Australia’s Northern Territory is a veritable gold mine for kid-friendly activities. There’s an abundance of wildlife to fascinate kids of all ages, countless outdoor adventures to be had and plenty of beaches, billabongs and water parks to keep the whole family cool. Add in the fact that the territory’s capital, Darwin, doesn’t exactly experience winter, but rather a wet and dry season, and you have yourself a warm and inviting year-round holiday destination.
Here are our top tips for families wondering what to see and do in Darwin. (Spoiler: you’ll even find some free things to do in Darwin, as well as other budget-friendly options).
Travel from Darwin to Kakadu National Park
To truly experience the magic of Australia’s Top End, be sure to head out to Kakadu National Park from Darwin. Kakadu is Australia’s largest terrestrial national park, covering almost 20,000-square kilometres from the coast in the NT’s north to the vast desert and rocky ridges of the south. This area is incredibly important to Australia thanks to its ecological and biological diversity and indigenous heritage, and kids are guaranteed to be awed by its beauty and undeniable mystique. It is within driving distance of Darwin, so a day trip is completely possible for those not wanting to spend a night in the wilderness.
Joining an organised tour from Darwin gives you the benefit of an expert tour guide, who will point out all the natural features of this geographically unique pocket of the world. However, you can also hire a car and drive out to the park on your own to save the cost of a tour. Whichever option you choose, the best time of year to visit Darwin and Kakadu National Park is from mid-June to mid-September, when the days are typically cooler and drier. That said, there’s something truly magical about witnessing Kakadu transform in the wet season. Some of the sites to see within Kakadu include Ubirr, Jim Jam Falls and the Gunlom Plunge Pool.
If your itinerary doesn’t allow enough time to head out to Kakadu, fear not! You can still experience the Top End’s unique landscape without venturing far from Darwin. Litchfield National Park is located a 90-minute drive south of Darwin, and offers striking waterfalls, picturesque rainforest walking trails and unique fields of termite mounds that are sure to intrigue kids and adults alike.
Cool Off at Palmerston Water Park
When you find yourself needing a little bit of a reprieve from the Darwin heat, head on over to the recreation park in Palmerston. Just a 20-minute drive from the Darwin city centre, this water park features a six-lane racer water slide, which stands at 14 metres high. For families with younger children, there are also two wet play areas, including a play pad for kids 10 years and under and a splash pad for children six years and above, which features an array of water cannons and buckets. Best of all, unlike a lot of other water parks in Darwin, entry here is free.
Visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
While a lot of Darwin’s biggest attractions can be found in the outdoors, there are also a number of exciting things to do in Darwin that involve air conditioning. One of these is a visit to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. This might not automatically seem like a kid-friendly day out, but rest assured that the museum has been designed for visitors of all ages. There is a selection of both permanent and rotating exhibits, including an extensive NT flora and fauna section and a stuffed 5.1-metre crocodile named ‘Sweetheart’. Plus, there is a Discovery Centre that’s exclusively for kids, and includes a number of excellent educational exhibits. All this, plus free entry, makes for one exciting afternoon.
Wander the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
If you find yourself in Darwin on a Thursday or Sunday during the dry season (May to October), you absolutely have to stop by the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. These markets boast some 60 food stalls serving up exotic dishes from around the world. There’s also much in the way of kids entertainment, with pony rides and roaming circus acts also on offer. The main attraction, however, is the spectacular sunset, so after you’ve decided on a few dishes for dinner, settle down on the beach to watch the sun sink behind the horizon. The car park is free, but it’s best to get there before 6.30pm to secure a good spot. And be sure to arrive with an empty stomach!
Explore the Botanic Gardens
Gardens are sure to be a winner with kids of all ages – especially those in need of burning off extra energy. Covering 42 hectares, these gardens boast numerous winding paths, streams, tunnels and tropical orchards, plus a shady canopy of rain trees and tall palms. The gardens have been a fixture of Darwin’s urban sprawl for more than 130 years, and have somehow managed to survive both World War II and Cyclone Tracy. As such, they are a truly special place to spend an afternoon. Plus, when the heat does become a bit too much, you can retreat to the garden’s beautiful cafe, housed in what was once a quaint church.
Visit a Darwin Crocodile Farm
When you think of the Northern Territory, no doubt one of the first things that comes to mind is its diverse wildlife. So many of Australia’s weird and wonderful critters call the Top End home, yet perhaps none are as simultaneously fascinating and terrifying as the saltwater crocodile. These giant prehistoric reptiles are native to the Northern Territory, owing to their fondness for warm temperatures. And while it is not advised to go out into the crocodile’s natural habitat without a local guide, it is possible for kids to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures in total safety.
Your first option is to visit Crocodylus Park, which is a 15-minute drive from Darwin. While not actually free to visit (a family pass for two adults and two children will set you back $105 AUD), the experience itself is truly priceless. Here, kids can spy both saltwater and freshwater crocs in their natural habitat, with feeding tours occurring daily at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. Plus, the park also includes a wildlife section, which houses big cats, reptiles, monkeys and other Australian animals.
Your other option is the similarly not-exactly-free-but-completely-worthwhile Crocosaurus Cove. This one is located right in the heart of the city, and features the famous (or infamous, considering how steely your nerves are) ‘Cage of Death’. Not for the faint of heart, this immersive experience allows adults and kids 15 years and older to swim with a huge crocodile (from within the confines of an acrylic enclosure, that is). If this sounds a little bit too extreme, there are plenty of other attractions here to keep the kids entertained. There are more than 70 species on display in the reptile enclosure, with the opportunity to get up close to some of these curious critters in a Meet the Reptile show or reptile feeding demonstration. Family packages start from $77.90 AUD, with lifetime memories for your kids coming free of charge.
Find cheap flights to Darwin for the whole family with Webjet and add some of the free Darwin activities above to your holiday itinerary. You can also book hotels, holiday packages and car hire with Webjet to make planning your Darwin holiday even easier.