Natural Selection: Darwin

Darwin, just five hours away direct, is a relatively affluent city of some 120,000 souls and feels more like a town than a territorial capital. The locals remind us of American suburbanites and the city of what Singapore might look like if it had space—and a fraction of its population. Because of its warm year-round climate, there’s a certain tropical vibe but, from April/May to October, the dry season promises clear blue skies and cool evenings, particularly in June-July.
, Natural Selection: Darwin
Darwin will mostly serve as your base for the three major attractions around the city—Tiwi Island, Litchfield Park and Kakadu Park—which can all be done as day trips or with a sleepover. In town, you can check out the Parap Saturday Market (image above). It’s a great place to catch the locals but the Thai and Indonesian stalls aren’t exactly exotic by our standards. We are more interested in the surrounding galleries, like 24HR Art (Vimy Lane, www.24hrart., an art center with government support, which showcases cutting edge Aussie artists—Aboriginal or otherwise. For something a bit more craftsy, but also offering some really nice prints, try out Nomad Art (1/3 Vickers St., au). As you will discover, Aboriginal art is at the center of many things here, so you should also pay a visit to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (Conacher St., open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5pm, free admission) to get some insight on this very graphic, symbolic and ancient art form.
Some 2,500 Tiwi Aboriginals live on Melville and Bathurst islands. A tour of Bathurst Island (Bathurst Island church image above) consists mostly of getting to know the Tiwi culture: Their art, creation myth, dances and customs. It’s not cheap, though. By boat (a two-hour cruise), the tour is US$333 with (Mon, Wed, Fri only, from late Mar-Dec). By plane, it’s US$494 with Aussie Adventure (Mon-Fri, Mar-Nov, We chose the latter and got to sip tea with charming old ladies who explained the Tiwi’s “skin groups” (a kind of clan system) and put on a little dance for us. It’s also an opportunity to meet Tiwi artists in their workshops and buy their art for less than you’ll pay in town. (And if you’re a fan of Nicole Kidman, you’ll recognize the beautiful timber church from the movie Australia.)
, Natural Selection: Darwin
A two-hour drive from Darwin, Litchfield Park is home to three massive waterfalls, a couple of which you can swim at—except at some points during the rainy season (the water gets too crazy, but the falls are also at their most beautiful.) The water originates from springs, so the waterfalls run year-round, just not always with the same intensity. On your way, you’ll also see some six-meter-high cathedral termite mounds and magnetic termite mounds, so called because their thin profiles point North-South to minimize their exposure to the sun. A day tour with Darwin Day Tours ( is US$137 with guide, lunch and transportation. (That’s who we went with.) It’s a pretty long day as it is but we saw another deal from Pinnacle Tours which adds in a jumping crocodile cruise—five-foot-long salt-water crocodiles leaping from the water to grab chunks of meats dangling from your boat—for US$127 (
, Natural Selection: Darwin
A World Heritage Site, the park is 257km from Darwin. Floodplains with exotic birds, rivers infested with crocodiles, rocky escarpments with thousand-year-old Aboriginal art, Kakadu is the crown jewel of the Northern Territory’s top end. You can spend a day there with the aforementioned Darwin Day Tours for US$238 or Pinnacle for US$207. But there’s also an interesting three-day option from Intrepid Connections ( that allows you to sleep in permanent safari camp style tents and sleep one night in Kakadu and one night in Litchfield. It’s US$769 but that includes full-board so it should come out cheaper than staying in your hotel in Darwin. (They had us at the part where they promised wine would be included with meals).
, Natural Selection: Darwin
The Northern Territory extends deep into the Australian outback—its sparsely populated heartland. That’s where you’ll find the continent’s most famous natural icon, the big flat-topped Ayers Rock (image above). Around Alice Springs, the central Australian hub, there are also plenty more dramatic deserts, canyons and picturesque rock formations to explore. Visit for more information (they even have a cool iPhone app, OutbackNT, that you can download for free).