If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary to spice up your typical vacation, let me just tell you that Darwin’s the place to be. But be forewarned: this isn’t your normal vacation Down Under where you’ll cuddle koalas, go cafe-hopping, explore vineyards and shop for beachwear.
No, Darwin goes above and beyond to bring you incredible wildlife adventures and more. As the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, it’s most well-known for its signature crocodile attraction – the CAGE OF DEATH. We’ll get to that later, but did you know that there are more crocodiles in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in the world? That’s exactly why you can’t miss out on personal encounters with these majestic creatures when you visit Darwin.
If you have the idea that you need to hop on a long-haul flight to Australia to get to Darwin, take note that this coastal city which borders the Timor Sea is just a short 4.5-hour direct flight (via SilkAir) away from Singapore.
To start off your trip, enjoy the fun and free activities in Darwin. After that, empty your travel budget by splurging on these unique activities!
1. Go face to face with crocodiles in the Cage of Death
This is the kind of activity that people would put on their bucket list and fly all the way to Darwin for. Located at the heart of the city, Crocosaurus Cove is the proud home of Australia’s only crocodile dive. True to its namesake, you’ll be enclosed in a thick glass container for 15 minutes, where you’ll get really, really close to gigantic crocodiles underwater. And you won’t have to worry about getting photographic evidence of this incredible feat – on-site photographers are available to capture your entire experience!
If you’re up for the challenge but don’t want to go through it alone, you’ll be delighted to find out that the cage can accommodate a maximum of two people. So go ahead, drag your significant other, travel buddy, or family member along for this thrilling activity! Only eleven sessions run between 9.30am and 5pm daily, so be sure to check the availability and book your slot way in advance. Prices for this once-in-a-lifetime experience start from AUD170 (~S$171.50) for one person and AUD260 (~S$262.30) for two.
2. Catch ferocious crocodiles jumping in action
Here’s my personal favourite out of all the unique activities available in Darwin: the jumping crocodile cruise! It’s not every day that you get to watch a saltwater crocodile this close in action, with its ferocious jaws and swift moves as it bolts up in the air to grab its food. Keep your eyes peeled for any crocodile sightings as you cruise down the Adelaide River, and get your cameras ready to snap away any moment. Oh and most of all, remember to keep your hands and legs within the boat at all times if you don’t want to lose them!
I highly recommend going with Wallaroo Tours for this private jumping crocodile cruise experience. Our tour guide, Pat, constantly entertained us with interesting facts about crocodiles and Northern Territory’s wildlife as we cruised down the Adelaide River. As the day unfolded, he revealed his innate passion and enthusiasm for these creatures.
The entire journey was certainly one to remember. We were kept on the edge of our seats as we searched for crocodiles lying on the river bank, adrenaline coursing through our veins as we enticed them with chunks of meat. Observing them patiently was an exciting and thrilling experience – we never knew when they would attack their “breakfast”. Sometimes, they would spring surprises on us by lying in wait beneath the murky waters, moving slowly and stealthily before leaping upwards and engulfing that slab of meat in a flash.
We were even lucky enough to witness a male and female crocodile together, which was an unusual sighting. Adult male saltwater crocodiles are usually very territorial creatures so they protect their areas ferociously and will drive rival males away. However, they are willing to share their territory with females. Also, saltwater crocodiles are the most aggressive, potentially the most dangerous, and the largest crocodiles of all types, so being able to witness them in and out of the waters up close was a truly priceless experience.
Wallaroo Tours combines their tour of the jumping crocodile cruise together with a visit to Litchfield National Park. There’s even a complimentary champagne along with a spectacular view of Darwin’s sunset to end the day. Priced at AUD180 (~S$181), it’s certainly worth every single penny!
As mentioned in my previous article, Litchfield National Park is home to amazing waterholes such as Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls which are perfect for a refreshing summer dip. So don’t forget to bring along your swimsuits! I had such a rejuvenating time just swimming around in the clear, cool waters! Plus, the tour provides you with a delicious spread of sandwiches and fruits that you can feast on for lunch after taking your dip.
Litchfield National Park is also home to these towering magnetic termite mounds which can rise to almost three metres in height! There are different kinds of mounds, but these in particular (as pictured above) are called Cathedral Mounds and they were built by grass-eating termites. Unique to Litchfield National Park and the northern parts of Australia, these mounds can last for up to a staggering 100 years!
To round up the wonderful day well-spent, we ended the tour with a magnificent sunset view at East Point Beach, along with champagne toasts and delicious crackers with dips.
3. Cruise through the billabongs on an airboat and floatplane
The Outback Floatplane Adventure combines the best of THREE worlds – a floatplane ride, followed by a cruise, and then an airboat ride. You can even opt to top up another AUD100 for an exhilarating helicopter ride!
Starting off in the early morning, we hopped on board a floatplane for a scenic flight, complete with panoramic views of Darwin from above. It felt surreal to be so close to the cockpit and seeing Darwin from an aerial perspective. After a short 15-minute ride, we landed on the waters of Sweets Lagoon where our billabong adventure began.
Exploring the Sweets Lookout billabong in the early hours of the morning was a truly therapeutic experience. While the tranquillity I felt could hardly be put into words, the scene speaks for itself: I was seated on an open rooftop deck, the sun was rising slowly before my eyes, my ears were serenaded by the melodious chirping of birds, and all this was in the midst of lush greenery and calm waters. A simple yet sumptuous breakfast of fried eggs, grilled mushrooms, bacon, and tomatoes was even prepared for us on board the boat.
