Arriving at Darwin
Our next destination was Darwin. It was only 115 km from Litchfield National Park to again reach civilization. The drive was short, but it took us some time to pick the right caravan park. We wanted to stay there longer as it was finally warm and there were a lot of attractions in Darwin to see.
We finally found a very nice caravan park with 3 pools and an inflatable jumping pillow for children, Nell’s favourite. After setting the camp, we ended the day by going to the city for dinner. Civilization tastes completely different after being in the middle of nowhere. And I would definitely say – better, more appreciated.
Darwin – first impressions
My first impression of Darwin was very positive. It is smaller in comparison to other capital cities. Old buildings, or what’s left of them are well preserved and I can bet, they have a lot of stories to tell. The City has the unique relaxed charm of the tropics. There were so many attractions in Darwin and we did not know where to start.
We had promised Nell a swim, so the first thing on our list “to do” was Wave Lagoon situated at the modern Darwin Waterfront precinct. They have lots of blow-up pool floats and boogie boards. That was it. My daughter loved it so much, that she refused to “waste her time” on a meal. We spent there the whole day, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the water.
#1 in best attractions in Darwin – Mindil Market
We learned from the conversation with locals that one of the best attractions in Darwin, not to miss, with superfood, music and wonderful sunset is Mindil Market.
This market is organised twice a week – Thursday and Sunday evening. And It was Sunday – what a coincidence!
The market is arranged in a beautiful fig park, next to a wonderful, sandy beach. Lots of birds hang on in the branches, but we couldn’t hear them because of enchanting aboriginal music, people laughing, and the sound of a whip cracking. I had never seen a market like this one before!
Let’s add to it stalls with delicious smelling food, and beautiful handcrafted items for sale and my picture will be completed.
Nah, I’m not telling the whole truth. There are more, much more attractions in Darwin Mindil Market like Aboriginal art, shows of many performers and the biggest show of all – the sunset.
Mindil Market beautiful sunset
We sat on the beach for a while watching the sunset, and then we moved between the stalls. Aboriginal people played with singing sticks and the air was filled with the smell of spices and a promise of amazing taste. All was bathed in the red and orange colours of the setting sun. I know where we are going to be next Thursday evening…
The Mindil Market is definitely one of the best attractions in Darwin.
#2 Crocodylus Park
When I say Darwin, I think saltwater crocodiles. They are commonly called salties. The salties are really infamous creatures and we wanted to see them from a close distance. We decided to go to one of the best attractions in Darwin – Crocodylus Park to finally see these notorious beasts.
They are actually huge and it sends shivers down my spine when I look at them. Nell was delighted and not afraid at all. I did not feel very well in the company of a 4.5 m crocodile separated from me only by a glass fence.
Crocodylus Park is not only a crocodile attraction. They also have a zoo and after seeing the crocodiles we went for a walk to see other animals like cassowaries, emus, ostriches, peacocks, snakes, dingoes, kangaroos, wallabies, monkeys and many more. It is a really good place a spend the whole day.
Salties infamous stories and statistics
Some of the enclosed crocodiles have a rich history behind them. For example “Harry” raided fishermen’s boats and damaged their engines, thinking that the heat he felt came from a wild pig or some other buffalo.
There were other animals in the garden as well, and Nell was delighted as she ran from one animal to the next. Crocodylus Park museum was also very interesting. There were a lot of stories and photos there. Statistics show that in 40 years there were 68 fatalities due to a crocodile attacks. Of these, 25 out of 25 attacks that occurred while swimming was fatal.
This means there is no chance of survival if it happens in the water. Of the attacks on boats, four were fatal, and the kayak “only” one. By the way – who wants to kayak in crocodiles infested waters? Just asking…
One of the crocodiles killed eight people before he was caught and eliminated. A few photos were shocking. For instance, a watch taken from the guts of a captured reptile. And finally, information that every year 200 crocodiles are picked from the vicinity of Darwin and taken away to more remote areas (crocodiles are under strict protection).
Knowing those facts is easy to comprehend this lack of people by the shore and the emptiness on the beaches around Darwin.
#3 Crocosaurus Cove
The next day started with swimming in the lagoon, then just jumping in the bouncy castle (just to be clear – for Nell, not us). Again and again. Once she finally was tired (hard to believe, right?), we all went for a refreshing lunch and then to the Crocosaurus Cove located in the centre of Darwin. In the beginning, we had the opportunity to take pictures with a young crocodile. I have to admit I had a strange feeling when I touched this cold body, with surprisingly soft (especially on the stomach) skin.
We saw crocodiles underwater for the first time. They were swimming in huge tanks and they made a big impression on us especially when the specimens were 5 meters long.
Nell, as usual, did not hold back and enjoyed this encounter, but I felt very insecure in crocs company. After watching the huge salties, there was the feeding time as these beasts were coming out of the water to get a piece of meat.
