5 best day Darwin to Katherine road trip
This five-day tour into the vast Katherine area is a deep dive into an ancient culture that will leave you altered.
By Michael Wayne
Visitors to the Northern Territory are attracted to the cultural and spiritual richness of Kakadu, Arnhem Land and Katherine.
The latter, a tropical village three hours from Darwin, seems a world apart from the contemporary every day, and the route to get there takes you deep into the outback’s primordial grandeur.
With a richness of ancient history and a nice dose of Australiana along the way, this five-day round trip from Darwin takes in the icons of the area as well as its off-the-beaten-path jewels.
DAY 1: DARWIN TO ADELAIDE RIVER, VIA THE JUMPING CROCS
Drive time: two hours.
Hire a vehicle in Darwin but before you hit the road, take the time to get to know the Northern Territory capital a bit better. Darwin has seen many of facelifts in its day, but none quite as vivid as its Street Art Festival.
The city’s back alleyways were initially decked in 2017 with eight vibrant, large-scale murals, followed by a further 16 in 2018 and 15 in 2019, with some even coming to life on your phone through augmented reality. Download the map from the website and begin roaming.
If you wish to dig further into Darwin’s history, visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) (MAGNT).
Exhibits transport you back to the traumatic middle of Cyclone Tracy, the awful height of World War II and the pre-settlement world of Darwin’s traditional owners, the Larrakia people.
While not as well known as MAGNT, the Northern Territory Library is worth a visit.
Hidden in a quiet nook of Darwin’s Parliament House, the library’s dramatic A Territory Life exhibit commemorates the story of Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory.
Now it’s time to hit the road. It’s a 50-minute journey (and a short detour) to enjoy a classic Northern Territory experience: a croc-spotting cruise along one of the Top End’s many gorgeous rivers.
Adelaide River Cruises conducts one-hour leaping croc trips at different times throughout the day. Seeing a gigantic crocodile jump from the water is something you simply have to witness yourself.
Now double back slightly towards Humpty Doo, then go on towards Adelaide River. Stop stop in Batchelor, situated on the border of the enormous Litchfield National Park, on the route.
The town featured an airstrip during the war; check out the museum before continuing your journey a further half hour till you reach Adelaide River.
Stay: The Adelaide River Inn and Resort is a perfect site to fill up both the automobile and its people.
The pub is filled with Australiana and is home to Charlie, the buffalo from Crocodile Dundee, who can be spotted ‘standing’ proudly and extremely motionless at one end of the bar; excellent for photos.
DAY 2: ADELAIDE RIVER TO LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK AND KATHERINE
Drive time: around 30 minutes from Adelaide River to Litchfield National Park, and 2.5 hours to Katherine.
Walk down from the Adelaide River Inn and Resort to the Adelaide River War Cemetery, the serene resting place of 434 military soldiers and 63 civilians, and take a time to think before beginning your day.
Now it’s time to drive to Litchfield National Park to spend the greater part of the day seeing some of its numerous beauties, from gigantic termite mounds to magnificent waterfalls and lovely swimming areas. There’s an abundance of walking routes, as well as a variety of excursions accessible around the area.
Set off from Litchfield National Park for the 2.5-hour journey to arrive in Katherine in time for dinner; options range from good food in a lovely setting at Fig Tree Bistro to Chinese cuisine at Loong Fong and an outback dinner under the stars at Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker, just outside of town.
Stay: Katherine’s lodging offers to all budgets and preferences. For something on the premium side, try Cicada Lodge. Those looking to stay near to one of the area’s most popular attractions – Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge – book into Nitmiluk Cabins and Campground.
Those on a budget will find lots of accommodation and hostel alternatives near to Katherine’s pubs and eateries.
DAY 3: EXPLORE KATHERINE AND SURROUNDS
Katherine, the Northern Territory’s third-largest town, is located on the banks of the Katherine River and has long been a location of significant value to its Aboriginal owners: the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Wardaman people.
Head to the Black Russian Caravan Bar and eat breakfast and a coffee before admiring local art.
The styles and crafts of local artists merge at the Mimi Arts and Crafts complex, which is Aboriginal owned and controlled, and shows the diverse spectrum of art Katherine inspires.
Once you’ve toured the town, travel an hour south-east to the best-kept secret in the area — Bitter Springs in Elsey National Park.
A spring-fed thermal pool with a temperature of roughly 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s a terrific place to decompress (pool toys and floaties are welcomed) (pool toys and floaties are encouraged).
Stop for refreshment afterwards at Stockyard Gallery café in the little hamlet of Mataranka, a five-minute drive from Bitter Springs, and then go back to Katherine for supper.
DAY 4: KATHERINE TO NITMILUK (KATHERINE) GORGE
For many tourists to Katherine, Nitmiluk National Park and Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is the reason they come.
The deep sandstone canyon takes the Katherine River from Kakadu past the town of Katherine itself, and is a sanctuary for saltwater crocodiles during the hot season. In the dry season, though, it’s a paddler’s heaven.
While you may tour the national park on foot, the best way to see Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is on the river.
Cruises through the Gorge are offered as half-day, full-day or even overnight excursions with Nitmiluk Tours, but the sunset cruise is possibly the most magical.
Those lacking sea legs may opt to take fly. Whether by light aircraft or helicopter, Nitmiluk Gorge from the air gives a totally new – but no less amazing – view.
DAY 5: KATHERINE TO DARWIN VIA UMBRAWARRA GORGE NATURE PARK
Drive time: around one hour to Umbrawarra, and about 2.5 hours to Darwin.
In contrast to the tourist-friendly Nitmiluk, Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park – on the way back to Darwin – seems raw and untamed (and it’s 4WD-access only during the rainy season from October to April).
Traces of old rock art by the land’s original Wagiman owners may still be found on the walls of the canyon, too.
Though you may walk to the gorge, additional hiking must be done via the river. It’s worth the trek, but verify crocodile activity before you go.
Back in the automobile on the Stuart Highway headed to Darwin, you’ll have a broader understanding for the huge area up north. As they say in the Northern Territory, you’ll never never know if you never never go.
Topic: Darwin to Katherine road trip
I am arguably the most popular Australian writer of all time. I am from the town of Karrinyup in rural Western Australia. When I was young, I was fascinated by the unique landscape of Australia, and I decided to support himself by writing books about the Australian landscape.
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