Located in the mid-north of Australia in the Northern Territory, north of Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, is the cosmopolitan city of Darwin.
While most travellers will always have Sydney and Melbourne on their hit-list of ‘must see’ destinations when visiting Australia, Darwin seems to be one of those iconic Aussie spots that everyone is keen to check out, but only the lucky few actually get to.
One of the reasons for this is the perception that it is going to be a lot of effort to make your way to the Top End to explore.
We’re always hearing classic ‘only in the NT’ stories that make us want to see it for ourselves, but it can seem so far away from the east coast that many people don’t make the effort.
The truth is, it’s just a short plane flight away – and it’s well worth a detour to see what this historically rich and culturally diverse city has to offer, even if it’s only for a couple of days!
Darwin is a capital city, which means you can get direct flights from every other Aussie capital city in Australia and many other regional centres. If you’re planning on going, keep checking in on flight prices until you get a good deal. Once there you have to see the sunset over the water, check out the local markets and take a day trip to one of the amazing national parks that are on Darwin’s doorstep.
Once you’ve landed in the top end, what is there to do? Plenty!
Market To Market
Locals and tourists alike flock to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market each Thursday and Sunday to enjoy some of Darwin’s best food while watching the sun sink into the Arafura Sea.
After milling through the market stalls, you’ll see swarms of people, with eskies in tow, arrive at Mindil Beach to settle in for a great night with mates. Along with delicious food, there are also stalls selling jewellery, art and fashion. Plus, there’s a revolving selection of musicians to keep you entertained well into the night.
On Saturday mornings the Parap Village Markets is the place to meet the locals, stock up on fresh produce and find some unique local made arts and crafts.
If you’ve woken feeling a bit fuzzy from the night before, breakfast from one of the food vans could jump-start your weekend. Mary’s Laksa Van is a well-known local favourite. “As odd as it seems, the best thing for breakfast on a Saturday is laksa!” laughs Lauren, who recently moved to Darwin and immediately made the markets her go-to on a Saturday morning. “No matter how hot it is outside, ask for a bit of chilli – you won’t regret it,” she says.
Never Smile at a Crocodile
Along with barramundi, buffalo and birds, visitors to the Northern Territory are bound to spot a croc at some stage. Whether your love has grown while watching Crocodile Dundee or the Crocodile Hunter, seeing these incredible reptiles up close needs to be on your ‘to do’ list.
And incredibly, they’re just as dangerous and unpredictable as those ‘seen on TV’. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that crocodile fever has been hyped up as a tourism lark; these crocs are the real deal!
Adelaide River Queen Cruises offer the experience of seeing a jumping crocodile! Their professional guides entice the big guys to leap out of the murky water right in front of your eyes.
Have your camera ready…
If your heart’s not up for seeing crocodiles in the wild, then Crocosaurus Cove is the next best thing. It boasts the world’s largest display of Australian reptiles and offers croc feeding experiences, as well as the Cage of Death where you spend 15 minutes inside a protective enclosure under the water with beasts around 5-metres long.
Finally, if you can’t get enough of the feeding frenzy Aquascene is the place to go. For a few hours each day schools of milkfish, bream, barramundi and others come in with the tide at Doctors Gully to feast on fresh bread. Check the website for daily fish feeding times as it changes with the tide.
A Little Bit of History
Darwin has plenty to offer other than incredible wildlife. In fact, this diverse and interesting city has played a large role in international warfare.
For a unique insight into Darwin’s role in World War II, go underground to the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels.
Just a short walk from the city, in the Wharf Precinct, the tunnels go under the cliffs of Darwin and offer a well informed tour complete with historical information explaining their purpose.
They have recently been updated to mark the Centenary of the Gallipoli landing and the 70th Commemorative Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.
To expand on what you learn at the tunnels, head over to East Point and visit the Darwin Military Museum. It boasts a large collection of Australian war memorabilia including uniforms, artillery and vehicles. Here, you can learn all about the incredible role that Darwin has played in global warfare. For instance, did you know that the Japanese aircraft carrier forces that attacked Darwin in February 1942, were also the same forces that attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941?
They dropped more bombs on Darwin than they did on Pearl Harbor; it still stands as the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.
Of course, after such a sobering dose of reality as you explore Darwin’s history, you may be ready for a change of pace!
For a cool, but dry place to spend a few peaceful hours, check out the Botanic Gardens. Spread over 42 hectares and housing hoards of tropical plants as well as century-old trees that survived Cyclone Tracy, which famously ripped through the city on Christmas Day 1974.
“What’s amazing is seeing the trees that were battered by Tracy, but still survived,” marvels Nigel Hengstberger, who spent time wandering the gardens during a recent visit to Darwin.
“Some are almost laying horizontal. You can see the fight they put up and it’s incredible that they’re still there!”
Putting Your Feet Up
After strolling through the many markets, trying to get that perfect wildlife photo and taking in all the history – it’s definitely time for some well-deserved R&R. What could be better than settling down in the twilight for a classic film at the Deckchair Cinema?
Operated by the Darwin Film Society, the cinema runs during the dry season (from April to November) showing a selection of family films as well as Aussie and international dramas, comedies and classics. You can bring your own picnic, or grab some movie munchies from the kiosk.
Another great way to relax is at the Wave Lagoon at the waterfront. Given the Top End’s endless summer, this is a popular hangout all year round (except Christmas Day). There’s just a small entrance fee, but you can stay and laze as long as you like.
If you’re after a free outing, check out the nearby Recreation Lagoon. It’s an inlet protected from the greater ocean, with mesh screens in place to prevent marine stingers entering the area. Even with these protections in place, it’s regularly checked for stingers, making this an ideal spot for you to dip your toes in the water. It is also patrolled by lifeguards.
The wonderful thing about this lagoon is that even though it’s artificially erected and maintained, it has been built to sustain a natural eco system, which includes fish, algae, and even Cassiopeia jellyfish. All play an important role maintaining a healthy marine environment.
Don’t be surprised if you feel something scaly and slimy brush past your leg; it’s just a large fish! They’re in the lagoon to eat the jellyfish, which serves as an organic way to keep the numbers down.