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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Guide to Darwin, Australia

Alisha McDarris

Darwin, much like Cairns, isn’t a bustling metropolis like Sydney or even Brisbane and it's one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. However, for those who find themselves in the Top End backpacker city, there’s still a few things to keep you occupied, especially where Crocodiles, outdoor adventure, and Aboriginal culture are concerned. So get ready to sweat and start exploring!

Above: Sunsets in Darwin rarely disappoint. A popular sunset viewing spot for locals and visitors is Mindil Beach.

Getting around in Darwin

Buses: Bus schedules aren’t spectacular in Darwin, especially if you're staying outside the city, but you can still get where you want to go. Just buy a ticket once you board! They cost $3.00 per trip and can be used for up to three hours. There are tap and ride cards available, but aren't worth it unless you're going to be in town for more than a couple weeks.

Rent a Car: There are plenty of car rental companies in the city, including at the airport. Just check online for specials and coupons before you book to get the best deal. Sometimes tourism booklets have discounts on car rentals, too.

Bicycle: If you're not traveling with your own, you can rent a bicycle in Darwin. The Scooter Shop hires them out for $25 a day or $15 a day if you want it for a whole week. And since Darwin isn't all that big, it's not a bad way to get around and there are some decent bike paths around town and along the coast.

Free Things to do in Darwin

The Waterfront: It’s not safe to swim anywhere in Darwin because of crocodiles, so
to cool off the only free option is the Recreation Lagoon at the Waterfront. It’s still ocean water, just netted off in a bit of an inlet so you can enjoy it. However, depending on the time of year it may not be so refreshing. When we took a dip in April it was nearly the same temperature as the air. It's also free to wander around the precinct and browse the shops and restaurants.

Markets: For Darwin’s size, it has an impressive amount of markets. Some are bigger and better than others, but why not visit them all? The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are one of the most popular. Just check schedules first as some markets don't operate during much of the rainy season (October-May).

Heritage Walk: This self-guided walk around Darwin is mapped out in many of the tourist booklets you can pick up around the city. It'll give you a feel for the city's layout and you might even learn a thing or two!

Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory: The Museum, or MAGNT, is free to enter and features art, history and culture displays and usually offers special exhibitions as well.

Watch the sunset in Darwin: Darwinians are proud of their sunsets. So indulge them and head to the beach, Mindil Beach, perhaps, just before sunset and watch the show unfold over the ocean!

Wander the Mall: There are a plethora of interesting shops and restaurants along the outdoor Smith Street Mall in Darwin's CBD. Take a stroll and pop into some of the Aboriginal art galleries to get a feel for the local atmosphere, grab a bite at a café, learn about some of Darwin's history, and check out some artifacts from Darwin's old open air theatre. Or just check your e-mail using the free Wi-Fi.

Litchfield National Park: There’s no admission fee to this park, though you will have to arrange transport out there, be it a car or a tour. It’s about an hour and a half outside of Darwin and has amazing waterfalls and swimming holes where you can while away an entire day. Not to mention gigantic magnetic termite mounds. The Buley Rock Holes are our faves!

The Buley Rock Holes in Litchfield National Park outside of Darwin are a beautiful place to relax and cool off on a hot day.

Waterfalls abound at Litchfield National Park near Darwin.

Magnetic Termite mounds can be spotted all over the Northern Territory, including Litchfield National Park.

Berry Springs Nature Park: If you're going to Litchfield, make a pit stop at Berry Springs, which is about half way from Darwin. It's a pretty little sun-dappled spring that's croc-free so you can take a dip and perfectly clear. You can see all the way to the bottom like you're looking through glass. The water's neither cool and refreshing nor warm and soothing - it's right in the middle - but offers a relaxing way to enjoy the afternoon. Get there early, though, especially on weekends and during the dry season (May-October) as it will be packed and the parking lot is small.

Botanic Gardens: Just outside the city are the botanic gardens perfect for an afternoon of wandering through tropical plants, including Aboriginal plants that were used for medicine and as bush tucker.

Cheap things to do in Darwin

The Darwin Waterfront offers shopping, dining and swimming, including a free lagoon and paid activities like a wave pool.

