I lived in Darwin for a little under two years. My goal when I arrived was not just to live in the Northern Territory but to experience as much as I could of its natural beauty and its people. Which I believe I did.
Often whilst I was up there and even now that I am back living in South East Queensland, I am asked for my recommendations of what to do in the Top End. So, I thought I would publish a list of my recommendations and experiences.
First up a little info on the NT. Only 1% of the entire population of Australia, live in the whole of the NT. The Territory itself is huge. I drove from Darwin to Uluru and that was 2000ks. That is the same as driving from Nowra to Brisbane and then turning around and driving back to Nowra…. And that was just one way to the Rock.
Darwin itself has a population of 132,000 which is about four times the size of Nowra…. that thought amazed me. (I am using Nowra as that’s where I spent the majority of the last 25 years).
Hey, let me tell you a funny story about me moving to Darwin. When I was moving there from the Gold Coast, I thought, ‘I want to live in the heart of Darwin CBD. So I looked at a map and thought Mitchell Street looked pretty central. Over the course of three days, I did a virtual inspection of a unit on Mitchell Street, applied, was accepted and consequently signed the lease and paid the bond. That night whilst still on the Gold Coast, I flicked on the TV and the show Territory Cops was on. 80% of the show was filmed on Mitchell Street. I thought to myself, well this is going to be interesting.
There were a couple of pretty wild nightclubs about 500 metres from where I lived, but it never really impacted me. Although one time I was in ER at Royal Darwin Hospital (a blood clot issue) and a guy came in weeping quietly and bleeding from the mouth. After a while I spoke to his girlfriend and she said that he was at Monsoons (one of the party spots on Mitchell Street) and had gotten into an altercation with a fellow patron, apparently, he had walked away, but then went back to apologize, but was punched in the jaw. Well as I overheard later, his jaw was broken in two places….I was talking to a nurse later and he said that Darwin has one of the best research facilities in the country for jaw breaks, as they happen so often in Darwin. But don’t let that scare you.
Anyway, I digress, and I didn’t mean to start off negative. Darwin is awesome. There is are a couple of terms you need to understand…One is Territory Tough. That is a badge of honour up there. Secondly, Territory Proud, which companies who are owned and operated in the Territory, badge themselves with.
So here are my recommendations of things to do in the Top End.
Mindil Beach Markets
These are worth visiting, more because they are famous, than anything else. They are only open in the Dry Season. They are a bunch of eclectic typical Top End stall owners, really catering to the tourist. If you go, make sure you check out the Road Kill Café, and order a Buffalo Burger. It was horrible and undercooked to the point that I got a blood nose from the animal still kicking….But hey, I have eaten a buffalo, even though I had to kill it myself.
The Markets are really worth a visit….I enjoyed the Indigenous culture that is on display there.
So obviously, Mindil Beach is next to Mindil Beach Markets. At sunset, the beach is packed with 500-1000 people all watching the sunset. And when the sun disappears over the horizon, everyone applauses more passionately than the saddest back story getting a golden buzzer during an America’s Got Talent audition. Which I found a little weird…..You know that the sun has done this before right? And I am pretty sure it will do it again….Just give it a day. But it really is worth a visit.
I personally found the sunset better at Cullen Bay. Eating local Barramundi from the Cullen Bay Takeaway, wasn’t particularly huge value for money, but hey you are paying for the experience. It’s worth it. One evening I was there with a friend and we watched two storms literally collide, forming multiple water spouts. I had no idea Darwin had water spouts but have since found out that it is not an entirely rare event.
Another that is not entirely rare in Darwin are earth tremors and earthquakes. I had never experienced either before and so was a little surprised when I felt a bit of shake one evening. However, the thing that got me going, was an earthquake at 11:25pm one night. I was just about asleep when it felt like my bed had been picked up and was being shaken fairly violently. But Darwin does not have earthquakes of a size that causes damage. Just a little off putting for the newbies.
Most of the earth tremors happen during the wet season.
The Esplanade Walk
Walking the Esplanade at 6:30am is one of the best things…Darwin is just waking up and the bird life and the sunrise is something to witness.
An amazing place to view Darwin City across the water. Make sure you take a pic of the Box Jelly fish. There are 2-metre-high iron statues of them as you enter the East Point Reserve.
