Darwin's Doorstep

Story and Photography by Denis O'Byrne

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2002. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

Take a few steps from the business district of Darwin to find a mangrove forest at its best!

Named after the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin National Park covers 1300 hectares of eucalypt woodland and mangrove forest starting just two kilometres from Darwin’s central business district. 

It provides a chance to experience nature right on the doorstep of suburbia.

The forest is only two kilometres from the city centre.

The park was created in 1998 to protect a small part of Darwin Harbour’s 22,000 hectare mangrove forest. (Thanks to its size and diversity – 36 mangrove species – the forest is considered one of Australia’s most significant wetlands.) This action was prompted by public concern at the wholesale destruction of mangroves near the city to make way for waterfront developments.

I find mangrove habitats to be fascinating places, full of strange noises and interesting wildlife. But of course not everyone is so enthusiastic, particularly when the sandflies are out in force.

Some of the wildlife you'll see in the forest.

If you’re keen to explore a tidal inlet – and maybe cast a line while you’re doing so – I recommend taking a tinnie up Sadgroves Creek. It’s on the park’s western boundary a stone’s throw from the Dinah Beach public boat ramp.

Fishing aside, the park’s main focus for most visitors is a pleasant lawned picnic area that offers nice views – best in the morning – across the mangroves to the white high-rises of the CBD.

The best views of the city are in the morning.

From here, firebreaks and narrow roads of WWII vintage wind through the eucalypt woodland and along the edge of the mangroves.

The roads, which originally serviced a number of wartime munitions storage bunkers, are off-limits to cars so are ideal for walkers and cyclists.

I’d pack binoculars if you’re planning on a walk as the bird watching here can be memorable – 116 species have been recorded so far. Of particular interest to twitchers is the park’s many species of specialised mangrove birds such as the chestnut rail, red-headed honeyeater, mangrove robin and mangrove golden whistler.


Mangroves have evolved to cope with an unusually harsh environment that features salt, mud and tidal fluctuations. In Charles Darwin National Park the forest floor can be submerged under several metres of water at high tide, then be completely exposed as the water drains away.

Mangrove forests are hugely important in the marine web of life. They are a major source of food for plankton and small fish, and provide a rich nursery environment for many species of fish and other aquatic animals.

Yet humans regard mangrove forests with contempt – we think of them as smelly, insect-ridden places that should be buried under landfill and turned into waterfront housing and marinas.

This is a short-sighted way to treat an ecology that is often described as “the lungs of the sea”.
Fact File

Location: Four kilometres north-east of Darwin’s CBD.

Getting there: If coming from the CBD, get onto Tiger Brennan Drive (an extension of Bennett Street) and head towards Palmerston. The park turn-off is on your right about 5.5km from the CBD.

Open: 7am to 7pm daily.

Facilities: Flush toilets, shade shelters, picnic furniture and gas barbecues.

Wheelchairs: Access to toilets and picnic facilities.

Boat Ramps: The Dinah Beach ramp is off Tiger Brennan Drive about 2km from the CBD.

Biting Insects: Sandflies can be an absolute torment at sunset and sunrise, or at any time down by the mangroves. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and slather all exposed areas with a repellent containing DEET (diethyl toluamide).

Pets: Not allowed

Contact: Tourism Top End, (08) 8981 4300), at the corner of Mitchell and Knuckey streets, Darwin. Parks and Wildlife Commission, (08) 8947 2305.

Maps: Ours is from Hema’s Road Atlas, (08) 3340 0000.
Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2002. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.