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Oceania > Australia > Northern Territory > Top End

Top End

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The Top End is the northern, tropical part of Northern Territory, Australia.

Cities[edit]

Map of Top End
  • 1 Darwin — the Northern Territory tropical capital city
  • 2 Katherine — a small regional town about 3 hours south of Darwin, gateway to the majestic Katherine Gorge and the Mataranka Hot Springs
  • 3 Adelaide River
  • 4 Pine Creek

Other destinations[edit]

  • 1 Arnhem Land — experience the world's oldest living culture first hand in landscapes virtually untouched since the dawn of time
  • 2 Elsey National Park — relax in the warm, crystal clear Mataranka Hot Springs, close to Katherine
  • 3 Kakadu National Park — this World Heritage area sets the scene for outback adventure travel, aboriginal culture and nature activities
  • 4 Litchfield National Park — spend as long as you like exploring lush monsoon forests, unusual rock formations and waterfalls, just a 1.5 hour drive from Darwin
  • 5 Nitmiluk National Park Nitmiluk National Park on Wikipedia — the amazing Katherine Gorge, in which you can walk, swim, canoe, boat or fly
  • 6 Gregory National Park — the Northern Territory's second largest National Park, encompassing spectacular ranges, escarpments, gorges and eucalypt woodlands

Understand[edit]

The Top End of Northern Territory is a tropical area, home to Kakadu National Park, the largest national park in Australia. It contains the highest concentration of Aboriginal rock art in the world and amazing nature and wildlife. A perfect example of Top End living can be found in Darwin, with its relaxed lifestyle and warm weather all year round. A colourful history and fascinating cultural mix make it the perfect place to experience culinary delights or wander through some of the weekly markets.

The Victoria River is the longest river in the Northern Territory and is the lifeline to some of the biggest cattle stations in the NT. The region is also home to "Coolibah Station" where the reality series Keeping up with the Joneses was filmed. Its captivating landscapes stimulate a deep connection to the land and its people.

Culture[edit]

Tutini burial poles left after a Pukumani ceremony, Tiwi Island, NT

More than 50 nationalities make up Darwin's 100,000 population, including the area's traditional landowners, the Larrakia Aboriginal people. The cultural and culinary benefits of such a melting pot are best experienced at Darwin's weekly markets, variety of restaurants and through the annual calendar of festivals and other Darwin events.

In Kakadu Aboriginal guides enjoy teaching visitors about the daily aspects of their culture on various tours of the park. However the Bininj/Mungguy culture has its own set of social behaviours and customs, which are considered good manners. Show respect by not entering restricted areas. They may be sacred sites, ceremonial sites, burial grounds or even someone’s home.

Talk[edit]

English is the most common language spoken in the Top End. Hundreds of different Aboriginal languages are spoken by the indigenous people in the, including Yolgnu Matha in Arnhem Land, which is the second most spoken language in the NT after English. The Top End is very close to Asia and has a large Asian culture (including language and food) that is most seen in Darwin.

Get in[edit]

Regular interstate domestic flights arrive into Darwin.

From South Australia, driving north you can take the Explorer’s Way (Stuart Highway) from Adelaide through Coober Pedy into the Northern Territory. Travel along the Victoria Highway as it winds past immense escarpments split by the mighty Victoria River. Gregory National Park protects the area's colourful scenery featuring grassy plains, boab trees and majestic gorges carved out of sandstone escarpments.

The famous Ghan train travels from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs and Katherine and The Inlander from Queensland.

Get around[edit]

By car is the best, and possibly the only way to get around.

See[edit]

Ubirr rock art, Kakadu National Park

The Top End has some world-famous natural and cultural attractions that can’t be missed. The Victoria River, affectionately known as "The Vic" is the backbone of the region. The Vic is a lifeline for pastoral properties; a guardian angel for aboriginal heritage; a tour guide for recreational pursuits. As protective as The Vic can be she can also be unrelenting in her domain. In flood her power is awesome; in arid times she demands survival.

