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The Top End Australia is a dry, barren region that’s most famous for its hot and humid climate, gorgeous national parks, ancient aboriginal heritage, and, we’re sorry to say, flies.
We spent four months traveling around the region, and there wasn’t a drop of rain, not even a hint of it with a single wisp of white cloud.
Temperatures are so hot you could happily strip naked and walk around town, or fry an egg on your cars bonnet.
The region, known as Australia’s Last Frontier, is endless miles of red dust, spinifex grass, ecucalyptus trees, floodplains and grasslands, and grazing Brahman cattle, but every now and then, a hidden gem pops up.
This region offers a unique blend of natural beauty, culture, and adventure.
But if you’re planning to visit Australia’s Top End and not sure what it is, where it is, or what to do there, then keep reading to find out.
What is the Top End of Australia?
The Top End of Australia refers to the northernmost section of the Northern Territory, encompassing a vast peninsula at the top and middle of the continent.
Although it has never had a start or end point officially defined, it’s estimated to cover around 245,000 square kilometers (95,000 square miles), extending into Darwin, Arnhem Land, Arafura Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria, and past Kakadu National Park.
Many Australians would also refer to the entire top half of Australia as the Top End in generalized conversation. That would be extending from Cairns, through the Savannah Way in the Queensland Outback on one side, and through the Kimberley to Broome Western Australia on the other!
With its tropical climate, high humidity, and two seasons (aptly named wet and dry season), the Top End is rich in flora and fauna, as well as Australia’s native wildlife such as the notorious saltwater crocodiles.
Where does the Top End start?
Most people associate the starting point of Top End Australia as Darwin, the largest city in the Northern Territory.
The region also includes the towns of Palmerston and Katherine, and stops before it reaches the town of Alice Springs, which belongs to the Red Centre of Australia.
The Top End also includes some islands off the coast, such as the Tiwi Islands (known as Bathurst Island and Melville Island), as well as Groote Eylandt.
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Places to Visit in Top End Australia
Now you know where to find the Top End of Australia, here are some of our favorite destinations in the region that you cannot miss…
Top End Australia is well known for its saltwater crocodile population. It’s estimated that 100,000 saltwater crocodiles live in its waters – be it rivers, lakes or tributaries. Traveling in this hot region is living on the edge of constant croc watch. Jumping and squirming every time you see a river miles away.
“Are there crocs in here?” is the first sentence that flies out of your mouth with each new body of water you come to. It’s got you freaked out so much, you even ask it when you’re near chlorinated swimming pools.
But when you visit the magical Lake Argyle, the water looks so inviting you don’t even think twice about them.
Lake Argyle in Western Australia is a freshwater lake, so salties stay clear of its wonderful waters. You may be sharing the waters with a few freshwater crocs, but they tend to stay away from people and are not as dangerous as the salties.
This vast man-made lake, born from the mighty Ord River, is best seen by boat tour, which allows you to witness the grandeur of its size, see the surrounding wildlife and appreciate the diverse ecosystem.
The best time to visit is sunset, where the temperatures are much cooler and you can embrace the tranquility of a cruise with the orange hues casting over you.
Nestled in the captivating Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge is another freshwater hot spot that beckons travelers with its alluring waters and craggy rock formations.
The breathtaking sandstone landscape is truly a sight to behold. You can explore the 13 stunning gorges on foot, or better yet, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle along the majestic Katherine River, surrounded by awe-inspiring cliffs and cascading waterfalls, such as Jim Jim Falls.
This hidden gem showcases the true beauty of Top End Australia, where adventure and beauty intertwine.
You can also learn about rich indigenous aboriginal culture at Katherine Gorge, where on a guided tour you can discover ancient rock art, and marvel at sacred spaces to the native communities.
Kakadu National Park
This sprawling wilderness has been home to Aboriginal tribes for more than 50,000 years, and features several fascinating and aboriginal rock art sites that are thousands of years old. The best places to see aboriginal art is at Nourlangie, Nanguluwur and Ubirr.
It’s also well known for its wetlands, which are home to more than 2,000 species of plants, as well as, you guessed it, salt water crocodiles.
Embark on a Yellow Waters Billabong cruise along East Alligator River and get up close to these magnificent animals.
Kakadu also has several hiking trails and mountain biking trails, taking you along rugged terrain. On foot, you can discover thundering waterfalls, escarpments and towering cliffs, and even discover the only safe swimming hole in Kakadu NP – Gunlum Falls.
Kakadu is home to the greatest variety of ecosystems in Australia, from wetlands to grasslands to deserts to rainforests.
