Off the beaten track in the Top End
If you've been to Darwin, and Australia's 'Top End' once, you are likely to have heard of - and perhaps had the pleasure of visiting - Ubirr, Cahill's Crossing, Yellow Waters and Cooinda, Buleys Rockhole, Florence Falls, and Wangi Falls. But for those who seek some more adventure, and further justification for purchasing that fuel guzzling 4wd, check out some of my top favourite 'off the beaten track' spots in the Top End.
Koolpin Gorge (Jarrangbarnmi) - Kakadu National Park
I was told about this special place by a good friend who used to live in Darwin, 'my favourite waterhole' - she had described it. It is one of those places you do not really hear about and if you have, the planning and logistics required probably meant you have not been. Not complicated, but you need to book your permit well in advance, as the maximum 40 persons per day books out very early in the season, especially if you are seeking to go during the busy months.
You will pick up a key at the Mary River Ranger Station and head towards Gunlom. The 4wd track in is moderately easy - when you get to the creek crossing, look for the path that goes up to the right; often people continue down the creek leading nowhere.
The campground is large, with one set of drop toilets. From there the trail head is only a few hundred meters back on the road you drove in on. The track to the pools is uneven, so I recommend wearing proper shoes. When we were there, swimming in the Campground pool and Vegetation pool was not advisable due to presence of salt water crocodiles. We avoided the Pink pool and spent most of the day being lizards in and around the Black pool. There is a track above the pools that continues on for kilometres if you are prepared - if not, it is still worth heading up to the top for some great views.
The evenings were unexpectedly cold, we guess temperatures dropped down to 6-8 degrees celsius - none of us were prepared and Alicia and I had only a doona! We donned every article of clothing we packed and shared body heat to survive the two nights!
The trip back was a bit of an adventure. I had replaced my front left tyre prior to the trip and must not have tightened the lug nuts well enough. The vibrations from the corrugation rattled them loose and eventually broke one of the studs resulting in the tyre flying ahead while the ute came to a crashing stop. We were lucky to have just crossed through the croc infested river and therefore going at a slow rate of speed up a small embankment. I was able to apply some bush mechanics, and robbed nuts off the other wheels, to get us back to civilisation.
Despite this little hiccup, Koolpin Gorge (Jarrangbarnmi) is highly recommended - remember, book early!
Motor Car Falls - Kakadu National Park
One of the Yurmikmik walks, Motor Car Falls is a 7.5km return trek and best done in the wet season. People say that the walk is super exposed, however, I didn't feel that it was that bad, even though we started out in late morning. Alicia brought a small umbrella for some shade, which turned out to be an awesome idea. The walk in was beautiful as green shoots of life were bursting out all around us.
Word of advice, take note of the junction halfway as on the return leg the signs are super confusing and could easily head down the wrong path.
The fairly easy walk in was fairly quick and sweaty, it didn't take much to convince us to dive into the deep plunge pool, which we had all to ourselves.
This trip was topped off with a wet season camp at Kambolgie Campground. There was just one other pair of campers taking the risk as black clouds rolled in and thunder cracked off into the distance. Once I frantically staked down our shelter, after almost being carried off like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Alicia and I enjoyed an amazing light show over the Kakadu escarpments.
As with Koolpin, I also highly recommend this little wet season gem!
Sybel Springs - Litchfield National Park
A couple of years back, my mate Josh and I heard of this secret spot. We believed it to be so secret as we could only find one video on it and failed to locate information on how to access it. Fast forward to the NT Park's online booking system that rolled out in 2022, we realised it is not spelt 'Sybil ...'
Google clearly knows where 'Sybel' springs is located, so we packed the 4wd and went to explore.
A high clearance 4wd is definitely required for a steep and rutted out section near the end. The campsite (book here) is at the end of the track on top a ridge with beautiful views, however, no facilities - so bring your poo shovel.
The path from the camp is steep and slippery. Our first impression was not great as we quickly stumbled across the top pools, which were stagnant and gross - a consequence of coming at the end of the dry season. We decided to explore further, heading downstream first, and happily finding the deeper pool where we had lunch with Larry the Lizard and swam, hoping his mate Charlie the Croc wasn't around.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack my shoes, so equipped with thongs, we went exploring upstream to find more pools to cool down in. Aside from lack of proper footwear, we were not prepared to do any further exploration, however, there clearly is more to see upstream from the main pools.
Josh and I were lucky to have had the camp all to ourselves and watching the sun go down and gazing into the dark night sky sleeping next to the fire (without any bugs!) was absolutely magical.
This would be a great spot in June / July, before the top pools, and falls, start to dry up. We will definitely be prepared to do a few hours trekking above the pools next time.