Highlights of a Northern Territory Road Trip from Darwin

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Darwin locals are so fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most spectacular national parks in Australia.

If you’re exploring the Top End of the Northern Territory then a looped road trip from Darwin taking in Katherine Gorge, Kakadu National Park, and Litchfield National Park is a must.

We recommend taking at least two weeks to fully explore the top end of the Northern Territory. We started in the opposite direction from Katherine Gorge and looped anti-clockwise.

If you’re flying into Darwin, hire a car and loop around whichever place you please.

Northern Territory Highlights

Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

Nitmiluk National Park is owned by the local Jawoyn people and Katherine Gorge is the main attraction of the park. It’s a series of 13 deep sandstone gorges carved out by the Katherine River on its journey from Arnhem Land to the Timor Sea.

Only three of the gorges can be accessed via tours and activities from the main visitor centre. Visiting the other gorges involve a long five-day hike.

Here are our Katherine Gorge highlights:

Walk to the Barrawei Lookout

Katherine gorge

This was a 3.2km loop walk up to the lookout with great views over the gorge. You can do the shorter walk taking a steep climb up to the lookout from the river and back down again. Don’t forget to check out all the bats hanging from the trees as you walk along the river bank.

There are plenty of other walking trails in Nitmiluk. If we didn’t have the kids with us, I’d take on the 12km Butterfly Gorge walk.

Do the Sunrise Gorge Cruise

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

This two-hour Dawn Break tour will take you through to the second gorge. You get to walk 800 metres when moving from the first to the second gorge and see some rock art and get a closer appreciation of just how beautiful this gorge is.

It wasn’t until we arrived at the second gorge that I understood what the fuss was all about. It’s called the breakfast cruise, but it’s really just a bowl of fruit and a drink. Forget the eating, it’s more about the stunning scenery in the soft, morning light.

There are other cruises you can do: a longer one, which takes you into the third gorge and a sunset dinner cruise, which is meant to be awesome. Make sure you book ahead as they get very busy.

Cost: $82 adults, $45 child (5-15)

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

If you’re staying in Nitmiluk National Park, in the evening at sunset walk down to where the tour boats leave from and view the hundreds of fruit bats flying over the river. Amazing site to see.

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

Kayak into Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

We could not do the kayaking trip as Savannah was too young, but Craig did it previously and it came highly recommended by our community. Our friend, Nick explored the gorge on his stand up paddle board. Definitely, make a day of it and paddle into the second gorge, which I found the most beautiful.

Kayak hire:  Double – AU$38pp, Single – AU$53pp

Katherine Gorge - Northern Territory, Australia

Stay at the Nitmiluk Caravan Park

Katherine Gorge campsite

Right near the visitor centre is the Nitmiluk Caravan Park and it’s the perfect place to stay right near the entrance to Katherine Gorge, about a 30-minute drive from the town of Katherine.

You can easily walk to the gorge, it’s clean, tidy, shady and has a great swimming pool. You’ll need it!

Campsite $19 unpowered, $44 powered

If you want something a little more luxury, consider staying at the Cicada Lodge.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Ah Kakadu National Park, an Australian bucket list must. I’m already planning my return trip in a different season.

It’s hard to put into words its power, but it has an ancient mysticism urging you to explore its changing landscapes. From wetlands, to sandstone escarpments, waterfalls, swimming holes, billabongs and rivers, it teems with wildlife and abundance. Spend awhile soaking it up.

I’m not sure I’ve been to such a powerful place before. It sure made me super grateful to be born in such an exquisite country.

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s biggest National Park, and is half the size of Switzerland. You know it’s a big place when you enter through the gates and you still have a 1.5hr drive to your campground, so you will need a bit of time here.

