I must confess: in the week or so leading up to our Darwin holiday, I was kinda wondering WHY we had chosen to go there … what on earth was there to see and do?!
It was a spur of the moment decision, we booked in July when I got a reminder about our Covid flight credit due to expire at the end of the year.
Originally we were meant to see the Harry Potter play in Melbourne for our 30th wedding anniversary in May 2020 … but we all know what happened then! The play has since finished its run so we decided to go somewhere we’d never been before – and that meant discovering Darwin! Although we’d been to the NT (Uluru) and many other places during our Big Aussie Adventure in 2001, Darwin was the only capital city we’d never visited.
Can I just tell you: Darwin was amazing! Maybe it was because we didn’t really know what to expect? At any rate, there was a lot more to do and see than we’d thought – and really tough doing our Darwin adventure justice in this little blog post, but I’ll do my best!
An early start to catch our 9.05am flight to Darwin. The airport was really busy, lucky we got there early!
Once our flight had landed (about 4 hours from memory), we picked up our “mystery car” from the car rental desk. I thought we’d just get a little buzz box but no, we were handed the keys to a dual cab Ford Ranger. The attendant asked if we were okay with a big car and I foolishly said “Yes”, as we drive a BMW X6 at home … ummmmn no, the Ranger is MASSIVE. Needless to say the husbear did all the driving when we were away (I was okay with driving – it was the thought of parking that monster which freaked me out!).
Upon arrival at our hotel on the Esplanade, we were in for a rude shock. Apparently our booking had been cancelled – wait, WHAT?!
Turns out I’d booked in July using a credit card that expired in August. Now this shouldn’t have been a problem because we weren’t actually to be charged until we arrived BUT because of the expired card, they cancelled our booking! Apparently they’d tried to ring me a couple of times but I’d never answered. I was seriously unimpressed – I get so many spam calls that I tend not to respond unless it’s somebody I know OR they leave a message. We were a bit flabbergasted – clearly the hotel hadn’t tried too hard, I mean what about email or text or leaving a message?! In the end we managed to re-book there and then but certainly not a great start to our holiday – and the price wasn’t as good as when I’d originally booked either.
However the views from our 8th floor room over the beautiful turquoise waters of Darwin harbour made up for it somewhat!
It might have been late afternoon by this stage but we were keen to explore, so we set out on foot to check out downtown Darwin …
We came across the ruins of the old town hall (destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974), and NT Parliament House – can you see why they call it the wedding cake?
We were back on the Esplanade enjoying the view from the Bicentennial Park, in front of our hotel, in time to watch the sun set over the water. Gorgeous!
Started the day with a walk on Lamamoor Beach in front of our hotel. It’s quite rocky rather than sandy, but we had fun exploring all the rock pools, shells, and sea glass. There was a fair bit of shade being morning – thankfully! – as it was at least 35 degrees already. One thing we were surprised about was the total lack of signs warning about crocs and stingers in the water; we kept well clear, anyway!
We did a bit of driving around to get more familiar with the lay of the land. Darwin is quite flat, and being the end of the dry season everything did indeed look very dry! Even though it was October, the red poinciana trees were in full bloom – a sight we normally associate with Christmas in Brisbane.
We thought Darwin – being in the tropics – only had two seasons – the Wet, and the Dry. We had congratulated ourselves on managing to sneak in a quick trip before the rains started but what we didn’t realise is that this time of year is actually the “Build Up” – as the wet season approaches, the days become extremely hot and humid (and they say people get quite cranky too though can’t say we noticed it!). We were very grateful for our air conditioned accommodation and vehicle, and quickly learned that going outdoors meant wearing a hat and sunscreen, and staying in the shade whenever possible – oh and to make sure we had plenty of water to drink!
With no set plan in mind, we ended up visiting Stokes Hill Wharf for ice cream, before heading underground to explore the old World War II tunnels, and then the Waterfront Precinct.
We ended up back in the “city” centre, which was conveniently located behind our hotel. I say “city” in inverted commas because it doesn’t have a city feel at all, there are no high rises – I’m guessing 12 stories would be the maximum? – and even during the working week it was pretty quiet, certainly not what we are used to in Brisbane!
One of the “Must-Do’s” in Darwin is the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, which are held only during the dry season. It was an amazing eating experience, with lots of live music and craft stalls. We might have sampled fresh mango, sorbet, crepes, old fashioned lemonade, roast pork rolls and more 😉 , all of which we thoroughly enjoyed.
We joined the throngs on the beach to watch the sun set, and once it had disappeared below the horizon everybody applauded the wonderful show put on by Mother Nature!
Another stroll through the “city”, we bought some binoculars to make the most of the fabulous view from our hotel room! Check out this shop – the General Store – which is in the heart of the CBD. Like I said, Darwin is not like other cities! It’s very laid back.
We visited the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) to see the Cyclone Tracy exhibit, as well as Sweetheart the crocodile and plenty of indigenous art.
