1. BERRY SPRINGS
1 hr / 30 km / S
Activities: Walking, swimming
The drawcard: The refreshing pools of Berry Springs Nature Park offer welcome respite from the ever-present warmth of the Territory. You can dive in and relax in shady solitude after a day spent discovering the Monsoon Rainforest and Woodlands Walk – a nice loop walk that begins from the picnic area. If you’re keen on wildlife spotting, take your binoculars along the loop walk and your goggles along for the swim – bird life is abundant in the park and the clear pools are brimming with fish and other aquatic life.
Fuel stop: Turn east off the Stuart Highway on to Arnhem Highway and stop in at the Humpty Doo Hotel for a bite to eat, or take some supplies with you to cook up a tasty meal on the park’s barbecue facilities.
3 hrs / 217 km / E
Activities: Birdwatching, bushwalking, cycling
The drawcard: Established as a mining town in the 1970s, Jabiru is situated in Kakadu National Park, which encompasses the best of the exquisite Northern Territory’s lush and remote landscape. The park is full of wildlife and culturally significant ancient rock sites you can visit. There are many short and multi-day walks – such as the Bowali Bike and Walking Track a 4 km track that winds its way through woodlands.
Fuel stop: On the Nature’s Way drive, you can fill up the tank and stock up on food supplies at the small town of Coolalinga.
3. LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
1.5 hrs / 100 km / S
Activities: Walking, camping
The drawcard: Lace up your hiking boots and step into the varied landscapes of this pristine park. You can stroll past the giant magnetic termite mounds and marvel at their peculiar formations, or explore the towering sandstone pillars of the Lost City. There are several excellent short walks within the park, such as the Wangi Falls Walk (1.6 km) which takes you to a viewing platform above the waterfall. If you have some more time, tackle the Tabletop Track – a 39 km circuit walk. Register for all walks at the Batchelor Parks and Wildlife office.
Fuel stop: Take a tour at nearby Batchelor Butterfly Farm and Tropical Retreat where you can wine and dine at the restaurant or pick up a picnic hamper.
4. HOWARD SPRINGS
30 mins / 23 km / E
Activities: Fishing, swimming
The drawcard: Spend a day in Howard Springs, a quiet and picturesque rural area on the outskirts of Darwin. Visit Barramundi Fishing Park – a billabong brimming with more than 3000 barramundi, so even for a fishing novice, landing a catch is virtually guaranteed. The nearby Howard Springs Nature Park protects 283 ha of diverse habitat and includes barbeque facilities and a peaceful spring-fed swimming pool.
Fuel stop: Stop in for a Devonshire tea and a snack at Jenny’s Orchid Farm. You can view 2 ha of tropical orchids with more than 2500 orchid plants collected from around the world.
5. UNBRAWARRA GORGE
3 hr / 190 km / SE
Activities: Rock climbing, abseiling
The drawcard: Keen climbers have long adored the striking red cliffs of this isolated haven. The little-known gorge is so distinctive a replica of the geological formation was constructed for The National Aquarium in Baltimore, USA. There’s also a small camping ground near the entrance to the park if you intend to stay a night or two. If you’re planning on climbing or abseiling, permits must be obtained from the Batchelor or Palmerston Parks and Wildlife Service offices before you arrive at Umbrawarra. The area is best visited in the dry season (May–September).
Fuel stop: Try a mango smoothie at Maisy’s Café in Pine Creek – a lovely place to stop for lunch on the way back to Darwin.
6. TIWI ISLANDS
20 mins (flight) / 100 km / N
Activities: Walking, sailing, fishing, indigenous culture
The drawcard: The Tiwi Islands, which comprise of Bathurst and Melville islands, are just a short flight – or ferry across the Timor Sea – from Darwin. The Tiwi people are happy to share their vibrant culture with travellers – although you must visit as part of an organised tour or apply for a permit. Check out the dense rainforest and the pristine coastline – you might even be lucky enough to spot flatback turtles nesting on the sandy beaches.
Fuel stop: On a Tiwi Island Tours’ one-day exploration of Bathurst Island, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a bush tucker walk with lunch also provided.
7. MANTON DAM
1 hr 15 mins / 70 km / SE
Activities: Canoeing, windsurfing
The drawcard: A day trip to the Manton Dam Recreation Area is a pleasant escape from Darwin’s streetscapes. Built in 1942 as the city’s first source of reliable water, the dam is now a popular spot for water lovers. There’s a low-speed boating area to explore the far reaches of the dam and you can then have a picnic beneath the shady trees lining the banks (there are also barbeque facilities). The area is also a haven for a huge variety of wildlife.
Fuel stop: Stop in for a coldie on the way home at Noonamah Tavern on the Stuart Highway, a quintessential outback pub.
8. CHARLES DARWIN NATIONAL PARK
15 mins / 4 km / E
Activity: Mountain biking
The drawcard: Stretch your legs in Charles Darwin National Park – this much-loved park is practically an outer suburb of our most northern capital city. For the time-poor, it’s a perfect getaway from the busy city and a regular haunt of mountain bikers. The park protects wetlands, significant Aboriginal cultural sites and interesting wartime artefacts. A network of cycling paths wind through tropical woodland but if you’re keen on a group ride, join one of Darwin Off-Road Cyclist’s rides in the park.
Fuel stop: Grab some tasty delights from Darwin’s Parap Village Markets to take with you and enjoy on the lookout platform, where there are magnificent views of the harbour and surrounding wetlands.
3 hr / 270 km / SE
Activities: Canoeing, bushwalking
The drawcard: The Northern Territory’s third-largest town lies on the banks of the logically-named Katherine River – making it a brilliant spot to set off for an overnight canoeing and camping trip. The river flows through the mighty Katherine Gorge, so you can load a canoe with all your essential camping kit and paddle through the interweaving channel of rivers, gorges and escarpments. Katherine is also 30 minutes from Nitmiluk National Park which is home to the well-known Jatbula Trail – a challenging 4–6 day, 58 km bushwalk.
Fuel stop: Ease your weary body into a chair at Katie’s Bistro in Knotts Crossing Resort – a favourite with the locals.
10. ADELAIDE RIVER
1 hr 45 mins / 87 km / S
Activities: Cycling, croc spotting
The drawcard: Not to be confused with the watercourse of the same name, the small township of Adelaide River is full of interesting history. You can visit the site of the only war cemetery on Australian soil - 495 people are buried here, all of whom died during Japanese bombing raids in 1942. It’s prolific crocodile country around here and one of the best ways to see the Top End reptile in its natural habitat is by going on an Adelaide River Queen tour.
Fuel stop: The local specialty is barra and chips, which you can find served up at the Adelaide River Inn.