Nature’s Way: 7-day road trip to Kakadu and Litchfield
From Darwin, journey through the waterfall-laden landscapes of Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks.
Comprising the Arnhem, Kakadu and Stuart highways, Nature’s Way is the scenic route that links two of Australia’s most spectacular national parks: Litchfield and the World Heritage-listed Kakadu. Both have an abundance of freshwater swimming holes and stunning waterfalls, and Kakadu is also lauded for its walks, Aboriginal art sites, escarpments and jaw-dropping views over Arnhem Land. Begin in Australia’s vibrant tropical city of Darwin before journeying towards the natural wonders of Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks.
Day 1: Darwin to Kakadu National Park
Hire a car in Darwin and follow the Arnhem Highway south-east towards Kakadu. About 54 kilometres (33.5 miles) down the highway, after Humpty Doo and before Fogg Dam Nature Park, stop for an unforgettable two-hour cultural tour with Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours, which runs every day from May to October at 10:30am. Your host will greet you with a ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony, designed to warmly usher in visitors to Aboriginal land. Then, you’ll expand on your Top End experience by learning about the local Aboriginal approach to land, food, hunting, cooking, craft and art. This interactive session concludes with morning tea and a chance to talk freely and openly with your hosts.
Drive for about 10 minutes to nearby Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. This site was once home to rice crops, and the abandoned paddies have evolved into open-air wetlands alive with reptiles, jabirus (large native birds) and blue-winged kookaburras. Stroll the 1.5-hour Monsoon Forest trail beneath thick forest canopy. Alternatively, follow the pretty Woodlands to Waterlily Walk, which takes just 45 minutes.Show more
Day 2: Walks and culture in Kakadu National Park
Set off early today and head back to Ubirr in Kakadu’s East Alligator Region. Kakadu is famous for its Aboriginal art sites, sweeping escarpments and dazzling views over Arnhem Land, and Ubirr offers all three. Start your day with the easy 2.5-kilometre (1.5-mile) Bardedjilidji walk through scenes of layered sandstone, woodlands filled with paperbark trees and an abundance of wildlife, including birds and wallabies.
Next, check out the world-renowned X-ray art, as well as the rainbow serpent (an Aboriginal creation story) sketches back in Ubirr. The latter are tucked along the boardwalk area behind Ubirrs’ Crosshatching Gallery, so named because artists have used crosshatching – intersecting sets of parallel lines – to shade in sections of their art.Show more
Day 3: Explore Kakadu’s water-filled regions
Rise early and head south on the Kakadu Highway – today you’ll discover Kakadu’s water-filled southern regions. Your first stop is the Motor Car Falls. Reached via a 7.5-kilometre (4.6-mile) return trail within the Yurmikmik series of walks, the Motor Car Falls Walk will lead you through pink-flowered shrubs and lush monsoon woodlands before revealing the cascading falls. For most of the year, lacewing butterflies feed on minerals secreted from nearby rocks, and the pool’s waters are full of fish, turtles and freshwater shrimp. You're permitted to swim here all year round.
After a refreshing dip, laze the rest of the morning away at nearby Gunlom Falls. At this sacred spot, a waterfall plunges 100 metres (330 feet) through a copper-coloured escarpment to reach a base pool encircled by eucalypts.
Day 4: Kakadu to Katherine via the Kakadu Highway
Located two kilometres (1.2 miles) from Coodina Lodge is the Warradjan Cultural Centre. Stop by to explore the fascinating Our Land is Our Life exhibition which uncovers the culture of Aboriginal traditional landowners, including hunting techniques, marriage rights, and elder stories.
From Yellow Water, drive 2.5 hours south along the Kakadu Highway towards Katherine, a bustling township situated on the banks of the Katherine River.
Head straight to the Katherine Hot Springs for a luxurious natural bath in the bubbling emerald green water. Sitting at a comfortable 25-30 degrees throughout the year, this natural hot spring pool is the perfect place to unwind. Refuel at the springs with a piping hot coffee and a quintessentially Aussie meat pie from the local gem, Pop Rocket Café.Show more
Day 5: Elsey National Park
Today, we recommend heading about an hour south from Katherine to visit Elsey National Park, well-known as the setting for the acclaimed Australian novel We of the Never Never, along with its glorious hot springs, intriguing heritage sites and the serene Roper River – a popular spot for fishing fans and adventurers alike.
Elsey National Park is bursting with enchanting natural hot springs set among beautiful palms and tropical woodlands. For a warm dip, head to the 34-degree Mataranka thermal pool or the nearby soothing oasis, Bitter Springs. For a more exhilarating dip, walk along the Waterhouse River to reach Stevie’s Hole, a cool – but just as picturesque – natural pool.Show more
Day 6: Nitmiluk National Park
Just 30 minutes from Katherine is the Nitmiluk National Park. Explore the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge via canoe, hop on a local cruise or take a scenic helicopter flight above the ancient gorge system.
If you’ve got the energy, take on the eight-kilometre (five-mile) return walk to Southern Rockhole. Hike over volcanic rocks through monsoon forest, before reaching the base of the Southern Rockhole falls; a perfect spot for a swim, make sure you pack your cossie (that’s Aussie for bathing suit), plenty of water and your sense of adventure.
Spend the night in the tranquil Nitmiluk National Park at the Aboriginal-owned Cicada Lodge.
Day 7: Katherine to Darwin via Litchfield National Park
Unlike Kakadu, with its sizeable distances between sites, Litchfield National Park has waterholes and waterfalls that are easily accessible. You can fit many of the park's sites into a day trip. Once inside the park's lush borders, make your first stop at the magnetic termite mounds – eerie, tombstone-like wonders of nature.
Spend the rest of the morning lazing inside the shallow, bubbling pools of Buley Rockhole, where a stream tumbles down the hill, bouncing between small waterholes. From here, travel to the park’s signature swimming hubs, Wangi and Florence Falls. The latter has powerful waterfalls that drop to a deep pool, edged by fern-lined cliffs.