Traversing Australia from top to bottom is an incredible experience and is easily achieved in a fortnight. This itinerary combines two very different cities, World Heritage-Listed national parks, stunning natural scenery, beautiful wineries, and an epic train journey through the mythical outback.
Darwin and surrounds - The Ghan - Adelaide and surrounds
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Start your journey in the vibrant tropical city of Darwin.
The Darwin Harbour is the perfect place to begin your explorations. The Harbour is home to the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) which features one of the country’s best collections of Indigenous art. Don’t miss the Cyclone Tracy exhibit, a sobering reflection on the devastation caused by the natural disaster, which flattened 80 per cent of Darwin homes in 1974.
For those who would like to explore more of Darwin’s history, built in 1883 and closed since in 1979, the Fannie Bay Gaol is now a free historic site that still features its haunting gallows. Nearby is the Darwin Military Museum, which explores Australia’s role in World War II and the Japanese air raids of 1942 and 1943.
In the evening visit the Deckchair Cinema, which offers movie-goers a cinematic experience like no other. Enjoy the outdoor big screen on cushioned deckchairs as dusk falls over the Darwin Harbour and the stars speckle the sky.
Begin your morning by walking or cycling along the waterfront at East Point Road. The reserve features tranquil parkland with sweeping sea views, picnic facilities and year-round swimming at the saltwater Lake Alexander. While you shouldn’t swim in the sea in Darwin, you can cool off, sunbathe and even body surf at the city’s two palm-fringed man-made lagoons, both situated near the wharf precinct.
No visit to the Top End would be complete without glimpsing a saltwater crocodile. You can view and even touch crocs safely at Crocodylus Park, Darwin’s multilevel aquarium and zoo. Devoted to wildlife research, it features a crocodile museum and feeding times are scheduled throughout the day. But there’s nothing quite like the thrill of viewing these prehistoric creatures in their natural habitat on a guided jumping croc tour on the Adelaide River.
During the dry season on Thursday and Sunday evenings, the atmospheric Mindil Beach Markets are awash with delicious scents from food stalls and live music. The markets draw thousands of people for a twilight feast overlooking the ocean. Choose from spicy Indonesian or Malay to mouth-watering Chinese and Vietnamese, and dine on the sand as the fiery sun dips into the Timor Sea.
Rise early and visit Parap Village Markets for breakfast or brunch, freshly brewed coffee and a browse among the many stalls. The markets are a social hub for locals and are held every Saturday all year round. Shop for locally made arts and crafts, sample freshly squeezed tropical juices or tuck into some of the exotic Asian food on offer like spicy laksa or Vietnamese pancakes.
The Top End is home to some of the country’s finest Indigenous artists. If you’re interested in picking up a piece, head into the city for Mbantua Fine Art Gallery and Cultural Museum, which supports around 200 Aboriginal artists from the Utopia Region. Quality works can also be purchased from Karen Brown Gallery or the artists' cooperative Maningrida Arts & Culture.
While you’re in the city, browse through the shopping precinct of Smith Street mall and duck into the Star Arcade to browse the handful of vintage boutiques.
Finish your day on board a harbour cruise and enjoy sparkling wine as the sun dips below the sea.
The World-Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is just under a three hour drive from Darwin and is one of very few places in the world listed for both their environmental credentials and their cultural significance. Extending over an area of 20,000 square kilometres (8 square miles) and seven distinct regions, you might like to allow three days to explore Australia’s largest terrestrial national park.
Start your adventure at the fascinating Mamukala wetlands, where in the late dry season thousands of birds congregate to feed here. Walk beside the wetlands on the Mamukala three kilometre (two miles) walk which will take you one to two hours to complete. If you have time, head to Aurora Kakadu Resort and explore the Gungarre walk, a two-hour circular trail starting at the large banyan fig tree through monsoon forest and woodlands alongside the Anggardabal billabong.
Further along the highway is the town of Jabiru where you will find the Bowali Visitor Centre. This is a helpful place to stop for advice about the region and sign up for a variety of activities, including escorted tours of Arnhem Land. There is also a small airport at Jabiru which operates daily commercial flights for people wanting to experience Kakadu from the air.
Kakadu is renowned for its Aboriginal rock art. About 5,000 rock-sites have been recorded and a further 10,000 are thought to exist. Today, visit the art galleries in the rock shelters of Ubirr and Nourlangie.
At Ubirr, you’ll be rewarded by stunning sunsets over the Nardab floodplain and at Nourlangie a moderately steep climb rewards with views of the spectacular Arnhem Land escarpment. Next head to Nanguluwur near Nourlangie Rock, for Indigenous art including a first contact painting of a two-masted sailing ship.
Finally North-west off the Kakadu Highway is the Yellow Water wetlands, part of the South Alligator River floodplain. The area’s walking trails and boardwalks provide an excellent way to explore the wildlife or you can take a commercial boat cruise which will take you up close to the birdlife that breeds and feeds here.
Drive approximately four hours to Litchfield National Park which covers 146,000 hectares. The first thing you’ll see upon entering is an expanse of two-metre high magnetic termite mounds that are cleverly constructed by the little mites at the perfect angle to protect them from the searing sun.
While there are numerous bushwalking trails to explore, many of Litchfield’s star attractions can be accessed by car. The Florence Falls are undoubtedly the jewel of the park, with magnificent double waterfalls cascading into a fresh swimming hole. An easily accessible viewing platform gives ample opportunity for some panoramic photos and you can catch glimpses of wallabies and wallaroos as you enjoy lunch by the falls.
