Darwin to Darwin in 10 Days (1,477 km)
Get ready to explore the beautiful Northern Territory! This ten-day round trip adventure begins and ends in Darwin, a youthful city known for its tropical climate, open-air markets, vibrant nightlife and delicious seafood.
The first leg of your journey takes you to the wetlands and monsoon forests around the Mary River, and then you're off to explore Kakadu National Park, with its ancient Aboriginal rock art, waterfalls and awe-inspiring gorges.
From Kakadu, you will travel to the gold rush town of Pine Creek, known for its historic buildings and railway museum. Next up Katherine and the nearby Nitmulik National Park and the Katherine Gorge, followed by a drive down to Daly Waters, home of the first international airport in Australia and a legendary Outback pub.
The final leg of your trip takes you up to Batchelor, gateway to the Litchfield National Park with its picturesque Wangi Falls and magnetic termite mounds. Finally, you return to Darwin for two days of fun and great food.
The first leg of your trip takes you 180 km east (about two hours) via the Stuart and Arnhem Highways to the beautiful Mary River. Home to large saltwater crocodiles, numerous migratory birds, and other wetland wildlife, the Mary River region has also been home to the Limilngan Wulna Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
In addition to the Mary River, the region also includes the Adelaide River, hence the plethora of river cruises available to visitors. Perhaps the most famous for abundant barramundi, the Mary River region is paradise for anglers.
Where to Stay
Bark Hut Tourism Centre
Located on the Arnhem Highway, this park was built in the days when hunting buffalo and crocodile were key. Amenities include a swimming pool, laundry facilities, BBQs, restaurant, art gallery, shop, bar, and wildlife sanctuary. Choose from self-contained, air-conditioned cabins, a hostel for backpackers, or private powered and unpowered sites.
Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge
Located near Shady Camp, an ideal spot for Barramundi fishing, the lodge is a base for boat hire and cruise companies that let you explore the Mary River Wetlands. Amenities include a bistro and bar, swimming pool, laundry facilities, and BBQs. In addition to the powered sites in the campground, both luxury and budget air-conditioned rooms are available in the lodge. (www.pointstuart.com.au)
Mary River National Park
Located along the Arnhem highway, the Mary River is one of eight Top End rivers with large floodplains in their catchments. The Mary River National Park protects the catchment, offering numerous opportunities for wildlife exploration. Walking trails, picnic tables, and a boat ramp make this national park an excellent spot for families. Witness spectacular sunsets and thousands of birds from Couzen's Lookout, or watch life on the billabong from Mistake Billabong. (www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/maryriver.html)
Barramundi Fishing at Shady Camp
Located in the Mary River National Park area, Shady Camp is one of the best spots for Barrumndi fishing. In fact, they are literally jumping right out of the water. A viewing platform gives you a glimpse of saltwater crocodiles, and terrific sunsets. Corroboree Billabong is another great place for barramundi fishing.
Jimmy's Creek Monsoon Forest
Located near the Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge, Jimmy's Creek Monsoon Forest offers a different glimpse into the Mary River wildlife, with giant banyan trees and wetland wildlife. A moderate walk (about half an hour) takes you along the banks of the creek.
Drive approximately 119 km east (just over an hour) via the Arnhem Highway to Jabiru on the eastern end of Kakadu National Park. The only town in Australia located in a National Park, Jabiru is one of the few places in the area where you can stock up on supplies. Plan to spend two nights in Jabiru, to make the most of Kakadu National Park.
Designated a World Heritage Site for the numerous Aboriginal rock art sites, the Kakadu National Park is home to many different Aboriginal cultures who have lived in the region for 50,000 years. Go with an Aboriginal tour guide or set out on your own on one of the many walking trails, taking you past important Aboriginal sites, waterfalls, gorges, wetlands, and plunge pools.
