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A Travel Guide to Australia’s Top End

The top half of the Northern Territory is known as the Top End of Australia and has a tropical rainforest-like environment. Australia’s Top End is a fascinating region. From Darwin, the remote Arnhem Land, the Northern Territory’s capital city, a must-see reserve, Katherine Gorge of Nitmiluk Park and the massive Kakadu National Park are the main tourist attractions. Here are our tips for exploring the Top End on a self-drive or a guided Top End Tour.

The Top End of Australia
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When and how to visit the Australia Top End

The Top End dry season heralds the start of many outdoor festivals and exciting events. During this period, you will have the luxury of clear skies and minimal rainfall, giving you more certainty about your trip plans.

The wet season in the Top End of Australia is from October-April. It is a tumultuous time of humid weather, flash floods, and heavy rainfalls. Despite that, you will still be able to traverse Northern Australia and get cheaper flights and accommodation during this time.

If you want to enjoy a high range of outdoor activities, then May-June is the best time to travel to the Top End Of Australia since the humidity is comfortable. Planning well for this magnificent place ensures you hit all your bucket list items without hassle.

 

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How to get to and around the tropical Top End Of Australia

Top End Flights

Australia’s Northern Territory is easily accessible through any Australian Airport. There are many domestic and international flights t Darwin. The peak season for visiting Darwin is June-August.

Self-Drive

Travelling through Australia to the Northern Territory by car is exciting if you take the Stuart Highway, also called the Explorer’s Way. It stretches from Adelaide through Coober Pedy into the Northern Territory and allows you to see Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs.

A popular way to travel here is by renting out a campervan. They can house almost people and are home on wheels to the spot you fancy. You could take a bus, which is a way to experience the Outback at a slower pace.

By Train The Ghan

An often overlooked way to traverse Northern Territory’s Top End is by taking the Ghan train. It is a famous luxury train that travels from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs and Katherine.

By Bus

There are many bus services between Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin. They are an affordable means of travel but a great way to see the Australian Outback.

On Tour

Many guided Top End Tours start from Darwin. Alternatively, you can join a 14-20 day top end tour from Alice Springs to Darwin and the national parks.

What to do and see in Northern Territory’s Top End

The first place on your exploration list should be the Top End Darwin City, a hybrid of Australia’s rustic Outback and most modern cosmopolitan

Darwin

In Darwin, the main attractions are the famous beach markets, the unique Deckchair Cinema, and its outdoor festivals. It has a rich history of Aboriginal culture and many art galleries to explore that will help you understand its history.

From Darwin, you can take a day trip to Litchfield, enjoy a picnic and a glorious walk through its lovely rainforests. The Top End has some of the best gorges in Australia; some are the Wangi falls or the  Florence Falls. You could also take a trip to Berry Springs, a small town 45 minutes from Darwin.

Wetlands in Kakadu National Park
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Thrilling National Parks

Some of the best things to do in the Northern Territory are to visit its great parks, like the Litchfield National Park, the Nitmiluk Park, and the Kakadu National Park. These parks of the Top End are easy to access, with the bonus of spectacular views.

The Kakadu National Park And Arnhem Land

Kakadu national park is a world heritage site with incredible wildlife, gorgeous waterfalls, ancient Aboriginal rock art sites, rich biodiversity, and serene camping spots. Here are the main attractions you must check when visiting the Top End of Australia.

Jabiru

Jabiru is a small town that is situated within the national park. It is known as the commercial and accommodation hub of Kakadu National Park. It has so many services, like a bank, a post office, a bakery, and even a supermarket. If you are looking for something fun to do at Jabiru, the town lake is an excellent spot for picnics. You can also go freshwater fishing here, which is one of the best things to do in Kakadu. You can set up your camp in this quaint town since it allows easier access to Ubirr and Nourlangie.

Aboriginal Rock Art and Paintings in Kakadu
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The Bowali visitor centre, which is a crucial area of the national park, is nearby. It provides extensive information on all of the things to see in Kakadu. It has an extensive collection of videos, books, free brochures, maps, and a Kakadu guide. So please don’t overlook this tiny haven during your trip because it packs a punch.

