According to the people who know about these sorts of things, the best time of the year to take a holiday in the Northern Territory capital is winter. From mid-June through to the end of August it’s the delightful dry season, with an average maximum temperature of 29°C. Yep, that’s winter in Darwin.
It’s a great time to explore the city and then head out to visit the stars of the region, World Heritage listed Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. But these unique natural wonders are not the only attractions at this time of year. The Darwin Festival is on in August, making the NT capital the coolest place to be.
This incredible event is the biggest festival of arts and culture in the Northern Territory. Running for 18 balmy days and nights, the Darwin Festival is a celebration of music, theatre, visual art, dance, cabaret and more. The festival started nearly half a century ago and all these years later, it’s managed to retain the quintessential spirit and energy of Darwin and is wonderfully laid-back, friendly and all about community.
Last year’s festival attracted 85,000+ people to more than 240 events in 30 venues across the city. The full programme for the 2018 festival will be announced on Thursday 21 June, but some amazing shows are already on sale.
From opening night, when a special presentation of Buried Country will celebrate the history of Indigenous country music in Australia, to the Australian Ballet presenting two performances of Coppélia, there’s something special to suit literally every taste.
One of the biggest names is set to be UK comedian Ross Noble, who’s bringing his new show, El Hablador (The Storyteller), to the festival on Saturday 11 August. Fans of QI, Have I Got News For You and other great British panel shows will be very familiar with the long-haired funnyman from Newcastle upon Tyne, who’s been called ‘The most brilliant stand-up of his generation' by The Sunday Telegraph (UK). Expect a riveting night of nonsense from this master of surreal – and utterly hilarious – improvisational stand-up.
One of the hits from last year’s event, the Aurora Spiegeltent, is making a return to the Festival. Meaning ‘magic mirrors’ a spiegeltent is a truly special travelling salon for music and cabaret. The tradition dates back to the early 20th century in Europe, where the exquisite pavilions were hand-hewn from wood, canvas, leaded glass, velvet brocade details and, of course, mirrors. Every spiegeltent is unique and utterly enchanting – in Darwin, the Aurora Spiegeltent will house a magic new show, LIMBO, mixing cabaret, circus and acrobatics. According to the festival blurb, ”This show is so hot, Madonna saw it twice!”
Many of the events are free or brilliantly priced (concession prices to the Australian Ballet, for example, are just $59 – even less if you’re a Friend of the Festival). But it’s not just the events that make the Darwin Festival such a hotly anticipated event each year. The fantastic weather lends itself to an al fresco lifestyle that the Festival embraces to marvellous effect. The city undergoes a culinary transformation, with locals and visitors gathering around the long communal tables set up in Festival Park, to enjoy drinks from pop-up bars and Darwin's legendary Asian cuisine from the bamboo food stalls that have almost become synonymous with the event.
1. Desert Harmony Festival (Tennant Creek, August 3-7)
The Desert Harmony Festival is probably Australia’s most remote festival – five fab days of red dirt, blankets of stars and divine desert culture, held on the lands of the Warumungu people. Events at the 29th festival will include the hugely popular Dinner Under the Stars (themed feasts and entertainment), a book launch, Outback glamping and the classical ballet Madame Butterfly. In exchange for volunteering their time, visitors can also apply to “Go Walkabout” for an experience of a lifetime.
2. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (Darwin, August 10-12)
Think you can spot the next Albert Namatjira? The 12th Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is your chance to dabble in the art world, and purchase works – ethically – from more than 2,000 emerging and established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
3. Rotary Henley on Todd Regatta (Alice Springs, August 18)
Australia’s oldest regatta is also the world’s only land regatta – unsurprisingly, given that most other boat races tend to involve water. Since 1962, however, the Rotary Henley on Todd Regatta has been conducting its boat races entirely on dry land – the bone-dry bed of the Todd River, to be exact. Events include the bathtub derby, bottomless yacht and rowing races and, um, budgie-smuggler races. It’s huge fun, totally bonkers and uniquely Australian.
4. Lasseters Classic Outback Trial (Alice Springs & surrounds, August 18-25)
The Lasseters Classic Outback Trial is a week-long rally that takes competitors through some of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular countryside. There are two categories for serious rally drivers, plus the Classic Outback Tagalong Tour – a non-competitive way to join in the fun and explore the Outback in a 4WD or AWD SUV, including overnight camping accommodation, meals and entry to the presentation dinner.
5. Red CentreNATS (Alice Springs, August 31-September 2)
Rev-heads, rejoice! The Red CentreNATS is the ultimate festival of cars and wheels, featuring drag racing, tyre-shredding burnout action, a 4WD obstacle course and Australia’s largest street parade, where entrants drive their cars through Alice Springs while thousands of spectators line the streets.