Four amazing days in Darwin
From ancient indigenous cultures to tranquil waterholes, sophisticated dining to astonishing wildlife, Darwin is one of Australia’s most surprising destinations.
Day 1: Arrive in Darwin
Darwin is a city that defies expectations, so spend your first day getting to know a bit more about this underrated destination. While most visitors are prepared for Darwin’s laid back tropical vibe, many are surprised by the city’s multicultural mix; more than 50 nationalities call the city home. The other big surprise is that Darwin’s youthful vibe hides a surprising amount of history. Take a walk around town and you will discover heritage buildings such as the Old Palmerston Town Hall. Dating back to 1883 – when Darwin was known as Palmerston – the building was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy, and later rebuilt using the original stone.
To discover more about Darwin’s colourful history, head to the Museum& Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Along with a fabulous collection of Aboriginal art, the museum’s top exhibits include a room devoted to Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the city during Christmas 1974. Standing in the dark and listening to the roar of the cyclone is a chilling experience.
In the evening, tempt your taste buds at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Locals start arriving at dusk to feast on Asian street food under the swaying palm trees; a very Darwin way to end the day.
Day 2: Head for the islands
The Tiwi Islands are known for their distinctive indigenous culture, and a day trip to Bathurst Island – along with Melville Island, the only inhabited spot in the archipelago – gives a rare insight into this fascinating destination. AAT Kings offers trips via seaplane or ferry.
Although just 100km offshore, the Tiwi Islands have evolved their own eco-system, with plants and animals that are found nowhere else. The most remarkable thing about the islands, however, is its distinctive indigenous culture, which is culturally and linguistically quite different from that on the mainland. Learn more about the locals’ history, bush tucker and bush medicine, as well as their remarkable artwork, which includes weaving, painting and batik. The itinerary includes a picnic lunch by a scenic waterhole and a visit to a traditional burial site, where you will see the magnificently carved Pukumani burial poles, which are unique to the Tiwi Islands.
Day 3: Swim with crocs
Fast, fierce and deadly, the fearsome saltwater crocodile is the Northern Territory’s most notorious inhabitant. Get up close and personal with these predators – without risking your life – at Crocosaurus Cove, home to some of the largest salties in Australia. Depending on your fear factor, you can have your photo taken holding a baby croc, or stand on the Fishing for Crocs platform and discover for yourself how a juvenile croc reacts when you dangle a piece of meat near it. Real thrill-seekers may even want to brave the Cage of Death, where you share the water with enormous saltwater crocs.
It’s not all croc action, however; Crocosaurus also showcases some of the Territory’s other remarkable animals. It features the world’s largest collection of Australian reptiles, as well as a turtle enclosure and an aquarium filled with native fish such as barramundi and archer fish.
In the afternoon, you may like to make the most of Darwin’s balmy climate with some water-based fun. Enjoy an adrenaline rush jet-boating on the harbour, or take the plunge at the Wave Lagoon at the Darwin Waterfront.
Round off the day at another great Darwin favourite, the Deckchair Cinema. Al fresco movies with a side serve of good food; what a relaxing way to spend an evening.
Day 4. Make a splash in Litchfield National Park
Everyone has heard of Kakadu National Park but Litchfield National Park, the Top End’s other great escape, is something of a local secret, and the good folk of Darwin would prefer to keep it that way. With its many spectacular swimming holes – all of them croc-free – Litchfield is an easy day trip from Darwin.
The 1500 hectare park is only 90 minutes drive from Darwin; if you don’t have your own car, you can join a tour. Top swimming spots include the beautiful natural plunge pool at Florence Falls, fed by twin waterfalls, and Buley Rockhole, where the shallow rapids offer a great spot for young children to splash around.
A photo-stop at Tolmer Falls is essential: this long-drop waterfall isa spectacular sight as it cascades down the western face of the Tabletop Range. Colonies of rare ghost bats and orange horseshoe bats make their home at the foot of the cascades. Elsewhere in the park, keep an eye out for Litchfield’s colourful bird life, which includes glossy spangled drongos, kingfishers and rainbow bee-eaters, as well as its famous termite mounds. Stretching up to two metres high, these astonishing constructions are always oriented on a north-south axis, giving the termites a temperature-controlled home.
Wind up your last day in Darwin with a celebratory dinner. At WharfOne, you can enjoy super-fresh seafood while watching the sun set over the water. Drink a toast to Darwin and its delights, and promise yourself to be back soon.