Where to Stay
Located at the edge of Jabiru, this park boasts landscaped gardens, a lagoon-style swimming pool, a souvenir shop and kiosk, BBQs, licensed poolside bar and bistro, camper's kitchen (for lodge rooms), laundry facilities, free parking, safety deposit box at reception, tour desk, and four amenities blocks (two disabled). Choose from air-conditioned, self-contained cabins, air-conditioned lodge rooms, and powered and unpowered camping and caravan sites. The nearby Aurora Kakadu is the sister hotel for this property. (www.auroraresorts.com.au)
Lakeview Park Kakadu
Located in the heart of Jabiru, this park features tropical gardens, laundry facilities, secure parking, BBQs, and picnic tables with umbrellas. Choose from self-contained, air-conditioned luxury cabins, safari-style bush bungalows, cottage rooms, and van and campervan camping sites with power and water. (www.lakeviewkakadu.com.au)
Bowali Visitor Centre
Get acquainted with the massive Kakadu National Park at the Bowali Visitor Centre, built to resemble an Aboriginal rock shelter. Get an overview from interpretive displays and informational videos, top in the library, ask advice from one of the park guides, and get a snack in the caf'. The Marrawuddi Gallery shows and sells Aboriginal crafts, books and other gifts. (www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu/visitor-activities/visitor-centre.html OR www.marrawuddi.com)
Nourlangie Rock Art Walk
With more than 5,000 rock art sites recorded and another 10,000 thought to exist, the Kakadu National Park is home to the 'longest historical records of any group of people in the world.' Some of the rock art goes back 20,000 years. Also known as Burrunggui, the Nourlangie Rock site includes a rock shelter, rock sites, and the Gunwarddehwardde lookout. See all of the sites in about an hour by following the 1.5-km circular walking track accessed from the car park. (www.about-australia.com/travel-guides/northern-territory/kakadu-arnhem-land/attractions/historic-site/nourlangie-rock-art-site/)
Jim Jim Falls
A 'must see' while visiting Kakadu National Park, the 150-metre high cliffs surround a clear plunge pool with white sandy beaches. Due to the fact that the site can only be accessed via 4WD vehicle, and is part of the Arnhem Land escarpment, which requires permission to visit, consider signing up for a 4WD tour.
Drive 212 km south (a little over two hours) to the sleepy little town of Pine Creek. Founded in 1870 during the construction of the Overland Telegraph, Pine Creek is the only remaining mining town in the Top End. In addition to the gold rush, which began in 1871, Pine Creek is also known for the Northern Territory Railway, which ran from Pine Creek to Darwin.
Numerous historical buildings are located in Pine Creek, including the oldest pre-fabricated structure in the Northern Territory. The town is known for several events, including the Pine Creek Gold Rush and Didjeridoo Festival in June, which features the gold-panning championships and didjeridoo performances.
Where to Stay
Kakadu Gateway Caravan Park
Located on the Stuart Highway in Pine Creek, this pet-friendly park is not far from Kakadu National Park. Choose from powered and unpowered sites, or powered sites with ensuites. Call (08) 8975 1177 for information.
Pine Creek Railway Precinct
Once the last stop on the 19th century unfinished transcontinental railway system, Pine Creek's development once depended on the railway. See one of the only remaining original Beyer Peacock locomotives, Miner's Park, and a machinery maintenance area for the preservation of equipment from mines no longer in use. An interpretive center, picnic area, and shelter are also on site.
The National Trust Museum
The oldest prefabricated building in the Northern Territory; the National Trust Museum was once the home of the mining warden in Barrundie. The structure was moved to Pine Creek in 1913 and now houses the museum and the town library. Learn about the history of Pine Creek, including its Chinese population, the gold rush, and the Overland Telegraph line.
