The city of Darwin and its incredible natural surroundings encompass what some call Australia’s ‘Top End’. As the name suggests, this is the tropical area in the far north of the country, part of the Northern Territory. Although it doesn’t see as many backpacking visitors as other parts of Australia, Darwin and the Top End offer some of the country’s best sights and activities: fascinating culture, mind-blowing scenery and adventure around every corner.
These are five of the best things to do in Darwin and beyond. We’ll see you in the Northern Territory.
1. Culture and wildlife in Kakadu
Dual World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park spans nearly 20,000 square kilometres of wetlands, hills, rivers, stone escarpments, and more. Whether you’re searching for incredible landscapes or a glimpse of indigenous culture, Kakadu’s variety of Top End attractions will keep you busy for days.
Aboriginal rock art can be found at over 5,000 sites throughout Kakadu, the most famous being Ubirr and Nourlangie, representing some 40,000 years of Aboriginal people living in the area – over half of Kakadu remains as Aboriginal land.
Kakadu is also a utopia of biodiversity, boasting fish and bird species that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet. You’re also all-but-guaranteed to spot a fearsome icon of the Northern Territory: the saltwater crocodile. Growing up to 6 metres long, and with a bite twice as powerful as a shark, we recommend not getting too close.
2. An authentic experience in Arnhem Land
The name Arnhem Land offers a reminder of Australia’s often forgotten Dutch connection, and it’s difficult to visit without a tour guide. Unlike Kakadu, you need a permit to enter Arnhem Land, and the rules while visiting are strict. This is largely because the area is a spiritual place for the Aboriginal people, where their culture remains untouched and is allowed to flourish, making it one of the most unique places to visit in the Top End.
A visit to Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) gives you the chance to meet a few locals at the Injalak Arts and Craft Centre, where you can see them work before being taken to a hilltop burial site, offering a truly unique insight into the Aboriginal way of life.
3. Swim under epic waterfalls
Swimming under a waterfall is paradise personified, and Australia’s Top End has a near-endless array to choose from. If you’re a fan of infinity pools, head to Gunlom in Kakadu, home to three pools that descend in accessible layers. Be warned: the path to Gunlom can be tough to navigate and is only open during dry season (May-October).
Another of the Top End’s best waterfall pools is Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park, a huge pool giving you the freedom to play under the tumbling water or simply relax in the shallows while lapping up the tropical heat.
4. A morning boat ride at Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge
Visit Australia’s Top End and you won’t be short of stunning morning sights, but the Dawn Break cruise at Nitmuluk (Also known as Katherine) Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park possibly tops them all. Local wildlife is just beginning to stir, and through the morning mist you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve travelled back into prehistory.
In the dry season the high sandstone edges of the gorge tower overhead, and as the mist clears this is a stunning spot for even amateur photographers. With 13 gorges in Nitmiluk overall, once the tour is over you’re free to explore by hiking, canoeing, or even taking a helicopter flight. This is a place you will never forget.
5. Cruise Darwin Harbour at sunset
Back in the city (but staying waterborne), Darwin Harbour Cruises offers day or sunset cruises to anybody wanting a picturesque view of the Northern Territory’s capital city.
A sunset cruise is the most spectacular, especially on a boat serving food and drink onboard. Darwin guarantees cloudless skies during the dry season, so unspoiled views across the water are on offer whatever night you pick. Day cruises on the Charles Darwin last for two hours, with evening cruises extended by an extra half an hour. All leave from Darwin Port.