Things to Do in Darwin
With its waterfalls, waterholes, and lush rain forests, Litchfield National Park has no shortage of spectacular scenery. Just a short drive from Darwin, it’s also known for its magnetic termite mounds that tower up to 7 feet (2 meters) tall. These sculptural cairns were built by termites.
Located in Nitmiluk National Park in the Top End of the Northern Territory, Edith Falls (Leliyn) offer gorgeous views over the river, tiers of rock pools and waterfalls that cascade through the gully. All that, along with the area's wildlife, makes Edith Falls one of Australia's most picturesque -- not to mention underrated -- natural attractions.
The falls are full of water year-round, but the clear, dry season between May and September is the best time to visit. Even so, the area surrounding the falls is especially lush and green during the intense rains earlier in the year, so visitors are in for a treat no matter when they go.
A visit to the falls typically involves swimming, and Sweetwater Pool, as well as both the upper and lower pools, are all particularly suited for the activity. Visitors to the falls during the wet season, however, may find that swimming is off-limits due to potentially dangerous conditions.
Those looking to earn their refreshing swim can first head to one of the two walking trails at Edith Falls. The Leliyn Trail winds around and above the falls in a 1.6-mile circuit, with multiple lookout spots, a river crossing and a few choice swimming pools along the way. The Sweetwater Pool track is longer at 5.3 miles, but the quiet swimming spot it leads to is worth it. Visitors can undertake the walk as a day or nighttime hike, but it should be noted that overnight stays require a permit.
The Darwin Waterfront Precint, a scenic waterfront area full of options for dining and play, exists thanks to an initiative by the city of Darwin that turned 61 acres of industrial wasteland into a thriving center for the city.
The area includes the Stokes Hill Wharf, a historical site that was constructed in the early 1800s by Darwin’s first European settlers and bore much damage from the 1942 air raid upon the city during World War II. These days, the wharf is home to a much livelier atmosphere. Award-winning dining, entertainment, shopping and outdoor attractions have helped transform the wharf precinct into one of the most celebrated parts of Darwin.
The wharf is connected to Darwin’s Central Business District by a dedicated walkway lined with parks, tropical landscaping and, of course, the waterfront itself. The lifeguard-patrolled swimming lagoons make for a great daytime spot to splash around, and the Indo Pacific Marine lets visitors get up close and personal to the coral ecosystems of the area.
There is a wealth of shopping and pampering opportunities at the wharf – a surf shop, a boutique gift store, a luxury hair salon and a day spa are just some of the offerings. Visitors shouldn’t pass up a stop at the StormBird Gallery, where stunning nature photography by local Jacci Ingham is on display. Restaurants along the promenade range from a traditional Irish pub and a tapas lounge to a Greek restaurant and an open-til-late gelato shop. Come nightfall, the deckchair cinema serves guests from its kiosk as viewers settle in to watch the nightly film at 7:30 p.m.
Cullen Bay is about10 minutes outside of Darwin. Its drawcard is a big sleek marina packed with yachts. In an uncertain tropical climate like Darwin's, this marina offers yachting traffic the security of a man-made environment with a locked waterway and sea walls that close. This means it's accessible in the low Spring tides and a registered cyclone haven - hence its popularity.
For the landlubber, Cullen Bay is an equally sleek oasis of shops, restaurants, bars and day spas. It's a popular place for visitors to stay, as its serviced apartments are so close to all these amenities- and water views. It's also close to the ferry terminal, so you can take off on trips to Mandorah and Tiwi islands.
The Defence of Darwin Experience chronicles the Northern Territory’s role in World War II through a number of powerful exhibits that educate visitors on how the war deeply affected the region and its residents. This multimedia museum offers fascinating insight into the fateful events leading up to and on Feb. 19, 1942, when the Bombing of Darwin took place, killing over 250 people, sinking 10 ships, and kicking off a period of nearly two years of bombings in the Northern Territory. Guests can view historic equipment and artifacts from the war and listen to somber stories of locals’ whose lives were changed forever, as well as firsthand accounts of those who went off to war to avenge the lives that were lost.
Immersive exhibits include the Bombing of Darwin Gallery with its 3D helmets and sensory footage illustrating what it would have been like to witness the bombings, plus StoryShare, where locals record their own stories to be shared with museum visitors. Travelers can also record their responses to all they see and learn at the museum. As one of Darwin’s most significant historical sites, the attraction is often included in guided tours of the city.
