Top 5 Destinations: The Northern Territory

Embarking on a journey through the Northern Territory provides you with access to the 40,000 year old history of Australia. The magic of the Top End stays with you and you can’t help but feel moved by its sights and energy.

In our previous blog post ‘Your Guide to Travelling Australia: The Northern Territory’ we discussed how vast the Northern Territory is and how long you need to set aside in order to take it all in. We also explored how difficult it can be to travel around if you don’t have a 4WD and how awesome the guided tours are of the national parks.

So, now that we’ve talked about how to plan a trip and where to go, let’s focus on our favourite bits and what makes the Northern Territory so awesome!

Kakadu & Litchfield National Parks

It would be remiss of us to not have Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks at the top of this list. These national parks are at the very heart of the Top End of Australia and give this area its magic.

Kakadu

Kakadu is a colossal national park and is the size of Wales in the UK, or half the size of Switzerland – It is essentially nearly a whole country!! Kakadu is famous for its extensive wetlands and native wildlife and is full of ancient crocs and unique birdlife.

Covering nearly 20,000 square kms, Kakadu National Park is packed with waterfalls, lush rainforests, rocky gorges, local wildlife plus more than 5000 Aboriginal rock art sites! Due to its size, you’ll want to spend a few days exploring – this is one spot you won’t want to rush! You’ll need a vehicle to get around the park, or you can join a coach or 4WD tour. Kakadu experiences a dry season (April-Oct) and tropical summer (Nov-March) so be sure to check which spots are inaccessible during the latter.

Don’t miss Ubirr rock art site to learn the story of the Rainbow Serpent and climb the Nadab Lookout for panoramic views over the floodplain and beyond into Arnhem Land. A great spot for sunset.

Get an early start to catch a Yellow Water cruise at sunrise. Yellow Water Cruises has exclusive use of Yellow Water Billabong where you can experience the Saltwater Crocodile in its natural habitat and maybe even spot a buffalo on the floodplains!

Head to the Jim Jim and Twin Falls area to see the ancient gorges, towering cliffs and plunge pools up close. You’ll need to have a 4WD or join a 4wd tour to access these spots which are a must-see!

You can’t visit Kakadu without visiting Gunlom Falls! Climb up to the insta-famous plunge pool – an unforgettable natural infinity pool with sweeping views across the bushlands of Kakadu. Take a dip in the crystal clear waters + relax at the billabong at the base of the waterfall, made famous by ‘Crocodile Dundee’.

Litchfield

Not far from the legendary Kakadu, is Litchfield, a 1500 square km national park which is famous for its enormous termite structures, thundering waterfalls and tranquil plunge pools.

Florence Falls and Wangi Falls are two picture-perfect spots where you can take a dip. Both are surrounded by lush monsoon rainforest and crystal clear natural plunge pools. Buley Rockhole is another delightful swim spot – a network of layered pools among ancient orange rocks. Pack a picnic and enjoy a truly memorable lunch at any or all of these picturesque places.

Litchfield’s major attractions are linked by a sealed road so a 4WD isn’t necessary unless you want to access The Lost City or the Reynolds River Track. As always, a tour guide will be able to take you off the beaten track + give you some extra insider info.

Litchfield is also famous for its hundreds of Magnetic Termite mounds. Up to 100 years old, these structures are home to thousands upon thousands of termites and stand up to 2 metres high!

Kangaroos, wallabies, possums, flying foxes, and dingoes all live in Litchfield National Park. To get up close to some local wildlife join the famous Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the vast Adelaide River, teaming with hundreds of native bird species!

If you’re into hiking, The Tabletop Track is an excellent, 39km bushwalk that takes you through woodlands, along creeklines + to waterfalls and pools like Florence Falls, Greenant Creek, Wangi Falls + Walker Creek.

If you do have a 4WD, test your driving skills on the rough + rocky 10km track into the Lost City. The Lost City is made up of a series of large sandstone formations spread over the area of a small town. Estimated to be over 500 million years old, the sandstone block + pillar formations look like the ruins of a city!

Katherine Gorge

Nitmiluk National Park and the majestic Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge covers a vast area, including 13 impressive gorges carved from the ancient sandstone country.

On the way to Katherine Gorge, if heading North from the Red Centre, try and fit in a visit to the small township of Mataranka. Mataranka is renowned for its thermal pool, fed by spring water in the Daly and Georgina basins, it has a sandy bottom, is surrounded by palm forest, and its waters are consistently a toasty 34°C!

After a relaxing dip, head into the park and to the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre, to learn about the cultural and spiritual significance of the gorge for its traditional owners, the Jawoyn and Dagomen people. Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. It is pronounced Nit-me-look, and literally means Cicada Place.

There are many Aboriginal rock art paintings on sandstone walls throughout the gorge system, some of which are thousands of years old. Take a tour to learn about the traditions + significance of the land from a local guide.

