Outdoor enthusiasts will love this exciting 12-day itinerary highlighting a lesser-explored area of Australia. But first, you'll start with two days in Sydney, checking off famous attractions like the Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach. From there, fly to the tropical city of Darwin in the Northern Territory to begin a self-guided road trip through national parks and stunning gorges while partaking in fishing, hiking, and swimming in crocodile-free waterfalls.


  • Take a tour of the Sydney Opera House, followed by a drink at the waterfront bar
  • Spend three nights in Darwin sampling microbreweries and a sunset market
  • Bushwalk through Ubirr, one of the world's most remarkable rock art collections
  • Soothe your muscles with a soak in one of Katherine's many thermal hot springs

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney, Free Time Sydney
Day 2 Explore Sydney, Sydney Opera House Tour Sydney
Day 3 Pick Up Rental Car, Hawkesbury River Charter, Drop Off Rental Car Sydney
Day 4 Fly to Darwin, Pick Up Rental Car, Explore Darwin
Day 5 Billabong Escape Tour Darwin
Day 6 Drive to Kakadu National Park, Jumping Crocodile Cruise, Visit Ubirr Kakadu National Park
Day 7 Drive to Cooinda, Explore Cooinda
Day 8 Sunrise Yellow Water Cruise, Drive to Katherine, Explore Katherine
Day 9 NitNit Dreaming Two Gorge Boat Tour Katherine
Day 10 Drive to Litchfield National Park, Swimming in Waterfalls Litchfield National Park
Day 11 Explore Humpty Doo, Drive to Darwin, Explore Darwin
Day 12 Drop Off Rental Car, Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney, Explore

Sydney Harbour is a great place to start your self-guided tour

Welcome to Australia! Upon arrival in Sydney, collect your luggage and meet with your driver, who'll transfer you to your accommodation. Sydney is a must-see for every visitor in Australia, and for good reason: with a dazzling skyline and natural harbor, epic coastal walks (not to mention beaches), a cutting-edge restaurant and bar scene, excellent live music and theater, and an unquenchable thirst for fun, you'll never get bored in this city. 

Start your adventure by walking through the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens along the harbor. Here you can stop at the iconic Mrs Macquarie's Chair for a spectacular view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House (you'll get a closer look at both places tomorrow). In the evening, enjoy a nice dinner and check out the local bar and pub scene with potential live music. 

Day 2: Explore Sydney Harbour, Sydney Opera House Tour

Have a drink at the waterfront Opera House Bar after your interior tour

You'll likely want to head to the harbor this morning for more pinch-me-now moments. First, make your way to Cumberland Street and take the steps or elevator to the Harbour Bridge to visit the Pylon Museum. This museum gives you some background into the bridge's history, as well as some of the most amazing views of Sydney from above. Alternatively, take a ferry to Milson's Point and walk back to the city center across the bridge, soaking up the sights along the way. The walk takes about 30 minutes.

In the early afternoon, you'll go behind the scenes at the Opera House for a fascinating look at this Sydney icon. Your knowledgeable guide leads you through the interior of this UNESCO World Heritage Site on a walking tour, sharing entertaining stories about the revered performance center's history while providing access to off-limits areas. You can finish the tour with a tasty beverage at the outdoor Opera Bar for more waterfront views.

From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore Sydney's museums, shops, or beaches at your own pace. You might want to take a bus or taxi to Bondi Beach and experience one of the world's most famous stretches of sand. From here, you can take a photogenic stroll along the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk or relax at a café and soak in the views. 

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Day 3: Pick Up Rental Car, Hawkesbury River Charter, Drop Off Rental Car 

Today's fishing excursion is an hour from Sydney

After breakfast in Sydney, you'll pick up a rental car and drive about an hour outside the city to join a fishing cruise on the Hawkesbury River—a memorable outdoor adventure suitable for all ages and abilities. Depending on the season, the fish species you could meet include mulloway, mullet, bream, flathead, flounder, and luderick (blackfish), while closer to Berowra, you'll find snapper, taylor, and whiting. The beautiful Hawksebury waterway is timeless, and the boat will make several stops at various bays for peaceful moorings.

