Darwin is a city like no other in Australia.
Forged as a remote outpost in the harsh top end of the country, to this day Darwin still holds its own distinct rustic yet casual laid back atmosphere that can only be created through isolation.
Darwin’s dry season, which just happens to fall during the worst of the cold winter for Australia’s southern states, is the perfect time to visit the Northern Territory capital enjoy the warmth and take in everything it has to offer from including its wildlife, history and even the rugged landscape.
You’ll find no shortage of things to do in and around Darwin so give yourself a bit of time to discover it before or after you visit Kakadu.
Stokes Hill Wharf
The historic Stokes Hill Wharf, down by the Waterfront Precinct (which we’ll get to shortly), is a great little introduction to Darwin.
Not only home to numerous eateries and restaurants overlooking the water for a casual start to your time in Darwin (Darwin is a casual kind of place so you’ll need to get used to it), it’s also home to the Bombing of Darwin and Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility.
While it sounds like these are two separate attractions, they are basically one and the same. Just different sections/exhibitions in the one building.
They are both worth the visit to give yourself a brief introduction into both the World War Two bombings of Darwin, which is a significant part of the cities history, as well a the Royal Flying Doctor Service which has played a significant role around Australia for 80(ish) years.
Fun Fact: The wharf at the site now is the third iteration of the Stokes Hill Wharf built back in 1956. It was the primary wharf servicing Darwin until the Darwin Port was completed in 2000.
Stokes Hill Wharf is also where you’ll find a number of cruise operators if you’d like to get out on the water. Sunset cruises are quite popular in Darwin as are airboats, but I’ll get to those later in this post.
Moving on to the Waterfront Precinct, right next to Stokes Hill Wharf.
Whilst not strictly a tourist attraction, just a short walk from Darwin’s CBD it’s a good safe place for you to relax on the beach without having to worry about crocodiles and stingers… Yes, that is a real concern with the other beaches and waterways around Darwin.
Being in the tropics, Darwin is one of those places that is either hot and wet of hot and dry so knowing where you can cool down is important.
The Waterfront Precinct is home to a public park, basketball court, beach volleyball, recreational lagoon as well as wave pool (which does have an entry fee). It’s a nice place to relax where you’ll often find tourists and locals alike chilling out in the sun.
You’ll also find a good variety of bars and restaurants around the precinct if your time chilling out drags out until dinner. Sticking with the very casual vibe of Darwin.
If you’d like to get to know a little more about the Second World War history of Darwin, its also home to the World War Two Oil Tunnels, which are ok. It’s not something I would suggest that you go out of your way to see, but if you’re in the area and looking for something to do it is informative.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
If you’d like to get a very good overview of Darwin and the Northern Territory, then your best bet is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
Located just north of the city (near the Mindil Beach Markets which we’ll get to later) it covers a very broad history of Darwin including the local Aboriginal culture, the early settlement of the region and the devastating effects of Cyclone Tracey.
The best part is that the MAGNT has free entry unless it’s hosting a special exhibit. A good way to learn a lot more about Darwin and escape either the heat during the dry season or the rain during the wet season.
No trip to Darwin would be complete without a Crocodile experience.
To be fair there are a number of Croc experiences in and around Darwin to choose from, but Crocosaurus Cove has the advantage and convenience of being located right in the center of the city. Along Mitchell Street’s tourist/backpacker pub area.
Crocosaurus Cove’s claim to fame is the “Cage of Death” experience that will get you right up close and in the water with these 5-meter+ salties (that’s the local slang for Saltwater Crocodiles) while they jump for a feed.
Trust me, the bone-crunching crack when they slam the jaws shut will send a shiver down your spine whether you are in the water with them or not.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Saltwater Crocodile is the largest living reptile. It’s also the most aggressive of all crocodile species.
Beyond the big crocs, Crocosaurus Cove also has a large collection of freshies (Freshwater Crocodiles, the smaller of the two species in Australia) with a couple of interactive experiences. As well as an overview of crocodile/alligator/caiman species found globally in the World of Crocs exhibit.
It’s also home to a number of other local Australian animals, particularly snakes and other reptiles, that are probably best discovered with some perspex between you and them.
Pro Tip: The shows start from about 11am so to make the most of the experience aim to be about then.