  • Darwin Wharf Precinct, +61 8 8981 4268. Darwin Wharf, Darwin. At 9.58am on February 19, 1942, the wharf was a target for Japanese bombs, which claimed the lives of many service personnel and waterside workers.
  • Katherine Gorge. Located in Nitmiluk National Park about 30 minutes northeast of Katherine. There are many ways to experience the spectacular Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) and its world-renowned gorge system - you can walk, swim, canoe, boat or fly. Free entry
  • Aboriginal Rock Art Sites There are three main art sites to explore in Kakadu National Park independently or on a tour - Ubirr, Nourlangie Rock, Nanguluwur

Itineraries[edit]

  • Savannah Way. The Savannah Way is a collection of linked outback roads and highways that form a spectacular touring route traversing northern Australia from Cairns to Broome. Whilst the majority of the Savannah Way is sealed there are large sections of unsealed, but well maintained gravel highways. A large four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
  • Darwin. A week in Darwin gives you time to visit the city attractions, before heading down the track to Litchfield National Park for an overnight adventure, then spend a day learning about Aboriginal culture on the Tiwi Islands.
  • Kakadu. With a week up your sleeve, start a comprehensive tour of Kakadu and its surrounds at Mary River National Park. Take a wildlife cruise and fish at Corroboree Billabong before delving into Kakadu's waterfalls, wetlands, cultural centres and Aboriginal rock art sites.

Do[edit]

Twin falls, Kakadu National Park

The Top End offers the visitor an amazing array of activities to immerse yourself in, from the adventurous to the more subdued. Most tours leave from Darwin. Whether it’s a 4x4 trek in the National Park, desert discovery, nature watching, fishing or cruising the mighty Vic, hiking and bushwalking, scenic flying, photography, experiencing the wet season and its thunderstorms or sipping your favorite beverage at sunset, the region offers an experience for you. The escarpment country is beautiful and in the wet season waterfalls flow straight off the escarpment.

You can take a scenic helicopter flight with Coolibah Air from the Victoria River Roadhouse over the escarpment, Gregory National Park, the mighty Victoria River and Coolibah Station; home to 'The Joneses' a family who have become recent television stars after a reality documentary based on their life on the station called Keeping up with the Jonese aired on national television. The Victoria River is a mecca for fishing and produces some of the Territory’s best and biggest Barramundi. “Barra” can be caught all year round but the best time is on a neap tide, between the months of March to late May-coinciding with the end of the monsoon season called the “Run-off”.

If travelling the Buntine Highway be sure to stop in at the Top Springs Motel for a cold beer, enjoy a real outback meal, and have a yarn with a local. Top Springs is located at the junction of the Buntine and Buchanan Highways, 291 kilometres south of Katherine. The Top Springs Motel is located on the Savannah Way drive and is a fantastic rest stop with an awesome reputation as a colourful outback pub. The Top Springs Hotel is in the heart of cattle country and a good base for four-wheel-drive adventures on the way to Gregory National Park and the Victoria River Region.

Further west is the small township of Timber Creek. Fishing is Timber Creek's biggest drawcard however Max's Victoria River Cruises is a must do experience when travelling through Timber Creek.

Gregory National Park sits at Timber Creek's doorstep and covers an area of around 13,000 square kilometres. The Park features spectacular escarpment landscapes, prolific wildlife, ancient boab trees and significant remnants of Aboriginal and European history. There is also an extensive network of four-wheel-drive tracks in the Park.

Situated 170 kilometres west of Timber Creek is the Keep River National Park, which is a photographer's dream, the Park encompasses towering sandstone landforms that radiate a myriad of colours at sunrise and sunset. The area is best explored on foot, following well-marked bushwalking trails. There are two camping areas in the Park with barbecues, tables and pit toilets.

Fishing in the Northern Territory is world class and there are many diverse fishing habitats on offer. Most tours leave from Darwin, Arnhem Land is home to some truly adventurous fishing spots.

