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The Top End

Map showing the Top End area of Australia

The Northern Territory is huge—six times the size of Victoria or roughly France, Spain and Italy combined. It’s so big that it has different climates: tropical and rainforesty in the northern half and semi-arid desert country towards the bottom. We call the top half the ‘Top End’ (the bottom bit is the ‘Red Centre’).

The Top End chunk of the Northern Territory covers four main areas:

  • Darwin, the NT’s capital city at the northern tip of the Top End
  • World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, three hours east of Darwin
  • remote Arnhem Land, a 90,000 square-kilometre reserve in the north-east corner of the NT
  • the Katherine area, about three hours south of Darwin.


The Top End’s tropical climate allows for a year-round outdoor lifestyle, which locals and visitors are renowned for making the most of.

The dry season, from April to September (when southern Australia is freezing through winter), brings warm, sunny days and cool nights.

That sees a packed Top End calendar of outdoor festivals and events, people cruising on the harbour and fishing for barramundi, and waterfront restaurants and outdoor bars brimming with people having a good time. The Top End is also known for its rich wetlands, wild rainforests and cascading waterfalls, which are all on show at nearby Kakadu and Litchfield national parks. Birds congregate in their thousands around the Top End’s wetlands, as do other iconic animals like the saltwater crocodile.

There are plenty of opportunities to encounter crocs—safely—in the Top End: on a river cruise, at dedicated crocodile parks and in the famous Cage of Death in Darwin city.

Do Darwin

Darwin is a modern, tropical city that offers a special blend of cosmopolitan and outback adventure. You can make it as action-packed or as laid back as you like. There’s no shortage of things to do in Darwin.

Wander around the many stalls selling local art and craft and serving food from every corner of the earth—Thai and Indian to Brazilian and Portuguese—at the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Watch a movie under the stars at the Deckchair Cinema, or join a three-course dinner cruise on Darwin Harbour (many times the size of Sydney’s). Board the hop-on, hop-off bus to take in the city’s sights.

Explore Darwin’s rich history and its Aboriginal culture at the many excellent art galleries and history attractions. Ride the swell at the Wave Lagoon and soak up the outdoor lifestyle at the Waterfront Precinct with its restaurants, cafes, shops and sprawling lawns. Or jump on a fishing day tour out of Darwin to land a famous barra.

Pack a picnic and take the easy day trip to Litchfield National Park (1.5 hours from Darwin) to bushwalk through rainforest then swim under spring-fed waterfalls at Wangi and Florence falls or soak in the tiered rock pools shaded by rainforest at Buley Rockhole.

Board the ferry or a light plane to the Tiwi Islands to meet local Tiwi artists, explore the islands and make your own piece of art.

When the sun goes down, Darwin comes alive with some of Australia’s best restaurants and eateries, bars and pubs, theatres, nightclubs and an international-standard casino.

Do Kakadu

Oodles of Aussie and international travellers think Kakadu is one of Australia’s best-kept travel secrets. And it’s just three hours drive from Darwin.

Kakadu is World Heritage-listed for both its natural and cultural values—and for good reason. Kakadu is brimming with native wildlife, some 280 species of birds and giant crocodiles. See them on an early-morning cruise on Yellow Water Billabong.

Kakadu’s Aboriginal rock art is some of the oldest and best-preserved in Australia. Visit the rock art galleries at Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur and see their fascinating record of Aboriginal life over some 20,000 years.

And Kakadu has some of the Top End’s most iconic landscapes—waterfalls, rugged escarpments, sandstone outcrops and rainforests. Explore it yourself or join one of the many tours running from both Kakadu and Darwin.

Top destinations in the Top End

Things to see & do in the Top End

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Drive routes in the Top End

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#NTaustralia

Surrounded by semi-arid desert in all directions, @Australia’s Red Centre might be one of the country’s driest landscapes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get wet – the rugged West MacDonnell Ranges (the West Macs to locals) hide several sensational swimming holes in the gorges that bite into the ancient rocky ranges. The waterhole at Ormiston Gorge is a scenic 1.5 hour drive from #AliceSprings and an easy 5 minute walk from the car park. The cool water is wonderfully refreshing over the summer months! Just 15 minutes' away you'll find @glenhelenlodge, a great spot for a post-swim meal! Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, @photobohemian. ​#SeeAustralia #RedCentreNT

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Floating through the work week like... 😜 There’s nothing better than relaxing in a natural spa, and they don’t come much better – or cheaper – than the free hot springs in the town of #Mataranka. Crystal clear and luke warm rather than hot, and surrounded by lush pandanus and monsoon forest, Mataranka Thermal Pool is a favourite cooling off spot for locals and travellers. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, @outtaorbit_! ​#SeeAustralia #TourismTopEnd

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It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas! 🎄🧡 These bright red and orange flowers are arguably one of the Top End's prettiest sights at this time of the year. Commonly known as flame trees, you can spot them around #Darwin and surrounds. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, ​@ashleydobson! ​#SeeAustralia #TourismTopEnd