Here are our Kakadu Highlights:

Gunlom Falls

Yellow Water Cruise Kakadu 200

This has to be the most beautiful swimming pool I’ve ever been in. Just look at this view.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

It’s a bit of a drive into Gunlom off the main road within Kakadu, but so worth it. Go slow on the dirt road coming in, there’s a few corrugations. Once you arrive,  it’s a short hike up to the top swimming hole. The bottom plunge pool was closed due to the threat of saltwater crocs.

There are a series of pools at the top, which trickle down over the cliff as a waterfall. That trickle will grow once the wet season arrives.

Note: there are very few places you can swim in Kakadu due to saltwater crocodiles. You MUST pay attention to all signs and talk to the rangers if you are unsure. A saltwater croc will eat you with ravenous intent.

Gunlom Falls - Yellow Water Cruise, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Gunlom Falls - Yellow Water Cruise, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Gunlom Falls - Yellow Water Cruise, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Yellow Water Billabong Cruise

Yellow Water Cruise - Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

The Yellow Water billabong cruise is an absolute must and we highly recommend you do the sunrise cruise. Seeing the mist dance on the water as the sun rose was mystical and magical.

Yellow Water Cruise Kakadu 017

You don’t want to miss the billabong waking up. I’ve never seen such an abundance of wildlife: Hunting sea eagles, flocks of storks and darters flying by, dancing brolgas, buffalos grazing on the floodplains and of course the stealthily moving crocodiles looking for breakfast.

We were lucky to see the frightening power and speed of one launch and snap at a passing fish. He got him. Like he was ever going to miss.

Saltwater Crocodile - Yellow Water Cruise, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu’s most famous wetland, is located at the end of Jim Jim Creek, a tributary of the South Alligator River. The river system, which is the largest in Kakadu, contains extensive wetlands that include river channels, floodplains and backwater swamps.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

We’ll have a post with more photos just on the cruise later as it was just too stunning not to feature it. You can see Craig’s experience with it two years ago here.

Cost: $99 adults, $70 child

Sunset at Nardab Lookout, Ubirr

Take some time to enjoy the rock art in the Ubirr gallery as you walk up to the lookout. It’s some of the best rock art you’ll see in Australia. Check the schedule for free ranger guided tours. We joined Kenneth, a local Aboriginal guide who shared stories and aboriginal customs and beliefs behind each piece of art.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Aboriginal Rock Art - Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Then sit atop the lookout for an hour or two as the sun gently sets over the vast emerald green floodplains, the outcropping of rocks glow in the sunlight and look like the remains of crumbling ancient temples.

Up here you can totally understand why this is such a spiritual land to the Aboriginal people. There’s a timelessness and wisdom to this land.

Ubirr Lookout, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Sunset at Ubirr, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

We were so happy to spend it with our friends from The Block Shop. The kids played hide and seek, giggling and laughing, while we had a chance to savour the sunset with adult friends!

Ubirr, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Nourlangie Rock Art and Sunset

I loved walking along the Anbangbang Gallery through cave dwellings and a walkway along the walls of the escarpment cliffs.

The kids had a ball racing from one picture to the next giggling at Dreaming characters like Nabulwinjbilwinj, a dangerous spirit who likes to bang females on the head with a yam and then eat them. (It’s far too easy to see this one is a boy!)

Aboriginal Rock Art - Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

You can walk to Gunwarddehwarde Lookout for views of the red-sandstone cliffs, striped with oranges, whites and blacks rising above the woodlands. So pretty.

From here drive a few kilometres back up the road to Nourlangie Lookout, another beautiful place to see the sunset. It was setting behind us on the mountain (I think you could walk up to the peak to see it set but it was too hard with the kids)

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

We loved watching the colours of the Arnhem Land escarpment change from gold to pink as the sun went down. Magic.

TIPS:

Some highly recommended places we could not get to due to access being only for high-clearance 4WD VEHICLE – Maguk (Barramundi Gorge), Twin Falls, and Jim Jim falls.

Where to Stay in Kakadu

We camped at the Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park at Jabiru, the main town within Kakadu and proved to be a great base. There are plenty of grassed, shady sites, a swimming pool and a bistro with great food.

