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Closer to the capital of Indonesia than Australia, Darwin is Australia’s gateway to Southeast Asia. Looking out over the Timor Sea, the smallest of Australia’s major cities and capital of the sparsely populated Northern Territory also serves as the hub from which to explore the continent’s Top End, an explosion of nature and culture
While this tropical capital boasting superb museums and colourful festivals only has approximately 130,000 residents, they represent a rainbow of cultures and ethnicities, leading to a vibrant market and crafts scene as well as some excellent dining opportunities.
First settled in the early 1860s, what began as a small frontier town survived numerous WWII-era bombing raids during what was known as the “Pearl Harbour of Australia” as well as some wicked tropical cyclones which decimated most of the town.
Before taking your Darwin 4WD Hire into the outback, Darwin is certainly worth a few days’ exploration. Start with the scenic Darwin Harbour, surprisingly larger than the Sydney Harbour, with lots to do including birdwatching, boating, cycling, and picnicking. Learn more about this fascinating region by visiting the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The gallery portion showcases Aboriginal art including carvings and bark paintings, as well as ceremonial burial poles. The museum section has a sobering exhibit on the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy which hit Darwin over Christmas 1974, razing 70% of the city and leaving more than half the population homeless.
War buffs will want to head over to the Darwin Aviation Museum (previously the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre). The museum is home to 19 civil and military aircraft, in addition to engines, relics of crashed aircraft, and other aviation artefacts. You can also see the only known colour footage of Japan’s first air-raid over Darwin in 1942 when the city was bombed more times than Pearl Harbour.
For more into the region’s ancient history, take a self-guided walk along the Aboriginal Plant Use trails at the spacious George Brown Botanic Gardens (free admission). Together with the Coastal Plant Use trail that follows a boardwalk through wetlands and mangroves, visitors can learn how indigenous plants were used by local Aboriginal peoples.
Another place to commune with Nature is the East Point Reserve, the largest park in Darwin. With over 200 ha of space filled with playgrounds, trails for walking and cycling, and fun playgrounds, it’s great for the entire family. The reserve is also home to scenic Lake Alexander, fed by nearby Fanny Bay. Its shores and water provide a safe environment year-round with activities on offer including paddle boarding and swimming. Make a day out of it by unloading your Darwin 4WD Hire and making use of the provided BBQ stations and picnic tables. Plan on staying until late afternoon for some of Darwin’s best sunsets.
Young and old alike will also enjoy close up encounters with some of Darwin’s animal residents. Located in Doctors Gully about 15 minutes from downtown, Aquascene is popular for its fish feeding sessions during high tide when large numbers of fish including catfish, bream, batfish and barramundi (and sometimes even rays, cod, and parrot fish) come up to the shallows to be hand fed. This tradition has been on-going for the last 60 or so years, acclimatizing the fish to human interaction. Just next to Aquascene is Crocodylus Park & Zoo. While the zoo is home to both native and non-native animals including big cats, primates, and birds, the star residents are definitely the thousand or so crocs, from hatchings to behemoths measuring almost 5 meters long! The zoo organizes croc feedings daily (after which you can take photos with a baby croc) as well as other animal encounters with meerkats, monkeys, dingoes, and more.
For something a bit wilder, try heading to the Casuarina Coastal Reserve. This 1,500ha reserve is situated in Darwin’s northern suburbs, and features beach and bush with wildlife spottings in abundance, including all sorts of birds like striking red-tailed black cockatoos, cormorants and ospreys. Come during breeding season and lend a hand at turtle hatchling release events. Otherwise, the reserve is popular for its bushwalking, cycling and mountain biking trails, or picnicking by the beach. The reserve also has areas of mangroves, paperbark forests and monsoon vine thickets to explore.
On par with Darwin’s natural attractions are its multi-cultural ones. Not only does Darwin have the highest proportion of Indigenous Australians of any Australian capital city, it’s also home to some 70 ethnicities. See many of these wonderful cultures on display all in one place at Mindil Beach Sunset Market, held Thursday and Sunday evenings between April and October. Order a plate of food from the dozens of stalls featuring the cuisines of Asia, Africa, Europe and more, and bring it down to the beach to enjoy. Afterwards, browse the many stalls selling artsy, handmade goods, or take in some of the live performances, including music, theatre, and performance art. Other foodie destinations in Darwin include the posh Cullen Bay just north of downtown where you can nosh on a gourmet burger while watching the boats, and the relaxed Stokes Hill Wharf, home to spectacular panoramic views and a handful of alfresco dining restaurants.
