Sick of the same old family holidays, fighting for a space at the café, a car park and a piece of the beach?
Does getting away from the madding crowds appeal to you? I often get asked by interstate family and friends why they should visit the Top End during the wet season.
The Top End is staggeringly beautiful at this time of year - everything bursts into life and is iridescent green. The sunsets and electrical storms are truly awe-inspiring and witnessing the majestic waterfalls in full flow is something your family will never forget. There’s no denying it gets humid and hot although the refreshing rains cool everything down instantly.
There’s a relaxed vibe around Darwin, and being the low season there are great deals on flights, accommodation and tours. There’s plenty to do for families: from water slides to the wave lagoon, cuddling crocs to meeting Top End wildlife.
Here are my top 10 picks for family fun.
1. Have a tropical Christmas
Family Christmases in Darwin are more chilled than the frenzied festivities down south. Think chilli mud crab, BBQ barramundi with a side of paw-paw salad, and lazy days lounging poolside while the kids splash about. Another sterling option for a quintessentially Darwin Christmas feast is dining out at the renowned pan-Asian Hanuman Restaurant on their moreish menu of Indian and Thai nonya flavours. Yum!
2. Splash, swim and slide around town
Always a hit with our boys are the awesome waterslides at Leanyer Recreation Park. The Wave Lagoon at the Waterfront Precinct is perfect for families with lots of options for a bite to eat, a playground, a lagoon for splashing about and lots of shady grassy areas. For thrill-seeking older kids, the Big Buoy Water Park at the Waterfront is a fun and fabulous floating installation (open until the end of February).
3. Aboriginal cultural experiences for kids
One of the special things about the Top End is the opportunity for your kids to learn about the rich and vibrant Aboriginal cultures in the region. Jump aboard the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise with a local Aboriginal guide to meet some of the wildlife and learn traditional bush survival skills. Highly recommended.
4. Cuddle and feed a crocodile
Opportunities abound for safe croc experiences all year round. Located on Mitchell Street in the CBD, Crocosaurus Cove is where the kids can get their photo taken with Fluffy the baby croc, feed the lively juvenile crocs and see some hands-on reptile talks - cool!
5. Have a dip at Kakadu National Park
Although some of the sites and waterholes in Kakadu National Park may close during the tropical summer – there are other options! The Yurmikmik area in southern Kakadu is the place to visit. Our boys love splashing about in the gorgeous rock pools at Boulder Creek which is a nice little walk. If your family's up for something more challenging, head to the sublime Motor Car Falls for a refreshing dip. But remember to only swim in areas that are clearly marked safe to do so. From November to April roads can flood occasionally so make sure to check the road conditions.
6. Spend a morning at the Museum and Art Gallery
This is a favourite haunt for local families and is perfect for kids. There’s a great natural history section, Cyclone Tracey exhibition, the Discovery Centre and a much-loved 5 metre stuffed saltwater crocodile called “Sweetheart”. There’s also world-class Aboriginal art and a café with divine harbour views.
7. A virtual reality experience of the bombing of Darwin
A state-of-the-art virtual reality experience of the bombing of Darwin and life-size holograms that tell you their personal stories. The Royal Flying Doctors Tourist Precinct at Stokes Hill Wharf is a must-visit. Kids can pretend to be pilots and flying doctors in the fully fitted out medical evacuation aircraft.
8. Get a front row seat for the sunsets and lightning shows
Top End sunsets are dazzling and the tropical storms that light up the sky are sensational. Take the family down to Stokes Hill Wharf, chow down on local barramundi and chips and watch the show. The Ski Club and Trailer Boat Club are my kids' picks because they can swim in the pool and play on the beach, searching for hermit crabs.
9. Mingle with local families at the markets
At the Parap and Rapid Creek markets you can sample cuisine from all over the world. Nightcliff Markets has a friendly atmosphere, a great selection of food and market stalls, live music and a little playground.
10. Jump, go bowling and ice skate
If the kids need to burn energy on one of those sweltering or rainy days, take them to the Darwin Entertainment Precinct. There's Ice Skating, King Pin bowling and oodles of trampoline fun at Flip Out.
So, why not do something different and visit the Top End for a tropical summer to remember?