Across fields in northern Australia stand these tall magnetic termite mounds standing up to two meters high. As a habitat created by termites, they’re strategically built to face away from the hot sun and keep temperatures cool. Inside are complex and fascinating architecture and networks of arches, tunnels, chimneys, and various chambers. Thousands of termites live in a single mound and are known to last anywhere from fifty to one hundred years — which can also be the lifespan of one termite queen. Looking at the mounds it’s hard to believe such a small insect could create such a large, elaborate dwelling for itself.
There are several types of termite mounds, and in this case ‘magnetic’ refers to the way they are aligned (in conjunction with the earth’s magnetic field.) How the termites are able to consistently determine the north-south orientation to avoid the heat is unknown, and these structures remain a bit of a natural phenomenon.
Crocosaurus Cove comprises the world’s largest display of Australian reptiles. The 52,834-gallon (200,000-litre) freshwater aquarium is home to turtles, barramundi, whiprays, and archer fish, but it’s the saltwater crocodiles—some of the largest in Australia—that star. See them in displays designed to be viewed from three levels.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) showcases a collection of more than 1.2 million natural history specimens and 30,000 art and cultural works. In addition to its seven galleries, MAGNT has a family-friendly Discovery Centre, providing visitors of all ages with fascinating insight into Australia’s history and heritage.
Arnhem Land, one of Australia’s wildest and most sacred areas, lies at the lush northern tip of the continent. It was declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931 and remains a place of strong tradition with a distinctive culture and famous artwork, while also staying largely untouched by European colonization.
The beautiful landscapes provided by the area’s diverse ecosystems include rugged coastlines, rivers, remote islands, a rainforest, woodlands and bluffs. Arnhem Land is home to both saltwater crocodiles and gentle dugongs, for which this area works as an important conversation habitat.
Visitors drawn to Arnhem Land for its culture won’t be disappointed. Gunbalanya (also known as Oenpelli) is home to the Injalak Art and Craft Centre, where artists work and their wares are available for purchase. Tours often take travelers into the nearby bush to learn about the Aboriginal rock art, Dreamtime myths and bush tucker, the foods native to Australia.
Boasting dozens of aircrafts, engines and plane crash remnants, the Darwin Aviation Museum (formerly known as the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre) is the best place in Darwin for anyone with their head in the clouds. The enormous museum prides itself on its coverage of the fateful bombing of Darwin in 1942 and many other air battles of World War II. Its North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber is especially notable, as it is one of the last in the world and only one of two on display outside of the United States.
Other exhibits include an Auster biplane, a Japanese Zero fighter, shot from the sky in 1942, a Tiger Moth, the remains of a crash-landed RAAF Mirage jet, a Spitfire replica and even a few of the first attack helicopters.
More Things to Do in Darwin
Australia’s newest parliament house was built in Darwin in 1994, and has been the seat of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly since then. It was designed in a postmodern style and built to suit the tropical climate of Darwin. The entrance features a Northern Territory coat of arms placed at the top of its ceremonial doors.
The building overlooks Darwin Harbor, sitting on the site of the former Post Office and Telegraph Station which were bombed during a raid in 1942. There is a state library, portrait gallery, and a massive Main Hall indoors, and the Speakers Green outdoor. The areas function both as parliamentary and government receptions and public exhibitions. Unique tributes to the symbols of the Northern Territory, such as a desert rose in the reception foyer, are present throughout.
Protecting some of Darwin’s most cultural and historically significant wetlands, Charles Darwin National Park is the home of mangroves and wildlife visible by walking, cycling, or simply sitting at one of the park’s many overlooks. A complex system of bays, waterways, and small islands, 31 of the 50 or so species of mangrove of the Northern Territory can be found here. Historically the Larrakia people called this area home with evidence suggesting the Aboriginals had inhabited here for thousands of years. Now it’s a wonderful place to take in views of Darwin city, the harbor, and the surrounding landscape.
The park is also home to concrete bunkers and shelters from World War II, which tell the story of Australia’s soldiers and are open to visitors. There is an impressive display of war memorabilia here, where ammunition was once stored and military tests were run. The park’s many paths can be used for both walking and cycling to take it all in.
