I’ve been dreaming of Darwin for years now. It’s always felt surrounded by mystery and adventure — crocs everywhere, locals who embrace the phrase “C U in the N T”, surrounded by rugged landscapes, etc etc.
The return of the Northern Territory’s biggest music festival, BASSINTHEGRASS — and the first music festival with no social distancing since Covid became a thing — seemed like the perfect time to finally turn this mystery into legend.
I was not disappointed.
Balmy temperatures even through winter, relaxed vibes that allow you to move at your own pace without guilt, amazing food and endless ways to fill up your time made this my favourite trip in Australia — hands down.
The fact I also got to experience the buzz and excitement of a crowd just turned the whole experience up to 11. Don’t believe me? This is why I say Darwin is the best place to travel at any time, but especially for BASSINTHEGRASS:
#1 The Climate
This magical city is one that never gets cold and is actually best to visit over winter when the rain clears off. In fact, there’s not even summer and winter — there’s wet season and dry season. The whole time I was there in late May I never even bothered bringing a jumper. It’s an actual dream.
#2 The Vibe
Quite a few people had been telling me that Darwin had ‘Bali vibes’. Did my mind go straight to bogan Aussies binge-drinking from buckets and generally being annoying? Yes. However — although there is always a lively party on Mitchell Street — I can now say with certainty, that’s not where the comparison comes from.
Instead, what I now believe people to mean is the fact that it’s always warm, even in winter. I feel like anywhere that’s always warm has a more relaxed feel to it and friendlier locals, so there’s also that.
Oh, and the fact that those electric scooters and bikes are huge here, and actually one of the best ways to get around seeing as public transport isn’t amazing and the city isn’t big enough to warrant a car. The fact that we got hit on by a scooter gang as they rolled passed was just the cherry on the Bali-comparison cake.
At any time it’s a warm, relaxed, friendly city with fun ways to get around. During BASSINTHEGRASS — when people are flocking in from all over the country — there’s also just a general excitement that floods the city and is impossible not to get hyped up by, from travellers and locals alike.
#3 The Food
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Darwin has absolutely gotten an unfair wrap on its food scene. So yes, just like the owner of Phat Mango told us, it’s not a city like Wellington where you can just pop in anywhere and expect good food. However, with the quickest of googles you can find unique and amazing food.
Your best starting point, as I discovered, is to join in a Darwin Gourmet Tour. For $149, you can take a three-hour tour for dinner or lunch that will show you the best food Darwin has to offer, from fine dining spots to hole-in-the-wall takeaways — as well as taking in the epic street art as you wander around.
They have a close relationship with the restaurant owners and head chefs, so you’ll get a tasting menu from each place and a chat with the people who made it for you. And yes, you will be absolutely stuffed by the end of tour.
We were taken to seafood specialists, Snapper Rocks, then to Phat Mango who specialise in uniquely Australian dishes, which involves a lot of Indigenous bush tucker and a lot of meat. Finally, my absolute favourite and somewhere you have to go, we stopped in at Little Miss Korea. The cocktails are inventive and delicious and they specialise in Korean barbeque, but I had the tempura eggplant dish and my mouth still starts drooling when I think about it.
#4 The Local Culture
There are plenty of ways to soak up some culture in Darwin, from Indigenous heritage to art galleries. I was super impressed by the small but fab Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), not to mention it’s in such a beautiful location by the sea.
One of my favourite experiences, though, was meeting Trent for one of his Saltwater Cultural Tours. Trent is a descendant of the Larrakia Peoples who are the traditional owners of this land, and he runs amazing tours both locally and to more remote and exclusive locations to share some of his knowledge.
During my time with him, he showed our small group a traditional Welcome To Country for the local area, how to throw traditional spears (which apparently I’m great at), weave jewellery out of local plants (which I’m still wearing), and start a fire without any matches (which I also managed, so I guess I’m Bear Grylls now).
Not only was it fun, but the location at De La Plage is also absolutely beautiful, and I strongly recommend hanging around for a bite at the cafe afterwards.
#5 The Range Of Accommodation
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An important consideration for any trip — but especially when you’re travelling for a festival, probably with a group of friends — is having a range of accommodation options for all budgets and styles. Darwin is perfect for that.
#6 The Sunsets
Thanks to Darwin being so flat, you’ll get to experience some of the most beautiful sunsets of your life there. One of the most popular activities in Darwin is hitting up the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (every Thursday and Sunday), grabbing a laksa that Darwin is famous for then sitting on the beach to watch the sun drop behind the ocean.
This also happens to be the site of BASSINTHEGRASS, so if you need a break from the music you can just wander down to the beach and enjoy watching the sunset.
The only sunset experience that comes close is right next door, sipping a cocktail while chilling in the Mindil Beach Casino infinity pool. Don’t stay here for dinner though, trust me.
#7 The Surrounding Beauty
You can’t talk about Darwin without talking about how close it is to some truly amazing national parks. There is a heap of water holes to go swimming in — like these nine — and remember, it never gets cold here.
You can also join a bunch of tours to explore the landscape and wildlife more deeply. I was lucky enough to experience a tour with Top End Safari Camp. When I tell you this is hands down the coolest thing I’ve ever done in Australia, I mean it.
Cruise down the river and enjoy the views while eating lunch, jump on an airboat to get into the smaller waterways and up close and (a little too) personal with the local crocs, then enjoy a bevvie in the pool while you wait for your turn on a scenic chopper ride, enjoying Litchfield National Park from a birds-eye view. Actual perfection.
If epic music festivals happen to not be your thing (for some weird reason), there are a heap of yearly cultural and food-related festivals and events (like these ones) that are absolutely worth planning your trip around instead.
AWOL travelled as a guest of Tourism NT.
(Lead image: Instagram / @probaly_kassia)