You can explore the world-famous park + gorge country on foot, by canoe, boat or helicopter. Hire a canoe to paddle along the gorges to see waterfalls, ancient Aboriginal rock art and wildlife. If you don’t feel like paddling yourself around you can opt for a sunrise or sunset river cruise to watch the magnificent gorges change colour. For something extra special, a helicopter flight will show you stunning views of the gorge system, Arnhem Land escarpment + local wildlife from above!

Walking trails in the park are filled with countless natural treasures. For those short on time we recommend the Baruwei Lookout for views over the Katherine River. There’s also the Windolf Walk or for avid hikers, the Jatbula Trail – a 58km hike from Katherine Gorge to Leliyn / Edith Falls which takes 4-5 days to complete.

Darwin

We couldn’t discuss the Top End without a high five to the capital city of the Northern Territory – Darwin. You’ll find strong Aboriginal cultures here, as well as markets, crocodile encounters and sunset cruises aplenty.

Darwin’s a great base for visiting Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks, and is easily accessible by international flights from Asia, or by domestic flight from cities like Cairns, Broome and Alice Springs.

In the heart of the CBD is the Waterfront, home to the Wave Pool, Recreation Lagoon and various waterfront restaurants. We recommend the Darwin sunset dinner cruise – a 1.5hr cruise which includes a meal of fresh local caught fish and chips plus a champagne/beer!

There’s plenty to do come nightfall, with a multitude of craft breweries, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Two of Darwin’s most popular attractions are the sunset markets and open-air Cinema.

On Thursdays and Sundays with over 200 unique stalls, the Mindil Beach Sunset Market is the heart of Darwin’s cultural melting pot + truly epitomises the word ‘multicultural’. The Deckchair Cinema is a large open-air cinema on Darwin Harbour – bring a picnic or enjoy dinner from local caterers, and enjoy a range of foreign, classic and family-friendly films.

Check out the nearby Berry Springs Nature Park to cool off and relax in the clear, shaded pools. The area is great for bushwalking, with a looped track that takes you through monsoon forest and woodlands.

Tiwi Islands

Located just across the water from Darwin, lie the beautiful Tiwi Islands, often referred to as the ‘island of smiles’. The ferry takes around 2.5 hours, and you can also reach the islands on a 30-minute flight from Darwin. Rarely explored by travellers, the Tiwi Islands still ooze rustic charm and a relaxing sense of idyllic isolation.

The Tiwi Islands are made up of 2 main islands – Bathurst and Melville, and another 9 smaller, uninhabited islands. Most of the residents are of Aboriginal descent and you can meet some of them on a range of cultural and wildlife tours.

The people on Tiwi Islands are famous for their traditional lifestyle, stunning artworks and vibrant fabrics and textiles. You’ll find art, sculpture and carvings everywhere you look, but we recommend visiting an art centre to meet the artists and learn the story behind their distinctive pieces.

In addition to traditional arts, the Tiwi Islands are known for their natural beauty, biodiversity, and traditional land management methods. The islands are home to more than 56 bird species, crocodiles, dolphins, sea turtles, and dugong.

If you’re flexible with your travel dates, March is the best time to visit, when the annual Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and Art Sale event takes place every year in March. See an iconic game of Australian rules football and purchase some unique pieces of Aboriginal art.

The Tiwi Islands are a must do for a unique cultural experience in the Top End. Remember, The Tiwi Islands are Aboriginal land, and all visitors are required to have a permit. If you’re travelling on a tour your permit will be arranged by the tour operator.

Devils Marbles

For something completely unusual and physics-defying, we recommend a stop at the town of Tennant Creek to see the iconic Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles. The Devils Marbles are traditionally believed by the Warmungu Aboriginal people to be the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.

These gigantic boulders have become an internationally recognised symbol of Australia’s outback, standing up to 6m high and formed over millions of years, they continue to crack and change. The marbles are spectacular at sunrise when the light of the morning sun highlights their deep red colour.

Australia’s last gold rush took place at Tennant Creek in the 1930s, earning the town its title of ‘the Territory’s heart of gold’. Re-live the gold rush era on an underground tour at the Battery Hill Mining Centre and try fossicking for your own gold to take home! Just north of the town are The Pebbles (Kunjarra) – granite boulders that are a sacred site and women’s dancing place for the Warumungu people, and a great place to see the sunset.

Tennant Creek is a great spot to stay overnight before continuing to the town of Daly Waters. As with many outback desert towns, the main attraction of this town is the World Famous Daly Waters Pub. This historic, award-winning landmark is famed for its Aussie charm, and is a popular oasis in the heart of the outback.

The walls of the pub are lined with all sorts of treasures, clothing items and memorabilia from those who have passed through its doors, wishing to leave their mark. It’s a great place to stop along the way and treat yourself to a hearty pub feed and a cold beer before getting back on the road!

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