Lee Atkinson shows you the Top End’s two most remarkable road trips.
Always dreamt of going wild in the Top End, but not keen on four-wheel driving? Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a 4WD to explore Kakadu National Park, and it’s not nearly as far from Darwin as you might think. In Part Four of our series on the best driving holidays from each of our capital cities, we tackle two of the Top End’s most spectacular road trips.
Kakadu is huge – 20,000 square km, half the size of Switzerland – but it’s actually pretty easy to get around. The aptly-named Nature’s Way is a fully-sealed driving route, open all year round. It cuts right through the middle of Kakadu National Park, conveniently passing by most of the park’s most popular spots, such as the township of Jabiru and the rock art sites of Ubirr and Nourlangie, the beautiful Yellow Water Billabong at Cooinda (a cruise on this is a must) and Gunlom Falls with its famous cliff-top wet-edge pool with a view.
From Darwin, head east out of town on the Arnhem Hwy and – unless you get distracted by a Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the Adelaide River – you’ll be in Jabiru in less than three hours. Don’t be tempted to do Kakadu in a day though, you’ll need at least a week, if you can, to see all there is to see. Set up camp in one of the caravan parks or campgrounds (many even have hot showers) or bed down in style at the quirky crocodile-shaped hotel (which is flasher inside than you might think) or the comfortable Cooinda Lodge. If you do want to go off-road let someone else do the driving and join a 4WD tour or cultural tour (see Kakadu Tourism for tour options).
Nature’s Way links up with the Stuart Highway just beyond the southern entrance of the park, near historic Pine Creek. From here, it’s around 225km back to Darwin but keep going south for 90km to Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park, where the Katherine River carves a deep gorge through towering red sandstone cliffs and you can take a boat trip with an Indigenous guide.
Katherine Hot Springs are just behind the Riverview Caravan Park and are signposted from the centre of town – they are free; and a float and a soak surrounded by monsoon forest is the perfect end to a day on the road. Katherine is 316km south of Darwin on the Stuart Highway, and a straight run will take around three hours.
Day tripper: Litchfield National Park
Kakadu might be famous for its waterfalls, but they really only run during the wet season. Lichfield National Park has thundering waterfalls all year, with the triple added bonus that the park is an easy day’s drive from Darwin, on sealed roads. On top of that, the waterfalls don’t have crocodiles, so they are fabulous swimming spots. Top spots to cool off are Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls, which is wheelchair accessible. Head south on the Stuart Highway for 60km and follow the main road through the park. You can’t go wrong.
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