Want a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday full of fun and unique experiences? Put the ‘Red Centre‘ and ‘Top End’ in the Northern Territory (NT) at the top of your bucket list. The kids will love it and you will love it!
Note: To make the most of it, make sure you visit during the ‘dry season’ from April – October. More on that later.
We visited the Top End with a 1yo and a 3yo in May 2021, when the roads and tourist attractions were just starting to open after an unusually long wet season. Short, tired legs that meant that we weren’t able to do the big hikes, but that didn’t stop us from having the best time swimming in plenty of beautiful waterholes and visited some of the most unique places in Darwin, Litchfield Park and Kakadu.
Discover these not-to-be-missed experiences with the kids in the tropical ‘Top End’…
Explore the city of Darwin
Darwin is one of Australia’s least populated and unique cities. It’s here that you’ll enjoy warm days all-year-round, good beach vibes and a melting pot of cultures and people.
We loved our time in Darwin so much that we wrote about our top 3 things to do in Darwin with kids. The post also includes some fun things to do without kids and information about Darwin and the seasons in general.
Litchfield National Park
At approximately 1.5 hours’ drive south west of Darwin, Litchfield National Park is an easy day trip destination and the perfect place to visit if you want to go for a swim. There are numerous billabongs (waterholes) to explore and waterfalls to gaze in awe at. So, remember to pack :
- your togs (bathing suit)
- a big hat
- a towel
- your lunch, snacks and drinks in an Esky/chilly bin/cooler box, and
- your chillaxing vibes.
The crystal clear waters of Wangi Falls are a hotspot for swimmers who want to paddle under waterfalls in picturesque surroundings. Located close to the car park and accessed by wide paths and boardwalks, it’s an easy and spectacular waterfall to visit for people of all abilities.
Swimming at Buley Rockhole
Buley Rockhole was a surprising gem! There are several ancient rock pools in a tranquil setting that are perfect for a refreshing swim. It’s a scene that you’ll never forget as cool water cascades gently from pool to pool as you lay back, unwind and absorb the scenic bush around you.
Lunch at Berry Springs Tavern
On our way home to Darwin, we stopped off for a late lunch at @berryspringstavern. It was here that I was introduced to their experimental chicken laksa schnitzel. As strange as it sounds, it’s the best schnitty I’ve ever had! Turns out, they had featured in the 2020 Darwin International Laksa Festival and they were testing if it should be added to their menu permanently. I say: Yes! Do it!
Kakadu National Park
As long as you visit the Top End at the right time of year (during “the dry” May-Oct), there are many walks, billabongs and waterfalls to explore in Kakadu’s World Heritage-listed 20,000 square kilometres.
Sadly, little legs and parent’s patience were not going to last the long drive and challenging hike to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. But we were able to see plenty of amazing cultural and heritage sites, and swim in some spectacular billabongs.
Check out our list below of kid-friendly and accessible places to visit in Kakadu.
Hint: Sometimes you’ll need a 4WD to access waterfalls and sites. And, beware the dangerous salt water crocodiles (“salties”) that are able to access these waters undetected. Always follow the warning signs and advice of the park rangers. Check in at the information centre for more information.
Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) rock paintings
At Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) we saw some of the world’s oldest and most impressive rock artwork by the traditional custodians of the lands the Bininj/Mungguy people. The stunning rock art documents life in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers.
There was a short hike through the bush and between rocks. There were steps and a boardwalk in some sections to make sure visitors stayed on the path. Part of the path and some of the rock paintings were accessible by pram or wheelchair. We ventured up the hill a bit further, which was a little more difficult due to carrying the kids. But when we saw the jaw-dropping view at the top, we knew that the walk was worth it.
Yellow Water Cruise
From Cooinda Lodge, we joined the Indigenous-owned Yellow Water (Ngurrungurrudjba) Cruises on a tranquil tour of the Yellow Water Billabong and expansive South Alligator River. (There’s no alligators here… only crocodiles). After a long wet season, the flood plains were overflowing and full of incredible wildlife. We saw many crocodiles, water buffalo and wild pigs at a distance, and so much birdlife. From ducks and geese, to large eagles and other birds of prey. It was a wonderful two-hour cruise – we loved it and the kids loved!
Secret waterfalls and billabongs
Ok, so we had an unfair advantage. Two unfair advantages: 1) Due to a very long wet season, much of Kakadu National Park was still opening up to the public. So, there were not as many tourists around. 2) We had Mon and Daz. Darwin locals who visited Kakadu on the regular. And they had a 4WD and knowledge of some secret, unsigned waterfalls that we could explore.
So, with a packed lunch and our togs (bathing suits), we set off chasing waterfalls and bathing in secluded billabongs. It was amazing. I’m very sorry that I can’t share the locations with you – I simply don’t know!
Cahill’s Crossing is a road into Arnehm Land that is usually covered with fast flowing, crocodile-infested water. Large “salties” (saltwater crocodiles) surround the road and wait for the barramundi that swim across the crossing when the tide is high. Big warning signs warn visitors not to swim or cross the fast waters. But, when we visited at high tide we saw a few locals drive through and young children playing on the opposite bank. Surprisingly, we didn’t see any crocs.
We stayed at Cooinda Lodge, a luxury resort with cabins, power tent sites, bar and café, and a lagoon-style pool. Cooinda is located close to the centre of Kakadu National Park and was the perfect place to stay for three nights so we could explore the surrounding park at our leisure.
Wait! There’s more…
Check out our top tips and favourite things to and see in the Northern Territory (with kids):