Australia’s Top End is home to one-of-a-kind landscapes and ecosystems, and nowhere is it easier to witness this splendor than at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. The gardens were designed around a huge collection of flora native to the region, from the lush Arnhem Land to the Tiwi Islands, and visitors can feast their eyes on replicas of displays of various local habitats – monsoon forests, coastal fore-dunes, wetlands, mangroves and woodlands. More than 450 plant species can be found here, at one of the only botanical gardens in the world that successfully hosts natural displays of both marine and estuary plants.
Other plants of note include the stunning Desert Rose tree, bromeliads and orchids. There’s also a rainforest gully that contains many of the gardens’ palm and cycad species alongside ponds and a waterfall. In addition to showcasing the local ecosystems, the gardens also allow visitors to gain insight into the area’s Aboriginal culture through a self-guided walk conveying information of Aboriginal plant use.
Mindil Beach is absolutely Darwin’s most visited and best known beach. Home to the famous Mindil Sunset Markets, the beach offers a little bit of everything to the visiting traveler, including 500 meters of golden sand bordered by Bullocky and Myilly points to the north and south, respectively. The beach looks west out onto the waters of the Beagle Gulf, perfectly situated for visitors to sit back and watch the sun set over the waves. The markets showcase the best local creative talent and offer fresh produce while promoting sustainability, supporting locally grown talent and food and encouraging the use of public transportation to and from the beach.
The Mindil Beach Reserve, a large park dedicated to preserving some of the city’s original wilderness, sits near the ocean, and the SKYCITY Darwin, the city's casino, is nearby in juxtaposition.
The Tiwi Islands sit about 50 miles off the north coast of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the chain is made up of 11 individual isles. The largest are Melville – the second largest island in Australia behind Tasmania – and Bathurst, the fifth largest of Australia’s islands.
It is believed that this string of islands has been inhabited for the past 7,000 years by the Tiwi people, which led to them being named an Aboriginal Reserve in 1912. Like at Arnhem Land, another Aboriginal Reserve, visiting these islands requires an invitation or an escort, as well as a permit. The islands are governed mostly by the Tiwi Aboriginal Land Trust and the Tiwi Land Council.
The island communities are renowned for their art, particularly for their wood carvings of birds. Fabric creations are also common and made in a similar fashion to Indonesian batik prints.
The wilderness of the Tiwi Islands is not to be outdone by that on the Northern Territory mainland -- Melville Island is particularly known for its swimming holes at Taracumbie and Tomorapi Falls, and the islands are full of charming secluded waterfalls and dense rainforest areas.
Nestled between Fannie Bay beach and the Nightcliff Headland, East Point Reserve is a nature reserve and the largest park area in Darwin. In addition to the many outdoor activities available here, the area’s military history draws both visitors and locals alike. The active at heart can enjoy the many walking trails and cycling paths, or take a swim in the saltwater of Lake Alexander. For those who prefer to lounge, there are dozens of ideal picnic spots from which to catch the views and sunsets, including those at the most popular beach on Fannie Bay.
The area is home to lots of Australian wildlife — everything from wallabies and bandicoots to reptiles and birds. The Mangrove Walkway is the best bet for seeing the animals that call East Point home. The Reserve furthermore played a role in defending Australia in World War II, which can be explored in the Darwin Military Museum here.
Darwin's Crocodylus Park is a must-see for any and all reptile-enthusiasts making their way through Australia's Northern Territory. With an emphasis on conservation, research, and education, visitors can speak with the researchers and crocodile handlers who study the toothy critters, and who are in charge of the feedings and guided tours at this popular indoor and outdoor attraction. Brush up on all of your crocodile trivia inside of the museum, before venturing outside to see freshwater crocs and their massive saltwater cousins. You’ll also find lesser known species of crocodiles from the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, as well as a collection of American alligators that linger on the banks. Lest you think it’s just crocodiles here, you’ll also find lions, emus, iguanas, and enormous Burmese pythons, in addition to tigers, monkeys, capuchins, wallabies, and red kangaroos.
Upgrade your experience to include a guided cruise through the park's waters, where you'll have the chance to observe large saltwater crocodiles in their natural environment.
This expansive park runs the length of Darwin’s waterfront, looking down onto the Darwin Harbor and Lameroo Beach. It stretches south from the Northern Territory Parliament House down to the Doctor’s Gully area. It is a large outdoor space popular for holding local festivals, including May Day and the Darwin Festival, as well as many weddings. It is a great place to simply take a stroll and enjoy the scenery in Darwin, with paths often shaded by tall tropical trees.
