10 TOP Things to Do in Darwin

Darwin, Northern Territory

Darwin, Northern Territory*

For an isolated city, rebuilt twice after being bombed (WWII) destroyed by a tropical cyclone (1974); regularly washed by massive 7 metre tides and monsoonal floods; and hosting a high proportion of dangerous and deadly wildlife; Darwin’s looking mighty fine these days.

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory*

At least to a fair-weather traveller like me – my visit was during the more activity-friendly dry season, when the average daily maximum temperature is only around 30º C! But there’s no shame in taking the easy way out, is there?

Whether you’ve road-tripped from Adelaide to Darwin, taken the train, or flown in, you’ll be ready for some tropical Darwin R&R! Here’s a teaser of 10 TOP things to do in Darwin – just to get you started!

Fogg Dam, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Fogg Dam, via Darwin, Northern Territory*

1 Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve

OK, Ok, ok. So you DON’T see the attraction of a crocodile, snake and mosquito-infested swamp? How about if I call it a wetland, teeming with wildlife?

Black-necked Stork, Fogg Dam

Black-necked Stork, Fogg Dam*

Fogg Dam was so intriguing we visited twice. Once during the day for a walk across the dam wall, watching thousands of birds feed among the waterlilies. Climbing up into the vantage point on the dam’s far side gave an even better perspective – and the chance to cool down before returning across the wall.

And then we did the night walk. That’s when the crocs, snakes and mosquitoes made their appearance!

MORE about Fogg Dam

2 Territory Wildlife Park

I’ll always remember the Territory Wildlife Park, around 60 km south of Darwin, as the place where I caught my first barra. Barramundi, that is, and the prize craved by all true Aussie Fishermen. And women.

Red Nomad OZ with Barramundi

Red, the Barramundi Queen! Territory Wildlife Park*

But if you think something’s wrong with this picture, you’re right … and you can get one just like it in exactly the same spot!

For a great day out and a chance to see the REAL creatures of the Territory in their natural (albeit well-constructed) habitats – like the Billabong, Nocturnal House and Aviaries – study the park’s schedule of activities – wild birds, croc feeding and the like – carefully. Then check the park’s bus timetables to get from venue to venue because this park is HUGE!

MORE about the Territory Wildlife Park

3 Australian Aviation Heritage Centre

I didn’t think I’d spend more than half an hour or so at the Aviation Museum – we were really only going in memory of Pilchard’s late father who’d been there a few years before and sung its praises. But 5 hours – and many intriguing facts – later, I was still going strong.

B52, Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, Darwin

Is that a B52, or are you just glad to see me? Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, Darwin

This is Australian aviation history at its best with a matching array of 19 aircraft (including one of only two B52 Bombers outside of the US); regular screenings of aviation videos; displays of historic aviation memorabilia; and information stations – I’d heard of Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson, but who’d ever heard of Jessie Maude ‘Chubbie’ Miller? Not me!  Now THERE’S a story waiting to be told …

I went in to the musuem not caring one way or another about planes. But I came out a newly-minted aviation nerd (well … almost!).

MORE about the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre

4 Howard Springs and Berry Springs Nature Parks

The quest for shade and a place to go swimming is hardly surprising in a city that’s hot all year round. But factoring in the Top End’s natural swimming hazards – ie nasties like Crocodiles – shrinks the number of safe swimming spots considerably.

Berry Springs, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Red afloat at Berry Springs, via Darwin, Northern Territory*

That’s why the shallow rock pools of Howard Springs Nature Park, 35 km south of the City; and the deeper pools of the Berry Springs Nature Park, ~60 km south, are so popular, especially with the added attractions of walks and picnic facilities.

MORE about Berry Springs Nature Park and Howard Springs Nature Park

5 George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

Although there are regular sightings of Rufous Owl in the 130 year old Darwin Botanic Gardens, we had to make do with its other attractions as the owls remained elusive during our visit.

Red at the Darwin Botanic Gardens, Northern Territory*

Red at the Darwin Botanic Gardens, Northern Territory*

Luckily, there’s a lot more to see in this well-planned and varied 42 hectare park stretching from the sea to a small escarpment, one of the few in the world with naturally occurring marine and estuarine plants.

Desert Roses - these are near Wyndham, WA

Desert Roses – these are near Wyndham, WA

A network of walking trails winds through habitats like Rainforest Gully, the Baobab Collection, the exotic flora of the Plant Display House, a former church, and a boardwalk through the Mangroves.

But for MY money, don’t miss the Desert Rose display! Awesome!!

MORE about the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

6 Aquascene and Doctor’s Gully

Spotting AND hand-feeding a frenzy of local fish (yes, that’s a new collective noun) in historic Doctor’s Gully at high tide is a sure thing. A tradition of hand-feeding for over 60 years old (Woo Hoo! WAAAY older than me!) means the fish continue turn up in ever increasing numbers – AND numbers of species – to forage for bread.

Fish Feeding, Aquascene, Darwin

Fish Feeding, Aquascene, Darwin

It’s not that hard with multiple tourists lining the shores at high tide. The fish ALMOST overshadow the sensational views across the harbour!