The Old Bakery
At one time, Chinese emigrants in their thousans, lived in Pine Creek. The Old Bakery is one of the last remaining structures from that era. Built in 1908 and moved to Pine Creek shortly thereafter, the Old Bakery was built of corrugated iron and represents the huts that many Chinese lived and operated businesses from in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today your journey takes you just 90 km south (a little over an hour) via the Stuart Highway to Katherine. The third largest town in the Northern Territory, Katherine is the center of the Katherine region, which covers 480,000 sq km. Europeans began exploring Katherine in 1844, and the town and the river that runs through it were named by John McDouall Stuart in 1862. The town and nearby areas offer numerous outdoor experiences ' a true nature lover's paradise.
Home to the Jawoyn and Dagomen Aboriginal people, Katherine was renamed 'Nitmulik' in 1989 when the original people gained the title to the land. The town and the region are still referred to as Katherine, but the nearby Nitmulik National Park reminds visitors of its true name.
Where to Stay
Shady Lane Tourist Park
Just 5 minutes from the Katherine Post Office, this park is near a great fishing river. Facilities include a large swimming pool, free gas BBQs, laundry facilities, camp kitchen, caravan storage, tour booking assistance, and a kiosk. Choose from fully self-contained cabins or powered and unpowered campsites. (www.shadylanetouristpark.com.au)
Katherine Low Level Crossing Caravan Park
Located on 44 lush acres near the Low Level Crossing in Katherine, this park features a swimming pool, spa, camp kitchen, covered BBQ areas, licensed Bistro, laundry facilities, tour desk, kiosk, baby's bath, and facilities for disabled guests. Choose from ensuite cabins, grassed powered sites, and tent sites. (www.katherinelowlevel.com.au)
All Seasons Katherine
On the south end of Katherine, this park is set amid tropical gardens and features a swimming pool, tennis courts, recreation room (with pool table, computer games and internet kiosk), restaurant and bar, BBQ and laundry facilities. Hotel and motel facilities are available along with campsites. (www.accorhotels.com.au)
Nitmulik (Katherine Gorge) National Park
You could spend days exploring the 292,800-hectare Nitmulik National Park, with its 13 gorges, waterfalls, lookouts and 100 km of walking trails. Start out at the Nitmulik Visitor's Centre to get oriented. Located at the Katherine Gorge entrance, about 30 km northeast of Katherine via sealed roads; the Nitmulik Centre offers information about the local geology, flora, and fauna, as well as walking trails and other park activities.
By far the most popular spot in the Nitmulik National Park is the Katherine Gorge, covering 12 km with 70-metre high walls. Hire a canoe, bring your own boat, or book a boat cruise to enjoy this magnificent site. Lure fishing is permitted, but check with park rangers for bag limits and other rules.
Edith Falls (Leliyn) is another popular spot in the park; access is from a different entrance 19 km further and off of the Stuart Highway. For the best views of the falls and the Edith River, take the 2.6 km Leliyn Trail to the top of the escarpment and then down to the upper pools. Swimming is permitted near the car park at the base of Edith Falls, and also in the upper pools. Picnic areas and a kiosk are also on site. (www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks)
Katherine Hot Springs
Located about 5 minutes from the town of Katherine, the thermal hot spring pools wind through the trees along the Katherine River. With a constant temperature of 32' C, the hot springs are a perfect place to enjoy the river. Walking trails, picnic areas, and toilet facilities (including disabled) are also on site.
Established in 1878, the Springvale Homestead is the oldest original homestead in the Northern Territory. Tour the grounds, including a display of photographs and other information about the history of the homestead. Guided tours and Devonshire Tea are offered from May through September.
Katherine has a great deal to offer, but if you feel the itch to hit the road, make your way 272 km south (about 3 ' hours) via the Stuart Highway to the famous watering hole, Daly Waters. As are many of the towns in the Northern Territory, Daly Waters bears the stamp of John McDouall Stuart, who named the town in 1862 in his third and final attempt to travel Australia from South to North.
A key meeting place in the Northern Territory, this town of two-dozen inhabitants figured prominently in the success of the Overland Telegraph Line, the Pony Express, and Sir Alexander Forest's search party. Daly Waters is home to the Australia's first international airport, and was featured in the Tom Cole book, 'Hell West and Crooked.'
