Discover the best of balmy Darwin and nearby Litchfield National Park on this three day trip up north.
By Ellie Schneider
Swap your suit for the uniform of the tropics – T-shirt and shorts – and explore the vibrant, multicultural city of Darwin. Visit chic Cullen Bay Marina, follow a heritage walking trail around the wharf and tuck into exotic delicacies at Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Beyond Darwin's compact city centre you can cruise next to acrobatic crocodiles on the Adelaide River and swim beneath tumbling waterfalls at Litchfield National Park.
Start your first day in Darwin with a leisurely breakfast overlooking the luxury homes and swaying sailboats of Cullen Bay Marina. Then visit nearby Myilly Point Historical Precinct, where four cottages, built for high-ranking public servants during the late 1930s, have become famous examples of tropical architecture. One of them, Burnett House, operates as a museum and is open daily to the public. Browse a wonderful collection of Aboriginal art and learn about the region's culture and history – including a realistic exhibition on the devastating effects of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 – at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Stop for a picnic lunch in East Point Reserve and a dip in the protected, pastel blue waters of Lake Alexander. There is a paved nature walk along the clifftop and military artefacts, including gun emplacements from World War II.
Be immersed in the story of Darwin’s role in World War II at the Defence of Darwin Experience, an interactive, multimedia exhibition located next to the Darwin Military Museum. Then meander through orchids, bromeliads, cycads and palms in George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. Head to Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which runs on Thursday and Sunday evenings from April to October, to taste some of the best food in the city – try grilled crocodile, Sri Lankan curry and barbecued seafood. Nab a spot on the sand and watch as the sun turns the sky vibrant shades of pink as it descends over the Timor Sea. The market also features scores of stalls selling handmade jewellery, arts and crafts. At the end of the day you're footsteps away from your accommodation at Skycity Resort.
Sit down to breakfast at Alley Cats Patisserie and tuck into sweet or savoury waffles, decadent thick shakes (such as Snickers or Oreo) and excellent coffee. From here it's a quick walk to Parliament House and the historic wharf precinct where Japanese bombs fell during World War II. Follow the Heritage and Cultural Trail to retrace the steps of early settlers, taking in Darwin's maritime history, sites sacred to the Larrakia people, the traditional owners of the land, and underground tunnels used for storing oil during World War II. Go for a swim in the Recreation or Wave Lagoon then sample fresh local seafood along Stokes Hill Wharf.
Take an hour long drive south-east of Darwin to reach the Adelaide River, where you can join a jumping crocodile cruise and peer into the jaws of prehistoric crocs. Or stay in town and come face to face with Australian saltwater and freshwater crocodiles at Crocodylus Park. The park also features a Crocodile Museum and houses other animals including kangaroos and wallabies, water buffalo, sea turtles and snakes. In the evening dine on buzzing Mitchell Street, making reservations at Hanuman to try Asian flavours such as lamb korma or butter chicken. Leave room for roasted banana and flaked coconut ice cream. Afterwards catch a flick under the stars at Deckchair Cinema, which screens films seven nights a week during the dry season (mid April to mid November).
Wake early to embark on the 1 ½ hour drive south to stunning Litchfield National Park. Here you'll spend the day following walking trails through lush monsoon rainforest and swimming in cool, clear plunge pools. A sealed road links the park's major attractions, however you'll need a 4WD to access the Lost City and the Reynolds River Track. Start your journey at Wangi Falls, where you can have a swim and bite to eat at the café before following the one hour (return) walk to the top of the falls. The cascading twin torrents of Florence Falls offer another spectacular swimming hole, which is accessed via a staircase with 160 steps. There is also a viewing platform at the top of the falls.
Jump in a 4WD drive to see the weathered sandstone pillars of the Lost City, which were formed by thousands of years of erosion and evoke the remains of an ancient civilisation. Or get a bird's-eye view of the Lost City and the tumbling waterfalls aboard a scenic helicopter flight, with options from six to 60 minutes. Back in the car you can drive to see the historic Bamboo Creek tin mine and Blyth Homestead, as well as a field of giant termite mounds, some as large as two metres (6.5 feet) tall. At the end of the day cool off at Buley Rockholes, a series of cascading waterfalls and rockholes, easily accessed from the car park. Spend the night at Litchfield Tourism Park, where you'll find a range of accommodation including a homestead, cabins and campsites, or hop in the car for the drive back to Darwin. On your way back up the highway, stop at the Territory Wildlife Park to get up close to fish, birds of prey, nocturnal animals and reptiles in their natural habitats.