A side note: when I was young, we were friends with a family which moved to Brisbane after Cyclone Tracy (Christmas 1974). They survived the cyclone by sheltering underneath their slate based pool table … and as they had a pool table in their Brisbane home, I always wondered if it was THE pool table from Cyclone Tracy? (I doubt it!)
It must have been the day for museums, because after lunch at Stokes Hill Wharf we visited another one, also located on the wharf – the Royal Flying Doctor, and the Bombing of Darwin experiences. Worth it just for the air conditioning LOL.
Seriously though, I definitely recommend you include it on your itinerary if you ever visit Darwin, as both exhibitions make fantastic use of virtual reality. Although I’d already known Darwin had been bombed during the Second World War, this was a real eye-opener.
We did a spot of shopping in the morning at Casuarina Square Shopping Centre as there were a couple of things we needed. The heat in Darwin meant our clothes were saturated in sweat within minutes of going outside; so I got some more knickers so that I could change more often, and the husbear got a couple of t-shirts.
After lunch we went for a tour of the NT Parliament House and Library. Unfortunately the cafe closed at 3pm so we “just” missed out on a coffee (dontcha just hate how lots of cafes shut at 3?!).
So, we drove to the nearby Waterfront Precinct and arrived just in time for happy hour! We cooled off with sangrias and then a swim in the lagoon (built because you can’t go swimming in the ocean). Sadly though, the wave pool was empty 🙁 .
We went for a bit of a drive after that and found ourselves at the beautiful Cullen Bay. In addition to a posh canal estate, there are some great restaurants and cafes, and the most amazing beach with millions of tiny, intact shells – and we were treated to yet another magical sunset.
On our itinerary: Fannie Bay Gaol, the Darwin Military Museum and several WWII relics.
Oh, and I took this gorgeous pic of the Darwin city skyline…
In the afternoon we went to Aquascene (near Cullen Bay) where you can feed the fish when the sea comes in at high tide.
While diamond back mullet were the most common, we also saw golden trevally, mangrove jack, bat fish, and barramundi (no fishing allowed!!!!).
I got a bit sunburnt as I’d missed a bit when applying sunscreen …
Upon our return to the hotel it was obvious the air conditioning wasn’t working. We visited reception and were assured it had been fixed and should start cooling our room soon. We went out for dinner but when we got back our room was still like a sauna. Once again, we were assured that it should cool down soon, so we went for a dip in the hotel pool and spa …
However it was still unbearable when we got back, so in the end (it was about 9 o’clock by this stage) they moved us to a suite on the first floor where it was much cooler. Ahhhhh, that’s better!
We drove about an hour out of Darwin to see the “jumping crocs” – a boat tour on the Adelaide River, a real “pinch me I’m dreaming” moment – was I really in the Northern Territory, seeing crocs in the wild?!
Afterwards we drove past plenty of mango orchards, and saw some massive road trains, before stopping for lunch at the world famous Humpty Doo hotel. The husbear was very brave and had a crocodile burger … I had a taste too, and yes, it was a bit like chicken!
The temperature was 38 degrees (though the weather app said it “felt like” 40!) …
Our next stop was the beautiful Berry Springs, where we went for a swim.
We noticed lots of fish around us, so after we’d climbed out we threw in some tiny pieces of dried apricot (the only food we had on us) and we couldn’t believe the variety of fish! And to think we paid to feed the fish at Aquascene only yesterday 😉 .
Back in Darwin, we made a point of stopping in at the Mindil Beach markets again for dinner – and being the last one for the year, there was a fireworks display after dark.
All good things must come to an end; we went for one last walk down to Lamamoor Beach.
We flew back to Brisbane and arrived home around 7.30pm, where two kitty cats (and our daughter!) were VERY happy to see us. Miss 26 had thoughtfully provided a couple of treat sachets so we could spoil Fleur and Seth when we returned!
Is seven days long enough if you are keen on discovering Darwin? NO! We definitely wished we’d had a few more days, we would have loved to have made the trip out to Kakadu and / or Katherine Gorge.
We were also sorry to not have a chance to go on a jetski adventure in Darwin Harbour, seea movie at the Deckchair Cinema, or visit Crocosaurus Cove.
Before I close, I have to tell you that the whole time we were in Darwin my whole sense of direction went AWOL. I think it’s because I’ve always thought of Darwin being on the northern edge of Australia; so when looking out at the ocean it felt like I was looking north … when in actual fact, our hotel looked south-west over Darwin Harbour! I just couldn’t get my head around it. Weird!
For those who read my “planning a holiday in Darwin” post, we did end up hiring a car – because it turned out the cost of a day trip to the main attractions (eg the Jumping Crocodile Cruise) was much the same as hiring a vehicle for a whole week. And with Darwin’s heat, that air conditioned vehicle was definitely the best way to get around!
Would love to hear what interested you most from our Darwin adventure, so please, leave a comment below!