Darwin and the Tiwi Islands travel guide and things to do: Nine highlights

THE ONE FOOD TOUR

Just arrived? Get your bearings and meet fellow foodies on a three-hour Darwin gourmet lunch or dinner trek. Sample fare from places like Phat Mango in Smith Street (Martin the chef specialises in punchy local flavours: Rum Jungle buffalo carpaccio with river mint salsa verde; NT reef fish wings with peri peri); at PepperBerry in the revamped Hilton try native pepperberry loaf with saltbush dukkah or salt and pepper crocodile; and at Chow on the waterfront it's crunchy green rice flake spring rolls and do-or-die desserts. As you walk, then waddle, between restaurants you'll spot landmarks including the interactive street art (below). See darwingourmettours.com

THE ONE MARKET

Most visitors head to the Thursday night Mindil Beach sunset markets (April-October) but if you want to think local or are visiting in the Wet, head to Parap Village markets, five minutes' from the city centre on a Saturday, 8am-2pm. Your first buy has to be a traditional counter-intuitive Darwinian breakfast - a bowl of Mary's laksa. It may be hot and the laksa hotter, but it works. Cool off with the world's most refreshing drink - pink salt, lime, mint and ginger from Refreshingly Yum. Other go-tos are rotis and May's dumplings (the pork and chives are delicious, but only the brave will sample the cheeseburger version). There's live music, art and clothing stalls, good coffee, pastries and produce - bitter melon and jackfruit are some of the more exotic. Local buses head there and single-use plastic is banned. See parapvillage.com.au

THE ONE WALK

A cartoon kangaroo jumps off a van and runs down the street. Turtles swim on the side of a building and I haven't even had a gin yet. Darwin's streets have exploded with street art since the first Darwin Street Art Festival in 2017. To make the most of this art gallery of the streets, download the Darwin Street Art Festival app before starting your walk in Austin Lane. Point your phone at murals with stickers and watch works by international and local artists come alive via augmented reality. And don't miss the portrait of late singer Dr G Yunupingu in Austin Lane alongside the lyrics to his song, Baru (The Saltwater Crocodile). See darwinstreetartfestival.com.au

THE ONE GALLERY

Whether it be the sound of Cyclone Tracy bearing down on a Darwin devoid of Christmas cheer; the sight of Sweetheart the cranky croc, or the intricate beauty of Indigenous art, most think about their experiences at MAGNT (The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory) long after leaving. MAGNT overlooks inner-city Fannie Bay and entry is free. Upcoming exhibitions include Turtle Territory, showing new perspectives of turtles in their natural habitat, and Fresh: Connecting New and Old ART (until June 27). Open daily, 10am-4pm. See magnt.net.au

THE ONE BASE

There's a lot to do in Darwin so you want to be in the thick of it. The Oaks Darwin Elan is about a 10-minute walk (or quick E-scooter ride) to the Waterfront, or a short stroll the other way to the city's shopping and food hub and Smith Street Mall. Choose from spacious rooms or one and two-bedroom apartments, complete with full kitchen and laundry. These are perfect for families wanting to save on food and those needing to wash away sweat, mud or even mud crab after a day exploring. There's an on-site restaurant, gym and an outdoor pool (which I had to myself during a wet season visit). Rooms offer large balconies with views over Darwin Harbour – perfect to catch all the cracking drama of a seasonal storm. See oakshotels.com

THE ONE DAY TRIP

Relaxing after a swim at Sandy Creek Falls, Litchfield National Park. Sandy Creek Falls, Litchfield National Park Mandatory credit: Mitchell Cox /Tourism NT satmar17coveraust BREAKOUT SWIMMING Cover Australia ; text by Ute Junker SUPPLIED (via?Tourism NT)

