Before heading out on the train trip of a lifetime, spend some time in this small yet resilient city, writes Brian Kelly
1 Flying Doctors
No visit to Darwin is complete without visiting the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility and the Bombing of Darwin Harbour story.
Both are housed together on Stokes Hill Wharf, the very spot where Japanese bombs were dropped in 1942, bringing destruction to the city and killing 243 people.
Using the latest innovations in holographic technology, the story of the Royal Flying Doctor Service is told in a life-size cinema experience. It's quite a story. Founded by the
Reverend John Flynn, the RFDS began flying in the Northern Territory in 1939 and has grown to become one of the largest aeromedical organisations in the world.
In the same building is the compelling story of the World War II raid, in which 188 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin harbour and its surrounds and inflicted massive damage. The planes came from the same fleet that bombed Pearl Harbour, and the museum tells the story using holograms, virtual reality and interactive stories. It's cutting edge and really brings that day to life.
2 Swim with crocodiles
Right in the centre of Darwin is Crocosaurus Cove, another absolute must visit. If you are brave enough you can take on the Cage of Death experience - Australia's only crocodile dive. You are lowered into the water in a Perspex tube that allows you to get up close and personal with these giant reptiles. In my case, it was William, a 5m monster. It was an incredible experience and at no stage did I feel frightened. The facility also houses the world's largest display of Australian reptiles and again, if you are brave enough, you get to hold a baby croc or cuddle a snake.
3 Walk in the rain forests
Head into Litchfield National Park,129km south of Darwin. It's famous for its monsoon rainforests, termite mounds and stunning waterfalls, of which we visited two -The Florence and Wangi - where we had a refreshing swim. With Darwin's average dry season temperatures ranging from 27 to 32 degrees, a dip under a waterfall is very welcoming.
And there are no crocs! Driving into the park, the many termite mounds - some more than 2m high - catch your attention. Our entertaining bus driver/tour guide stopped off at one of the locations to let us take some great photos. I learned there are two types of termite mounds: Cathedral, the high, oddly shaped ones; and Magnetic, those that face north-south and look like tombstones. It's certainly a day tripworth doing and gives you quite an insight into the harsh Australian outback.
4 Depart instyle
The Ghan Expedition is one of Australia's Great Train Journeys and should be on the bucket list of any Kiwi or Aussie. The four-day journey takes you south from Darwin to Adelaide - a total distance of 2979 km.
With stops at Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs, and Coober Pedy, it's an amazing adventure through the red centre of Australia. After a fun and informative two days in Darwin, I arrived at the Berrimah Rail Terminal, about 20 minutes' drive from the city, to board the Ghan. With live music from a classic Aussie entertainer, we had the chance to walk to the front of the train and grab a few photos. It can be along walk back to your carriage- the train is almost 1 km long - so there are buses on hand to take you back. This added luxury set the scene for the unforgettable Ghan Expedition to come.
DID YOU KNOW?
This small city has had its fair share of disasters over the years. As well as the Japanese raid in World War II, Darwin has been rebuilt on three other occasions, due to huge cyclones in 1887, 1937 and more recently in 1974. The latter, Cyclone Tracey, killed 71 people.
The Ghan Expedition is one of three Great Australian Train Journeys run by
. The Darwin to Adelaide Expedition operates between April and October. You can extend your stay in Darwin.