Travelling in Australia: The City of Darwin

Darwin City


Situated at the top of the Northern Territory, on the Timor Sea, Darwin is a multi-cultural capital city of approximately 125,000 people. This is in contrast to the rest of the Territory, which is sparsely populated. However, compared to Australia's other capital cities, Darwin is small - in fact it's the only major city where you can drive into the centre of town and have a good chance of finding a carpark pretty much straight away.


Once a pioneer settlement and small port established in 1869, the town was named after naturalist Charles Darwin, as the harbour had been discovered thirty years earlier by John Stokes, surveyor aboard the ship HMS Beagle; the same ship on which Charles Darwin sailed. Over the years it has steadily grown, both in dimension and cultural diversity to become a cosmopolitan coastal city with an international flavour. Small by major metropolitan standards but diverse and interesting. It's a unique place.


The road to Darwin is hot, dry. and seems endless. Image by JB
The road to Darwin is hot, dry. and seems endless. Image by JB
The Ghan..a safe and exciting way to travel the outback. Image from smh.com.au
The Ghan..a safe and exciting way to travel the outback. Image from smh.com.au

Getting to Darwin

Driving to Darwin from any major city is an adventure --it's long, hot, dry and challenging but it's also a rich experience.The red landscape is like an alien planet and you wonder how anything, let alone, anyone could live out there.


From Melbourne you travel up the Sturt Highway and can stop off and check out the opal mines at Coober Pedy, the eerie American base at Woomera, the extraordinary salt lakes nearby, visit Uluru(Ayer's Rock), Kings Canyon, check out the beautiful towns of Katherine and Mataranka and just generally enjoy the unique experience of travelling through Australia's red centre.


There's no speed limit once you get past civilization and you can travel for miles without seeing another soul. There are outback roadhouses along the way, some of which offer interesting cuisine, such as crocodile and kangaroo meat and they often have a small camping area, usually with a pool. In fact, wherever you stop along the road to Darwin you will definitely want somewhere with a pool as the heat can be unbearable once you leave the comfort of an air conditioned car.


However, if extensive driving over miles of red, scrubby sameness is not your style, there are flights from most capital cities, so you'll be there in a (relative) flash. You can also travel to Darwin in safety and comfort by rail, on the Ghan and, if you wish, take your car along too.


Reduced to insignificance by the Australian Outback. Image by JB
Reduced to insignificance by the Australian Outback. Image by JB
Sky City resort, Darwin. Image from agoda
Sky City resort, Darwin. Image from agoda
Plenty of roomy camping grounds close to the city provide cheap accomodation. Image by JB
Plenty of roomy camping grounds close to the city provide cheap accommodation. Image by JB

Accommodation in Darwin

Once in Darwin, you'll need accommodation and if you're on a budget there's plenty of cheapish places to stay in close proximity to town -backpacker hostels, camping grounds and caravan and cabin parks. If you're a bit more flushed with funds, there's holiday houses, guesthouses, apartments, flash resorts and of course the usual spectrum of hotels and motels, that range from one to five stars.


As is the case with most places, you can find last minute accommodation deals online. Although tours and attractions are open all year round, the height of the tourist season in the Northern Territory falls in winter and spring, mainly due to the seasonal climate (see Darwin's Climate below) and people wanting to get away from the colder southern states at this time of year. In peak season, accommodation in Darwin central can be both fairly expensive and in high demand.


Frogshollow backpackers hostel boasts one of the cheapest accommodation deals in town and was voted Best BackPacker's in Darwin by Lonely Planet a few years ago . However, there's a few to choose from, so it's worth doing a little online research before you book in anywhere.


Cabin accommodation on the edge of the City. Image by JB
Cabin accommodation on the edge of the City. Image by JB
The Pearl Diver's Museum. Image by JB
The Pearl Diver's Museum. Image by JB
A good place to keep recalcitrant teenagers - Fannie Bay Jail. Image by JB
A good place to keep recalcitrant teenagers - Fannie Bay Jail. Image by JB

