Header image courtesy of Darwin Harbour Cruises
The star of Australia’s Northern Territory, Darwin is a waterfront city that hosts a beautiful array of green sites, as well as cultural hotspots. In addition to vibrant markets and abundant wildlife attractions, its past as a frontier outpost and close proximity to Asia translates to a plethora of foreign influences, meshing with the local Aboriginal culture. Discover the best that this chill-paced, multi-faceted capital has to offer!
Remaining a living, breathing link to the prehistoric era, crocodiles are beautiful beasts that you will encounter in water systems and rivers all over Darwin. Categorised as either freshwater or saltwater dwellers, there are plenty of species from both groups in plenty of the city’s aquatic spots, though the latter are the ones that draw in the most visitors due to their bigger stature. These modern-day dinos are so close to the city’s heart that the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory features the taxidermied Sweetheart, the city’s most beloved crocodile who weighed in at 780 kilogrammes and stretched up to 5.1 metres!
At the interactive Crocosaurus Cove wildlife park, marvel at the world’s largest reptiles right in the heart of the city. Swim side-by-side next to the crocs in Australia’s only submersion dive, famously known as the Cage of Death. If you are keen to go croc-spotting in their natural environment, head East towards Kakadu National Park for some (safely) close encounters with professionally guided tours along the bordering Mary River wetlands and floodplain. What’s more, the golden sunrise and sunset cruises through the Yellow River are just the perfect backdrop to the experience.
If you are feeling extra brave, hop on a heart-pounding Jumping Crocodile Cruise and watch in awe as wild crocs launch themselves up to snap at mounds of fresh meat dangling overhead, earning them their outrageous nickname. Adelaide River Cruises also provide a one-hour version of the tour for those who are looking for something to fill their stopover en route to Kakadu.
Originally home to the Aboriginal Larrakia people, there is a wealth of Aboriginal arts, artefacts, and vestiges to explore around Darwin, despite the city’s developed urban setting. Giving direct support to the community is always a great starting point, which is why Lyons Cottage is a must-visit spot. Become familiarised with crafts and produce from modern-day Aboriginal creators and artisans by checking out the not-for-profit items on sale provided by local community centres, as well as the traditional bushfood inspired fare at the in-house café.
Slather a loaf of damper bread with the vitamin C-filled Kakadu plum jam, before swigging back a nourishing cuppa of lemon myrtle tea. Continue your venture into Aboriginal art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which hosts a vibrant repository of historical as well as contemporary paintings and carvings.
Aside from curated exhibitions, there is plenty of opportunities to have a brush with public art that showcases the brilliance of Aboriginal people. Adorned in giant murals of tribute pieces, the city centre is decked out with gorgeous portraiture and works dedicated to local Aborigine icons as a result of the annual Darwin Street Art Festival.
Stroll along Austin Lane and get wedged between the semi-photorealistic The Multi-dimensional Man that features Arnhem-Land guide Hilton Garnarradj, and the moody portraiture of Dr G Yunupingu, a blind singer who performed in his native language.
For a 3D display, check out the depiction of a Larrakia legend of a spiritual ancestor who transforms into a bird, depicted in the cast bronze Chinute Chinute perched over the waterfront. The Mason Gallery is another fantastic spot for Aboriginal folk arts that encompasses even weaving.
Retrace the footsteps of the Lakkaria people and follow along the Matboerrma Walk nestled amongst the 104-acre George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. Have a walkabout through this lush collection of native flora and plant species, and immerse yourself in the traditional botanic wisdom that has been propagated locally throughout the generations. Download the official Darwin Botanic Gardens app to get a glimpse into the 12 featured varieties of trees dotted around the park, and the stories behind them.
Aside from the tales surrounding the indigenous settlers of the region, Darwin also carries an interesting wartime history. The Second World War in particular was a past era of significance, as the city was irrevocably transformed once suffering from a tragic bombing. Relive the most gripping scenes as part of the Darwin History and Wartime Experience, where you will trek around impactful historic wartime locations and come face to face with genuine relics.
For a comprehensive walkthrough of the Australian war timeline, supplement your experience at the Darwin Military Museum. Round off your journey into these wonderfully preserved time capsules of the past by paying a visit to the Parliament Building, once attacked by the Japanese a century ago, but rests today in the wharf precinct where the homely, waffle-serving Rays Patisserie and Café now also lies.
With such an expansive variety of swim spots both man-made and naturally forming, aside from touring around by boat on a sunset cruise perhaps, there’s never a dry moment in Darwin. Lovers of water sports can have a swell time riding the wave pool at the Darwin Waterfront Recreation Lagoon. Up the antics and impress restless kids with the jungle of grand waterslides, plunging pools, and gushing fountains at Palmerston Water Park. Dive in on their six-lane racer waterslide and get blasted by their glorious water cannons and colossal bucket. Refuel with some fresh seafood at Stokes Hill Wharf, or indulge in scrumptious the top fish n’ chips of the Northern Territory at the waterfront’s fry-up joint, Frying Nemo.