Where to Stay
Daly Waters Hi-Way Inn
Conveniently located at the intersection of the Carpentaria and Stuart Highways, this park features an Internet caf', swimming pool, free BBQs, laundry facilities, TV lounge, game and rec room, licensed restaurant, kiosk and tour desk. Choose from motel accommodations, self-contained units, powered and unpowered sites, and powered ensuite sites.
Daly Waters Pub
Once famous for its wild clientele, the Daly Waters pub has been a favorite stop since it opened in 1934. Abundant and memorabilia, friendly service, and visitors from all over the world, the Daly Waters Pub is a must-stop in your Northern Territory adventure. Every night during the dry season, the Pub offers a Beef (steak) and Barra (Barramundi) BBQ with live entertainment. A true Outback experience. (www.dalywaterspub.com)
Daly Waters Aviation Complex
A registered heritage attraction, the Daly Waters Aviation Complex (Daly Waters Aerodrome) is the first international airport in Australia, and the oldest aviation building in the Northern Territory. See the original Qantas hangar learn about the airstrip's involvement in World War II.
Hell, West and Crooked Museum
Just a short walk from the Daly Waters Pub is a unique museum showcasing historical memorabilia, photographs and documents pertaining to Daly Waters up until World War II.
The longest drive day on your itinerary, this leg takes you 506 km north (about 6 ' hours) via the Stuart Highway to Batchelor, gateway to Litchfield National Park. Now primarily devoted to tourism, Batchelor had its own minor gold rush and served as the Allied Air Force Base during World War II. The area is also famous for nearby Rum Jungle, named for legendary rum drinking binge and the site of a uranium mine from 1951 to 1963. Plan to spend two days exploring Litchfield National Park and other attractions for nature and art lovers.
Where to Stay
Batchelor Resort Caravillage
Located about 500m from the center of town, this Big4 park features multiple laundry facilities, BBQs, convenience store, petrol station, two restaurants, two bars, takeaway pizza and burgers, Internet caf', and tour desk. Recreation includes native bird feeding, 18-hole mini golf course, two swimming pools, poker machines, pool tables, and children's activities. Choose from hotel accommodations, air-conditioned ensuite cabins, grassed, powered sites, and grassy, shaded unpowered sites. (www.batchelor-resort.com OR www.big4.com.au)
Banyan Tree Caravan and Tourist Park
Located 12 km from Batchelor, this park features a snack bar (try the famous Banyan Burger), a covered swimming pool, shop with provisions and Aboriginal souvenirs, and solar-powered shower and toilet facilities. Choose between cabins, chalets, motel and budget rooms, or powered and unpowered sites. (www.banyan-tree.com.au)
Litchfield National Park
Declared a National Park in 1986, the Litchfield National Park covers 1,500 square km of forests, rivers, waterfalls, and the sandstone plateau known as the Tabletop Range. Sealed roads give visitors easy access to major attractions, and the park is accessible throughout the year. Stop in to the Park Headquarters in Batchelor to get oriented, and for information about bush walking trails and permits.
Hands down, the most popular spot at Litchfield National Park is Wangi Falls, one of three spring-fed waterfalls cascading from the sandstone plateau; the other falls are Tolmer and Florence). Wangi Falls are the biggest in the park, its waters flowing into a swimming hole surrounded by monsoon rainforest. Swim, snorkel, or spend then entire day; Wangi Falls has numerous amenities, including disabled bathrooms, picnic areas, sheltered areas, BBQ facilities, a car park and a kiosk. Take the three km interpretive walking trail.
