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Inspiration for your next adventure around the Northern Territory's Top End.

Beyond the Stuart Highway

Explore lesser known areas out in the bush and in and around the massive waterway systems of the Douglas and Daly Rivers. The Old Stuart Highway is the link to several national parks, waterfalls and quirky places to stay (perfect for the wet season). Fishing is a very popular pastime and the Daly River is home to many fishing camps where barramundi is a sought-after catch – so much so that there are annual fishing competitions including The Million Dollar Fish which runs during the wet season and the run-off after the rains. This is incredibly popular where fish are tagged with $10,000 prizes as well as the must have Million Dollar Fish!!

Access to the Old Stuart Highway is via the Stuart Highway either from Adelaide River or further south at Hayes Creek. It’s a narrow, sealed road and winds around hills decorated with trees, palms and lush grasses. Now and again the escarpment rears up in the distance as the road follows the valley crossing a few floodways. 

Today’s journey follows the route from Hayes Creek to the Douglas Daly Conservation Area and beyond to Daly River to end up back at Adelaide River.

There are few surprises on the way!!


Off we go!
Firstly, stock up on fuel, food and water as there are minimal places en-route.
Note there is no fuel at Emerald Springs. There is also very little phone service throughout the region.

The journey is a bit contorted! – From the Hayes Creek follow the signs to the Daly Tourist Region, turning onto Oolloo Road. All through the Douglas Daly Conservation Area, rivers and floodways criss-cross huge paddocks of hay and long, low-lying irrigation systems stretch for hundreds of metres. The hay bales are precisely cut into rectangles and stacked ready to be picked up by a road train. Beware, these roads are winding and narrow and the multi-trailer trucks are huge. 

Head towards Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park. (Note that at present this park is closed so check before you take this detour - check here). The road is unsealed and very dusty, so be careful. There is a large camping and day-use area with only basic facilities. Wander down the steps to the river where pools have been cut off from the flowing river. Sandy beaches line the water’s edge and pandanus and palms provide plenty of shade. Paddle in the pools or wander through the shallows.
BEWARE THE WATER IS VERY HOT. This is a special place and important to the local Aboriginal people, so please respect their culture and the environment and do not go near the sacred sites. 

Return to Oolloo Road and stop off at the Douglas Daly Holiday Park, part of the Douglas Daly Conservation Area. Pick up a mud map from the office and take a drive along the river to the end of the riverside camping areas. The Arches and waterhole are dramatic; water oozes through the gap in the limestone and heads down into a natural tunnel of rock surrounded by pandanus and eucalypts.

Plan to spend a day or two here. Camp alongside the river or stay in the cabins. There are plenty of options from powered sites (if you need the A/C) or cabins alongside the swimming pool. Bush camping is also available. 

Explore further along Oolloo Road and if you have a 4WD you can get right down to the banks of the mighty Daly River at Oolloo Crossing. Alternatively head back to the Old Stuart Highway to continue the journey to Daly River.

It is a 30km detour but the Daly River Region is heaven for fishermen and people who want to escape the city. Stay for a few days in one of the many fishing camps and enjoy a campfire as the sun sets over the water.

The Daly River is a massive waterway, with a catchment of over 52,000 sq km. It is one of the largest river systems in the Northern Territory, as three rivers combine west of Arnhem Land to flow 320km to the ocean. The drive follows the valley alongside rolling red escarpments, creeks and gum trees. In the dry season the bush is dotted with spindly kapok trees which look a bit weird with their bright yellow flowers and hardly leaves.

Head into Daly River which boasts a pub and a basic store for essential supplies including fuel. Stop for a beer and a chat with the locals. Down at the old causeway crossing the wide sandy banks are accessible by 4WD and offer good fishing. Just imagine, not so very long ago, this was the only way to cross the river and every year communities on the other side would be cut off for months during the Wet. Nowadays the Bul Bul Bridge spans the river and the floodplain, providing all year-round access for locals (most of the time!). 

As a special treat, visit Merrepen Arts in the community of Nauiyu, just outside of town. It’s a little hard to find but there are signs, including an “A” frame outside the building (open Monday - Friday 8.30am - 5.00pm but call first on (08) 8978 2533).

There are fishing and camping sites on both sides of the Daly River and it’s worth taking a drive to check out what is available. My favourite place to stay is Perry’s on the Daly where I can camp alongside the water and have unfettered views of the mighty Daly River. I love to camp pretty much at any time of the year but as it gets hotter there are options for staying in the fisherman’s cottage or the homestead. Note that during the wet season this side of the Daly River could easily be cut off so check access before you go. 

On the way back to the junction with the Old Stuart Highway, there is a turning left into Litchfield National Park. It’s 4WD only, but for experienced drivers, this route is an alternative way into Litchfield National Park (with great camping spots on the way).

Litchfield waterfalls
Photo credit: Tourism NT, Lucy Ewing and Dan Moore


About halfway to Adelaide River, take a break at Robin Falls. Walk up to the falls or picnic alongside the creek. 

It’s 10kms to Adelaide River from the falls and a further 113kms to Darwin (or 58 kms back to Hayes Creek)

 

All about Sue
Sue is absolutely passionate about living in Darwin. She says "It is the best place I have ever lived". She has published three guide books with her new book “Darwin for all Seasons” just being published. Sue has a background in travel and tourism, owning her own tour guiding company in Sydney and in her books she captures a really intimate view of Darwin and the Top End with her own personal tips and local haunts.

Sue and Ken cropped

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