Darwin Harbour


Darwin Harbour is the body of water close to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. It opens to the north at a line from Charles Point in the west to Lee Point in the east into the Beagle Gulf and connects via the Clarence Strait with the Van Diemen Gulf.[1] It contains Port Darwin, which is flanked by Frances Bay to the east and Cullen Bay to the west.

Looking towards the city over Darwin Harbour
USS Peary sinking after the Japanese attack.
A sunken ship (MV Neptuna) and burnt-out wharf in Darwin Harbour following the attack on Darwin (AWM 027334)


Darwin Harbour was named after the naturalist Charles Darwin, who sailed with captain Robert Fitzroy on the second expedition of the Beagle (December 1831 – October 1836) which visited parts of Australia. During the voyage, he became a friend of the officers, including John Lort Stokes and John Clements Wickham who were promoted for the next voyage of the ship.

Lieutenant Stokes was apparently the first British person to see Darwin harbour, when HMS Beagle's third expedition arrived there on 9 September 1839. The ship's captain, Commander Wickham, named the port after Darwin, having been reminded of his "geologising" by the new discovery there of a hitherto unknown fine-grained sandstone.[2]


The climate of the Darwin Harbour region is monsoon tropical with two distinct seasons: the Dry and the Wet. The Dry lasts for 6 months between April and September with an average rainfall of 24 mm, whereas the Wet lasts between October and March with an average monthly rainfall of 254 mm/month (according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 1999). The majority of the rain falls between December and April. Runoff varies between 250–1000 mm. Riverine discharge is relatively low with the exception of the Blackmore River and Elizabeth River. Peak flow for these rivers occurs in February, respectively 605Ml/day and 389 Ml/day, after which it slowly decreases until July when there is no freshwater input into Darwin Harbour until the onset of the following wet season (Padovan 1997). Cyclone frequency is low to moderate.[1]

Marine lifeEdit

Darwin Harbour supports very high fish diversity with 415 fish species now known. Darwin Harbour provides a unique opportunity to see dugongs in the wild, because their favourite food is located off Casuarina and Bundilla (formerly Vesteys)[3] beaches. Seagrass meadows are also the main diet of green turtles and provide habitats for many smaller marine animals including commercially important species such as prawns and fish.[4]



The tides at Port Darwin are macro-tidal with a maximum tidal range of 7.8 m, a mean spring range of 5.5 m and a mean neap range of 1.9 m (Padovan, 1997). The currents caused by these tides are complex and strong.[1]


The Elizabeth River Bridge across Elizabeth River, upstream the East Arm of Darwin Harbour

Darwin Harbour is a drowned river valley and consist of ria shorelines and extensive headlands.[1]


The catchment of Darwin Harbour occupies a total area of approximately 3,230 square kilometres (1,247 sq mi), of this 2,010 square kilometres (776 sq mi) is land based and the other 1,220 square kilometres (471 sq mi) are estuarine areas at the high water mark.[5]


The underlying lithology is dominated by Permian siltstones and sandstones.[1]

Administrative statusEdit

On 4 April 2007, the remainder of Darwin Harbour which was not already part of a suburb or a locality within the boundaries of either of the two local government areas, the City of Darwin and the Litchfield Municipality, was gazetted by the Northern Territory Government as a locality with the name, Darwin Harbour. Its north-western boundary aligns with that of the boundary for the Port of Darwin which extends from Charles Point in the west to Lee Point in the east.[6][7] The locality has not been added to any existing local government area and is considered to be part of the Northern Territory's unincorporated areas.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e N Smit, R Billyard and L Ferns: Beagle Gulf Benthic Survey: Characterisation of soft substrates. Archived March 28, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Technical Report No. 66 (2000), Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.
  2. ^ "The Discovery and Exploration of Australia". Australia on CD. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  3. ^ Lacey, Peter (21 March 2021). "For decades it was named after an English baron. Now this Darwin beach has a Larrakia name". ABC News.
  4. ^ Darwin Harbour’s Marine Life.[permanent dead link] Darwin Harbour Advisory Committee Update, December 2011, p. 3.
  5. ^ J. Drewry; J. Fortune; D. Browne (2010). "Water quality of the Elizabeth River estuary, Darwin Harbour, before and during the 2006-2007 wet season" (PDF). Aquatic Health Unit - Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  6. ^ "Place Names Register Extract - "Darwin Harbour"". NT Place Names Register. Northern Territory Government. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Extent of the locality of 'Darwin Harbour'". NT Atlas and Spatial Data Directory. Northern Territory Government. February 2005. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Un-incorporated area - East Arm". Place Names Committee. Northern Territory Government. 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2019.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Darwin Harbour at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 12°31′S 130°50′E / 12.517°S 130.833°E / -12.517; 130.833