A trip to Darwin isn't complete without venturing to the waterfalls, rivers, lagoons and national parks close to this tropical city.
By Leah Dobihal
Darwin may be one of Australia's most remote cities, but you don't have to go far to find an abundance of awe-inspiring nature. Hop in the car to reach fern-fringed swimming holes, gushing waterfalls, crocodile-filled rivers and ancient wilderness.
Holiday destinations north of Darwin
The Tiwi Islands are located 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Darwin and are reached via ferry or flight. The islands are off-the-beaten-track and have minimal tourist facilities, but are abundant in culture, beauty and adventure. Their ocean location makes the islands an ideal spot for fishing in clean, clear waters. Tiwi Islands Adventures offers fishing charters ranging from two to six days. You'll also find rich Aboriginal culture on these islands. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Tiwi culture is on an all-day tour with AAT Kings. You'll view traditional art, watch Tiwi women weave baskets and experience a welcoming smoke ceremony. If you visit during March, you'll witness first-hand how much the Tiwi population loves Australian Rules Football (AFL). The grand final match brings thousands of visitors the island each year.
Holiday destinations south of Darwin
Litchfield National Park
Pack your swimming costume and travel two hours south of Darwin to Litchfield National Park. Once inside Litchfield's lush borders, make your first stop at the Magnetic Termite Mounds - eerie, tombstone-like marvels of nature. From there, visit Tolmer Falls. A short walk will land you on a viewing platform overlooking the majestic falls, home to a protected colony of orange horseshoe bats. To see the upper falls, walk the 45-minute loop trail back to the carpark. Next, tour the park's signature swimming hubs, Wangi and Florence Falls. The former features a huge cliff face, an emerald-toned swimming hole, a cafe and an art gallery. The latter has a double waterfall plunging into a deep pool, framed by fern-lined cliffs. Florence Falls draws some of the park's biggest crowds, so leave your visit here until later in the afternoon.
Nitmiluk National Park
Nitmulik National Park, about a three-hour drive from Darwin, is home to some of Nothern Territory's most majestic beauty. The main drawcard here is Nitmiluk Gorge, an impressive stretch of 13 gorges. The towering sandstone walls of Nitmulik Gorge and it's surrounds make for breathtaking viewing, best appreciated by joining a sunrise or sunset cruise, hiring a canoe or splashing out on an unforgettable helicopter ride. There are several swimming holes and waterfalls to stop at along the way; Leiyn (Edith Falls) is a favourite. Don't miss a trip to Nitmiluk Visitor Centre, where you can learn about the significance of the gorge to its traditional owners, the Jawoyn and Dagomen people. Ask about the Aboriginal rock art paintings that appear on cliff faces throughout the canyons.
Katherine, located just over three hours from Darwin, may be best known as the gateway to Nitmulik National Park, But there's plenty more to discover after you've floated down Nitmulik (Katherine) Gorge. The Katherine Outback Experience is a show that celebrates life in the outback, with horse and working dog demonstrations intertwined with live music and bush tales. For a relaxing retreat, head to bitter springs inside Elsey National Park. The spring fed thermal pools are naturally warm and nearby the equally popular Mataranka Thermal Pool. Next, immerse yourself in the area's Aboriginal culture on a 2.5-hour cultural experience with Top Didj. During the tour, you'll learn about traditional painting, weapons and tools from Top End Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal before painting your own artwork to take home.
Keep River National Park
Keep River National Park is considered one of the Nothern Territory's most remote parks, located almost 750 kilometres (466 miles) from Darwin. Don't let the distance fool you, however, as this park can also be reached on a short drive from the Kimberely township of Kununurra. Begin your adventure at the Keep River Ranger Station, where you can pick up your park note for orientation. Twice weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays) you can join a park ranger for a morning walk at Goorrandalang, which explores the surrounding 250-million-year-old geological features. The Jarnem Loop Walk will leave you breathless as you trek through gorges, forests and ancient rock shelters featuring Aboriginal rock art. Spend the night at the park's camground, or make the trip back to Kununurra for accommodation ranging from casual lodges to luxury outback retreats.
Holiday destinations east of Darwin
Kakadu National Park
As Australia's biggest natonal park, Kakadu offers more wetlands, waterfalls, billabongs and escarpments than you can count. The nature here is truly breathtaking, and there are several ways to see its beauty. Take the scenic flight or four-wheel drive to marvel at two of the park's most incredible waterfalls: Jim Jim and Twin Falls. Take a Yellow Water Cruise through the calm billabongs, passing sweeping flood plains and saltwater crocodiles. Kakadu is also home to Aboroginal rock art that dates back thousnads of years. Take the 1.5-kilometre (one-mile) Nourlangi Rock Walk to see several rock art sites. If even Kakadu can't satisfy your craving for adventure, take the Nature's Way route to add other outback towns and national parks to your itinerary.
Mary River Region
A one-hour drive from Darwin will bring you to the Mary and Adelaide River region, where you can enjoy a jumping crocodile cruise. There are three operations to choose from, each offering a cruise through croc-infested waters patrolled by birds of prey. Here, crocs jump from the water to eat buffalo meat hoisted on long hooks. Adelaide River Cruises is one of the most rustic and entertaining options. It's run by nature-loving brothers Harry and Morgon. The other operators are Adelaide River Queen and Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruises. Ten minutes down the track, on your way back to Darwin, visit Fogg Dam Conservation Area. This site is full of wetlands that attract a stunning array of birds, such as egrets, jabirus, black cockatoos and kingfishers. Stretch your legs with a tranquil walk through the rainforest here before returning to town.
Arnhem Land abounds with some of Australia's most wild and rugged landscapes. Here, you'll find rainforests, rivers, remote islands and towering cliffs with flowing waterfalls. The traditional owners of Arnhem Land are the Yolngu people, who have occupied the region for at least 40,000 years, and you can experience their rich culture through ancient and modern art. Visit Injalak Arts to watch artists at work and purchase authentic baskets and paintings. Next, dive into the vast wilderness of Arnhem Land with a guided tour. Choose from fishing, cultural or nature tours, where you'll see unforgettable vistas, wild waterways and native wildlife. Keep in mind you'll need a permit to visit Arnhem Land.