Next up is the three kilometre (two miles) Florence Creek Walk which will take you about 90 minutes to complete. Beginning at the Florence Falls picnic area, the walk will take you through beautiful bushland to Buley Rockhole, where you can laze in the rock holes and swim by the waterfalls.
The sheer height of the Tolmer Falls makes it another worthwhile stop in your journey through Litchfield. The lookout is accessible from the carpark, and from there you can undertake the one and half kilometre (0.9 miles) scenic walk back to the carpark through sandstone country and along Tolmer Creek.
If you’re travelling in a 4WD and have experience on rocky terrain, you can visit The Lost City or the Blyth Homestead, a genuine pioneer home built near an old tin mine. You will also be able to access Sandy Creek, another tranquil plunge pool with camping facilities.
Wangi Falls is also accessible by car and presents not only a breath-taking vista of waterfalls and a large plunge pool surrounded by monsoon rainforests, but a spacious picnic area with barbecues and a kiosk.
Rise early and drive over an hour and half back to Darwin in time to board the iconic Ghan train that will take you through the heart of the outback to Adelaide in South Australia. The journey will take four days and three nights and will cover 2,979 kilometres (1,851 miles).
On the first day you will head to Katherine to see the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. The Gorge’s sandstone walls, which rise up from the Katherine River, are up to 70 metres (229 feet) high. Here you will find dramatic waterfalls and you can frequently see freshwater crocodiles resting on the sandy banks. You will also have the opportunity to partake in a leisurely cruise of Katherine River, gain insight into the culture of the Jawoyn people or take a scenic flight over Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks at an additional cost.
After breakfast you will arrive at Alice Springs, a thriving outback town. A great base from which to explore its surrounding natural wonders, the town itself combines a strong sense of its outback history and Indigenous heritage with the convenience of modern facilities.
After exploring the town you will have the opportunity to embark on an intimate scenic flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuta for an additional fee. Finally you will finish off your day by dining under the stars at an Outback Bush Barbeque.
Today on the Ghan route you will arrive in South Australia in Manguri, where a tour guide will take you around the nearby town of Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. Here you will find that many of the residents live underground due to year round extremes in temperatures.
After an amazing journey on The Ghan you arrive at Adelaide in the morning.
With sweeping, tree-lined boulevards, Adelaide is easy to explore on foot. Start the day with a guided food tour of Adelaide Central Market, a colourful and character-filled undercover market set within Gouger and Grote streets. These multicultural markets opened in 1879 and the historic Grote Street facade still stands today. Inside, there are hundreds of stalls featuring regional produce from fresh fruit and vegetables to coffee, smallgoods and delicious craft cheeses from the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.
Spend a few hours browsing the boutiques along the busy promenade of Rundle Street before heading to the Adelaide Oval near St Peter’s Cathedral. With rose gardens and rolling lawns, it’s renowned as one of the prettiest cricket grounds in the world. For sports fans, tours offer an insight into the history of the ground and sporting champions who have played there, like long time Adelaide resident, Sir Donald Bradman, known affectionately as “The Don”.
Adelaide’s wine region is only a short drive from the heart of the city. The closest wineries in the Adelaide Hills are a mere 20 minutes away. Stop at the Mount Lofty summit for panoramic views over the plains before exploring any one of the 40 cellar doors, chocolatiers and country bakeries.
Around an hour north-east from the city, the famous Barossa Valley is home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz and Cabernet with some 80 cellar doors including many of Australia’s industry giants such as Jacob’s Creek, Penfold’s, Wolf Blass and Yalumba.
South from the city, McLaren Vale’s hilly, coastal landscape is another magnificent wine region. Stop in at D’Arenberg’s cellar door, a picturesque nineteenth century homestead well-known for the popular D’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant. From McLaren Vale you can carry on driving along the coastline to the Fleurieu Peninsula for stunning landscapes of cliff tops, beautiful beaches and coves. Spend an afternoon swimming or surfing and explore Port Willunga, a relaxed coastal village.
From the dramatic cliffs and secluded sandy beaches, to an abundance of local produce and native Australian animals and wildflowers, Kangaroo Island is one of the world’s most beautiful wilderness destinations.
Visit Remarkable Rocks, huge granite boulders perched on a dome rising 75 metres out of the sea in the Flinders Chase National Park. These rocks have been shaped by the erosive forces of the wind, sea spray and rain over 500 million years and provide amazing photo opportunities at different times of the day.
Next up is Seal Bay Conservation Park, around a 90 minute drive away and home to the third largest Australian Sea Lion colony in Australia with a population around 1,000. In order to preserve the ecosystem and limit the disturbance to the colony, the park offers three types of tours including guided and self-guided options.
Kangaroo Island has also made a name for itself in the world of local, fresh gourmet foods and wine. Foodies can tour the island with a vision to visit the Chapman River Cellar Door at Cape Willoughby, drop into local farms for fresh hand-made cheeses and sit down to enjoy Kangaroo Island’s restaurants and cafes.
Return to Adelaide and spend your last day exploring the city’s history and love of unique architecture.
Adelaide offers a variety of exhibitions, galleries, art walks and historical insight on the North Terrace. Deemed the cultural hub of Adelaide, you’ll find the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum here, home to the most extensive collection of Australian Aboriginal cultural material and famous for its leading natural history exhibit. Nearby you’ll find the Migration Museum, a visual history of the immigration and settlement of South Australia.
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