Why Darwin should be top of your Australia bucket list
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In the first part of this article we spoke to several young people who left the UK and travelled to Australia on a working holiday visa (WHV) to make new lives for themselves in Darwin, the tropical capital city of the country’s Northern Territory.
In this second part we find out why Darwin proves to be the ideal destination for working holiday makers.
In a country as vast as Australia there are degrees to how far any traveller is from the culturally familiar. 42% of working holiday makers in 2016 settled in Australia’s most well-known cities, Sydney and Melbourne, which offer big-city familiarity not far removed from home. Darwin and the Northern Territory, on the other hand, promise something truly unique, and although many travellers seem to end up here by happy accident they soon find themselves reluctant to leave.
“I’d never even heard of Darwin when I arrived in Australia,” says Beth Morrison, 24. “We just came here because it was warm when everywhere else was cold and miserable. Now I’ve been here for six months and don’t want to leave!”
Darwin lies about as far north as you can get in mainland Australia, and is closer to Asia than it is to Sydney. For all its modern comforts it has retained the feel of a frontier town. Its small population, of around 145,000, is surprisingly diverse, and the city is insulated enough by the surrounding Outback to have developed a personality unlike anywhere else in Australia.
Clare Dazeley, 26, has experience of living in Australia’s biggest cities. “A lot of people settle in Sydney or Melbourne when they first arrive in the country. Those places are great to visit, but to live there?” she says. “Darwin is big enough that you have everything you need, but it’s not a big city, so you’re not drowning in people. It’s a lot friendlier and more relaxed because of it.”
Although Darwin is well-equipped with backpacker bars, pubs, and hostels, it’s this small-town vibe that seems to keep travellers here.
“I feel like I have an actual new life here, instead of just being lost in a big city for a while,” says Harry Reeves, 21. “Even though I’ve never been anywhere like it, it really surprised me how easy it was to settle in here.”
It helps, of course, that Darwin has plenty of work to offer backpackers – everybody we speak to found a job within a couple of weeks of arriving, if not a couple of days. The general flexibility of a WHV means many of those jobs are similarly flexible, allowing time off to see the local sights, and Darwin is certainly blessed with those. Within a couple of hours’ drive of the city are some of Australia’s best natural wonders, like Kakadu National Park, a cornucopia of waterfalls, breathtaking vistas, and spiritual indigenous sites, as well as Nitmiluk (aka Katherine) Gorge and Litchfield National Park.
“There are so many things to do around Darwin, and I’ve just taken a few days off here and there to see places like Kakadu and Litchfield,” says Morrison.
“Seeing those places feels like travelling again. It’s incredible that they’re right on our doorstep. You can’t go exploring like that in Melbourne.”
A WHV offers a clear path into travel alongside the ability to earn money and valuable career experience. Perhaps a place like Darwin adds the missing ingredient that these young travellers were always seeking: that sense of being far from home in somewhere strange and new.
“Sometimes you get complacent when you travel, because you see so many cool things, but not here,” says Reeves. “The Northern Territory feels like the real Australia.”
Photo credit: Peter Eve/Tourism NT
Writer credit: Dave Owen