Making waves

How Darwin Waterfront became a destination for everyone



Darwin Waterfront has it all – a world-class convention centre, vibrant commercial and retail spaces, spectacular residences overlooking the sparkling ocean, lush public parklands and safe swimming spots, a rock breakwater wall and boardwalks, a sky bridge and 4,000 sqm wave lagoon. But translating a vision for this dynamic development took patience, persistence and an innovative approach to cost management.

Before its transformation, Darwin Waterfront was an industrial wasteland dominated by a large wharf and down-at-heel warehouses. The site was also home to unexploded ordnance – a legacy of the city’s role as a strategic port during World War II. These site characteristics made cost planning a challenge – but it was a challenge which RLB’s team was proud to take on in 2003.

At a glance

  • Client
    Darwin Waterfront Corporation and Northern Territory Government
  • Services
    Cost Management & Quantity Surveying
  • sector
    Mixed Use, Residential, Public & Civic
  • Location
    Darwin, Australia

From wasteland to prime waterfront precinct

RLB already had a strong reputation in Darwin for our work on other landmark projects like the Darwin Entertainment Centre. So, when the Darwin Waterfront Corporation approached us to be part of its dream team, we were ready to roll up our sleeves. In 2003, we began work with design consultants to cost model and plan a range of innovative solutions that would be acceptable to all parties without incurring undue financial risk. Several value management sessions were staged to explore scenarios and uncover the ultimate design, delivery strategy, final cost and project risk profile.

We are proud of our positive contribution to the Darwin Waterfront. By bringing in this vast and visionary project on time and within budget, we helped to strengthen the city’s social infrastructure and created world-class facilities that everyone in our community can enjoy.
Daniel Jones, Director, RLB

RLB’s positive and productive relationship with the Northern Territory Government and the property and construction industry in Darwin has helped to support the growth of Australia’s gateway to Asia.

Oceans of opportunity

Darwin Waterfront’s breakwater – an 800-metre long, organically curved wall made of large concrete blocks – protects the lagoon and its surrounds from the harbour’s rough seas.

Dredging – sometimes to a depth of 16 metres below the seabed – cleared the harbour of debris and prepared the breakwater’s foundations. Construction was then precisely planned and scheduled in line with tides that peak at eight metres.

  • $
    development (including residential)
  • 25
    hectare site
  • 1.5
    visitors annually

Bold new blueprint makes a big splash

The centrepiece of Darwin Waterfront, a recreation and wave lagoon, is an unrivalled community asset. Stinger and crocodile free, this 4,000 sqm lagoon is two metres at its deepest point. Ten different wave patterns, from gentle swells to 1.2-metre-high surges, entertain everyone from toddlers to boogie board masters. The design and delivery of the Wave Lagoon required a team of experts in engineering, water quality, safety, sustainability and, of course, cost management.

In 2022, Darwin Waterfront Corporation unveiled a $250-million masterplan and a bold new blueprint for 4000 sqm of additional swimming pools, 2.8 hectares of extra public parklands, adventure playgrounds, multipurpose spaces, hospitality and hotel facilities. Darwin is now on the cusp of building Australia’s first saltwater surf park, featuring snorkeling and diving lagoon teeming with tropical fish and 3D printed coral.

Riding the wave from concept to completion

Some aspects of the Darwin Waterfront were still at concept stage at financial close. RLB’s team worked successfully with all stakeholders to ensure these facilities were delivered within the established budgets and project cost constraints.

Over the years, we have provided a suite of services, from cost planning the original concept to assessing monthly progress claims, and from independent determination of contractors’ claims for changes to the scope of the works to the certification of practical completion. RLB was also independent certifier for the Darwin Convention Centre and helped Toga Group to cost plan its hospitality and residential developments.

Two decades after RLB’s team took part in those initial design discussions, Darwin Waterfront is a hub of human activity. From sunbathers and swimmers to friends catching up for a sundowner, community events, conference delegates to diners, Darwin Waterfront is a destination for everyone.