“Watch out for crocs,” was the advice of a friend ringing in my ears as I slipped off the steps and onto the rocky beach in Darwin, Australia. I knew better than to swim in the ocean (rife with box jellyfish, salt-water crocodiles, and other lethal delights), but I figured the beach would be safe enough for a stroll.
Later that day I read that crocodiles “only occasionally” frequent Darwin’s public beaches. So maybe I got lucky. Then again, spotting a wild salt-water crocodile catching some rays on the beach would go down in my travel books as a lifetime experience – if I survived it of course. Even losing a finger (or something else relatively expendable) could make for a neat story….ah, the whimsies a traveler/writer will entertain for their craft…
But I digress from fantasies of encountering deadly reptiles with a penchant for fair redheads. Darwin is far more than a crocodile-infested mangrove.
It’s hot too. Really hot.
This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
It was the heat that hit me first. A beautiful, tropical, humid heat that caused instant sweating engulfed me as soon as I hit the street. Although many would argue that this type of oppressive heat isn’t comfortable, I say it’s great – at least in small doses. For Darwinians however (“Darwinian” possibly being the coolest name ever for a resident), small doses are out of the question.
To illustrate this, I recall somebody once advising me of best time to visit Darwin, and the Northern Territory of Australia in general:
“Well, five months of the year it’s the wet season, and it’s freaking hot, humid, and wet. So the locals are generally miserable and crabby,” he started. “The other five months of the year it’s the dry season, and it’s even hotter than the wet season. So the locals are generally miserable and crabby,” he continued, not exactly creating a good case for visiting.
“The secret is to go during the months on either side of the dry season and wet season. It’s still freaking hot, but at least it’s not too wet or too dry. During these months, the locals are less miserable and crabby.”
Seeing that most of the locals I encountered were actually quite pleasant, I’m guessing I made it here at the right time of year.
In all seriousness, I quite enjoyed my few days in Darwin. The heat forces you to slow down, as it’s impossible to move quickly. I’m usually a speedy walker (I’ve yet to meet anybody who outpaces me), and even I was relegated to a saunter on my daily outings.
Along with this lazy pace comes a contagious easy-going attitude. Similar to many tropical places that adhere to a “manana” (ie: I’ll get to it tomorrow) mind-set, Darwinites are generally happy to take the time to chat with a friend (or friendly stranger), or just sit down on a park bench to cool off and enjoy the view.
Although Darwin has all the amenities you need, it also has the unmistakable feeling of being both remote and small. It’s closer to Asia than it is to many – if not most – other Australian cities, and given this geographical proximity, it boasts an incredibly multi-cultural (yet cozy) population of 110,000.
So with its small population, rugged weather, formidable crocs, and general isolation, it’s no wonder that Darwin feels like a special place to be, and has a unique appeal and disposition. Although I suspect it would be difficult to truly reach the ranks of being considered a “local” without putting in some serious time there, I would love to return and stay long enough to gain a better understanding of what local life is really like. Here’s hoping.
I visited Darwin before boarding The Ghan – a 3-day train trip to Adelaide, through the centre of Australia.
8 thoughts on “Darwin: The Crocs, The Heat, The Attitude”
This totally brought me back to being in Darwin in 2000. It was gross hot and I was sick with bronchitis so the city is a hazy feverish memory.
Just discovered your blog via a tweet from @colinismyname. Inspiring! And you’re Canadian. I’m following you now and looking forward to reading more of your adventures.
@Katy – I’m glad Colin sent you my way…thanks for stopping by! Good luck on your downsizing – what a fun process that is, huh? 🙂
Darwin.Beautiful, balmy evenings, swaying rustling palm trees & so much to see & do with not enough tie to do the place justice. We loved it, but of course in June it is a very special place! No flies either! To us it was like a second honeymoon & yes the locals very friendly indeed! I had read of the terrible humidity during the wet season so was glad to choose the begining of the dry to be there.
We went along to the Mindl beach sunset markets with the intention of going down to the waters edge later on, but lazy me did not want to walk the distance to the water after spending so long on my feet.. next day we read that a woman was lucky to not meet the croc that surfaced a metre from her… they are scary enough behind bars!
Thanks Nora for bringing back wonderful memories for me!
@Anne – Ah…no flies! How magnificent! I’m sad to have missed Mindl beach markets, but how’s that about the croc! Yikes! 🙂
Darwin has always had a special place in my heart. I lived there way back in 1994 & 1995. Hot yes, but beautiful! The dry is really not that hot to be honest… definitely the best time to visit – and you may even get to wear a pair of jeans or (even more exciting) a jumper one or two evenings a year! The Mindil Beach markets (I think they’re called something else now) are only on during the dry.. and they’re awesome.. BUT if you want waterfalls then you have to go at the end of the wet… and if you want THE most spectacular electrical thunderstorms then you must go during the wet! So really it is a very special place all year round. The only time to stay away is in the ‘suicide season’ which is called ‘the build up’. That’s at the end of the dry when the wet is about to hit, it’s getting hotter and hotter and you NEED RAIN to get some relief… night after night you get teased with dark clouds and lightening and thunder… but no rain… the build up… until finally the rain comes… aaaahhh what a relief 😉 Awesome place.. I really must get back there some time.
@Cherry – Great tips! And yes, such a rugged place is easy to get under your skin and into your heart. Suicide season actually sounds really interesting! What a tease! 🙂
Nice write-up. But hot damn am I sick of that kind of weather…even just living in Brisbane for a few years has opened my eyes to how white I am. And a trip to Broome which I think is on par with Darwin hammered the same point home.
Time to move to Europe or Tasmania or something I think.
Hey Clancy – Well, I’m a staunch fan of complaining about the cold, which means I figure I need to buck up and shut up when it comes to taking the heat! But northern Australia in the summertime? Yep. That’s hot!
Tasmania would be perfect this time of year! Europe, I think (depending on where you go), might be a bit of a shock. 😉