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 on-board commentary. Hop on and off as often as you like at designated stops. Visit 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 and see the best of the city, but you’ll also hear some of the extraordinary history that has shaped this oversized outback country town.
Big Bus Tours offers 24 or 48 hour tickets. There are two routes — both with recorded commentary in English. The Morning Tour (Red Route) departs every 60 minutes from 9am to 11am from the Visitor Information Centre on the intersection of Smith and Bennett Streets. There are eleven stops along the way. The Afternoon Tour (Blue Route) then takes over. It runs every 90 minutes and covers the same stops, but also includes a trip out to East Point Reserve and 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 at all the main attractions en route.
The first stop is Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of the city’s vibrant Mitchell Street bar precinct. 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, we 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 towards the elite Cullen Bay Marina — which operates on a lock system to create a secure harbour for small to medium sized boats. Harbour ferries leave from here for Mandorah on Cox Peninsula, or Crab Claw Island — where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch.
As the bus heads back up the hill, you’ll pass 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 and 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. From here you can visit Skycity Casino, the Botanical Gardens and the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (which operate from the end of April to October on Thursday and Sunday evenings). Make this your final stop on market days and enjoy the huge range of multicultural cuisines, arts, crafts and entertainment. Settle in on the beach to watch the magic of the sunset over the Arafura Sea.
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens are a vast tropical wonderland. See colourful heliconias, gingers, tropical orchids, bromeliads and the African-Madagascan garden, which showcases baobab and boab trees.
At the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory on Bullocky Point you’ll find internationally renowned artistic, cultural and scientific collections, and the emotive Cyclone Tracy display — where you can listen to survivors’ stories from that fateful Christmas Eve in 1974. Entry is free.
After the Fannie Bay Gaol stop, the morning bus heads back towards the city via Parap. The afternoon bus turns left along Alec Fong Lim Drive (past Lake Alexander — a year-round safe swimming lake) and continues on through East Point Reserve to the Darwin Military Museum, which houses the Defence of Darwin Experience. The museum opened on 18 February 2012 — the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin — and is the first facility in Australia to provide an immersive multimedia experience that tells the story of Darwin’s role in World War II. Entry tickets can be purchased from your driver.
East Point Reserve is a special place for both locals and visitors. Rich in history and biodiversity, it encompasses 30 hectares of native vegetation and is home to a population of over 200 agile (or sandy) wallabies — one of few so close to a capital city. From the bus you can usually see 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.
Next stop is Stokes Hill Wharf, which offers a multitude of cafes and restaurants to enjoy, as well as two unique experiences housed together in the old cruise ship terminal building. Step back in time to the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942 via a virtual reality experience, and learn the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service — which 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 to the Waterfront. There are a variety of shops, restaurants and hotels, long with shaded parklands, a year-round safe swimming beach, a play area and a wave pool. The excellent Deckchair Cinema and the famous World War II oil tunnels are located adjacent to the Waterfront.
The bus then heads back up to the CBD and circles around State Square. See Parliament House, the Supreme Court, historic Government House, Survivors Lookout, the Administrator’s offices (the original court house, police station and gaol), Christ Church Cathedral (where only the stone portico remained after Tracy), Browns Mart Theatre and the Old Town Hall ruins. The final stop is the Visitor Information Centre.
This intersection is interesting in itself. It was once known as ‘Bank Corner’, as there were banks on all four corners. The Visitor Information Centre building was previously the home of the Reserve Bank, while the Paspaley building housed the Commercial Bank of Australia. The Rorke’s Drift Bar building was once occupied by the Commonwealth Bank (the old vault is now a private dining room). Westpac (originally the Bank of New South Wales) still occupies the remaining corner. There’s an exhibition of historical photographs inside.
While Darwin is small compared to other Australian capital cities, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is five kilometres from the CBD, and the Darwin Military Museum is ten kilometres away. Those transfers alone make this Darwin hop on hop off bus tour worth every cent, and you’ll learn so much along the way.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism NT. Image: Shaana McNaught. Additional images: Bigstock
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!