At the end of the excursion, you'll drive back to Sydney and return your rental car. Enjoy one last night in Australia's largest city before you head north to the wilderness. 

Day 4: Fly to Darwin, Pick Up Rental Car, Explore

Walk through Darwin's Mindil Beach Sunset Market with food vendors and market stalls

Today you'll travel to Australia's Northern Territory! At the appointed time, a driver will pick you up from your accommodation in Sydney and transfer you to the airport to catch your flight. Upon arrival in Darwin, the capital of the state, head to the car rental agency to pick up your car. 

You can start your self-exploration at Darwin's Waterfront Precinct, where Japanese bombs fell during World War II. This is also where underground tunnels were used for storing oil during the war. From here, it's a quick walk to the Parliament House, the state's seat of government. Then follow the Heritage and Cultural Trail to learn about Darwin's maritime history and the sacred sites of the Larrakia people, the traditional owners of the land.

To finish the day, visit one of the city's lagoons for a refreshing swim. If you're visiting on a Thursday or Sunday evening from April to October, make sure to head to Mindil Beach Sunset Market to taste some of the best food in the city. Alternatively, enjoy the sunset at the waterside Darwin Ski Club or check out Darwin's uniquely delicious microbreweries and distilleries, such as The Trader Bar, Six Tanks, or One Mile Brewery.

Day 5: Billabong Fishing Excursion

Estatuary Escapes
Take a fishing excursion in Northern Territory's waterways and billabongs
Today you'll drive into Northern Territory's scenic landscapes for a guided fishing tour through billabongs and inland waterways near Darwin. The unique billabongs you'll see today are lined with lilies and pandanus (subtropical trees) and are home to a variety of fish, including barramundi, saratoga, sooty grunter, and tarpon. At the end of your fishing excursion, you'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore more of Darwin, perhaps taking advantage of anything you missed yesterday.

Day 6: Drive to Kakadu National Park, Jumping Crocodile Cruise, Visit Ubirr

Water buffalo are a common sight in Kakadu National Park

This morning, it's time to pack up and drive from Darwin to Jabiru, the main township in Kakadu National Park! As Australia's biggest 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, as water buffalo are often sighted on the Kakadu Highway.

Speaking of wildlife, there are few ways to safely see this UNESCO-listed park's infamous 19-foot (6 m) long saltwater crocodiles, and the Jumping Croc Cruise is one of them. On a sturdy boat with a well-trained staff, you'll cruise onto the Adelaide River, looking for crocs. Staff will entice the animals with food, causing them to jump high in the air. This is an unmissable Northern Territory experience, and you'll learn about these unique animals on a low-impact tour that respects the environment and its inhabitants.

Following the cruise, you can check out Ubirr, home to one of the world's most remarkable rock art collections. Follow the 0.6-mile (1 km) circular track and look for animals depicted in the region's signature X-ray style, including the Tasmanian tiger. Climb 820 feet (250 m) to reach Ubirr Rock's ledge in time for sunset and capture a shimmering and soul-lifting panorama of Arnhem Land and the Nadab floodplain.

Day 7: Drive to Cooinda, Explore

The remote landscapes in the UNESCO-listed Kakadu National Park

Wake up in Jabiru today and grab a bite to eat at Anbinik Restaurant. You can also visit Bowali Visitor Centre before continuing your drive through the park to reach Cooinda, where you can choose your adventure.

Perhaps you want to walk up to the Nawurlandja lookout offering world-class views across Anbangbang Billabong. You can also visit Burrungkuy (Nourlangie), a famous cultural site with stunning rock paintings that documents life in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers. Another option is to visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, developed by the traditional Aboriginal owners of Kakadu. 

