The Northern Territory’s capital doesn’t feel like it – it has a homely large town feel where everything about it encourages you to embrace the outdoors. The weather plays a part in Darwin’s al fresco lifestyle; there’s a wet and dry season like in Southeast Asia, where the summer is hot and humid and the winter is pleasantly warm. Darwin is closer to Southeast Asia than many of its fellow Australian cities – Bali is a mere two and a half hours away – and Asian food and culture is imbued into daily life. You only have to wander down Mindil Beach Sunset Market to find fragrant bowls of laksa, Vietnamese summer rolls and spicy rogan josh alongside barramundi burgers. There’s a ruggedness you’d expect from a Northern Territory city, and spectacular nature is within easy reach. Litchfield National Park’s waterfalls and towering termite mounds are just an hour and a half’s drive from Dawrin; Kakadu’s crocodiles and Aboriginal rock art are three hours away; and the 13 Katherine gorges in Nitmiluk can be reached in four hours.
In the sleepy former telegraph station, Katherine, you’ll find geological wonders in nearby Nitmiluk National Park. Most of famous of all are the gorges of the Katherine River. Carved into the rugged sandstone landscape over the millennia, the 13 gorges that form the Katherine Gorge collective are stunning and host to rapids and waterfalls as well as an abundance of wildlife. The area is popular with freshwater crocodiles which are usually seen sunning on the sandy banks at the side of the gorges.
World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest at 7500 square miles. Popular sites include ancient Aboriginal Rock Art at Ubirr and Nourlangie, the Yellow Water Wetlands, unique flora and fauna and isolated landmarks such as the imposing Escarpment and Twin and Jim Jim Falls. Arnhem Land is truly wild and a sacred place for Aboriginal Australians. Challenges of isolation and its protected status make access limited, but organised tours can be arranged.
Litchfield National Park is known for its lush scenery, beautiful waterfalls and sparkling plunge pools (that are free from crocodiles). The park is also under two hours from Darwin and largely accessible year-round, unlike much of Kakadu. The water in the natural pools even in summer is a relief, but visiting during the wet season means you’ll see the waterfalls at their most spectacular. See the Magnetic Termite Mounds – remarkable structures that resemble tombstones and can reach three metres in height.