Mamukala Wetlands

The Mamukala Wetlands is a hub of birdlife with a bird hide where you can see thousands of native Australian bird species congregating together in the wet season. It is ideal for long walks, ranging from one to four kilometres. The South Alligator Area is the main attraction of these wetlands. It has an observatory platform to admire and listen to the many birds. It is an excellent spot for walks through the woodlands, boating, and taking picnics.

East Alligator River Top End
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Cahills Crossing

Cahills Crossing is an attraction on the East Alligator River leading to Arnhem Land. It is quite an interesting spot because the water rises and subsides across the road, giving you only a short time to make it across during low tide. It is also a hotspot for saltwater crocodiles. It would be best if you had a permit to use Cahills Crossing since it allows entry into Arnhem, protected aboriginal land.

Once in Arnhem Land, you can get a unique perspective on the indigenous community’s rock art, which is fascinating. The Guluyambi Cruise along the East Alligator River allows you to enjoy the place with an Aboriginal guide.

Beware of Crododiles in the Top End Northern Territory
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Kakadu’s Waterfalls

You cannot dream of missing the glorious waterfalls of Kakadu National Park. The Jim Jim Falls are the Kakadu’s falls that you can visit during the dry season. To enjoy the falls to their fullest, you should take a scenic flight over them. Jim Jim Falls also has many plunge pools for people to swim in. The Twin Falls is one of the famous Northern Territory attractions.

They are situated 10 km away from Jim Jim Falls. You can access these incredible locations by taking a boat or shuttle service. Moline falls, or Moline Rockhole, is the hidden gem of Kakadu’s waterfalls. Its crystal clear water lets you see little fish swimming around. It is located in the southern part of Kakadu national park.

After enjoying Moline falls, you can take a trip to Gunlom Falls, which is just a short distance from it. It is well equipped with toilets and showers, so it is an excellent spot for camping.

Ubirr Rock Art
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Aboriginal Art Sites

Situated within Kakadu National Park, Nourlangie is an excellent spot to see Aboriginal rock art. It has rock shelters, many lookout spots, gorgeous views, and walking paths to explore. Ubirr Rock is another aboriginal rock art site in the East Alligator Area.

It has a fantastic climb that takes you to the rock’s top to enjoy a great view over Arnhem Land and the floodplains. Visiting Aboriginal rock art sites is the best Kakadu itinerary during the wet season.

One of the best ways to make the most out of your trip is to take a Kakadu tour.

Here is a guide to some of the national park spots.

The Litchfield National Park

The Litchfield national park is a quaint spot of the Top End’s Northern Territory that is picturesque and spellbinding. Litchfield is an hour and a half from Darwin, situated southwest of it. Its many icons make it Australia’s Top End’s best attraction. It is an excellent place to take a day trip, unlike Kakadu, which needs far more time to soak in. Some of Lichfield’s attractions are:

Termite Mounds in Litchfield National Park Top End Australia
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The Magnetic Termite Mounds

At Litchfield, you can see its fascinating cathedral and magnetic termite mounds. They are situated just within the park’s entrance and are a stunning sight to behold, with some reaching almost five meters. You can find much new information about these termite mounds on the displays situated around the site.

Florence Falls

The park’s waterfalls are unique and provide many great photo opportunities. Florence Falls is the biggest attraction of Litchfield National Park. You can take a nice short walk through the Shady Creek Walk, which leads straight to its plunge pool. There is also a park with toilet facilities and many picnic spots. You can also take the Florence Creek walk to reach Buley Rocky holes. It is a place for a refreshing swim in Litchfield. It is open most of the year and is an excellent spot to relax while surrounded by the National Park’s scenic bush.

Wangi Waterfalls in Litchfield National Park Northern Territory
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The Wangi Falls

The Wangi Falls is a frequently visited tourist attraction in Litchfield, Northern Territory. Its large swimming spot is ideal for families with kids. There are also a lovely viewing platform and many facilities for camping and caravans. You can stretch out on the grass nearby or hike behind the waterfalls.

