You don’t need a Top End wedding to fall in love with the Northern Territory. Follow our itinerary instead.
You may not be saying “I do” in the Top End, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the buzz surrounding new Aussie film, Top End Wedding, by kick-starting your Northern Territory holiday at the Deckchair Cinema. Bring your own picnic and relax alfresco at this historic theatre on the Darwin Waterfront. A community-run venue, they’ve been showing films here every year during Darwin’s dry season – between mid-April and mid-November – since 1994.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a regular, one of the prettiest spots to spend time is Darwin Waterfront, where restaurants and bars line a grassy foreshore of palms and frangipanis. And for accommodation, there are plenty of choices, with the waterfront making a great base thanks to its many eateries, wave pool and netted harbour beach, and World War II history. For the latter, book a tour of the Oil Storage Tunnels, which doubles as an exhibition space telling the Bombing of Darwin story.
Kakadu National Park
Carve your way through Australia’s largest national park, Kakadu, leaving clouds of red dust in your wake. Adventures don’t get much better than this. Four-wheel-driving, hiking and swimming in plunge pools atop picturesque waterfalls – you’re bound to catch the NT bug.
The main township in Kakadu, Jabiru, is around a three-hour drive from Darwin and accessible via sealed highways. And whether you’re keen to join a couple of tours or go it alone, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed park caters to every type of traveller.
Not-to-miss attractions include Bowali Visitor Centre, where you can get an overview of the park’s history; Jim Jim Falls, with its 900-metre monsoon forest walk and natural swimming holes (not accessible by foot during the wet season); and Yellow Water Billabong, where you can spot crocs and magnificent birdlife on a sunset tour with Yellow Water Cruises.
Just when you thought Kakadu couldn’t get any better, buckle up in the back of a helicopter for better-than-drone views across the lime floodplains. If you’re there in the wet tropical summer (November-March) this is a must-do experience as it’s the best (and sometimes only) way to experience the majesty of the waterfalls.
After a busy day at the park, retire to Cooinda Lodge and Campground. Launched in June to celebrate Kakadu’s 40th anniversary, the new glamping village Dreaming@Home Billabong features 20 eco-friendly tents suitable for couples and families.
Follow in actress Miranda Tapsell’s footsteps by stepping aboard a river cruise in Nitmiluk National Park in Katherine. You don’t need to be a fan of rom-coms to appreciate the beauty of this park and its 13 gorges.
The park is one of the major tourist stops in the Top End but you’d never know it given how peaceful a cruise between the soaring sandstone cliffs is. Nitmiluk Tours has a range of cruises available, with morning, sunset, waterfall and cultural options.
On the park’s western boundary you’ll find Leliyn Falls, also known as Edith Falls, where you can cool off in a natural pool surrounded by pandanus palms. Wander down the walking track to discover Sweetwater Pool, another secluded swimming hole.
Bathurst Island is only 80 kilometres from Darwin and you can get there via a 2.5-hour ferry ride with SeaLink Northern Territory or a 20-minute scenic flight.
The Indigenous peoples of the Tiwis are the Traditional Owners, and so you’ll need to be on a tour or hosted by a resident to visit. You’ll also need a permit from Tiwi Land Council, which will be organised by your guide or host.
Check out SeaLink Northern Territory’s Tiwi Day Tour during which you’ll meet members of Bathurst Island’s Wurrumiyanga community, learn about traditional art and Dreamtime stories, visit a mission precinct and enjoy morning tea with the local women. Their tours run during the week between April and November.
Along with art, the islands are renowned for their strong Australian rules football culture. For one day in March each year, you can travel without a permit to Bathurst Island to catch the Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and visit the island’s annual art sale, which coincides with the main event.
The other lure of the Tiwis is fishing, and anglers can join tours out of Darwin or from an island lodge. From reef fish to river species, you can expect to hook barramundi, mangrove jack, golden snapper and coral trout, among others.
Return to Darwin and spend your night unwinding in the capital by dining at one of the city’s top restaurants. Pee Wee’s at the Point has stunning vistas of Fannie Bay with authentic local cuisine, including buffalo carpaccio and saltwater barramundi.
In the CBD, Manoli’s Greek Taverna will not disappoint. It’s homely, welcoming and the classic Greek dishes will have you ordering way more than your stomach can handle.
If you’re visiting during the dry season (April-October), taste your way around the Asian food stalls at Mindil Beach Sunset Market on a Sunday or Thursday evening. Arrive in time to enjoy a cup of mango sorbet on the beach at dusk.
Where to stay:
Cooinda Lodge Kakadu