5 DAY KAKADU ROAD TRIP - SIGNATURE EXPERIENCES OF AUSTRALIA
Immerse yourself in Aboriginal cultures on a road trip through the Top End of Australia
Set aside five days to delve deeper into the Top End’s Aboriginal culture, as well as this region’s Creation stories and its spiritual links to the landscape. From Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, to the Mary River, Kakadu and the Katherine area, this road trip will see you mix with cultural custodians, colour-soaked art, dramatic stone country, thunderous waterfalls, and wetlands awash with wildlife and wonder.
At a glance:
Wake up in the seaside town of Darwin and enjoy a tropical breakfast of soft-shell crab with chilli scramble on the deck of Saltwater café at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The platform here looks out upon the Arafura Sea, an azure-toned body of water that links the homes of local Larrakia and Tiwi Aboriginal people. To discover more about the latter, head to Cullen Bay, near the city centre, to board the Sealink NT ferry to Bathurst Island. This two-and-a-half-hour trip cuts a path to one of the main townships within the 11-island collective comprising the Tiwi Islands, Wurrumiyanga.
Tiwi people are known for their friendliness and pride in their culture (‘Tiwi’ means ‘we, the only people’ and the archipelago is nicknamed the ‘land of smiles’), so – for a more personal window into the islands – chat to any of the ever-present Tiwi locals that you will meet today.
As afternoon arrives on the island try your hand at screen-printing, before setting sail for the return trip to Darwin.
Head east from the city along the Arnhem Highway, a road flanked by wetlands and paperbark forests. Fifty minutes into your journey, turn into a thicket of bushland at long-neck turtle Dreaming country, Beatrice Hill, for a two-hour cultural immersion session with former park ranger and Aboriginal elder Graham Kenyon and his family.
Here, on the banks of the Adelaide River floodplains, Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours operates from the verdant land encircling Kenyon’s home. Learn about local Aboriginal approaches to medicine, cooking and culture with Graham and his family and enjoy a homemade morning tea of fresh damper.
Back on the highway, stop at Fogg Dam Conservation Area, which teems with freshwater crocodiles (shy, and generally no threat to humans), water birds and lotus flowers.
Next, stop at Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruises for a river cruise and learn about Croc biology, territorial habitats and their value to the ecosystem.
Continue on to Kakadu National Park’s gateway town, Jabiru and check in the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel.
Rise early and travel to Ubirr Rock in the northern section of Kakadu. This is stone country where artful rock formations dot the landscape and 20,000-year-old artworks decorate natural galleries and cave walls (keep an eye out for those depicting the story of Kakadu Creation story spirit, the Rainbow Serpent).
After you’ve climbed your way onto the main rock face to soak up vistas of Arnhem Land beyond, join an all-day 4WD tour with Kakadu Cultural Tours.
After your tour, continue down Kakadu Highway and bed down in a glamping tent at Cooinda Lodge. The lodge rests beside Yellow Water Billabong, a magical mix of water and wildlife. Take a sunset or sunrise cruise with Kakadu Tourism.
Further south in the park, the landscape transitions from stone country and wetlands into more dramatic terrain: towering waterfalls. Some of the most stunning sites are Gunlom, Twin Falls, Jim Jim Falls, and Maguk. Make sure to sample at least one of these roaring treasures – preferably in a swimming costume – before exiting Kakadu for Nitmiluk National Park.
Check into Aboriginal-run Cicada Lodge for a touch of luxury (and a dip in its pretty, gum tree-flanked pool) or book in at a cabin set beside the main campsite – all options are housed within tranquil bushland.
Today make your way into Katherine for the Top Didj Aboriginal Cultural Experience. Meet Top End Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal and spend the morning hearing his compelling personal story, as well as a broader account of his people’s customs at Top Didj Art Gallery.
Stop for lunch in Katherine at The Finch Café then return to Darwin or continue to explore Nitmiluk National Park for a few days.
Alternatively detour via Litchfield National Park on your way back to Darwin and enjoy a swim at Wangi Falls– a jaw-droppingly beautiful waterhole where twin falls plunge into an emerald-toned pool and small natural ‘spa’ below the cliff face, which once served as a fertility site for the park’s Aboriginal ancestors.