The capital of the Northern Territory, Darwin is often something of a shock to the first-time visitor. Seen by outsiders, or 'Southerners'—a term that includes all Australians except for a handful of hardy souls who live even further north—Darwin is a frontier town, a place of four wheel drive utes, heavy drinking ‘ockers’, heat, humidity, cyclones, snakes, deadly box-jellyfish, crocodiles and water buffalo. It may have all of these, but it is also a cosmopolitan and modern city, with a population drawn from all over the world, a vibrant social life, some great restaurants and first class coffee shops that would not seem out of place in Melbourne or Sydney.
It is hot, always, but it never gets as hot as the hottest days in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. And it never gets as cold, either. The average daily maximum varies only by 3° Celsius between summer and winter, and the only real difference between the seasons is rain—winters are dry; summers are very wet. A single millimetre is the average rain fall in July; in January more than 420 millimetres can be expected.
Sunday markets are common, and along with the usual trinkets and baubles designed to attract locals and tourists alike, there is a fantastic variety of fruit and vegetables, many of which are not found elsewhere in Australia.
The beaches are wide, but the waters usually deserted. There are a few issues—box jellyfish being one. One of the jellyfish species, Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as a sea wasp, can kill a human within a few minutes. The beaches have also been known to be occasionally visited by salt-water crocodiles, which can grow up to 7 meters long. The Darwin museum has a 5.1 metre specimen, known as ‘Sweetheart’, which attacked aluminium boats for five years before being captured in 1979.
The city has been almost destroyed a number of times—by extended periods of bombing by Japanese aircraft during World War II; and in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, which changed the town forever.