Adventurers who love wilderness will love this trip through Arnhem Land in Australia’s tropical Top End, with visits to Kakadu and Mary River National Parks to see rock art sites and remarkable wildlife.
In this wild land brolgas fly across the sunset, huge crocodiles laze on riverbanks, and the sandstone shimmers with the oldest art in the world. Feel the timeless peace of a landscape full of animals but with remarkably few people, wake to the manic calls of flying-foxes and cockatoos, look out across a billabong filled with waterlilies, and walk on rocks that were created some 600 million years ago.
Darwin’s urban landscapes retain an array of different habitats where birds and wildlife flourish. Today you explore the city’s mangroves, coastlines, tidal flats, monsoon vine forests, lagoons, tropical woodlands and floodplains in the company of a knowledgeable local wildlife guide. This will provide great opportunities to see coastal birds such as chestnut rail, red-headed honeyeater, yellow white-eye and many shorebirds, along with monsoon forest-dwellers such as rainbow pitta, grey whistler, rose-crowned fruit-dove and green-backed gerygone.
Day5: Fly to Mount Borradaile, Arnhem Land
Afternoon transfer by taxi (not included) to the airport to check in for the one-hour charter flight to Mount Borradaile. On arrival check in to your accommodation and consult the staff to map out your stay.
Three full days are dedicated to exploring Arnhem Land, and all activities at the lodge are included. Here there are no rigid itineraries or fixed schedules; everything happens spontaneously – exactly as it is meant to. You can cruise on the billabong to watch the sun set over the floodplain with a glass of wine in your hand, and see Mount Borradaile light up with magnificent colours, or explore the wetlands to see the many estuarine and freshwater crocodiles that inhabit the watercourses. Early morning – as always – is a great time to watch the area’s rich birdlife.
You can take a trip into the sandstone escarpments that were formed many millions of years ago, and see galleries of aboriginal rock art that demonstrate the techniques used, and how styles changed over millennia of occupation and storytelling, with stories from more recent times telling of contact with other cultures.
The rainforest houses a completely different ecosystem with a distinctive array of plants and animals, and a walk across the savannah with a local guide reveals an unexpected variety of bush tucker and medicinal plants. You can take a four-wheel-drive excursion into the savannah landscapes, woodlands and rainforests, discover some of the region’s rare and unique species – such as the fabulous Leichhardt's grasshopper, or try your hand at fishing for barramundi in pristine Cooper Creek. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do!
Day9: Fly to Darwin
Afternoon charter flight back to Darwin, then taxi (not included) back to the same accommodation as before. As an introduction to tomorrow’s Wild Top End experience, you will be picked up in mid-afternoon and taken for a drive along the foreshore to East Point, overlooking the entrance to Fannie Bay. Here you take a short walk in search of local birds and animals before watching sunset over the Timor Sea – during the afternoon your guide will brief you on the forthcoming trip and answer any questions.
Skycity Hotel & Resort, 1-night
Day10: Drive to Kakadu National Park
After an early pick-up head due east into the Outback on a six day/five night small group tour with an expert guide. The sealed road makes for easy travelling, and en route you stop at various locations, including Fogg Dam (part of the Adelaide River floodplain), for a walk into a monsoon forest to see some of Northern Territory’s fantastic birdlife. Continue across several large rivers that drain the tropical wilderness, including the mighty Mary River, where you stop for lunch and may see your first crocodile. On entering Kakadu National Park you enjoy a short walk at Mamukala Wetland to get your first taste of the area, before continuing to eventual destination – the small township of Jabiru.
Anbinik Jabiru, 3-nights
Days11-12: See Kakadu’s wildlife & Aboriginal heritage
Today you get your first taste of the magnificent escarpment of Arnhem Land, which will help you to understand the importance of the Kakadu to Aboriginal people. Ancient sandstone ranges rise directly out of the floodplain in a landscape that epitomises the Dreamtime. You’ll visit various places including Malanbanjbandjdju, Anbangbang Billabong and Nourlangie Rock Art site (all indigenous place names), which contain some of Australia’s most powerful Aboriginal paintings – including a depiction of the Lightning Man. As the day progresses, you absorb the extraordinary power of this primitive landscape, before returning to Jabiru in late afternoon.
