5-day Darwin to Katherine road trip
This five-day journey into the vast Katherine region is a deep dive into an ancient culture that will leave you transformed.
By Michael Wayne
Visitors to the Northern Territory are drawn to the cultural and spiritual richness of Kakadu, Arnhem Land and Katherine. The latter, a tropical town three hours from Darwin, feels a world away from the modern every day, and the journey to get there takes you deep into the outback’s primeval beauty. With a wealth of ancient culture and a good dose of Australiana along the way, this five-day round trip from Darwin takes in the icons of the region as well as its off-the-beaten-path gems.
Day 1: Darwin to Adelaide River, via the jumping crocs
- Drive time: two hours.
Hire a car in Darwin but before you hit the road, take the time to get to know the Northern Territory capital a little better. Darwin has had plenty of facelifts in its day, but none quite as colourful as its Street Art Festival. The city’s back streets were first decorated in 2017 with eight bold, large-scale murals, followed by a further 16 in 2018 and 15 in 2019, with some even coming to life on your phone via augmented reality. Download the map from the website and go wandering.
If you want to go deeper into Darwin’s history, visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). Exhibits take you back to the harrowing midst of Cyclone Tracy, the terrible height of World War II and the pre-settlement world of Darwin’s traditional owners, the Larrakia people.
Day 2: Adelaide River to Litchfield National Park and Katherine
- Drive time: about 30 minutes from Adelaide River to Litchfield National Park, and 2.5 hours to Katherine.
Walk down from the Adelaide River Inn and Resort to the Adelaide River War Cemetery, the peaceful resting place of 434 service personnel and 63 civilians, and take a moment to reflect before starting your day.
Now it’s time to head to Litchfield National Park to spend the better part of the day exploring some of its many wonders, from giant termite mounds to stunning waterfalls and idyllic swimming spots. There’s an abundance of walking tracks, as well as a number of tours available throughout the park.
Day 3: Explore Katherine and surrounds
Katherine, the Northern Territory’s third-largest town, is situated on the banks of the Katherine River and has long been a site of great significance to its Aboriginal owners: the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Wardaman people.
Head to the Black Russian Caravan Bar and grab breakfast and a coffee before perusing local art. The styles and crafts of local artists converge at the Mimi Arts and Crafts centre, which is Aboriginal owned and operated, and showcases the wide range of art Katherine inspires.
Day 4: Katherine to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge
- Drive time: about half an hour.
For many visitors to Katherine, Nitmiluk National Park and Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is the reason they come. The deep sandstone gorge carries the Katherine River from Kakadu through the town of Katherine itself, and is a haven for saltwater crocodiles during the tropical summer. In the dry season, however, it’s a paddler’s paradise.
While you can explore the national park on foot, the best way to experience Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is on the water. Cruises along the Gorge are available as half-day, full-day or even overnight adventures with Nitmiluk Tours, but the sunset cruise is perhaps the most enchanting.
Day 5: Katherine to Darwin via Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park
- Drive time: about one hour to Umbrawarra, and about 2.5 hours to Darwin.
In contrast to the tourist-friendly Nitmiluk, Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park – on the way back to Darwin – feels raw and wild (and it’s 4WD-access only during the wet season from October to April). Traces of ancient rock art by the land’s traditional Wagiman owners can still be seen on the walls of the gorge, too.
Though you can walk to the gorge, further trekking must be done through the water. It’s worth the journey, but check crocodile activity before you go.