Planning a Darwin trip
Hi we have just done this trip 19th-26th July 2014.
We had 2 nights in Darwin at the Mantra- 3 bed apartment ($600 a night) . Good spot on the Esplanade, there are lots of hotels along here. Ask for a room facing the water. large pool, rooms had air con but no free wifi which was a pain. Otherwise we had a full kitchen. Coles is 300 metres away and it does save time and $ doing breakfast and some dinners. The view from the balcony was as good as any in town so we used it a lot. Just an average hotel but the balcony made up for it (4th Floor). 2/3 nights in darwin is plenty. Go to the Darwin Art gallery and museum- good info on local animals/plants, cyclone Tracy display- “Sweetheart” crocodile, and good aboriginal modern and old art. Large cafe with good food. The botanic gardens were nice for a stroll around with orchid plant house, monsoon forest walk and community garden, also with cafe. Markets at Mindil on Thur/Sunday form 4pm- get very crowded but lots of food stall (Laksa,asian) and some local artisans- jewellery with water pearls, hats, and some tour operators.I suggest you get there early and leave after sunset as this is when it gets busiest. If you don’t mind crowds then go for thee sunset and stay till 9pm. Parliment house is open days and is a good example of colonial building with the library inside which has some good guide books. The Information booth is nearby (shuts at 3pm on weekends) and it has good maps and activities (you need to purchase Kakadu pass which are $25 pp and sold here although no one ever asked us to show these. All other parks are free entry).We hired a 4WD through Thirfty as it had unlimited KM’s which some of the others don’t.You will be covering 1000Km on your trip . None of them cover you for damage after sunset so make sure you get to your destination before then. The outdoor cinema is fun, take bug spray , you can check movie times on line and pre book but it was huge area so probably no need.Walk around the waterfront area (it has a wave pool for a fee or you can swim at the enclosed waters edge for free) but food here expensive and not great.No swimming at the beach as croc live here.There is a smaller market at Parap on Saturday 9-2pm which again has Laksa and other asian food along with some fresh vege’s for sale.It was 32 degrees when we were there so take a brolly/hat and lots of water.
Aboriginal Art: try to buy from Aboriginal owned art centres (Manigrida in Darwin seems to have closed permanently but try Dounnili-ask at the”I” store as they have a list.In Katherine we went to Mimi.
Driving from Darwin to Kakadu is about 280km and if you drove straight would be 3 hours (130km speed limit)-Roads are good, well signed and sealed in between the major towns. It took us 6 hours as we had 3 stops which i recommend. First one was at Fogg Dam.66km)here there are 2/3 walks. one was shut due to crocs but we did the lovely monsoon forest walk ( about 2.3km return which was mostly covered by paperbark trees and lots of butterflies. It opens out at the end to a floodplain swarming with birds. The dam wall walk is often closed but you can drive over it and back .next stop bark Hut Inn- a typical Aussie roadhouse(64kms) which had the usual pub grub but was really the only place to stop.Last stop was Ubirr.(170kms)
This was a HIGHLIGHT- do not miss this. It is 40km from main road just before Jabiru town. Maybe save it for the next day. we got there around 4.30pm. Beautiful Aboriginal rock art,free guides and the most stunning view of the floodplains from the top of the rocks (600 metre walk up rocks so take water, running shoes and bug spray)We had to leave before sunset due to insurance! but stayed till 6pm and just made it .
The best accommodation is at the me cure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel ($195 )Nice pool and the best sheets/pillows/beds on the trip. No free wifi, meals in hotel fairly pricey ,we went to the golf club about 2km away and had a cheaper meal.About 1hr away is Cooinda which has the famous Yellow water cruise. We did 11/2 hr one at 3pm and was the best paid thing we did. ($70pp). Floating along river with water lilies and an impressive array of birds from sea eagles, to hawks, crocodiles and brumbies- the guides are very good.
