Things to do in Darwin & The Top End
The Top End is a magical place, when people make the effort to get to the Northern Territory they usually want to see as much as possible. A visit to Darwin usually means exploring Darwin and her surrounds, a trip to Litchfield National Park, Kakadu National Park, Katherine Gorge and perhaps Arnhem Land and Tiwi Islands. Some are day tours from Darwin and others deserve more time.
Darwin is a cosmopolitan city with great cafes and restaurants using their local produce and its many international influences. On the doorstep of Darwin you have a coast dotted with reefs and in the other direction the Outback, what a combination.
There are 2 distinct season in this area, the Green or Wet Season usually from November to March and the Dry Season (locals call it “The Build Up”) which is April to October. Each season has its beauty. Some prefer to visit in the Green Season as the waterfalls are flowing, the skies are beautiful and everything looks green. If visiting at this time you have to be flexible with your tours and itineraries. At times area and roads may be closed. Early winter is a great time to visit, the humidity has tapered off and it is cooler but the falls will still be flowing. A lot of people visit the Top End between June and August, when the weather is more agreeable, so it plans to book early.
When visiting Darwin and the Top End please be sure to read the signs before swimming in any water. The caution and rules are there for a reason, to make sure no one is taken by a crocodile. It is tempting, a hot day and beautiful water but it is just not a possibility!
Remember, while freshwater crocodiles are quite timid, saltwater crocodiles are definitely not! Treat both with caution.
Where is it?
Darwin really started to develop back in the early 1870’s when the Overland Telegraph Line was being built. They discovered alluvial gold and people caught the “gold rush fever”.
Darwin is a diverse city, rich in Indigenous culture and Asian influences due to the close proximity to Asia. The architectural feel of the city is a result of having been rebuilt twice, once after WW2 and then after Cyclone Tracey hit at Xmas in 1974.
Darwin is situated on Fanny Bay, a fabulous location for taking cruises to watch the famous sunsets that occur. Darwin is on the Arafura Sea (it lies west of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Indonesian New Guinea).
There is so much to see and do in and around Darwin. Such places worthy of a visit are the Museum and Art Gallery of NT, Darwin Botanical Gardens, immerse yourself in World War 11 history at the East Point Military Museum, World War 11 oil storage tunnels (entry is on lower level Kitchener Drive), the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, the Australian Pearling Exhibition and more. A walk around Darwin Wharf Precinct is a must. Lots there to keep you busy.
For the adventurous try swimming with the crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove in their “Cage of Death”, or go on a cruise on the Adelaide River to see the Jumping Crocodiles, or visit Darwin Wildlife Park at Berry Springs, this park also has other animals beside crocodiles!
There are many choices for a Darwin day tour to wonderful areas not too far from the city.
From Darwin to Kakadu (Jabiru) is 257 kilometres, the best way to see it is with a guided tour and let a local show you around. Ideally, if you have the time an extended tour is the best way to see Kakadu.
The Wet Season or Green Season is from late November to March. If you are visiting Kakadu in the Green Season, if possible, take a scenic view over the park as the water falls will be flowing and they are a magnificent sight. In the dry season it is also well worth taking a flight as you get the feel of how enormous the area is. It is a great way to see the escarpment.
A few facts about Kakadu;
- Second largest national park in the world (after Yellowstone in the US)
- One of the few places in the world that is world heritage listed for both it’s natural and cultural values.
- Has a third of Australia’s bird species (around 280)
- 10,000 crocodiles call it home
- Almost 20,000 square kilometres (almost half the size of Switzerland)
- Kakadu’s Rock Art- some as old as 20,000 years
- Home to 2,000 different plant types
Within Kakadu National Park
Jim Jim Falls
Jim Jim Falls are located near the eastern boundary of the national park and 28 kilometres south of Jabiru. It is a plunge waterfall on the Jim Jim Creek that descends over the Arnhem Land Escarpment.