There is no better place in the Top End to see such diversity of nature, including a breathtaking sunset at Nadab Lookout.
One of the best ways to see the vastness and beauty of Kakadu National Park is to enjoy a scenic flight or helicopter flights over the park.
Litchfield National Park
Nestled just a short drive south of Darwin towards Adelaide River, is Litchfield National Park, which is another captivating escape with natural wonders and swimming holes.
By now you’re probably realizing that many of these destinations have places you can swim in, and you can thank us later once you’ve experienced the heat of this region!
This enchanting park is best known for its stunning waterfalls, crystal-clear swimming holes, and picturesque landscapes.
If you need cooling off, dive into the refreshing waters of Buley Rockholes, or swim under the cascading flowing waters of Florence Falls and its plunge pool, or enjoy a picnic amidst the splendor of Wangi Falls.
The park also has many scenic hikes that take you to some hidden gems. We enjoyed the Walker Creek trail.
The beating heart of the Northern Territory is Darwin, a city that beckons travelers with its unique charm and relaxed, hippy atmosphere. It’s the gateway to Australia’s Top End and the best place to base yourself for a Top End adventure.
This tropical city offers a vibrant downtown scene, with bustling markets and live music every night. Not to mention it’s iconic beach sunsets, which fill the skies ablaze with orange every night.
Take a short walk along the sparkling harbor, shop for authentic souvenirs at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, and sample Darwin’s culinary delights at the plethora of delicious dining options.
Daly Waters is a small town off the Stuart Highway, that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s charm is that it’s so remote and cut off from civilization, and where the friendly locals are thrilled when new arrivals come to town.
At the heart of this tiny town lies the iconic Daly Waters Pub, an attraction like no other. Built in 1930 and adorned with decades of memorabilia, this quirky pub is a testament to the region’s rich heritage.
Since it’s one of the only attractions in the town, you will find it has a lively atmosphere, and where you can enjoy a beef’n’barri barbecue or indulge in the local pub fare.
Daly Waters Pub has become a beloved hangout spot for travelers traveling between Alice Springs and Darwin, and is one of the best places to experience the friendliness and warmness of the Australian locals.
Another great swimming spot is Mataranka Springs, and oasis-like destination that offers a perfect escape from the ordinary.
While you might be thinking these pools will cool you down in the warm weather, think again. These are inviting thermal pools surrounded by palm trees and sandy bottoms.
Mataranka Springs, located in Elsey National Park, is a serene haven for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Broome, Western Australia
On your Top End Australia trip, you find yourself talking with passing travellers, who soon become comrades, about the marks of a good town approaching.
It has Woolworths. If there’s Target, you’ve struck gold and a restaurant means the jackpot is yours.
Why else do you think we stayed in Broome for five weeks? It had all of the above.
You can almost see the inhabitants of each caravan run down to the beach as soon as the red dirt they arrive on ends at the turquoise ocean. They’re desperate for the oasis after weeks of Outback driving.
“It’s paradise. Boy after that journey, I just don’t want to leave here.” That’s the feeling you get when you find Broome after all the rugged landscapes you’ve seen so far.
Broome is a small coastal town that connects to the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s famous for its 22km long Cable Beach, and dinosaur tracks that appear at low tide on Gantheaume Point.
It’s also just a charming place to relax.
READ MORE ON BROOME
We spent four months journeying through the Top End of Australia on a complete Northern Territory road trip.
Despite been driven mad a lot of the time by the toughness of it, and those damn flies, I loved every minute.
Lying waiting for you beneath the tough exterior are endless horizons of exquisite beauty, ancient timelessness, vitality and perfection.
Secret nooks and crannies, waterfalls, gorges, stunning sunsets, and a thriving ecosystem hiding amongst the apparent lifelessness of the scrub.
The Top End has given birth to a deep love and connection within me for Australia. It’s possibly the part I’ll speak most about from this road trip in years to come.
This is my country. And I’m in love with it.
But, I sure am happy to be leaving the red dust, exhausting heat, and annoying flies behind to return to pristine beaches and green rolling hills.
Tours of Australia
If you were looking for group tour options in Australia, rather than traveling independent. Our preferred partner Globus has a range of Australian tours. Click links below and be sure to use our exclusive code in the blue box below.
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We’ve secured an exclusive yTravel discount: Save $100 per person on select 2023 and 2024 Globus and Avalon Waterway Vacations. Use the code: YTRAVEL when booking online at the Globus, Cosmos, and Avalon Waterways websites, by calling Globus and Avalon Waterways directly, or booking with a preferred Travel Advisor. Terms & Conditions.