After exploring the Red Centre for a week, we hop on the Ghan again, direction Darwin and the Top End region. Such a big change of landscape and climate when we disembark the train in Darwin.
The heat of the tropics shocks us,not used to it anymore and in a few minutes, we take jackets and jumpers off:-)
Settled in our hotel (Vibe Waterfront), we go for a wonder around. People are still enjoying the lagoon, palm trees are everywhere and it feels like summer! I love Australia, you can find so much diversity without changing country and on top of that, there is always a place where it's warm and sunny at anytime of the year :-)
We got 4 days in Darwin and it's going to be tight...ready to explore it with us?
06th, July 2014
The Top End
Darwin, Kakadu & Litchfield
1. Darwin, Acity with a holyday feel !
I don't know why but I used to have a bad opinion about this city and as a consequence, I didn't want to visit it for a while...but here we are and pretty quickly I realise I was wrong..!
Prejudice is so bad...Darwin is actually a great Australian little city to come and relax, enjoy the warm days when it's winter everywhere else! In the region, there is no winter or summer, but a dry or a wet season. Dry season (May-Octobre) is the most preferable time for a visit with minimum temperature of 25°C. The Wet season can be pretty harsh for those who are not used to it...the area gets flooded frequently, humidity rate is very high and it can pour rain for days...
June is then perfect!
The city has all the pubs, bars, disco, al fresco restaurants you can ever imagine! And we especially notice the wave lagoon! Better than in Cairns, Brisbane or else, there is artificial wave in this lagoon, that's so much more fun :-) ($7 open from 10am to 6pm)
For a romantic dinner: we have tested a sunset dinner cruise in the harbour. Sunsets are a special things here in Darwin, the sky gets red, the sun sets over the sea, it's just spectacular and even better aboard a vessel with a cocktail in hand! Seafood and a full feast are here for us to enjoy while the boat is cruising around, a nice way to finish a day in Darwin.
Price: from $70 per person, buffet dinner and a 2h30 cruise
For a bit of adventure and thrill: we go to Crocosaurus Cove, a wildlife park specialised in reptiles, mostly found in the Top End region. You meet about 70 reptile species here that we haven't seen anywhere else before. Since I got to Australia, I've developed a sympathy for these big goannas and monitors, so it's a perfect place for me and I enjoy listening to Josh, our guide who gives us a VIP tour!
Crocosauraus Cove is mainly famous for its unique encounter : “swimming” with a giant saltwater crocodile...Max and I got to the Cage of Death...a glass cage submersed in Chopper's enclosure: he is a little fellow measuring more than 5 metres long!!
Ok so actually we don't swim, we stay still and observe this “monster” turning around the cage, checking us out with its devil eyes...scary... but what else did we expect?!
Being here, so close from the croc is impressive, we could appreciate its massive size and body. We go underwater, go back to the surface, Chopper stays still but attentive...he is wondering who are these two Frenchies in this cage!! Action starts when the keepers come and feed Chopper. He opens wide its jaws to catch chicken bits and closes them with tons of pressure...all this right next to us. We can see all the scene with detail and this freaks me out! Fingers crossed that the cage desn't break now... Relieved when the keepers slowly take the cage out of the aquarium...bye bye Chopper, nice to meet you!!
Price: from $160 for a person or $240 for 2 people in the cage at the same time
To see the crocodiles in their naturel habitat: Less than 1 hour from Darwin flows the Adelaide river, which is infested of crocs...many tourism operators have decided to make the most of it and offer cruises along the river. They feed them bits and pieces and crocodiles jump and swim around the boat to catch the meat. We went for the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise. Impressive it was, believe me you don't want to go for a swim in this river!!
Price: $35 per person
For a relaxing evening and a food experience: Every Thursday and Sunday, there are the Mindil Market on Mindil beach, happening in the late afternoon to see the sunset. A great choice of food is available and the atmosphere is very friendly, as we had been told, indeed we couldn't make it as we were not there on these days!!!
A pity they say...
Many tourists visit Darwin every year mostly attracted by the natural wonders the Top End region has to offer. Kakadu and Litchfield National Park are two stars up here. It's with excitation that we wake up with the sun on the following morning of our arrival to go on the road direction Kakadu first. With a rental 4WD, we start driving (without knowing yet that this will be the main thing we were going to do for the next two days: driving...).
Kakadu stands at about 300km from Darwin and it happens to be the largest national park in the whole country, spreading over 20'000 square kilometres, so basically half the size of Switzerland!!
So if you want to explore it and see its most beautiful spots, there is no other way than driving and having time (which we don't have..). Our road trip was epic and hectic! We had to rush between and on every site, we could not appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the park in the right way...