Also at East Point is the next thing to see….
The Military Museum
I spent a few hours at the Military Museum. To be really honest, I am not a museum guy at all. However, this was great to experience and so worth doing. It was very honouring of our Aussie Soldiers. Well worth a visit and make sure you see the movie at pretty much the start of the exhibit. Just listen out for the bombing raid siren.
WWII Oil Tunnels
When the Japs, oh sorry, the Japanese, bombed Darwin, everyone in this current era assumes they were trying to invade Australia. The truth is that Darwin had huge fuel storage tanks, that were supplying the US Naval force which were pushing back the Japs, bugger, the Japanese, as they were invading PNG and East Timor. So the Japanese (finally), had to bomb Darwin to blow up the fuel supplies, thus disabling the US Navy and therefore their fight against the push of the Japanese into the region North of Australia. Anyway, the Japanese took out the fuel tanks, which were huge, and as a result, they built huge oil storage tunnels. These were never used, as the war ended as they were completed. Well worth seeing.
Crocosaurus Cage of Death
So this is on Mitchell Street and well worth doing. Crocodiles are a huge part of the Darwin Psych. To be able to get into a plastic cylinder, which is then lowered into a pool filled with man eating crocodiles, where they then feed the crocs inches from your face, albeit separated by a thin plastic tube, is simply awesome.
Forget the fact that sometimes the pulley that brings the cylinder up malfunctions, its still worth doing. I just figured that if the pulley broke, all I had to do was outswim the girlfriend. (Just kidding)
Darwin has really developed its waterfront and its awesome. The swimming precinct is very children friendly and the wave pool, whilst a little expensive is awesome. Lots of Cafes and Coffee spots. Great atmosphere.
Stokes Hill Wharf
This is an iconic part of Darwin and well worth a visit. Great views of Darwin Harbour, which just for the record, the NT Rangers take out of the harbour up to 400 crocs a year….Just think that through. Don’t fall in.
Lots of food venues on the Wharf. Most don’t take eftpos and the accompanying machine costs you way more than you want to pay…so take cash.
FYI, the final scenes of the movie Australia were filmed here.
The Jetty Restaurant
Whilst you are in the Stokes Hill Wharf precinct, you could visit my all-time favourite Darwin restaurant, The Jetty. It’s Buffet, but forget all that….just go there for the prawns. I ate there over 15 times and each time, I would eat 3-4 plates of prawns. They are the best. Love this restaurant.
Speaking of great places to eat….Darwin Hotel has this ‘Sample Plate’’. It costs $22 and has Crocodile, Emu and Kangaroo. I mean if you are in the Top End and you want to be Territory Tough….then you need to eat our Coat of Arms and the animal that wants to eats you.
Well worth doing….And don’t forget the Buffalo at the Road Kill Café at Mindil beach markets.
The Darwin and Art Museum
This is well worth visiting.
Two things you need to see here….The Cyclone Tracy exhibit including the room you go into – about the size of a lift, completely dark, and listen to a recording taken during Cyclone Tracy.
The second thing you need to see is the Sweetheart Crcocodile exhibit. This croc was a huge, 8 metre croc (I think), that authorities decided needed to be relocated. They tried this and ultimately drugged and drowned the poor animal. It never took a human but ate a few cows…Yeah well so have I. Anyway, well worth seeing.
There are other really interesting things to see…The Box Jelly fish exhibit and the contrast between the wet and dry season is amazing.
The Museum is free.
Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour.
These as always, are fantastic and certainly the one in Darwin does not disappoint.
Darwin Airport is a Military Airport
I didn’t realise that the Airport is also a Military Airport. So a couple of things come out of this. Firstly, the airport never closes. There is no curfew like there is at Sydney Airport. Secondly, passenger arrivals (think Qantas etc) are subjected to the use of the airport by military aircraft. Thirdly and finally, it’s well worth a trip to the end of the airport tarmac to watch Hornets etc take off. Just go up Amy Johnson Ave off Tiger Brennan Drive and you will find it.
Shameless proud Uncle moment. My Nephew flies Hornets and it was great to watch him take off and land at the airport.
Living now in SE Queensland, I miss the flexibility of jumping on a scooter and leaving it where you want. In Mooloolaba, you have to pick up and leave the scooters in designated scooter hubs. Not in Darwin, you ride a scooter to where you want and then leave it there. So good.