Doctor’s Gully, the site of Peel’s Well – Darwin’s first fresh water supply – and Chinese market gardens, is worth exploring too. And if you’re a sucker for kitsch like me, you’ll grab an Aquascene pen with a travelling fish inside it on the way out!

MORE about Aquascene

7 Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

As much a community event as a market, groups of picnicking locals set up their tables and chairs on the beach, eating, drinking and watching the the sun sink into the gulf.

Pearl Lugger cruise boat at Sunset, Mindil Beach, Darwin*

Pearl Lugger cruise boat at Sunset, Mindil Beach, Darwin*

The markets were in full swing behind me as I watched Pearl Lugger turned cruise boat cross the setting sun – the only object visible on the water. After the free presentation at the caravan park I’d thought a swim at the beach was one of the Darwin things to do.

Mindil Beach by Day, Darwin, NT

Mindil Beach by Day, Darwin, NT

But despite the warm evening no one was actually in the water.

‘Does anyone go swimming here?’ I asked, like the naïve tourist I was. ‘Nah, love. Too many crocs,’ came the reply. ‘And it’s too cold,’ another local commented.

Well, that left me with only one course of action to take. A shopping frenzy from the market stalls followed by a total pig-out at the food stalls. The swim could wait for another time! And place 😀

MORE about Darwin’s Markets

8 Jumping Crocodiles

Not Jumping Croc, Adelaide River, Northern Territory

Not Jumping Croc, Adelaide River, Northern Territory

Our Jumping Crocodile Cruise wasn’t just memorable for the crocs. 75 minutes drive east of Darwin and we had a few minutes to kill while waiting for our Adelaide River cruise boat. What better way to pass the time than to check out our fellow passengers??

Jumping Croc, Adelaide River, Northern Territory

Jumping Croc, Adelaide River, Northern Territory

Sadly, little guidance exists for those unsure about what to wear to a crocodile viewing – we’d chosen the safe option of shorts and T-shirts. Not so the young woman in an outfit that combined the best (or worst) of Heidi and Morticia Addams! Even more sadly, I failed to capture it on film.

But even these dubious charms weren’t enough to distract us once the crocodiles started jumping!

Experience a prehistoric predator much closer to Darwin – try the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove or hold a croc at Crocodylus Park and Zoo!

MORE about our Jumping Crocodiles adventure (and Heidi/Morticia)

9 Litchfield National Park

Not everyone visits the magnificent tropical Litchfield National Park for the termite mounds. Some people actually travel the 112 km south of Darwin to experience the wonderful array of waterfalls, inviting selection of swimming holes and network of short walks to most of the major attractions.

Termite Mound, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

Termite Mound, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory*

But I’ll bet everyone’s got a photo like THIS!

MORE about Litchfield National Park

10 Mandorah

On our last day in Darwin, we tossed up between a Harbour Cruise or a 15 minute ferry ride across the harbour to Mandorah. I’m sure I would have been happy with the harbour cruise, but boy, am I glad we chose magnificent Mandorah!

Mandorah, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Mandorah, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Lunch at the Mandorah pub was all Barramundi Burgers, refreshing cider and Bob Marley in the background. If we’d ordered up our own vision of tropical paradise, it wouldn’t have been much different to this!

MORE about Mandorah

There’s a lot more things to do in Darwin than this teaser TOP Ten!

If you’ve got the time (and energy!) try the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory for the chilling Cyclone Tracy simulation; East Point Military Museum for insight into the bombing of Darwin in WWII; and a short drive south to the Adelaide River War Memorial.

Enjoy the water by hanging out at the Waterfront or the Wave Pool, or take a Harbour Cruise for harbour highlights or a Sunset cruise for drinks – or romance. And for a REAL taste of the Territory, be in Darwin for the annual Beer Can Regatta – 12th July in 2015!

Then there’s the festivals … but wait! You’ll have to discover it all for yourself!!  These best flights will get you there!

* Pics by Pilchard

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24 comments

  • we haven’t made it to Darwin yet – but yes it is on my list. You are certainly the “go-to” girl for travel in Australia Red. I was astounded by your first image of Darwin – I don’t know what I expected – but not a city that looks like that!
    Thanks Red for another interesting and informative post. Happy travels.

    • I didn’t know what to expect from Darwin either, Jill – it’s WAY more modern than I was expecting!! I hope you get to visit yourself one day – the photographic opportunities are endless!!

  • Next time you are in Darwin Red, look us up and add to your NT adventure by exploring the city on foot with a local. We’d love to meet you ~ Nerida Hart.

  • Wish I had read this before our visit to Darwin, years ago. It was so hot and humid, I don’t think we had much energy for tourist adventures, but we would have changed our minds if we had known this list!

