Darwin is the capital and largest city of the NT, and is perfect place to start an adventure in the Top End.
Darwin is one of the most isolated cities in the world, closer to Asia than to most other Australian cities, and this remoteness, isolation, and Asian influence show throughout the city.
When to visit
The best time of year to visit Darwin is what is known locally as the ‘Dry’, the season that runs from roughly April through to October. This season sees relatively warm daytime temperatures (Always above 30 degrees celcius) and very little rainfall.
This is peak season throughout the Top End, with easier access to travel destinations, very little rainfall and no major storms or cyclones. Many tourist destinations in Darwin are only open for this season.
The other major season in the Top End in known as the ‘Wet’, running from the build-up in October through to March. This season sees extremely high levels of rainfall and humidity, daily thunderstorms and the ever-present risk of cyclones. Unless you enjoy living in a sauna, it is probably best to avoid Darwin at this time of year.
The city’s history
A trip to Darwin should start by examining the Cities colourful and devastating history. The city, one of the youngest in Australia, has essentially been rebuild from rubble twice, once after Japanese aerial bombing levelled the city in WWII, and once again after the devastating cyclone Tracy in 1974.
Darwin also played a major role in WWII, being the only city to be physically attacked on the Australian Mainland during the War. The clear evidence of this throughout the city, with remnants of the WWII scattered throughout the city.
The Darwin Wharf precinct was once the epicentre of military activity during WWII, but today is a modern and cosmopolitan district of hotels, bars and cafes.
Hidden directly behind the wharf precinct, built into the rock under the city, are the Oil storage tunnels. Built to store oil out of the reach of Japanese bombs during WWII, the tunnels and associated displays provide a glimpse of wartime Darwin.
Things to do
The wharf precinct is now home to the Darwin Waterfront, which includes a crocodile and jellyfish free swimming enclosure, outdoor wave pool, as well as numerous bars, cafes and hotels. Definitely one of the nicer places to relax and enjoy the warm Darwin weather.
The Deckchair cinema, next to the waterfront, operates an outdoor, twilight cinema during the dry season. Make sure you take plenty of mosquito repellent. Also running from the wharf precinct are regular ocean fishing charters.
For a night out, head to Mitchell Street, which runs straight through the centre of the city. This infamous strip of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and backpackers is sure to provide plenty of entertainment. In dry season, the massive influx of backpackers adds to the atmosphere, with people from all over the world mixing. There are many good food and drink choices throughout the city, with Asian food, particularly Laksa, especially popular.
Also on Mitchell Street is Crocosaurus Cove, a crocodile and wildlife park in the heart of the city. If you’re feeling particularly brave, and possibly hot, you can swim with the crocs, encased in a perspex cage.
Slightly out of the city itself is East Point Reserve. Once home to WWII artillery fortifications, this reserve is now home to the Darwin Military Museum. This museum hosts interactive displays covering Darwin’s WWII history, as well as actual remains from the war, including a massive, 9.2 inch artillery gun and fortification.
After walking around in the hot sun in the reserve, make sure to stop at the ‘Cool Spot’ in Fannie Bay, a Darwin Institution for cold drinks and ice cream.
Darwin Airport hosts the the Darwin Aviation Museum, home to the only B-52 Bomber on display outside of the US. The museum also hosts numerous other aircraft, including military, helicopters, home made ultralights, and wreckage from Japanese aircraft shot down during WWII.
Casuarina Reserve is the perfect place for a picnic or BBQ, especially in the evening as the sun sets over the water. The extensive reserve covers 1500 hectares of beach, grass, dunes and mangroves. Plenty of walking or cycling paths provide access to the more remote parts of the reserve. Be aware, the northern section of beach is officially the local nudist beach!
Nightcliff Reserve is another great place to enjoy the outside. The reserve follows the coast surrounding Nightcliff, including beach, rocks, cliffs, as well as an extensive grassed area and cycle path. Extremely popular, on a warm weekend night expect to have to fight for grass space with a view.
At the northern end of the reserve sits the Beachfront Hotel, one of the more famous or infamous Darwin Pubs. Today this pub provides a great place to sit outside, enjoy a meal and look over the water, as the name suggests. In previous years this pub was one of the most rowdy and dangerous in Darwin, if not Australia.
A trip to Darwin is not complete without at least one, if not more, visits to the famous markets. The most known, and tourist orientated, of these is the Mindal Beach Market, which runs Thursday and Sunday evenings during the dry season.
The smell is astronomical, as the smell of every type of asian food imaginable combines. Grab some food, a freshly made tropical smoothie, and join everyone else on the beach to watch the sunset.
The market also provides an opportunity to browse aboriginal art, didgeridoos, mother of pearl jewellery, leather stock whips and many other items. Have a go at cracking a whip, or watch the didgeridoo drum and bass duo. Also, the market is officially a licensed, BYO zone, so join the locals and grab a carton to enjoy on the beach.
Darwin is also home to many other markets, including the Nightlife (Saturday Morning) Parap (Sunday Morning) and Palmerston (Friday Night). These markets run year round. Many of the stalls are the same or similar to Mindal Beach, but these markets provide a much less touristy experience, with locals meeting for a meal and doing their grocery shopping.
Once you’ve had enough of Darwin, head around 100km south to Litchfield National Park. The entrance of the park is around an hours drive from Darwin. If you don’t feel like driving yourself, regular tourist buses run throughout the dry season.
Litchfield consists of numerous waterfalls, some of which are safe to swim at. Florence Falls is one of the most popular falls, with a easy 10 minute walk providing access. Just upstream from Florence is Buley Rockhole, a perfect place to laze around in the cool water.
On the other side of the park, Wangi Falls is also one of the more popular areas to swim. There are also numerous smaller rockholes, cascades and streams throughout the park. Litchfield is also home to enormous termite mounds, and these can be seen easily from the park entrance.
Also around an hour out of Darwin is the Adelaide River Crocodile jumping tour. Be careful navigating, as despite the name this tour is nowhere near the township of Adelaide River itself.
This boat trip provides the ability to experience crocodiles up close, with tour guides encouraging them to ‘jump’ out of the water for their food. This river is one of the most crocodile infested rivers in the world, so make sure you keep all your limbs inside the boat.
Further south again is Katherine, around 4 hours drive south of Darwin. The town sits on the bank of the Katherine River.
To the East of the town is the Nitmiluk National Park, home of the Katherine Gorge, as well as numerous walking trails, ranging from short day walks to multi-day hikes. Katherine is also home to many popular river fishing spots, with regular tours running from the town.
For those who want to go more remote, Arnhem Land is the perfect destination. Home to the world famous Kakadu National Park, as well as numerous aboriginal communities, a trip to Arnhem Land is a great way to experience true aboriginal culture.
Be aware, driving in Arnhem Land, and indeed anywhere in the NT, can be dangerous. Avoid driving through swollen rivers, avoid any water unless is known to be crocodile safe.
This post was submitted by Tim Schmidtke.
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