Waterfalls, greenery, birdlife – the wild Top End comes spectacularly alive in the wet season.
Spending wet season in the Top End hasn’t typically been high on the holiday wishlists of Australians. But this year’s different. When interstate borders reopen – forecast for December, give or take a rogue state – the Territory’s set to be inundated by more than just monsoon rains.
“There are lots of people here on the streets of Darwin already,” says Kaia Wright, who, with her Outback Wrangler husband, Matt, runs the Tiwi Island Retreat, the Top End Safari Camp and heli- and airboat tours (mattwright.com.au). “You usually see tourist numbers tapering off around now, but Darwin’s absolutely booming.”
To meet the extraordinary demand, more tourism operators are choosing to stay open this monsoon season, she says. Which is great news because it means more visitors will get to appreciate why it’s her favorite season.
“It’s when the world comes alive up here!” she says. “And it doesn’t rain all the time – commonly you get a storm around 2pm and then it stops and it’s beautiful.”
Her top recommendations for making the most of the wet? Mangoes, obviously. It’s peak harvest time for the queen of tropical fruits and they’re found everywhere, quite often in Daiquiris.
Scenic flights over the waterfalls at Kakadu, Katherine Gorge or Litchfield are a must. “To get up there and see the waterfalls absolutely roar, and the greenery and all the birdlife, is pretty spectacular.”
It’s also the best time to see crocs. The Wrights run day tours to their Top End Safari Camp all year, but the summer months are the mating season for saltwater crocodiles. “They’re at their most active,” Kaia explains. “If you’re into crocs and want that real up-close engagement in ecosystems that are completely alive, come in the wet. You feel like you’re a part of nature.”
Fishing for barramundi is another massive drawcard thanks to the Million Dollar Fish competition. This year, eight-tagged barra could net anglers a million dollars; another 100 tagged fish are worth $10,000 each. You just need to get up there and catch one before March 31 (milliondollarfish.com.au).
The prize fish have been released across the Territory from the Tiwi Islands to Katherine and Kakadu, which is where I’d drop a line. Tamwoy Aruba-mara from the Bowali Visitor Centre says he went fishing last monsoon and “there was water right across the road along South Alligator River, and all the barra were just on the road. They were cruising over the side and everything. It was amazing.”
For Lord Mayor of Darwin and former tourism minister Kon Vatskalis, the wet is, in some ways, “much, much better than the dry because nature is in full swing – everything grows, everything is green, flowers are out. And the warmer the weather is, the better the beer tastes.”
He recommends a meal at Stokes Hill Wharf, “which has all these beautiful takeaways with chairs outside to enjoy the weather, the food, and a cold beer”. Visit Rapid Creek Market on Sunday mornings – “you can think you’re somewhere in Asia because the smells, the products, the food, the vegetables, they’re the same as you’d find in Bali or Singapore”.
Chinese New Year also falls during the wet, usually in February, and is celebrated enthusiastically. The bombing of Darwin is also commemorated that month, but there’s a permanent (and terrific) virtual-reality re-enactment of the wartime tragedy at the wharf, run by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
For South Australian transplant Kate Dinning of popular online guide We Are Locals, it’s the storm she loves most at this time of year. “Storm season is the best,” she says. “I’m obsessed with lightning storms and I have never seen them anywhere like they are in the Territory. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of them.”
When a big front’s rolling in, make like the locals and settle in at prime seafront spots like the Sailing Club (darwinsailingclub.com.au) or the sunset-facing Trailer Boat Club (dtbc.com.au) to watch nature’s epic sound and light show.
Next month marks the start of the International Laksa Festival, always a sure sign the monsoon’s on its way. “Laksa’s a cult food here in Darwin,” Dinning says. “Everyone’s obsessed with who does the best.” Download the festival app (available year-round) to locate Darwin’s finest noodle bowls, or head straight to Chok’s Place on Smith Street Mall, Golden Bowl winner for the past two years.
Dinning made Darwin home in 2019 and says it’s “the best place ever”, especially in the wet. “Everything is alive and bright and warm. It’s wild, and it’s a really beautiful time.”
This article originally appeared on Escape