I loved Australia’s Northern Territory capital, and this isolated city of only 150,000 people offers so much for visitors it was difficult to pick my favourite things to do in Darwin, even before you set out to explore Kakadu and Litchfield national parks because Darwin is a great base for exploring the Top End of Australia!
You have got to have low expectations for the architecture of a place that’s had the sh*t kicked out of it twice in the past century. During the Second World War the Japanese bombed Darwin to bits. Then in 1974 Cyclone Tracy demolished all but 15 per cent of Darwin’s buildings.
In recent years the Northern Territory capital has seen exciting shiny new building development, especially along the waterfront. It is a city of peaceful suburbs shaded by tropical palms and gardens. It also has a bustling backpacker bar scene on Mitchell Street. There are pleasant malls and lush esplanade parks filled with Banyan trees and frangipani iced with creamy flowers.
Here are my top things to do in Darwin:
Darwin’s amazing multi-cultural markets
I was blown away by the vibrant and multi-cultural markets in Darwin. For pure gastronomic pleasure they are also pretty hard to beat. The Mindil Beach sunset markets are at the top of my list but I also loved the daytime affair of suburban Parap Market. Delicious Asian food, huge piles of tropical fruit, beautiful crafts and even crocodile artifacts! A great way to spend a lot of time in Darwin!
The Deckchair cinema in Darwin
This is one darling little cinema – sitting in stripey deckchairs on a balmy tropical Darwin evening, stomach full of delicious food from Hanuman (you can buy and eat this at the cinema), sipping a beer and enjoying one of a well-thought-out range of films, both popular and arthouse. The Deckchair Cinema has been an important part of Darwin’s social life since the 1920s and it is fantastic.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
This is a great little museum with hugely varied exhibits that represents the natural and cultural history of the region. From exploring the different habitats of Australia’s Top End to experiencing the noise and terror of a tropical cyclone, it’s far from dull. There is a beautiful selection of ancient and contemporary art – from woven pandanus to totems to paintings by Albert Namatjira. Don’t miss the Cyclone Tracy exhibit, or the preserved remains of Sweetheart – a 780kg monster croc caught in 1979. The attached Cornucopia café is excellent.
There are a number of options for getting to know the Top End’s most famous inhabitants in and around Darwin. Crocodylus Park and the Adelaide River Jumping Crocs cruises are two examples. But if you’re in central Darwin without a vehicle, Crocosaurus Cove offers an opportunity to get up close and personal to some of the world’s biggest crocodiles, right in the heart of the CBD. It’s a great way to gain a healthy respect for crocodiles before heading out into the national parks of Kakadu and Litchfield.
The Darwin Botanical Gardens
The Darwin Botanical Gardens look like a giant extension of the city’s tropical lushness and they are definitely worth a wander. They claim the most diverse palm collection in the southern hemisphere and the rainforest walk is really quite gorgeous.
Darwin’s Esplanade and Waterfront area
Right at the edge of the Darwin CBD the Waterfront precinct is now home to the Darwin Convention Centre, the Wave Pool and Swimming Lagoon, and an ever-growing number of hotels, apartments, restaurants, retail outlet, bars and cafes. I enjoyed sunset over a deliciously fresh plate of Thai food here and will watch plans for further development of this area with interest.
Fish feeding at Acquascene and Darwin Waterfront
Acquascene offers the opportunity to dabble your toes in the water and hand-feed fish, which come in from the sea at high tide into a concrete pool. Huge, disc-shaped bat fish were taking bread right out of my hand. Filipino Milk Fish thrashed the water after a bread roll. A lazy barracuda cruised the pool, showing off his shiny scales. You can also feed fish from the pier on Darwin Waterfront. It’s not nearly so up close but it is free. Kids obviously love this but the adults did too!
Darwin’s Second World War heritage
WWII relics abound in Darwin and its surrounds. The East Point War Museum and the WWII Oil Storage tunnels are in central Darwin. There are many WWII landing strips to be seen driving out in the Outback. More than anything I think these are testament to the resilience of the people of Darwin to survive attempts to destroy their home.
Things to do in Darwin
Whatever you choose to do in Darwin make sure you enjoy a beautiful tropical sunset every night. After all, the city is only 12 degrees south of the equator and the balmy evenings and fiery sunsets are sure to be a highlight of your visit.
See here for my full itinerary for exploring Australia’s Top End.
By Natasha von Geldern
What would you add to my list of things to do in Darwin?