On the way from Jabiru to Cooinda is the second largest rock are display, more shades but more rock climbing at Nourlangie. Again free guides and lots of explanations which we loved. It is about 2km to walk around the whole site so again water/hats etc.Stayed at Cooinda of rthe night at Kakadu Lodge in comfy cabin type accommodation. There is petrol and a camp area next to it so if you buy some steaks etc from Jabiru supermarket you can cook your own meal here. Otherwise they have an adequate bistro with $24 buffet lunches and an expensive restaurant called Mimis. Swimming pools,TV, no phone or wifi till Darwin form here on.
Next day is again a 255km drive which took us 6 hours with stops. First stop (75kms) Maguk (Barrumundi )Gorge. here you need 4WD as there is a small section -30 metres of sand which cars can’t negotiate. it is 10km in on corrugated road but. then about 1km walk in over small river and a bit of rock scrambling. finally a large cool water fall and swimmable gorge. Very nice but always check signs for crocs as they can walk!
Drove onto Pine Creek for lunch all places had stopped serving by 2pm except Mayses cafe. The kids were in heaven as they give free wifi for an hour, the food was cafe grub- (3 vegetarians in our group) had toasties and smoothies and really good scones for $4.The other cafes at Railroad and Lazy Lizard looked good but we didn’t eat there.Another big drive south to Katherine. Hot springs in town ,near camp ground were luke warm,fresh water and refreshing. The NT Rocks shop just out of town where we bought some zebra stone etc worth it if you are into rocks. We bought take away at the local Chinese restaurant and took it with us. Lots of drunk people in town and it was not threatening but definitely do not want to hang around here after 5pm.
We booked a sunrise cruise up Katherine Gorge. It is 30km from Katherine so we stayed at the Nitmilik Chalets-hmm a bit of a misnomer as it was a cabin in a campground. Had a kitchen and tables but thin mattress and not the best sleep. But it was 600 metres from the early cruise so worth it. There is very expensive accommodation at the Cicada next to it so if you want to splash out do it here.There is a camp bistro on site but we had take away Chinese instead.
Early cruise was good, not many animals about but the light on the gorge was spectacular. We chose the breakfast option and it was a good hot full buffet for $20 at the end of the cruise -was well worth it. take jumpers as it was cold till about 9am.
Drive back to Pine Creek you can stop at Edith falls. We went there and walked up to the second falls (1km uphill ) for a delightful 2hrs of swimming and rock climbing. The lower falls are next to the car park and have grass area,cafe and easy entry to the water. Big Tip: Take googles- we saw lots of small fish and it was good. Also if you are not strong swimmers take blow up floaties or noodles as the gorges can be 100 metres across.We took a picnic lunch from food at Woolworths at Katherine and had a great time.
Back to Pine creek for Mayses late lunch then onto Batchelor. The accommodation here is at best 2/3 star motel type.We stayed at the Batchelor Resort which was a Golden Chain motel. It was OK. Pool, rooms air con,fans and back balcony so we had breakfasts here and made our own lunches.Towels,blankets very old and stained but clean if that is possible. Meals at the hotel were good -Barramundi tor steaks dinner $28-$32. nearby Butterfly farm does meals- which were also good (the host gets a bit tipsy but he is well meaning) we had vege lasagne which they prepared for us as we booked in the morning.
Litchfield Park: this is the closest hotel acc unless you camp. it is a 30 minutes drive to the closest swim holes-Buley/Florence. First stop is the wonderful magnetic termite mounds.Worth a stop.The swim holes are small swimming areas and get packed out with about 20-25 car spots and if they are full no where else to park. however people seem to come and go all day . We got a park at each but not on the weekend.We heading on another 30km to Wangi Falls. this is a big operation. Full cafe with lots of seating, grass, steps and railings into and out of water. large gorge with 2 waterfalls. we ate here- picnic lunch and stayed 2 hours. we were told that another 5km on at Casscades (its a 1.7km walk in) there is hardly any crowds but it was too hot to contemplate so didn’t do it.
On the way back to darwin Berry Springs is a delightful stop. Three water holes and luke warm water with BBQ’s and toilet block (cafe shut) made this a surprise favourite spot. From here 1hr back to Darwin.
Plan for 1 litre of water for every 1-2km walk as it gets very hot,although in July humidity was down around 50%.
We probably could have stayed another 2 nights as we did get tired, perhaps an extra night at Cooinda or Kakadu.