6 August 2018
BY ALAN YUEN
It might only cover the top section of the Northern Territory, but the region is approximately the size of a small country. Here are some suggestions for a seven-day itinerary that covers Darwin and its surrounding national parks at a leisurely pace:
Day 1 to 3: Darwin
Darwin is only 4.5 hours by plane from Singapore, so once you land, you can hit the ground running.
Start off by exploring some of Darwin’s unique activities. The most accessible of the lot is Crocosaurus Cove, which is home to some of the largest saltwater crocodiles in Australia. The highlight of the visit — if you have the guts to do it — is the “Cage of Death” where you are submerged in the crocodile tank with a clear plastic tube separating you from the predator. For a milder experience, you can attend the feeding shows or hold a baby croc in your arms.
If you are in Darwin between April to October, Mindil Beach Sunset Markets is worth visiting. Modelled after the street markets of South-east Asia, there are over 300 food, specialty art, crafts and services stalls. Then, find a good spot on the beach to watch the magical sunset as you munch on your burger, laksa, taco or sushi.
Darwin’s sea breezes and cool air also makes it a perfect setting to watch movies outdoors. The Deckchair Cinema situated on the gorgeous Darwin harbour screens an eclectic mix of films most nights from April to November.
For the second day, learn about the history of the area, at the Darwin Military Museum. Here, you can find out about the city’s involvement in World War II; Darwin was heavily bombarded in 1942. In fact, more bombs were dropped on the city than on Pearl Harbour.
Next, visit the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory (MAGNT) to learn more about including Cyclone Tracy’s decimation of the city in 1974.
If you have half a day to spare, the Outback Floatplane Adventures offers a good glimpse of the Top End’s great outdoors. The five-hour Ultimate Tour begins with a floatplane ride to Sweets Lagoon for an airboat cruise through wetland and rainforest. After circling the lagoon, the airboat will take you on a thrilling fast lap. Hang on tight; the propeller-powered vessel will twist and turn.
Head to Kakadu National Park, a vast area of wetlands, rivers and sandstone escarpments nearly half the size of Switzerland. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed park is teeming with wildlife, including hundreds of different bird, plant and animal species.
Renting a 4WD would be an ideal as it will allow you to explore parts of the park not accessible to 2WD vehicles, such as Two Mile Hole and Gunlom. However, any type of vehicle can be used to get to most areas in the national park including Ubirr and Nourlangie, Kakadu’s main Aboriginal rock art sites.
You can also board a cruise for a journey down the Yellow Water Billabong. The billabong (a branch of a river forming a backwater; not the clothing company) is home to many bird species and saltwater crocodiles. Seeing a fully grown croc up close is a breathtaking sight, and enjoyed within the safe boundaries of the boat.
If you entertain vague notions of “roughing it out” but are loath to give up modern conveniences, you are in luck. There are eco-luxury lodges and safari tents within the park, allowing you to camp in comfort.
After a night of glamping under the stars, drive southwards to Nitmiluk National Park. As this is closer to the centre of Australia, the tropical setting starts to meld with the outback.
At the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, nature is at its most exhilarating as you cruise or canoe down the gorge. Alternatively, get a bird’s eye view of the 13 gorges – with their rapids and falls – from a helicopter.
And visit Top Didj & Art Gallery to interact and learn about Aboriginal art and culture from Top End Aboriginal artist Manual Pamkal, as he talks about his childhood and life as a contemporary Aboriginal today. You can also try your hand at fire lighting and spear throwing.
If Kakadu is all about nature at its most untamed, then Litchfield is its playground. The park is home to plunging waterfalls and crystal clear pools that are good spots to take a dip or simply lounge idly for an afternoon. On your way back to Darwin, be sure to stop by the magnetic termite mounds. These fascinating feats of insect architecture comprise hundreds of rows of erect termite mounds standing two metres high, all lined up like tombstones. If you have an extra seven days, continue on to our 14-day itinerary that covers the Red Centre.