Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Adventure Travel Ideas Australia Family Travel Ideas Northern Territory

Australia: A travel itinerary for the ‘Top End’

I’ve never flown five hours and still been in the same country before! I was excited to explore Australia’s Northern Territory, colloquially known as the ‘Top End’.

After a year of travelling in Australia, it was great to encounter what seemed like a different culture from the rest of the country.

The Northern Territory capital of Darwin has one foot in tropical Asia and the other in its frontier town past. Plus it has a great holiday vibe and is a jumping off point to two of Australia’s most incredible national parks.

I’d like to share the itinerary for my Top End adventure, to help you make the most of a trip to Australia’s tropical far north:

Australian Northern Territory itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Darwin; feed the fish at Acquascene; catch dinner and a film at the Deckchair Cinema (7.30pm or 9.30pm screenings).

Day 2: Fishing trip; wander the Esplanade; get up close and personal with the crocs at Crocosaurus Cove; hit the Mindil Beach Sunset markets (4pm to 9pm).

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Day 3: Pick up a 4WD vehicle for your Outback adventure. Drive out along the Arnhem Highway towards Kakadu National Park. Stops at Bark Hut Inn (1.3hrs from Darwin), Mamukala Wetlands (1.20hrs) and Bowali Visitors Centre, where you can buy a park pass ($25 for 14 days). Camp at Jabiru. Ubirr for incredible sunset views over Arnhem land and fascinating indigenous rock art.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Day 4: Get up early for the sunrise cruise on Yellow Water Billabong; visit the Nourlangie rock art site and lookout.

Day 5: Drive to Gunlom campsite (2.5hrs), on the way visiting the excellent Warradjan Cultural Centre; the Bukbukluk lookout and picnic area; and other photo opportunities on the way. Swim in Gunlom Falls plunge pool and climb up to the rock pools above the falls for sunset and views over the woodland savannah.

Aboriginal Rock art, Northern Territory, Top End, Australia

Day 6: Drive to Litchfield National Park (3.5 hrs) and swim at Florence Falls and Buley’s Rockhole.

Day 7: More swimming in Litchfield at Wangi Falls. Drive back to Darwin with lunch at the Humpty Doo Outback Pub. Dinner and sunset on the waterfront.

Day 8: Parap Markets (8am to 2pm) at Parap Village; The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory; wander the lush Darwin Botanic Gardens.

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Day 9: Depart Darwin.

Does this seem like a busy itinerary to you? In fact I had planned to fit in more, particularly more walks! As sometimes happens my travel ambitions met the reality of the environment – it is hot in the Northern Territory – temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius every day – and humid and I had to cut down my activities to take account of the energy-sapping weather.

When to visit Australia’s Top End

Which brings me to another point about visiting Australia’s Top End – the question of when to go. I chose to visit in May, the beginning of the dry season. The further you get into the dry – July/August – the more pleasant (less humid) the  weather becomes but the parks will be drier and the crowds at popular sites more intense.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

In late May it is still green and quiet but you may not be able to access some areas because the water levels are too high. That was the case for me – I couldn’t get to Jim Jim or Twin Falls. Also, at other times of the year there are more wildlife viewing opportunities. Which just means I have some things to see next time I visit the Top End!

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you visited Australia’s Top End? What else would you recommend?

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  1. In Canada you can fly 5 hours in many directions and still be in the same country! Excellent itinerary, it looks like you had a great time!

  2. I’d be choosing to go in the non muggy time of the year. It does look like a great itinerary and I noticed lots of swimming. Good idea.

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Yes, it’s sort of all about going from waterhole to waterhole (looking out for crocs…) A fine line between it still being quite muggy and all the water being gone.

  3. Bret @ Green Global Travel

    We always prefer busy itineraries on our trips as well, as we usually only have 7-10 days in a given destination to explore. This one looks totally doable, and that rock art looks amazing. Now, we just need an Australia Tourism Board person to foot the bill! 😉

  4. The rock pools above Gunlom were one of my favourite places in all of Oz. The top end was the highlight of my trip, no doubt. An incredible place, and this is a fantastic itinerary for seeing it 🙂 (I had the luxury of time, and camped at Gunlom for three days, swimming every day :))

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Could definitely have stayed swimming at Gunlom for days – I was just blown away by how beautiful it is! I’m thinking of going back to the Top End at a different season to compare.

  5. I was thinking about that – flying 5 hours and still being in the same country – as a matter of course I leave my home and fly over at least 2 other countries before arriving in my native country! – I always dreamed about wide, open spaces and yet I live on a small island – go figure!

    I have a friend who lives, sporadically, in the Northern Australia and she raves about it. It’s the place to which she always returns. She paints the most vivid picture, and you’ve just painted it the same. I really need to start saving!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      I’m from a small island country also – it’s at least 4 hours flying to get anywhere from New Zealand. There are good and bad things about that 🙂 Northern Australia is really fascinating, completely different from the rest of the country with one foot in Asia. Loved it!

  6. Awesome itinerary! I love how we have some of the exact same photos too! lol! I am going to be back in Darwin in a few weeks and I am definitely going to hit up the Deckchair cinema one more time!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      I wanted to get back to the Deckchair Cinema again on my second weekend in Darwin but couldn’t make it happen – such a great experience!

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