Wander the lanes of this bustling market, the heady aromas of dozens of different styles of exotic street food fill the warm evening air. Vendors work feverishly serving up sizzling satays and delicious deep-fried delights to eager patrons, while coloured lights twinkle in the balmy evening breeze. If you closed your eyes you could almost be in the night markets of Bangkok or perhaps Kuala Lumpur, but this urban centre is a whole lot closer to home, while paradoxically perhaps, being closer to Bali than it is to any other Australian city. Welcome to the Northern Territory capital Darwin.
Not only is the city equidistant from all of Australia’s major capital cities in terms of flying time (making it the ideal location for a national event), but daily direct flights of just four hours to Singapore mean delegates from across the ASEAN region can connect to an Australasian event in Darwin with ease. The city’s burgeoning role as the gateway to Australia for Asia’s business community looks likely to grow significantly with predictions that by 2020 Asia will be home to 50 per cent of the world’s middle class. It’s certainly an exciting time for the Top End’s business events industry.
Twelve business event planners from around Australia headed to Meet Darwin 2017 – an immersive four-day famil designed to give them a taste of exactly what makes this city such a dynamic conferencing destination. And the tastes don’t come any more exotic than here at the twice-weekly Mindil Beach Sunset Market. The group arrived at the market to be ushered into a private sanctuary demarcated by a white picket fence, and festooned with fairy lights. Each of the delegates is given a wad of ‘Mindil Money’ to purchase dinner in the market and bring it back to enjoy in style. But first it was down the beach for a bout of fire twirling (you might recognise our fire twirler from the latest Qantas onboard safety video), followed by what this market is so famous for – the stunning sunset. The whole affair is fabulously impressive. It’s an off-site dining experience that’s uniquely Darwin and it sets the tone perfectly for a famil programme underscored with an almost palpable sense of possibility.
When it comes to staging a top line business event, market dinners are one thing; world-class conferencing facilities are another – and the city has that well and truly covered by the state-of-the-art Darwin Convention Centre. Located in the revitalised Darwin Waterfront Precinct – a lush tropical utopia of recreational facilities, hotel accommodation, restaurants and
bars – the centre offers an impressive suite of conferencing facilities including a 1200 seat tiered and configurable auditorium and 4000sqm of column-free hall space. The forecourt doubles as a handy helipad, and the delegates were treated to a bird’s eye view of the city centre and surrounding coastline with Nautilus Aviation. It’s a truly spectacular indulgence, and one that wouldn’t fail to impress any conference delegate.
The site inspection at the Darwin Convention Centre coincides with the set-up for the annual Darwin ‘Starball’ – a gala fundraising event for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, sponsored by local pearling giant Paspaley.
This is a big event on the local social calendar, and even local news crews are in attendance for a sneak peek at what’s in store for guests. With a six-course sit-down dinner for 850 guests on his hands, amiable executive chef Toby Beaton still manages to take time out to introduce us to the centre’s impressive catering operation.
While the contemporary Adina Vibe hotel complex is ideally placed to host delegates in the Waterfront Precinct, the accommodation options extend well beyond. All up, Darwin offers close to 4000 rooms – a mix of hotel, serviced apartment and contemporary resort-style accommodation options. City hotel options are within comfortable walking distance of the Waterfront and convention centre. Capacity within the Waterfront Precinct itself looks set to increase with the opening of a luxury $250m Westin hotel scheduled for 2020.
When it comes to layering your business event programme with unique experiences, you’ll very quickly work out that what would almost certainly be deemed ‘impossible’ in most other Australian markets is quite likely to be ‘possible’ in this one. Let’s start with a city wildlife encounter. Wildlife park Crocosaurus Cove is located in the heart of the CBD and is home to several very large saltwater crocodiles, along with a collection of other scaly critters. It’s an off-site drinks or meeting space with a very toothy difference, and one that international guests in particular are likely to love.
Darwin has one of the most turbulent histories of any Australian capital city and there are myriad opportunities to weave a historical narrative into a conference program. The Royal Flying Doctor Tourist Facility is a versatile off-site space that covers two important chapters: the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (launched in the Territory in 1939) and the deadly Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942, which resulted in the destruction of nine ships in the harbour and the loss of 235 lives. The facility offers a gripping virtual reality presentation, hologram presentations and interpretive displays. The space is flexible and can be easily adapted to suit the needs of event organisers.
Of all the surprises Darwin has in store for event organisers, the city’s dymanic culinary scene is likely to be one of the biggest. There are endless ways to spoil delegates with top notch Top End cuisine, much of which reflects a growing emphasis on bush-food inspired tucker. Located just a three-minute walk from the Darwin Convention Centre, Wharf One Food and Wine is one of the city’s premier dining destinations. With its wood grill, and emphasis on seasonal local produce, this stylish eatery can cater for sit-down dinners for up to 300 guests, or 600 guests for a cocktail-style event. Barramundi cooking classes are a specialty – ideal for partner programs.
Just a short drive past the aforementioned Mindil Beach, Pee Wee’s at the Point at East Point Reserve pushes the boat out with fabulous a la carte cuisine, served up with stunning water views and effortless sophistication. Start with champagne cocktails on the rolling lawn in the warm glow of a Top End sunset, before moving on to a mouth-watering sit-down dinner, featuring menu highlights such as wild caught saltwater Barramundi or plump banana prawns.
The group got even closer to the water with Darwin Harbour Cruises, which provides a range of cruise options. The 25-m tri-level catamaran can accommodate up to 270 guests, and a buffet lunch or dinner cruise is bound to be a highlight of any conference itinerary.
For event planners looking to provide delegates with a taste of local Indigenous culture, connect with the team at Aboriginal Bush Traders. Run by the Ironbark Aboriginal Corporation, this amazing community facility sells a wide range of Aboriginal arts and crafts with proceeds invested back into Indigenous social programs. The centre is housed in historic Lyon’s Cottage on the Esplanade and can provide a bespoke cultural program or presentation for groups. The centre’s on-site café offers a range of bushfood-inspired catering options.
One of the greatest advantages of holding a business event in the Top End is the availability of expert guest speakers from a diversity of fields, including mining, Indigenous health, agriculture, and several areas of tropical knowledge. One of the absolute highlights of the famil program was the chance to learn about the work of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre’s Australian Medical Assistance Teams – multi-disciplinary and completely self-sufficient teams of doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health professionals, that are deployed to emergency and disaster zones across the Asia Pacific region. It’s seriously inspiring and likely to foster a renewed spirit of collaboration amongst delegates at any event fortunate enough to secure this organisation for a keynote presentation.
The extraordinary four days wrap with drinks on Speaker’s Green at Darwin’s Post-modern Parliament House and a gala dinner at the Darwin Convention Centre – which includes a captivating display of Indigenous contemporary dance by the Gary Lang NT Dance Company. It’s a busy night at the Waterfront, with a free performance by the Darwin Symphony Orchestra. The evening is capped off by a spectacular round of fireworks, an appropriate finale for four days that completely redefined possibility.