From its beautiful beaches and natural wonders to its croc infested waters, the Top End is both wild and expansive.It’s also the ideal place to go to escape, because for all its masses of space, few people live up here.
A journey from Broome to Darwin, through the Kimberley, is an epic trip that’ll take you through the heart of the Outback. Plus, once you hit the NT’s capital, you can go on to see the beautiful Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land, Katherine, and venture as far down as Alice.
You can expect to hear some of the oldest languages in the world (Australia’s first people still speak in their native tongue and English can often be their third or fourth language), and there is adventure at every corner.
On the north-western tip of Australia, Broome is 1,800km from the nearest city (Darwin) and nestles on Roebuck Bay,the Indian Ocean just a 10-minute drive away.
Established as a pearling settlement in the late 19th century, Broome was once supplying 75% of the world’s pearls. It was hazardous work though, and hundreds of Asian immigrants who worked on the boats lost their lives in diving accidents. Pop into Cygnet Bay Pearls (cygnetbaypearls.com.au) or the Pearl Luggers (pearlluggers.com.au) and listen to stories of how it all began.
Western Australia’s most famous landmark is the 22km long Cable Beach (cablebeachclub.com), and it is a place that has to be seen to be believed. This stretch of coast is regarded by seasoned travellers as one of the best beaches in the world and its sunsets are legendary. To create a unique west coast experience, you can take a camel ride along the beach, watching the sun sink from aboard a hairy humpster.
There is more to Broome than beaches too: the place has a great community spirit, so join in with the locals. The annual Dragon Boat Regatta (September 13) isn’t to be missed and involves what seems like the entire town’s population.
And for three days every month between March and October you can witness the natural phenomenon that is the Staircase to the Moon. It’s caused by the rising of the full moon reflecting off the exposed mud flats at extremely low tide – creating a beautiful optical illusion of stairs reaching up to the moon. A magical experience.
Broome is the gateway to the Kimberley region, Australia’s last frontier of pristine wilderness and rugged sun-scorched land, dotted with ancient gorges, weird-looking trees and sprawling cattle stations. It’s three-times the size of the UK but barely registers any detail on a map. It’s bordered by the Indian Ocean to the west, the humid top of the Northern Territory to the east, and the arid Great Sandy Desert to the south. It’s Australia at its most harsh and at its most diverse. And it’s isolated – if you take the Gibb River Road, your only company will be free-roaming cattle, creek crossings and endless termite mounds. It’s a real event when you spot a truck passing the other way through the dust, so give them a wave.
Visit the Geikie, Windjana and Bell Gorges, Cape Leveque,the Windjana Gorge National Park and Tunnel Creek.
Darwin is the capital of the NT and a truly tropical city. It is a bloody long way from anywhere and so it’s the type of town that only attracts people who are really trying to get away from it all – or those lured by the stunning scenery right on the city’s doorstep.
It is a real mixture between holiday resort and far-flung outpost, as Darwin is the centre of the NT’s tropical Top End,which essentially experiences only two seasons – ‘the Dry’ from May-October and ‘the Wet’ from November-April. The Dry is peak season, however the Tropical Summer (a fancy, tourist-friendly name for the Wet) brings its own attractions.
Darwin is mainly a gateway to two of Australia’s biggest must-visits: Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. Tours to these two places are available from pretty mucheverywhere in town.
Darwin is a relatively flat city and it’s easy to find your way around on foot. Buses run regularly and most hostels offer cheap or free bike hire. Two events have largely shaped the city’s landscape: it was the Australian frontline in WWII when many bombing raids were made by the Japanese,plus Darwin had to be re-built after Cyclone Tracy destroyed most of the city on Christmas Eve, 1974. The city’s diverse population and proximity to Asia also means that the city has more than 50 different nationalities. During your visit highlights include the Botanic Gardens, East Point Reserve, the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove, and Mindil BeachSunset Markets.
Truly the Top End, to the east of Darwin is the beautiful Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. These areas are largely uninhabitable and filled with swamps, wetlands, waterfalls, ancient culture and angry crocodiles, and exploring here is a great privilege. You have to have respect for the land, its native owners and the wildlife – if you get too close to the wrong creek, you may end up as lunch. But, with a guide, this rugged land is an Australian must-do experience.
Katherine is the crossroads of the south, north, east andwest and your last stop before venturing into the great red unknown that links Darwin and Alice Springs.
Crossing from Broome and the Kimberley you’ll hit Katherine after a complete lack of civilisation, and by that point you welcome the chance to see a few houses (it’s a town with all the mod cons, so make sure you stock up before moving on).
Your main reason for visiting is the Katherine Gorge,enclosed in the Nitmiluk National Park. It is one of the NT’s “Big Three” along with Kakadu and Uluru.
Here there are over 13 gorges with more than 100km of walking tracks set in rugged terrain, just outside of town. You can explore the spectacular surrounds by canoe or cruise boat, foot or helicopter.
Beware that there are freshwater crocodiles and do not to go to the beaches where the crocs have made nests for their eggs. Check with the rangers to see if any crocs have been spotted in the area before you take the plunge. Start at the information centre.
Once you’ve travelled through The Red and past places such as Tennant Creek and the Devil’s Marbles, you’ll make it to Alice where you can stop for a while and soak up the atmospheric scenery.
To the east, the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges are easily accessible by car and have some good walking trails and picnic areas.
The Western MacDonnells have an array of spectacular gorges and ancient landforms. They can be explored by hiking the Larapinta Trail, by bicycle on a specially developed cycle track or by road.