Twin Falls are a further 10 kilometres on from Jim Jim Falls. The Twin Falls keep flowing longer the Jim Jim Falls do. Unfortunately, swimming is no longer permitted in Twin Falls Gorge and they are only accessible in the Dry Season. This area is one of the most popular in Kakadu National Park.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, located less than 3 kilometres from the city centre, operate on Thursdays (5-10pm) and Sundays (4-9pm) from the last Thursday in April to to the last Thursday in October.
Bring your tables, chairs, rugs, eskies and choose from 60 food stalls and 130 other stalls selling craft, fashion, pampering, tours and a whole lot more. You can eat a crocodile steak (only on Thursdays) or try some unique sushi with fillings such as kangaroo, crocodile, barramundi, and sweet potato!
Litchfield National Park
Litchfield is 100 km south-west of Darwin. It became a park in 1986. The park is generally accessible all year (sealed roads) via Batchelor, and plenty of guided tours to pick from. It is 1500 square kilometres of sandstone habitats and great waterfalls.
The area has its history written in its geology, Aboriginal History and European History. It is a truly fascinating park in every way.
The main swimming holes in Litchfield National Park are Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, Tolmer Falls, Walker Creek, Cascades, Tjaynera Falls and Surprise Creek Falls. There are numerous short walks you can take around these falls and the longer most challenging one being the 39 kilometer Tabletop Trek.
Near the town of Batchelor you will see the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Once again another great example on how wonderful nature and her animals are. Their story is a fascinating one! These mounds were built facing on a north-south axis to protect the ants within from the intense sun. These are amazing architectural feats as inside they have arches, tunnels, nursery chambers, insulation and chimneys! All built by armies of tiny termites. Many of the mounds are over 2 metres tall.
Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) National Park,is located 30km from Katherine and is 2920 square kilometres in area. Katherine, the town, is a great base for those wanting to have more time in this area, or you could join an organised tour.
Katherine Gorge is a narrow gorge, formed over time by the Katherine River flowing through the sandstone plateau creating huge cliffs on either side. Thirteen gorges make up Katherine Gorge and in the Dry Season they are separated by rapids. Boats travel to the first gorge and then are run up onto land and the passengers walk around to the second gorge where another boat is waiting, this is repeated depending how far up you are going.
Leliyn (Edith Falls) is on the western side of the park around 60 kilometres from Katherine. Edith Falls is connected to Katherine Gorge via the 66-kilometre Jatbula walk. Swimming and hiking are the most popular things to do. Both upper and lower pools are excellent swimming spots.
Fresh water crocodiles are in most parts of the river and are usually timid and harmless, however in the Green Season saltwater crocodiles regularly enter when the water levels are very high. They are later removed, so please obey any warning signs.
Tiwi Islands are located 80 kilometres to the north of Darwin, so the best way to visit the Islands is as part or an organised group. Although it is a big day travelling to and from the island from Darwin learning about the island from a locals perspective is an amazing experience.
The island group is made up of 2 islands, Melville and Bathurst, with the tours travelling only to Bathurst Island. The Tiwi people have occupied the islands since the last ice age. Around 11,000 years ago the islands broke away from the mainland making their language and culture unique due to their isolation.
You can read more about the Tiwi Islands by clicking on the 'More About Darwin' tab above or click here.
Shhh……. It is a secret and the locals would love to keep it that way!
Fogg Dam is a man-made dam (created in 1956 for the Humpty Doo Rice Project) but has a natural eco system. It is located 70 kilometres from Darwin and the conservation park is located on the Adelaide River. Fogg Dam is amazing due to the diversity of habitat and wildlife all located together. It has been described by a passionate local as a “madhouse of wildlife”!
The area attracts significant numbers of birds, reptiles, mammals and marsupials. It is believed to have the greatest predator biomass known in the world. Biomass is the amount of living matter as in a unit area or volume of habitat.
Fogg Dam has 230 species of birds and an international reputation among birdwatchers and biologists.
Once darkness falls the dam metamorphoses into a different world dominated by snakes and rodents. Lots of Dusky Rats, hunted by water and olive pythons can be seen easily at night. In the wet season you will find saltwater crocodiles, with their big red eyes shining in the spot lights!