The next day you visit Ubirr – arguably the most beautiful spot in Kakadu. Many people who come here leave changed by the experience, which includes some of the most compelling wilderness landscapes on earth. Its primitive presence takes you right back to the very beginning of human existence. Nearby, the East Alligator River bounds the vast Aboriginal territory of Arnhem Land – to go any further requires a special permit. On the Kakadu side, however you can choose from a variety of activities: gentle walks beside the river, visiting Aboriginal rock art sites, or climbing to the top of Ubirr Rock for stunning views across Kakadu. In the heat of the day you’ll return to Jabiru for lunch, followed by a rest or a refreshing dip in the pool, before heading back out in late afternoon to Nawulandja Lookout to watch the sun set over the Kakadu escarpment.
Day13: Drive to Mary River National Park
Today you backtrack, heading west out of Kakadu to enter Mary River National Park. At first you follow the paved Kakadu Highway, before turning onto dirt roads to head north into the park. En route you stop at a several extremely beautiful spots that very few people visit – due to their remoteness. These include Brian Creek Monsoon Forest and Mistake Billabong (its beauty belies its name – it’s a very pretty place for a picnic!). Eventually you reach your accommodation at Point Stuart and cool off with a welcome dip in the pool, before taking a walk through Jimmy Creek rainforest right beside the lodge. Here you’ll see the huge nesting mounds of scrubfowl , a bird the size of a chicken that builds nests up to three metres high!
Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge, 2-nights
Day14: Explore Mary River National Park in search of crocodiles
The Mary River is famous for its abundant wildlife, which includes some of the world’s largest crocodiles – reptiles that have outlived the dinosaurs. The freshwater crocodile is reclusive and will usually flee from humans, whereas the estuarine (a.k.a. saltwater) crocodile can be unpredictable and dangerous. Both are magnificent animals and – if treated with respect – can be seen at very close quarters. Today you will see crocodiles – and a lot more wildlife – in their natural environment from a specially-constructed boat on the Mary River. With luck you will see numerous large “salties”, as well as some smaller freshwater crocs, and many species of birds including the symbol of Kakadu: the jabiru.
Day15: Arrive back in Darwin
After breakfast and a relaxing morning walk, depart for Darwin, stopping for lunch en route. On arrival you will be dropped at your accommodation – the same as before. The remainder of the afternoon and evening is free to relax.
Skycity Hotel & Resort, 1-night
Day16: Depart Darwin
The day is free until you arrange your own taxi (not included) to Darwin airport in time to check in for your international flight back to the UK.
Day17: Arrive UK
Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 17 daysfrom £6,495 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 14 daysfrom £5,195 pp
Single supplement: From £1,260
When to go: Aug
Located in the north-eastern corner of Australia’s Northern Territory, around 500 kilometres from the capital Darwin, Arnhem Land’s prolific wildlife includes the region’s largest predator – the saltwater crocodile – along with dugong and nesting turtles. It is home to hundreds of bird species.
Lying 240 kilometres east of Darwin, Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park. Covering almost 20,000 square kilometres it is a place of huge biodiversity whose rare endemic animals include more than a third of the country’s bird species and a quarter of its freshwater and estuarine fish species.
150 kilometres east of Darwin, Mary River National Park consists of various small reserves that protect the catchment area of the river and its floodplain. Freshwater billabongs, paperbark and monsoon forests offer excellent opportunities for watching wildlife, fishing, bushwalking and photography.
Where: Northern Territory
Ideal for viewing: saltwater crocodile, magpie goose, black-necked stork, white-bellied sea eagle, water buffalo
Excellent for: Walking safaris, Vehicle safaris
The capital and largest city of Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory, Darwin lies on the Timor Sea. Originally a pioneer outpost, the area is the ancestral home of the Larrakia Aboriginal people and gateway to the impressive Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land.
Where: Northern Territory
Excellent for: City stopover
Suggested accommodation options are shown below.
for further recommendations.
Arnhemland Safari Lodge began in 1986, when the area’s traditional owners approached Max Davidson about setting up a venture at Mount Borradaile in the heart of Arnhem Land. It has since evolved to offer accommodation and facilities that complement the wilderness experience, plus a range of activities.
Nestling in 12 hectares of tropical gardens beside the Arafura Sea, Skycity is a bustling resort with excellent accommodation, a wide choice of dining options, conference and event facilities and a casino. As Darwin’s only five-star oceanfront resort, it also boasts a private white-sand beach.