An arial image of two ships dock at Fort Hill Wharf

Cruise and expedition shipping plays an important role in the Territory's tourism industry, generating up to an estimated $60 million of total expenditure annually.

The geographic location of the Top End and its close proximity to Asia makes it an ideal Australian gateway port for visiting international cruise ships. With its tropical climate, Darwin enjoys year-round cruise activity, with larger ships historically visiting in the main season from October-March and a number of small, luxury expedition cruise ships using Darwin as a home-porting base to explore the remote Northern Australian coastline from April-September.

Tourism NT is continuing to work with the cruise industry to develop Darwin as a distinctive cruise destination and ensure ongoing access to and within the Northern Territory as a key priority of the NT's Tourism Industry Strategy 2030.

NT Cruise Tourism Strategy 2022 - 2025

Tourism NT, in consultation with industry has delivered the Northern Territory Cruise Tourism Strategy 2022 - 2025, to maximise the benefits of cruise shipping to the Territory. While the cruise sector has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and the speed of recovery is still unknown, the fundamental priorities underpinning the Northern Territory as a cruise destination remain unchanged.

Darwin Cruise Study

A Cruise ship study was undertaken between November 2019 and March 2020. The study interviewed 1698 passengers and crew from 16 ships that visited Darwin during this period. The study found that $12.88 million was spent in Darwin from cruise holidays over the entire cruise season (October 2019-April 2020). The Darwin Cruise Study Report and further published studies can be viewed under Research Projects.

Northern Territory as a Cruise Destination

Darwin is Australia’s northern gateway and is fast becoming a popular stop over for cruise ships heading into South East Asia or southbound navigating around Australia and the South Pacific. The purpose built Darwin Cruise Ship Terminal has the capacity to hold small to medium-size cruise ship home-base operations and has a proven record of handling the largest ships in Australian waters on transit visits. Passengers stopping over in Darwin are greeted with a relaxed city lifestyle, with tropical palm trees dotting the city and quirky laneway cafes found tucked away next to local street art. Visitors can book day tours or take a self-guided walk to discover the city’s WWII history at many of the historic attractions and museums or visit the Aboriginal art galleries around town. 

Cruise ports are located across the Territory’s coastline such as the Tiwi Islands and along the coast of Arnhem Land – in Nhulunbuy (Gove), Maningrida, Alyangula (Groote Eylandt), Galiwinku, Milingimbi and the Cobourg Peninsula. Expedition cruises are an extraordinary way for visitors to reach these remote areas, some inaccessible by land, to see and experience Aboriginal art and culture, and observe the remarkable landscapes and marine life of the Top End. The Northern Territory also offers world-heritage listed Kakadu National Park and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Central Australia for visitors who are travelling pre or post cruise.  

For more information on port attributes and detail in the Northern Territory download the NT Cruise Industry brochure.

Cruise News

During the cruise season, Tourism NT and Tourism Top End regularly report which ships will be arriving in Darwin and what their passenger loads are, so that tourism and retail businesses can maximise the opportunities presented by the resulting influx of visitors. Cruise ship schedules and information of ships in port can be viewed here (under “Cruise Ships” in menu navigation). For information on how to work with the cruise ship industry, please contact [email protected]

Commercial Opportunities

The cruise sector offers a potential commercial opportunity for locally based NT operators in the Top End. Operators are encouraged to work with Tourism Top End, or establish relationships with the key ground handlers working with the cruise ships visiting Darwin. The Working the cruise market in the NT presentation was made at an industry workshop in Darwin and provides useful information on the cruise sector, including key contacts.

Page last updated on 04 April 2024