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