Darwin is located on the northern coast of Australia, in the Northern Territory. This region is often referred to as being the ‘Top End’ of Australia and Darwin is known as a laid back blend of frontier outpost and small modern city.
Gardens to see in Darwin are filled with local and exotic tropical plants and water gardens, and there are many ecological reserves where you can also see indigenous rainforest plants. The inland town of Katherine also offers several interesting gardens to visit.
Garden Travel Guide to Darwin and the Top End
Getting to Darwin and the Northern Territory, and around while you’re there
Darwin has an International Airport with connecting flights to all major cities and some Asian destinations.
Darwin is a long way from the population centres of Australia. It is 38 hours drive from Brisbane and 33 hours from Adelaide. It is even 18 hours from the other significant town in the Territory, Alice Springs.
There is a bus network in Darwin but it is centred around the three commercial hubs of Darwin CBD, Casurina and Palmerston. We recommend you plan to visit Darwin destinations by car.
Darwin and Top End Climate
Darwin has a wet tropical climate with two distinct seasons, the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’. The wet season runs from November until April, and is characterised by very high humidity, monsoonal rains and regular storms. Temperatures typically range from overnight minimum of 25°C to a maximum of 33°C.
The ‘dry’ season, from May until October, has warm, dry sunny days and mild nights. Temperatures typically range from 19°C overnight to 32°C, and humidity levels are much lower.
The best time to visit Darwin is from May to September. Towards the end of the dry season the “buildup” towards the wet season proper can be an uncomfortably humid period.
Darwin and Top End Natural Vegetation
The floral emblem for the Northern Territory is Sturt’s Desert Rose – (Gossypium sturtianum) but this is more representative of the desert landscape of inland Northern Territory or the “outback”. Darwin’s most notable vegetation feature is the extensive and diverse floodplains associated with the lower reaches of the many large river systems. There are also substantial areas of mangroves and rainforests.
Inland from the coast, the dominant vegetation type is open eucalypt forest.
The most extraordinary thing about Darwin’s vegetation is how quickly and dramatically the landscape changes with each season.
Some of the most famous natural landscapes are accessed through Darwin. We recommend you visit the National Parks surrounding Darwin to see and fully appreciate the diverse landscape and vegetation of the Northern Territory, such as the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, Katherine Gorge and of course further afield the red centre around Alice Springs and Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) in the centre of Australia.
Darwin and Northern Territory Garden Styles
Darwin’s tropical weather presents gardeners with the unique issue of designing and maintaining gardens that must withstand extremes of dry heat and heavy monsoonal rains.
Darwin private gardens often feature large shade trees, and often a swimming pool, surrounded by lush natives and exotics. Gardens are mostly designed around ensuring the summer heat and the heavy monsoonal rains can be endured and an outdoor lifestyle enjoyed. This has lead to a modern tropical style which can include rock pools, raised decks or creeks but has to be careful to accommodate enough drainage for the heavy downpours.
More recently, significant education programs have promoted the benefits and use of plants used by Aboriginal people in suburban backyards in Darwin.
Best gardens to see in Darwin and Northern Territory
Best gardens to see and visit in Darwin
• George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens – a walkable distance form the city, it has self guided and guided tours available. These gardens were establish originally to evaluate tropical plants for food and now is one of the few botanic gardens which has marine and estuarine plants naturally in its grounds.
• Northern Territory’s Government House Gardens – home of the Administrator of the Northern Territory, these 1.4 hectare tropical gardens and grounds surrounding the historic late 19th century house are open once each year during the Dry Season.
• Whilst not formally ‘gardens’, there are many natural parklands where locals and tourists relax and find relief from the heat. These include
– Bicentennial Park in the centre of Darwin bordering the harbour.
– East Point Reserve (including Lake Alexander). The reserve includes a forest walk where many of the 600 species of rainforest vine from this area can be seen. Dudleys Point is a favourite spot to view Darwin city, especially at sunset. Lake Alexander is a marsh turned into a salt water swimming area to provide a safe swimming especially during the period from October to May when ocean swimming is dangerous because of the box jelly fish.
– Berry Springs National Park about an hours drive from darwin this is one of the most popular of the bush swimming holes near darwin. Like Howard Springs, it was developed during the second world war as a rest and recreation facility for servicemen staioned in the Top End.
– Howard Springs National Park. Another freshwater system which offers boardwalks and tracks through natural forest.
– Jingili Water Gardens and Community Gardens
The National Parks surrounding Darwin are like enormous gardens to the people of the Northern Territory including the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, Katherine Gorge and of course in the middle of Australia, Uluru.
Best gardens to see and visit in Katherine
Katherine has a number of parks and national parks where you can experience the dry savannah, paperbark forest and monsoon forest vegetation and see native plants such as boabs and cycads.
• Pine Creek Water Gardens (90km north of Katherine) – an oasis of ponds and landscaped gardens on the site of old railway tracks
• Jurassic Cycad Gardens – 5 acres of ‘prehistoric’ plants including cycads, figs, palms and cacti. Self-guided tour, cafe.
Best private gardens to see in Darwin and Northern Territory
Whilst there are no private gardens regularly open to the public in Darwin, there are a number of gardens open to the public from May to August, which are privately advertised at nurseries or tourist information centers or on local radio.
• Anthill Gardens in Berry Springs open occasionally for special events, like Mothers Day in early May or for groups by appointment only.
Darwin and Top End Garden Festivals
• Tropical Garden Spectacular and Top End Sustainable Living Festival – end of May in George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
• George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens hosts significant events connected to the Darwin Festival – two weeks in August.
Best time to visit Darwin and the Top End’s gardens and garden festivals
Most tours and attractions operate year round in the Top End but weather conditions during the wet season can restrict travel to some areas, and some destinations may be closed between December and April. There is no doubt unless you need to be here in the wet, the best time to visit gardens in Darwin is definitely between May to September.
Alternative Activities in Darwin
• Mindil Beach Sunsets and Markets
• Go on a Jumping Crocodiles cruise on the Adelaide River
• Visit Crocodylus Park
• Visit the Defence of Darwin Experience
• Attend the Outdoor Darwin Deckchair Cinema
Fun Facts about Darwin and the ‘Top End’
• Darwin is the gateway to World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, lush Litchfield National Park, Katherine Gorge and the communities of Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.
• Every year since 1974, the Darwin Beer Can Regata is held at Mindil Beach. People build boats out of beer cans, pop cans, bottles, and milk cartons in the hope that they will float in the water.
• The devastating tropical Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas morning 1974. The cyclone killed 65 people and damaged the majority of Darwin’s buildings and infrastructure. Following the destruction, Darwin’s building codes and disaster plans were heavily reviewed, to replace flimsy buildings with sturdy ones and enforce strict, life-saving disaster plans.
• The first wharf in Darwin Harbour, called Railway Jetty, was built in the mid 1880s. It was replaced due to cyclone damage by the Town Wharf in 1903. On 15 February 1942, a Japanese bombing raid sunk eight of the harbour’s 47 ships, destroying the wharf and killing many people. The Town Wharf’s replacement, the modern-day Stokes Hill Wharf, was completed in 1956.
• Between 1860 and 1907 tens of thousands of one-hump camels were imported into Australia to help people pioneer the harsh, dry conditions. Today, around 200,000 wild camels roam the Northern Territory.
Tropical George Brown Botanic Gardens in Darwin sits close to the centre of this vibrant city in the ‘Top End’ of northern Australia. The town itself has wonderful gardens established since the devastating Cyclone Tracy hit the Northern Territory in 1974. The gardens are easily accessible and extend over many acres.