Enjoy one or two amazing days exploring the Northern Territory capital on this Darwin hop on hop off bus tour. You’ll get a superb view of the city’s key sights from the upper deck and enjoy comprehensive recorded commentary. Hop on and off as often as you like at designated stops, including Crocosaurus Cove, Mindil Beach, and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Duration: 24/48 hours
Whether you have a day or a week in Darwin, you just have to ‘do it’.
By ‘it’, I mean the Darwin hop on hop off bus tour. Not only will you get your bearings, but thanks to the on-board commentary, you’ll hear some of the extraordinary history that has shaped this oversized outback country town. I may be a local, but I learned a huge amount about my home turf while researching this story!
Big Bus Tours offers 24 or 48 hour tickets and operates on selected days. There are two routes — both with recorded commentary in English. The Red Route bus departs every 60 minutes from 9am from the Visitor Information Centre at the intersection of Smith and Bennett Streets in the CBD. There are eleven stops in total. The Blue Route bus departs every 90 minutes from 12noon. It makes the same stops, but also includes a trip out to East Point Reserve to the Darwin Military Museum.
The bus is not air-conditioned, but refreshing tropical breezes circulate downstairs and through the open upper deck — which has a roof for sun protection. You can hop on and off the bus at all the main attractions en route.
The first stop is Crocosaurus Cove, located right in the heart of the city on Mitchell Street. Here you can get up close and personal with the resident crocodiles, join in the action at feeding time, hold a baby croc, and if you’re game enough, be lowered into the water in the Cage of Death to swim with the big boys.
From there, you’ll drive past Doctors Gully — the home of Aquascene and its famous daily fish feeding frenzy. Hundreds of friendly wild fish swim in to the shallow shoreline at high tide to be hand-fed fresh bread. Ask your driver what time this will occur.
Passing through the inner-city suburb of Larrakeyah, the bus heads out to the elite Cullen Bay Marina, then past the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Here you can see four heritage-listed homes that were constructed in the 1930s and survived both the bombing of Darwin by Japanese forces in World War II and the might of infamous Cyclone Tracy. They were all designed by celebrated architect Beni Burnett. One of them — Burnett House — now operates as a museum.
The next stop is Mindil Beach. Here you can hop off and visit the lush George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. See colourful heliconias, gingers, tropical orchids, bromeliads and the African-Madagascan garden, which features baobab and boab trees. The famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are held along the beachfront on Thursday and Sunday evenings from the end of April through to October. Make this your final stop on market days and enjoy the huge range of multicultural cuisines and entertainment on offer. Then find a spot on the beach to watch the sun set over the Arafura Sea.
At the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory on Bullocky Point, you’ll find internationally renowned artistic, cultural and scientific collections. The emotive Cyclone Tracy display is a must-see. Listen to survivors’ stories from that fateful Christmas Day in 1974. Entry to the museum is free of charge.
After the stop at the heritage Fannie Bay Gaol, the morning bus heads back towards the city via the suburb of Parap. The afternoon bus turns left along Alec Fong Lim Drive and continues on past Lake Alexander to East Point Reserve, home to the Darwin Military Museum. The museum’s immersive multimedia Defence of Darwin Experience opened on the 18th of February 2012 — the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin — and details the events that saw more than 230 civilians and service personnel killed.
East Point Reserve itself is a beautiful spot. Rich in history and biodiversity, it encompasses 30 hectares of native vegetation and is home to a population of agile (or sandy) wallabies — one of few so close to a capital city. From the top deck of the bus you should be able to spot the wallabies grazing. The driver will make a stop so you can take photos.
From there, the bus heads back to the old gaol and along Ross Smith Avenue. This road is the original runway on which Ross and Keith Smith landed their Vickers Vimy bomber in December 1919, having won an England to Australia flight contest with a prize of £10,000.
The next stop is Stokes Hill Wharf, which houses a number of cafes and restaurants and the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility. Learn more about the bombing of Darwin via an excellent virtual reality experience, and meet hologram characters that bring the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service to life. It was launched in the Northern Territory in 1939.
If you feel like stretching your legs, you can walk from the wharf to the Darwin Waterfront precinct (alternatively, stay on the bus until it reaches the new cruise ship terminal; it’s a shorter walk from there). The Waterfront has a variety of shops and restaurants, along with shaded parklands, a year-round safe swimming beach, wave pool and play area. The popular Deckchair Cinema and famous World War II oil storage tunnels are located adjacent to the precinct.
The bus then heads into the CBD and circles around State Square. See Parliament House, the Supreme Court, historic Government House, Survivors Lookout, the Administrator’s Offices (Darwin’s original court house, police station and gaol), Christ Church Cathedral (where only the stone portico remained after Cyclone Tracy), Browns Mart Theatre, and the Old Town Hall ruins (also the result of the deadly cyclone). The tour circuit finishes back at the Visitor Information Centre.
While Darwin is a relatively compact place, this hop on hop off bus tour makes sightseeing a breeze and provides a convenient transfer to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and Darwin Military Museum (which are both located well outside the city centre). Sit back, relax and enjoy!
Nannette Holliday was obviously born to travel — Holliday is her real name. A former TV and radio presenter, Nannette’s globetrotting has earned her the nickname ‘International Woman of Mystery’ amongst friends, while also providing a rich library of experiences to draw on creatively. Many are woven into her first novel: The Sting of Fate, and Nannette is currently working on the sequel. When she’s not drafting chapters for herself, Nannette writes for a variety of magazines, and even ghostwrites books for other people. It all helps keep her in the manner she has become accustomed to — indulging in world travel, fine food and great wine!