Darwin: Where NOT to go

Darwin Insider
Stuffed crocodile heads for sale at Mindil Beach (Photo: James Braund/Lonely Planet)
Stuffed crocodile heads for sale at Mindil Beach Markets
"Only in Darwin can you find a café with a sign near its front door boasting about its poor service standards.
Darwin Insider

Mitchell Street at night

Okay, at some stage you probably will visit Darwin's main street, as it's lined with travel agents, cafés and bars, but be careful in the wee hours as this nightlife strip is notorious for alcohol-fuelled violence, especially around the clubs at the lower end. It's also not the place to stay if you want a good night's sleep.

Outside on Territory Day

July 1 is Territory Day, the anniversary of self-government for the NT, and Territorians reserve the right to let off fireworks anywhere and everywhere to celebrate. What follows is a drunken reckless pyrotechnic orgy that is torture for dogs and other pets and results in an inundation of burns incidents at Royal Darwin Hospital. There is an official fireworks show at Mindil Beach, but even this is usually marred by loutish behaviour. Debate rages about what to do with "cracker night" — in 2008 sales were restricted to only occur on July 1, with no crackers sold before or after the big day. But still, it was a noisy, dangerous and unpredictable night. My advice: get earplugs and stay inside.

Anywhere — if you want good service

While Darwin is rapidly remaking itself as a modern city, there are some things that lag behind. Service is one of them: it's appalling. Wait staff and shop assistants are "relaxed" at best, and slow, rude and unprofessional at worst. I've been asked to help clear plates off my table by waiters, take the mail to the post office by receptionists and have had to lend tools to tradesmen who turn up at my house without theirs.

Only in Darwin can you find a café with a sign near its front door boasting about its poor service standards. On the flipside, Darwin is still a friendly place: described by one blogger as a cross between "Tombstone Arizona c1850 and a collegiate beach town", you'll find most people here open to strangers and inclined to random acts of helpfulness … as long as it's not in their job description, and the managers of small-scale tour operations, boutique hotels, B&Bs and villas are often sublime hosts with a natural tendency towards old-style hospitality.

Mindil Beach Markets

Crowded and touristy, the Mindil Markets can feel like sideshow alley at times. The weekend morning markets are a far more relaxed option for shopping and socialising than the Mindil night markets. As for sunsets, there are awesome views available all along the coastline: try East Point Reserve (where you'll be joined by a few wallabies), Nightcliff near the pier or Casuarina Coastal Reserve out near the university.

Lake Bennett

This man-made lake, one hour's drive from Darwin, has a jetty to jump off and canoes for hire, but is hot and shadeless. There is nowhere to picnic, and the only option for eating is the "wilderness resort" which serves up unimaginative food (like white bread corned-beef sandwiches). The Top End's natural waterholes are far more appealing.

Swimming in unsafe places

Accustomed as humans have become to dominating their world, in the Top End, it’s crocodiles not humans who are at the top of the food chain. While there are waterholes that are cleared and patrolled regularly, the only 100% safe place to swim in the Top End is a swimming pool. Particularly in the Wet Season, when the giant salties are on the move, steer clear of swollen, murky waterways. Ditto the ocean — deadly stingers from October to May make the ocean a no-go zone.
Visit the Be Crockwise website.

Got any more places to avoid? Have your say using the comments form below.

