1,489km (923 miles) N of Alice Springs

Australia's proximity to Asia is never more apparent than when you are in Darwin. The northernmost capital, named after Charles Darwin, is an exotic blend of frontier town, Asian village, and modern life. With a population of about 90,000, Darwin has had a turbulent history -- and it shows. This city has battled just about everything that man and nature could throw at it. Most of its buildings date from the mid-1970s; Cyclone Tracy wiped out the city on Christmas Eve 1974. Despite all this destruction, some of Darwin's historic buildings -- or at least parts of them -- have survived, and you can see them around the city center.

The Darwin waterfront underwent a major redevelopment in 2009, with a new shopping and recreation precinct springing up near Stokes Wharf, looking out to the Arafura Sea. A large lagoon, wave pool, new hotels, high-rise residential apartments, restaurants, and shops are linked to the city center by a covered, elevated walkway through a corridor of bushland. Some locals think the advent of high-rise buildings -- also springing up within the city itself -- will alter the face of Darwin forever. Whether it will change the city's character as well, only time will tell. For the moment, it's still relaxed and very casual. Don't bother bringing a jacket and tie; shorts and sandals will be acceptable most places -- even the swankiest invitations stipulate "Territory Rig" dress, meaning long pants and a short-sleeved open-neck shirt for men.

Darwin is most commonly used as a gateway to Kakadu National Park, Katherine Gorge, and the Kimberley, and many Australians have never bothered to visit it -- or at least not for long. And that's a shame, because it is an attractive and interesting place. Give yourself a day or two to wander the pleasant streets and parklands, see the wildlife attractions, and discover some of the city's rich history. Then take time for some wetlands fishing, or shop for Aboriginal art and the Top End's South Sea pearls. An easy day trip is Litchfield National Park, one of the Territory's best-kept secrets, boasting waterfalls that you'd usually only see in vacation brochures to swim under.