Charles Darwin National Park
Start - Off Tiger Brennan Drive
Length - 1.9km (Figure 8)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Single Track, Pavement, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 27m
Time - 1 hour
Signed - No
Date Hiked - 11th July 2019
Best Time - Dry Season (May to October)
Traditional Custodians - Larrakia People
Directions - Located 10 minutes east of Darwin by car, take Tiger Brennan Drive until you reach the signs for the park. Turn right at the traffic lights onto the access road and follow this all the way to the end to reach the car park for the walk.
The Walk - It's rare to have a national park so close to the centre of a capital city but Darwin has Charles Darwin National Park right on its doorstep. As I'm always looking out for walks to do in any place I visit so I did a quick Google of the park to see if there were any marked trails to enjoy. I found the official park brochure and it looked like there was something there although the birds eye view map was a bit sketchy on trail lengths and directions. With only a short drive out there I decided it was worth checking out and joining me again was Caris, her mum and her mum's partner.
Steeped in WWII history, the drive into the park takes you past one of the bunkers that now houses a mini museum full of old gear and information about what it was like on this old army installation. We had a quick look around and were introduced to the famous midges that are tiny but pack a vicious bite. After a couple of sharp bites we put on some insect repellent and continued on to the main car park where the walks start. I was hoping the information board at the car park would contain more information but unfortunately it was just as sketchy in regards to telling you where the walk trail went (mostly just looked like fire break walking in no particular pattern). Located at the car park is a nice grassed picnic area and a lookout showcasing the views back to the skyline of Darwin. This is an obvious draw card of the park and at sunrise and sunset would look quite pretty (although park gates are only open from 8am to 5pm though).
We split up into two groups at the start so Caris and I followed the little walk marker along a path and then down some stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a junction of many fire break trails and no signage to direct you. I had the map on my phone (not at all to scale) and figured we should head towards one of the old bunkers that was just around the corner. An open air structure that was probably a vehicle depot or place to store things out of the weather. From here we just winged it trying to follow the rough trail they had mapped out so headed off down a random fire break towards the mangroves. It would be remiss of me at this point to also point out that the park is home to 36 of the 51 mangrove types found in the Northern Territory like every other page mentions. At the end of the fire break we turned left and kept going, figuring this was the right direction. The surrounding woodlands are actually very pleasant with Cycads dotting the undergrowth and it felt like walking through the forests of Perth in the summer time.
There was a short path leading down into the mangroves that Caris' mum and partner had taken so we joined them and admired the holes in the sand where we guessed the crabs lived. With crocodiles loving the mangroves Caris and I moved on, joking that if we didn't hear from her mum in an hour we were driving back alone. We looped back to the start via more fire breaks where we saw a few flowering plants, an interesting sign telling you to stick to the paths because the area was an archaeological site (there are aboriginal middens in the area dating back quite some time). Spotting a solid unmarked post in front of a trail leading up the hill we guessed that it could take us back to the car park. The single trail was great and was what I was expecting from the walking trails but we would find out later that it was a brand new mountain bike trail that had been built but not marked (hence the naked bollard). Charles Darwin National Park looks to be much better if you have a mountain bike as there are a good networks of trails weaving through the entire park. We made it back to the car park in one piece and had a further wander along the fire breaks that were marked for walking while we waited for Caris' mum (they survived the crocs) before heading back to Darwin.
Final Thoughts - Charles Darwin National Park has a fascinating history with it's WWII ties and remnants of the old bunkers everywhere (there are about a dozen scattered around the place).
As I said, the park caters much more towards mountain bikers with a token walk trail along uninspiring fire breaks. It would have been nice for more interpretive signage at the various bunkers to fully explain their use or tell a few stories about the war as you walk around.
This would be a park that left its mark on us with Caris reacting quite badly to the midge bites, breaking out with itchy red spots all over her arms and legs. If you're planning a visit make sure you bring some serious insect repellent!!!
A bit of a missed opportunity given the lack of walks around the Darwin area but it's something free to do if you have the time and are interested in the WWII history.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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