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A marble-ous view of the moon in @VisitCentralAus! These huge granite boulders, one of the NT's many geological wonders, can be found scattered across a wide valley, 100 kilometres south of #TennantCreek. The #DevilsMarbles or Karlu Karlu, as they’re called by the traditional owners, were formed naturally, slowly eroding over millions of years into their strange and sometimes gravity-defying shapes. Camp at the conservation reserve overnight to see the large boulders change colour in the early morning light and setting sun. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, @imlukemackenzie! ​#SeeAustralia #RedCentreNT

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Let's be honest, it's the end of the year and we're totally ready for annual leave! Cue, Buley Rockhole! Perhaps the most popular swimming spot in #Litchfield National Park, Buley combines a number of rock pools with a breathtaking backdrop of tropical bush land and escarpment. Set just an hour and a half from the centre of #Darwin, it’s the perfect place to while away the day. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, ​@teigannash! ​#SeeAustralia #TourismTopEnd

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Fact: wine tastes better with a tropical sunset! ☀️ To fully appreciate #Darwin's magnificent harbour, step aboard the 25 metre multi-level catamaran, the ‘Charles Darwin' and enjoy a delicious Territory-style buffet on their iconic sunset dinner cruise. If you prefer, you can simply relax with a drink and yummy platter on the bridge deck! The stunning afternoon colour display is the highlight of this Top End experience with no two sunsets the same. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, @_markfitz! ​#SeeAustralia #TourismTopEnd

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@lolahubner recently found the “best seat in the house"! #Uluru, the magnificent sandstone monolith in the heart of the Red Centre, was formed over 550 million years ago and has a presence unlike any other. If you're self-driving, watch the colours change from the sunset viewing area within the national park. Alternatively, join a tour with @seitoutbackaustralia or @aatkings and listen to fascinating information about the region with a glass of sparkling wine in hand as the sun goes down 🙌 Keen for your own outback adventure? @JetstarAustralia are currently offering sale fares to Uluru - hit up the link in bio to learn more! Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, Lola. ​#SeeAustralia #RedCentreNT

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Always wondered what it looks like through the gorge at Ellery Creek Big Hole? 😍 High red cliffs, a large waterhole and a sandy creek fringed by gums makes this one of the prettiest spots west of #AliceSprings. Bring your bathers over the summer months, float on your back and gaze up at the rock sandwich, formed over thousands of years by flood waters 🙌 Whether you pack an overnight bag, or plan to finish the route in one day, you'll get major bang for your driving buck in the West MacDonnell National Park. With it's stunning beauty, permanent waterholes and rich diversity of plants and animals, the park is not to be missed. Cheers for tagging #NTaustralia, @pianemec! ​#SeeAustralia #RedCentreNT

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Ready for an epic adventure? Tune in tonight at 7.30pm (AEST) for Channel 10’s @amazingraceau finale… held in the Top End! The contest starts in #Darwin with the final teams racing to the finish line in #Katherine. Where the outback meets the tropics, @VisitKatherine boasts a number of attractions, namely the magnificent Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. The gorge-ous views and walking tracks will impress even the most adventurous of hearts! Watch the teams tackle a variety of NT-style challenges, including canoeing, helicopter rides and a visit to @KatherineOutbackExperience. Pssst… keen for your own Top End adventure? @jetstaraustralia are currently offering sale fares to Darwin! Find the link in our bio. ​Photo: Shaana McNaught #NTaustralia

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Do Arnhem Land

Experience ancient Aboriginal culture, dramatic landscapes and true Australian wilderness in Arnhem Land, one of the last untouched regions of the world.

This remote 90,000 square-kilometre reserve to Darwin’s east is wholly Aboriginal-owned land and has some of the Top End's most spectacular natural destinations, with beautiful scenery, rugged coastlines, remote islands, tropical rainforests and wetlands, towering escarpments and savannah woodland.

Stay in a beachfront eco retreat or explore Arnhem Land’s natural treasures at a safari lodge.

Into fishing? Arnhem Land is renowned for its prime, untouched fishing habitats teeming with prized sport and reef fish. Fishing lodges are dotted all over Arnhem Land, or you can join a charter from Darwin.

Do Katherine

The Outback meets the tropics in Katherine, a town three hours south of Darwin and home of the famous Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge.

Katherine has plenty of accommodation options and is your base for taking on the area’s many opportunities for adventure: fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, soaking in hot springs, cave tours, helicopter flights, canoeing, speed-boating, four-wheel driving.

Bring your hiking boots—Katherine is home to one of the world’s best bushwalks: the five-day, 58 km Jatbula Trail that takes in waterfalls, monsoon rainforest, stone country and Aboriginal rock art, camping alongside swimming holes.

For a softer adventure, take in Nitmiluk Gorge aboard a dinner cruise and stay in five-star luxury at the resort right at the gorge.

The Nitmiluk Visitor Centre explains this icon’s significance for the Jawoyn and Dagomen people.

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