Northern Exposure: Exploring Darwin

IMAGES BY: Tourism NT

Most people planning a trip to Australia will disregard Darwin altogether, focusing on cities such as Gold Coast, Melbourne and Sydney as their travel destinations. In reality, Darwin is a much more unique and authentic experience of Australian culture and landscape.

Situated at the northern tip of Northern Territory, Darwin (the capital) has a population of only 160,000 and is extremely quiet in relation to the other cities in Australia. Fortunately, this has allowed for pristine national parks and wildlife to remain untouched, resulting in some of the best national parks in the whole of Australia.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield is all about waterfalls and swimming holes, set amidst the rainforest. Located south of Darwin, the 150 km drive will take approximately 1.5 hours. Litchfield National Park has an array of waterfalls, plunge pools, and bushwalking tracks where you can spot wildlife.

Wangi Falls 

Wangi Falls is Litchfield’s most visited attractions, with easy access from Darwin. The falls are particularly beautiful during the monsoon season (November – April) although during this time the pool may be closed due to heavy currents. On top of that, the wet season can attract crocodiles so read the signs before swimming.

A picnic and bbq area is situated next to the falls; from this point, there are walking tracks to different sections of the park, including a 3km walk crossing the top of the falls.

Magnetic Termite Mounds 

These mounds have been a part of the landscape for 100 years. Most rising to a height of 2m, some mounds can reach as high as 4m. Built aligned north to south – hence the name ‘magnetic’ – to minimise exposure to the sun, these architectural feats are complete with arches, tunnels and insulation chambers.

Table Top Track 

The Table Top Track should only be attempted by experienced and fit bushwalkers. Stretching 39km long it takes between 3-5 days to complete the full track. Throughout the hike, there are designated campsites where you can spend the night, but camping overnight on the track is prohibited. Along the way, you will pass Tjenya Falls, Walker Creek (swimmable), Florence Falls, sandstone formations and finally Wangi Falls. Be advised that some parts of the track are closed between September and May.

Batchelor – Coomalie Cultural Centre

Known as the gateway to Litchfield National Park, Batchelor, located 98kms south of Darwin with a population of 358, is a good starting point to explore Litchfield. Also located in Batchelor is Coomalie Cultural Centre, which showcases native aboriginal art. Surrounding the cultural centre is a bush tucker (uncooked food from plants and animals native to Australia) garden.

Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk National Park is situated 2.5 hours drive south of Darwin, covering a total of 2,947 sq.km. Within the park, there are 13 different gorges to explore, the most famous being Katherine Gorge. All of the gorges are accessible on foot, although you can also get there by canoe, boat or a helicopter.

The park has two natural swimming holes, the first being Leilyn (Edith Falls) and the second, Sweetwater Pool. To reach Sweetwater, it takes a full day’s hike, or alternatively you can apply for a permit and do an overnight walk. The pool here is much more secluded as Edith Falls can become quite busy during peak periods.

Within the park is the Jatbula Trail, a 62km one-way walk from Nitmiluk Gorge to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The whole trek takes roughly 5-6 days to complete and will have you walking 10-17km each day, following the western edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment over sandstone plateau and through woodlands, open forest, monsoon forest, and riverine landscapes. Each overnight campsite is set near a spring or cascade, such as the Northern Rockhole, Biddlecombe Cascades, Crystal Falls, 17 Mile Falls, Sandy Camp Pool and Edith River.

South of Nitmiluk National Park is the town of Katherine, with plenty of overnight accommodation options. Within the town, there are some key attractions, such as the Katherine Hot Springs which has clear, serene waters free from crocodiles. A couple of WWII sites are also scattered around the town, providing visitors with a glimpse into life in NT during that era.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park dwarfs Nitmiluk in size, spanning an enormous 19,804 sq.km. There are a number of excursions available, including hikes, safaris, 4WD trails and much more. Fishing is also an option in the billabongs for those looking to score themselves a local catch. Kakadu National Park is roughly a 3-hour drive from both Darwin and Nitmiluk National Park, so planning a circuit for your trip is advised.

Jim Jim Falls (at 200m tall) can be found in the southern region of the park. During the dry season (July – October) the falls slow down to a trickle, making it possible to get to the base of the gigantic waterfall after a boat ride and a short hike. This is only reachable by 4WD and not accessible during the wet season as there is a large river crossing to tackle.

Gunlom is an area that has a combination of waterfalls and plunge pools, with shade provided by the native gum trees. You can also take the steep climb to the top of the falls; at the top, you’ll be able to swim in crystal clear pools while enjoying the panoramic views that Kakadu has to offer.

In the southern part of the park is the picturesque gorge of Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) where you can swim in the crystal clear waterhole at the base of the steep gorge walls. Like Gunlom, you can also climb to the top for picturesque views and a swim in clear waters.

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