We have learnt that because of the climate there are a lot of crocodile related attractions in Darwin and surrounding. This is very good for everybody visiting Darwin to learn about these scary creatures before going to the wilder parts of the Northern Territory like Kakadu National Park.
One of them, called Burt (5,1m) once played in the movie “Crocodile Dundee” decided that the piece of meat it was offered is not enough and followed the woman so far that she had to hide behind a security wall. Apparently, he has a killer reputation with women.
Next, we saw the feeding of a sawfish and it was quite spectacular. It just cuts its prey in half and hits the fish with its nose, acting as a very sharp knife, causing its prey to be divided into pieces.
Amazing Archer Fish
Later on, there was an archerfish show. We had a chance to see them in the Roper River in Mataranka already. These clever fish wait for their opportunity and when a bug flies over, the archer releases quite a high stream of water (up to 2 meters high) and knocks off a bug with a spit.
During the show, the fish keeper was holding a bug with tweezers a meter above the water and the fish sprayed it with water with ease. What a sight!
Crocodile attack – our neighbour’s story
After returning to our camp we had a chat with our neighbours that just returned from fishing. They showed us all the fish caught by them, including my favourite Barramundi. After talking with them, it turned out that a few days ago one of their friends almost ended up in the crocodile’s mouth. The saltie jumped up to the boat and grabbed the guy by the arm, but fortunately, it did not manage to pull him into the water.
Scary crocodile storytelling is one of the common attractions in Darwin among locals.
… And I had a plan to catch a barramundi – there is still time to change my mind.
#4 Pioneer’s Cemetery
There are so many attractions in Darwin that sometimes we did not know what to choose but this time we went on a city sightseeing trip and first we visited a cemetery from the late 1800s. What surprised us, was the graves of people from many different cultural backgrounds and that indicated diversity of the city’s early history. The cemetery is situated in a beautiful tropical park.
The plaques on the tombstones indicated that a lot of young men drowned there and were buried in the cemetery. This really surprised me, knowing that swimming is not safe here, then, why so many drawing incidents?
I’ve done some research and learned that at the time, Broome and Darwin were the world’s most significant pearling ports. Now the picture was clear – young men were divers retrieving pearls!
#5 Botanical Gardens
Later, we went to the nearby botanical gardens. The gardens were full of lush vegetation. We were especially impressed with the stunning, huge trees. One of the visiting women even lays down on the bench to embrace it in full. We were hoping to meet the python again, but unfortunately, we didn’t encounter any animals.
The park is big and beautiful. Full of tropical, colourful plants like heliconias, frangipani, bananas and many more. It was great to stroll peacefully around.
Next, we went to see Darwin’s panorama from the eastern side of the city. It was lovely there – azure water, empty beaches and green palms.
Wonderful, warm sand and water were so inviting, but swimming was prohibited (we all know why).
#6 Darwin Harbour sunset cruise
One day we were planning to go on a Darwin Harbour cruise. We decided the best time would be to go on a sunset cruise which we assumed should be spectacular. I don’t know what causes such beautiful sunset colours in Darwin. Possibly the angle of the sun, as we are already very close to the equator. I can add that it was a wonderful warm evening, with no wind and we also enjoyed a free glass of champagne. This was a simple recipe for great memories.
Returning to the port, we saw the city skyline at night, which also made a great impression on us…
I think it was the best day so far in our trip and Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise will be our favourite among the best attractions in Darwin (not counting Mindil Market)
After today, I’m ready to move to Darwin.
Darwin enchanting charm
It is already the 7th day in Darwin. We are getting a little lazy with this weather and tropical approach to life. We should start preparing to hit the road again, but Darwin is so captivating that we decided to stay there a little bit longer.
There were still more attractions in Darwin we wanted to see. Funny thing is that some bloggers say that Darwin is boring and there is nothing to do, we are proving them wrong. We are just listing our 11 best attractions in Darwin but more is coming …
Mindil Market – my awesome new canvas hat
Today we visited the surrounding parks scattered on the outskirts of the city. In the evening we went back to the Mindil Market. I promised myself that I would buy a handcrafted hat from the used track canvas of those huge road trains. I had a lot of fun choosing a hat because every single one is different and unique.
In addition, two older gentlemen were helping me choose it, commenting on all the hats I tried on. In the end, we decided together which one I look best. Finally, I took their word for it, because the mirror wasn’t very big. Later on, the sunset was stunning as always and we liked the beach at low tide glistening with wet sand in the red setting sun.
#7 Territory Wildlife Park
As we have not visited any zoo for the last 2 days or seen any animals, today we went to the Territory Wildlife Park. We were expecting cages with animals, but we were positively surprised. Territory Wildlife Park is one of the attractions in Darwin that is located a bit outside of Darwin, 50 km from the city.