There are plenty of national park campgrounds in Kakadu and the Gagudju Cooinda Lodge and camping at Cooinda comes highly recommended. This is where you get the Yellow Water Cruises from and would be worth staying here as you explore the south-western part to the park.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park is only an hours drive from Darwin, which makes it a perfect weekend getaway. It’s one of the best places in the Top End to go swimming with waterfalls plunging off the edge of the escarpment into crystal-clear, safe swimming holes. By safe, we mean salt-water crocodile free!

Florence Falls

Florence Falls - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Florence Falls is a double-plunge waterfall leading to a popular swimming hole. There’s a steep staircase down to the pools passing through a lovely viewing point.

Otherwise, you can take the walk down to the falls from the car park via Shady Creek track.

We didn’t get to do it, but it’s meant to be very pretty. We walked from Florence Falls to Buley Rockholes

Buley Rockholes

Buly Rockhole - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

This was my favourite part of Litchfield National Park.

It’s the perfect place to visit with kids and we recommend getting there early to escape the tour buses and have the rock pool serenity to yourself. The Buley Rockholes is a series of rock pools that has water cascading through them. Walk up to the top and take your pick of rock holes to sit in for awhile.

Just spend the day moving from one to the other. It’s hot enough to warrant it – even in the winter.

Buley Rockholes - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Wangi Falls

Wangi Falls - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Wangi Falls is probably Litchfield’s most popular attraction with a large swimming hole and picnic area.Whilst pretty and definitely worth a stop, I didn’t like Wangi as much as Florence and Buley.

Wangi Falls - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Walker Creek

Walker Creek - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

If you want a swimming hole experience that is away from the crowds then take the 3km walk along Walker Creek to shared swimming hole number six. It was small, but just lovely to have all to ourselves and so refreshing after such a hot walk with two kids.

 Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

 Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

Along the walk, you’ll see various private camp sites next to the creek with their own private swimming hole. One to seriously consider pitching a tent at if you like bush camping. Number one was my pick.

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Termite Mound - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Want to see a termite mount that’s as high as a building? These termites are pretty impressive. Not only do you see extraordinarily big ones but a field of them that look like gravestones. These termite mounds are built by thousands of termites with a north-south orientation to control the temperature inside the mounds.

Where to stay in Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park 003

We stayed outside the park At Batchelor Big 4. It was a lovely campsite with a natural bush setting. We had to stay here as we needed internet service, but there are plenty of camping sites in the National Park.

Cost: $30 unpowered site $42 powered site

After all that time spent in such beautiful natural landscapes of the Northern Territory’s Top End you might need a little city civilisation. Park your car and butt in Darwin for a while.

It has a small-town, laid-back vibe. A bit of tropical mixed with Top End country. We love it. For now, check out this old post on things to do in Darwin,  which we’ll be updating shortly with our fresh, new perspective.

Plan Your Trip around Darwin

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Tours in the Northern Territory

 

30 thoughts on “Highlights of a Northern Territory Road Trip from Darwin”

  1. Terrific photos folks! The top end is definitely one of the best areas to travel through in Australia, just so different to the rest of our wonderful country. Thanks for such a good read, made me feel like I was there too, almost! Enjoy the rest of the WA leg of your journey!

  2. Stunning photos. So much to see in the Northern Territory and it looks like you made the most of it. I love the final campsite picture as it reminds me of the simple joys of camping. Any mossies?

  3. Hey Caz and Craig
    Really impressive your trip, enjoy sharing your experiences through your blog, awesome.
    Cheers
    Andre

    1. Hey Andre!!!

      How are you? When are you going to bring the fam down under so we can hang out? It’s been far too many years! So great to hear from you.

  4. Amazing blog but…I can’t believe you have never been to Portugal. It will be a pleasure for me to introduce you to this old renewed country…be my guest!

