- Discover Darwin
Closer to Jakarta in Indonesia than any Australian city, Darwin is at the top end and home to an incredible mix of people. Darwin is more of a big country town than a city. It's been rebuilt twice; first after the Japanese razed it to the ground in World War Two, and again after Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city in 1974.
Mitchell Street is the main street with many of the hostels, pubs and restaurants lined along this road. Kitty Ó Sheas, Shennenigans, the Top End Hotel, Rorkes' Drift, and Victoria Hotel in the Smith Street Mall are just some of the good pubs up here.
The best time to come is the dry season (April to September) when it's less humid although the electrical storms in the wet season are spectacular. There are more electrical storms in Darwin than any other city in the world.
Check out the Aboriginal art collection in the Museum and Art Gallery. There's also a Cyclone Tracy Display and Sweetheart is there as well. Sweetheart was a ferocious saltwater crocodile that used to frequent a river near Darwin. He was notorious for attacking boats, and was responsible for sinking up to 20 boats. He never killed anyone though and it's thought that the noise of the outboard engines used to irritate him. He died when they tried to relocate him and they stuffed him as he was such a legend in the area.
Go down to Aquascene to see the fish feeding. Prices are $10 for children and $15 for adults. Near Aquascene there is a rock climbing centre which is quite good. Go for a swim at Mindil beach, but beware of stingers. There's a crocodile farm, on the Stuart Highway out of Darwin, which allows you to get up close and personal with the massive animals.
Litchfield is not as well known as Kakadu but it's definitely worth heading down there, 115km south of Darwin. You will be amazed by the Magnetic termite mounds. Some of these mounds are 7 metres tall. They say that it takes 10 years for every one metre, so some are 70 years old.
Go for a swim in Buley Rockhole and further on, Florence Falls (below). The water is cool but not cold, really good fun. As you're walking down to Florence Falls on the Shade Creek walk, keep an eye out for rock wallabies and even pythons if you're lucky. Another nice place for a dip would be Wangi Falls.
Kakadu National Park spans 20,000 sq km. It's joint owned by the Australian government and its traditional Aboriginal owners. The park is run as it would have been thousands of years ago. You can go on your own and explore the park, or you can go on a tour. With a tour you will get a guide who really knows what they're talking about, and will amaze you with their knowledge of the history of this land. You'll need a minimum of three days to discover the entire park.
The park is best seen at the end of the wet season or early in the dry. During the wet the park is flooded and large parts of the park are inaccessible. At the start of the dry there might still be salties (saltwater crocodiles) in the swimming holes. They don't allow you to swim until they've completed the surveys, which means they go through the pools with massive flashlights and remove all the saltwater crocs. But if you leave it too late into the dry season, the impressive waterfalls will dry up to nothing more than a trickle. Late June and July would be a good time to visit. If you are in the top end in the wet season, get a scenic flight over Kakadu and witness the floods and sheer power of the waterfalls in full flight.
Without a doubt the most famous waterfalls in the park are Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls (below). You will probably have seen plenty of pictures of the falls before you even head up north. You may not be able to see these falls unless you are on a tour and certainly not without a four wheel drive vehicle. You can't swim at the base of Twin falls anymore due to the increasing number of crocs moving into the area.
The Gumlong Falls are also a great place for swimming above and below the waterfall. There are so many waterfalls in Kakadu and if you're lucky your guide will bring you to some out of the way pool where you can have a quiet swim. Just remember you are swimming at your own risk, however, if the authorities claim the water is safe to swim in, it probably is. A croc attack on a tourist is very damaging for the tourism they heavily depend upon, so they take the clearing of crocs from pools very seriously. You will almost definitely be swimming with freshwater crocs however, as they are fairly harmless and aren't removed from the swimming holes. (Although they have been known to bite.)
Kakadu has some 5000 rock art sites, some going back 50,000 years. These sites are sacred to Aboriginal people, but there are some sites that are open to the public.
Ubirr - there is some great rock art here as well as fantastic views of the park from Narab Lookout. Ubirr is located in the east Alligator region. Nourlangie also has some good rock art paintings.
The Mary River is home to the highest concentration of saltwater crocs in the world. Take a cruise to see some of these crocs but also to witness the sheer diversity of animals that live on the banks of the river. There are so many types of birds, and kangaroos, feral pigs, and more.
You will probably stop here for fuel and refreshments. The Adelaide River Inn has 'Charlie' standing on the bar in the corner. Charlie is the water buffalo from Crocodile Dundee. After he died they stuffed him. There's also a WWII cemetery here.
There are major highways that will bring you to Darwin; the Barkly Highway from Queensland, Victoria Highway from Western Australia, and the Stuart Highway from Adelaide. You can also take the unsealed Savannah Way from Queensland but make sure you have prepared well for this.
“The Ghan” connects Darwin with Alice Springs and Adelaide, a fantastic journey that really should be considered. Services run twice a week in the busy season.
Greyhound Australia runs services to Darwin from all over Australia.
Darwin is connected to all the major Australian cities by air as well as many European and American cities. Darwin is a good starting point for a trip to Asia as it is relatively close to Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
Public transport is limited from the airport so a taxi or shuttle bus would probably be your best option here.
Flight times to Darwin
Dublin 17.5 hours | London 17 hours | Hong Kong 5.5 hours | New York 19.5 hours | San Diego 15.5 hours | Sydney 4 hours
Buses in and around the city centre are frequent and reliable but less so when you go outside the city. Tickets cost around $3.
Many people who come to Darwin rent cars as it’s the public transport isn’t great and the city is very easy to drive in. It can get quite hot here so walking for long periods of time can be difficult.
000 is the emergency number in Australia.
If you head out in Mitchell Street take care as it can get quite rough around here, especially at closing time. Try to stay out of trouble.
Drink lots of water and stay out of the midday sun. Wet season can get very humid and many people find it unbearable.
If swimming, just remember that there are lots of crocodiles in Northern Australia. Also jellyfish are a problem between October and May so maybe stick to the pool.