Darwin: The Cosmopolitan Centre of the Top End
In a country where multiculturalism is a point of pride, the city of Darwin in the Top End of the Northern Territory can hold its head high above the rest. It is closer to Asia than it is to other capital cities in Australia and has maintained strong social and economic ties with our northern neighbours, a fact that is reflected in the cosmopolitan nature of the city's population. The openness of Darwin to other cultures has fostered a relaxed and laid back atmosphere in the city, which combines with the tropical climate, the beautiful coastline and some amazing natural attractions to create a great holiday destination.

The place to really experience the people of Darwin coming together as a community is the Mindil Beach Markets. Browsing through the 300 stalls you can taste the foods of all five continents and be inspired by the skills of local arts and craftsmen selling their products. Its a creative and vibrant place where the locals go to have fun and relax in an alive and entertaining environment, and all in the stunning setting of Mindil Beach. Live bands and buskers provide the soundtrack to your Mindil experience, and you cannot help but walk away with some form of souvenir, whether it be a kangaroo, barramundi or crocodile product or a didgeridoo or a piece of bush art.

To learn about the history of the region and to be further amazed by the artistic and creative depth of the community here pay a visit to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The exhibit dedicated to retelling the story of Cyclone Tracy which destroyed Darwin in 1974 is particularly heart rending, but its balanced out by the colourful, vibrant and ingenious Indigenous art on display. South East Asian Oceanic art and material culture, maritime archaeology and the natural sciences are also represented here, which all helps make your visit an interesting and entertaining one.

A big drawcard to the Top End are the National Parks. Kakadu is the largest park in Australia, and historically is known as the premier park in the state if not the country. With its entrance just a couple of hours drive from Darwin, Kakadu is an easily accessible world of wetlands, crocodiles, rock art, beautiful bush and wide open spaces that no visitor to the region should pass up. The vast diversity of landscapes, wildlife and natural attractions are the perfect basis for a driving holiday, although bear in mind some areas are only accessible by 4WD. Lying closer to Darwin is Litchfield National Park, which is fast becoming as popular as Kakadu because of its mountain landscapes, dense tropical bush and stunning waterfalls. Geological features such as the 'Lost City' and the myriad of gorges in the park make it a stimulating destination. Its close proximity to the city means that many of its attractions can be incorporated into a daytrip.

A big point of interest for tourists to the NT are the crocodiles that populate the waterways and the coastline. The ultimate place to get up close and personal with these gnarly beasts is at Crocydylus Park, where over 1000 specimens of all ages and sizes live and breed. Informative guides will take you on a tour through the park, where you will experience a world of wildlife including Bengal Tigers, Persian Leopards, iguanas, monkeys and all sorts of Australian animals. No bookings are required, but try and coincide your visit with feeding times which are always an exciting experience.

Another exciting feeding experience can be found at Aquascene at Doctors Gulley. Here thousands of fish come into the shallow waters when the tide is high, waiting for their free feed from the tourists who line the banks and throw in scraps of food to them. Milkfish, catfish, bream and barramundi all thrash around in the shallows, creating a unique sight that is a good introduction to the marine species of the Northern Territory.

A visit to Darwin can incorporate all these attractions, and many more. The Harbour is the centre of much recreational activity, and a sunset boat tour with a drink in hand is a fitting end to a day spent absorbing the relaxed tropical lifestyle of this special city. The friendly locals welcome visitors with open arms, and a long established tourism industry means there is any style and level of accommodation available, from backpackers to five star hotels. With the wealth of attractions in and around the city, you will relish the freedom a hirecar from Rent New Cars gives you. So if you're thinking about a holiday anytime soon, give Darwin a go... everyone else is!

Gavin Wyatt