Wet Season Kakadu, Katherine and Litchfield - 5 night trip.
When I am in the gallery I am regularly asked for advice about what there is to see when doing the tourist loop out of Darwin to Kakadu National Park, Katherine and Litchfield. There are a number of itineraries that can be followed, but here is my recommendation for a four wheel drive or high clearance trip.
Now it must be remembered that water crossings all have the potential to be dangerous, so all information contained is provided assuming all crossings are safe to transit at the time of visiting.
Generally hire vehicles can be collected early on the day of travel, so in order to maximise your time - the following is recommended.
1. Drive from Darwin to Bowali Visitor Centre enjoying the road side stops and points of interest. Visit the Information centre and collect latest road condition information, maps etc.
2. Drive to Nourlangie rock art site. Anbangbang Billabong access is generally closed off in the wet season due to high water levels, but the art site is open most of the year.
3. From here back-track to the Jabiru turn off and head out to Ubirr. Magella creek is the point of concern here and is opened and closed according to the water levels. Assuming you can get through Magella - enjoy sunset from Nadab Lookout, and the rock art gallery on your way up. Generally Merl campground is closed during the wet season and so are all the camp grounds near Nourlangie. The best place to plan to camp will be in Jabiru township itself.
4. After spending the night in Jabiru and looking around the town head south down the Kakadu Highway. If you are keen for a walk take the Nourlangie turn off again and follow the signs to Gubara. Gubara is a a small monsoon forest with some small swimming holes and in November the rare and colourful Leichardts Grasshopper can be found. Follow all crocodile warning signs. This is a 6 km return walk and you will get wet feet as small creeks run across the pathway.
5. If you did not get to Nourlangie the day before head there now otherwise continue south to Cooinda and Yellow Water Billabong. Most attractions are likely to be closed along the way due to high water levels, but it is a magic experience especially when in full flood.
6. Arriving at Cooinda, this where you can spend your second night. If you arrive in time for the sunset cruise it is a must, but if you don't - the sunrise on Yellow Water I find has more magic as you see and hear the billabong waking up. Warradjan Cultural Centre and its interpretive display is a must see. After 8 years of eating at Cooinda restaurants I have never had a bad meal which is a testament to the Chefs and the kitchen they have.
7. The following morning do the sunrise cruise if you missed the sunset the night before - but an early start is better if you want to make the day easier. Continue heading south down the Kakadu Highway towards Pine Creek taking in any lookouts that may be open along the way. Maguk or Barrumundi Gorge and Grave side Gorge (this one is permit only) will be closed in the wet season and need to skipped. Before reaching the southern Kakadu Ranger Station take the left hand turn to Gunlom. This is a dirt road and whilst maintenance is regular it is subject to erosion and must be driven accordingly. Gunlom will be closed but half way there is Yurmikmik Walks.
8. Yurmikmik walks is home to Boulder Creek Falls, Motor Car Falls and Kurrundie. The must sees here are Boulder Creek a short 1km return walk and Motor Car Falls a 8km return walk. Swimming can be done at both locations. Kurrundie is for the more adventurous and not as spectacular as the other two locations.
9. On completing these 2 walks return along the Gunlom Road back to the Kakadu Highway and south past the Ranger Station. Again enjoy lookouts such as Ikoymarrwa Lookout. At the bottom of the jump-up is a T junction. About 1km in through here is Rockhole. (formerly called Moline Rockhole) A perfect swimming hole which remains as such all year. If you are running late do not worry, continue another 5km on to Mary River Road House where you can spend your third night. Again unfortunately all camping areas are closed or not maintained during the wet season. Night 3 will be well spent here unless you have the time to push on to Pine Creek or Katherine.
10. Depending on your travel times and how far you have got so far depends on when to see Edith Falls (either before visiting Katherine or after). 40km north of Katherine it has camping facilities (no accommodation) but definitely should not be missed. The lower falls have a large plunge pool generally closed for swimming in the wet season, whilst the upper falls is often open, but swimming depends on the volume of water in regards to safety. Well worth the walk to the top falls.
11. Umbrawarra Gorge near Pine Creek is also another location which can be done either on the way to or from Katherine once you have left Kakadu National Park. 22km in off the road the dirt road is well maintained but can have some bad spots in the bottom of the creek crossings, so as always should be driven with care and according to the conditions.
12. At this junction you may have spent the night at either Mary River Roadhouse, Pine Creek, Umbrawarra Gorge, Edith Falls or Katherine depending on how far you travelled during the day. My philosophy is to see less and enjoy each place, but the great thing about this part of the Northern Territory is that if you travel back along the same road you can see things in a different order without causing major changes to your itinerary. The Territory is a relaxed place so make your holiday the same.
13. So assuming you have been down to Katherine, seen the Katherine Gorge, and back again and are now heading north to Pine Creek there are the usual haunts like Emerald Springs Roadhouse and Hayes Creek Roadhouse to stop for a rest, fuel and or food. Next thing on the trip is the town of Adelaide River, home to the Adelaide River War Cemetery. A deeply moving place for quiet reflection for the men and women who saved Australia and made it the awesome place it is today.
14. From here it is into Litchfield National Park. Highlights are Buley Rockhole, Florence falls, Tolmer Falls and Wangi Falls. A night at either Batchelor township or camping at Wangi Falls will be the final night of your trip.