The Northern Territory’s Top End is famous for crocs, but you can blend adventure with romance on a couple’s vacation. Simply follow our seven- to 14-day self-drive itinerary.
Darwin – Day 1
Australia’s northernmost capital city is one for the senses, with a fantastic array of Asian-inspired cuisine, plenty of adrenalin-inducing adventure, and stunning beaches perfect for romantic strolls. Ease into your Top End holiday by learning about Indigenous art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. From there, make your way to Darwin Waterfront for a relaxing afternoon under palms. Chill out on one of the sun loungers at Darwin Wave Lagoon or go for a swim in the croc-free Recreation Lagoon.
Highlight of the day: sunset on Mindil Beach, before you taste-test your way around the famous markets (held Thursdays and Sundays, April-Oct).
Darwin to Cooinda Lodge, Kakadu National Park – Day 2
Kakadu National Park is one of the star attractions not just of the Top End but of the entire Northern Territory thanks to its plethora of amazing wildlife and its historical and cultural significance. You could spend seven days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage-listed park, but if you only have a few there are some highlights adventurous couples should tick off.
On your first day, drop into Bowali Visitor Centre to chat to the park rangers about the conditions of the roads and ask about any recent crocodile sightings in the waterholes. Then make your way to Ubirr, home to incredibly clear examples of ancient Indigenous rock art.
Highlight of the day: Climbing to the top of the Ubirr rock escarpment for magnificent views across the floodplain.
Cooinda Lodge to Jim Jim Falls (Kakadu) – Day 3
42 kilometres (approx. one hour, one way, depending on road conditions)
Hit the ground running by visiting one of Kakadu’s most challenging and hard-to-reach destinations, Jim Jim Falls. In the dry season (May-Oct), spur each other on as you tackle the 900-metre walk through monsoon forest and over large boulders to two natural swimming pools enveloped by a stunning stone amphitheatre.
Pack lunch and plenty of water so you can make a day of it. If you’re visiting during the wet season (Nov-April), nothing beats taking a helicopter ride over the falls. It makes for a special experience as you watch a torrent of water thundering over the rock walls.
Highlight of the day: Seeing this prehistoric oasis, whether you’re flying high or trekking in on foot.
Cooinda Lodge to Maguk (Kakadu) – Day 4
62 kilometres (approx. one hour, one way)
After such a big day visiting Jim Jim, you’ll want to have a relatively easy-going excursion and one of the best is the walk to pretty Maguk Waterfall. Accessible during the dry season, the two-kilometre (return) walk in is fairly flat, although there is a small creek crossing and a sandy stretch just prior to the falls.
Once there, float about in the dark waters as colourful dragonflies rest on your shoulders. Be mindful that you will need a 4WD to get to the Maguk car park.
Highlight of the day: A sunset cruise on Yellow Water Billabong with Indigenous tour company Yellow Water Cruises. This is the best way to see plenty of Kakadu’s most famous residents – crocodiles. Pick up is from Cooinda Lodge.
Cooinda Lodge to Gunlom Falls (Kakadu) – Day 5
Adventurous couples will love the opportunity to squeeze in some holiday exercise by tackling the steep mountain track (one-kilometre return) to the top of Gunlom Falls, one of the most Instagrammed Kakadu attractions. At the top, hikers will find a number of tiered infinity-like pools with beautiful views of the valley below.
Afterwards, enjoy a picnic on the grass at the base, before opting for another swim in the bottom billabong (which features in Crocodile Dundee). There is a campground a short stroll from the waterhole, or you can drive back to Cooinda Lodge.
Highlight of the day: Heading higher up the falls and swimming through the gorge at the top.
Gunlom Falls (Kakadu) to Nitmiluk National Park – Day 6
Little known outside of the Northern Territory, Nitmiluk National Park has plenty of walking trails, waterfalls and rock art sites. Also called Katherine Gorge, the park is home to 13 beautiful gorges you can explore via canoe, speedboat or on a cultural cruise. If you’re not campers, you can find a motel in nearby Katherine.
Highlight of the day: Swimming at Leliyn (Edith Falls), where time can easily slide by as you soak in the plunge pool in the shade of pandanus palms.
Nitmiluk National Park to Darwin, via Berry Springs Nature Park – Day 7
It’s a decent day of driving today, so head off early so you have time to call into Berry Springs Nature Park before arriving back in the city. The park is less than an hour from Darwin CBD but will offer respite from the car and heat thanks to its lovely swimming pools. There are a few entry points to the pools, so if one spot looks busy just walk to the next. The water is incredibly clear, so take a waterproof camera and pool noodle, and farewell the NT in true Top-End style.
Highlight of the day: Rounding out your NT visit with a seafood dinner on Stokes Hill Wharf.
If you have 14 days… instead of returning to Darwin on the seventh day, continue to Katherine, approximately 30 kilometres south-east.
Katherine to Mainoru Store – Day 8
Driving into Arnhem Land during the dry season (Nov-April) is a serious adventure so today is all about clocking some miles on your way to one of Australia’s final frontiers. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted with savannah woodlands and wetlands teeming with wildlife, including more than 260 species of birds, as well as plenty of fish and crocodiles. Note that any visitors to Arnhem Land need to apply for a permit from the Northern Land Council prior to travelling.
Highlight of the day: Taking a dip in Katherine Hot Springs before you head out of town.
Mainoru Store to Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land – Day 10
Top up on fuel (and fill extra jerry cans) before continuing along Central Arnhem Road on your way to Nhulunbuy, a town on the Gove Peninsula. The road is largely dirt, so be prepared for corrugations and washouts as you venture deep into one of Australia’s Aboriginal heartlands. East Arnhem Land is for couples chasing authentic Indigenous experiences, with the opportunity to learn about traditional fishing practices, conservation, and the Dreamtime.
Highlight of the day: Bedding down at Banubanu Beach Retreat, on the northern tip of Bremer Island, 10 kilometres from Nhulunbuy.
East Arnhem Land – Days 11 & 12
East Arnhem Land is hugely popular with fishers, so if your partner or both of you want to try your luck at catching Spanish mackerel and coral trout, sign up for one of the charter tours based in Nhulunbuy. You’ll also want to find time to visit Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, said to be one of the best Indigenous art spaces in Australia. Located at Yirrkala, visitors will discover Yolngu bark paintings, weavings and jewellery, as well as modern Aboriginal artefacts.
Highlight of the day: Visiting Bawaka, in East Arnhem Land. One of the most naturally beautiful places in the Top End, Bawaka is a haven of pearl-white beaches – just don’t go swimming.
Nhulunbuy to Katherine – Day 13
It’s a whopping driving day today as you begin your journey back to Darwin. Rise early and make the most of the morning before the heat rises. Again, you’ll want to refuel at Mainoru Store and be sure to stock up on your water and car snacks, as well.
Katherine to Darwin – Day 14
You’ll be well and truly zonked by the time you reach Darwin, so give yourself an afternoon off by beachcombing along some of the city’s sandy stretches. At dusk, head to Nightcliff foreshore, where you can pick up a no-fuss dinner from one of the food trucks and watch the sunset.
Highlight of the day: A romantic evening at Darwin’s al fresco Deckchair Cinema. With film screenings seven nights a week (April-Nov), you’re bound to find something you can agree on.