Cool off with a view, without having to worry about any unexpected critters or dangerous wildlife. Visit the gorgeous artificial Lake Alexander at the East Point Reserve peninsular. Surrounded by picnic spaces as well as barbecue facilities, this enclave of calm is a wonderful spot to spend a lazy afternoon or enjoy some water sports at with the whole family. Even the water quality shows a good standard of safety, since it consists of filtered seawater.
Yet if you are one to find the feeling of windblown saltwater irreplaceable, the Casuarina Beach is a hidden gem to be discovered and relished. Spend a hammocked afternoon there earning your sun-kissed tan, and tucking into the delectable freshly prepped fare at Café de la Plage.
Aside from the picturesque strips of sand and sea along Casuarina Beach, there are plenty of natural bodies of water to explore. Though it requires a bit of a drive, the trip to Berry Springs Nature Park is definitely worth it. Coast through the endless line of beautiful pools and creeks, and cool off from the simmering heat by wading alongside the aquatic life residing in the crystal-clear waters. A slightly longer drive away, Florence Falls at Litchfield National Park awaits, with its smattering of a double cascading waterfall.
Being a cultural melting pot, it goes without saying that Darwin is full of flavours from all sorts of cuisines. The intersection of Knucky and Austin Street is a bustling testament to this statement. From stylish burgers at Good Thanks, to the Korean-inspired grilled bites at Little Miss Korea, or the irresistible tapas at Charlie’s of Darwin, there is bound to be something that catches your fancy. Selections of fusion food also come aplenty in many different spots around the city, with the always innovative Snapper Rocks blending in local elements, like seasoned crocodile meat, or the Thai-Indian hybrid that is Hanuman Darwin.
There’s no better place that showcases Darwin’s ties to various other cultures around Oceania—as well as the rest of the world—as a lively market. Weave your way through the stalls and sample top tier dishes for mind bogglingly cheap, and sift through buzzing crowds eager to get their hand on fresh seasonal produce.
Having earned its status as one of the city’s best markets, the Mindil Beach Sunset Market boasts everything from tropically influenced items like the coconutty and fragrant laksa, to gigantic skillets of Spanish paella. For barbecue lovers, be sure to chow down on the unforgettably smoky and tender charcoal pickled octopus!
Take off for the surrounding suburbs on the weekends and you will encounter where the city’s most iconic flavours are cooked up and plated up on-site. There is the Rapid Creek area where you can pick up some amazing exotic fruit and vegetables on offer at the Rapid Creek Markets. All have been locally grown and picked by local farmers, so nab up your favourites (or even discover some new ones) and indulge in the worldly flavours.
A mere 10-minute drive northwards, the Parap Village Market stands in all its colourful glory, stocked full of prime tropical fruits. Get your hands on an ice-cold smoothie made fresh right before your eyes, and cool off from the balmy Australian heat with its unparalleled frosty sweetness. If you like your drinks with a bit of a kick, have a gander at Darwin Railway Club in the neighbourhood an uber-cool local live music hub and semi alfresco pub that once operated as a gathering spot for olden Darwin railway workers.
A mere 10-minute walk away from the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, this grand villa offers a prime settlement brimming with luxurious amenities. An oasis that rests a stone’s throw away from the city’s bustling business centre, the complex is accoutred with a white-sand lined lagoon encircled around an island bar that guests can swim out to, directly from their simplistic yet lavish suites.
Mindil Beach Casino and Resort, Gilruth Avenue, The Gardens, Mindil Beach, Darwin | (+ 61) 8 8943 8888
If you are able to drive, why not try venturing outside of the central districts? Framed entirely using steel, the chic Rozak House rests amongst the hills next to the artificial Lake Bennett. Established by the Troppo Architects team in 2001, this contemporary architectural marvel is designed to be in harmony with the breezy tropical surroundings of the North Australian environment. Offering a grand vantage of the encompassing natural scenes, the vibey balconies are a wonderful spot to watch the sun rise or set along with a coffee or pint in tow. Paddle out to the calm waters, as they are safe from any lingering crocodiles.
Rozak House, 650 Chinner Road, Lake Bennett
Easily accessible, with a variety of facilities to boot, the Hilton Darwin is an ideal location along the waterfront precinct with a stunning view of the Harborfront. Favoured by business trippers for its close range to great eats and executive perks—there are two large pools, an executive lounge, and even a fitness centre—this East-side estate is one that combines immense convenience with a luxurious experience. If you are feeling peckish after checking in, head on down to PepperBerry Restaurant for some exceptional Australian dining that gives timeworn bush spices a classy update.
Hilton Darwin, 32 Mitchell Street, Darwin | (+61) 8 8982 0000