Do something new in Australia’s tropical capital city. A vibrant destination renowned for its sultry climate and colourful characters, Darwin is exotic in every sense with more than 50 nationalities that make up the population. The place is abuzz with open-air markets, art galleries, and a substantial festival season. And don’t forget what’s just down the road – World Heritage-listed national parks a measly three hours away, perfect for doing something a little different.
No hotter or humid than popular Asian destinations such as Bali and Singapore, the temperature in Darwin ensures a fabulous outdoor lifestyle and is consistently around 32 degrees max year round. It is warm and sunny from May to September, humidity rises during the tropical summer from October to April bringing spectacular thunderstorms and monsoonal rains which rejuvenate the landscape.
Adventure seekers can eyeball a 5.5m saltwater crocodile in the ‘Cage of Death’ experience at Crocosaurus Cove, ideally located in the centre of Darwin. Take your loved one in the cage with you for a unique bonding experience! If you can handle that, try Shark cage diving out of Cullen Bay, and see Tiger Sharks in their natural habitat.
Heli-fishing is an extreme alternative to a traditional day of line-casting. Be dropped by a billabong, estuary or coastal creek in places inaccessible by road, enjoy spectacular scenery from the air, and try to catch a wild NT barramundi.
Adventures for little ones include wildlife parks and fish feeding, along with the Wave Lagoon at the Waterfront Precinct. Hire a body board or a tube and play in the man-made wave pool – a fun day for kids big and small.
One of the most popular ways to explore the Northern Territory is by vehicle, be it caravanning, camping or simply taking a road trip. Roads include sealed, unsealed and four-wheel drive adventure routes and allow you to explore the landscape and attractions at your own pace, with freedom and flexibility. Create fantastic memories with your friends and family, or remember great road trips from your past.
A popular and iconic self-drive tourist route from Darwin is ‘Nature’s Way’, a 550km scenic route encompassing Darwin, Kakadu National Park, Katherine and Litchfield National Park.
Do Nature’s Way
From Darwin you can easily immerse yourself in nature by following the driving route to Katherine via Kakadu National Park called ‘Nature’s Way’. Recommended as at least a seven day holiday, the drive begins in Darwin and follows the Arnhem Highway through the Adelaide and Mary River wetlands to World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. The route then follows the Kakadu Highway and Stuart Highway down to Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park.
“Driving through Gunbalanya into Arnhem Land opens you up to some of the best fishing destinations in the world.”
Along the way out of Darwin visit Fogg Dam, boasting 250 species of birdlife, or experience a world-famous croc jumping tour at Adelaide River – where huge saltwater crocodiles lunge metres out of the water for food. Stop in at Window on the Wetlands, an interactive display highlighting the numerous species of bird and animal that call the Adelaide River floodplains home. A climb to the viewing platform shows an almost 360 degree view, and in the wet season the lightning and storm clouds are spectacular.
The first big stop along Nature’s Way is Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park and a World Heritage-listed site with outstanding examples of ancient Aboriginal rock art up to 40,000 years old. Exciting for photographic and wildlife enthusiasts, find entire river systems teeming with wildlife, towering rock formations running for hundreds of kilometres punctuated by majestic waterfalls and billabongs.
Kakadu is a place to explore. Let your 4WD do what it’s made for by following tracks out to magnificent waterfalls. Hike up to escarpments at sunset, join cruises along waterways choked with pink and white waterlilies, spotting tiny Blue Kingfishers and crocodiles lurking in the muddy shallows. Self-drive tours give you the freedom to explore at your own pace, but it’s worth getting the local knowledge. Accommodation in the township of Jabiru or further out in the park ranges from campsites to a very comfortable crocodile shaped hotel – definitely worth a look!
Further south is Katherine, the gateway to Nitmiluk National Park. Explore the staggering network of gorges, carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River. Take a scenic flight, board a cruise or canoe down a gorge to enjoy its immense rocky cliffs spotting birds, crocodiles and other native flora and fauna. Swim with friends in the spring-fed crystal clear pool of the Katherine Hot Springs and tour the 500 million year old Cutta Cutta Caves, a 10 minute drive from town. On your return to Darwin stop off for a swim at Leliyn (Edith) Falls. Discover the wildlife on a scenic walk at Butterfly Gorge Nature Park, north of the historic gold mining town of Pine Creek, before cooling off in the paperbark-lined rock pools. From here it’s less than two hours’ drive to Darwin.