The park is also home to several war memorials, including the Cenotaph War Memorial, the Civilian Memorial, and the The USS Peary Memorial (which sunk in the Darwin Harbor.) Memorial plaques commemorate the stories of those who have served their country, both Australians who lost their lives in the Bombing of Darwin and Aboriginal men and women who helped defend the Northern Territory coastline.
Imagine sweltering in Darwin’s heat inside of small, brick rooms, crammed with dozens of other prisoners as you wait to hang at the gallows. That was the scene for many prisoners at Darwin’s Fannie Bay Gaol, which served as the city’s principal jail for nearly 100 years. Opened in 1883, the Fannie Bay Gaol held everything from murderers to lepers, refugees, and “natives,” and the last hanging took place on the gallows in 1952.
When visiting Fannie Bay Gaol today, peek inside the macabre building where hundreds of prisoners were held, and see the gallows inside the infirmary where the last two hangings took place. Run your hand on the wooden handle that dropped the floor of the gallows, and hear the stories of ghosts and ghouls that haunt the building today. While the gaol is open to public visitation, it’s also a popular stop on tours that visit the city highlights.
When Qantas was established in 1920, it started with an airplane used primarily for joy rides that sometimes delivered the mail. Just 14 years later, in 1934, the city of Darwin had become integral to air service between Australia and Europe, that Qantas airlines—with its multiple planes—ordered construction of a steel air hangar set right on the outskirts of Darwin. It was used by Qantas, as well as Guinea, which ran regional flights down to Adelaide, though that all changed when the Japanese bombed the city in 1942. Heavily damaged by Japanese bombs, the hangar was fixed, sold, and passed to multiple different businesses, before the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club signed a lease on the building in 1999. Today the hangar holds cars—not aircraft—beneath its 20-foot roof, and has gradually become the ultimate “man cave” escape when visiting Darwin. Here you’ll find engines, classic cars, and even an old-fashioned steam train, and the hangar is a popular stop on small group scooter tours of the town.
An access point to the wildlife and natural landscape of the Northern coastal wetlands, this area is significant to the Aboriginal Limilngan-Wulna people. The Window on the Wetlands Visitor Center grants visitors the historical and cultural insight they’ll need to fully experience it. There are dozens of displays detailing the unique ecology of the Northern Territory wetlands, as well as European and Aboriginal history. Seasonal changes are the key to understanding the wetlands, as they are both wet and dry at different points in the year and the wildlife has to adapt. Exhibits are educational and highly interactive.
Parks and Wildlife staff here can also assist with where to visit and what you’re likely to see. From the center you can get an overview of the Adelaide River plains and wetlands. You can see for miles, particularly with the use of binoculars.
A popular stopping point for international cruise liners and smaller ships traveling along the Australian coast, Darwin Cruise Port is the gateway to the tropical capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. Passengers dock at the Fort Hill Wharf terminal, which enjoys easy access to Darwin downtown.
In the far reaches of Australia’s Northern Territory, the rough and tumble outpost of Darwin is a hotbed of quintessential Australian adventure, and none more so than a cruise on the Adelaide River to see the legendary jumping crocodiles, which can grow upwards of 20 feet long. Salt-water crocodiles are some of the most fearsome and notorious wild animals in the Australian bush, and the Adelaide River literally teems with them—don’t plan to take a swim during a day on the water.
Experienced guides control the experience so you can see these incredible prehistoric reptiles from the comfort and safety of a boat. And while the crocs are certainly the highlight of a trip to the river, you can see plenty of other wildlife along the way, including wild buffalo and white-breasted sea eagles. The Adelaide River is also a hotspot for fishing trips to snag massive, hard-fighting barramundi fish.
It's amazing what a few scraps of breadflung to a mullet can start. That's what a resident of Doctors Gully did in the 1950s, and it didn't take long for the local fish to realize they were onto a good thing. The number of fish turning up for a free meal grew and grew, the word got around, and these days it's turned into Aquascene, a healthy tourist attraction.
Every day at high tide (the tides vary, naturally, so you'll have to check the local paper or contact Aquascene for exact feeding times) a deluge of fish flood into the shallow bay, napkins on, as it were.The original mullet population havebeen joined by a host of other species including catfish, milkfish and bream.