Places of Interest in Darwin City

  • Pearl Divers Museum - the Australian pearl diving industry really began with the coastal dwelling indigenous divers who developed a trade in pearl shells but by 1877 there were 16 European pearling firms operating in the country. The museum takes you through the history of the industry and offers wares for sale.
  • Fannie Bay Jail - this is a fascinating place that reeks of  colonial cruelty. The sight of the bleak old gallows will chill you
  • Darwin Museum and Art Gallery - set in lush a lush tropical garden on Darwin Harbour at Bullocky Point, the museum pronounces itself the city's 'premier cultural institution' and there is certainly a lot to see and enjoy there
  • Holmes Jungle Nature Park- next to crocdylus park, the park will appeal to botanists and plant lovers. Set in a natural eucalypt woodland featuring pandanus and carpenteria palms, the flora makes you realise that you really are in the tropics.
  • East Point Military Museum & Reserve- Darwin has the distinction of being the only city in Australia ever to be bombed - by the Japanese during WWII. The reserve is tropical and the museum is housed in the original bunker where the army planned Top End defence strategy during World War II. This would suit military buffs as it has an extensive display of war memorabilia, gun aiming equipment, photographs, plus a video of live footage of the bombing of Darwin


Day Trips from Darwin

Visit the truly spectacular Kakadu National Park via a day trip from Darwin. Kakadu is 171 km's southeast from Darwin; a mere hop, skip and a jump in outback travel terms. Hire a car or take a guided tour and once you're there, you can explore the park (it's huge though! ) or take it all in at once through a scenic flight.


Accommodation is available if you wish to stay there for a few days and since the park is half the size of Switzerland there's plenty to explore. Commercial hotels and motels as well as budget accommodation and camping grounds are provided. Kakadu is extremely rich and diverse in flora and fauna and is a protected area under the wildife and conservation act.


Aboriginals have lived in the area for approximately 40,000 years and they have landrights to half of the park. It's an area known for indigenous culture and within the park there are over 5000 art sites recording Aboriginal culture over thousands of years. Kakadu is also home to one of the most highly productive uranium mines in the world - Ranger Uranium Mine.


To take in breathtaking Kakadu all at once, take a morning or afternoon flight with a local pilot. Image by JB
To take in breathtaking Kakadu all at once, take a morning or afternoon flight with a local pilot. Image by JB
Mysterious and ancient - Kakadu. Taken from the air. Image by JB
Mysterious and ancient - Kakadu. Taken from the air. Image by JB
Evening at Kakadu. Image by Dave Basset
Evening at Kakadu. Image by Dave Basset

Litchfield National Park


Stunning Lichfield Park is an hour and a half drive from Darwin and well worth a visit. The Park covers over 1,500 square kilometers, and is home to a range of natural habitats, such as lush monsoon forests, termite mounds, strange and interesting rock formations, waterfalls and cascades.


It's not a good idea to visit the waterfalls during the monsoons as you might be swept away . On those hot territory days, the cool, deep water holes are extremely beautiful and lovely to swim in. They are deemed  safe to swim in, yet I have heard the odd crocodile does appear from time to time. There's accommodation available for overnight stays which would give you time to explore the Butterfly and Bird Farm and the Coomalie Cultural Centre.


Glorious Florence Falls. Not long after this photo was taken a large croc was discovered in the swimming hole. Image by JB
Glorious Florence Falls. Not long after this photo was taken a large croc was discovered in the swimming hole. Image by JB
A markerarnhem land -
Arnhem Land, NT 0822, Australia
[get directions]

Aboriginal Culture

Between the 7th and 11th of August every year, the Top End hosts the Garma Festival which features a cultural exchange from the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. The Yolgnu culture is one of the oldest living cultures on earth, stretching back over 40, 000 years.


Arnhem Land, a few hundred kms North of Darwin, is home to one of the largest and most isolated Aboriginal Reserves in Australia and is a cultural stronghold. It's people are reknown as the keepers of many indigenous traditions - language, art, dance and song, myth, legend and aboriginal history.


The area was declared an aboriginal reserve in 1931 and has some striking features, including forrests, stunning rivers, gorges and pristine white sands. It's also famous for its aboriginal rock art, some of which depicts the arrival of European settlers. Arnhem land was first sited by Europeans in 1623 and was named after the Dutch ship Arnhem by explorer Mathew Flinders. Generally tourists are only able to visit the perimetres of the reserve and many of the mysteries within are guarded by it's indigenous owners.