    • Thanx for dropping in, seeking adventure! It was pretty hot when we were there too – although it was winter, so dryer and cooler!! Even so, we had to modify our approach to sightseeing – starting earlier and having a break or a swim during the heat of the day, and making the waterholes a BIG part of our exploration!! It took us a few days to acclimatise, but we managed to pack a lot in. This is really just a teaser!! Hope you get to see it again one day 😀

  • You are doing a great job of a travel expert. Look out Lonely Planet here comes RedzAustralia. I was surprised at how much there was to do and see in Darwin. I liked the wildlife park as well as many others that you mentioned a specially Litchfield NP.

    • Haha, maybe you could be my publicist or agent, Diane!! There’s a LOT more to Darwin than I wrote about – my post is really just a teaser 😀 Of course we are more interested in the natural attractions, but there’s plenty of markets, food, festivals and more! Just perfect to escape the southern winter!!

  • I’ve heard about the fish feeding from my brother who has done it. (He’s fed the dolphins at Monkey Mia too).
    I can see myself enjoying the parks and gardens, even the jumping crocs, but I’d give the plane museum a miss.

    • There’s a lot more I didn’t mention for lack of space, River – it’s so varied I reckon nearly anyone could find a swag of cool things to do in Darwin if they tried hard enough!! I thought I’d be bored witless by the plane musuem, but it turned out to be one of my favourite things there! You never know until you try 😀

  • Interesting from your point of view.
    Heading up to Darwin for the second time soon..
    Nice photos as usual.

  • I can tick most of those. I would like to see Darwin in the build up to the wet season when it has amazing lightening shows, but oh the humidity. It was humid even mid winter when we there, although we were assured that high humidity at that time of the year was abnormal. Ok, I believed.

    • I’ve found anywhere up north to be WAY more humid than dry old Adelaide, Andrew – even in the ‘dry’ season!! Pilchard wants to visit during the wet because apparently that’s when the really interesting birds turn up, but that would mean a departure from our usual ‘fair-weather tourist’ philosophy!!! It was VERY hot when we were there, but we were also assured that the temps were abnormally above average!! Sound familiar??!! I know there’s a LOT more to Darwin than these 10 things, but I also know you have to start somewhere 😀

  • Love this post so much!!! I cannot help staring at every single word…
    I remember Darwin as an interesting city that has history (I believe that it’s where first Japanese Aussies landed) and tropical weather. I once saw extreme lightnings in Darwin on TV – they were nothing but extreme!

    Well, stories by locals are always interesting whichever I am listening to them or I am the local. I’ve written a crazily crowded Tokyo story as a joking post in my blog and it was so fun to tell. But if I asked locals about swimming at the beach and they answered, “Too many crocs,” I’d black out!!!

    • Darwin is such a fascinating place, Kozue! But visitors have to be prepared for the extremes – no cuddly koalas here 😀 I was a bit surprised to hear in our information session that swimming on the beach was common in Darwin – especially with so many crocodile warnings! Maybe the guy taking the session just didn’t like tourists 😀

  • Ah Red, Darwin is one of our favourite places too…. while there were direct flights from Canberra, we took advantage and spent long weekends there as a getaway from the Canberra winter! Loved this post, and have bookmarked it for our next visit. May I share my own adventure with you? (Edit out the link by all means, if you wish) xox http://www.bizzylizzysgoodthings.com/blog/postcards-and-morsels-darwin

    • I don’t think there could be anything as different to a Canberra winter than a Darwin winter, Liz! There’s a lot more to do than this, of course, but that would mean a book instead of just a blog post! Thanx for the link – look forward to reading your take on Darwin! Have a great week!

  • I loved this post, I didn’t know of some of those places and really loved the photos and the information.

  • Unfortunately we missed Darwin on our trip around Aus, but we spent three short days there in 2007. We saw most of what is on your list of things to do and enjoyed the experience immensely. Litchfield National Park was a standout for sure. We are hoping to spend some more time up in the Top End within the next few years so that we can explore Kakadu and some of the other places of interest. Thanks for the ideas!

    • We spent about 10 days there, Kathy! There’s a LOT more that we didn’t see – and it would have been good to be there for some of the festivals. We went to Kakadu on the way home – but that’s a whole OTHER post!!

  • I kid you not, just today we talked about the beautiful Mindil Beaches!
    And in Litchfield National Park I nearly dumped our 4WD, not so good memories… (nothing happened and on the way back the Hubs got stuck at the same spot – knowing we get outta there just fine).
    Awww, and Mandorah….
    The Cyclone Tracy simulation gave me the creeps.
    Don´t forget about the Fanny Bay Goal. Eeek, I was the first in high security, it was creepy with the clothes lying around as if someone was in. Like, a prisoner…
    The Beer Can Regatta was rather disappointing in 1999. Hope it got better!

    • Haha, it’s turning to winter downunder Iris, so those of us living in the South are already thinking about heading north for some warmth!! Sounds like Litchfield is ‘cursed’ for you – it’s strange how sometimes everything goes wrong for you in a particular place!! We’ve got a couple of those too!! We didn’t go to Fanny Bay Gaol, and we were there too early for the Beer Can Regatta (but just between us, it’s just an excuse to drink a LOT!). Have a great week ahead!

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