Fannie Bay Goal: Australia cities wouldn't be complete without their prison museums. This one was Darwin's main prison and now you can entry and browse around for the cost of a donation and learn about prison life back in the day.

Deckchair Cinema: We love outdoor movies! For $16, which is often cheaper than the regular theatre, you can see a new, old, or special screening while lounging on a deck chair under the stars. Check their website for what's coming up.

The Waterfront: While there is a free swimming area on the waterfront, you may opt for something a little more interesting. There’s a wave pool where you can swim and float in a tube for $7 AUD and an inflatable obstacle course nearby for around $15 AUD.

Crocodiles: There are a plethora of croc parks in and around Darwin. Admission is about $35 at Crocodylus Park and $40 at Crocosaurus Cove. You can even swim in a tube with one at Crocosaurus Cove if you have a spare $165 to drop on attractions, but we prefer something a little more natural (and that doesn't sell croc meat or croc skin products in the gift shop). An hour outside of Darwin is the Adelaide River where you can book a boat tour for around $40 AUD where the guides get the crocs to jump out of the water alongside the boat. It’s pretty exhilarating. We recommend the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Tour, which is run entirely by women!

There are plenty of places to see crocodiles in Darwin, but marveling at them in their natural habitat while on a jumping crocodile cruise is the best.

Island Ferry: Just off the coast of Darwin are a few special islands that local indigenous people still call home. The Tiwi Islands (Bathurst and Melville) are 80 km off the coast and are a great place to learn about indigenous art and culture. It's $52.50 per person for the SeaLink ferry out and back, and there are tours available three times a week for a heftier fee.

Kakadu National Park: Larger and more impressive as a destination than Litchfield is Kakadu, about 3 hours outside of Darwin. However, don't bother unless you have at least three days to devote to the park as attractions are sprawled throughout the expansive boundaries. There are plenty of campsites starting at $15, though if you have a 4WD, bush campsites are $5 per person. However, parks passes are required and are $40 per person.

WWII Oil Storage Tours: Right near the CBD are old tunnels that the Navy built for oil storage during WWII. Now you can wander in the cool darkness and learn about the history of the area and enjoy photos from the past for $8 admission.

Fly to Bali: Because Darwin is so close to Bali, flights can often be found for under $100. If you're going to be in the Northern Territory for a few weeks, make the most of it and plan a weekend trip!

Places to eat in Darwin

You won't find many meals under $10 in Darwin, but if you're clever you might find a few steals.

Simply Foods: For vegans and omnivores alike, this place has a few options for meals, pastries or snacks for around $10. It's located in the Smith Street Mall, so convenient if you're in the CBD for the afternoon.

Eat at Martins: Mostly home cooking style food with an Indian flare, this restaurant is a popular vegetarian spot in town with vegan and gluten free options. There are a few choices under $10, including vegan and gluten free desserts. They also offer take-away if you're headed out for the day.

Greenies Real Food: A small health food supermarket that sells snacks and frozen meals, tofu, fish, etc. in addition to sunscreen, soap, and all kinds of other natural products. They offer bulk , too, so you can buy only as much as you need.

Rawgasm: With vegan and paleo options, this café is another healthy option on Smith Street. There are a few meal options like soup, sushi, sandwiches, even breakfast for under $10.

Markets: At any number of markets in Darwin you can usually pick up a moderately priced meal or snack. No guarantee it's going to be a healthy one, but samosas and fried food abound. Just make sure not to pass up a slice of vegan ganache cake or caramel bars at Petra's Raw Cakes.

Ways to save in Darwin

Check out a few ways to save money in Darwin.

Tourism Books: Pick up a few free tourism booklets and brochures from airports, info centers, etc. They often have discounts and coupons for attractions, car rental, even accommodation.

BookMe: For savings on tours, activities and more, check out this site and keep in mind that the farther ahead you can plan, the better the deals will be.

Off The Leash: Check for free events and special happenings in this free paper that you can pick up around town or on their website. You'll get the scoop on local festivals, music, food and more.

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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