Top End road trip offers freedom and adventure in Australia's Northern Territory

Top End road trip offers freedom and adventure in Australia's Northern Territory
Photo credit: Tourism NT/Tourism Australia

When it comes to experiencing the magic of the Top End in Australia's Northern Territory, there are few better ways to do so than by a classic road trip. 

One of the most popular routes is the Nature's Way loop, a spectacular week-long journey that takes adventurous travellers from the Territory's capital of Darwin, through the breathtaking national parks of Kakadu, Nitmiluk and Litchfield, before returning to Darwin. The 735km route, which is entirely on sealed roads, gives travellers the freedom to experience all the magic of the Northern Territory in a budget-friendly way at their own pace.

Here are just a handful of the spectacular sites waiting to be discovered on the Nature's Way loop.

Soak up the tropical charm of Darwin

A vibrant, tropical city of around 140,000 people, Darwin offers the perfect place to start and end your Top End road trip. Boasting world-class restaurants, museums and art galleries, as well as a raft of activities for those looking for something more adventurous, the city has something for everyone - from those looking to indulge the senses (and taste buds), explore the region's history or whet their cultural appetite and learn more about Northern Territory's Aboriginal culture. Highlights include cruising around the city's harbour, coming face-to-face with a saltwater croc at Crocosaurus Cove, or delving into the city's WWII history at the Darwin Military Museum. And once the sun starts dipping, sit back and relax while taking in some breathtaking sunset scenery with a Darwin harbour cruise.

Kakadu National Park

Once you've had your fill of Darwin, it's time to hit the road and make the three-hour drive down to Kakadu National Park. Whether you are seeking to connect with the oldest living culture on Earth or have your breath taken away by the park's majestic landscape, Kakadu National Park will not disappoint.

Yellow water cruise, Kakadu.
Yellow water cruise, Kakadu. Photo credit: Tourism NT/Tourism Australia

Covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres the World Heritage-listed national park contains waterfalls, lush rainforests, wetlands and wildlife - as well as some of the most impressive ancient rock art in the world. Home to the Bininj/Mungguy people, the park contains more than 5000 Aboriginal rock art sites, including Ubirr, a stunning rock art gallery that is best viewed from an easy 1km circular walking track. Another must-do in the region is a sunrise or sunset cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong where you can take in the vast array of wildlife and nature in the area. 

Hot springs in Katherine

A three-hour drive from Kakadu, Katherine is Northern Territory's fourth largest town and is famous for its lush hot springs. Anyone making the 300km journey from Kakadu to Katherine is highly recommended to stop by Pine Creek, a historical gold mining town established in the late 1800s.

Friends Relaxing at Katherine Hot Springs.
Friends Relaxing at Katherine Hot Springs. Photo credit: Tourism NT/Matt Cherubino

Known as the place where the outback meets the tropics, the township of Katherine is situated on the Katherine River and was made famous as the setting for the novel We of the Never Never. One of the main attractions of the area is its hot springs. From the natural thermal springs located on the banks of the Katherine River, to the famous Mataranka and Bitter Springs in Mataranka, a town around an hour's drive from Katherine, the region is a great place to unwind and catch your breath before embarking on the next step of your Top End adventure.

Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk National Park is located just 30km from Katherine and is home to 13 incredible gorges carved from ancient sandstone, including the world-famous Nitmiluk Gorge. 

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the area is to do the 4.8km Baruwei Loop Walk, which takes around two hours to complete and takes you to the top of the Nitmiluk Gorge, providing stunning views over the Katherine River and 17 Mile Valley.

Baruwei Lookout, Nitmiluk National Park.
Baruwei Lookout, Nitmiluk National Park. Photo credit: Tourism NT/Tourism Australia

It's also possible to hire a canoe and paddle through the gorges, passing stunning waterfalls, wildlife and ancient Aboriginal rock art along the way. Or, for those looking to see the park from above, take a scenic flight and gain an unparalleled aerial view of the gorge system and local wildlife.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Katherine, is another must-see for adventurous Top End road trippers. Filled with stunning waterfalls and waterholes, the park is also the perfect place to put on your hiking boots and explore the myriad of fantastic walking trails in the area.

Ethical Adventures Litchfield National Park Tour.
Ethical Adventures Litchfield National Park Tour. Photo credit: Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught

Once you've stretched your legs and need a cool respite, make sure to check out the spectacular Florence Falls and take a dip in the plunge pool set in an idyllic slice of monsoon forest before making the 90 minute drive back to Darwin.

Find more travel inspiration on your next adventure to the Northern Territory here

Article created in partnership with Tourism Northern Territory.