Before heading back to Darwin, Litchfield National Park is a must to explore. Wetlands, thundering waterfalls, gigantic termite mounds and fantastic sandstone formations are around every turn. Then there’s swimming in the clear waterholes. Wangi Falls and Florence are superb; and accessible by 4WD, Blyth Homestead, Tjaynera Falls and Surprise Creek Falls are worth a visit. Often done as a day trip, stay longer and try an overnight hike to really immerse yourself in nature. The road into Litchfield is a loop with one section unsealed and perfect for more 4WD action – check signs for any road closures.
The Top End is closer than you think. Darwin is within four hours’ flying time of most Australian capital cities. Airlines offer direct flights daily to Darwin International Airport and linking flights into Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands and Alice Springs. There are also flights direct to Uluru/Ayers Rock with a number of airlines.
The Stuart Highway or Explorer’s Way runs between Adelaide and Darwin showcasing the best of Australia’s outback landscapes. Take the road less travelled and explore The Savannah Way which runs east-west, linking the Top End to Tropical North Queensland and Western Australia.
The Ghan is 3000+ kilometres through the centre of Australia. Book the Platinum Service for an unforgettable journey and follow the same route as early Explorers, Afghani Camel Traders and Gold Miners. Transfers from Darwin rail terminal are available, and complimentary to Gold and Platinum Service guests.
“You will kick yourself if you don’t make time to visit Arnhem Land.”
Do Arnhem Land
You will kick yourself if you don’t make time to visit Arnhem Land. One of the Top End’s most spectacular natural destinations, and a place you can really forget about your day job, Arnhem Land goes hand-in-hand with a trip to Kakadu. Wildlife is prolific throughout the picturesque scenery, and includes the region’s largest predator – the saltwater crocodile. See dugong, nesting turtles and hundreds of bird species including jacana, azure kingfishers, magpie geese, brolga and jabiru. This is the place to reconnect with nature, that special someone, or enjoy a fun weekend with the boys.
An exceptional place to stay in Arnhem Land is Banubanu Wilderness Retreat on Bremer Island, north of Nhulunbuy. Leave your troubles on the mainland as you reach the eco-friendly retreat – a place to do your own thing. Meet members of the local Indigenous Australian community, where the men teach you to make your own spear and how to fish with it in the traditional way. An afternoon stalking fish in turquoise blue water with the Yolgnu men, while keeping an eye out for the resident crocodile, is a true cultural experience from the NT.
Crossing the river from Kakadu, the first community on the western side of Arnhem Land is Gunbalanya (Oenpelli). Join a tour led by an Indigenous guide to Injalak Hill to see ancient rock art and hear Dreamtime stories. From here, explore the pristine white sandy beaches and sparkling blue water of the marine reserve which make up Garig Gunak Barlu National Park – spanning the entire area of Coburg Peninsula. Keep an eye out for the largest wild herd of Bantang, or Indonesian cattle.
To visit Arnhem Land and the National Park you will need a permit. Plan ahead and apply for a permit at least 10 days in advance at the Northern Land Council website and the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT – or join an organised tour with an operator who has permission to enter the region.
Have more time?
Do More. Do The Explorer’s Way
The Explorer’s Way passes some of Australia’s favourite natural icons and is a great self-drive route to explore more of the NT at your own pace. The journey is recommended to be done over a minimum of 14 days and encompasses Darwin, Litchfield National Park, Katherine, Nitmiluk National Park, Mataranka, Daly Waters, Tennant Creek, the Devils Marbles, Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon and Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. It’s one of the great Aussie holidays – and well worth the drive.
