Darwin Waterfront Precinct Walk
Start - Stokes Hill Wharf
Finish - End of Daly Street
Length - 3.6km (One Way)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Pavement
Vertical Climb - 83m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - No
Date Hiked - 10th July 2019
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - I started this walk at the Stokes Hill Wharf that can be reached from the centre of Darwin by heading south on McMinn St and taking a left at the second roundabout onto Stokes Hill Rd. Follow this to the end and there is a large car park on the wharf.
The Walk - With the matriarch of Caris' family turning the big nine-zero in July it was decided that a family trip was needed. The requirements for the trip were it had to be warm and a relatively short flight from Perth so in the end Darwin was chosen as the location and plans were put in place. I had only been to Darwin once before but apparently I was only three so I cannot remember anything from that trip. Having loved my previous visits to Karijini and Broome in previous Perth winters, I was looking forward to escaping the cooler weather and exploring the Top End during the cooler but still quite warm dry season. As with any trip I was immediately on the lookout for walks I could do, to not only explore the city but provide a cool experience that I could photograph and write about.
Unfortunately there wasn't a whole load of information available about walks within the Darwin area online and the visitor centre in the centre of the city were only interested in selling you a tour (didn't even have the basic Litchfield National Park brochures). With that in mind and after a couple of days walking around Darwin (which by the way is a really cool city with a lot going for it), I decided to check out the sunrise from Stokes Hill Wharf and then do a highlights of Darwin tour along the waterfront area. Waking up before sunrise, I headed off from the hotel for the short walk down to the wharf. Loving the fact I could wear shorts and t-shirt at sunrise in July, I was rushing a little to catch the sunrise over the harbour.
Passing over the Sky Bridge leading from the city down to the waterfront area (I would take a different way up the hill on the proper route), I could see the beautiful morning colours starting to appear. Far from being empty at first light, there were plenty of people jogging, walking and having breakfast. As I passed the Convention Centre and made my way to Stokes Hill Wharf I could see the sun gently rising over the water. Near the Indo Pacific Marine building I stopped to get a few photos of the sun peaking on the horizon. Casting a bright orange glow everywhere, my timing was just right and I spent a while here photographing and admiring the brilliant colours. With plenty of boats in the harbour I had fun trying to get them in front of the sunrise glow with limited success.
I still hadn't reached my planned start point at the end of the Stokes Hill car park but with such a cool sunrise I wasn't rushing anything. Having visited this area the previous day for a historic boat tour of the harbour and coastline around Darwin, I was looking forward to exploring the sights we'd been told about on foot. I reached the start point I had set (the first lot of buildings at Stokes Hill Wharf) and stood there for a while soaking it all in. The tug boats were looking cool in the morning light with their shiny exhaust pipes glowing orange from the early sun and off to the south the colours were a more muted purple and blue. Coming from Perth you really appreciate when it's not windy, especially near open water, so it was really peaceful and serene to just look out over the still waters of the harbour in the humid morning air.
One cannot visit Darwin and not be fascinated by the WWII history and looking out over the water I remembered a bit from the boat tour the previous day about the Japanese planes surprising the city and coming in from the south. The city's defences were concentrated in the northern sections (pointing at the open sea and South East Asia) so when the Japanese headed inland first and then followed the main highway all the way into the city, they had a clear bombing run over the harbour. Imagining squadrons of Japanese bombers flying over the water and unleashing hell was a powerful thought as I stood on the edge of the water. With the orange glow of sunrise now over, I started the walk and headed back down the wharf towards the Darwin Convention Centre. The waterfront precinct here is a bit of a maze of paths but I picked a route that took me along the water and past the convention centre, wave pool and along the edge of the artificial beach.
