Travel to Northern Australia – Episode 444

categories: australia travel

Hear about travel to Northern Australia (Northwest Territories) as the Amateur Traveler talks to Sam Guerra from


The “Top End” is “one of the more exotic parts of Australia for sure and it’s definitely the closest place you can go to get an authentic feel for the aboriginal culture which in my opinion is something that makes Australia unique. There is a lot of natural beauty and a lot of wildlife up there. It is nearly untouched.”

In Darin Sam recommends the Mindil Beach Sunset Market if you want to try eating some local “bush tucker” like emu, crocodile or kangaroo. There are also World War II history tours of some of the sites around the Darwin harbor.

“What makes the Top End shine is when you get out of the city and you go to the national parks around the area. It might not be exactly what you imagine when you go to Australia because there is a lot of water. It is very lush but at the same time, it still has that sense of outback. Tropical savanna is what the landscape would be.” Sam recommends a circular route from Litchfield National Park to Kakadu National Park to Nitmiluk National Park.

The waterfalls in Litchfield make a great place to relax. There is great hiking around the waterfalls as well as swimming. The area has a lot of flying foxes and “creepy crawlies”. Litchfield also has massive termite mounds up to 15 feet tall.

Kakadu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sam recommends a tour of the Mary River wetlands for great wildlife photography. “There is just an endless supply of birdlife. That’s where you are going to see the crocodiles as well. The lotus flowers were in bloom when we were there and that’s just incredible.” The aboriginal rock art sites at Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock are a big reason for the UNESCO designation. “Over the last 10,000 years, the aboriginal people have been painting on these surfaces.” Jim Jim Falls is the other main attraction in the park.

Nitmiluk National Park is mainly known for the Catherine River and is also a great place to relax. “The Leilyn Falls is further up the river. Once you get there you have a big waterfall and a big swimming hole. You can go do a lot of hiking around the area. If you go up to the upper pools, just that walk alone is worth it. It’s just like a rock pool playground”

subscribe: rss feed | Apple podcasts

right click here to download (mp3)
right click here to download (iTunes version with pictures)


This episode is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides

Chris's collection of DK Eyewitness Travel guides

Chris’s collection of DK Eyewitness Travel guides

Show Notes

Escape from the Bay
Northern Australia
Holiday in the Northern Territory
Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Darwin Waterfront
Darwin’s Historical Attractions
Litchfield National Park
Florence Falls
Wangi Falls
Flying Fox
Magnetic Termite Mounds
Kakadu National Park
Mary River National Park
Nourlangie Rock
Jim Jim Falls
Twin Falls
Nitmiluk National Park
Leilyn Falls
Katherine Gorge
Berry Creek Retreat
Uluru / Ayers Rock
New Zealand Working Holiday Visa


Jamie on Travel to Baltimore, Maryland – Episode 438:

Hi Chris,

I’m so sorry for my tardy, “thanks!”

I usually make a weekend breakfast/brunch for the family while listening to your latest show. I did quite a little dance when I heard you had already moved forward with the Baltimore Podcast!

Nancy Parode did such a great job – I really enjoyed the show and look forward to sharing. My husband and I are DC-junkies, so people often ask us what to do while visiting there. I will definitely include this episode in future suggestions. Hope you get a chance to kick back in B-more one weekend on a future trip out east πŸ™‚ What Nancy said about people being super accepting is true, it’s as diverse as it is laid-back and accepting. And if you go in summer, there is ALWAYS a festival in some neighborhood we found. They just close off the streets, allow drinks on the street and everyone is welcome.

Thanks again! For this episode, specifically, but for all of them, too!

Best wishes from the Sunny Southwest (and Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta,)


Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 444. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about waterfalls and gorges, rock art and crocodiles as we go to Northern Australia.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides which are my guide book of choice. You can learn more about DK Travel Guides at

subscribe: rss feed | Apple podcasts | stitcher


Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. As I mentioned in the intro, I’m very pleased to have DK Eyewitness Travel Guides as a sponsor for Amateur Traveler. I approached DK because, as I mentioned before on the show, the Eyewitness Travel Guides are one of my favorite guide book series. The guides are filled with gorgeous pictures which I love, have great historic and cultural information, and also include great visual guides and have maps to museums, walking tours and neighborhoods. I mentioned on a recent episode we did on Paris that I loved the walk along the Canal Saint-Martin and I learned about that walk from the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Paris. I just checked my bookshelf and it looks like over the years I’ve bought 19 different guides from the series. Learn more about DK Eyewitness Travel Guides at


Chris: I’d like to welcome to the show Sam Gouveia from who’s come to talk to us about Northern Australia. Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam: Thank you very much for having me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

Chris: And Sam, you understand you’ve been listening to the show for more than a few days.

Sam: Yes, and listening almost on a weekly basis since 2007. Part of the reason it inspired me to travel in the first place to be honest.