The park covers a huge area of 400 hectares. We walked a total of 4.5 km from one attraction to another to see many different animals like kangaroos, wallabies, different kinds of birds and parrots, snakes, echidnas, emus, bats and crocodiles.
There was a wild billabong surrounded by a bush with thousands of white and maroon water lilies and plenty of birds of various colours and sizes. We also managed to see a freshwater crocodile basking at the waterline.
We also had the opportunity to experience what the wet season looks like in the staged storm and Nell was terribly afraid of thunder and flashes, but she liked the rain. We saw many interesting birds that to our surprise were just as well interested in us as we are in them.
Territory Wildlife Park is definitely a must for everybody visiting Darwin with kids.
#8 Darwin Museum
Today we made an ambitious decision to visit the Darwin museum. First thing, Nell took her time to look at the different bugs through the microscope. It looked really funny as she was standing in a chair and only looking through one binocular because the other was too wide apart for her eyes.
All those mosquitoes, grasshoppers and butterflies – what a great idea to get kids interested in science!
In the meantime, we created a beautiful picture of a woman from the 17th century from puzzle pieces and painted a snake based on the engraving under the page. These forms of entertainment are extremely exciting and therefore it could be really exhausting for a 3-year-old child.
Lunch was delicious: fish & chips. Barramundi in a delicate crunchy coating, a fluffy sauce, thinly sliced fries and lettuce with dried tomatoes covered with balsamic vinaigrette. We ate on the outside patio. Everything was bathed in magnificent views of the bay where sailboats moved majestically around. Life seems unreal in moments like this.
Darwin is so “cold” today
The only drawback is the weather. It is “only” 26 degrees! Locals say it’s unusual and hope the temperatures will return to 30 degrees soon. Darwinians…
Sweetheart – infamous saltie
Darwin museum is also home to a famous crocodile named Sweetheart. Don’t be deceived by its name. Sweetheart was a nasty creature responsible for a series of attacks on boats in the 1970s.
Sweetheart was finally caught alive but drowned when he became tangled with a log and ropes. The crocodile’s stuffed body is now on permanent display in the Darwin museum. It is over 5 meters long and looks really impressive. Now, Sweetheart is one of the main attractions in Darwin when you visit Darwin Museum.
In reference to the famous cyclone Tracy, I highly recommend visiting the Cyclone Tracy exhibition at Darwin Museum.
On Christmas Eve 1974 the cyclone Tracy hit Darwin city and left only a few buildings standing, destroying over 80% of people’s houses. The damage was so great that the entire population was evacuated. 71 people were killed, more than 20,000 were evacuated by military and passenger planes, and the rest received gas vouchers and had to be evacuated by road.
Then all roads to the city were closed and the big clean up began. There is a small, dark room with recorded cyclone sounds where people can put themselves in a situation of being trapped in the basement, surrounded by a deadly cyclone.
Well, I left this room with a strong belief that I do not want to live in the danger zone! After 1974, houses were rebuilt using different technology and since then, should be designed to resist category 4 cyclones, with an expected wind speed of 250 km/h.
I don’t think I want to live in Darwin after all…
#9 Fannie Bay Gaol
The next day we visited Fannie Bay Gaol – an old prison located on the very shore of a picturesque bay. What a view, they should pay extra to be in such beautiful surroundings!
But on a serious note, the prison was open from the end of the 19th century until 1979. Out of 11 death penalty cases they carried out 8 executions. The last execution was in 1952 on two men. They were hanged for killing a taxi driver and stealing his car.
The execution trapdoor still exists but the gallows themselves are no longer present. It was probably due to cyclone Tracy, which blew the roof of the building where the executions were carried out.
Darwin dress code
Let’s change the topic. In almost every entrance to the store is a sign: “no shirt, no shoes – no service”. In our restaurant we have a similar sign: “after 7 pm we require covered shoes”. It seems that because it is so hot in Darwin, people would enter the shops or restaurants naked if there was no sign at the door.
Sightseeing the old town in Darwin
We were “very” slowly preparing to go to the wildest places in Australia. After we leave Darwin the next bigger city will be Perth 4500 km away.
We scheduled car service for the morning and went to see the old town – a few 18th-century buildings or rather what still stands after cyclone Tracy made major changes to Darwin CBD.
Town Hall was destroyed and only the entrance was preserved. Fortunately, the admiralty building has survived which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful buildings. It was intact despite the fact that it is located only a few hundred meters from the cathedral which was also seriously damaged.
It is a white, beautiful building situated on the edge of a cliff, and the azure sea. The house is beautifully integrated with the lush tropical garden, and surrounded by a white picket fence. I was charmed.
Darwin – a place to taste the best Asian influenced food
Australia has opened my taste buds to the cuisines of almost all over the world! Thai cuisine is my favourite – a combination of sweet and sour tastes topped with lots of coriander is simply the best in the world.
