Darwin might be better known as a departure point for visits to Australia's Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks, but this modern city in the Northern Territory has plenty of attractions for the one-day cruise visitor. Its streets are lined with Aboriginal art and craft galleries, boutiques selling locally cultured pearls, and restaurants and cafes where ethnically diverse cuisine highlights Australia's bountiful produce and seafood. From feeding crocodiles in the central business district (CBD) to historic World War II oil storage tunnels and a lively waterfront wave pool, Darwin offers an enjoyable day out for travellers with a variety of interests.
The city of Darwin -- named after Charles Darwin, who stopped there aboard HMS Beagle in 1839 -- is home to a growing population of 130,000. It is the smallest Australian capital city and closer to the capitals of five other countries than it is to Canberra, the capital of Australia. It is also the most modern, as the city was largely levelled by devastating Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve in 1974. Prior to that, Darwin had a colonial bungalow look with many buildings rebuilt after some 64 airstrikes by the Japanese during WWII.
Kakadu is too distant to reach on a shore excursion, but if natural beauty is what you're looking for, you should have enough time to squeeze in a visit to Litchfield National Park on a long day trip. The park, just a 90-minute drive from Darwin, is noted for its cascading waterfalls with swimming pools at their bases, delightful trails through lush tropical forests and giant termite mounds, many 2 metres (6.5 feet) high or taller.
Large cruise ship lines (Holland America, Seabourn, Silversea, Princess, Royal Caribbean and P&O Australia) that offer around-the-world sailings or extended voyages between Australia, South Pacific and Southeast Asia, generally call on Darwin in The Wet -- the time of year between December and March, when it pours buckets late in the afternoon and at night, temperatures top 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity reaches extremely high levels. The land turns green, but it could also flood, and some trips -- such as those to Litchfield -- will be washed out by impassable roads. Air-conditioned venues, such as Darwin's shops and museums, will then be the most sensible destinations.
Small expedition-style cruise ships (Coral Princess Cruises, Kimberley Discovery Cruises, North Star Cruises and Orion Cruises) that explore the Top End, Arnhem Land and the Kimberley Coast, use Darwin as a base during what is known as The Dry, the clear-blue-sky season that lasts roughly from late April through late October. Temperatures are typically in the low- to mid-30s.