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Heat comes in a range of sights and flavours in the Northern Territory.

From Alley Cats Patisserie’s hipster cronuts to Eat at Martin’s vibrant vegetarian creations, Darwin has added new-generation soul and eagerness to its gastronomic offerings. While locals have long been spoilt by the fresh goods from Darwin’s multiple markets, the restaurants are now working together in co-ops, with fresh ideas – so to speak – on how to keep ingredients local and food miles low. The city is concentrating on creating food and using produce that is grown here rather than shipping it in from elsewhere.

There are many things igniting Australia’s Northern Territory these days. Such as the blazing sunsets that set Darwin afire most nights and the awesome spectacle of lightning that forks and snakes its way across the landscape during the thunderous wet season. Then there’s the fire in the belly of the Top End’s adventurous and fun-loving people. But what might be the hottest thing right now is Territorians’ searing passion for food.

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The region’s “beer and barra” reputation has morphed into condensation-laced cocktails in Darwin’s bustling, urbane waterfront precinct. Greek-spiced seafood is served up steaming and sumptuous at Antiquity, just up the promenade from hot and sour fish at the city’s hottest Vietnamese, Chow, and some of Australia’s best oysters prepared nine different ways at The Oyster Bar.

There’s more to Darwin delicacies than the waterfront. Camouflaged among the kaleidoscopic street art in a mid-city alleyway, industrial-chic Korean barbecue beckons at urban sweetheart Little Miss Korea. Around the corner, the flames of the chargrill at PM Eat Drink are kept busy as the restaurant’s impressive roster of straight-from-the-dock seafood is simply kissed by fire for the briefest of moments before being served up in a perfect example of “fresh is best”.

On Sundays, the city moves en masse to sunset-gilded Mindil Beach. Here, it gossips in deckchairs, holds its collective breath as the sun flirts with the horizon over the beach to spectacular effect, and dips spoons into green pandan pudding or tucks into rocket-topped pizzas, the latter woodfired right here in the markets. The food stalls seemingly line up forever down the roadway. At the end, lines of curious marketgoers form at sunset by the telescopes of local astronomer Geoff Carr, to view the stars and planets rising in the darkening sky.

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The fire is spreading throughout the Territory, too. Local favourite Hanuman, on a slow burn in Darwin for more than 25 years as one of the city’s top restaurants, recently reopened its sister restaurant in the capital of the Red Centre, Alice Springs. Hanuman is known for its gorgeous spices – rather than spiciness – and wide-ranging menu covering Indian, Thai and Nonya (Malay) dishes. Its cinnamon and star anise-scented pork belly, rosewater and cardamom Sri Lankan love cake and signature lemongrass and chilli oysters ensure it remains a Northern Territory classic.

Of course, the very flavour of the Northern Territory is a wonderful mélange of not only delicately flavoured Asian-inspired dishes. A very much older but no less current ingredient of the Territory’s food culture is bush tucker. Sampling the natural foods of the indigenous people is a window to the rich and ancient culture that has sustained them for thousands of years while empires in the rest of the world have grown and crumbled many times over.

Alongside the coppery-coloured slopes of Uluru, the always innovative Ayers Rock Resort has launched a new Bush Tucker Trail that takes guests on a journey of indigenous flavour discovery. Guests can try signature dishes incorporating bush ingredients at every restaurant throughout the resort, experiencing flavours that both arise from and reflect the landscape: refreshing lemon myrtle, rich Kakadu plum and bush tomato, the warmth of wattleseed and more. To continue the theme, even the cocktails at the resort have been given a bush tucker touch, with tipples such as a native mint and desert lime mojito or a lemon myrtle martini providing a cooling refreshment after a red-earth day in the spectacular desert region.

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To see Alice Springs at possibly its most spectacular, visit during the 10-day festival of Parrtjima – A Festival in Light. This is when Australia’s biggest-ever light show installation fires up the surrounds of Alice Springs Desert Park, seven kilometres from the centre of the city, with more than 2.5 kilometres of the rugged, iconic MacDonnell Ranges illuminated in dramatic style. The desert sky itself is brightened and the spotlight, so to speak, falls squarely on contemporary and indigenous art. One installation planned for this year sets up a series of large illuminated 1950s-style circle skirts, featuring the watercolours of Lenie Namatjira, granddaughter of renowned artist Albert Namatjira.

This creation of magic moments and memorable experiences, in the very place where so many indigenous creation stories have begun, is a reason any visit to the Northern Territory burns so brightly.

FACTS

Getting there
Qantas flies to Darwin, Alice Springs and Uluru: qantas.com.au.

Indicative flying hours
From Sydney: Darwin 4 hours 30 mins, Alice Springs 3 hours 10 mins, Uluru 3 hours 30 mins
From Melbourne: Darwin 4 hours 20 mins, Alice Springs 2 hours 50 mins, Uluru 3 hours
From Brisbane: Darwin 4 hours, Alice Springs 3 hours, Uluru (no direct flights)
From Perth: Darwin 3 hours 30 mins, Alice Springs 2 hours 45 mins, Uluru (no direct flights)

Indicative driving times
Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks are about three hours from Darwin.
Litchfield National Park is about 90 minutes from Darwin.
Alice Springs is about 15 hours from Darwin.
Uluru is about four-and-a-half hours from Alice Springs.

For more information on the Northern Territory, visit northernterritory.com.

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It’s about time to tick the NT off your bucket list. From scenic flights and swimming in waterfalls to camel rides and dining under the stars, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the NT. Stop guessing, start doing. It’s about time you did the NT. Book now and regret never, with Qantas.

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