Corroboree. Image from Guide.com
Corroboree. Image from Guide.com
Ancient aboriginal cave drawings at Kintore Caves, Northern Territory.
Ancient aboriginal cave drawings at Kintore Caves, Northern Territory.
How prehistoric does a crocodile look? Image by JB
How prehistoric does a crocodile look? Image by JB

Crocodylus Park

You can't travel to Darwin without visiting Crocodylus Park, (15 mins. drive) simply because the crocodiles are just so mesmerising...and yes, frightening. Most of them are huge (4.7m and weighing half a ton) and you can watch them eating lunch - the sound of those jaws snapping together is something else. When they're not eating or active, a crocodile may lay as still as silent as a rock and in fact you may be convinced they are a rock until it's too late! The park offers a tour guide, who is well versed in matters crocodile and there's the obligatory museum and gift shop for browsing.


Get up close and personal with a crocodile..safely. Image from Crocosuarus Cove
Get up close and personal with a crocodile..safely. Image from Crocosuarus Cove

For more crocodile-themed adventures there is also Crocosaurus Cove, where you can enter the "cage of death" and swim alongside the crocodiles. Or, if that doesn't appeal you can enjoy a crocodile shopping experience, where you can buy crocodile skins, gloves, hats, handbags, teeth, wallets and sundry other crocodile products.


Throughout most of the top end it's recommended you confine your swimming to swimming pools as you never know when a lurking crocodile might appear, especially after floods; people have been killed swimming in the bay in Darwin.In truth, even swimming pools aren't 100% safe, as they have been known to make an appearance in the odd one. Still, no point in being paranoid and I believe no tourists have actually been eaten this way.


Tip: If you do ever get attacked by a crocodile, try to get on top and hold it's jaw shut. Although crocs have an extremely powerful closing jaw mechanism, conversely, they have a very weak opening one- a human can easily hold a crocs jaw shut.


A brave crocodile wrestler at Crocodylus Park. Image by JB
A brave crocodile wrestler at Crocodylus Park. Image by JB

Darwin Harbour

Darwin harbour has much to offer the vistor - from wrecks, reef flats and rivers, to fishing and lazy cruising. If you're an enthusiast, some of the many varieties of fish include saltwater barramundi, mackerel, tuna, cobia golden snapper and coral trout. Half day charters operate throughout the year and cater to all types off fishing:light tackle sports fishing, high speed jigging or live bait fishing for barramundi.


Take a leisurely boat trip around the beautiful Darwin Harbour. Image by JB
Take a leisurely boat trip around the beautiful Darwin Harbour. Image by JB
Blues skies and glistening water. Image by JB
Blues skies and glistening water. Image by JB
Local residents. Image by JB
Local residents. Image by JB
Parliament House. Image by JB
Parliament House. Image by JB

If a relaxing, harbour sight-seeing cruise takes your fancy you can take an afternoon lunch or sunset dinner cruise and explore the sights of the city, including the architecture, mangroves and pristine white shorelines. Darwin harbour is quite large..larger than Sydney harbour and there's a variety of cruises to choose from, including short half-hour ride to a 3 hour cruise aboard the luxury, fully restored pearling lugger, Anniki.


The harbour really comes alive at night(or so say the tourist brochures) and you'll find plenty of seaside casinos, cafes restaurants, and clubs and pubs to hang out in and if you need something to wear you can check out Mindil beach sunsets markets which offer an array of merchandise.


After the bombing during WWII, Darwin harbour is sometimes referred to as Australia's "Pearl Harbour" due to the extensive damage and loss of life and indeed the two air raids on Darwin were planned and led by the same commander who orchestrated the raid on Pearl Harbour. The event took the town by surprise and left a permanent imprint on Darwin. As you explore the city you can find references to the event here and there - forgiven, but not forgotten.


Darwin harbour is the most beautiful blue. Image by JB
Darwin harbour is the most beautiful blue. Image by JB

Darwin's Climate

Darwin has an abundance of warm, sunny days and as a coastal city, is less scorchingly hot than many inland parts of the territory. It has what is called a tropical savanna climate, which means it is high in humidity (average humidity is 30%) and has two basic seasons; the wet season, from November to April and the dry season, from May to September.


