November 4, 2011

Australia With Kids - Darwin

Continuing with great things to do with kids in Australia's capital cities, we have my home town Darwin (which has just been voted one of the top ten cities to visit in 2012!)

I live near Darwin.  It’s a friendly town with beautiful weather for most of the year.   A visit to Darwin is a perfect chance to experience North Australia’s different flora and fauna.  

So, here is a mum’s view of the best attractions for children in or near Darwin.  These are the things that I think most kids will enjoy doing on a visit to Darwin.  I’m leaving out visiting Kakadu National Park, which you should definitely try to do if you visit the Top End, because there is no way that you can do this properly from a base in Darwin.  

I’ve included links to the websites of various attractions when I can, so that you can investigate prices, location, opening hours and plan your visit.  One drawback of Darwin is that it is hard for families to experience without their own transportation.  Public transport will not get you to all of these attractions, so your option is to join tours (often difficult for families) or have your own transport.

Aquascene Fish Feeding
Fish Feeding

Hundreds of fish visit Doctors Gully at high tide to be fed.  The complex provides bread and you can throw it off the steps or go down the boat ramp to feed by hand or even touch the fish.  It’s a great place to see many different types of fish – mullet, milkfish and catfish being the most common types that visit.  You may also see barramundi and shovel-nosed rays, which are fed by Aquascene staff (they don’t eat bread!).  It is magical for children to see so many fish in one place and to be able to interact with and observe them so closely.

You will need to supervise younger children closely as there is direct access to the water (no barriers).  The other drawback when visiting with children is that it is often very busy and can be difficult for children to get to the front where they can see.  But if you are patient, the feeding time is quite long and the crowds come and go, so that you can find a chance to sneak into a good spot.

See some crocodiles 
You can visit Crocosaurus Cove in the city centre, which houses the crocodiles of all sizes in an aquarium-like situation, so that you can clearly see them from many different angles.  Children can even poke their head up into a viewing bubble in the middle of the baby crocodile enclosure and eyeball the baby crocs.  Crocosaurus Cove also offer interactive opportunities like holding a baby crocodile or snakes (as you can see from my picture).  If you are very brave you can take your bathers and swim in a tank next to a fully grown crocodile.

Crocosaurus Cove
Another way to see some crocodiles, is to take a jumping crocodile cruise.  There are a number of different operators.  The cruise offers an opportunity to see crocodiles in their natural environment and very close.  It is very creepy to see crocodiles sliding into the water and swimming over to you.  On these cruises, you could reach out and touch the crocodiles. You will also see many other animals in their natural environment, for example, jabirus and eagles are common.
Jumping Crocodile Cruise
Territory Wildlife Park
Birds of Prey at TWPThis wildlife park, in a natural bush setting, houses mostly native NT wildlife.  You will see wallabies, emus, crocodiles, turtles, whip rays, dingoes, frill – necked lizards and much more.  The park is large but easily accessible, as trains run to all the exhibits.  The keeper talks are also really interesting and interactive.  Our favourite’s are “Tucker time at the Billabong” where you can see the freshwater crocodiles and barramundi being fed and the “Birds of Prey” presentation which has birds flying round your ears.

Right next door to the Wildlife Park is a beautiful swimming spot, Berry Springs, so bring your bathers and plan for a picnic or quick dip.

Leanyer Water Park
Leanyer Water Park
I’ve included Leanyer Water Park, not because it is an attraction unique to the NT, but because visiting is free.  So, in Darwin’s hot weather, this is the perfect activity for families.  Leanyer Water Park is a large park with water slides, a pool and a water play area for young children (pictured).  There is also a large playground and a skate ramp nearby.  There are bbq’s and shadecovers so that you can bring a picnic.  

Those are my top activities to do with children but here are a couple of other suggestions of things to do:
  • dinner at the Waterfront Precinct.  There is a food court-style eatery with views over the harbour.  There are often large ships docked at the wharf.  And if you visit at dusk, fish come to the pylons to be fed by diners.  Watch out though, as there are no barriers on the edge of the wharf.  There is also a wave pool and a beach lagoon for swimming.
  • visit the markets.  These are very popular with tourists and locals which makes them very busy.  This can be overwhelming for children which is why I haven’t included them in my best attractions list, but they offer lots of entertainment from buskers and people-watching and have a variety of food and handicrafts.  The smaller markets at Parap or Palmerston might be more suitable for children than the best known Mindil Beach Markets. 
  • visit Litchfield National Park.  Close enough to Darwin to make a day trip, there are lots of wonderful natural places to swim for adults and older children.  Some of the swimming spots are a bit difficult to access or dangerous when you are with younger children.  You will also see lots of unique Territory landscapes and natural features, like the magnetic termite mounds.     
Have you visited Darwin?  What were your family’s favourite things to do?

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