A trip to Darwin isn't complete without venturing to the waterfalls, rivers, lagoons and national parks close to this tropical city.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
Nature lovers swoon over what's on offer in close proximity to Darwin. Sure, there’s Kakadu, the world's largest terrestrial national park, but smaller parks and reserves – with beauty to rival that of Kakadu – sit closer to town and can be visited in a day. Sweets Lagoon and Berry Springs Nature Reserve are loved by locals for their abundance of wildlife and pristine waters fringed by mangroves. Robin Falls takes visitors on a hike through lush forest to secluded, natural, twin swimming pools. The Mary River region is home to large colonies of wildlife, such as colourful, elegant birds and "jumping" crocodiles. And closer to town, Litchfield National Park is a water lover's paradise, thanks to its spectacular and easily accessed waterfalls.
Sweets Lagoon and Berry Springs Nature Reserve
Get your adrenaline racing with an early morning ultimate tour (AUD$795) to Sweets Lagoon on the Finniss River with Outback Floatplane Adventures. The lagoon is so named because this where Darwin's famous five metre (16 foot) crocodile Sweetheart was caught (he's now preserved and displayed in the Northern Territory Museum and Gallery). Be collected from your hotel at 6.30am and travel out of town via a floatplane for a river cruise, hot cooked breakfast, air boat ride through monsoonal rainforest, and a "hot lap" in which the boat completes 360-degree spins. Arrive back to Darwin at midday and drive 50 minutes south for a chilled afternoon lounging at Berry Springs Nature Park. Surrounded by lush flora and home to archer fish, shrimp and rainbow bee-eater birds, these natural springs comprise three iridescent swimming holes filled with warm, clear water.
Adelaide River and Robin Falls
Head out of Darwin in a hire car via the Stuart Highway, and stop at the village of Adelaide River and wander its peaceful World War II cemetery. Move on to the nearby Robin Falls and trek for 20 minutes along the creek to twin waterfalls, which during the dry season, from May to September, offer an idyllic spot for a swim. On your way back to Darwin, stop at the Adelaide River Resort Pub for a late lunch. Say g'day to Charlie the stuffed buffalo, who (when alive!) featured in the iconic Aussie film Crocodile Dundee. The pub boasts a pretty outdoor area that really puts the "garden" back into "beer garden" – it’s set amid trees on a grassy patch of lawn.
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 further 18 minutes along the road. 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, surrounding bush flowers and some of the park's stone country, walk the 45 minute loop trail back to the car park. 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 café 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.
Mary River and Fogg Dam
Drive one hour and fifteen minutes from Darwin along the Arnhem Highway and you'll arrive at the Mary and Adelaide River region, where you can enjoy a jumping crocodile cruise. There are three operators to choose from, each offering a cruise in croc-infested waters patrolled by brown whistling kites. Here, crocs jump from the water to eat buffalo meat hoisted on long hooks. Adelaide River Cruises (AUD$45) is one of the most rustic and entertaining options. It's run by nature-loving brothers Harry and Morgan. The other operators are Adelaide River Queen and Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruises (pictured). 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 back to town.
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