Day 8: Sunrise Yellow Water Cruise, Drive to Katherine, Explore

Unspoiled gorges in Nitmiluk National Park

Today you'll cruise Kakadu's most famous wetland at dawn and see the billabong come alive. At the end of Jim Jim Creek, Yellow Water is part of the South Alligator River system. Here you can join the Indigenous-owned Yellow Water Cruises on a guided journey of discovery among crocodiles, eagles, and reflecting waters.

After this morning's cruise, drive southwest through Kakadu toward Katherine. On the way, pass Pine Creek, a former gold rush town that still oozes character. Halfway between Pine Creek and Katherine, you'll come past the turnoff to Leliyn Falls (or Edith Falls) on the western side of the national park. Here you can take a refreshing swim before continuing toward Katherine, the bustling township on the Katherine River's banks.

Though Katherine is interesting, the real attraction here is Nitmiluk National Park, with its beautiful series of red-rock gorges and dazzling waterfalls. There are several ways to explore the park, including a boat cruise up the river while looking at cave paintings and learning about local Indigenous lore. You can also paddle your own canoe up the Katherine River. Either way, make time to soothe your tired legs with a soak in one of the area's many thermal hot springs. Finish the day with dinner at the Katherine Country Club.

Day 9: NitNit Dreaming Two Gorge Boat Tour

Take a boat cruise through two gorges in Nitmiluk National Park

Today is another fun-filled day in Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park. You'll have the option to take a two-hour NitNit Dreaming Cruise, one of the region's most popular tours. Once you board, a boat will take you to the end of the first gorge, where you can experience the beauty of the large boulders, rock pools, and sands that make up the crossover to the second gorge. Along the way, a cultural guide will share knowledge about plants, animals, and Aboriginal culture. 

Following the tour, you'll have free time to explore the Katherine area independently.

Day 10: Drive to Litchfield National Park, Swim in Waterfalls

Cool off with a waterfall swim in Litchfield National Park

Today you'll continue your road trip north along the Stuart Highway toward Litchfield National Park, where you can stop as often as you'd like to stretch your legs and take photographs.

After a two-hour drive, you'll reach the park's 580-square-mile (1,500-sq-km) reserve filled with tumbling waterfalls and crystal-clear natural pools. Here, the main attraction is the chance to swim in cool, crocodile-free waters at the likes of Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Sandy Creek Falls, Wangi Falls, and Cascades. Litchfield also has plenty of great hiking trails, with everything from short wanders to the 24-mile (39 km) Tabletop Track. Whatever you decide, consider an evening stop at Lil'Ripper to experience the best pub in the scrub.

Day 11: Drive to Darwin, Explore

Humpty Doo village makes a fun lunch spot before returning to Darwin

Enjoy the beauty of Litchfield National Park a little longer this morning. When ready, you'll head back toward civilization in Darwin, calling past Manton Dam to check out the scenery. On the way, you can also call into Humpty Doo, a classic outback town 30 minutes outside of Darwin that's home to the iconic Humpty Doo Hotel. Stop for lunch at this well-known watering hole, which features several Australian bush ballads.

Once back in the capital, you can visit nearby Myilly Point Heritage Precinct, where four cottages, built for high-ranking public servants during the late 1930s, have become famous examples of tropical architecture. One of them, Burnett House, operates as a museum and is open daily to the public. Browse a wonderful collection of Aboriginal art and learn about the region's culture and history—including a realistic exhibition on the devastating effects of Cyclone Tracy in 1974—at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

You may also immerse yourself in the story of Darwin's role in World War II at the Defence of Darwin Experience, an interactive multimedia exhibition located next to the Darwin Military Museum. Then meander through orchids, bromeliads, cycads, and palms at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

Day 12: Drop Off Rental Car, Depart Australia

Until next time, Darwin!
It's time to say goodbye to Australia! Take the morning to unwind and reflect on your trip before transferring to Darwin airport for your departure flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Self-Guided Australia Adventure: Sydney & Northern Territory - 12 Days
Map of Self-Guided Australia Adventure: Sydney & Northern Territory - 12 Days