Visiting Darwin, Australia: What not to miss
Thinking about visiting the Northern Territory? Wondering what there is to see and do?
When most people think about the Northern Territory, their minds automatically go to Ayers Rock. However, I can assure you there is plenty to see and do in the Top End of the Territory. For those who don’t know the Top End The Top End includes Darwin, Katherine, Kakadu and Arnhem Land.
We spent 4 full days in Darwin with a half day either side for the travel to and from the airport. We were initially going to visit for a long weekend, but quickly realised there was too much to see so we extended our stay to ensure we got the best experience possible!
We’ll try and give you a bit of an overview of the different seasons and when to visit Darwin, our itinerary in a nutshell followed by a detailed section on each day and tour. We’ll then end on a comparison between our two separate accommodation locations.
Darwin’s wet and dry season
The Top End has a tropical climate and has two very clear seasons. These are known as the Wet and the Dry.
The wet season spans from November through to April. The humidity is incredibly high (up to 80%) and temperatures range usually between 25 degrees celsius to 33 degrees celsius. In saying that, the day we arrived, had a temperature of 33 degrees, with a ‘feels like’ temperature of 41.6 degrees celsius. The wet season is also known for the monsoonal rains and incredible storms.
We booked over the Easter long weekend which in 2016 fell at the end of March, so was technically still the wet season for most tour companies. Luckily (for us), the wet season in 2016 was pretty dry so our days were completely dry.
We did a bit of research and found out that the wet season can restrict travel to some areas and also means the swimming spots on some tours are cancelled due to the high water levels which in turn means crocs in the waterholes! The up side to travelling in the wet season is the amazing waterfalls, green and lush landscapes and the amazing light shows in the evenings!
The dry season spans from May until October. Typically the days are warm, dry and sunny with cooler nights. Temperatures usually range between 21 degrees celsius to 32 degrees celsius with humidity levels a lot lower than the wet season, sitting at around 60-65%.
If travelling in the dry season, you will no doubt be more comfortable on the day tours with the lower humidity and you will benefit from the refreshing swimming spots which will be croc free. I guess the only down side is towards the end of the dry season, the landscape could be less luscious and green and the waterfalls might be less plentiful.
Day One: Arrive in Darwin, mid afternoon. Relax and enjoy the afternoon at the hotel pool to escape the heat before watching the sunset over Mindil beach.
Day Two: Outback Floatplane Adventure Ultimate Tour. Depart at 6.15am and arrive back around lunch time to spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool.
Day Three: Explore what Darwin has to offer, check out the waterfront and city centre. A visit to Crocosaurus Cove is a must where you can hold a baby crocodile as well as feed some young crocs! If you’re feeling brave, there is also the cage of death!
Day Four: Day trip to Kakadu and Nourlangie Rock
Day Five: Day trip to Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls
Day Six: Enjoy a nice sleep in after two full day tours and depart for the airport at lunch time
We decided to spend the first part of our holiday at the SkyCity Hotel & Casino. This was purely because our first two days in Darwin were a little slower and more relaxing so we anticipated using the facilities at the Casino during the down time we had planned. I will go in to more detail about the hotel below. On our first night, we ensured we watched the sunset over Mindil beach.
It was truely spectacular with the sun setting on the left, and incredible storm clouds rolling in on the right. The contrasts were amazing and the lightening show was great to watch!
If I had to provide one word to sum up day two, it would be “WOW!!!” It was an early start with the complimentary pick up at 06:15 by Di from Outback Floatplane Adventures.
To visit our detailed blog on Outback Floatplane Adventures, click here: A day with Outback Floatplane Adventures
We spent the day exploring Darwin. We walked down Mitchel Street towards the waterfront which is where it seemed the whole of Darwin was relaxing!
There is a safe swimming area as well as plenty of activities and restaurants. It seems like there was a massive mix of locals as well as tourists.
From here, we walked up Smith street through the mall and made our way to Crocosaurus Cove. Jenna really wanted to hold a baby crocodile! If you head on the Outback Floatplane Adventures tour, you will get a discount card to use at Crocosaurus Cove. When you’re inside, you can hold the baby crocodile for free, but if you wish to purchase any photos, these are a cost of $24.95 for one photo and any subsequent photos are $15 each. Or, you can purchase all photos on a disc plus two print outs for $99.95. We opted for this as we couldn’t choose the photos! We ended up with around 90 photos, so didn’t seem too bad at all.
While you’re here, you can enjoy a croc feeding session and have a go at feeding some junior (4 years old) crocs! It is a pretty cool experience and doesn’t cost anything extra to do this.
There are other things to see here as well, plenty of reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles etc.
It costs $35 for the standard entry for an adult and you can purchase tickets for the cage of death on top of this!
Kakadu was a must for us, but we struggled to find a variety of tours given it was still wet season so we booked through AAT Kings for a day trip to Kakadu, Nourlangie and a Yellow Water billabong cruise. They seem to run all year round tours which worked in our favour.
