Tropical Triangle - Broome Darwin and Cairns
The northern triangle formed by these three tropical towns creates, for many backpackers and tourists, the ultimate Australian getaway. Broome, Darwin and Cairns represent much of the iconic Australian image.
Laid back lifestyles punctuated by holiday adventure themes. Hiking through rainforest and snorkelling on the Barrier Reef or camel rides along long white beaches fronted by crystal tropical waters.
Perhaps crocodile spotting from a tiny dinghy, hauling in a massive Barramundi or a venture into timeless Arnhem land.
Broome, Darwin and Cairns are the largest municipalities of the upper northern region of Australia and their tropical climate and easygoing remoteness have eared them reputations as 'must-see' destinations for travellers of all persuasions.
Throngs of heat-seeking backpackers converge on all three towns (Darwin and Cairns are actually classed as small cities) and each destination is able to combine a healthy mix of pub and party lifestyle with cultural and adventure style activities.
All three centres host an international airport with Broome and Cairns catering specifically to the Japanese tourist. For many Japanese visitors Broome or Cairns are the only points on the Australian map to be visited - the oceanside culture of Cable Beach or exotic tropical Cairns are enough for one holiday. Daily flights direct from Tokyo or Osaka ensure the Yen keeps on arriving.
Cruise ships regularly visit the deepwater ports of Darwin Harbour and Broome while Cairns remains the busiest cruise port in Australia with over 200 ships visiting every year.
The 'grey nomads' (retirees towing caravans) flock to all three towns with most deserting at the onset of the 'wet season' and returning to the cooler southern climes.
Adventurers towing off-road camper trailers enjoy a stop-off before venturing on to more remote hideaways and many Australians choose Broome, Cairns or Darwin for their annual holidays.
It is the backpackers who really thrive in this tropical triangle. Backpacker Hostels gear up to host the hordes of Swiss, French, Korean, German, English, Japanese, Irish, Scottish, Chinese and any other nationality you can name.
Apart from the usual budget dorm-style accommodation, extra services can include swimming pools, spas, sun decks and bars. Shuttle Bus services often run from the front door with bookings for external activities being taken on site. Nightly entertainment can be a drawcard but it is the chance to meet and socialise with so many other likeminded souls that really draws the backpacker crowd.
Broome, Cairns and Darwin all offer casual laid-back attitudes and atmospheres. Bather's and beach footwear are generally welcome in the pubs and eateries and days filled with fun tourist opportunities are offset by long nights of partying.
The tourist onslaught ensures casual job opportunities are plentiful (especially in hospitality) and it's possible for those with work visa's to enjoy a working holiday in a sublime environment.
Northern Australia was under constant threat from Japanese air raids during WW2 and these three outposts became crucial strategic bases for the defence of Australia. The three towns set up anti-aircraft posts and watches and Darwin and Cairns became pivotal bases for American troops.
Broome suffered three air raids but it was Darwin which bore the brunt of Japanese aggression with more ordinance being dropped on Darwin than at Pearl Harbour.
Local museums all pay tribute to the service people who defended northern Australia with Darwin doing the most to document it's war time involvement. Bunkers, shipwrecks, gun emplacements and fallen aircraft litter the coast and are testament to a very real threat at the time.
This part of the world is a multicultural melting pot. Early settlers included large numbers of Chinese while Darwin enjoys the influence of early Italian and Greek migrants. Broome was originally a prime pearling ground and Japanese pearl divers were part of Broome society as early as the late 1800's. Their influence is still keenly felt today, both in the faces of the townsfolk and the cultural identity of Broome.
Northern Australia's close proximity to Asia means large numbers of Asian migrants have emigrated here. The weather, relaxed lifestyle and work opportunities ensure that the north enjoys a culturally diverse population.
These regions are also attractive to those with an artistic flair and many artists, photographers and musicians make Broome, Darwin or Cairns home. Local arts and crafts are easily sourced at local markets (Darwin excels at markets) while those seeking an alternative lifestyle are easily accommodated. Tie-dyed singlets, braided hair and hand made bracelets are all the go and a lost flower child from the sixties is not an uncommon sight.
Aborigines lived here long before Captain Cook sailed into Cairns or Charles Darwin visited on the Beagle and local aboriginal art is on display and on sale. Local tours feature Aboriginal culture and if you're seeking to get back to earth with an indigenous experience - these may be the towns to find it.
What To Do
All three destinations are great launching pads for a variety of experiences on offer.
Broome lends itself to a 'natural' experience. It's the gateway to the stunning and remote Kimberley region of Western Australia and there are plenty of stunning sights a short drive or tour away. White or red ochre beaches, hidden bays and turquoise waters create a postcard picture perfect scene and if you want a relaxed beachside experience with a chance to explore some remote outback scenery then Broome is ideal.
Darwin offers a more culturally diverse experience with more on offer within the town itself. The town's history is well represented and museums and galleries are plentiful. A growing cafe culture combines with a diverse population to bring a casual dining experience. Darwin rests on a large point in the Timor Sea and you have to venture 300km south to find the magnificent natural regions like Nitmulak, Kakadu and Arnhem land.
