Guide to Northern Territory's tropical summer
Visit the Top End during the wet season to see cascading waterfalls, spectacular lightning storms and the wildflowers in bloom.
By Stephanie Williams
The Northern Territory’s summer (November to April) is its wet season, characterised by epic thunderstorms, overflowing creeks and blossoming vegetation. Darwin is always easygoing, but it slows even more in the wet season to match the daily rhythm of sunshine and showers. Visit Darwin's lush George Brown Botanic Gardens and sample a smorgasbord of local food in the open-air markets. See nature's pyrotechnics light the sky from a beachside pub. Swim in the clear waterholes of Berry Springs Nature Park next to flocks of tropical birds and watch lightning dance over waterfalls in Litchfield National Park. Experience the magic of the monsoon in Kakadu National Park and fly over spectacular Katherine Gorge when water levels are at their highest.
- Take a scenic flight over Kakadu National Park to witness spectacular flooding
- Spend a night or two at the luxurious Cicada Lodge
- Watch the spectacular Darwin sunset while cruising Darwin Harbour
How to get there
Darwin has a domestic airport with connections from most Australian state capital cities, as well as an international airport with links to Asia. Consider arriving in Darwin by train: the epic rail journey on board The Ghan travels through the Red Centre of Australia from Adelaide or Alice Springs. If you have more time, Darwin is also served by interstate bus companies. Get there from Western Australia via Broome and Kununurra, from Queensland via Mt Isa, or from the south via Alice Springs.
Top things to do during the Northern Territory's tropical summer
Visit Florence Falls at Litchfield National Park
The waterfalls of Litchfield National Park make for a dramatic sight during summer. See the twin cascades of Florence Falls and follow 160 steps down to the deep, cool plunge pool. Take the short walk to Buley Rockhole, a series of waterfalls and waterholes that teem with life in the wet season. Swim and picnic alongside thundering Wangi Falls, where marsupial mice, frogs and frill-neck lizards dart around the water's edge. Stop to see the fields of Magnetic Termite Mounds, two-metre (6.6-feet) tall mounds built by termites during the wet season.
Take a helicopter over Katherine Gorge
You won't forget the aerial view of Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park, which sits just northeast of Katherine. On a helicopter tour you'll get an idea of its true scale and see it is actually part of a series of 13 interconnected gorges. They’re particularly spectacular during the tropical summer, when the Katherine River is brimming with water. Base yourself at Cicada Lodge, a luxurious eco lodge inside the National Park. The lodge is a joint venture between the local Jawoyn people and Indigenous Business Australia and offers the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the ancient Nitmiluk landscape. Go deeper into the story on a Rock Art tour via helicopter or Nabilil Dinner Cruise and watch the sun set over the beautiful Gorge.
Walk, fly and cruise through Kakadu
In Kakadu National Park, the local Bininj people have charted nature's cycle over six different seasons, rather than four. Late December to late March is the Gudjewg monsoon season, when heavy rains coax the landscape back to life. Native birds flock across the wetlands, tropical flowers fringe the rivers and spear grass sprouts across the floodplains. Follow the Yurmikmik Walks to waterfalls surging over rugged escarpments. The Boulder Creek Walk, Yurmikmik Lookout Walk, Motor Car Falls and Kurrundie Creek Walk are open all year round. Cruise down the East Alligator River with an Aboriginal guide, or take in the scope and scale of this lush landscape on a scenic helicopter flight.
Explore Nitmiluk National Park
Katherine is just over a three-hour drive south from Darwin and the gateway to Nitmiluk National Park. Visit galleries showcasing Aboriginal art and see the Katherine Outback Experience show with host Tom Curtain, who will enthral with his horse-breaking and musical skills. Depending on the weather, you can swim in pandanus-fringed plunge pools beneath Leliyn (Edith Falls) or take a bushwalk along the 2.6-kilometre (1.6-mile) Leliyn Trail. In the park, walk sections of the Jatbula Trail past monsoon rainforest to Crystal Falls or the single drop waterfall of 17 Mile Falls. Follow the 3.5-hour Windolf Walk to Pat's lookout for sweeping views over Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge and the summer waterfall of Southern Rockhole.
Watch the sunset over Darwin Harbour
By the end of a tropical day of touring, Darwin Harbour is a fantastic position from which to watch the sunset. You can take a seat on the shore or join a cruise and get out on the water. Take a picnic to the Dripstone Cliffs or East Point Reserve, both are great vantage points to see the sun go down. Sail Darwin will take you out on a three-hour Champagne Sunset Sail aboard their spacious 15-metre (50-foot) luxury catamaran, complete with dinner and Champagne. Or jump aboard the Spirit of Darwin for a 2.5-hour cruise with antipasto platters and a glass of bubbles.
Immerse yourself in Northern Territory Aboriginal culture
Explore the fascinating culture of the local Pudakul people with Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours. On this nature-based experience, delivered by people of the Adelaide and Mary River region, you’ll learn about bush tucker and traditional medicine, try blowing a didgeridoo, throw a spear and see basket and dilly bag making demonstrations. Discover the significance of Dreamtime and Djukbinj, the Rainbow Serpent, and enjoy damper and tea.