I returned a couple of days ago from a most enjoyable road trip to the “Top End”. This forum was a source of excellent information so, hoping that there’s something in my post that will be helpful to others. We are an older couple with some health issues that meant that strenuous walks were not on the plan, travelling with our adult son for support. We had a converted Toyota Hiace long wheel based campervan and towed a Teardrop – a compact self constructed trailer/caravan so travelling on rough roads or off road was not possible.
Firstly, two other sources of information were particularly helpful: www.parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/index.html and also a website by Birjit Bradtke
www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/ This website has some good information however her ebooks were comprehensive and worth the investment.
Our dream was to visit Kakadu, Kununurra and Lake Argyle however we added Litchfield and Nitmilik National Parks and also Mataranka to our itinerary. After driving from Brisbane, we left Mount Isa where we met our son. After this we had almost four weeks available before returning there for his homeward flight. We headed for Kakadu, entering via the Kakadu Highway, and stopping at the Mary River Roadhouse where the only information there was about current road conditions displayed on a noticeboard – very necessary especially for 4WD explorers.
1. Kakadu National Park for six nights. The first four of these we stayed at Mardugal and this was the stand out camp of our entire trip. The facilities were very clean, the environment really comfortable with shade and grass and a layout that was conducive to interaction with other campers. It was the only camp that had a resident Camp Manager, Gina, and she was a source of information and set the friendly tone of the place. [ During our visit we did take a look at the other camps.] From here we visited Mirral Lookout, Nourlangie, Anbangbang Billabong, Bowali centre, Cooinda. The sunset Yellow Water Cruise was spectacular. After being advised that the mossies at Merl were indeed ferocious, we spent the last two nights at Kakadu Resort, Jabiru. From here we visited Ubir, Guluyambi, Cahills Crossing and Mamukala Wetlands.
Ubir was the pinnacle of our visit to Kakadu largely because of the lovely young guide who shared his love of [his] country and explained the culture of his people. We felt truly privileged to be able to listen to his stories and to learn from him.
We appreciated the many Ranger talks each evening, the guided walks and tours. These contributed immensely to our knowledge and enjoyment. A schedule was given to us when we obtained our Park passes at Cooinda – also available at the Bowali information Centre.
2. We made a hurried departure from Kakadu because one of us needed a dentist urgently and we headed for Humpty Doo, a pleasant town with doctors, other services and a helpful dental practice that had no appointments for several days but found us a dentist in Darwin. Once the tooth was extracted we continued to Litchfield National Park. It was fun to relax there, especially in the Wangi pool however, in the Litchfield v Kakadu debate we are on the Kakadu side! That’s mainly because of the cultural interaction and spiritual nature we felt in Kakadu. We had been told that the caravan parks at Batchelor were full so we instead stayed at the Adelaide River Showground Camp and this was basic and very pleasant.
3. Katherine Gorge – Nitimilik was next on our itinerary. I can recommend a lunch stop at the Pine Creek Railway Restaurant – try their Barra Burgher! In hindsight I would stay in Katherine instead of at the Nitmilik Caravan Park as this spoiled our plans to stay several days and do some walks. It was way overcrowded with three large groups camped out in the grassed community area as well as 100% occupation of the carpark like sites. Queuing to access the amenities block was the order of the day whatever the time. We took the two gorge cruise – lovely – got a refund for two days and went on our way.
4. Kununurra – we extended our stay here we liked the place so much. There is so much to see, especially if you have engineering, horticulture, gardening interests and the like and it is also a relaxed place. We drove around Packsaddle Road where we visited Oria Orchards – try their frozen chocolate banana on a stick – Zebra Rock to see the rock art, aboriginal artwork, feed the catfish and enjoy the Ord River. A drive down Ivanhoe Road to the Crossing was good and our visit to the Sandalwood Factory interesting.
5. I had read many comments that a visit to Wyndham was a waste of time however other travellers contradicted this and after a day in Wyndham, I agree with them. It’s a pleasant drive, the Grotto just before Wyndham was surprising and the view of the Five Rivers from the Lookout from Wyndham well worth the drive. Lunch at the Rusty Shack wasn’t too bad either!
6. From Wyndham we went to Lake Argyle where we enjoyed the lunchtime cruise on the lake. It’s a massive lake and we didn’t go far however we saw fresh water crocs, rock wallabies, fish, many birds and got an appreciation of the engineering feat it is. Lunch – barbecued silver cobbler ie catfish was very good as was the dip in the lake, wine glass [ plastic] in hand. The helicopter flight gave an extended appreciation of the lake – recommend a late afternoon flight as the colours were magnificent then. The camp at Lake Argyle was very pleasant however it takes only ten bookings per day so if you are worried about getting in during peak period you need to arrive by 10am. Once in, you can stay as long as you want. In retrospect, I would stay longer at Kununurra and take a tour to Lake Argyle as you can be picked up by bus, cruise the lake then travel back to Kununurra by boat along the Ord River.
7. Bitter Springs, Mataranka was another very pleasant stop. Make sure you have a noodle or two for floatation for children or anyone who is not confident in water. It is quite deep, warm and peaceful to go with the flow a short distance downstream. Thongs are also needed for the short walk back.
Accommodation along the way – there are several free overnight rest stops along the highways however my party refused to stay with the crowds of grey nomads [ our age!] who were set up in them when we pulled in for lunch or a snack. www.caravancaravan.com.au has a comprehensive list of both day and overnight stops around the country. The Roadhouses have camp grounds and we found the facilities and environments generally very good
Those are the main points!