Cosmopolitan and laid-back Darwin is the gateway to Australia’s Top End. Feast on exotic Asian food, enjoy Darwin’s many cultural events, or simply kick back and relax before heading off on your Kakadu adventure. The easiest way to get around is to hire a car at Darwin Airport, only a short drive from the city centre.
Visitors can stroll along Mindil Beach, watching the sunset and snacking on tempting treats from the famous Mindil Beach Markets, open Thursdays and Sundays in the dry season (May–Oct). Darwin is renowned for its great food, ranging from spicy northern African at Moorish to authentic Indonesian at Sari Rasa on Cavenagh St. The Cyclone Café in Parap has possibly the best coffee in town, as well as fantastic sandwiches and burgers. Saturday morning Parap market, which the café sits behind, is a great place to pick up some fruit and veg and local crafts. If you want more action, try landing a barramundi with Top End Barra Fishing, take a harbour cruise complete with sunset dinner, or don your bathers and enter the cage of death to swim with saltwater crocodiles right in the centre of town.
For those driving their rental car directly from Darwin Airport to the amazing wetlands of Kakadu, book a tour before you go with the excellent Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours, located on the Arnhem Highway just after Humpty Doo. As well as throwing a spear or blowing a didgeridoo, you’ll learn about local foods and bush medicine. Also highly recommended are the jumping crocodile cruises on the Adelaide River at nearby Fogg Dam.
The lush green wetlands of Kakadu form Australia’s biggest national park, bursting with foliage-fringed waterholes, cascading falls and abundant wildlife. The friendly staff at the Bowali Visitors Centre are a mine of information about what to do in the park. The award-winning Yellow Water Cruise is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning beauty of the park. For a more hands-on experience, the exceptional Animal Tracks Safari is an all-day tour foraging for bush tucker and medicine with an Aboriginal guide. The day finishes with cooking a meal on a camp fire. Several accommodation options are available in Jabiru – the understated bush bungalows at Lakeview Caravan Park are probably the best value and if you happen to catch a barramundi, you can throw it on the open-air barbecue. If you have time while you’re in Jabiru, it’s also worth while taking a 4WD day tour further west into the rugged and remote outback of Arnhemland.
You have two options driving your rental car back to Darwin. Either return the way you came or take the loop road past Batchelor and the Litchfield National Park. There are several good places to stay at Batchelor, including the simple but well-kept Rum Jungle Bungalows or laid-back and friendly Butterfly Farm, which also serves excellent meals.
Litchfield National Park features countless natural attractions, including spring-fed waterfalls, pristine plunge pools and intriguing magnetic termite mounds. From Litchfield, it’s just a two hour trip in your hire car back to Darwin.