Darwin Australia - A Travel Guide
Darwin - Australia's Tropical City
With its view over the Timor Sea Darwin is Australia's only real tropical city. It is closer to Asia than it is to Sydney and there is a distinct smell of lemongrass and coriander in the air. It is home to 125,000 people and has the highest Aboriginal population of any Australian city. People from over 50 different ethnic backgrounds live and work in Darwin.
On Christmas Eve 1974 Darwin was hit by a devastating cyclone, Cyclone Tracy, as a result most of the buildings are quite new; there are almost no buildings more than 40 years old. This newness and the diversity of the population and the food make Darwin a pretty unique city to visit.
When to visit Darwin
What is the weather like?
While Darwin has 2 seasons, the temperature sits at about 32Â°C (86Â°F) all year round, it is the humidity across the seasons that changes things. The Dry Season runs from April/May to October and there is very little rain in these months. From November the wet season begins to take shape and the humidity increases dramatically. I visited in mid-February and it was really pretty uncomfortable most days. The Wet Season rains begin to fall heavily from December and this lasts until March.
Weather wise the ideal time to visit is May to September but there are benefits to visiting in the wet if you don't mind the humidity. The wildflowers and plant life look amazing, the waterfalls are overflowing and the crowds are thin. Just make sure your hotel or hostel has air-conditioning.
If you do not want to arrive with the main tourist crowds avoid travelling here in June and July when Australian schools have their winter holidays and every guidebook reader arrives to enjoy the "perfect" weather.
May to September is peak season in Darwin and the Top End so book ahead for accommodation and special tours.
Darwin Travel Videos - Take a look at Tropical North Australia
How to get to Darwin
Plane, train or automobile
There are direct flights from Singapore and Saigon and all Australian Capital Cities. Darwin airport is located about 13km from the city. The Darwin Airport Shuttle bus service that costs $10 one way or $18 return.
The Ghan train runs between Darwin and Adelaide - a distance of 2,979 kilometres (1,852 miles), It takes 2 days to travel the complete route however you can take a shorter journey ending at Alice Springs. If you are considering taking the Ghan, and it is an amazing journey for train lovers, then I recommend this article about the different levels of accommodation on the Ghan.
If you want to drive in the Territory please make sure you are well prepared. Driving distances between towns can be enormous and you need to carry water and tell someone of your plans. Check this table of driving distances in Australia for an idea. Driving between Darwin and Katherine /Kakadu is relatively easy.
Take a trip on the Ghan
Must see's in Darwin
My top 5 things to see and do in Darwin
I am not a huge fan of "must see" lists because everyone's can be so different but because so many people like to read them here are mine.
Highlights in Darwin
2. Fishing for Barramundi or at least eating some that was freshly caught. I visited this Barramundi fishing park at Howard Springs just outside Darwin and had the most delicious piece of freshly caught fish I have ever tasted.
3. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory - The Museum is located near Parap so combine this with a morning at the market. The Aboriginal art in the gallery is excellent and the Cyclone Tracy experience was really powerful.
4. Fannie Bay - I walked back from the Museum along Fannie bay and took some amazing photos. I was the only person on the walk and felt a million miles away.
5. Cool Down at the Waterfront Precinct - away from the crocs - try the wave pool for a bit of fun. There are also some great dining options here.
You might like some background reading before you go
A few more things to do in Darwin
Insider knowledge for visitors to Darwin
See Wallabys in the wild for free East Point Reserve - As well as being home to a military museum and a nice picnic spot, if you head to the reserve at dusk you can see wallabys bouncing around before bedtime. The sunsets over Fannie Bay are gorgeous too.
Watch a movie at the Deckchair Cinema. If you have seen the movie Australia you might remember the scene where they are watching a movie in deck chairs as the heavens open. From April to November this outdoor cinema lets you enjoy the movies from the comfort of a deckchair. It's licensed and only rarely rains at this time of year.
Cheap dinner with harbour views
Head to the Darwin Ski Club for a cheap meal at a friendly local club. There are bands and trivia to entertain a few nights of the week.
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory - Located at beautiful Fannie Bay
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is free and open 7 days a week. It has 5 main galleries that cover indigenous art, the history of Darwin, a maritime collection and more. The most well known feature is a giant 18 foot crocodile known as "Sweetheart". The Cyclone Tracy exhibit describes the effects of this enormous natural disaster that left 48,000 people homeless on Christmas Eve 1974. There are sound recordings of the wind that are absolutely chilling.
I took the photo above while on my walk back to town from the Museum.
Darwin Day Trips - Good choices for a day away from town
Alligator River Cruise
If you are not going to Kakadu make sure you go on a crocodile cruise. They are amazing in the wild and there is also some beautiful bird life and flowers to view, particularly in the wet season.
Tiwi Islands - Bathurst and Melville Island are 40 min flight or a 2 hour ferry ride from Darwin.
Tiwi tours - Aussie Adventures
will fly you there or the Tiwi Islands Ferry
will take the slower but equally scenic trip. A day on Bathurst Island with the Ferry and all meals will cost you about A$300 - The flight day trip is $650 or so. For this you will spend several hours with the people of the local community learning about their culture and lifestyle. You can not visit the island unless part of a tour.
Fishing tours are very popular in Darwin. Barramundi, Marlin and Coral Trout are all abundant. Even if you don't go fishing and catch your own make sure you each some Barra and Rainbow trout while you are here.
Buying Aboriginal and indigenous souvenirs - How do you know what you are buying is real aboriginal art?
Authentic aboriginal art comes with a certificate giving the name of the artist, their language group community, title of the work and date.
To be safe try to buy your souvenirs from aboriginal cultural centres see Aboriginal Art Org for more information.
Litchfield National Park - I liked it better than Kakadu
Litchfield is only about 100 km or so from Darwin and an easy 1.5hr drive. There are lots of tours leaving Darwin every day but renting a car and taking yourself is easy and worthwhile, particularly if there are two or more of you. Litchfield National Park is a must see for me. It might not have the significant aboriginal art of Kakadu but the waterfalls are stunning and the fields of termite mounds were eerily mesmerising, almost like being in a cemetery.
You can swim at some spots in Litchfield including Florence Falls, which during my wet season visit was stunning and Blueys Rock hole but take care, in the wet season some of these "safe" places become home to crocs. There were signs up during our visit at every spot we went to except one. I chickened out and did not swim in any of them. Later in the day we were stopped on the road outside of Katherine by a flooded road and guess what was in the water!
The most accessible of the waterfalls is also the most impressive, Wangi Falls. The track to the falls has a boardwalk with steps in the steep sections. It is an easy walk but not suitable for wheelchairs. These falls were a little flooded when I was there because of the huge volume of water in the wet. There was no swimming allowed.
If you want to stay overnight in the area consider Litchfield Safari Camp. If you don't mind a walk there is a campsite at Walker Creek that you are likely to have almost to yourself. It is only a 600m walk and there are some great swimming spots.
If you are planing on self driving you will need a good map
October to May is jellyfish or stinger season but stingers can be found all year round so take care when swimming in the ocean