See the highlights and hidden corners of Northern Australia's "Top End" on this eight-day, self-drive adventure. Start in Darwin and drive east, staying in secluded inland towns before looping back toward the coast. Explore remote national parks, cruise down rivers for spectacular views (and crocodile spotting), meet the native wildlife at a local sanctuary, and search for First Nations rock art on a sunset hike.


  • Wave to crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin
  • Join a cultural cruise to learn about First Nations traditions and mythology 
  • Canoe down gorges at a national park in Katherine
  • Feed kangaroos at a wildlife sanctuary in Litchfield National Park 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Darwin Darwin
Day 2 Drive to Ubirr & Kakadu National Park Ubirr
Day 3 Guluyambi River Cruise & Swim in Kakadu Cooinda
Day 4 Sunrise Cruise & Drive to Katherine Katherine
Day 5 Explore Katherine Gorge & Nitmiluk National Park Katherine
Day 6 Drive to Litchfield National Park Litchfield National Park
Day 7 Explore Litchfield National Park Litchfield National Park
Day 8 Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Darwin

Sunset by the beach in Darwin
Sunset by the beach in Darwin

Welcome to Australia! Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met by a private driver and delivered to your Darwin accommodation. This northern city has a fantastic mix of things to do. If you're looking to stretch your legs, visit the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. There are also more crocodiles in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in the world, so jump in a boat or visit Crocosaurus Cove and meet the real locals. 

Tonight, you can catch a film under the stars at the outdoor Deckchair Cinema, where screenings start at sundown, and local eateries have food stalls to keep your hunger at bay. If you're not up for a movie, stop by Mindil Beach Sunset Market to wander the multitude of stalls, or join a harbor cruise to soak up the sunset with drinks and canapes. 

Day 2: Drive to Ubirr & Kakadu National Park

Rock formation in Kakadu National Park 

Time to pick up your rental car and head to Kakadu National Park! As Australia's largest national park, Kakadu offers more wetlands, waterfalls, billabongs, and escarpments than you can count. It pays to keep an eye out once you've reached the park boundary: buffalo have been sighted on the Kakadu Highway here, and there's always wildlife to spot. Your first stop should be Ubirr Rock Art Gallery, about an hour's drive north of Jabiru, one of the main villages in the national park. 

Nearby, Ubirr is home to one of the world's most remarkable rock art collections. Follow the 0.6-mile (1 km) circular track and look out for different animals depicted in the region's signature X-ray style, including the Tasmanian tiger. Another special rock art site can be found south of Jabiru in Kakadu's Yellow Water and Mary River regions: Burrungkuy ("Nourlangie"). This region holds the painting of the important creation ancestor Namarrgon (Lightning Man). 

Arrive at the Ubirr Border Store in the afternoon to meet your guide and get transferred to a secluded lodge located in a remote and restricted part of Kakadu. Known as Cannon Hill, this sacred area is a renowned part of the park with significant importance to the local First Nations people, many of whom still live nearby. This afternoon, enjoy a guided sunset rock art tour followed by a three-course dinner at the lodge.

Day 3: Guluyambi River Cruise & Swim in Kakadu

Guluyambi Cultural Cruise - Hunting Demonstration
Hunting demonstration during a Guluyambi cultural cruise

Today you'll embark on the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise—an intimate boat tour along Kakadu's spectacularly scenic East Alligator River. Take in the pristine wilderness of this UNESCO-listed landscape as you leisurely cruise upstream. A First Nations guide provides guests with an insight into their culture, local mythology, the river's abundant food chain, and traditional uses for many plants and animals, as well as bush survival skills. Disembark on the Arnhem Land side of the river for a display of traditional hunting and gathering implements. 

Set out to explore the Mary River region of Kakadu: home to rugged stone country, vast wetlands, stunning waterfalls, and some of the area's famed swimming spots. Perhaps the most famous of all is the easily reachable Gunlom Falls. From the base of the falls, it's a short, steep hike to the top—where a natural infinity pool lies in wait and promises an idyllic dip. It makes for an unbeatable picnic spot with spectacular views of the park's far corners.

If you like your wild pools crowd-free, you'll love Motor Car Falls, a magical swimming area only accessible by foot. It's one of the Yurmikmik Walks in the southern region of Kakadu National Park, a two-hour hike through woodlands along a historic vehicle track, but once you're there, chances are it will just be you and the resident turtles that float about in the shady pool. If you'd prefer a shorter hike, head to Maguk Gorge (also known as Barramundi Gorge). 