Next: Near the beaten track

User comments
Yep, I'll agree that Darwin is not a nice place at all . It really is a place for mongrel breeds who like getting drunk and making everyone's lives hell. This story is correct. I have been living in the NT for nearly 20 years as part of my employment. I can't wait to get the hell out of the place. It's an over rated hole. Everything is so unjustifiably expensive.
In my oppinion july 1st is the best night to spend in darwin. it is pyrotechnic chaos, but relax... where else would you be able to have such an experience. I say let your hair down and have some fun, buy your own and make a night of it. just remember fireworks can be dangerous, keep that in mind if you intend on having a few.
Hey Darwin.....don't go changin....we love you the way you are! Sadly some people seem to want everwhere they travel to be the same bland vanilla flavoured experience. But any town that takes that route inevitably looses its soul and the very reason most discerning people choose to visit. Darwin is unique. So if you are a pretentious tourist type please stay away and get your kicks sipping skinny-lattes in some snooty southern "try-hard" cafe. Darwin is one of the last bastions of genuine down to earth Australian culture. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. It's Darwin. As an "Regular Visitor" I for one hope that it always retains its heart and soul.
I visit Darwin every year for last 8 years ,Why ? well if you look for trouble you will find it in every city in the world, but if you want to visit a place thats proud of its heritage and will not bow to the nanny state Darwin is the place Territorians are unique they live their life their way., great people,awrsum landscape, good food, ok its not London or Sydney but thats the whole point.
I live in the NT and visit Darwin once in a blue moon prefer to drive on roads 4x4 enthusiasts would love cross rivers,creeks we like to go when we are cashed up knowing the prices are high in the tourist season we visit shops for things we cant get at home we dont eat flash fishermans Wharf big serve of fish & chips MacDonalds Hungry Jacks Cassuarina Food Mall we last about 7 days before heading home Darwin warts and all its our capital wish we could visit more often but thats life lived in a capital city before coming here saw it grow I dont like what it has become Darwin is still about the locals and has not yet become all tourist attraction
I live in the NT and visit Darwin once in a blue moon mostly when we are cashed up prefer to drive there across river and roads 4x4 enthusiasts would love yes prices are high depending on the time of the year you visit just wish we could stay longer and had more money we dont eat flash fishermans wharf a big serve of fish & chips MacDonalds Hungry Jacks Cassuarina Food Mall mostly buy needs we cant get at home if you want to travel do it in the off season prices are more affordable.It`s our capital and we like it looking forward to our next visit Darwin warts and all still ok for me and my family
While I agree with what the writer has put to paper, it still hurts to see our city's atrocities spelled out so bluntly. I hope that people read this as what it is, places not to go, and not skip Darwin all together, as it does have a lot to offer, you just have to dig a little deeper under the scum that lines every city and find it. Stay clear of the tourist traps (and Mitchell Street at 3am!) and explore the rich history that Darwin has to offer.
the writer was generous and balanced with her review - most people react defensively as though they believe it was perfect - this is childish and demonstrates a blindness to reality - be realistic - every place has it's negatives, what makes Darwin different. Truth is it's hard to live in Darwin. The weather is uninhabitable for almost ten months of the year - we get 2 bearable months, 3 if we're lucky. The shopping options are dreadful, and the prices of food, eating out, rent and house prices, for what you get, are dismal and overpriced. The housing market and rentals are dated and unattractive and cause me to grimace. I feel embarrassed for overseas visitors who are charged the earth for poxy hotel and apartment options with their one toilet roll, who charge the earth and are so average. I'd be happier to live here if not for the weather but the most annoying thing is how people defend and choose to ignore the obvious flaws and declare perfection - they are in magic faraway land
Much of the indifferent "service" provided is by travellers and tourists themselves, working and making a some quick Aussie dollars, while texting, chatting or adjusting the latest piercing. Secondly, the standardised, servile, artificial greeting that the whingers expect as part of "service" is a major falsehood, I'd rather not have it, just a "Hi" in the eye, with the understanding that there are real people on both sides of any counter, with real lives. Remember that some folk are not enrichened by someone demanding they "have a nice day".
All towns have places not to see, and all towns have things to see. The trick is to make sure you see the best of each town. I love the Wharf, and I must say I love the markets in Darwin, so many to choose from and the sunset and Mindil Beach is awesome, that’s why so many people go. The main reason I love the Territory? It is laid back, there is no rush. Do you really want to go into a café,restaurant and be rushed out of the door as soon as you walked in? If you’re nice, people will be nice back, I have always had awesome service and I have lived in the Territory for 10 years. Think on the positive when you travel, not the negatives, you might find you have more fun!