Explorer’s Way can be an extension of your Nature’s Way journey – letting you do more of the NT. After reaching Katherine, travel an hour south to the small community of Mataranka. More than just a stopover on the Explorer’s Way, why not stop, relax and take a dip in the Mataranka Thermal Pools the region is known for, bubbling up at a fairly constant temperature of 34 degrees Celcius. In between Katherine and Tennant Creek is a unique pub that could only belong in the NT. Daly Waters attracts visitors from all over Australia and beyond, wanting to relax after a long drive and enjoy Daly’s famous outback tucker, cold beer and live music. Daly is a must do on your NT adventures, with amusing décor, it is the perfect place for a fair dinkum NT-inspired photo shoot.
Get to know the ancient Aboriginal traditions and the Dreamtime while in Tennant Creek. Learn about the early history of the pioneers, the introduction of telegraph communications, gold mining, police and hospital infrastructure in the region at Tennant Creek’s fascinating museums.
Just south of Tennant Creek is the magical site Karlu Karlu or Devils Marbles. Unravel the mystery of the rock formation of rounded boulders heaped together on the flat desert landscape, believed to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent – here take some spectacular photographs at sunset.
Do Uluru. Do Kings Canyon. Do the Red Centre Way
Visit the spiritual heart of Australia at Alice Springs. With rivers and ranges millions of years old and an ancient Aboriginal culture rich in art and stories, Alice Springs is your basecamp to adventure. Follow the Red Centre Way, a loop taking in West MacDonnell Ranges, Watarrka National Park/Kings Canyon, and Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.
Do Camp. Do Fish. Do Get Off The Beaten Track
Many a great story has started with a camping trip, a fishing rod and a 4WD.
From Darwin, you can rent a 4WD or take your own vehicle and equipment into national parks, with permits available. Join a tour by road or try Heli-fishing for an unforgettable experience with the chance to land a big one. A chance to leave the city behind, the helicopter flies into floodplains and tidal rivers inaccessible by road. Fishing enthusiasts can try to land a big barramundi, while spotting crocodiles, azure kingfishers, jabiru, water buffalo and other wildlife.
Just north of Darwin, Tiwi Islands offer rich cultural history teamed with dramatic landscapes, white sand beaches, dense jungle and inviting rock pools like Tomorapi Falls. Great fishing can be found on the islands. Stay at a beachfront lodge and join a guided fishing trip for the real experience.
Driving through Gunbalanya into Arnhem Land opens you up to some of the best fishing destinations in the world – book barramundi or blue water fishing charters to find the best local spots. At the end of the day, camp under starry skies, and hear stories about how this ancient land was formed.
Plan your road trip today! For more information on how to do the NT, visit travelnt.com.
Hear more from fans of the NT: facebook.com/northernterritoryaustralia twitter.com/AusOutbackNT youtube.com/user/Australiasoutback
Things to do & see
- Hold a juvenile crocodile at Crocosaurus Cove, or make a croc jump with your fishing rod!
- Experience sunset dinner at the Mindil Beach Markets to the sounds of the didgeridoo
- Relax at the open-air Deckchair Cinema in among the palms
- Splash or float around under the waterfalls at Litchfield Swimming Holes
- Experience Darwin from the water on a relaxing Sunset Cruise
- Take a jumping crocodile cruise at Adelaide River
- Learn about spear making, bush tucker or traditional art on an Aboriginal Cultural Tour
- Hand feed a range of fish at Aquascene, Doctors Gully
- Get up close and personal with local wildlife at one of many animal experiences
- Brush up on history at the Darwin Museum and Art Gallery or the Darwin Military Museum
- Book a guided Tiwi Island Fishing experience in unspoilt wilderness
- Try Heli-Fishing to access remote billabongs, rivers and estuaries
- Let Southern Cross Motorbike Tours supply the wheels and tour the Top End in BMW-style
- Go off the map in Arnhem Land for a self-drive fishing retreat
- Arrive like a rockstar at the NT’s iconic pubs on a Heli Pub Crawl
- Canoe your way through steep gorges in Katherine
- Really forget your ‘day job’ with a 4WD and Camping adventure
- Try the Cage of Death experience at Crocosaurus Cove, and eyeball a big croc underwater
- Experience the adrenaline rush Air Boating on Mary River floodplains
- Brave Shark Cage Diving and meet a Tiger Shark up close