The Port of Darwin – the smallest capital of a territory in Australia – welcomed 75 cruise ships in cruise season 2016/2017, carrying 95,000 cruise passengers. Since 2008 cruise ships at a dedicated modern air-conditioned cruise terminal at Fort Hill Wharf with a mini-market, car parking, security screening, baggage scanners, check points and a covered walkway in a landscape setting. There are taxis available and the short journey to the city centre shouldn’t cost more than 10 Australian dollars. The terminal is a pleasant 15-minute walk to town. There are shuttle buses that take passengers to the visitor’s centre at the Central Business District (CBD), provided by the cruise ships as well, so make sure you check that before you get a taxi. The port area, called the Wharf Precinct is an attraction itself, with bars and restaurants and a state-of-the-art convention centre. Darwin International Airport is only 15 min (13km) driving away.
The local currency is the Australian dollar (AUD). Australia has eliminated the penny and cash transactions are rounded up to the nearest nickel. All major credit cards are accepted everywhere. There are plenty of ATMs and exchanging money is easy. You can exchange cash at one of the money exchange shops at the city centre. Smaller, independent shops tend to have better rates than banks and established shops like Travelex. Make sure you check the market rate and ask if there would be any commission charges and fees. If you use your cards to draw cash from an ATM, make sure you have notified your bank you would be spending time abroad and you are aware of any transaction fees. More and more banks and financial companies now tend to offer cards with no additional fees when using abroad, so it might pay off for you to check if you can get such card before travelling.
Opening hours and bank holidays. Most shops and shopping centres in Darwin are generally opened to 10 am to 6 pm, with some of them working until as late as 10pm and only some of them are closed on Sundays. Traditionally most shops are closed for Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Day. There are number of National bank holidays as well and some shops will be closed, so do make yourself familiar with those, especially if your time is limited.
Tipping in Australia is not as common as it is in Europe and the United States. There are jars for tips, but they are hardly used. You can tip if you are happy with the service, but you don’t have to. There are no service charges added to your bill at restaurants either.
It is common knowledge that English is the language of Darwin, so you would have no problems being understood.
The local time in Darwin is GMT+9.30 and the International dialling code is + 618.
Things To Do
Darwin is famous for being the closest city to the Australian outback, with its massive population of saltwater crocodiles in the surrounding areas and as a gateway to the Kakadu National Park. The latter would be too big to explore in a day, so we have started with the smaller and easier to access Litchfield National Park. With lots to do over a 1500sq km of land, this park is the locals’ favourite. Take a refreshing dip in one of waterfalls and waterholes, hire a 4x4 and explore one of the four-wheel drive tracks, take some snaps from the Tolmer Falls viewing point, visit the famous “graveyard” of magnetic termite mounds, some of them 2 metres tall, keep your eyes peeled for the enormous variety of fauna that can be seen here – wallabies, sugar gliders, quolls, flying foxes, dragon-like water monitors and an array of birds.
In case you have more time to dedicate to Kakadu National Park – don’t miss the most outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie and Ubirr. See about a third of Australia’s bird species at Yellow Water. Take a plunge at the Gunlom plunge pool – made famous in the 1986 film “Crocodile Dundee”. Take a scenic flight to see 200-metres high Jim Jam Falls and Twin Falls. Go for a walk in the Bush on one of the 30 established walking trails, some of them guided by park rangers. See more birds at the best bird-watch spots in Kakadu at the Mamukala wetlands.
Nitmiluk National Park is next on our list, surrounding 13 magnificent gorges carved in the ancient sandstone by Katherine River as well some some prime examples of ancient Aboriginal rock art. Visit Tiwi Islands – the islands of smiles – an off-beaten path destination to meet the locals, almost 90% of whom are of Aboriginal descent with their art, excellent fishing and love of football. At the Territory Wildlife Park and the adjacent Berry Springs Nature Park see the animals and plants of the Top End through treetop aviaries, natural lagoons and nature walks. Mary River Wetlands are a home to the largest concentration of salt-water crocodiles in the world– many of the 100,000 estimated to live in Australia, are to be found here. Take a soak in one of the thermal pools at Tjuwaliyn/ Douglas Hot Springs – but don’t forget to check the temperature first!
There is a number of sites in the city, dedicated to Darwin’s role in the Wold War II. The Darwin Military Museum is the oldest military history museum in the city and it displays a range of military artefacts, uniforms, photographs, weaponry, propaganda pieces, vehicles and artillery pieces, telling the story of all conflicts where Australian troops were involved. But the star of the show is the Defence of Darwin Experience – an immersive, interactive experience about the drama of the Japanese bombings on 19th Feb 1942. The Museum is situated at East Point Reserve where you can also swim year-round at saltwater Lake Alexander, walk, cycle or just have a picnic and relax in the green space.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility, called RFDS by the locals, reveals the tail of the birth and growth of the RFDS and its pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses and patients. The WWII Storage Tunnels are a unique tourist attraction, constructed during the war to protect the oil supplies of the city from the Japanese, and now housing a collection of photographs of Allied wartime activities. The Darwin Aviation Museum is where you can see an impressive collection of aviation artefacts, including one of the airplanes that Darwin was bombed by in WWII, documentation and relics related to the WWII aircraft crash sites and the defence of Darwin.
Crocodile interaction must be on your list when you visit Darwin. The adrenaline junkies can try the “Cage of Death” where an acrylic box is submerged into the living quarters of a large 18-foot saltwater crocodile at Crocosaurus Cove Park – an attraction/zoo facility that hosts over 70 species of reptiles from the Northern Territory’s Top End, Kimberley Region and Australia’s Red Centre. Crocodylus Park& Zoo is a more natural experience, yet very close to the city, where you can come face to face with the largest reptiles in the planet in their natural habitat. Feed an adult croc and hold a baby one, encounter playful meerkats, monkeys, tortoises, chameleons and blue-tongue lizards. Feed some of the big cats – the tigers and lions are fed outside of their enclosure, in a completely safe manner.
There are more interesting museums and galleries to see in Darwin, time permitting. Head over to the unique Fannie Bay Gaol – a former prison, now a museum, and discover the stories behind this historic site that operated for nearly 100 years. The Chinese Museum is a small museum that explores the history of Chinese people that settled in the Northernmost section of the Northern territory from 1874 to the present day. The temple next door is Chung Wah Temple, opened in 1887 and a home to a sacred tree, thought to be a direct descendant from the Bodhi tree where Buddha sat under when he got enlightenment. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is the largest facility of its kind in the Northern Territory, a home to artistic, cultural and scientific collections and research programs, opened since 1981 and welcoming over 300,000 visitors each year. It presents Aboriginal culture, natural sciences, history and art focusing on Northern and Central Australia. A few more galleries sell Contemporary and Aboriginal, highly collectible art, such as Aboriginal Bush Traders, Nomad Art Gallery, Outstation Gallery and Mbantua Fine Art Gallery.
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