How to make the most of the Top End

Why has it taken me so long to get to the Top End? I’d imagined beer-drinking blokes and barra fishing. Well, OK, there’s a lot of that going on. But there’s so much more to the top of the Northern Territory. The scenery, the bird life, the stories – are out of this world. After three days in Kakadu, a night in Darwin and four nights at the Seven Spirit Bay lodge on the remote Cobourg Peninsula, I’m already planning my next trip.

Kakadu National Park – 3 nights

We visited early in May so many of the famous Kakadu sites were still closed. Jim Jim and Twin Falls hadn’t been cleared for visitors and Ubirr was closed for cultural reasons. Initially that was disappointing, but we found lots of other amazing places to explore.

Yellow Water cruise

Yellow Water cruise – This was definitely a highlight. Gliding through the wetland as the sun rises and the world wakes up is breath taking. I highly recommend the dawn cruise but I’m sure the sunset one would be equally stunning. Be prepared to get up early if you’re travelling from Jabiru (45 min drive in the dark). Expect crocs, sea eagles and some good banter if Dennis is captaining your boat.

Egret taking flight at Yellow Water. Image: John Fison

Yurmikmik Walks (Motor Car Falls) After a long drive and a one-hour hike through stinking hot bushland, the falls here are a very welcome sight. The rock hole (as it’s called up here) is croc-free so you can splash to your heart’s content. Park at the second car park on the dirt road to Yurmikmik walks. 

Taking the plunge at Yurmikmik

Nawurlandja lookout (also called Nourlangie) This is the place to be at sunset. It’s a short, steep scramble up the rock from the car park but the views of Burrungkuy and the Arnhem escarpment are stunning. The World-Heritage listed Burrungkuy rock art is a short drive from here.

Sunset from Nawurlandja Lookout

Mamukala wetlands The hide – just off the Armhem Highway, offers a great spot for bird watching and enjoying the sunrise. 

Sunrise at Mamukala wetlands

We stayed at the Crocodile Hotel. It’s looking very dated these days but the restaurant serves up good meals and the staff are very friendly. Plus, you get mobile coverage here – very rare in this part of the world.

Beware: the corellas roost in the pool-side trees and carry on late into the night and get up well before dawn. If you’re wanting to explore Kakadu there’s a lot of driving involved if you stay in Jabiru. Check out Cooinda Lodge for exploring the southern end of the Kakadu.

Darwin – 1 night

After another long day of driving, we had no time to explore, but managed to watch the sunset from the Esplanade and had dinner at Little Miss Korea. The food was excellent! 

Darwin Esplanade

Seven Spirit Bay – 4 nights

The lodge clings to the edge of the Garig Ganuk Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula and can only be accessed by plane or sea. We flew from Darwin but others arrived in their own planes and helicopters (as one does). The setting – overlooking Coral Bay (Seven Spirit Bay comes from the seven seasons in the indigenous calendar) is postcard-perfect.  Expect amazing sunsets, delicious healthy food, great fishing, enthusiastic staff, the ruins of a colonial settlement, crocs in the lagoon and snakes on the paths.

Seven Spirit Bay

Pack: Sturdy walking shoes and long pants for bush walks – everything spikes or bites around here. Long sleeves and a good hat are essential for fishing.

That’s a mighty big croc and we are in a tiny little boat. Image: John Fison

You’re completely off the grid here – no mobile coverage or internet, but I did get to use the satellite phone to call my Mum for Mother’s Day. 

I can’t wait to get back to the NT! 


Published by Julie Fison

Julie (J.E.) Fison writes for children, teens and adults. Her books include the 'Hazard River' adventure series, stories in the 'Choose Your Own Ever After' series for readers who like to decide where the story goes, as well as a play for high school students called 'As the Crow Flies'. Julie visits schools and festivals to talk about her writing and is a regular guest on ABC Radio Brisbane.

4 thoughts on “How to make the most of the Top End

  1. Local knowledge was great. Loved the tips on eating places and where to go from the car park. Stunning scenery and that croc! OMG

  2. Thanks Julie for your descriptive journal of a great itinerary with helpful tips for a week in the Top End. The sites and wildlife to be seen look spectacular judging by your amazing photos.

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