Good food, exceptional view… What else could you want?
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (or just Mindil Markets) is a temporary market held every Thursday and Sunday during the dry season along Mindil Beach. Right next to the Mindil Beach Casino (formally known at Skycity).
Setup in the late afternoon, the markets are chock full of food vendors and other market type stalls, as well as a couple of live performances.
Mindil Markets are popular with tourists and locals alike, as you’ll quickly discover once you get there and witness the crowds flock to them. But with good reason.
Do yourself a favour, head out to the markets grab a couple of souvenirs and a feed from one (or several) of the food truck style vendors then sit down on the beach and take in the sunset over the water.
Trust me, the hardest decision you’ll have to make is what to pick to eat as the vendors cover flavours from all over the world and the food is cheap.
It really is just a fantastic way to spend the evening in Darwin.
Berry Springs Waterhole/Nature Park
To this point I’ve directed to things within the heart of Darwin, but you are definitely going to want to rent a car and get beyond the city, starting with Berry Springs Waterhole/Nature Park.
When it comes to the Northern Territory, just down the road could be anything from 30mins to a couple of hours… It’s just that sort of place. So with that in mind, you’ll find Berry Springs just down the road from Darwin (40mins give or take down the Stuart Hwy).
It’s a great and popular spot to escape the heat of the dry season with public picnic and barbecue areas in the shaded parkland.
However, the key attraction is Berry Creek’s crystal clear pools that you can swim in (so bring your swimwear). The water is so clear that you can see everything so you don’t need to worry about crocodiles… Well, most of the time.
It’s also a great place to get out and stretch your legs with a walk around the Monsoon Rainforest and Woodlands trail. This is a short loop track that will take you through two very different Top End habitats.
If you keep an eye out you definitely spot some local wildlife as well as some relics from the regions World War Two history.
Darwin Aviation Heritage Centre
It might not be immediately obvious, but aviation has had a big role in building Darwin into the city it is today.
I mean when you land into Darwin Airport it will be obvious, particularly all of the Australian and United States airforce aircraft, but until then you just need to believe me.
One of the things that really pays tribute to that is Darwin Aviation Museum, formerly known as the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre.
What makes the Darwin Aviation Museum particularly special is that is home to one of just two Boeing B-52’s on public display outside of America, and on permanent loan from United States Airforce.
Fun Fact: The B-52 is so large that they had to park it at the site of the museum and construct the building around it.
In addition, they hold an impressive collection of both military and civilian aircraft including a replica Spitfire, Dassault Mirage, F-86 Sabre, P3-C Orion, AH-1 Cobra and an F-111C. As well as plenty of other artifacts from the aviation industry in Darwin including relics and wreckage from World War Two, specifically, a Japanese Zero shot down over Darwin in 1942.
If you have any remote interest in aviation, it’s well worth the price of admission.
Adelaide River Jumping Crocs
Seeing crocodiles in an enclosure is one thing… Seeing them in the wild is something else entirely.
The Adelaide River (50mins outside of Darwin along the Arnhem Hwy) is home to several jumping croc cruises, that will take you out onto the river and let you experience the crocs in their natural habitat.
From sunning themselves on the banks of the river to hiding just below the surface and launching almost their entire bodies out of the water to catch their prey. It really is an experience best witnessed in person.
My pick of the operators is The Original Adelaide River Queen Jumping Crocodile Cruises. It’s a bit more of a rustic and more genuine experience, yet still top-notch in my opinion, and a very informative tour. I do highly recommend it.
Otherwise, there is Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruises as an alternative nearby option.
An Adelaide River cruise with the jumping crocs is worthwhile doing during your time in Darwin or better yet a good place to stop as you head out to Kakadu. Just aim to do one of the earlier tours in the morning to see the crocs at their most active.
Defence of Darwin Experience
You may have worked out by this point that the Second World War is a fairly significant part of Darwin’s history.
Not quite so Fun Fact: During World War Two the Japanese bombed Darwin several times over a two year period. In fact, Darwin was attacked by the same Japanese fleet that famously inflicted so much damage on Pearl Harbour.
Nestle in the relics of the cannons build to protect Darwin from naval assault, the museum gives a really good insight into what life was like in Darwin during the war and the Australian and American military association that was forged during that time, which you can still often see active to this day around Darwin.
