Location Scouts: Nature’s Way
Many tourists have looked out across the Northern Territory’s awe-inspiring landscapes and joked: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur suddenly appeared on the horizon”.
Darwin is the gateway to that ancient, beautiful land. Spend some time exploring the Top End and visiting some of our iconic attractions.
The first decision when planning your trip in the NT is transport. Thrifty Hire Car offers a range of vehicles, including 4WDs or minivans for the family. With locations across the Northern Territory, from Darwin to Uluru and many places in between, Thrifty should make your journey easier.
Day 1: Travel to Kakadu
Depart Darwin in the early morning to give yourself plenty of time to take in the ever-changing scenery of the different landscapes, rivers and floodplains on the 250km drive to Kakadu National Park.
Stop half way at the iconic Corroboree Park Tavern to refresh and meet Brutus the resident 4.4m crocodile, but don ’t get too close… saltwater crocs have a bite force comparable to that of a T-Rex!
Continue your travels along the Arnhem Highway towards Kakadu, and don’t forget to grab a selfie by the entrance sign at the information bay as you’re welcomed to the Aboriginal lands of Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park, covering nearly 20,000km2 and extending 200 kilometres north to south, protecting a whole gigantic interlinked ecosystem. The park, which is half the size of Switzerland, has it all – a gorgeous sandstone escarpment offering spectacular views, mighty rivers and billabongs, thundering waterfalls and more prehistoric art sites than the whole of Europe. Kakadu has more than 17,000 plant species, over one third of Australia’s bird species, including all four of the species endemic to the Northern Territory, and a healthy population of saltwater crocodiles.
The township of Jabiru in the heart of Kakadu has hotels, a swimming pool, a social club, shopping plaza, medical clinic and golf course.
Anbinik Kakadu Resort in Jabiru has self-contained cabins and powered sites for campervans and caravans in a quiet tropical setting. For those on a budget, accommodation with shared facilities is also available. There’s a pool and barbecues.
Jabiru also has Australia’s quirkiest hotel. The Aboriginal-owned Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is literally in the shape of a crocodile – the lobby is the animal’s mouth slightly agape, rooms run down its body and tail, and the stairwells are legs. The hotel’s lovely swimming pool is in the croc’s belly – an oasis after long days of exploring the endlessly storied world outside. The hotel features the Escarpment Restaurant and bar, full business facilities and meeting rooms, broadband internet and flat screen TVs in their guest rooms.
Ensure plenty of time to drive to Ubirr in time for sunset. This iconic Aboriginal art site and lookout is one of the most popular places to experience some amazing Aboriginal rock-art, and get a 360 degree view of the various landscapes from the lookout as the sun sets over the floodplains, a fabulous end to the day.
Day 2: Explore Kakadu
Kakadu National Park is more accessible than ever. There are bitumen roads to all the main sites and the park is crisscrossed by a network of walking trails. There are several campsites and many excellent fishing spots.
Start your day with some cultural history. Visit the Bowali Information Centre to collect a map and find out the times for any guided ranger tours throughout the park.
Much of the Arnhem Land Escarpment in Kakadu is adorned with “rock art”, a phrase that doesn’t do justice to the ancient paintings of the Bininj people. Burrungkuy, also known as Nourlangie, features art from at least 20,000 years ago. Some of the work is more recent and is known as “contact art”, showing Europeans and sailing ships.
Nawurlandja Lookout offers superb views of the escarpment. During the dry season, rangers offer talks and hikes at these must-see sites. The escarpment is home to birds, mammals and plants found nowhere else in the world.
Day 3: Explore Arnhem Land
The Northern Territory offers experiences unlike anywhere else on the planet. For a look into traditional life on the land, and a peek into one of the last truly great stretches of pristine land, look no further than Arnhem Land.
Arnhem Land is owned by Aboriginal people, but visitors are welcome (with a permit) to share pristine beaches, remote islands, rivers alive with fish, thick rainforest, titanic escarpments and savannah woodland.
There’s an increasing number of places to stay, including hotels and luxury bush camps. Or why not book a guided tour with Kakadu Cultural Tours?
Day 4: Drive to Katherine
Back on the Stuart Highway heading towards Katherine, stop at the historic gold-mining township of Pine Creek, which has a population of 300. Founded during the building of the north to south overland telegraph line, the small settlement has enjoyed spasmodic mining booms. It was used as a military camp hospital during the Second World War and a construction camp during the building of the Alice Springs to Darwin railway. The area was traditionally a junction for the three largest tribes of the region.
Try your hand at panning for gold. Don’t forget to visit the cemetery (where locals are buried for free) and also the location of several termite mounds. One of the mounds is many metres tall and well worth a photo.
Katherine is the town where the tropics meet the Outback. The town, which has several good hotels, is alongside the lovely, pandanus-fringed Katherine River. The fascinating Cutta Cutta Caves, home to the rare Ghost Bat, and the thermal pools of Bitter Springs lie a few kilometres outside town.
Day 5: Explore Nitmiluk National Park
Nitmiluk National Park, with its achingly beautiful string of sandstone gorges and population of harmless freshwater crocodiles, lies a short drive to the east of Katherine. It’s no surprise that the Gorge, as it is commonly known, was used in Jedda, the first Australian movie shot in colour and the first to star Aboriginal actors. Nitmiluk, which has a serviced campsite, upmarket Cicada Lodge hotel and fine dining restaurant, is owned by the Jawoyn people.
There’s a wide range of tours: everything from collecting bush tucker with Jawoyn women to helicopter flights along the route of the winding river. The best-loved tours are boat trips along the river; some are only for a couple of hours, but others are all-day adventures through the whole system of gorges. The wine and nibbles sunset cruise is particularly popular. Canoes can be hired for go-it-alone paddles along the river.
Leliyn, also known as Edith Falls, lies in the west of Nitmiluk National Park. It’s a marvellous place for a swim, and is home to the Gouldian Finch, considered by ornithologists to be the most beautiful finch in the world. You can camp at Leliyn and loll about in the natural swimming hole for hours on end. Or you can put on your walking boots and try the 62 kilometre Jatbula Trail.
Be sure to pop into some of our iconic outback pubs for a rest break as you drive back to Darwin along the Stuart Highway to complete your Top End adventure. The 303 Bar at the Adelaide River Inn has fantastic pub grub, and is the final home of ‘Charlie the Buffalo’ from Crocodile Dundee, who lives up on the bar for photo opportunities. Conclude your adventure upon arrival back in Darwin with a cool drink watching the sun melt into the ocean at Mindil Beach.