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Reaching the Northern Territory from other capital cities in Australia is a large undertaking by land, which is why a fly-drive campervan experience is a popular choice for travellers who may only have a week or two to see the sights.
Distances can be deceiving and long drives are needed between Darwin on the northern coast, to Kakadu National Park to the east, Litchfield to the west and then south to Katherine. If you wanted to plan a visit to Uluru, that’s a 1500km journey, so you’ll need extra time, however, you can make a one-way booking in a rental Britz campervan from Darwin to Alice Springs.
Here, we showcase some of the best sites in and around Darwin, and some further afield for those who want to really hit the road, or have an extended timeline.
Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital city, has much to offer the interstate and overseas hire campervan visitor, from wildlife parks to wave pools and some wonderfully colourful annual festivals.
Wanna meet a croc? Crocodylus Park in Darwin began as a research facility and now has more than 1000 crocodiles, from tiny hatchlings to beasts weighing 500kg. Located within a 15-minute drive of Darwin’s city centre, it offers visitors the chance to ‘mingle’ safely with them, as well as encounters with other wildlife including lions, blue tongue lizards, monkeys, tigers, meerkats, snakes and dingoes.
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Wave Lagoon and Recreation Lagoon
Travelling with kids? The Northern Territory’s heat can be a shock, even in winter, so cool off with these two lagoons on the Darwin waterfront. Open from 10am – 6pm daily, the Recreation Lagoon is free and is filled with water pumped in from the sea, although mesh screens prevent stingers from getting a look-in. The Wave Lagoon, which generates super-fun waves for bodyboard and bodysurfing action, has a small charge ($7 adults and $5 kids).
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Mindil Beach Sunset Market
A trip to Darwin is incomplete without a stroll through the famed Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, which operate in the dry season from the end of April to the end of October each year. More than 300 stalls run by locals offer handcrafted wares, works from local Indigenous artists, jewellery, clothes and so much more, as well as mouth-watering food stalls with fare from around the globe. Do some shopping, grab dinner and head to the sand to watch the sunset.
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Lions Club Beer Can Regatta
If you’re in town during the month of July, you’ll witness one of the world’s more bizarre boat races: the Darwin Lions Club Beer Can Regatta. Conceived in 1974 as a novelty event, it attracts hundreds of competitors who build craft using aluminium cans, plastic bottles and milk cartons and race along the water (and along the shore in one division where boats that can’t actually float are carried) at Mindi Beach. There are also tug-o-war contests and a thong throwing competition.
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Kakadu National Park
Covering an incredible 20,000sqm, Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park, so it would take quite some time to explore it all, even by campervan. Kakadu is a three-hour drive, all on highways, east of Darwin, and is suitable for both 2WD and 4WD vehicles or campervans.
Jim Jim Falls
The 200m-high Jim Jim Falls is Kakadu’s biggest waterfall and poster-boy of Kakadu. It’s often pictured as a roaring exhibition of nature - but this is in the wet season when it is impossible to access apart from a helicopter. In the dry season it dwindles in velocity, but not in beauty. The Jim Jim Plunge Pool Walk is a beautiful way to explore the surrounding area. Note that you will need a 4WD vehicle or be on a 4WD tour to reach Jim Jim.
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Offering some of the most magnificent waterfalls and vistas in Kakadu, Gunlom Falls is definitely a place to stop and relax for a while. Rock pools include a natural infinity pool from which you can survey the breadth and beauty of Kakadu below.
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Yellow Water Wetlands sunset cruises
The Yellow Water Billabong is a vibrant, thriving ecosystem. Indigenous-owned Yellow Water Cruises meander through the wetlands to show visitors the huge array of wildlife that call the area home, from 60 species of birds including eagles, whistling ducks, magpie geese, jabirus and dancing brolgas and quite a few crocs as well. The sunset cruise is spectacular so book ahead.
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Jumping Croc Cruise
Want to really get up close and personal with a hungry croc? The Original Adelaide River Queen Cruises run Jumping Crocodile Cruises from March to October and tempt the reptilian residents of the delightful Adelaide River (just 65km from Darwin) with tasty morsels. The saltwater crocs literally jump out of the water next to the boat, and showing off their snappy gums and powerful ‘guns’.
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Litchfield National Park
Only 1.5 hours’ drive (130km) south-west from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is a favourite for adventurers and nature lovers alike. Buley Waterhole is a cascading collection of rock pools, and just one of the many waterfalls in the park. It is a blessing for hot and weary travellers. Popular with locals as well, it is open year-round and camping is available too. To stretch your legs, try the Florence Creek Walk which starts at Buley Rockhole and goes for 3.2km.
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Nitmiluk National Park
The spectacular Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, just shy of 300km south of Darwin on the way to Katherine, is best seen from the water. Kayaks are available to hire and you can also do guided cruises. The land is that of the Jawoyn people, and ancient Indigenous rock art sites abound. You can camp overnight if you canoe along the fourth, sixth and ninth gorges. There are numerous walks here, and Edith Falls / Leliyn Falls on the western side of the Park is a must-see.
Katherine is a 320km drive south of Darwin and a great base for exploring the region and nearby Nitmiluk NP. Learn all about a stockman’s life on an Aussie cattle station with the Katherine Outback Experience, a 90-minute presentation by country music singer and horseman Tom Curtain and includes horse and working dog demonstrations as well as humorous bush tales and tucker. The Katherine School of the Air, a distance education facility for children living in remote areas, offers daily tours from April to October.
Bitter Springs, Elsey National Park
About 75 minutes south of Katherine, Bitter Springs is a pristine waterway fed by an underground spring. Bring a pool noodle and drift downstream on the current created by the water flow. The palm-fringed banks make this a true oasis. Nearby Mataranka Thermal Pool is also pretty neat, with water temps from its thermal springs sitting nicely at 30C.
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About 1500km from Darwin - ‘just down the road’ by Territory standards, is Alice Springs. ‘Alice’, as she’s affectionately known, is a large but remote service town, popular with tourists visiting Uluru and the nearby MacDonnell Ranges.
With an airport and a large range of hire depots, Alice is a popular place for travellers to start or end their fly-drive Territory trips and hire companies, such as Britz, are usually able to offer one-way bookings between Alice and Darwin to help keep travel times down.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Ahh, the king of the Top End. It’s a fair drive to get to Uluru - 1964km from Darwin and 468km from Alice Springs, to be exact -, but this is a bucket list item if we ever saw one. Climbing the rock is no longer allowed, but the base walk (a hefty 9.4km but which can be done in smaller sections) is beautiful and free tours from park rangers run periodically. The rock is 348m high - that’s 2.5 times the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park covers both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (once known as the Olgas and a 45-minute drive from the rock) totalling over 327,414 acres of desert outback. You can self-drive throughout the parks and walks are available at each site. A helicopter tour of Uluru and Kata Tjuta is an amazing way to see the magnificent landscapes, which change colours according to the time of day and season. The nearby Ayers Rock Resort offers a myriad of accommodation options.
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