Once you’ve had your fill of the creature comforts of civilisation, it’s time to steer your Darwin 4WD Hire south and explore the spectacular backcountry of the Top End.
The jewel of this region is undoubted Kakadu National Park. At 1.7 million hectares, this gorgeous park is Australia’s largest, measuring 100 km across by 200 km deep. The park is known for its abundant wildlife, including frogs, reptiles, and birds. Crocs can be seen at the scenic cascading Twin Falls, accessible by driving 100 km south of Jabiru Township, half of it along the Jim Jim Track, an unsealed corrugated gravel road with drifts and sandy patches, perfect for your Darwin 4WD Hire. Kakadu is also known for having a spectacular collection of rock paintings possibly as old as 20,000 years. Best of all, boardwalks allow easy access to two of the most notable galleries, at Ubirr and Nourlangie. For more on human history in Kakadu, the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre (located by the Cooinda Lodge Kakadu towards the centre of the park) has an extensive exhibit of artefacts, videos, and artworks telling the stories of the traditional owners of the land. For more about the plants and animals of Kakadu, watch the 25-minute video presentation of the park’s many landscapes at the Bowali Visitor Centre as well as displays on what you might see in the park.
Just west of Kakadu is Arnhem Land, what many call one of Australia’s last true wilderness areas. This vast 95,000 sq km area of tropical woodland, gorges, rivers and wetlands remains pristine and untouched partly because it is accessible only by plane or 4WD and also because it is carefully managed Aboriginal Land, owned by the Yolngu people, one of the world’s longest existing indigenous cultures. Make sure your Darwin 4WD Bush Camper is fully stocked because you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient with food, water, and fuel to explore secluded Arnhem. But the rewards are great, including world-class barramundi, sailfish and marlin fishing in an area with little development or competition, excellent birdwatching featuring a wide range of species, and some fascinating Aboriginal art, including unique Yolngu milkwood carvings.
Bordering Kakadu to the south is Nitmiluk National Park, better known to some as Katherine Gorge. Managed by the local Jawoyn people, this nearly 3,000 sq km park is home to no less than 13 gorges dramatically carved out of ancient sandstone by the glassy Katherine River, a year-round oasis of diverse flora and fauna. Stop in at the town of Katherine for its excellent visitor centre and good selection of shops to stock up on supplies. Once in the park, there are myriad options to explore. Get bird’s eye views with a helicopter tour, the only way to see all 13 gorges in a single 20-minute flight. Otherwise, hire a canoe for a half-day, full-day, or even overnight. If you prefer to leave the paddling to others, hop aboard one of the popular cruises on offer, including sunset and dinner cruises. For a slower, more personal engagement with Nitmiluk, hike the park’s more than 120km of trails, with the jewel being the 58km-long Jatbula trail, a 5-day epic hike taking in majestic waterfalls and ancient rock art with plenty of swimming holes to cool off along the way, including Crystal Falls with its deep, clear pools and rapids (along with a handy campsite), and the photogenic Northern Rockhole where you can bath underneath its single drop waterfall and swim in its calm, green waters.