Cairns is the adventure playground of the three. At it's front door lies the Great Barrier Reef, dotted with reef, islands and marine activities. Behind Cairns, tropical rainforest spills down into the ocean and hides a myriad of things to do and see. A mountain train journey, white water rafting and cable cars above the rainforest are just a few of the activities on offer.
Cafes and restaurants are plentiful and relaxed and a vibrant nightlife and pub scene keeps things humming along after the sun goes down.
When to Visit and The Weather
Broome, Darwin and Cairns can all serve up an varied and interesting experience at any time of the year.
However, the wet or monsoonal season (also know as 'troppo' and 'mango' season) sees the tourists leaving in droves. Hot maximum temperatures combined with extreme humidity create an uncomfortable living environment. Tropical ailments can effect an unaccustomed metabolism. Suffering constant sauna-like conditions coupled with an influx of insects and flooded roads is enough to drive even the hardiest tourist away.
The 'Wet' really begins building up in November and carries through to around the end of March.
Torrential rain can bring about road closures and many tour operators take a break and close for part of the wet season.
The locals and those that choose stay on are treated to amazing wildlife, a blindingly green landscape, stunning lightning shows and thunderstorms (particularly in Darwin) and quiet, unpopulated facilities.
The end of the wet season around April is, perhaps, one of the best times to visit. The environment remains vividly green, wildlife is abundant, the parks and gorges become accessible again and the rivers and waterfalls are still flowing hard. At this time the 'runout' around Darwin is the signal for the Barramundi to leave the inland areas and move closer to the ocean and the fishing can be sensational.
The remainder of the year is generally a temperate/warm affair with pleasant nights and glorious days. Temperatures may verge toward slightly cool or slightly warm but it's rarely unpleasant. June, July and August are the height of tourist season
So Is It All Beer and Skittles?
Well, frankly no it's not.
This is northern Australia. Crocodiles and Irukandji and Box jellyfish are all present in these tropical waters. Big saltwater crocs are a real and present danger the further north you venture and occasionally they drag a dog or unsuspecting sightseer off a beach. Thankfully, signs will usually make you aware of when and where you shouldn't swim. These are not towns where you can just slap your beach towel onto the sand and take a dip anywhere you want.
The beaches further south are the real postcard image of sun drenched Australia.
You can also be bitten in the tourist shops of these three travel icons. Inflated prices for tourist junk - Koala 'Teddy' bears made in China or Boomerangs made in Taiwan can leave a slightly unpleasant taste in the mouth of the tourist dollar.
You can get a handle on local indigenous culture in these towns. There are plenty of tours and artistic opportunities organised by self-reliant local aborigines. The intrusion of white colonial Australia has had less of an impact up here than in the major cities down south. Or rather, the impact down south is less obvious.
You will probably see indigenous Australia at it's worst up here. These towns lend themselves to outdoor living and many indigenous locals (and plenty of white Australians) choose to reside on the beaches or under the trees. Alcohol and welfare reliance are serious social issues and groups of traditional owners can be seen emerging from metropolitan bush hideouts to spend the days hanging about the town centre.
It's nothing particularly bothersome it's just a fact not portrayed in the holiday brochures.
Apart from these minor issues these towns really have a unique offering.
So Which Town Is The Best To Visit?
Tough question. We must admit to having an attachment to the area around Broome.
Broome sits at the top of the Pilbara and the bottom of the Kimberley regions which both offer some of the most stunning landscapes and touring icons in the country. It is a small, isolated country town of only 15,000 residents which swell to 45,000 when the tourist season kicks in.
The beach at Broome offers a postcard image of white sand and turquoise water and is probably the most idyllic swimming opportunity of these three towns. If you want to see remote 'outback' Australia then you have to travel a fair distance from the CBD but some of the sights are spectacular.
Darwin has a unique feel and attitude. Friendly, relaxed folk make it easy to forget Darwin is actually the capital city of the Northern Territory. The place feels more like a big country town which it really is.
There's plenty to see and do around the CBD and you will always find some activity around the centre of town - day or night.
With tours aplenty and Nitmulik(Katherine Gorge) Kakadu and Arnhem Land just south of the town there is loads on offer.
Cairns is a bit more more hustle and bustle than Broome or Darwin. And so it should be. It's the largest of this trio and as such has the most comprehensive services and facilities. Cairns caters to the tourist dollar and sometimes it can feel a little impersonal.
This may be the price for having the Barrier Reef at your front door and a tropical rainforest at your back. The climate is great, the scenery spectacular and the activities endless.
If we had to rate them we would choose 1.Darwin, 2.Broome and 3.Cairns in that order. But hey, our opinion is relative to our experience.
The best way to visit is by car. Your own. A drive around the top end using these three points as stopovers is a great way to see some of the best Australia has to offer.
For us the coastal strip at Coral Bay and Ningaloo offer some of the best beaches on offer in Australia.
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