Sandy Creek Falls, Litchfield National Park. Photo: Tourism NT

A two-hour drive south of Darwin will deposit you in Litchfield National Park. Here we swim in deep rock pools as waterfalls cascade overhead; walk through ancient rock formations; spot kingfishers in water-lily spotted wetlands, then cool down again amidst the bubbling waters of Florence Falls. And thanks to an absence of overseas visitors, the mistaken belief that you should only travel to the NT in the dry, and the small-group policy of tour company, Ethical Adventures, means we enjoy all of this undisturbed. Guide Dan points out ant mounds, stands of native pink hibiscus, soaring eagles and fat green ants making tree nests. And the clincher? His home-made muffins and giant bowls of salmon salad for lunch. Rob or Dan will pick you up from your Darwin hotel. See ethicaladventures.com.au

THE ONE NIGHT OUT

Water and what's in it are central to the tropics so heading to the Darwin Waterfront (waterfront.nt.gov.au) for dinner or drinks is a no-brainer. Grab a green ant G&T, a margarita or a beer and perch on a stool or at a table to watch the harbour as the fishing charters and cruisers do their stuff. During the day the mesmerising and croc-free Wave Lagoon there is the place to be. Take your pick from gentle swells to 1.2 metre sets. Restaurants and bars include seafood specialties on Stokes Hill Wharf. Top picks? Hot Tamale for made-to-order margaritas and tacos (hottamale.net.au) the Oyster Bar (oysterbar.com.au) and green tea fried ice-cream, and banana and chocolate spring rolls at Chow (chowdarwin.com.au).

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THE ONE FOOTY GAME

IStock AFLNT Alex Politis oneandonlydarwintiwi 

Photo: iStock

It pays to think ahead if you want to catch one of the most memorable spectacles on the Darwin calendar – the Tiwi Islands Australian Rules Grand Final in March. Twenty-minute plane trips from Darwin or tickets on a Sealink ferry which include lunch and a visit to the Tiwi Art Show and Sale sell like hot cakes. Settle back with a barra burger and mango ice-cream under a giant marquee and cheer on the mid-air magic and mind-boggling talent that has helped nurture AFL big names like Maurice, Cyril and Daniel Rioli and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Women's teams joined the action this year at Bathurst Island's Wurrumiyanga Oval, and they arguably had the harder task – their game playing out under the blaring sun without the sudden downpours that cooled off the men's game. See sealinknt.com.au and facebook.com/afltiwiislands

THE ONE RETREAT

Tiwi Island Retreat is a family owned and operated business run by none other than Matt Wright - a helicopter pilot, wildlife relocator and award-winning tourism operator...No one knows the Territory like Matt and the accommodation and activities on offer at Tiwi Island Retreat showcase some of the very best the Top End of Australia has to offer. oneandonlydarwintiwi   Tiwi Island Resort must us pic credit Tourism NT/Mark Fitz

Photo: Tourism NT

The word "retreat" doesn't quite suit Tiwi Island Retreat founder and crocodile handler Matt Wright, star of National Geographic's  TV show Outback Wrangler. But the word "resort" again does not quite do justice to his unobtrusive yet unforgettable getaway on the south-west coast of Bathurst Island. The rooms are simple and there are shared bathrooms. But there is a reason why well-heeled executives and celebrities come here - simply, there's nowhere else like it. After a short plane or chopper ride from Darwin, go on a guided barra fishing or mud-crabbing expedition (your catches will be cooked for you); settle by the pool with a mojito, or head up the beach on a buggy for a fire-side picnic as the sun sets. From the giant osprey nest atop the retreat's satellite dish to the constant presence of Claudia, the persistent crocodile, this place is wildly beautiful. See tiwiislandretreat.com.au

ONE MORE THING..

Too often the Top End is seen as being too far (three or four hours in a plane is bliss at the moment); too hot (gushing croc-free fresh waterfalls, sudden downpours amid crackling thunder - what's not to love?) and not enough to do (where to start?). Maybe it's taken a pandemic to make us realise what we have been missing. See northernterritory.com

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism NT

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