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36°C

Local time Darwin

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Darwin History

From tropical backwater to sophisticated metropolis, Darwin has undergone an incredible metamorphosis.

Long before the Brits arrived, Darwin was home to Aboriginal people who had trading routes with Southeast Asia and imported goods from south and western Australia.

The Dutch made an appearance in the 1600s, creating the first European maps of the area.

But the first British person to discover Darwin’s harbour was John Stokes, captain of the Beagle, in 1839. He named the area after former shipmate and naturalist, Charles Darwin.

While the Overland Telegraph Line was being laid between Port Augusta and Darwin, workers uncovered gold near Pine Creek, about 200km (125 miles) south of Darwin. Miners and machinery flooded the city and in the early 20th century, an airport sprung up and further gold was discovered at Tennant Creek.

However, by the start of WWII, Darwin remained isolated, with a population of just 2,000 and limited infrastructure and road links.

The arrival of 10,000 Allied troops to defend the northern coastline immediately made Darwin a target. In 1942, Japanese bombers raided the city 64 times, killing around 900 people and destroying 77 aircraft and several ships.

In the 1950s, the town grew steadily, spurred on by the discovery of uranium and iron ore. In 1959, Darwin was granted city status.

By the early 1970s however, Darwin was still pretty cut off from the rest of the country, particularly during the wet season when roads became impassable.

Then, on Christmas Eve 1974, the city was almost entirely wiped out by Cyclone Tracy, which dealt out the highest wind speeds ever seen on the Australian mainland. The 45,000-strong population was suddenly depleted, as residents were evacuated.

The rebuilding that followed has resulted in a well-planned, modern city, which continues to thrive today.

Did you know?
• The didgeridoo originally came from Arnhem Land, east of Darwin.
• The B52 bomber at the Aviation Heritage Centre is one of only two on display in the world outside the USA.
• The Ghan train first rolled into Darwin from Adelaide on 4 February 2004.

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Value Inn

Don't be put off by the name, all the rooms in this affordable city centre hotel feature queen sized beds, a single bed, air conditioning and en suite facilities. There are also three pools, a licensed bar, and a spa available for guest use at Melaleuca on Mitchell, the award-winning backpackers hangout across the road.

Oaks Elan Darwin

This impressive newbie is a 301-room property with a range of one- and two-bed apartments. It has a decent central location, while the in-house restaurant, O.A.K., is another good reason to visit. Private balconies, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi are all part of the deal too.

Mantra Pandanas

Neatly situated in the heart of the city, Mantra Pandanas has 336 hotel rooms as well as one- and two-bedroom apartments, some with private balconies overlooking the harbour and city. Expect a chic tropical style, evident in the modern rooms and down at the pool, which features its own waterfall.

Chillis Backpackers

A lively backpacker joint in peak season, this hostel offers budget rooms in the heart of the city, with a mix of private doubles and shared dormitory accommodation. Facilities include a launderette, a pool, an internet cafe, a sun deck and a kitchen. There are even a couple of (mercifully cool) whirlpool Jacuzzis.

Darwin FreeSpirit Resort

A laid-back campsite and resort sitting 15 minutes' drive from central Darwin, this is arguably the best of the city's out-of-town options. It's popular with families, thanks in part to the presence of three swimming pools. You'll also find BBQ areas and a bar-bistro among its tropical palm trees and gardens.

Novotel Darwin CBD

Formerly the Novotel Darwin Atrium, this mid-range hotel overlooks the coast and sits a short stroll from the buzz of Mitchell Street. There are 140 rooms in total, and they're nice enough to make the relatively affordable price a big draw. It also has what it refers to as a "tropical indoor rainforest" – not many crocs to be found, though.