There’s more to Australia than just its big cities, mama! Ed Assistant Syaz walks you through her trip in Darwin and finds it’s a fab spot for a family road trip
If you’re looking for a very different travel experience that doesn’t require too long a flight – yet has all the elements to make you feel miles and miles away from Singers – I’ve got you, mama. A tropical beachside retreat here and there may be relaxing, but adventure awaits you and the fam in the land down under. I recently returned from a solo trip to Darwin, Australia and had a fabulous time!
Darwin is a relatively small city that’s part of Australia’s Northern Territory, otherwise known as the Top End, which is rich in Aboriginal land and culture. You’ll encounter more Aboriginal culture in the Top End than anywhere else in Australia. Its weather patterns are tropical and aren’t much different from that of Southeast Asia, apart from the lower humidity levels and distinct wet and dry seasons. The best time to visit is in the dry season (April to October), as many roads may be flooded and certain attractions may be closed due to strong water currents and crocodile hazards (more on that below!).
Darwin is the closest Australian city to Singapore and it takes just 4.5 hours by plane to get there. I took a low-cost Jetstar flight, but if you’re looking for something more full-service, SilkAir, Qantas, and Emirates are just some of the airlines that fly direct to Darwin.
For families, a car rental is your best bet (just be sure to familiarise yourself with Australia’s very strict car seat laws). The nearby national parks are between 1- to 3-hour drives away, which are great for day trips or overnight visits. Otherwise, taking a Greyhound bus to major towns is also cost-effective and comfortable (but I still recommend renting a car for convenience and privacy in case of any last-minute tantrums from the bubs!).
I began my week-long adventure in Katherine, a small town just 3 hours from Darwin by car with Nitmiluk National Park being the main attraction. I did a 2-day, 1-night trip via Greyhound bus to visit the beautiful Katherine Gorge. Katherine’s main town centre, BP Travel North, is where the bus terminal, tourist centre and main shops are. It’s a great place to stock up on food at the supermarkets, and there are plenty of affordable accommodations nearby.
I stayed at the quaint Beagle Motor Inn during my Katherine visit, a comfortable place that’s just five minutes away from the town centre by car and a walk away from a convenience store with delicious fish and chips for lunch! The room had all the basic necessities, and I had a wonderful queen-size bed all to myself. They serve a really great hot breakfast every morning which you and the kiddos will love, on top of the included continental breakfast with a good range of cereals, muesli, toast, juices and hot beverages. The area is just about 25 minutes away from scenic Katherine Gorge by car or taxi, and if you don’t opt for either of them, one of the owners, Brendon, will be happy to drive you himself if he’s available (with a petrol fee of course, but it’s far cheaper than a hefty taxi fare!).
(Thank you Donna and Brendon for hosting me at Beagle Motor Inn!)
Set aside at least half a day so you can get the most out of your gorge visit. There’s an easy hike you can do with the family to Barruwei Lookout, which takes just about half an hour to get to the top of with a great view of the gorge and an awesome panorama of the surrounding land. Go back down the same way you came up, and you would have already spent an easy 1.5 to 2 hours. I made the mistake of continuing on to a different footpath and ended up spending about 3 hours trying to get back to the Visitor Centre while it rained, so lesson learnt!
If you’d rather not hike, check out the less strenuous gorge cruises, which take you through multiple streams and let you feel the height of the gorge walls right next to you (and little waterfall streams if you’re lucky!) with a helpful guide telling interesting stories of the area and its history. I opted for the 2-hour 2 Gorge Cultural Cruise, which was an enchanting experience in a relaxed setting. There’s a bit of walking to be done within the tour from one boat to another, but it allows the opportunity to admire ancient rock art along the way and will be a relief to mamas with antsy tykes that don’t love sitting still for too long!
Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks
After my time in Katherine, I returned to Darwin for a night before my early morning pickup the next day for a 3-day, 2-night tour through Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park. Both parks are just about 90 minutes’ drive from Darwin, and there are plenty of stops you can make within each park for amazing sites and cool historical landmarks. Our first stop was Mary River Wetlands, where we took a crocodile-spotting cruise in a billabong (pockets of water left from the flood in dry season). Hundreds of freshwater and saltwater crocodiles inhabit this area, and it’s common to spot up to 10 crocodiles during the cruise (we saw our first one within 5 minutes!). Make sure you’re always looking out for signs that forbid swimming in case of crocodile attacks, as it is common for people to make the mistake of swimming in a croc-infested area, which could end badly if you encounter a saltwater crocodile, the more vicious of the two types (they’ll eat anything, even their own freshwater counterparts).
Other spots in Kakadu I visited include Ubirr for Aboriginal rock art and amazing rock formations, beautiful Maguk Falls and Moline Rock Hole for refreshing swims, and Lazy Lizard Tavern & Caravan Park, where I handled snakes thanks to the little conservatory they have, and is a great place to fuel up on food and booze if you’d like. Also make sure you try the scrumptious homemade ice cream in the convenience store!
The top spots to visit in Litchfield National Park are Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls. These are the more underrated attractions that have fewer visitors but are well worth the drive! Florence Falls is beautiful and if you get close enough to the waterfall, you’ll see many little rainbows formed (I caught a few on my camera!), but it’s only recommended for kiddos that can swim as there are some pretty deep areas. Buley Rockhole has to be my fave, because there are many small pools to swim in that range from pristine shallow waters for little bubbas to play in (and mamas to keep cool while working on their tan) to 2 meter-deep holes you can explore. Wangi Falls isn’t for swimming, but it’s a massive cluster of waterfalls worth stopping by for a picnic lunch!
After immersing myself properly in the Outback for three whole days, it was time to head back to the city, where I stayed in an Airbnb in the Nightcliff suburbs for the next couple of days. I always feel that staying in a fully-furnished apartment gives you the freedom to take charge of your own schedule as opposed to staying in a hotel, where you might wake up worrying about what time the breakfast buffet ends and not have the option of cooking in your hotel room for lunch or dinner. Booking a whole house to yourself might be something you’d like to consider for the fam mama, as you’ll have better facilities for preparing food for the littles, can cook your own meals and have all the great accessibility of a home away from home. The idea may sound daunting at first, but it’s usually more affordable to rent a holiday home than to pay for an overpriced hotel room! Plus, there’s nothing better than visiting somewhere new and living like a local.
So that was my week in the Northern Territory, mama! It’s a great place to visit with the hubs and bubs for a different kind of adventure. Pick your favourites and look up even more amazing places to visit, and you’ll be all set for your Australian Outback experience!