Day 4: Sunrise Cruise & Drive to Katherine

Yellow Water Cruise
Yellow Water Cruise at sunrise

This morning, join an Indigenous-owned cruise along Kakadu's most famous wetland at dawn for a guided journey of discovery among crocodiles, eagles, and reflecting waters. Located at the end of Jim Jim Creek, this South Alligator River system is unique, as it is included in its entirety within a UNESCO-listed national park.

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When you're ready, hit the road traveling northwest through Kakadu and toward Katherine. On the way, pass Pine Creek, a former gold rush town that these days is home to only 300 or so people, though it still oozes character. After a refreshing swim at Leliyn Falls or simply stretching your legs, continue your adventure and head toward Katherine, the bustling township situated on the banks of the Katherine River

Though Katherine is interesting, the real attraction is Nitmiluk National Park, with its beautiful series of red-rock gorges and dazzling waterfalls. There are many things to do around the park: take a boat cruise up the river, navigate Nitmiluk Gorge by canoe, learn about local First Nations lore and cave paintings, or roam around on foot. Check out the hot springs and head back into town for dinner at the Katherine Country Club for a relaxed end of the day.

Day 5: Explore Katherine Gorge & Nitmiluk National Park

Malappar Traveller
Nitmiluk National Park 

Start today on the Malaparr Traveller—a leisurely canoe tour suitable for inexperienced canoeists and family outings. A boat transfer takes you to the top of the first gorge, where you'll set out into the waters of the second gorge—allowing you to travel further at your own pace. Take advantage of the shallow swimming sections to cool off, or find an ideal spot for a picnic. Afterward, you'll have more time to explore Nitmiluk National Park and its many walking tracks within the park, the perfect way to gain a true sense of the grandeur and solitude of this magical place.

Get ready for a real treat this afternoon with a visit to the Katherine Outback Experience, owned by multiple Golden Guitar-winner and horseman extraordinaire Tom Curtain. This interactive exhibition celebrates the Northern Territory's rich pastoral culture and history through real horse-starting and working dog demonstrations, entwined with live music and humorous bush tales.

Day 6: Drive to Litchfield National Park

Swimming at Litchfield National Park
Swimming at Litchfield National Park

This morning at dawn, you'll embrace the peaceful morning air and nestle yourself in the sunlit glow of the cliffs—a photographer's dream! Your knowledgeable guide will accompany you through the first gorge before allowing you to stretch your legs on a short walk to board a boat to the second gorge. Along the way, you'll be regaled with cultural stories, the history of the Nitmiluk region, information on local flora and fauna, and much more!

Then it's time to drive an hour southeast of Katherine to the region's best-kept secret—Bitter Springs in Elsey National Park. A spring-fed thermal pool with a temperature of around 93°F (34°C, it's a truly enchanting place to unwind. Continue your road trip north toward Litchfield National Park, a reserve filled with tumbling waterfalls and crystal-clear natural pools where you can swim in crocodile-free waters like Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Sandy Creek Falls, Wangi Falls, and the Cascades. Get settled in, then head to "Lil'Ripper" for the best pub in the scrub.

Day 7: Explore Litchfield National Park

Termite mound
Termite mounds near Litchfield

Pack your bathing suit and start today with a visit to Tolmer Falls. 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, walk the 45-minute loop trail back to the car park.

Next, tour the park's signature swimming hubs, Wangi and Florence Falls. Wangi features a huge cliff face, an emerald-toned swimming hole, a café, and an art gallery. Florence has a double waterfall plunging into a deep pool framed by fern-lined cliffs. Be sure to make time for both the Florence Creek Walk, which leads you to a collection of natural spas and whirlpools, as well as the Wangi Falls Walk through a monsoon forest.

Another must-see in Litchfield is the Cathedral Termite Mound, where armies of insects have created a surreal, tombstone-like field of giant termite mounds near the park's eastern boundary. You can also visit a variety of native fauna at Nina's Ark Wildlife Sanctuary, the only place of its kind that rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned animals. Twice a day, the "calling of the roos" occurs as hundreds of kangaroos come to Nina's call. Feed the wild marsupials fruit and take amazing photos while learning about the other animal "locals" that call Nina's Ark home.

Day 8: Depart Australia

Nitmiluk National Park - Edith Falls
Edith Falls at Nitmiluk National Park

It's sadly your last morning and time to drive the quick trip back up to Darwin. Depending on your flight time, you may want to stop at Berry Springs for a homemade fruit ice cream at Crazy Acres Mango Farm or take a peaceful swim or snorkel in the clear waters of Berry Springs. Drop off your car at the airport and get ready for your flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Northern Australia Road Trip: Kakadu, Katherine & Litchfield - 8 Days
Map of Northern Australia Road Trip: Kakadu, Katherine & Litchfield - 8 Days