Postcards and Morsels - Darwin
According to Lonely Planet, Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory (NT) is 'a mellow, modern metropolis [and] sociable hub where non-Aboriginal meets Aboriginal (Larrakia), urban meets remote, and industry meets idleness.'Darwin’s location on a tropical tip of the country’s north coast means six subtle shifts of season, with a not-so-subtle disparity between the Dry and Wet, which can bring colossal storms'. Indeed! Mention Darwin to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the city, and the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 is certain to come up. Darwin has the highest daily average of sunshine (about 8.4 hours) of any Australian capital city. Read that, 8.4 hours each day. That's a megadose of Vitamin D, folks! The Dry season runs from April or May through until October. June and July are the coolest months and, as such, the ideal time to visit; especially for Aussies wishing to kick back, throw on some thongs and escape winter's chill. If that isn't enough, there is a feast of fabulous markets, and perhaps the most spectacular sunsets you will ever see.
Peter's work often takes him the Top End, but is wasn't until the middle of last year that I managed my first visit, partly due to the availability of direct flights from Canberra to Darwin and partly because my brother, Alex, had lived there until the cyclone razed the city. He had always dearly loved it, so I was curious to see for myself. I have to tell you, in terms of a mid winter, tropical getaway and what's on offer, I like the place! We returned for a four day weekend recently and I've compiled our trip into a series of postcards and morsels; finished off with a recipe for NT barramundi. Click through our collection of images for a slideshow.
We'll start at the trendy Cullen Bay area, where we sample oysters from South Australia's Coffin Bay and meet Nick Lekias, a spritely (almost) 80 year old Greek gentleman who has been shucking oysters for 65 years!
Nick Lekias, a chef by trade, was born in Perth to Greek parents. His father was one of the first Greeks to arrive in Perth in 1906. 'Dad was the first bring oysters to Perth, back then. We had oyster beds on the river,' Nick explained. 'I was twelve years old when I started work and used to stand on a Coca Cola box to shuck oysters!' Nick is now semi-retired and says he loves Darwin 'because it's a nice, easy lifestyle'.
Wildlife and the natural environment are a must see in the NT. If time is limited, drive a short 65 kilometres on the Arnhem Highway to the Adelaide River region to see crocodiles in the wild (from the safety of a river vessel)!
Due to crocodiles and Box Jellyfish, you must exercise extreme caution swimming at any beaches, and never swim in any waterways in the Top End unless you are absolutely certain it is safe to do so. There is a purpose built wave pool and lagoon at the waterfront area in Darwin, as well as a variety of swimming pools and springs.
There's a Butterfly Farm at Bachelor, not far from Litchfield National Park, where owner, 'Chris', has established his 'dreem'. Go with a sense of fun and adventure, don't expect too much, and just enjoy trying to photograph the elusive Ulysses or Blue Mountain butterflies.
The award winning Deckchair Cinema is located on the waterfront precinct and screens movies seven nights a week from late April through to late November. The program offers a diverse range of Australian, foreign and classic films, as well as popular and family movies. You can BYO picnic, or buy food from the vendor on site. We caught the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and enjoyed food from Hanuman on the evening of our visit. Pillows, insect repellant and water is provided as part of the ticket price. Watch out for possums, who scamper around in the dark. They are likely to steal your food, and they bite!
At Doctors Gully, you can feed the fish at a place called Aquascene. This natural phenomena occurs on the high tide and has been a popular attraction in Darwin since the 1950s. Hundreds of wild fish swim to the shoreline for a free feed of bread. It is an amazing sensation to have large fish en masse swimming at your feet! Check for feeding times before you venture down.
Darwin's markets are among the best in the country; lively, colourful and exotic. Two absolute must-dos are Parap Village Markets on a Saturday morning and Mindil Beach Sunset Markets on a Thursday or Sunday evening. In terms of food stalls, there is a strong Asian influence, particularly at Parap where the aromas of satay and chillies fill the air and tantalises the senses.
Mindil Beach markets commenced in 1987, when a group of forward thinking people decided to bring a taste of Asia's night markets to Australia. The markets operate on Thursday and Sunday evenings during the dry season and are renowned for the truly magnificent sunsets that can be viewed from Mindil Beach. Take a picnic rug or BYO chairs, wander through the various stalls and choose from a diverse selection of foods. There's everything from freshly shucked oysters to fresh fruit salad, fish and chips, wood fired pizza, Asian foods, sweet things like churros and fairy floss, right through to crocodile and buffalo burgers, as well as 'beaut' Aussie roasts and lamb shanks!
At Fisherman's Wharf there is an assortment of fresh wild caught seafood, as well as some farmed products available from the stores as well as from boats docked on the harbour at the wharf. We make a point of bringing home frozen Barramundi, as it travels well in a freezer bag and makes for a very fine meal indeed!
I picked up a recipe card from the fish market in Darwin and tried this Northern Territory Seafood Council (NTSC) dish as soon as we got home last week. It was delicious! Here is my take on the recipe:
BARRAMUNDI WITH LEMON AND TARRAGON BUTTER
500g piece Barramundi fillet, cut into two portions
fresh or dried tarragon
a lemon, sliced
a little butter or oil
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
Brush two pieces of aluminium foil with oil or butter and place a portion of fish on each. Place lemon slices over the fish and sprinkle with tarragon and a dot more butter or oil. Season to taste. Wrap tightly in the foil and bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees C) for about 12-15 minutes. The NTSC suggests that you 'test the fish with the tip of a butter knife. If there is no resistance, the fish is cooked'. This quantity will serve two. *Stock photo.
For more information about the Top End, visit the Tourism NT web site. Here are links to some recommended attractions in Darwin:
Mindil Beach Markets
Parap Village Markets
Jumping Crocodile River Cruise
Aquascene Fish Feeding
Cullen Bay Marina
Wave Pool and Lagoon
Safe Swimming in Darwin
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.