  • Berry Springs Nature Park. Situated just 45 minutes from Darwin. The Park has shaded picnic and barbecue areas and is filled with local birds and wildlife. Bring your goggles to explore the underwater world in the clear pools.
  • Jim Jim Falls This majestic waterfall is a sight to behold at the end of a challenging four-wheel drive track in the southern escarpment country of Kakadu National Park.
  • Merl This site in northern Kakadu National Park is perfect for campers who want to enjoy a famous sunrise or sunset at Ubirr. It's also an ideal base for bushwalking along the East Alligator River. There are showers, toilets and a generator zone. Camping fees are collected on site.
  • Crocodylus Park, 5 minutes drive. Only from the Darwin airport, the park is home to more than a thousand crocodiles. It also houses exotic birds, primates, big cats and lizards. Children under 4 years have free entry.
  • Tiwi Island Tour, 1300 721 365 (local rate). The Catholic mission established on the Tiwi Islands in 1911 greatly influenced the culture. Many Tiwi Islanders are prolific artists who produce distinctive art, pottery, sculptures and wooden carvings. The Tiwi Islands is a 20-minute flight or two hour ferry ride from Darwin. You must be part of an organised tour to visit Tiwi Islands.
  • Darwin Festival. The Darwin festival happens in August and includes free outdoor events, theatre, dance, music, cabaret, films, workshops and comedy, not to mention the sensational cuisine.

Eat[edit]

Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin

Make sure you take in the culinary delights of multi-cultural Darwin while in the Northern Territory. There’s a great range of outdoor eateries, exotic local produce and a diversity of culinary choices on offer.

Great eating areas in Darwin include:

  • The local markets for something cheap made on the spot.
  • Fannie Bay offers some great pub-style food or seafood.
  • Darwin CBD is brimming with restaurants, cafes and pubs – classy or casual but always relaxed.
  • Cullen Bay has a barrage of seafood choices and expansive harbour views.
  • Grab some picnic-style take away at Stokes Hill Wharf.
  • Head to Parap for Chinese, Mexican or gourmet goodies.
  • Kakadu National Park Basic food is available at the sporadic rest stops and museums throughout the park.
  • The Top End of Australia is also famous for its Aboriginal bush tucker. The billabongs, woodlands, sandstone escarpments and coastal beaches provide a rich source of food and medicines used by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. What we know as "bush tucker" is a multitude of plants and animals that are used in a variety of ways to best extract their nutritional and medicinal values. The different environments of the tropical north feature plants endemic to each habitat, as well as some that thrive across the entire region.

Drink[edit]

The Northern Territory is famous for its legendary outback pubs. Every small town has somewhere you can drop by to chat with the local characters or learn some history. For some more sophisticated nightlife, head to the numerous clubs and bars in Darwin and check out some local music at Brown’s Mart.

Please note, within certain areas of the Northern Territory, there are restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in public places. More information on specific restrictions can be found at the Tourism Northern Territory website [1]

Stay safe[edit]

Much of the Top End is the Australian 'Outback' Be prepared and plan your trip before you start it. Plan fuel stops and always carry extra fuel as on some highways fuel and towns can be up to 800 kilometres apart. It is advised to carry a satellite phone or HF radio for emergencies if leaving the major roads. Water and food are also very important. If you become stranded in the outback stay calm and stay with your vehicle so emergency services are able to locate you. If you have communication devices use them. Mobile (cellular) phone coverage is limited to the regional centres.

Stay safe[edit]