Thunderstorms and lightening are common during the wet season and a torrent of rain can come down suddenly and very heavily. From a travellers point of view, December to March is considered the most beautiful time of year in this tropical zone and the Top End is known for its fabulous sunsets. Light clothes are worn all year round and it's advisable to drink lots of water wherever you are in the Northern Territory.


Inland from Darwin in the Northern territory, the temperature increases and very hot days are followed by very cold nights. The Red Centre, in particular is scorchingly hot during the day, however in winter and at nighttime it can get cold, so rug up at these times if you travel through there.


Darwin's Average Seasonal Temperatures

Season
Temperature/celsius
 
Summer
31.6 to 32.6
Wet season
Autumn
31.9 to 32.7
Dry season
Winter
30.5 to 32
Dry season
Spring
32.5 to 33.3
Wet season
Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Old Darwin

AAP: National Archives of Australia
AAP: National Archives of Australia

Wrecked

1974: Cyclone Tracy

On Christmas day in 1974, a tropical cyclone shook Darwin to it's foundations and transformed it forever. 71 people were killed and 70 percent of Darwin's buildings, 80 percent of which were houses, were annihilated; the town was virtually destroyed.


Although Darwin had been hit by cyclones before, nothing of this magnitude had occurred and the disaster led to a complete rethink of the building codes. Prior to the cyclone, most of the houses had been built with only a basic structural concession given to the possibility of cyclones - many were old houses on stilts built in the 1930s and most of them didn't have a hope of withstanding the powerful winds from a direct hit.


The following year the Darwin Reconstruction Commission was formed and given the task of rebuilding within five years. It seemed an impossible job, yet by 1978 the city had recovered and was able to house it's population (although many had permanently left) in safer, stronger houses. In the years since, rebuilding has continued and Darwin has expanded significantly. It is now an entirely different place and the old Darwin has dissappeared.


New Darwin, at night
New Darwin, at night

PS: Darwin a Short Jump from Indonesia

Although small, Darwin has an extra significance because it is a gateway to the Asian countries of East Timor and Indonesia, and thus ideally placed for trade opportunities. Darwin is actually closer to Jakarta than Sydney and many tourists take advantage of daily international flights to visit Indonesia.


You never know what you'll find along the road to Darwin. Image by JB
You never know what you'll find along the road to Darwin. Image by JB

More by this Author


Comments 45 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

What a cool place! And what amazing photos! And goodness, I want to plunge into Florence Falls!!

You've created a beautiful guide- and it's so packed with utility, too! Voted up, useful, awesome, and beautiful!


Baileybear 5 years ago

Congratulations on winning a writing prize. Is that your son with the crocodile & other pics?


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

And congrats, Jane Bovary! This Hub won the Staff Pick prize for Day 15 of the So You Think You Can Write Online contest!!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

What a fascinating and complete Darwinian tour this is, Jane. So many interesting places to visit and explore. I have a question. You refer to the eerie American base at Woomera. Why is it eerie? Strange or haunted? Just wonderin'. Voted up, my dear.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

Awesome Hub! An absolute top choice for the staff pick win today. Funny and beautiful photos of your travels in Australia. Love the shot of the jail and of Florence Falls, amazing stuff. Big congrats for your win!

K9


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Yay!*squeals*....thankyou. I'd like to thank my literary agent, my cousin Tim....

Seriously, thankyou Simone. I'm wrapt and very grateful.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi BB...thanks (and yes it is).


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

drbj, Woomera is a very strange place because it's out in the middle of nowhere and it's just so dry.It seems weird to have a collection of suburban houses and high tech structures suddenly appear. There's also a park with missiles as monuments...very incongrous with the rest of the desert.

Thanks for reading!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

K9..well that's just a lovely conmment. Thankyou very much.


BlissfulWriter profile image

BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

I can see how this article won staff pick. Such a comprehensive coverage and full of photos. Great job.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Blissfulwriter...it's a great place to visit, so I had plenty to work with.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Darwin in Australia looks like an amazing place to visit and you have really described it enticingly with your words and photos. Florence Falls looks absolutely beautiful except for the thought of a crocodile being in there. Yikes! Congratulations on your win. Well deserved!


