Not just the tropical gateway to the outback, Darwin is a youthful, vibrant city, with a rich indigenous culture and a colourful mix of more than 50 nationalities, but it can be expensive. Megan Arkinstall uncovers the budget and the blow-out ways to experience the city…

On a budget

Pick up a rental 4WD at the airport (from $60 a day at Thrifty) for the 15-minute drive to the city’s waterfront precinct, which is almost always bustling with holidaymakers and families.

The grassed area here is an ideal picnic spot that stretches between the recreation swimming lagoon and wave pool (which has a man-made beach), so families can loll between swims and sandwiches.

The Vibe Hotel (from $101 a night) is located almost directly adjacent to the Wave Lagoon, which will keep the kids entertained for hours ($18 for a family of five), while the precinct’s restaurants (from modern Mexican to easy pub grub) exude a casual resort atmosphere; wet hair, sandals and shorts are totally acceptable.

The Sky Bridge will take you from the waterfront to the CBD, and it’s a fairly easy walk to Smith Street Mall and Knuckey Street, where you’ll find more small bars and restaurants, and boutique shops.

From here you can head over to the Deckchair Cinema. Watch a film with a glass of wine under the stars ($16 adults, $8 children) at this outdoor theatre, which is open every night during the dry season.

A five-minute drive from the CBD is Mindil Beach. You’ll find the bustling Mindil Beach Sunset Market here every Thursday and Sunday evening. There’s everything from live music to fire twirling and Chinese massage, and a huge number of stalls selling local arts and crafts. The beach is known for its sunsets, so grab a bite to eat from one of the food stalls and watch the sun disappear.

The Darwin upgrade

Check in to SKYCITY Darwin, a glamorous casino/hotel with spacious rooms, five restaurants, seven bars, infinity pool and direct beach access (from $359 a night).

Then head out for a high tea at Parisian-style restaurant and bar The Pearl, with bottomless Champagne and canapés of oysters, cured meats and petits fours ($125).

To get the heart racing again go for a dive in the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove, the country’s only crocodile dive (from $165).

After sunset on Mindil Beach, dine on a DIY Korean barbecue at laneway restaurant Little Miss Korea (from $49–65 for a banquet), or try Pee Wee’s at the Point (mains from $41) on the waterfront for its local-produce-driven menu.

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