Our advice, one week is the ideal period of time in Kakadu. You don't have this luxury? Then book a guided tour going for 3-4 days. They will take you to the major attractions. Two days? Forget about it!!
2. TOP END Region !
Kakadu: to be immersed in a pure wilderness area and to discover Aboriginal culture and art.
We arrive frst to Jabiru, which is the main town in the national park. Here you will find internet, phone reception and various shops. We go straight for a scenic flight over the Arnhem land and Kakadu. We realise how massive the park is from the air. We fly over plateaux, rivers and wetlands. “During the Wet, all is water almost”, says the pilot! I try to spot a croc without success.!
The area is pure and wild on its majority. Not many people live here, there is just this big uranium mine to spoil the view...
Infos: Air Kakadu: www.kakaduair.com.au
Price: from $145 per adult for a 30 minute flight (we would recommend the 1h flight as it will take you above the waterfalls, which we couldn't see with the 30min one)
Then, Ubirr is not to be missed! North of the park, we find here aboriginal rock art and a stunning lookout over the plain. This is THE sunset spot in Kakadu. Very famous, we are not the only ones with the idea but still magic though :-)
Where to stay?
We had an amazing time at Gagudju Lodge in Cooinda, one hour South of Jabiru. People camp or stay in a cabin, people drink at the bar, people eat al fresco or enjoy a wonderful dinner at Mimi's restaurant. We opt for the last option and such a good experience. The food is delicious, just a bit sophisticated as we like it :-) We didn't expect the find this in the middle of the bush!The tomato soup was something you have never seen before!
Price: from $100 euros for a double cabin
What's ideal by staying here is that it's only 2 minute away from Yellow Water Billabong.
This is Kakadu most famous wetlands,where we hop on a boat for a 2 hour cruise at sunrise. One third of Australian birds species are found in Yellow Water. We keep our eyes open the observe them...crocodiles are never very far either ...and it's nice to see them in their habitat. They try to avoid the boat and hide in the water or below waterlillies. The early morning fog gives a special ambience to the wetlands, wildlife is awaking...like us! The show is at its best when the sun comes out and enlightens the whole billabong, spetacular!
A very famous spot for a reason :-)
Infos: Yellow Water Cruise: différentes options possibles: Lever/Coucher de soleil ou alors en journée.
Price:From $99 at sunrise
Cooinda is very close from Nourlangie (20 minutes), a site well known for its Aboriginal rock art. A place not to be missed either. During the Dry season (May-Octobre), there is a free range of cultrual activities happening in the national park. You can for example listen to the indigenous rangers talking about their country and the history behind these painting. Stop at Bowali information centre to get maps, planning and information needed to explore the park.
I look at the clock...and it's already time to leave...our biggest regrets? Not having been able to swim in the natural pool of Gunlom...or to see the Twin and Jim Jim Falls...too far still and not easily accessible...an excuse to come back!
Litchfield: for pristine waterfalls and natural pool to revive!
The following day, we head to Litchfield, our highlight in the North! Only 1 hour 30 from Darwin, this national park is very accessible and can be seen in only one day (always better to camp one night I would say). Here, it's paradise: the hardest decision of the day: where to stop and have a pic pic? All the falls are breathtaking but we don't have time to enjoy each...decision decision! :-)
The only thing is that the park is very popular, so avoid week ends or school holidays time to come and have a swim...(exactly what we didn't do).
Unlike Kakadu, Litchfield is “small” and every site is close to each other. We like that idea!
Florence Falls are very pretty but so visited on this Saturday afternoon...We try Buley Rock hole, same thing...but people come and go, so we manage to find a pool just to ourselves at least for 10 minutes :-)
Next stop: the impressive Wangi falls! We feel so small next to them ! Can't resist to jump in the water. I forgot to mention that this is a zone under crocodile management (rangers survey the water and take out the crocs who may arrive there during the Wet season = so it's pretty safe to swim). It's so much fun to go close to the falls, get all wet, I also make my way on the rocks and found a natural Jacuzzi. I could not touch the bottom, it was so deep!! A jump later, I'm back to the grass where I discover myself next to a big monitor! They are not dangerous, so no worries.
With Max, we follow the path in the monsoon rainforest and can't believe to see and hear thousands of bats !!! Such a chaos here..!
On our way back to Darwin, we stop at Tolmer Falls, not accessible for swimming, but the view from the platform is stunning.
Last but not least, we take a picture of the giant termite mounds (twice my size..!)
Such a great day, refreshed and happy, ready to board the plane!
Can't wait to come back one day :-)
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