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Gateway to some of Australia’s most spiritual places, Darwin is the launching point for journeys into tropical terrain, hardy townships, wildlife-filled national parks and sacred indigenous sites. While the city of Darwin has enough bars, pubs, galleries and shops to keep most visitors busy, there’s a whole world of wonder to discover on a day trip out of Darwin.
An easy, 90 minute drive from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is an accessible, manageable alternative to Kakadu. Smaller in scale, but no less incredible, Litchfield is a top option for travellers who want to experience the wild, monsoonal beauty of the Top End in a short time frame.
Just before heading into Litchfield National Park, stop at the town of Batchelor and make a beeline for the General Store to stock up on picnic supplies and last minute essentials. The Tourist Information Centre here also stocks plenty of maps and brochures filled with handy tips of where to swim, park and hike in Litchfield. Pro tip: don’t rely on your phone to access Google Maps as coverage is very limited here. It’s best to stick to old-school paper maps.
This is absolutely sunscreen, water bottle, long-sleeved shirt, hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and sensible shoes territory. During the wet season, temperatures can get face-meltingly hot, so taking a dip is standard protocol for most visitors to these parts. Luckily, Litchfield National Park obliges with a range of near-perfect, croc-free billabongs, streams and water holes. As with everywhere in the Northern Territory, check signs before swimming anywhere as crocodiles are a very real threat.
On first sight, Florence Falls is one of those ‘too good to be true’ kind of places. Fringed by monsoon forest and sandstone cliffs, Florence Falls is open year round. Up top, dramatic torrents of water spew over cliffs, and below crystal waters await swimmers keen on escaping the searing Territory heat. With a commanding, ancient aura, swimming in the plunge pool of Florence Falls not only refreshes the body, but also renews the spirit.
Once in, it’s hard to get out, not only because the water is so clean and fresh, but also because the rocks surrounding the plunge pool are slippery, so the temptation to ‘stay another five minutes’ (and avoid the awkward ascent out of the pool) is strong. Nearby, Buley Rockhole is typically less crowded but no less impressive. Nature walks, trails and streams interconnect throughout the whole national park, providing enough space for everyone to snatch a private moment of transcendental peace in this otherworldly corner of the earth.
Hundreds of alien-like magnetic termite mounds only add to Litchfield’s otherworldly vibe. Some up to a century old and standing as tall as a house, others relatively young and small in size, the termite mounds are scattered all throughout the national park, with some pretty impressive clusters clearly marked on maps and surrounded by viewing platforms. An unbelievable feat of engineering, these mounds are built facing north-south to minimise the impact of the hot sun, proving that tiny insects may have tiny brains but collective, inherited wisdom by the bucket load.
During the dry season, one of the best seats in the house is on Darwin’s waterfront at the chilled out Deck Chair Cinema.
Kick back on deck chairs housed under a Jurassic Park-esque canopy and catch a flick while possums and bats scamper in the trees above. A rotating set of movies feature each night, with documentaries, new releases and cult classics all represented. Cool brews, snacks and meals are also available, served by friendly folk. Darwin’s Deckchair Cinema is open every night from 16 April – 16 November.
Darwin sunsets are typically a stunning, retina-burning affair, and there’s nowhere better to experience one than out on the water. Join a sunset cruise along the Darwin Harbour and bliss out on the burnt orange, pink and purple wonder that takes over the sky as the mighty dry season sun slides away for the day.
When not admiring the gobsmacking view, tuck into a freshly-prepared surf and turf smorgasbord. The best part of the cruise? It’s BYO. So don’t forget to stock up on beer or wine before you board. The boat has an ice-filled Esky ready to keep your drinks cool (they’ve truly thought of everything).
A sunset cruise aboard Cape Adieu Cruises starts from $96 per person, and include a three course meal, tea and coffee (the sunset comes free of charge).
1. Mindil Markets
From April to October, the place to be (and be seen) is at the sunset Mindil Markets. Great Asian food, super sunset, relaxing vibe.
2. Wave Lagoon
Cool off at Darwin’s large wave pool – with not a croc in sight. Entry $7.
3. Museum and Art Gallery NT
Great Aboriginal and Torres Strait art combined with history of settlement of the NT and legacy of Cyclone Tracy.
4. Crocosaurus Cove
Love ‘em or loath ‘em – you can’t go to the Territory and not have an up close encounter with their most famous residents. From $32 p.p – book at the YHA.
A fascinating insight into Darwin life during WWII, as well as a cool spot on a hot tropical day. Entry only $6.
Getting up close to one of these fearsome beasts in the wild evokes a feeling of both awe and fear, and one of the safest ways to do this is to board a cruise that specialises in the patient art of ‘croc watching’. A 90 minute drive out on the Arnhem Highway delivers visitors to the Adelaide River which is teeming with thousands of huge, saltwater crocodiles or ‘salties’. Before boarding the boat there’s plenty of time to take in the fear-inducing crocodile paraphernalia on show. From sensational crocodile-related headlines of newspapers gone by, to old photos of monster crocs captured in the decades before, there’s enough here to put you off boarding the cruise at all.
Once aboard, the all-female crew take over and explain that the crocodiles in this part of the river are used to being fed, so it’s not long before we see the ominous, long, stealthy shadow of a five metre, male crocodile gliding towards the boat. The moment at which he emerges out of the water to grab a big chunk of meat is truly primal. Witnessing those huge jaws snap shut like a lightning strike reminds us all of the immense power these predators possess, and how they’ve managed outlived everything else from their ‘generation’.
A short, 15 minute drive from Darwin, the recently revamped Darwin Military Museum is well worth visiting. With Darwin being such a compact, walkable city, the temptation to stay near the centre of town is strong. However, you’ll be rewarded with fascinating insight into local and national history with a visit to the Darwin Military Museum.
The bombing of Darwin during World War Two remains one of the most overlooked moments in Australian history. Here, the Defence of Darwin Experience works to rectify that with an immersive, interactive educational experience designed to enlighten visitors about this critical time in Darwin’s history. While the indoor interactive exhibitions and films are enthralling, the well-curated collection of rusty military vehicles, arms and other weapons housed outdoors offer a tangible link to the past. Knowledgeable yet approachable staff are on hand to assist with any questions about the collection of vintage weaponry, uniforms, medals, tanks, jeeps and other war-era memorabilia. Also outdoors, a memorial wall for all who lost their lives in the bombing of Darwin offers a place for reflection.