While not as well-known as While not as well-known as Kakadu, 1,500 sq km Litchfield National Park is quite spectacular on its own merits, and just over an hour’s drive from Darwin, making it a popular day trip option. However, avoid the weekend and make a real adventure out of it by parking your Darwin 4WD Bush Camper Hire in one of the park’s six scenic campgrounds, including next to 4WD-only Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls and Florence Falls. There’s much to explore in Litchfield, including 2m-high “magnetic” termite mounds (so-named because their edges point north-south to limit sun exposure) and gorgeous swimming holes surrounded by forest and fed by waterfalls. Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, Buley Rockhole, and Tolmer Falls are some of the more popular, many with BBQ and toilet facilities. For bushwalkers, the 39km-long Tabletop Track is truly spectacular, allowing walkers to experience the park’s woodlands, pools, and wilderness in quiet serenity, away from daytrippers. Steer your Darwin 4WD Hire along tricky tracks that crisscross the park, including the 4WD-only track off the sealed Litchfield Park Road leading to the 500-million-year-old sandstone outcrops known as the Lost City. Also, the 44km-long, 4WD-only Reynolds River Track towards the south of Litchfield is an off-roading favourite, leading to the sealed Daly River Road, with access to excellent fishing and scenic hot springs and gorges. Expect to navigate some deep river crossings and sandy sections as it passes the Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls, and the Blyth Homestead, a pine structure held together with wire, dating back to early pioneer times., 1,500 sq km Litchfield National Park is quite spectacular on its own merits, and just over an hour’s drive from Darwin, making it a popular day trip option. However, avoid the weekend and make a real adventure out of it by parking your Darwin 4WD Bush Camper Hire in one of the park’s six scenic campgrounds, including next to 4WD-only Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls and Florence Falls. There’s much to explore in Litchfield, including 2m-high “magnetic” termite mounds (so-named because their edges point north-south to limit sun exposure) and gorgeous swimming holes surrounded by forest and fed by waterfalls. Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, Buley Rockhole, and Tolmer Falls are some of the more popular, many with BBQ and toilet facilities. For bushwalkers, the 39km-long Tabletop Track is truly spectacular, allowing walkers to experience the park’s woodlands, pools, and wilderness in quiet serenity, away from daytrippers. Steer your Darwin 4WD Hire along tricky tracks that crisscross the park, including the 4WD-only track off the sealed Litchfield Park Road leading to the 500-million-year-old sandstone outcrops known as the Lost City. Also, the 44km-long, 4WD-only Reynolds River Track towards the south of Litchfield is an off-roading favourite, leading to the sealed Daly River Road, with access to excellent fishing and scenic hot springs and gorges. Expect to navigate some deep river crossings and sandy sections as it passes the Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls, and the Blyth Homestead, a pine structure held together with wire, dating back to early pioneer times.
On the way back to Darwin, veer northwest just over an hour to Dundee Beach, a relaxed coastal town on the shores of Fog Bay. Dundee Beach has some of the best fishing in the Top End with shore fishing from the rock wall or boat fishing around the nearby Perron Islands. Enjoy sunsets with drinks in hand or walk along the cliffs and look for turtles on the beach. For a more secluded spot, steer your Darwin 4WD Hire to the mouth of the Finniss River, fringed by mangroves.
Darwin is also the gateway to the outdoor adventures of Western Australia. Southwest of Darwin is Kununurra, the jumping off point to the eastern Kimberley. Its aboriginal name meaning “Big Water” is appropriate as Kununurra has superb lakes, waterfalls and world-class barramundi fishing.
From Kununurra, head south about 300km (the last 50km along unsealed road), to visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungle Range. These sandstone domes within the 3,000 sq km Purnululu National Park can reach heights of up to 300m and look like oversized beehives with their black and orange striations. Squeeze down narrow chasms and steep gorges for an otherworldly experience.
Kununurra is also the starting point of the famed Gibb River Road, a 660km-long track that cuts through the heart of the Kimberley to Derby on Australia’s west coast. Constructed in the 1960s under the “Beef Roads Programme”, the Gibb River Road winds its way through the traditional lands of many indigenous peoples, creating a trail used to move herds of cattle through the Kimberley. Today, it’s considered one of Australia’s great outback drives, with plenty of opportunities to stop along the way at swimming holes, thermal ponds, rainforests, cave systems, and more.
Once at Derby, explore the Dampier Peninsula and Cape Leveque with its pristine beaches and local pearl farms. If concluding your Australian 4WD adventure, you can arrange to drop off your Darwin 4WD Hire at nearby Broome 4WD Hire.
With your fully equipped Darwin 4WD Hire, all of Australia’s Top End awaits to be discovered on the ultimate self-drive adventure!
Darwin 4WD Hire is part of Australian 4WD Hire, a nationwide network of premium rental agencies strategically positioned in close proximity to all famous 4WD destinations and hotspots as well as major regional and capital cities throughout Australia, ensuring you’re never far from a pick-up point.
Australian 4WD Hire is renowned for our meticulously maintained vehicles and top-tier customer service. Our fleet is constantly being updated to ensure you enjoy your self-drive adventure in comfort and safety. 4WD Tourism is one of the best ways to see the broad range of amazing sights Australia has to offer, with the flexibility and freedom to discover the outdoors at your own pace. For your Darwin 4WD Hire adventure, please contact us at 1 300 360 339 or +61 7 5527 6191. Or email us at email@example.com or visit us at www.australian4wdhire.com.au