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Mary River National Park and the Wetlands Region

Mary River National Park and the Wetlands Region
Sue Moffitt July 2021

Connellan Lagoon is just one example of everything there is to see and do in the Wetlands areas of Mary River National Park. Imagine cruising the rivers as the sun casts spectacular shadows and colours across the water, driving the monsoon forest trails or linking in with the local fishermen to catch a “barra” for supper. All activities, tours and cruises feature our unique flora and fauna.

There are wetland and river cruises accessible from the Arnhem Highway where most of the roads are sealed and 2WD. But it is well worth travelling further afield into Mary River National Park where prolific monsoon and paperbark forests are interspersed with billabongs and creeks.

Mary River Tourism NT and Jarrad Seng
Mary River (Wet Season) – Tourism NT / Jarrad Seng

Accommodation options in and around the National Park are equally diverse, from camping to luxury bush retreats, including spending a night or two on a houseboat. 

Let me take you on a journey into the wilds of Mary River and the surrounding wetlands (includes extracts from my book, Darwin for all Seasons)

The start of the Wetlands Region is less than an hour from Darwin. Turn off the Stuart Highway at the Arnhem Highway, the road to Kakadu, and very quickly the scenery changes from mango farms to lush green floodplains. 

Firstly, detour to Fogg Dam, one of my favourite places to visit. Drive over the dam wall to the bird hide with expansive views across the floodplains. Lookouts along the way depict the beautiful birds and flora of the Top End. At the bird hide, stay for a while, or even take a picnic. There are two levels of decking and shade and plenty to see. Especially if it is just you and the birds! Explore the Woodlands to Waterlilies Walk (includes a boardwalk) where swamp mahoganies and Carpentaria palms line the path to be replaced by dinner plate-size lily pads and vibrant pink lotus flowers as the wetlands come into view.

Continue east to the wetlands of the Adelaide and Mary Rivers. The views change with the seasons. Firstly, in the Dry, the floodplains of green seem endless, where grasses, reeds, paperbarks and the occasional bush almost obscure the occasional pool. By contrast, at the height of the Wet, it is a sea of water, with just the odd fence post in sight. Note that although the road is built high over the floodplain it can sometimes be impassable.

The Adelaide River is the first of these major river systems to cross. A few tours and cruises run from this crossing including the well-known Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruises. A favourite of mine is Adelaide River Tours, a small family operated cruise who explore up-river to Goat Island. 

Corroboree Tavern is the gateway to Corroboree Billabong and shuttles are available to link in with the cruises. The bird population is one of the most prolific in the world, plus the brilliant pink lotus flowers and colourful lilies are stunning. Not forgetting, of course, the mighty saltwater crocodile that intrigues us all. There are multiple cruises each day and they need to be booked in advance.

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Sacred Pink Lotus Flower – Tourism NT / Jewels Lynch

Wetland cruises on the Mary River are available further into the national park from Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge where the Rockhole Billabong cruise operates early morning and sunset. Discover a wonderful wetland world as the sun sets over the river. Darters cling to a slender branch to dry out their wings, a white bellied sea eagle just watches and a kingfisher poses. Crocodiles lurk in the mangroves or, if you are lucky, they lie there, just sunbathing. 

Delve further into the national park to experience sunset at Couzens Lookout, crocodile viewing at Shady Camp or go bush walking in the Brian Creek Monsoon Forest, just one of the many bush walks you can explore.

Note that from the turnoff to Couzens Lookout, and north to Shady Camp, the road is unsealed. During the dry season access is OK for 2WD but, during the wet, 4WD is required and the road may even be closed. Check conditions before heading out.

As you drive into Shady Camp, a huge day-use area with big boulders creates parking and turning circles for fishing boats, trailers and 4WDs. The place is a bit weird for a non-fisher person, but also quite fascinating. Stay awhile and maybe you will see a big catch. A short drive around the corner there’s a 150m walk to the Crocodile Viewing platform and lookout. I will say no more!!

Sue’s Tip - For an even closer encounter with the wetlands, drive the Wildman or Hardies 4WD tracks (4WD required). Last weekend I drove the Wildman track, had lunch at Connelan Lagoon and was lucky enough to spot three dingos crossing the track. Download the National Parks map here

 

Where to stay

I must give a “wow” to the experience of staying at Bamurru Plains. I was lucky enough to stay there in April as a very special treat. There are just ten safari tents edging the floodplain. All of them have fly-screened walls with panoramic views of buffalo, wild horses, brahman cattle and of course our very own wallabies. The bird life is extraordinary with something like half a million magpie geese (some sitting on their nests in the reeds), jabiru, whistling ducks, kingfishers, sea eagles and so many more. A day at Bamurru is action packed with air boat rides, 4WD safaris, canapes at sunset and beautiful food. 

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Bamurru Plains


I could keep going but I want to give justice to the other accommodation options. A real favourite is camping at Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge. The low-key lodge is edged by the rainforest and camping is flexible and easy. As a bonus there is a bistro serving beers and wines with a diverse menu including wild caught barramundi. There is no need to cook here! There are also motel style rooms with all the same benefits and you don’t have to set up or make your bed.

If you want to fish, the Lodge is the closest cabin style accommodation but you can camp at Shady Camp. Last but not least there is camping in the national park at Couzens Lookout – a quiet spot sitting high above the Mary River with great sunset views.

Heading back to the Arnhem Highway, stay at Mary River Wilderness Retreat, just a couple of kms down the road. The Retreat has a few accommodation options, from separate little cottages around a private pool area to donga style cabins and camping. It’s a fun place to stay – I love hiring the golf buggy and taking a ride around the river bank. There is also a swimming pool and a restaurant.

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Mary River Wilderness Retreat 

For something completely different, why not hire a Corroboree Houseboat for a couple of days on Corroboree Billabong? It’s a bare boat charter so you can take all your favourite deli items for sunset canapes on board. Hire a couple of fishing rods, tackle etc and see if you can catch a main course!!

On the way into the wetlands area, Corroboree Park Tavern is the best place for topping up your fuel and basic supplies. 

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.

More information is at www.darwinforallseasons.com.au and https://www.facebook.com/darwinforallseasons/

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