Top End Activities
Worth getting out of bed for...
- The only way to really see this ruggedly beautiful and largely uninhabited landscape is from the air. Kakadu Air (1800 089 113; www.kakaduair.com.au) and North Australian Helicopters (1800 621 717; www.northaustralianhelicopters.com.au) offers scenic tours.
- Arts and culture
- The Top End’s cultural centre is indisputably Darwin. There’s a great collection of Aboriginal works at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (08 8999 8264; www.magnt.nt.gov.au), where there’s also a powerful exhibition on Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the city on Christmas Eve 1974. The East Point Military Museum (08 8981 9702) provides a sobering reminder of the capital’s World War II history, when Japanese bombs rained down on the city.
- Something for nothing
- Take part in the daily fish-feeding frenzy that takes place in Doctor’s Gully at the end of Darwin Esplanade. Hundreds of fish swarm into the cove at high tide to be met by adults and excitable children with armfuls of bread. You’ll have them eating out of your hand – literally. Times are published in the local Northern Territory News.
- The Top End is the best place in Australia to pick up some affordable Aboriginal art, either directly from the artist in the markets or from one of the numerous galleries that can be found in and around Darwin city centre. The world’s best South Sea pearls are farmed in the region too. Snap some up from Paspaley Pearls (08 8982 5555), on the corner of Bennett Street and the Mall in Darwin. It’s also acceptable to buy a didgeridoo from here – you are in their original home, after all. Just don’t go mad playing it once you get back home. It’s rarely appreciated.
- Take a scenic flight to the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park in the adjacent Kimberley region, where you’ll fly over the 45,000 hectares of orange- and black-striped beehive-like mounds that make up the famous Bungle Bungle range.
- Best beach
- Casuarina Beach, just minutes from the city centre, is the best of the glorious white-sand swathes close to the territory capital. Prudes beware; it does have a ‘clothes optional’ section. Swimming in the sea during the humid tropical summer can be dangerous – keep an eye out for deadly box jellyfish, and take note of any warning signs.
- Perfect picnic
- If you’re visiting the Top End during the dry season, stock up on supplies from Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Market, then head out to either Berry Springs or Annaburroo Billabong, both near the Mary River, for a lovely day of lazy lounging and swimming.
- Litchfield National Park, just 100 kilometres south of Darwin, has spectacular spring-fed waterfalls that cascade down rocky cliffs into crocodile-free swimming holes. There are plenty of clearly marked walking trails that leave from the car parks, including one that takes walkers through a series of unusual rock towers known as the Lost City.
- Crocosaurus Cove (08 8981 7522; www.crocosauruscove.com) in the centre of Darwin houses some of the biggest captive saltwater crocodiles in the world. Thrillseekers will love the Cage of Death, a Perspex box that is lowered into a croc-swarming tank. It may be perfectly safe, but it still provides a serious adrenaline rush.
- The Mindil Beach Sunset Market in Darwin is a must if you’re visiting the region during the dry season. Held on Thursday and Sunday evenings, it draws a huge crowd who come for the cosmopolitan cuisine, free entertainment and fabulous sunsets. Sample food from more than 30 nations, and pick up everything from Aboriginal art and crafts to kangaroo-skin belts. Round off your evening at the harbourside Deckchair Cinema (www.deckchaircinema.com), where you can watch stars both on the screen and in the sky.
- Crocodile is a popular delicacy as farms here breed these snappy creatures for their skins and meat. Hey, it really does taste a lot like chicken.
June Join Darwin’s thriving Greek community for Greek Glenti, two days of dancing, music, food and wine down at the city’s Bicentennial Park. August Held annually in Arnhemland, the Garma Festival (www.garma.telstra.com) is one of Australia’s most significant events, showcasing the country’s indigenous cultures, and it is a great opportunity to learn about the heritage and traditions of Australia’s original inhabitants. The popular two-week Fringe at the Bank festival (www.darwinfringe.com.au) – originally named the Darwin Fringe Festival – celebrates the unique culture of the Top End with concerts, exhibitions and parties based at the old Commonwealth Bank building on the corner of Smith and Bennett Streets.