs are open. It’s just impossible.

Coming back to Melbourne after spending a pre-winter long weekend at the other end of the country definitely had me prepared to face the chilly months to come – if only with a good boost of Vitamin D to take with me as the days get shorter and it’s more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings.

Image: Courtney Fry