Lonely Planet contributor, Tasmin Waby, just returned from a trip to the northernmost part of Australia's Northern Territory. Here, she shares details of a trip spent mainly on water in the lush green wetlands of the Top End.

A few years back I drove from Melbourne to Uluru with a friend, our camping gear and an Oz rock playlist. Three days and nights later we arrived in the Red Centre after a 2,380km one-way road trip via Coober Pedy in South Australia. Alice Springs was as far north as we got before we returned home, but I longed to go north to the Northern Territory's tropical city Darwin, as well as Litchfield, and Kakadu national parks. 

Earlier this year, I finally got the opportunity to go to the Top End (the nickname the Aussies give to the northernmost region of the Northern Territory, quite literally the "top end" of Australia). It was as hot as I expected, but the roads were far better than I hoped. The highlight though, was its watery landscapes – from dramatic escarpment waterfalls to swamps of lily pads and spotting crocodiles in the Yellow Water billabong. The Top End was rather wet. 

Pool area of a hotel in the Northern Territory at sunset
Sunset at the Mindil Beach Casino Resort © Tasmin Waby

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

Mainly in the Mindil Beach Casino Resort in Darwin. This almost-cartoonish sunset in the photo above is 100% real with no filter. The colors in the Top End are incredible. During the evenings the swimming pool at the resort here was full of travelers and locals mingling over drinks, with a DJ playing tunes.  

Tropical fruit breakfast
The Top End's unique climate and conditions allow a range of tropical fruits to grow © Tasmin Waby

Most memorable meal in the Top End?

A plate of fresh tropical fruit with a global influence. Here we have carambola (the star-shaped fruit) from Southeast Asia, plus papaya (or pawpaw), cantaloupe (we called it rockmelon in Sydney), watermelon, nectarine, strawberry, blueberries, and pomegranate.

Northern Territory wetlands
The lush wetlands of the Top End can be explored via airboat tours © Tasmin Waby

What was the most touristy activity you enjoyed?

Airboating across the Finnis River Wetlands. At first you’re speeding across a vast tropical wetland, wearing ear-defenders against the roar of the engine, with the air rushing through your hair like on a motorbike but without a helmet. Our guide, Chase, cut the engine, and we were bobbing in the middle of a watery wilderness looking out for crocodiles, listening to the call of birds and silently observing nature doing its thing.

Tasmin swimming in Buley Hole Waterfall
Swimming in Buley Rockhole (writer Tasmin pictured in the blue swimmers on the right) © Tasmin Waby

The best place to escape the heat?

Buley Rockhole in Litchfield National Park. Litchfield has plenty of dramatic waterfalls – and some you can swim at (during the right season, read the signage!) – but Buley Rockhole was easy to access. As it was a short walk from the carpark – on the Florence Falls road – we didn't need to lug all our things far in the heat or climbing in and out of a deep valley. It has a cascade of waterholes to plunge in, swim laps against the current, or just lounge in the cold natural stream and flowing down.

Scenes from Nimiluk Gorge in the Northern Territory
Guides James Brookes and Jodie Woods pictured alongside the pastel-hued Nitmiluk sunrise © Tasmin Waby

Where did you get away from the crowds?

Visiting Nitmiluk National Park and going for a pre-dawn walk to the Baruwei Lookout. The park is home to a series of 13 gorges, the most impressive and famous is the Katherine Gorge. It wasn’t high season so it wasn’t super busy in the gorges for our boat cruise with Aboriginal guides: Dalabon man, James Brookes and his Jawyon niece, Jodie Woods – but the next morning I got up early and climbed the steps to Baruwei Lookout to watch the sunrise and listen to the birds in the cool morning air. I’m not a morning person but whenever I’m on holiday I find myself wanting to catch a sunrise. 

What's the one item you recommend bringing to the Top End?

A hat, or buy one as soon as you can. Honestly I didn’t and I realized how essential one is too late. Look at all these sensible people enjoying themselves while I spent most of this short but steep walk viewing incredible Aboriginal rock art hiding in any shade I could find and guzzling water to stay hydrated. 

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