Once our stomachs were happy and satisfied, it was time to hop onto the airboat for our billabong adventure!
As our experienced driver skillfully navigated the airboat through the billabongs, we kept our eyes peeled for any interesting sightings of crocodiles. Needless to say, it was thrilling to observe these creatures up close in their natural habitat!
We had two airboat rides in total, one through the rainforest channels, and the other a fast lap. For the latter, we sped through the waters with the wind in our hairs, hanging on for our dear lives during the numerous sharp turns. If you’ll be taking this ride, be prepared to get wet especially if you’re sitting in the front row. Keep a lookout for Odis, nicknamed King of the Pontoon, a 54-year-old crocodile that’s around 4.6m in length.
Boasting a rich biodiversity, Sweets Lagoon is also home to cockatoos, egrets, kingfishers, geese and more!
Last but not least, the helicopter ride provided the perfect conclusion to our outback adventure – the truly spectacular aerial views of Litchfield National Park’s floodplains. I was surprised to find out that the helicopter HAD NO DOORS! Terrified but excited, I sat nervously in the passenger seat, double-checking the strength of my seatbelt as I gripped the handle of the seat in front of me very tightly. Thankfully, I realised my worries were unfounded. In fact, the lack of doors actually made the experience even more special!
We had unparalleled and unobstructed views of the billabong, and even managed to spot crocodiles resting on the banks while we were flying across! The cool winds from up above made the ride incredibly enjoyable, and informative commentary from our talented pilot made the entire experience an eye-opening one.
This was truly one of the most memorable moments during my entire Darwin trip!
4. Learn more about the aboriginal culture on Tiwi Islands
I’ve always heard about the aboriginal tribes in Australia, but never really got a chance to interact with the locals, visit their homes, and learn about their rich history and culture. Naturally, I was glad when I had the opportunity to visit the Tiwi Islands, a 2.5-hour ferry ride away from Darwin.
Sealink offers two main tours led by local Tiwi guides: the Tiwi Day Tour or Tiwi by Design. I personally went on the Tiwi by Design tour, and highly recommend anyone visiting to do so too! What makes this tour so special is that on top of a personal and insightful behind-the-scenes look at the screen printing process, you get to converse with local Tiwi artists about their art and what meanings they embody, and glimpse into how their backgrounds and traditions have shaped their artistic styles.
The size of the tour – a small group of six, as compared to more than 50 people on the Tiwi Day Tour – contributed to an intimate and enjoyable setting.
The Tiwi Islands comprise of the Bathurst and Melville Islands, home to a very tiny population of only 2,500. We visited Bathurst Island and were greeted with a traditional welcome/smoking ceremony by the friendly locals who worked at the design centre.
The ceremony involved dancing, singing and the infusion of smoke from ironwood leaves. As we walked around the fire, the women brushed the perimeters of our bodies with ironwood leaves for healing and cleansing purposes, as their ancestors have done so for years. We also had a closer look at the white powdered chalk (as pictured above) known as ochre. It is said to be blessed by the spirits and is used for face-painting during special ceremonies. The locals believe that it enables them to connect with the spirits.
The men and women also took turns to demonstrate the different animal dances in their culture, mimicking the actions of animals such as crocodiles, sharks, turtles, horses and more. Afterwards, we went on a tour around the island, visiting the museum and the historic mission precinct.
At the Patakijiyali Museum, we learnt about the rich history of the Tiwi Islands and its people. We read fascinating stories passed down from generation to generation in the aboriginal culture and listened to our guide tell us about the early mission days. We also visited the iconic Catholic Church which was established in 1941, and learnt about how the Tiwi people have embraced Christianity into their unique culture.
The Tiwi people are actually renowned internationally for their distinctive style of art, featured through vibrantly coloured fabrics, carvings, and Pukumani burial poles. They create their unique fabric products through screen-printing, so it was an absolute honour to be able to witness the entire screen-printing process from scratch.
The highlight of the tour was working with a Tiwi artist to create our very own screen painting that we could take home! We got to choose whether we wanted it on a piece of fabric or on a t-shirt, and could choose from screens with patterned designs or screens with pictures of animals such as turtles and crocodiles. Once we had chosen our designs, it was time to pick our desired colours. Mixing a few colours together help to create an immeasurably stunning gradient, so many of us chose varying shades of blue, green, and purple.
And here are some of the finished products! I’d strongly recommend anyone who is intrigued by Aboriginal culture to go on this Tiwi by Design tour. I had such a fun time watching these artists at work and creating these beautiful masterpieces!
Apart from these unique experiences, Darwin is also the gateway to gorgeous national parks like Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park and more. So if you’re looking for a rejuvenating escapade to really just let loose and revel in nature’s beauty, Darwin’s a good bet!
And while you’re exploring the city, don’t forget to buy a ticket for the Darwin Hop-On Hop-Off Bus which will definitely make your explorations a whole lot easier!
This concludes the second chapter of my Darwin trip! I hope I’ve convinced you that Darwin, just 4.5 hours away from Singapore, is definitely worth a visit. Go ahead, make plans to escape the hustle and bustle of our cosmopolitan city life for a bit and retreat to this peaceful oasis Down Under.
Special thanks to SilkAir, Tourism Australia, and Tourism North Territory for their kind hospitality and for opening my eyes to the beauty of Darwin.