Couple of things. You need to download the app to ride. You can only ride in a programmed area. Finally, there is an actual Facebook Page…Scooter Crashes in Darwin. I had one and a friend of mine had a bad one. So just be careful….But they are awesome. Pic is of my mate Norm and the next pic is of his wife’s Karen’s leg post crash.
The two times that I have been to the Rock, I have thought both times how photos really don’t capture the awesomeness of the Rock. It is well worth visiting. And the road trip from Darwin to Uluru is a great adventure but more fun to do it with a friend, as I did.
Here is a few things to know for the trip:
The main places to stay on the way down is Katherine, Daly Waters, Three Ways Road House, and Alice Springs. Katherine is 320ks from Darwin, Daly Waters is 660ks, the Three Ways is 960ks, and Alice Springs is 1500ks.
But when you don’t live in the Territory, you can make the assumption that Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Uluru are maybe 100ks apart. And you would be greatly mistaken as it is about 500ks between Tennant and Alice and then another 500ks to Uluru….Oh and you get all excited when you reach the turnoff to Uluru on the Stuart Highway, again as you assume its just a short 20ks up the road. Nope….110ks from the Highway to the Rock. Personally if I was God, I would have put the rock somewhere closer, like Canberra so a visit to Canberra was actually worth the drive.
Anyway, I stayed at Curtain Springs, about 70ks from the Rock. It’s a fairly eclectic road house, but the staff were friendly and the food has never killed anyone, so good all round.
Just an extra recommendation, both Tennent Creek and Alice Springs are known for their high rates of youth crime, so I only stayed in Alice when I had to.
This next pic is me trying to recreate a pic I took in 2006 when I rode to the Rock from Nowra and back in six days. Second Pic is of the Sunset.
Walking around the Rock.
In 2006, I rode my motorbike from Nowra to Uluru with the key objective of riding around the Rock. Which I literally did and then rode home. The time I drove from Darwin to Uluru, I thought it was best I walked around the Rock. First up let me say DO NOT DO THIS AT 1PM IN ANY SEASON. Secondly, it 10.5ks around the Rock so you will need to take water, chocolate and the way I felt….a mobility scooter or a Harley Davidson which is about the same thing.
These are just north of Alice Springs and well worth seeing. Trying to climb up one for the perfect photo only leads to frustration and seriously scuffed shoes.
Daly Waters Pub
The pub at Daly Waters was awesome. The staff are amazing, the food great, the accommodation clean and adequate and the live music was entertaining. Pretty much the entire little town is the Pub and a little eclectic Museum. We loved staying there.
Yellow River Wet Lands Cruises
You can’t go to Darwin and not do a wetlands cruise. I did two. One was on the Adelaide River and I thought it was awesome, till I did the Yellow River Sunset Cruise which was way better with more animals and better scenery. The Yellow River Cruise leaves from Cooinda which would be about 350ks from Darwin. I stayed at Coinda twice. Once was in the rooms and the other was glamping. Definitely the way to go there is glamping…said from a guy who doesn’t like camping at all.
Litchfield National Park
One of the most beautiful places to visit is the Litchfield National Park. I will admit the couple of times I visited there, I didn’t drive through the entire National Park. There is a loop you can drive from Batchelor through to Berry Springs. I can’t remember the exact length of the loop, but I would guess about 150ks. There is a section of dirt road which is the reason why I didn’t do the loop. Litchfield is often closed in the wet season, but we were able to get in after a big wet and the waterfalls, little creeks and rivers were amazing to see.
Two great places to swim is Buley Water Hole and Florence Falls. Florence Falls has 132 steps to get down to it and has zero disabled access.
One of the things I loved about Berry Springs was the social distancing sign at the entrance that says you have to stay ‘one small croc apart. Brilliant.
You can only swim here during the dry season as during the wet season apparently the crocs want their turn. Berry Springs is beautiful and well worth visiting. It is located about 70ks from Darwin. There is no cost to swim here.
Bonus suggestion: Hit the Berry Springs Tavern after the swim for lunch or dinner. You will tell it’s the Tavern by the huge stuffed croc on the roof. In the words of a former Sunshine Coast resident….’Çrikey she’s a little beauty’.