The Tolmer Falls

This is Lichfield’s plunge waterfall that you can view from a platform or take a short walk along Tolmer creek. With an abundance of trees and a series of breathtaking falls, this is a magnificent place to be. The waterfall’s drop is roughly 102 meters, which is fascinating and unbelievable. You can spend a lot of time here just taking in the beauty of this place.

The Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge

The Nitmiluk National Park was formerly called the Katherine Gorge National Park since the gorge is its biggest attraction. You can take in its splendid beauty in a couple of different ways:

Katherine Gorge Boat Cruises

If you love to travel by water, you should take one of the boat cruises that operate all year round. These easy-to-book cruises allow you to experience the pristine wilderness of Katherine Gorge in a short period. If you are on your way to Alice Springs or taking a train stop when travelling by the Ghan, a short two or 4-hour cruise will work out well for you. For those seeking adventure, you can travel by canoe or kayak, mainly from May to November.

Katherine Gorge Scenic Flights

One of the exciting things to do in Katherine Gorge is to take a scenic flight over it. You can choose from many types of flights, varying from just 8 minutes to 45 minutes long. They give you a bird’s eye view of the gorge and its diverse landscape. The best part is that you do not have to lose out on this experience during the wet season!

Katherine Gorge Hiking

The most fun way to see the gorge and connect with nature is to take a hike! Katherine Gorge is a paradise for bushwalkers, with many excellent trails open during the dry season. You can pick from short and easy walks to full-day hiking trails. These trails allow you to explore flood plains, swimming holes, rocky slopes, and all that Katherine Gorge offers.

Real Outback Australia - Giant Termite
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Where to stay in the Top End of Australia

There is an appealing range of accommodation for visitors at the Top End Northern Territory to stay on your Top End Trip. The Top End offers the best, from luxury hotels to motels, cosy bed and breakfast accommodations, camping caravans, and homestays.

Budget Stay: Hostels

There are bed and breakfast guest houses where you can spend your time. They are family-run and have a homely feel to them. You can get this comfortable accommodation at reasonably reasonable prices and the bonus of home-cooked meals and good company.

Hostels are the hidden gems of the accommodation scene. There are many benefits to staying at hostels, like gathering with fellow travellers, having cooking facilities, a TV area, and laundry rooms. It is an excellent option for solo travellers to Australia.

Stay in Hotels or Luxury Lodges

If you drive by yourself and do not fancy camping or staying in budget accommodation, there are a few luxury lodges in the national parks and resorts. In Darwin, you have a large selection of hotels to suit all budgets and with all kinds of facilities, from serviced hotel rooms to basic bed and breakfast rooms.

If you are looking for luxury lodges and resorts in the national parks, check out the links here below:

1. the Aurora Kakadu Resort

2. the Kakadu Lodge

3. the Cooinda Lodge Kakadu

Swapping your house or renting a house

An excellent option for staying independent is renting a house in the Top End. It is helpful for families on a trip and allows you to stay in your own home. It is much cheaper than staying at a hotel and gives you the same level of privacy.

A unique way to score suitable accommodation in Australia is to swap your home while on holiday. This allows you to stay in a natural home without paying for your accommodation on your Northern Territory trip.

Camping in Northern Territory’s Top End

A fun experience is going on one of the Northern Territory camping tours or renting a campervan during your stay during your trip. This house trailer allows you to go to any place you want, stay at national parks, and enjoy the freedom of sleeping outdoors.

Camping in the Australian bush, dining at a campfire and spending the night under the spectacular Australian night sky is an unforgettable experience. If you are on an extended trip around Australia’s Top End, you could buy a campervan and re-sell it at the end of your journey.

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 A Travel Guide to Australia Top End Northern Territory
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More detailed travel guides

If you plan to spend more time in the above national parks and the Top End capital city, check out our

The best things to do in Darwin all year round

How to explore the Kakadu National Park

First published in Oct 2019, last updated in Jan 2023

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