Other popular attractions in Litchfield National Park are the intricate magnetic termite mounds, the Lost City rock formations (4WD access only), cruises on the Reynolds River, and numerous cascades throughout the park. (www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks)
Batchelor Butterfly and Bird Farm
The only butterfly farm in the Northern Territory, this magical place offers tours of the butterfly house with its many species of butterflies, a bird aviary, and vegetarian meals in a tropical garden setting, and the largest man-made waterfall in the Northern Territory. Water tortoises play in the ponds and pools; there is also a children's playground and a shop. (www.butterflyfarm.net)
Coomalie Cultural Centre
Operated by the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, the Coomalie Cultural Centre presents exhibits, cultural projects, and a shop where visitors can purchase Aboriginal arts and crafts. The Centre is located on the road to Litchfield National Park, and features a bush tucker garden and mural created by Batchelor Institute students.
On the last leg of your trip, drive 98 km north (about an hour and half) via the Stuart Highway to Darwin. This multicultural city has the largest population of Aboriginal residents (proportionately) of any Australian capital city; the Larrakia have lived in Darwin and the surrounding areas since before European Settlement in the late 1800s. The city is also home to many people of South East Asian descent, and is considered Australia's gateway to Asia.
Located on the coast of the Timor Sea, the Darwin has a thriving wharf and harbour, most of which can be traveled using the city's extensive bike paths. Darwin is known as a 'young' city, exemplified by a vibrant nightlife, mostly concentrated on Mitchell Street. World class cuisine with seafood as the star, rich cultural and art experiences, open air markets and beautiful gardens make Darwin a city worth at least two days of your itinerary ' if not more!
Where to Stay
Boomerang Motel and Caravan Park
A twenty-minute drive just off the Stuart Highway from Darwin's centre, this park is handy to wildlife parks and the crocodile farm. The park features a licensed tavern and restaurant, takeaway food, camp kitchen, sheltered BBQ area, laundry facilities, saltwater swimming pool, tour booking assistance and a children's playground. Low-cost bus service to Mindil Markets and free daily bus service to Darwin casino are also offered, in season. Choose from self-contained ensuite villas, self-contained ground-floor motel units, and cabins without ensuites, all with air-conditioning. Grassed or concrete slab powered sites feature individual taps. (www.darwinboomerang.com.au/)
FreeSpirit Resort Darwin
Located 15 minutes from Darwin off of the Stuart Highway, this park features a restaurant, bar, terrace bistro, camp kitchen, BBQ areas, Internet caf', laundry facilities, disabled bathrooms, security entry gates, three swimming lagoons with sun lounges, tour desk, and kiosk. On-site activities include a fish feeding, a jumping pillow, water aerobics, bocci, quiz nights, and live entertainment. Choose from a wide array of accommodations, including deluxe villas, spa villas, standard cabins, budget cabins, and family cabins, all fully self-contained and air-conditioned. Powered and unpowered sites are also available. (www.freespiritresortdarwin.com.au)
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Recognized by the National Trust as an 'Icon of National Significance,' Mindil Beach Sunset Markets is the most popular attraction in the Northern Territory. Of the more than 260 stalls, 56 are food stalls, with more than 1,200 menu items. Many stalls sell handcrafted items, more than any other market in Australia. Open in the evenings on Thursdays and Sundays between May and October, the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets also feature street performers, tarot readers, magicians ' all creating a fun, tropical, relaxed atmosphere that is not to be missed. (www.mindil.com.au)
Darwin Wharf Precinct
Make your way down to Darwin's wharf for spectacular views, local history, and a plethora of shops and restaurants. Visit the Indo Pacific Marine at the base of Stokes Hill Wharf to learn about coral reef eco-systems, and take the 'Coral Reef by Night' tour, which includes a seafood buffet. Also make time for the Australian Pearling Exhibition, a museum detailing Darwin's pearling history.
Cullen Bay offers the best in harbourside dining, with famous eateries like the Buzz Cafe, abundant seafood, and breathtaking sunsets. Call ahead to find out about entry fees and if reservations are needed.
End of Trip
Return your campervan and begin working on that scrapbook!