If you have yet to explore the mighty top end, please add it to your list – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! Whether you visit during the dry season (May – October) or wet season (Nov – April), there is plenty to see & do. Make sure you research your trip before you visit, as opening and closing times do differ depending on the season.
Let me start by saying Darwin is more than just a gateway to the surrounding National Parks, it really has its own experiences, history and culture. Darwin has been described as a blend of ancient Aboriginal custom, European pioneering & WWII history…and I would agree!
Darwin has an annual art festival, and as a result the street art and murals are a sight to be seen. During the 2019 festival, murals were painted by local artists, and as you walk around the streets of Darwin make sure you keep your head up, looking at the multi-story murals (they are amazing).
We loved the Darwin Waterfront which has a wave lagoon and is fantastic for kids. It is open 7 days and entry is very reasonable (under 2 yrs free entry, and only $5 for 2 – 15 yrs and adults are $7, family passes are available too).
This is “Croc Country” folks, so get ready to have a crocodile overload! One place I would recommend visiting is Crocosaurus Cove. Located in the heart of Darwin, it allows you to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s largest salt water crocodiles. You can experience croc feeding, and also dive with the crocodiles as part of their “cage of death” experience!!
Darwin is also famous for its Mindil Beach Markets (not operating during the wet season). If you visit during the dry season, vising the Markets is a must. Known for its sunsets over Mindil beach, visitors can experience the vibrant, friendly atmosphere, while enjoying eclectic culinary delights, handmade art & craft and live entertainment.
The Museum and Art Gallery is the main museum in the NT, and is located in the inner Darwin suburb called Fannie Bay. It has a wide collection of exhibits including indigenous rock art, fossils & seafaring history. The museum is also home to the much loved “Sweetheart” a 5.1m long crocodile who passed away in 1974. The spectacular ‘Cyclone Tracy’ display is an experience that didn’t disappoint either!
Now for some WWII history….
As I’m sure you are all aware, during WWII, Darwin became the first mainland site of Australia to come under attack. On the morning of February 19th 1942, a squadron of Japanese planes paid a surprise visit, dropping catastrophic bombs on Darwin – a town that was not at all prepared for an air invasion.
Because of this event (and others during the war), you can explore Darwin’s WWII history in sites scattered all across the city.
For a full hit of history, head to the Darwin Military Museum. The museum provides a powerful & interactive experience, and includes a 3D movie that uses actual footage from the attack to depict the bombing as it happened over 75 years ago. There is also an outdoor section of the museum, so grab yourself an ice-cream in the little café and walk around outside to take in other military displays. This museum is very child friendly, with plenty of space for kids to move around.
We also toured the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels. These tunnels were built during the war (after the initial bombing) to protect the oil stored in Darwin from any future air attacks.
If you are claustrophobic then this might not be for you, as the tunnels are underground! The space is enclosed, confined, musty and damp, however I’m so glad we did it and it is really worth a tour. The tunnels are great for kids as there is plenty of room for kids to get around and experience the adventure under Darwin city. Parents will love the history aspect too.
Here are a few more ideas to add to the Darwin list:
- Crocodylus Park
- The Fun Bus
- Big Buoy Water Park
- Darwin Ice Skating
- Foreshore Nightcliff
After exploring Darwin, we then headed off to experience Kakadu & Litchfield NP’s. Driving over the Mary & Adelaide Rivers was a thrill in its self, looking down spotting Crocodiles!! Growing up in Australia I have seen plenty of documentaries & TV ads for the top end, but to actually see it for myself was an emotional & exciting experience.
Just remember if you’re planning to visit National Parks in the top end, you must obtain a travel permit before entering. We purchased ours at a Roadhouse enroute to Kakadu.
Visiting little towns like Jabiru was fascinating, and we also visited the Information Centre at Bowali to get some great advice and assistance in helping us nut out the next few days.
The Aboriginal rock art at Burrungkuy was breathtaking and I would also recommend a visit to Ubirr to experience the wonders of more Aboriginal rock art. Also include Cahills Crossing to your list, it has a lovely picnic area and perfect for croc spotting!
Out of all the things we did, I would highly recommend doing the Yellow Water cruise. It is a 2 hour wildlife filled cruise through the wetlands of the yellow water billabong. This experience is very popular, so bookings are necessary.
Next day we drove to Pine Creek and stopped at the Adelaide River War Cemetery. During the Darwin bombings the Post Office was a direct hit and 9 office staff were killed instantly. They are buried in the Adelaide River War Cemetery. Walking around the cemetery’s immaculate grounds, is a sobering reminder of the sacrifices made during war and a place to pause and pay respects to those that lost their lives.
Litchfield NP was absolutely breathtaking, and even though we were visiting in the wet season, the swimming holes at Florence Falls and Wangi Falls were open. Swimming in Wangi Falls was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Wangi Falls is a segmented waterfall that descends from an elevation of 84 metres. Swimming in the little waterhole at the bottom, looking up at the view of the waterfall was a breathtaking experience. We swam across to the other side and climbed up onto the rock and found a gorgeous little rock pool to sit in. The water was cool & refreshing and a welcome relief from the heat of the Top End.
Due to time constraints we didn’t get to Katherine Gorge – I guess that will be for the next trip!
Whilst we did Kadadu and Litchfield by car (4WD), there are several other ways to explore both NP’s and these include scenic flights, cruise boats & air boats.
The jumping crocs tour was something we really wanted to experience; however it was closed during our visit (late Dec – early Jan). I hear it is a great experience, and for any readers who have done the “Croc Jumping” I would love to hear about your experience.
Back in Darwin for our final night, we went to the beach. Plenty of room for kids to run around and the whole family can watch a famous Darwin sunset. Because our visit was during the wet season, we were also treated to several natural light shows watching the monsoonal storms roll in each afternoon.
From the top end, wishing you all safe & happy travels with the little people in your lives,