I was running my own wet t-shirt competition. I was hot, but by no means sexy – I was sweating all over the place. My collar was stretched, stained, and more toxic than Kakadu’s Jabiluka uranium mine.
Oh, and my shorts. I had been wearing them for five days in a row, hiking through Kakadu. I always wore half of the park under my fingernails. In other words, I looked rather “hobosexual”.
Relief came when I entered my hostel room, my face caressed by a cool breeze. I was in duplicate with the air conditioner and the fan. Dropping my bag on the floor, I collapsed on the bed, exhausted, tuned in with a maiden sigh for the melodrama, but damn it was hot. In the sweltering heat of Darwin, my plan for the next day was to visit all the cool places, literally.
The next morning, as I walked through the sliding doors, a wall of heat hit me like a freight train, instantly killing me – not a good start.
My first stop on the air conditioning tour was the Free Art Gallery and Northern Territory Museum – a perfect introduction to the Northern Territory and Darwin’s past. I heard about Christmas Eve in 1974 when Cyclone Tracy ravaged the Top End. I got a feel for the Northern Territory’s natural food chain, snakes, marsupials, sharks, fangs and birds of prey. Left to ourselves, humans are somewhere in the middle.
The most feared of all is the marine crocodile. Look into the eyes of the most infamous of savers, honey. He terrorized local fishermen in a river near Darwin for years before a relocation went wrong. You will also learn about the important role played by Australia and in particular Darwin during World War II. There were more bombs dropped on this outpost than on Pearl Harbor.
In the art gallery section, you’ll find fascinatingly meticulous works of art by indigenous artists like Rover Thomas, prints by Andy Warhol, and other traveling exhibitions.
Escape the sun and learn about Darwin’s role in the war on WWII Storage Tunnel tours. Starting from the wharf, below the city, tunnels were built to protect Darwin’s oil reserves. The war ended before they were put into action and are now used as a tourist attraction. Photographs from this period showcase wartime activity in the Top End – quite a history lesson.
I thought to myself, where else is air conditioned? The casino, of course. Money is always tight when you’re a backpacker, so why not try some hard cash and drop a hundred of it at the Skycity Casino blackjack table?
I actually just let go of a tenner but played him like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. That was before I got too zealous, doubled down and lost it all like Vince Vaughn
in Swingers. While not the most culturally rewarding tourist attraction, a trip there could save you big money for a visit to the Kimberley. If you’re not gambling, it looks out over the harbor, so it’s a good place to drink some cheap cocktails and watch the tide go by.
A refreshing dip
Make no mistake, you can still beat the heat in Darwin and spend your sunny days outdoors. Unfortunately, due to jellyfish, fangs, and hooks, it can be dangerous to swim in the ocean, so Darwinians came together and created the awe-inspiring redeveloped Wharf district. There you can jump into the pool, with a wave machine, take a jet boat ride, then gobble up some inexpensive fish and chips.
If you need to go open water with the wind in your hair, there are a number of sailing cruises you can do in Port Darwin and the Arafura Sea. There are options for all budgets.
Spend a few hours in the Botanical Gardens strolling through the rainforest and monsoon forest gardens. With over 192 types of palm trees and an array of tropical plants, you’ll find shade under a leaf large enough to cover you and your roommates.
At sunset on a Thursday or Sunday, there’s only one place to go: Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Here you’ll find a huge range of stalls selling everything from great Asian food and Aboriginal art to local crafts and around a thousand different covers for your phone or iPad.
There are also some pretty talented street performers, from circus folk to didgeridoo and percussion shows that are redefining the term drum ‘n’ bass. Mindil Beach can attract around 5,000 pedestrians strolling between the palm trees on a beautiful night, which always seems to be up there. I admired the Million Colors of Twilight, ate chilli shrimp on a stick and thought I’d give an eye if I tried the whip cracking show so I watched the monk balanced instead. .
Date night movie
As the dry season progresses, the skies are reliably cleared. Darwin is the perfect location for an outdoor cinema. The Deckchair Cinema shows all kinds of arthouse movies that you missed two months ago in normal cinema because they only lasted one week. It is an ideal setting for a date. Lie under the stars with your favorite friend and try your luck with the famous popcorn / cockporn ride – you know this one.
If it worked and things are heating up, head to the pub. Just because the sun has gone down doesn’t mean the thermostat has gone down. A night out in Darwin means things are getting hotter, so to speak. All pubs are air conditioned or have large outdoor terraces. Some clubs are so keen on keeping their customers cool that they spray water guns on girls’ chests to cool them down. Of course, this has the opposite effect on men.
Pubs like Shenannigans, Deck Bar, and Tap Bar are all great places to start. But try as I can, it was impossible to avoid a place that didn’t play “Summer of 69” and some Proclaimers bullshit, so I went for the nearest waterhole. After a few schooners you will undoubtedly find yourself in Monsoons: it’s a wall-to-wall backpacker festival. Expect more cheesy music, games and competitions, dancing galore, and cheap drinks.
At the end of the day, I returned to the hostel thinking that I had accomplished my mission. I had seen Darwin’s sites, had consumed a lot of fluids and felt really cool. In short, I had overcome the heat.
With nothing more to do, tomorrow I would sit by the hostel’s pool and sweat quietly.
Houdini walks a few inches from my face and looks me straight in the eye.
The piercing, almost disdainful gaze is clear. His teeth practically sparkle. I can almost hear him thinking, “I want to eat you.” In case you are confused, I am not suffering from a cannibalistic view of the famous (and dead) escapologist. At least not quite.
I walk on the water in the Death Cage, one of Darwin’s most grueling adrenaline rushes. The Houdini I share the water with happens to be a giant saltwater crocodile, who would love nothing more than me to try to escape the floating plastic box that currently separates us.
Entering the water with the world’s largest reptiles had seemed like a good idea… until the cage door opened and it was time for me to enter, of course.
It was hard not to suddenly feel very, very vulnerable because, dressed only in our swimmers, we were looking down the ladder.
Being the gentleman of course, I let my girlfriend get off first. And so, we got lowered into the water, like pieces of bait towards a man-eating master magician, and started to feel a little nervous.
Little by little, we are immersed in the world of the salty until we are in waist-deep water, Houdini’s water. There’s no sudden rush, no chattering of teeth or crushing power hungry – judging by the scratches, these fangs have clearly tried this before and have learned their lesson.
But suddenly, Houdini is on the move. It sails effortlessly towards us. For such a massive animal, it’s amazing how gracefully he moves. He’s soaring, his huge head inches from mine with only the plastic and a little water between us. There is no doubt that without the plastic it would tear me to shreds in a second. And I would absolutely love it.
But after watching us for a while, he continues the past and walks away, leaving us buzzing with the encounter.
The damage & details: The cage of death at Darwin’s Crocosaurus Cove (crocosauruscove.com), costs from $ 165 per person.