To visit our detailed blog on Kakadu National park, click here: Kakadu National Park, featuring Nourlangie Rock, Day Trip from Darwin, Australia
When Jenna started researching things to see from Darwin, Katherine was up there on her list of things to see. Again, because it was still wet season, we were limited with our options but managed to book a day trip through AAT Kings.
To visit our detailed blog on Katherine Gorge, click here: Katherine Gorge Day Trip from Darwin, Australia
A late check out – what a wonderful thing! It was so nice not to have to set an alarm to wake up after two very full, long days! Enjoy a sleep in, and have some room service for lunch before heading to the airport for your flight back home.
Where to stay
Skycity Darwin: We decided to split our stay up in to two parts. The first part, was more relaxing and enabled a lot of down time to be spent at the hotel. We therefore chose the SkyCity Darwin which is a hotel and casino. The location of the hotel is perfect for watching the sunset over Mindil beach. You can do this from the luxury of the infinity pool at the hotel, which is one of two pool areas.
As mentioned, the hotel as two pool areas. The infinity pool overlooking Mindil Beach and the sunset. The other is located on the other side of the hotel and is the lagoon pool. The infinity pool has a bar service via a phone and they will deliver the food and drinks to you. However, the lagoon pool has a swim up bar and the restaurant with a limited lunch menu available as well.
There are gorgeous suites that have direct access to the lagoon pool. These look incredible and completely relaxing!
We booked a superior room which was very close to the infinity pool. The room was good, comfortable bed and everything you need. It wasn’t super luxurious but there was nothing to complain about.
Skycity is a bit out of the city centre, it isn’t easily within walking distance and is around a $15 taxi ride.
The service upon check in and check out was fine, but nothing amazing. We weren’t offered a map of Darwin or assistance with any tour bookings or anything. It was a little disappointing compared to most of our other hotel welcome experiences.
Novotel Atrium: We moved hotels after 2 nights and decided to stay at the Novotel Atrium. It was quite a bit cheaper and given we had two full day tours and were spending limited time at the hotel we thought we’d save a little bit of money. We are platinum Accor members, so that usually does come with its perks, but this isn’t always guaranteed.
The stay from start to finish was exceptional. We were greeted by Jacqueline Comb and the service was exactly how it should be! We were greeted in a friendly manner, offered a room upgrade to a 1 bedroom apartment, an early check in at 11am and a late check out of 12pm. Jacqueline gave us a map of Darwin and showed us what there was to see and do around us. She also offered to help book any tours we haven’t yet arranged.
The room was perfect, oversized and had amazing views of the harbour.
The staff had even arranged for a lovely dessert platter of chocolate cake with fresh fruit, along with two complimentary bottles of water and a hand written card for my birthday (even though we were there 3 weeks prior!). It was a lovely gesture and it is things like that, that make the stay special.
Where to eat
Skycity Hotel: We ate at the pool bar on both days for lunch. The menu was limited which is fine, however the food was only ok. We had the beef burger and vegetarian burgers. The cocktails at the swim up bar were delicious, but I feel they were understaffed particularly because it was a long weekend so the wait was a little long.
We ate dinner twice at Il Piatto Italian restaurant within the casino. On both occasions the food was delicious an came out extremely quickly. I would recommend eating here, but it might be helpful making a reservation as they get quite busy at times!
We ate breakfast on one occasion at The Vue restaurant within the Casino. You can pre-purchase the breakfast voucher at the hotel reception for $19 per person. If you buy directly at the restaurant it is $28. The breakfast was plentiful and fresh. I would recommend eating here if you’re staying at the Skycity hotel.
Novotel Atrium: Because we had such early tours, we didn’t have lunch at the hotel. However, we had dinner in the restaurant on our second evening. It was quite late after finishing a full day tour, but that wasn’t a problem for the staff. The service was great and the food came out super fast! We then ordered room service for lunch on our last day. The food was there within 25 minutes and was still so warm and fresh. Between us over the two meals we ordered the steak sandwich (x2!), the pork sliders and a beef burger. The food was all delicious (especially the chips with aioli!).
The Cav: We had been recommended to visit The Cav. We popped over there just before the dinner service started, found a table (most were reserved!) and ordered some steaks. The service was good and the food came out pretty quick. However, the food (for what we paid) was good, but nothing amazing. I felt the food at the Novotel was of a much higher standard.
Adelaide River Inn: We stopped at the Adelaide River Inn for dinner as part of our Katherine Gorge day tour. It was what you would expect from an outback pub! There were tables outside, a pool table, bar and bistro. The service was really good and the food came out quickly, not to mention delicious! We both ordered burgers, I ordered the beef and Jenna with the chicken. If you are out and about in this direction, I would definitely recommend stopping in here for a bite to eat!
Bark Hut: The Bark Hut was a breakfast stop for us on our Kakadu day trip. They were well prepared for the bus load of people, and you could order a hot breakfast to get you started for the day ahead. The service was great and the food came out pretty quickly as well. If you’re in the area and looking for a good feed, this is the one for you!
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson