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Northern Territory holiday guide

Parap village market, Darwin

A friend of mine is faithful to the rice ball dessert at the Cambodian Delights stall at Saturday’s Parap village market, and when I finally had a taste, I understood why: the glutinous rice balls come swimming in a palm-sugar syrup spiced with ginger and are simply delectable.

There’s a reason Pee Wee’s is a three-time winner of restaurant of the year at the annual NT Gold Plate awards: the restaurant’s chefs draw inspiration from Darwin’s multiculturalism and local produce, perfectly capturing the spirit of the city on a plate. All this at East Point Reserve away from the city’s hustle and bustle, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Arafura Sea.

Sometimes the supporting act steals the show and that’s the case with Pee Wee’s entree menu – luckily there’s the option to try it all with the “taste plate” ($42 for two people, $63 for three). The platter changes seasonally but may include the likes of crocodile wrapped in betel leaf, cooked with chilli, ginger, toasted peanuts, coconut and kaffir lime.

Rapid Creek market, Darwin

Darwin is a city of markets and the oldest is the Rapid Creek market, popular with locals on the hunt for Asian fruit and veg you won’t find in the produce aisle of the supermarket giants. The run-down building at Rapid Creek could do with a revamp but inside it bursts with life. Asian granny hawkers cram their goods on to small tables lining the hallways while buyers sip coconut shakes from takeaway cups.

The range of exotic produce is boggling. Even if you’re not planning on cooking, there are plenty of brightly coloured, tastebud-tingling fruits to try. Durian, starfruit, jackfruit, dragonfruit, mangosteen and rambutan are all served skinned, sliced and spiked with toothpicks, ready to eat. I won’t forget my first taste of a sapodilla – the grainy-skinned brown fruit isn’t much to look at, but inside its ultra-sweet flesh has a malty, caramel flavour. There are also lots of Asian desserts on offfer such as the Filipino classic ampaw (puffed rice cooked with brown sugar), while food trucks out back sell lunch, including curries, noodles and rice paper rolls.

Daly Waters pub

You’ll find Daly Waters off the Stuart Highway, somewhere in the middle of an unending stretch of nowhere – or more specifically, 600km south of Darwin or 900km north of Alice Springs. Billed as the “original outback pub”, this quaint watering hole is the ocker, outback boozer of our dreams.

According to the website, since its inception in 1930, the pub has “witnessed murders, shootouts in the main street, cattle stampeding through town and the odd drunken brawl”. These days the clientele is more likely to be cheerful grey nomads and well-heeled Asian tourists than hard-drinking stockmen or truckies with their bums hanging out.

Karrke Tour, Kings Canyon

Not far from Kings Canyon is the Karrke Aboriginal tour, a small, family-owned business run by Arrernte man Peter Abbott and his wife, Christine Breaden, a Luritja traditional owner of the Wanmarra lands. Together they take tourists on an hour-long tour of the region covering bush foods, medicines and other cultural knowledge.

Among the bush tucker, you’ll encounter a quandong – a fruit with tart, edible flesh (the wrinkled seed is used in jewellery making) – the kutjera or desert raisin that will give you a bellyache if you eat too much, the cottony sugar bag left on a gum leaf by the lerp insect, and a bush plum soaked in water to make a sweet drink. The guides don’t recommend tasting, and it is only done at your own risk.

Field of Light, Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, Uluru

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more spectacular dinner and show than A Night at Field of Light. Australia’s most famous big rock takes centre stage and, as the light in the sky dims, you’ll nibble on canapes (think paperbark-smoked crocodile frittata and poached prawn with native finger lime) and sip chilled sparkling wine. By the time Uluru becomes nothing but a silhouette, 50,000 frosted-glass spheres elevated on stems will begin to glow, an acclaimed work by the British light-installation artist Bruce Munro.

Hanuman, Darwin and Alice Springs

I’m sceptical about pan-Asian restaurants – so often the quality of the food proves inversely proportionate to the size of the cuisine’s footprint. Hanuman, however, is a happy exception. Perhaps it’s because the decorated Australian restaurateur and chef Jimmy Shu is committed to excelling at all three of Hanuman’s three styles of cooking (Indian, Thai and “Nonya” – a pan-Asian cuisine mixing Chinese, Malay and Indonesian influences) by bringing in chefs from India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Hanuman in Darwin has been around for more than 25 years, but it was the Alice Springs branch that finally took the top gong at NT’s 2016 Golden Plate awards, winning restaurant of the year. The menu isn’t particularly innovative, preferring to present classic dishes such as green chicken curry ($24.50), pork belly ($24) and beef vindaloo ($25) – but with far much more flair than your local shopping centre food court.