Charlu profile image

Charlu 5 years ago from Florida

Wow What a phenomenal hub. The pictures are exquisite and your guided tour makes me want to book a flight. I don't know if I would try the kangaroo meat though that's just a little creepy for me. Congratulations on your win it is well deserved. Voted up/awesome/useful/beautiful. Awesome job


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Congratulations Jane! You are an awesome writer. I never knew how cool Darwin was before I met you. The city and the man.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California

Jane,

So happy that someone I know won, and rightfully so. Congratulations on a really great hub

C


The Joneses 5 years ago

Love the travel hub,planning to go some time this year, cute picture of boy with crocodile.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Peggy W, thanks very much. Florence Falls is really gorgeous and crocs are...apparently..rarely found there. Still, 'rarely' is not as good as 'never' ...;) The day I swam there it didn't even occur to me, as there were no warning signs and plenty of people were in the water. Just as well or it would have completely spoilt my swim!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Charlu, I hope you do make it over here one day...we'd love to have you. I understand about the kangaroo meat. I have eaten crocodile once or twice....it tastes like rubbery chicken.

And thankyou for that generous, supportive comment!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Austin, I finally did a Darwin hub...;) Thanks for that nice comment.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Chris, I got almost as much of a thrill from seeing your face in here as I did winning the daily..;) Lovely to see you and thanks for stopping by.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Joneses..I know you'll love Darwin...and thanks!


barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 5 years ago from Queensland Australia

Well done Great Work !


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi barry...thanks.


Sun Pen 50 profile image

Sun Pen 50 5 years ago from Srilanka

Oh! What a great travel guide. I would love to visit Darwin. I watched the TV series "Cyclone Tracy" about 15 years back. Congratulation for winning the Prize. And it is well deserved. Keep on writing more on these lines too. Your other hubs too are immensely readable ( I read two more). Following you.


Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 5 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

Darwin looks wonderful. I've never been to Australia and probably never will, so your article is the nearest I'll get to a visit. Many thanks for bringing it so close to home.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

Congratulations on your well deserved win. This is a fantastic hub that I am sure took some time to complete. I may never get to visit which makes this type of hub so great because you gave us such a complete look at

Darwin.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Good hub. My dad always wanted to visit Darwin. It was a wild place full of adventure in the 1930s. It still looks pretty wild.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Les Trois Chenes..nice to see you and thanks for popping in. It is a long way away...;)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Sun Pen...I remember that series! It was good...and thankyou for reading, commenting and offering that encouragement.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Pamela! I really appreciated that comment...I appreciate all of the comments. Thanks again guys.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Rod, yes, Darwin is a little offbeat...it's got a definite vibe, different from anywhere else.

I just finished watching "Paper Giants" about the birth of Packer's Cleo magazine ..did you catch it?


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

No, I would have liked to have seen Paper Giants but I had work to do so I missed out. I do a lot of night work nowadays. It looked good. I remember just how controversial Cleo was when it first came out. I was a kid but I remember it being a confusing time for the male of the species.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Well done Jane. I never heard of Darwin before and this is such an excellent introduction to what seems to be a fascinating place to visit. Congrats on your winning the hub contest!


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

My son took a trip to Australia last year when he was stationed in HI. He loved it. Went to several places, including Darwin. I'd love to go there myself.

Great hub with lots of good info. Voted up


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, I keep forgetting that you work nights...


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Green Lotus,lovely to see you. I'm chuffed to have introduced you to Darwin...it's a small place but dynamic. Thanks for the congrats!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Danette...I hope you make it over one day! Thanks very much for the comment.


Ipeoney profile image

Ipeoney 5 years ago from USA

Nice travel Hub good information about australia Nice photos too. I wish to see Australia in the future


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks very much Ipeony...hope you make it over here one day.


dablufox profile image

dablufox 5 years ago from Australia

Congratulations on an amazing hub. Being an Aussie and serving all over Oz in the navy while in the sub corps I have seen a lot of the land down under, but you have helped me to realize how lucky I am to live in a truly lucky country with so much to see and do.

A wonderful and extremely polished hub, thank you!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

dablufox...we are lucky! That whole trip through the red centre up to Darwin, was a real eye opener for me. Thanks very much for popping in.


Ruby H Rose profile image

Ruby H Rose 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

Great Hub. Congratulations on the contest. Now I want to go visiting in Australia even more, thanks for the good travel information.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Ruby! Come on over...we'd love to have you.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Awesome pictures - very informative hub


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks very much John!

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