Enjoying the view at Gunlom c/o @thewanderingmama
Pull out the camping gear and say no to Netflix!
Come the Dry Season Darwin families are itching to get out and about and enjoy the glorious weather. It's all about the outdoors - and the best way get amongst it all is to dust off the camping gear and head out bush. Here are 5 awesome kid-friendly spots to pitch your tent in Top End national parks that work a treat for families with little tykes. These places come highly recommended by Darwin families.
As well as being awe inspiring they are also significant for Aboriginal people today. There are Sacred Sites in these places and all of the national parks are Aboriginal owned. Yep, the Top End is a pretty unique part of Australia!
JAWOYN COUNTRY - Kakadu National Park
The infinity-style plunge pools at the top of Gunlom Falls are some of the most beautiful in Australia. And, the million dollar views from the top are jaw-dropping. This place is easily one of the most instagrammable spots in the Top End.
The top pools at Gunlom
To get to the top pools requires some hefty heave-ho! It's a steep and strenuous 1km hike uphill. So, if you have little kids, be prepared to carry them, bribe them, or both. But, on the positive side, the climb up keeps the hoards away, making the plunge pools a tad less crazy. And, you can often find some more secluded little spots along the creek for a picnic and a splash if you venture upstream.
Taking the plunge in the top pools
People wax lyrical about the top pools, but the pool at the bottom of Gunlom Falls is also gorgeous, and perfect for families with little kids. There is a "little" sandy beach and some shallow spots for paddling. And it's an easy saunter on a "stroller-friendly" path from the campground. For Jawoyn people Bula, the most important creation ancestor who made the the features of the landscape lives in the bottom pool.
If you are a Facebook junkie, you can breathe easy because there is free wifi in the day use area (during park opening hours). So you can post your snaps on Facebook, or to Instagram. If you are the sharing type, use #NTAustralia, or #TourismTopEnd, and who knows it might get shared to the masses by the NT Tourism or Top End Tourism!
The bottom pools are really important for Jawoyn people
The campground is large with hot water showers and loos and some wildlife if you are lucky! It's roughly a 4.5 hour drive from Darwin with a decent chunk on unsealed roads, so 4WD is best. So, we camp for at least 2 nights to make it worthwhile.
# Leliyn (Edith Falls)
JAWOYN COUNTRY - Nitmuluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)
There's lots to love about Leliyn! There is no doubt that this place is stunning. The waterfalls and brilliant red rock formations are impressive, and the huge natural swimming pool at the bottom of the falls is awe-inspiring. By NT standards, it's not too far from Darwin, about 2.5 to 3 hours drive, and it's bitumen all the way. It's definitely on the tourist trail, and is a favourite camping spot for grey nomads.
Two of my favourite Darwin kids chilling at the bottom pool c/o Kamala
It's a short meander from the campground to the vast and "refreshing" (i.e. icy) bottom pool. Don't be alarmed if some little fish nibble between your toes. It's kind of like the "fish spa pedicures" in Bali, but it's free! Swimming noodles or vests come in handy for littlies because it gets deep quickly from the main entry platform. Head down to the lower pool for a sunset picnic when the day trippers have gone because it's lovely and peaceful and the perfect way to end the day.
The campground itself is a favourite of many Darwin families (including us) because its grassy and green with shady trees, and there are BBQs, picnic benches, hot showers and a little cafe with snacks, drinks, and the all important ice creams.
It's so easy with a swimming noodle!
Make sure you get to the top pools. They are stunning and much quieter. It's a fair hike up on a marked track with some rock clambering for kids. But, the promise of a chocolate paddle pop works wonders for us. If you want to make the camping experience a bit more challenging, you can do an overnight hike from Leliyn to Sweet Water Pool, on the famous Jatbula Trail, but don't forget to organise a permit.
# Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park
Tjuwaliyn is fabulously family-friendly! For a start, it's totally do-able for a weekend camping trip being around 2 hours drive from Darwin. But, the best bit hands-down is the picturesque stream and thermal springs which create an oasis attracting birds and other native critters. There are lots of sandy shallow areas in the stream which are perfect for little tykes who can swim, splash, dig and explore for hours on end. The mix of hot and cold water creates spots where you can bask in the relaxing warm water. And, to top it all off, the camp ground is just an easy hop, skip and jump away.
Photo credit: caravanparkphotos.com.au
According to a local Darwin expert "hot baths in the bush are like the best ever", and "getting prune fingers is awesome, but totally gross".
This is Wagiman country, and a special area for the women who have the cultural responsibility for looking after the park.
The campground is pretty basic and can get busy, especially on weekends and public holidays in the Dry Season. Try and nab a spot with some shade if you can. The last 7km is on an unsealed road but is generally ok with a 2WD in the Dry Season.
# Maguk (Barramundi Falls)
JAWOYN COUNTRY - Kakadu National Park
Ah Maguk! This place is a little gem in the southern-section of Kakadu, and perfect if you want to get away from it all. It's not as well-known as the likes of Gunlom and Leliyn, and is more challenging if you have little kids in your gang. But the upside is that it's not as busy, and if you do venture here you are more likely to have moments at the plunge pools where it's just you, the kids and the fish.
It's roughly a 1km to hike to Maguk from the campground through shady monsoon forest (which feels cool on a hot day) with some rock scrambling. But, once you arrive you'll be be rewarded. The pool is clear, gorgeous. Noodles are a good idea here because it's deep. If you can get to the top of the falls, the view is nice and there are more pools to explore - but the hike is fairly challenging for little kids.
The campsite at Maguk is basic, and the last part of the road is unsealed and best with a 4WD. Spend a few days here and soak it all up because it takes about 4 hours to get here!
# Umbrawarra Gorge
WAGIMAN COUNTRY - Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park
For a gorgeous spot not far off the tourist trail, Umbrawarra is a relatively unknown and special little spot. The gorge is fairly narrow in places which creates a unique little ecosystem with ferns and other delicate plants. The best bit for families is the white sandy beach with clear shallow water. If you have older kids it's great to explore further up the gorge. It's a fair walk from the campground following the creek to the gorge. You can try and find the Aboriginal rock art on the gorge walls, but it's pretty well hidden!
Make sure you visit in the early to mid Dry Season because the creek is flowing and the water holes are full. It can get stagnant later on in the Dry Season.The campground is small and a "no Frills" affair with a drop loo that can get on the nose. It's about 3 hours from Darwin near Pine Creek and you can get there in a 2WD in the Dry Season, but be warned it can be bumpy and dusty!
Camping in the Top End is best April - August, (depending on the wet season). Check road conditions, campsite and waterhole closures before you head off. Make sure you read all the croc warning signs, and take care. Campsites can get really busy during weekends and public holidays in the Dry Season.
Thanks to friends, and many others including the Top End Mums FB Page, and Darwin Mums and Bubs Facebook page for sharing your favourite camping spots!
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Growing up Troppo is about people sharing their little gems, their favourite places to stay, eat and place with kids. I'm not getting any freebies or incentives to profile or write about the places in this article. I just hope it's useful for parents who are in desperate need of a getaway from Darwin, or those visiting!
Libby Larsen - Growing up Troppo
I live in Darwin in the Top End of Australia with my lovely partner and two little boys. I have fallen in love with most things about life here; the sunset picnics, the relaxed outdoor lifestyle, interesting people and amazing landscapes. I'm not sure about you but when I'm heading somewhere a good friend has been to, I always ask, "Where did you stay? What are the best places to eat with kids? I trust their advice and insights. Growing up Troppo provides honest and independent advice for families.