Mahalia Handley, model and activist

Darwin, Northern Territory

A born and bred Territorian, this model and activist grew up in a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and … crocodiles. While she’s now based in Sydney and spends her days fronting photo shoots, working as a creative director and campaigning for diversity and equality (check out #letherspeak), she still longs for the laksa and lush waterholes of her hometown. Here she shares her insider tips for Darwin and its surrounds.

For noodle lovers

As authentic as it gets

“If you want authentic Laksa and can handle the heat, head to Parap Markets on a Saturday. There’s quite the controversy amongst locals as Yutsia and Marys [laksa stalls] have been in competition for years. If you like a sweeter laksa, try Marys; for a spicier version head to Yutsia.”

12 Parap Place, Parap Place, Darwin

Face your fears

“If you’re game, visit Crocosaurus Cove to dive with crocodiles. It’s a very unique NT experience you’ll never get anywhere else – you’re in a glass cage and face to face with these giant predators.”

58 Mitchell Street, Darwin

History lesson

“Darwin is well known for Cyclone Tracy, which tore through the town and ripped it to shreds in 1974. In this museum there’s a room where you can hear and relive the haunting sound of the winds of Tracy and explore the destruction it caused.”

19 Conacher Street, The Gardens, Darwin

Sunset shopping

“Markets are a huge part of daily life in Darwin, and the Mindil Markets run every Sunday afternoon during the dry season [May to October]. Get there early, explore the stalls, watch a performance by whip cracker Mick’s Whips and grab a feed. Then head to the beach to watch the sensational sunset.”

Mindil Beach, Darwin

River cruise

“Get to see the real tropical Australia – and the beauty in our backyard – with this boat tour of Katherine Gorge. My extra hot tip: grab lunch at Cicada Lodge, which is 100 per cent owned by the Jawoyn people and serves Australian Aboriginal cuisine.” 

Desert oasis

Mahalia in her natural habitat

“This is a bit further out from Darwin CBD [500km], but worth it. Once you get to Bitter Springs spring-fed thermal pool, you’ll see blue crystal water surrounded by tropical plants. Make sure you bring sunscreen and floaties, and take heed of the rangers’ warnings for the day.”

Elsey National Park, Mataranka

Breakfast heaven

Rambutan fruit from the markets

“Get there early – Thai 101 sells a pork knuckle dish which sells out by 10am. Or you could try the Crispy Egg Sticky Rice (a Malay take on a Scottish egg) for something sweet. If you want a fruit-based breakfast, seek out mangosteen and rambutan, which will be available at the fruit and veg market stalls; they taste like lychee and plum.” 

Pavonia Place, Nightcliff, Darwin

Wildlife wonders

“Six of the seven marine turtle species are native to the tropical waters in the Northern Territory, and on these small group tours you’ll visit Bare Sand Island and see the turtles laying their eggs, and even help guide hatchlings to the water.”

Sea Darwin tours depart from Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin

Local treasure

“All the waterfalls and lagoons in Darwin are beautiful, but if you want to make like a local, head to Buley Rockhole [about 90 minutes from the city]. Pack some lunch and an Esky and get ready for a small trek into the bush to get to the waters’ playground. The mid-rock area is generally the safest area to swim, with minimal possibility of crocs getting in!”

Litchfield National Park

Water world

“For some family fun head down to the wave lagoon and catch some waves inside a massive pool or in the open lagoon.”

Kitchener Dr, Darwin City NT 0800

Girls night out

“If you’re up for a bit of dancing, head to Monsoons bar and Throb nightclub. Fridays + Saturdays Throb have a themed drag show and cheap drinks and on Thursdays, Monsoons has its Ladies Night with cheap drinks, great tunes, and a little show from some of the local male talent (think Magic Mike style, ladies).”

Monsoons, 46 Mitchell St, Darwin City
Throb Nightclub, 1/64 Smith St Darwin

The fineprint

How to get there
Darwin’s domestic airport is accessible via all major Australian cities (but check state border restrictions before booking). Travelling from Adelaide? Try the Ghan, the fabled railway.

When to visit
The dry season runs from May to August. Temperatures are milder, markets and festival are in full swing, and national parks are less likely to be shut down because of crocodiles!

Where to stay
The CBD is a great central base to explore from. Or if you want to stay in the outback, try Kakadu, Lake Bennett or Bamurru Plains for secluded luxury.

Insider advice
Hire a car if you intend to venture beyond the city, preferably an elevated 4WD.

Don’t be alarmed…
But always tap and shake out your shoes before putting them on, especially if you’ve been out in the bush.



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