There’s not much literature there about Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), one of the least populated parts of the country. It’s not as glam as Barossa or Melbourne—no lush wineyards or happening cityscapes here—but it does have a certain tropical charm. And since it’s only a 4-hour flight away, it’s perfect for a short getaway.
Just a short drive away from the airport is the Northern Territory’s biggest city. Don’t expect a bustling metropolis, though; walking from one end to of the city center to another takes only half an hour (like a stroll down Orchard Road).
Do: It sounds strange, but watching sunsets is a real obsession here. We got awesome views at Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which is touristy but worth it for cloud-watching on the beach while listening to trippy didgeridoo electronica. Outdoor movie screening series Deckchair Cinema is also a must-do, with an impressive line-up of critically-acclaimed arthouse films and a bar on-site. Also nice at dusk are posh waterfront dining enclaves—a la Quayside Isle—Darwin Waterfront Lagoon (Kitchener Dr.) and Cullen Bay Marina.
Eat: Ducks’ Nuts is our pick for droolsome brunch food and coffee. At night, pan-Southeast Asian restaurant Hanuman, which draws a dressed-up crowd night, is good. You can also go on a boozy dinner cruise with Darwin Harbour Cruises (AUD89 or $104)—the buffet fare isn’t all that, but the setting and sea breeze go a long way. For drinks, there are plenty of backpacker pubs along Mitchell Street, but edgy, gay-friendly club Throb is where there’s a real alternative nightlife scene.
Stay: Rydges Darwin Resort (AUD209 of $244 upwards) resort is perfect for making the most out of the tropical weather, although it’s next to the airport and you’d have take a shuttle to the city center. If you want to stay in the city, there’s DoubleTree by Hilton (AUD169 or $197 upwards). Get a room on the top floor for a view of the harbor.
Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine)
This Aborigine-owned national park is HQ for most travelers looking to visit the stunning Katherine Gorge (actually 13 linked gorges). Since it’s a half-day drive from Darwin, we’d recommend staying for at least a couple of nights to really take in the sights.
Do: Katherine Gorge, obviously, which you can see from above on a breathtaking 15-min helicopter ride from Nitmiluk Tours (AUD99 or $115). They also do boat cruises and walks if you want to see the gorges up close. But it can be tricky to see more of the Outback on your own, especially since mobile data coverage is spotty and it’s hard to get around. It pays off to arrange a bespoke tour with the excellent Indigofera Ecotours (AUD189 or $220 upwards).
Make time to stop by for a dip at Edith Falls, an incredible natural plunge pool. It’s a little rocky underfoot, but swimming in the cool, clear water (fish and all) is to die for, especially when it’s hot out.
Stay: Super-luxe eco-lodge Cicada Lodge (AUD450 or $525 upwards) has everything you need for an amazing time—gorgeously-furnished and lavishly-stocked “shacks”, a mini-pool, a fantastic restaurant and poolside bar, plus great service to boot.
Along the Way
Nearby places of interest to while away an hour or two.
NT is home to the country’s most significant Aborigine population. While in Darwin, take a short flight or ferry up to Tiwi Islands. Something of an Aboriginal reserve—visiting permits required—the Tiwi Islands are one of the best places to learn about their cultures and buy Aboriginal art. Tiwi Art Network organizes day trips to the Islands (AUD128 or $149 upwards).
About an hour’s drive away from Darwin city is the Adelaide River, home to lots of big, fat crocodiles. You can see them up close, along with birds of prey, on the highly entertaining crocodile-baiting Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise (AUD35 or $41 upwards). Nearby Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is also a nice spot for birdwatching.
Upcoming events to catch in Darwin and beyond.
Aug 7-24 Pan-Territory, pan-genre arts extravaganza Darwin Festival.
Aug 16 Hilarious annual “boat” race (it’s actually held on land) Henley on Todd Regatta in Alice Springs down south.
Sep 17-24 Deckchair Cinema’s Darwin International Film Festival.
If you’re not joining a tour, you’ll need to rent a car (big players like Hertz have a presence in Darwin) for the drive south—but note that it can be tiring, with few rest stops, unless you’re a seasoned long-distance driver.
When to go
Dry season (May-Sep) is tourist season, as it’s hot and sunny with little rainfall—a bit like Singapore with less humidity. Wet season (Oct-Apr) is cooler and a lot cheaper, but beware of heavy monsoon rain, storms and cyclones. For more useful info, visit www.australiasoutback.com.sg.
You’ll need one. The most painless way to get it is to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (i.e. e-visa; AUD20 or $23.40).
AUD0.86 = $1