Jumping Croc Tour
Did this with my parents, (Philip and Jeanette), girlfriend (Julie) and nephew (Andrew) and it was really awesome. You are on the river for about an hour and the crocs are huge as they jump out of the water. We had an indigenous female tour guide (also was the boat’s captain), and she was hilarious. The Jumping Croc Tour is on the way to Jabiru and is 75mins from Darwin.
Fog Dam (on the way between Darwin and the Jumping Croc Tour).
Ok as a southerner…don’t think Warragamba Dam. Fog Dam is a wetlands area with a road through the wetlands which some would call a partial dam wall. Anyway, forgetting that…this is well worth a visit. Its on the way to or from Jabiru and about 20ks off the main road. You will love the birdlife. When I was there, they had just closed the dam wall down to visitors, due to a huge croc being spotted in the area – so probably don’t walk across the dam wall.
There is a Mercure motel in Jabiru that is shaped like a crocodile. Motel is nice but I had an issue with the provision of breakfast, after I paid $30 for a buffet breakfast. All the trays that would have had bacon, eggs etc were empty and remained empty for 40 minutes, even though there were some complaints issued. In the end my mate Graeme and I had to leave as we had things to do. $30 to fast was a bit rich.
My recommendation is Anbinik Kakadu Resort. The rooms are ok…but the outside showers are amazing. Well worth it. One little astrix….There were ants in the room and so I went and bought a can of Mortein….Cost me $17…..My recommendation…..bring your own Mortein.
Two things to do in Jabiru is
1) Ubir. This is a place where you can see 5000 year old Aboriginal paintings and walk up this huge rock and get an amazing view over the huge expanse of wet lands. The round trip walk is about 75 minutes. Well worth it, But I learnt the hard way, this is not to be done in the middle of the day.
2) Cahills Crossing. This is a famous causeway about 200 metres long, that is infested with saltwater crocs. They hang around the causeway to feed on the Barramundi crossing over the causeway at the change of tides. Well worth seeing, but don’t be a dumb tourist who ignores the warning signs and gets too close to the water. And no I am not referring to myself here. You should have seen some of the unwise behaviour from some of the visitors.
Thermal Pools at Mataranka
These are simply amazing. There are two sites….One is called Bitter Springs and they are popular because they are raw and natural. The other ones are the Thermal Springs. They have ladders and steps leading down to the water. I actually preferred these ones, whilst my parents preferred Bitter Springs. Well worth seeing. The accommodation at the Thermal Springs is a bit dodgy and probably of all the places I stayed during my sojourn to the top end, this was probably the worst.
However, the food was good and the show at night, which was a guy using whips, was the best whip show I have ever seen.
Look this blog is getting too long so I will end it here. Some honourable mentions are:-
- WWII Airstrips
- Adelaide River – which has WWII significance
- Pine River – has a huge abandoned open cut mine that is filled with water.
- Edith Falls – although the flies here were stickier than a three day old Chupa Chupa you find under your 4 year’s old pillow.
- The Entertainment Centre – had some great shows after the borders opened.
- Parliament House is worth a look.
- Uncle Sams on Smith Street in Darwin. This little café was my cook for the first 6 months of me living in Darwin. Worth a visit just to go in and smile and thank Jesus, Uncle Sam saved me from starvation…#overlybeingdramatic
Some things not worth seeing or visiting:
- Already mentioned Tennant Creek
- Palmerston – Sorry that’s a Darwin in joke. Darwin people don’t visit Palmerston because they have to cross the Berrimah line (that’s a road) and Darwin people feel unsafe after that…Territory Tough….Please.
- Mindil Beach Casino
- Darwin Fringe Festival was about as exciting as trying to swat the flies from my mouth at Edith Falls.
Hey so that’s it.
The NT is a great place and well worth a visit. I am amazed at the number of people who have never been there. Now that international travel is something only old people remember doing, visit the NT and experience a whole new country within Australia.
Tell the Chief Minister (that’s the southern equivalent of Premier), that Peter Pilt sent you.
(Sponsored by the NT Tourism Commission)
Just kidding. These are just my thoughts.
As the old Daryl Somers ad for the NT on TV used to say…..You’ll never never know if you never never go.
As you drive into Mataranka….the welcome sign is ‘Captial of the Never Never.’
Hope you enjoyed this blog.