With crocodiles lurking in the waters surrounding Darwin, an area for public swimming has been created so you can have a cooling swim without worrying about being taken by a big croc. There is a cool inflatable playground in the middle and it looked like a really fun way of escaping the heat (even in the cooler dry season). There were plenty of people now out and about enjoying the cooler temperatures of the morning as I headed back towards the Sky Bridge. I thought about taking the elevator up and walking across the city icon but decided to admire the bridge from below and walk along Kitchener Drive to see if the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels were open for a visit. They weren't open for another 90 minutes but looked like an interesting thing to do if you're visiting. Right next to the tunnels are stairs leading up the hill towards the connecting road I was using to reach the Esplanade area.
This area is very green with plenty of flowering plants hanging off the side of the hill. Crossing Hughes Avenue and making my way up another set of stairs, I was on the esplanade and presented with the impressive Supreme Court and Parliament buildings. Manicured lawns and palm trees are the order here and it does create a nice open space from which to admire the lovely white buildings. A nice old tree towers over the space between them and the picturesque view of the Parliament building opened up more as I moved along the path. I really loved seeing this building as it has a presence to it along with being beautifully designed. With the palm trees surrounding it, the fantastic overarching roof line and the bright white facade, it gave off strong South Pacific vibes that had me thinking of being in Hawaii.
Moving on to the esplanade section of the walk, covering the paths and parks in front of the Darwin CBD, this stretch was much busier with activity. Making my way towards the first of many war memorials along the waterfront, I sighted the Deckchair Cinema down the hill (road access off Kitchener Drive) and vowed to visit on our next trip (a full itinerary meant we didn't catch a movie here). Walking along the path that snakes along the grassed esplanade, it was nice to spot the red and white tankers out in the harbour along with enjoying the pleasant atmosphere of the park. Just past where Knuckey Street (one of the main streets in Darwin) intersects the Esplanade I encountered a sign for Lameroo Beach, the only beach for the Darwin CDB area. I didn't really have anywhere to be so decided to check out the path leading down. I was surprised as I imagined the beaches and waters crawling with crocodiles so when I didn't encounter any warning signs I assume it isn't such a big issue.
The beach has an interesting history with concrete baths being built in 1922, serving as the only public swimming area in Darwin. The area was popular throughout the mid 1900s before the baths became neglected and attracted a collection of hippies that lived there. The baths were destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 along with the hippie camp and you can see the remnants of the concrete baths. Apparently there were no deaths by sharks or crocodiles during its existence but there were sightings over the years. Moving on, I admired the cool root structures of the trees heading back up the path and continued on towards the end of the walk. I would love to have more photos looking back at the Darwin CBD to give you a sense of perspective but during my visit they had applied some treatments to the grass to repair damaged areas so most of the area was roped off and covered in that fake green foam that is meant to encourage growth.
The path takes you further along the esplanade, switching between open views of the water and tree lined pathway. One feature of the area were bench seats with a metal frame complete with climbing plants that provided shade. I'm not sure how effective these are in the middle of the day but they certainly looked cool. Reaching the USS Peary Memorial, this was something I was looking forward to, having heard all about it on the boat tour. The USS Peary was a US ship that was sunk during the Darwin bombings and wasn't located until decades later. There is a whole history with a local salvage expert (bit of a character) and the items he recovered from the wreck. Long story short, one of the deck guns was finally recovered and now sits as the memorial, pointing out to where the wreck lays in the harbour. Just past the memorial there is one final lookout taking in the waters of Doctors Gully and it's a really cool place to watch the massive tides that Darwin Harbour experiences. I decided to end the walk here as the grassed esplanade finishes near this point and I still had to walk back to the hotel. You are still close to the CBD here so can finish your morning walk with a nice breakfast at one of the many cafes in town.
Final Thoughts - I always say the best way to explore a new city is by foot as you get to experience so much more than driving and also get a feel for the lay of the land.
Darwin with all its WWII history is a fascinating place and having heard a wealth of information from the boat tour the day before, it was really interesting to imagine what it would have been like and to visit the areas that were most affected.
I think this walk combines two really cool areas of Darwin and lets you see a lot of the waterfront area in a short amount of time.
If you're visiting and want a nice morning activity then make sure you do a version of this walk. I can highly recommend getting up early and watching the sunrise from Stokes Hill Wharf.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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