There is nothing better than sunrise at Fogg Dam. About half an hour before sunrise, the chorus of birds begins, an unforgettable experience! There is a tour which gets you there early enough to witness it.
Arnhem Land is a vast wilderness area in the northeast corner of Australia’s Northern Territory. The traditional landowners are the Yolngu people and permits are required to visit this area. If you are travelling as part of an organised tour the operator will look after the permit requirements for you.
If you are visiting Kakadu National Park, once you cross East Alligator River you are in Arnhem Land and you need permits.
Darwin bus network services Darwin and the surrounding areas, with services running most days excluding Christmas Day and Good Friday, with special buses for the Mindil Sunset Markets, during the market season.
There is a tap and ride card system and paper tickets, both can be purchase on board. Paper tickets are either a single ticket which is valid for unlimited travel for three hours from purchase and a daily ticket for unlimited travel till the end of the day the ticket was purchased. The tap and ride card is similar to a credit card and needs to only be validated as you enter the bus and is valid for either the 10 ticket flexi fares or the weekly tickets.
Taxis are a convenient method for point to point travel in Darwin. Throughout Australia dialling 131 008, or in Darwin 13 TAXI (13 8294) will put you in touch with the nearest Taxi service. Taxis can also be pre-booked. It is recommended to obtain a quote for using Taxi’s for long distance travel.
Darwin is serviced by many car rental companies, remember that there may be limited parking in the CBD and that peak hour congestion is common. (Vroom Vroom Vroom)
The NT Bus Tracker App gives you arrival and departure times at your bus stop and is a useful journey planner. (Bus Tracker)
Weather in Darwin
What's the Darwin Weather like?
Summer (Dec - Feb): Min 25°C Max 33°C
Avg monthly rainfall 350mm Avg rain days per month 20
Autumn (Mar - May): Min 22°C Max 32°C
Avg monthly rainfall 147mm Avg rain days per month 10
Winter (Jun - Aug): Min 20°C Max 31°C
Avg monthly rainfall 3mm Avg rain days per month 0.5
Spring (Sep - Nov): Min 25°C Max 33°C
Avg monthly rainfall 77mm Avg rain days per month 7
The Wet or Green season is from the middle of November till the middle of April, with minimal rain outside of these months.
High humidity levels and high temperatures in the wet can make the perceived temperature feel up to 10 degrees warmer.
Tours and Activities in Darwin
- City tours
- Extended Tours
- Four Wheel drive (4WD)
- History & Heritage
- Hop on Hop Off
- Jumping Crocodiles
- Kakadu National Park
- Litchfield National Park
- National Parks
- Scenic cruise
- Swimming with Crocodiles
- Tiwi Islands
- Traditional Owners
- Zoos and Animal Parks
What's on in Darwin - Major Events and Festivals
Darwin's 'dry' season is from April to September and it is during this time that most of the major festivals and events are run.
The weather is cooler and the chance of rain is low, so most events are held outdoors.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets - Thursdays and Sundays
From the last Thursday April to the last Thursday in October
Mindil Beach comes alive with the sunset markets. Food is the main focus with a wide variety of cuisines, but there are also arts, jewellery, natural remedies and entertainment. Bring a chair and an esky for a fantastic night
Thursdays 5 pm to 10 pm
Sundays 4 pm to 9 pm
More information Mindil Beach Markets
Territory Taste Festival
Held for 2 days at the Darwin Convention Centre this is a family friendly event with a focus on local produce, bush harvest and the multi-cultural influenced local cuisine.
More information Territory Taste
Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival
Running for 2 weeks from late April to mid - May the festival is a free, community art and cultural festival. The festival begins with the 'Big Day' where around 100 performers entertain you as you wander along the foreshore. Events are held all across the city.
More information Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival
V8 Supercars Darwin Triple Crown
Rated as one of the most fan friendly events on the V8 Supercar calendar. Some people go to watch the race on the spectator friendly Hidden Valley circuit and others just go for the parties.
More information Triple Crown
The Northern territory achieved self-government on 1st July 1978 and certainly know how to celebrate the day. There are citizenship ceremonies, flag raising and it is the one day of the year that fireworks can be bought and let off by the public. It is a party NT style.
