7 Incredible Self-Drive Day Trips from Darwin

Darwin is a laid-back coastal city, but dramatic natural landscapes and wild outdoor swimming holes are just a short drive away. Local Katie McIntosh shares her best Darwin day trips.


Mataranka Thermal Pools, Darwin Photo © Katie McIntosh

Mary River

Mary River is a one-hour drive from Darwin, and makes for an enjoyable quick road trip or overnight stay. Mary River Wilderness Retreat is a great spot for bushwalking, with trails to suit all fitness levels, from the 1mi (1.6km) Wallaby Walk to the 4mi (6.4km) River Walk. If you have time, continue on to Mary River National Park for more bushwalking trails and vast wildlife-rich billabongs, including Mistake Billabong. However, it's not for swimming; Mary River is infested with crocodiles.

On the way back, stop in at Wetland View Top in Beatrice Hill, a lookout point with interactive exhibits.

A boat trip on Mary River, Northern Territory, Australia.
A boat trip on Mary River. Photo credit: Katie McIntosh

Kakadu National Park

Just under two hours’ from Darwin, Kakadu is Australia’s biggest national park, known for its wildlife, waterfalls, history and incredible natural scenery. If you’re short on time, you can still get a taste of this enormous park on a day trip by joining a tour from Darwin to pack the most in. A day tour is filled with as many sights as possible, including visits to Indigenous sites, waterfalls, and lookout points along the way.

Or, hire a car and go it alone. While you’re there, hike the steep, rocky trail to Jim Jim Falls or take a dip in Maguk Gorge.

Litchfield National Park

A 90-minute drive from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is much smaller than Kakadu, and is well suited for a day trip as there is a loop road through the park with plenty of well-marked places to stop off. Cool off at one of the many swimming holes including beautiful Florence Falls, the Buley Rockhole or Wangi Falls. As with most swimming sites in the Northern Territory, they are only accessible during the dry season due to crocs.

A waterfall in Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
A waterfall in Litchfield National Park. Photo credit: Katie McIntosh

Robin Falls

Robin Falls is a quiet waterfall about a 90-minute drive from Darwin. Since it is lesser known, you won’t find any tour groups here, but don’t be surprised if you see the odd harmless water snake or water monitor. It's a great place to cool off after going on a must-do crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River. 

Sweets Lagoon

Sweets Lagoon, on the Finnis River, is famous for its iconic five-meter-long, territorial crocodile Sweetheart, who used to chew motors off boats in the 1970s. 

Berry Springs Nature Reserve

Berry Springs is another gorgeous natural swimming hole, about 40 minutes from Darwin, with a choice of water holes to swim in. Visit after a day exploring the Territory Wildlife Park, where you can observe wildlife native to the area such as colorful birds and the Olive Python, or after a picnic in nature at Manton Dam.

Pubs along the road

There’s no better place to experience the charming and endearing character of the Northern Territory than at a pub. The Humpty Doo Hotel, Berry Springs Tavern, and Noonamah Tavern are fantastic local spots where you can eat a classic Aussie pub meal washed down with a cold beer.

Logistics and planning

When to visit

Darwin has two main seasons, a wet season and a dry season. During the wet season, from November to April, many of these places are flooded, and therefore inaccessible. Travel during the dry season, from May to October, for better weather – though this is peak season for travel, so you can expect larger crowds.

Crocodile safety

The Northern Territory is full of oasis-like swimming holes. It’s also crocodile country, home to the Saltwater Crocodile. Don’t be fooled by the name – they live in freshwater, too. Read the signs and only swim in designated areas.

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  • John Hughes said

    Hi Katie

    I have been trying to find a day trip to see Darwin River Dam with three friends, can you make a suggestion, please.

    Thank you

    John Hughes

  • Sophie said

    I’m a bit confused that Kakadu is apparently “just under 2 hours from Darwin”. I don’t know how fast you are driving, but it takes 3.5 hours just to get to the western most edge of the park...

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