It’s also home to many artifacts, interactive exhibitions and displays from during the time.
You’ll definitely get a different and probably lesser-known perspective of what life was like during World War Two. Particularly in the South Pacific.
Look, I know I’ve already recommended a lot of crocodile related activities to you… But Crocodylus Park is a little bit different.
Crocodylus Park is on a completely different scale to everything else I’ve mentioned so far. Home to 12,000 crocodiles, it started out as a crocodile research and conservation centre and has continued to grow from there.
It’s now a fully-fledged zoo, the only zoo in Darwin, home to a variety of animals, big cats, birds, primates and reptiles both exotic and native. In addition to its impressive collection of crocodiles.
The variety of experiences at Crocodylus Park is definitely worthwhile if you haven’t experienced croc overload to this point. Darwin as a whole is probably one of the few places where you can get such an insight into this apex predator.
To this point I’ve given you a lot of suggestions for things you can see and do, but this one is something you will feel!
Airboat tours are a somewhat unique to Darwin experience. You’ll have a choice of tours but you will want to take the trip across Darwin Harbour and through the scenic mangroves and mudflats, inaccessible by any other mode of transport.
It’s a great way to get up close and personal with some of the local flora and fauna and see parts of Darwin that you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
This fast, loud and adrenalin-filled adventure is the ultimate experience that Darwin has to offer. You’ll have several operators of airboat tours to choose from, but your best bet will be Matt Wright’s Darwin Airboat Tours.
Just don’t make any plans directly after your tour because you will get wet and will want to get changed. But it’s well worth it!
Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is your ultimate day trip out of Darwin.
You will find any number of group tours that will offer to take you to Litchfield, but my suggestion to you is to rent a car and do it at your own pace.
Obviously the tour guides provide a lot of information, so its probably best if you do a little research before you go, but with all the walks and spots to swim and relax, being able to operate to your own timeframe is the best way to take it all in.
For all the major lookouts and waterfalls a regular rental car will be just fine, but you will need a proper 4WD for some of more the adventurous trails including The Lost City and Blyth Homestead.
I can not recommend this enough… Pack your swimwear, a comfortable pair of walking shoes. plenty of water and some snacks, possibly some lunch, and make a day of it.
To be fair you could spend a lot more time than just a day in Litchfield. But if you’ve never been before, a day is a good amount of time to get a good overview of the key attractions and get familiar with it. Then you can decide if you would like to go back and take on some of the more serious 4WD trails and hikes.
Pro Tip: Once you get past the very small town of Batchelor, theres no shops, service stations or much of anything else, so just make sure you’re all stocked up and fuelled up before you leave Palmerston (just to be on the safe side) to head down the Stuart Highway.
Your first stop within Litchfield National Park will be the magnetic termite mounds. If you leave Darwin early enough you can beat the tourist busses here and get the whole site to yourself. Don’t skip this!
From there you’ll definitely want to visit at the very least Buley Rockholes, Florence Falls, Wangi Falls and the Bamboo Creek Tin Mine to get a good feel of what Litchfield is all about.
Buley Rockholes is a cascade waterfall with a number of swimming holes and great place to relax and cool off. For this reason though it does get busy though, probably best at the start or the end of your drive through the park.
Florence Falls is simply stunning. The easily accessible viewpoint from the top is great, but the walk down to the swimming hole at the base of the waterfall is even better. Once you get there you can swim underneath the waterfall.
Wangi Falls is another good stop to visit, and home to one of the very few cafes in the park. So if you don’t plan on bringing lunch with you, make sure you plan to stop in at Wangi.
Just keep in mind, everyone else probably had the same idea so it’s usually quite busy around lunchtime. Both with people swimming under the waterfall and getting a feed.
The walk around the top of Wangi Falls is a really great way to escape most of the crowds and a different perspective of the area.
Speaking of perspectives the abandon Bamboo Creek Tin Mine showcases a very different aspect to Litchfield. At the very least you’ll get an appreciation of how hard the early pioneers to the region had to work to make a living.
There will be plenty more for you to see and do in Litchfield National Park, but will warrant its own special post.
If you’d like to get some more information to help in planning your trip to and around Australia… I’ve got a whole series of blog posts with all sorts of tips and advice to you.
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