  5. Johanna at ZigaZag

    I picked up this post from your Newsletter and so glad I did. Really inspired me to put this whole area on our bucket list – your photos are superb 🙂

  6. Your post is very interesting, comprehensive and informative. Thank you for sharing your experience! You really made a nice job. Pictures are fabulous. Special thanks for very useful tips. I’ll bear them in my mind.

  7. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling

    This all looks so beautiful! I have to admit, I have no idea where I would start if I was visiting the Top End – it looks like the hardest part is choosing what parts you DON’T visit! 🙂

    I think, though, that anywhere with a croc-free swimming spot would be particularly tempting for me. 🙂 And I certainly wouldn’t mind walking a few k’s in the midday heat if I knew that a lovely cool swim was waiting for me at the end of it!

    1. Hey Karyn, the closest park to Darwin is Litchfield (1 hour) followed by Kakadu, and then Katherine is about 4-5 hours away. All of Litchfileds swimming holes are croc free, although there have been some freshwater crocs in Wangi Falls.

  8. Hi there,

    Great post, but as a Territorian, I have to point out something (yeah, I live in Darwin and I kinda work behind the scenes in NT tourism).

    This isn’t really ‘NT’ highlights.

    It’s Top End highlights – there’s no Barkly and definitely no central Australia.

    Sorry to criticize, but we work SO hard to educate people that there’s two VERY different parts to the NT that are over a 1000km apart (imagine landing in Darwin and thinking that you could just choof down the road to Uluru in a couple of hours??), it’s disappointing when people lump the NT into one homogenous package.

    1. You can see quite clearly from the first paragraph that we have mentioned the Top End. At the moment, we’ve only exprienced the Top End so this post is about that. We’ll be writing about the rest of the NT when we visit. We’ve very clearly stated that this is a trip done from Darwin. Anyone reading this post is not going to think they can choof down to Uluru in a couple of hours, because we don’t mention Uluru and we say that this is one road trip you can do from Darwin.
      The majority of people reading this post are not Australians. They would have NO idea what the Top End is or where it is and so wouldn’t bother to read the post to find out more. Northern TErritory they get.

      Sasha, the question I ask you is do you want people to come to the Northern Territory? We do. It’s an amazing place. The reason we have put NT highlights is because it’s a highly searched traffic term. So if you want people to visit the Northern Territory and see this. So when people land on this site, via that search term, they get an amazing amount of information on the Northern Territory. They’ll also be able to click around on our site and see all the posts that we have written on the Northern Territory and will continue to do so

      We work so hard Sasha to promote every destination we go to. We’ve exposed the Northern Territory to thousands of people, and many are now excited to add it to the destination list. Do you want to thank us for that?

      If we have to put NT highlights so we draw more eyeballs to this as a destination, then don’t you think its a good thing?

      If you love your state so much you should be thanking us for all the work we do to promote it. The posts we write on this site will continue to bring attention and awareness to the Northern Territory for years. Surely you’d be more interested in that then ranting at us for a headline that is designed to draw attention and those people actively looking for more information.

  9. Loving your new website – amazing improvement and love reading about our adventures together in your words! Looking forward to meeting up again soon.

  10. Hi there, we are thinking of going up to the top end and do pretty much what you did, your website has been such an amazing inspiration. I’m just wondering if you’d be happy to share the breakdown of your stay there, how many nights and where? We have 2 weeks, so planning on renting a campervan, We have 2 kids (6 year old + 1 year old). Thanks again for such beautiful post, I”m really excited about the trip now knowing that it’s not a problem to have your little kids with you. All the best! Martha

  11. Love this post about the top end. We’re looking at driving from Mt Isa to Darwin on a 3 week adventure with our 2 boys aged 10 and 11. We’ve got a camper trailer though and need to choose our stops carefully because putting the trailer up and down too often soon turns into too much hard work. If you have any ideas on where and how long we should base ourselves in each area we would love to hear from you.

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