Darwin, Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park in the Top End of Australia are one of the highlights of a trip down under. It is one of our favourite areas of this incredible country and should definitely put it on to your Australian itinerary. The time of year you visit will affect your experience greatly; probably more than anywhere else in the country.
The Indigenous Australians of the Top End worked out that Darwin and the surrounding areas didn’t have the standard four seasons, but six: monsoon, storm, cold humid, cold dry, hot dry, hot humid (pre/monsoon).
However, for a visitor, you essentially need to think of it as having two seasons: the dry and the wet. Due to its proximity to the equator, the Top End is hot all year round. You’ll rarely see the temperature drop below 30C in the day and it remains fairly warm at night too. The majority of travellers tend to visit in the dry season, but the wet has its advantages too.
Whenever you visit, it's a good idea to make early starts and late finishes, allowing you to avoid the intensity of the midday heat.
Here are our thoughts on the best time to visit Darwin, Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks.
Best time to visit Darwin, Kakadu and Litchfield National Park
The Dry - June to September
This is when the national parks are at their busiest, as most people want to visit during the dry as all areas are accessible. All of the roads should be open and if you are keen to do any hiking then this is definitely the time you need to visit as all trails should be open (unless there are bush fires).
Whilst temperatures will still be high, it is the coolest time of year to visit and the humidity will be lower. The other benefit is that the dry season reduces the size of the waterholes, making wildlife spotting easier. You’ll spot a lot more birds and wildlife who congregate at the few waterholes left in the middle of the dry season.
It is also the most pleasant time to be in Darwin which gets unbearably hot and humid for those who aren't used to it in the wet season.
Drawbacks of the Dry Season
There are a couple of downsides to visiting during the dry though: this is when you will encounter the most crowds (although we did find that getting up from sunrise meant we often had the most popular places to ourselves still).
If you are a waterfall lover, the falls will have the least flow during this time, we still found them impressive, but during the wet is when they are at their most wild and wonderful. If you are planning a scenic flight for your visit to Kakadu or Litchfield you may be a little disappointed in the dry.
Read more: Best things to do in Kakadu
The dry season flight route will not take you over any waterfalls at all, sticking to the flood plains. Whilst we enjoyed our flight, it was nothing like the spectacle we had read about flying over Jim Jim and Twin Falls in the wet.
It is also the time when back-burning occurs. Back-burning is necessary to reduce the effects of natural bushfires which can devastate the wilderness, but for visitors it can mean that the area gets smokey.
It meant a number of sunsets were washouts as the thick smoke filled the air and masked the colours from the sun. Overall though we didn't find it too much of a problem, and enjoyed visiting at this time.
Read more: Best things to do in Darwin
The less popular time to visit Darwin, Kakadu and Litchfield National Park
The Wet (November - March)
The a huge advantage to travelling in the wet is the lack of other visitors around and prices are significantly lower. The Top End is an incredibly wild and beautiful part of Australia and having areas to yourself would be very special.
Waterfalls will be at their most spectacular, and scenic flights at their most magical. The Yellow Water cruise, a highlight of Kakadu National Park will be able to get to areas inaccessible during the dry season.
Visiting in the wet would be an entirely different experience, we imagine it would be like visiting a completely different place, and we would love to return in the wet.
Read more: The best time to visit Uluru & Alice Springs
Drawbacks of the Rainy Season
There are definite disadvantages to visiting during the wet. The rainy season in Darwin, Litchfield and Kakadu can be a real challenge for visitors. Getting around is a lot tougher as the rivers rise and flood the roads.
Driving could be hazardous for those not used to these conditions and definitely check your rental agreement. You will need a 4x4, when we rented ours in the dry we were forbidden from making water crossings, make sure your agreement allows this, or you would be seriously restricted.
Crocs will also be able to get into more areas, with rivers and waterholes joining up. Swimming in the wet will be a no no (which is a real highlight of the Top End and a shame to miss out on for a first time visitor).
Read more: Instagrammable spots in the Outback
We would definitely advise first time visitors to the Top End to visit during the dry so as to see as much of this incredible area as possible. The wet would make for an amazing return visit, and the chance to see the area in a completely different light.
Read more: Best things to do in Alice Springs
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Have you visited the Top End in the wet season? Any advice for our return visit? Let us know in the comments below.
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