More information Territory Day
The Beer Can Regatta
Not sure we would be keen on taking to the waters near Mindil beach in a boat made of beer cans and softdrink bottles but this is rated in the top 10 of Australian festivals. The markets are open all day and entry is by a gold can, sorry coin, donation.
More information Beer Can Regatta
Royal Darwin Show
An agricultural, mining and multicultural show all rolled into one. For three days the Winnellie showgrounds comes alive with an eclectic mix that’s is pure Darwin.
More information Darwin Show
Darwin International Film Festival
Almost two weeks of films and special events that marks the end of the dry season. Events take place across the city with the iconic Deck Chair cinema one of the most popular venues.
More information DIFF
Darwin Airport (DRW) is the Northern Territories busiest airport with a shared, but separated terminal for both International and Domestic travellers. The airport is located about 13 klm from the city centre. (Darwin Airport)
Public transport buses run limited services between the airport (stop D, Charles Eaton Dr) and the Casuarina Interchange. Weekdays there can be up to four fours between buses and on weekends just early morning and late afternoon services. (Darwin Buses)
Shuttle Buses and Limousines
For visitors staying at the Rydges Airport Resort or Hotel there is a free shuttle bus available use the dedicated phone located near the baggage claim area.
This is a convenient way to get to and from the airport directly connecting with your destination. The Taxi ranks are located directly at the front of the terminal. Pre-booked taxis are advised if you have special needs. In most parts of Australia, including Darwin dialling 131008 will put you in touch with the local taxi service, or 13 TAXI (13 8294)
Most of the major car rental companies have outlets located at Darwin Airport, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Thrifty and Redspot. (Vroom Vroom Vroom) There are rental car counters in the arrivals area at the terminal.
Travellers Autobarn Campervans Australia
Hire a campervan, campers or station wagons or buy one with a guaranteed buyback from 6 Australia wide locations: Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne. Travellers Autobarn (est. 1993) is a ‘one stop shop’ for the backpackers and budget travellers planning their self drive trip around Australia or simply up the coast in a campervan. (Travellers Autobarn)
There are three separate car parking facilities at Darwin airport.
The short term car park is located directly opposite the terminal building with the first 15 minutes of parking free.
There is a long term parking station approximately 200m from the terminal adjacent to the car rental facility. There is a cover walkway between the car park and the terminal
The long stay saver carpark is located on Pedersen Road near the general aviation precinct and there is a free shuttle bus or you can walk the 450m via a covered walkway. To catch the shuttle bus use the handset located at the car park or in the terminal building.
Our Darwin Articles
Top 10 Things to Do in Darwin
Our Staff Darwin Tour Picks
Immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of Fogg Dam. Enjoy an amazing Aussie BBQ lunch in Batchelor & explore the raw beauty of Litchfield National Park. See Traditional Arts and Craft, maybe hike to a perfect photo spot and end the day with a glorious sunset.
- Small group (max 10 people)
- Plenty of Wildlife
- Flexible itinerary
- BBQ Lunch
kakadu is a timeless landscape of exceptional beauty and diversity. This tour takes you deep into the park to really get a feel for the land and the diversity of ildlife not seen anywhere else in the world. Learn about the culture of the traditional owners of the area.
- Optional Scenic Flight
- Warradjan Cultural Centre
- Traditional Rock Art
- Billabong cruise with Lunch
Before heading to Katherine Gorge visit the Adelaide River war cemetery. At the gorge take a cruise through the looking for the elusive freshwater crocodile then walk through to a second gorge, later maybe enjoy swim at Edith falls if conditions permit.
- Wildlife Spotting
- Scenic cruise of the Gorge
- Nitmiluk National Park and Edith Falls
- Lunch included
Learn about Aboriginal Culture from your guide at the Aboriginal art sites of Nourlangie and Ubirr and explore the landscape and waterfalls of Kakadu National Park , travel along rocky 4-wheel drive tracks and take part in an iconic Yellow Waters Cruise.
- Rock Art
- Wildlife Spotting
- Visit four famous waterfalls
- Permanent tent camping