10 TOP Things to Do in Darwin, Top End
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 😀
8 Jumping Crocodiles
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??
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!
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.
But I’ll bet everyone’s got a photo like THIS!
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!
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!
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