The northern portion of Australia, known as the Top End, is predominantly wetland and extends from Darwin to the Litchfield, Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. In the territory such abundant in wildlife the climate plays an integral part in the make-up of this area as it must support an enormous animal population.
The tropical savanna climate brings monsoonal rains and storms and extreme humidity during the wet season. And that is all the native habitats need to prosper, especially the king of the domain – crocodile.
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
One hundred kilometres south-west of Darwin, there is a small town of Batchelor – the entrance to the Litchfield National Park. The reserve has been home to the indigenous people for thousands of years, and still today it has a great significance for their culture.
The park attracts visitors with its picturesque tropical setting, gorgeous waterfalls and swimming holes at their base. The most popular are surely the Wangi Falls with lovely picnic areas, nice walking trails and generally safe swimming.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
The UNESCO lists Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia, and it stretches over more than 20 000 square kilometres, including the whole South Alligator River – home to a large crocodile population and various other habitats, such as heathland, eucalyptus woods and rainforest.
This wetland region is crisscrossed with rivers, swamps and billabongs that accommodate two different species of the scaly reptiles: Johnson crocodiles (Freshies) which live in freshwater and mostly feed on fish, and the Estuarine crocodiles (Salties) that became notorious for killing the occasional, careless tourists. These up to 6 metre-long monsters are the largest reptiles in the world and live in both fresh and salty waters.
The park also makes a sanctuary for a huge range of insects, butterflies, freshwater fish, kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes and water buffalo.
Paradoxically, Kakadu boasts tropical waterfalls and plunge pools that are actually safe for swimming; it important, however, to know where to go! For instance, Maguk and Gunlom are the two most favourite among the locals. Borth spots are situated quite high above the sea level and not easily accessible to the crocodiles.
However, you will need a good four-wheel-drive (in many cases with a snorkel) to get to most of the points of interest in the park.
BEST WATERFALLS FOR SAFE SWIMMING IN KAKADU NP:
Kakadu National Park is not only a haven for naturalists but also archaeologists. Kakadu conservation area is a territory of great historical significance. There are more than 5000 ancient sites of Aboriginal rock art from many different eras.
Evidence showed that human occupation of this area had spanned at least 40 000 years, which is thousands of years longer than the civilisations such as those suggested by the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman roads, the Great Wall of China or Stonehenge.
The Kakadu National Park consists of the following zones: South Alligator Area, Jabiru Area, East Alligator Area, Nourlangie Area, Jim Jim Falls Area, Yellow Water Area and Mary River Area.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
Kakadu National Park is about 3 hours drive from Darwin and access to most of its attractions requires 4WD.
It is essential to keep to the marked tracks when walking in Kakadu NP as the crocodiles live everywhere around. There are several records for fatal crocodile attacks in the region every year. Remember that even if you cannot see the crocs, they can see you.
Litchfield National Park can be reached within 1.5 hr from Darwin by a vehicle, and it is 2WD accessible. Stop by in Batchelor first to ask for updates and more information at the local visitor centre.
The northernmost tip of the Northern Territory is occupied by the sacred Arnhem Land that has been home to the Aboriginal Yolngu people since millennia. The region is a deeply spiritual place with great archaeological significance and indigenous artistic legacy. This is where the national music instrument originally comes from – didgeridoo.
Extending along the Arafura Sea, not far away from Papua New Guinea, Arnhem Land is one of the least accessible regions of Australia. One can find truly unspoiled wilderness – vast savannah woodland and wetland filled with native fauna and flora, but also pristine offshore islands.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN ARNHEM LAND
The local government requires a permit from the Northern Land Council to travel to Arnhem Land. Although there is a 4WD access to some parts of the Arnhem Land (the road ends in Nhulunbuy, and it takes about 30 hours 4WD drive), all travellers are highly recommended to arrange an organised tour in Darwin instead, for their comfort and safety.
Optionally, you can fly to Arnhem Land – there are daily flights from Darwin and Cairns to Nhulunbuy, but you will need to book accommodation in advance.
There are also various tours that can be booked in Darwin.
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If you don`t have sufficient time to travel to Arnhem Land you can actually get a bit of an insight into the country at Cahill`s Crossing (the entry point to the sacred Aboriginal land). There is a viewing platform which is an excellent spot to watch the fishermen and the cars crossing the river filled with huge saltwater crocodiles.
Also, the earby Ubirr ancient site is a fantastic place to enjoy the 360-degree view of the Arnhem Land from the Sunset Lookout.
Both spots are situated less than 50 km northeast of Jabiru and can be visited free of charge! 😉
Katherine is another astonishing natural reserve in the Top End of Australia with Aboriginal heritage. The major point of interest is an extensive canyon system that has been formed by torrential rains, rivers and creeks for millennia.
There are gorgeous waterfalls, rock pools that offer with safe swimming and ancient Aboriginal rock paintings on the sandstone cliffs in the Nitmiluk National Park. The three of Katherine`s Gorges are best to be watched from boat or helicopter.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN KATHERINE
Katherine is situated 3.5 hr south of Darwin, and it is accessible by 2WD. It has got a good visitor centre where you can get tourist information and arrange a desirable tour/cruise/scenic flight.
The entire Top End is home to both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. When wandering around swamps, wetlands and billabongs always keep to the marked tracks. However, even when walking in the coastal areas watch for the warning signs – saltwater crocs like the beaches.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The Top End lies in the tropics, and it is subject to the monsoon that brings frequent storms, floods and cyclones, especially from December to March. Therefore, it is recommended to travel during the dry season (Apr-Nov).
However, the wet season (May-Oct) offers ideal conditions for wildlife, and this is exactly the time of a year when all estuaries and wetlands are teeming with life, and crocodiles are particularly active. The level of water rises, which increases the chances of spotting the animals from a much closer distance. Besides, the waterfalls and the whole landscape becomes extraordinary abundant.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Darwin International Airport
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