  • Emergency Call Devices [ECD] are available in remote locations throughout the park. Instructions on use are written on the ECD. These are for emergency calls only. See maps for locations.
  • First aid Lie the person down in a cool shaded area. Give them water in small quantities at a time (creek water is alright if you have no other water). If the person cannot keep the water down, or does not recover quickly, seek medical assistance. Contact the medical centre at Jabiru on 8979 2018.
  • Swimming Due to the risk of estuarine crocodiles in the park, the only public place you should swim is in the Jabiru swimming pool. Some visitors choose to swim at their own risk, in selected natural plunge pools and gorge areas such as Gubara, Maguk, Jim Jim Falls, Gunlom, Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge) and in creeks on the plateau above Twin Falls, Jim Jim Falls and Gunlom. These areas are surveyed for estuarine crocodiles prior to opening each dry season. There remains some risk that estuarine crocodiles may move into gorges and plunge pools during the dry season. Read the crocodile warning signs in each plunge pool and gorge area and consider their information carefully.
  • Some of the most poisonous snakes in the world inhabit Kakadu, but luckily for visitors they are all very shy and are very rarely seen, let alone confronted. These species include the Taipan, Death Adder, and King Brown. They are seldom active during the day, hunting at night. DO NOT hike off any trails after dark.
  • Feral animals have become relatively common in Kakadu, some of which may pose a threat if harassed. Asian Water Buffalo and Wild Horses can cause serious injury or death if they charge.
  • Cliffs Climbing rock ledges and cliffs and walking or standing near cliff edges can lead to serious injury or death, especially when rock surfaces are wet. Keep well away from all cliff edges.
  • What to Wear During the heat of the day, you will be most comfortable in loose covering clothing which is cool but protects you from sunburn and insect bites. Use sunscreen and wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Mosquitoes can carry viruses such as the Ross River virus, so if they are biting, use a repellent.
  • Dehydration Early symptoms include feeling thirsty, excess sweating, headache, dizziness and nausea. If dehydration continues, it can result in seizures, a loss of consciousness and even death. To prevent dehydration limit your activity to the cooler parts of the day (mornings and late afternoons) and drink plenty of water. Most people need between 4 to 8 litres of water per day so start drinking water early (coffee, tea and alcohol don’t count!). For every hour you walk, carry at least one litre of water per person.
  • Flash Flooding Please be aware of possible sudden rises in the levels of waterways, which can quickly cut off the return route from the top of waterfalls such as Gunlom and Jim Jim. Fast flowing water can be deceptive, creating strong currents and dangerous swimming conditions.
  • Driving Hints Top End roads can be hazardous. Plan ahead and allow sufficient time for travel. Slow down! Roads can become slippery in the wet. During the dry, dust from other vehicles can obscure your vision. When using 4WD tracks, put your vehicle into 4WD. Read your vehicle instructions: many vehicles need their front wheel hubs physically locked, before engaging 4WD from the driver’s seat. At flooded crossings read the signs, look at depth markers and observe how quickly the water is flowing, before deciding whether to cross. Sometimes it is safer to wait until the water recedes. Remember crocodiles may be present. In the event of fires, make sure you park your vehicle in cleared areas rather than in flammable long grass. Use vehicle headlights if driving through heavy smoke, and drive slowly. If stopping, park well off the road and use hazard lights. Do not park on bridges or causeways at any time. Always check road access, by contacting the Bowali Visitor Centre on +61 8 8938 1120 or visit [2] www.kakadu.com.au/access Watch out for wildlife. Every year hundreds of native animals are killed or injured on our roads. Drive slowly, look well ahead for animals on the road, and try to avoid driving at night. Sound your horn to alert wildlife on the road. Look carefully for large feral animals such as horses, pigs and buffalo.
Travel Warning WARNING: Two species of crocodile can be found in Kakadu, the freshwater and the estuarine or saltwater crocodile. Estuarine crocodiles (Ginga), (Crocodylus porosus) often called ‘salties’ live in freshwater and estuarine areas, such as floodplains, billabongs, rivers and coastal waters. Estuarine crocodiles are aggressive. They have attacked and killed people in Kakadu. For your safety, please obey all crocodile warning signs – do not enter the water and keep away from the water’s edge.

Freshwater crocodiles (Madjarrki), (Crocodylus johnstoni) are only found in Australia, where they live in freshwater rivers, creeks and plunge pools such as Maguk and Gunlom. Freshwater crocodiles are usually shy animals but can become aggressive if disturbed, so do not approach them.

In some visitor areas access is only available after park staff have trapped and removed any estuarine crocodiles that have moved in during the wet season. These areas, known as crocodile management zones, are extensively surveyed at the start of each dry season to ensure the risk for visitors is reduced. Traps remain in place for the entire dry season as estuarine crocodiles may move in at any time.

Go next[edit]

This region travel guide to Top End is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.