In Darwin, apart from kangaroo steaks, which do not surprise us anymore as they taste great when cooked well, they also serve crocodile sausages and camel pie (we haven’t had the courage to try it yet).
We discovered that an excellent chef works in the restaurant of our caravan park and since then we started to be regulars there. Recently, we had a great feast when the theme of the evening was the Srilanka night. It was served in the form of a buffet, so we could taste a variety of dishes.
My favourite was the “devil’s octopus”, so spicy, but at the same time tasted great with exotic spices (I can’t even say what it was). Nell was really angry because only the rice wasn’t too hot for her. Even her favourite curry was really spicy.
Darwin controlled burning to avoid big fires
One morning the bush surrounding our caravan park was burning and we inhaled the smoke that smelled intensely of eucalyptus. There was also ash falling around and I don’t know how we will clean the trailer from soot afterwards. Even at night time, the moon was in the red cap so the smoke was quite dense.
We already know that bush burnings are done frequently, so at the end of the dry season, when everything is dry to chip, the fires do not rage too intensely. Hopefully…
#10 Indo Pacific Marine reef exhibition
The next day, we went to one of the closest city attractions in Darwin – the Indo Pacific Marine reef exhibition. In a small pool, 40 years ago, an enthusiast set up a reef that, according to the information provided, does not need any human intervention except for adding rainwater for evaporated one.
In the middle of the pool, there was a place where large fish swam and were cleaned by smaller fish. Such a car wash in the fish world. We also saw an unusual fish (angler fish) that looks like a fossil, but it was just an appearance.
The angler fish sits crouching somewhere at the bottom, but when it smells the food, it bounces with its “paws” and quickly grabs the prey in its mouth.
We were also told where to buy fresh fish straight from the fisherman. And the best part: “Sunsets in the dry season? Nobody from the locals is watching them! The best sunsets are in the wet season. You can see lightning bolts that hit the mountains which are made of iron. This is something, now sunsets are boring”. Well, ok I will add the wet season sunset to my bucket list.
In the middle of the tour, we were offered to taste an exotic fruit called jackfruit. We later found out that jackfruit is the biggest fruit that grows on trees. When served, it looked like small orange bulbs that tasted like mango fixed with carrot.
Then, he gave us a few different leaves. One of them was natural sandpaper and not to be confused with toilet paper as he told us. The leaf was so rough and stiff that as soon as we came out, we did a test on a roadside wooden poll and confirmed it actually works … apparently, Aborigines use it to this day.
#11 Darwin Oil Storage Tunnels
Another highlight on our list was the tunnels where oil was stored during World War II. The Oil Storage Tunnels are located beneath the cliffs of Darwin, just a short walk from the city centre and the Esplanade.
In 1942 Darwin was bombed by Japanese air raids and 243 people lost their lives. After that, Australia made a decision to build bomb-proof underground tunnels underneath Darwin city.
The tunnels are worth seeing because they are huge and can hold hectolitres of oil. There are 5 of them but supposed to be 8. Before they finished building them the war was over!
Currently, we could see only two oil tunnels, although only one can be entered and the other one is flooded. Apparently, back in the 1960s, Qantas (the local airline) wanted to lease it for oil storage but had only enough reserves to fill it knees high and abandoned the project. They did not need that much oil, and they did not think how much it would cost in several decades. I think visiting Oil Storage Tunnels is definitely among the most interesting attractions in Darwin.
And of course, we had to end the day on the beach … Nell didn’t want to eat anything, only swim, and then… swim, and later on for difference – swim.
Visiting 11 best attractions in Darwin – summary
Darwin is one of the best places in Australia to visit if you like the tropics and wilderness. If someone says to you Darwin is boring. This is not true. Darwin is an amazing place to stay for a longer time.
It was only part one of our Darwin sightseeing. I described the 11 best attractions in Darwin, but this is not all. In the next article, we drove around Darwin to places like Crab Claw Island, Berry Springs, and Mandorah and participated in a wild crocodile cruise.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
The best time to visit Darwin is in the dry season between May and August. The temperatures are still around 30 to 35 degrees but there is not much humidity. Moreover, there is not a single drop of rain at that time so it is the perfect time for the holiday.
Perhaps it is very personal. For us travelling with a small 3 years old child, it was Mindil Market, Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise and Crocodylus Park. However all attractions in Darwin we listed here are worth visiting.
Wave Lagoon is one of the best swimming attractions in Darwin. This natural sea swimming pool is enclosed with metal barriers so no saltwater crocodiles can come inside. The area is monitored 24/7 and safeguards are present.
The Wave Lagoon has different wave patterns and there are a 20 minute break between each cycle. The water is shallow on the edges with the deepest point up to 2 meters.
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4WD Equipment Checklist
Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)
UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency
Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road
High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks
Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking
Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places