Chris: Oh, excellent. Well, I always like to hear that. And I say we’re talking about Northern Australia but you actually recommend we talk about northern Northern Australia. We leave the center which is Ayers Rock and Alice Springs for instance for another show.

Sam: Indeed. It’s quite far away. It took some 20 hours driving, at least.

Chris: And you did drive the distance between the two?

Sam: Yep. We did a lot of driving. Did over 17,000 kilometers in total.

Chris: Oh my, okay. And northern Northern Australia, why should someone go to what I understand they call the Top Half.

Sam: [laughs] The Top End.

Chris: The Top End, okay.

Sam: Yep, it’s one of the more exotic parts of Australia for sure and it’s definitely the closest place you’ll be able to go to to get an authentic feel for like Aboriginal culture which, in my opinion, is something that makes Australia unique. There’s a lot of natural beauty and a lot of wildlife up there. It’s pretty much, it’s nearly untouched in a way.

Chris: And you say it’s exotic. Having been to, say, Sydney which is not generally described as exotic, just cool.

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: What makes Darwin, for instance, which is the center of that area, different?

Sam: Well, Darwin per se is just a little city. There’s hardly much to it at all. I mean-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: It’s just a few blocks. Really, what makes the Top End is when you get out of the city and when you go to the national parks around the area.

Chris: Got it.

Sam: It might not be exactly what you imagine when you go to Australia because there’s a lot of water. [laughs] It’s very lush but at the same time it still has that sense of Outback.

Chris: Mm-hm. Well, we’re in the tropics at that point.

Sam: Yeah, yeah. It would be like tropical savanna is what the landscape would be.

Chris: Okay. Well, and what kind of itinerary would you recommend for somebody who has, say, a week to two weeks to explore this part of Australia?

Sam: You probably would wanna lean a bit more towards two weeks-

Chris: [laughs]

Sam: If you really wanted to take the trip at all because-

Chris: Sure.

Sam: Depending on where you’re flying from, jet lag. [laughs]

Chris: I think my sons slept through the first two weeks of our trip to Australia.

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Not the first two weeks, two days. [laughs] Sorry, it wasn’t that bad.

Sam: Well, on top of that then you have a 24-hour flight from almost anywhere. As far as itinerary’s concerned, I would say, I would probably stop in Darwin, just to kind of, I mean, cause you’re gonna be flying there anyhow-

Chris: Sure.

Sam: And if you don’t rent a car, which is what I would highly recommend, then that’s gonna be your point, your base. But-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Get out of Darwin as quickly as possible, generally I would say. There’s a few cool things to do there. There’s the Litchfield National Park, Kakadu or Kakadu National Park and Nitmiluk National Park, which is kind of like, they make a pretty convenient circle around the Top End.

Chris: And when you say circle, you mention how many miles you have driven so far, so how big a circle are you talking about? [laughs]

Sam: This is not so bad.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: But you’re still gonna be looking at between, I think Darwin to Litchfield is an hour and a half maybe?

Chris: Okay.

Sam: And Darwin to Kakadu is some two and a half hours. So the whole loop would probably at least take you, you wouldn’t wanna do it in one day, obviously.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: But, if you were going to just drive it straight it would probably take six or seven hours to drive around the circle.

Chris: Okay, and then why would we go to each one and what would we see?

Sam: All right, so Darwin, it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city for how tiny it is.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Apparently it’s got a booming economy right now with some of the natural gas projects that they’re opening up up there, but the only things that I might recommend in Darwin would be the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, which are on Thursdays and Sundays. And those are pretty touristy but it’s a pretty good thing if you wanna go try some local bush tucker, as they call it, [laughs] If you wanna try to eat the emu or the crocodile or kangaroo.

Chris: And you say bush tucker, you mean bush food.

Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: The native bush food.

Chris: I can translate. My cousin who is Australian lived with us for two years, so.

Sam: I tried a crocodile sandwich there. It was kind of like chicken, like they say.

Chris: But chewy.

Sam: But yeah, it’s much more, not as tender.

Chris: Right.

Sam: Yeah, it’s more rubbery, so wouldn’t necessarily prefer it over chicken. [laughs]

Chris: Right.

Sam: There’s quite a bit of military history and kind of historic buildings around the Esplanade loop along the Darwin Waterfront area. If you’re into World War II history there’s not that much to find there but they do have some tours. Mainly the World War II history sites are around the Darwin Harbour.

Chris: Mm-hm, which was bombed by the Japanese in World War II, as I recall. I mean, they got that close, basically.

Sam: Yep, it’s ostensibly the Australian Pearl Harbor.

Chris: Uh-huh.

Sam: Other than that, I would say there’s not much to see in Darwin. [laughs] I would highly recommend renting a car. You also might want to rent a four-wheel drive if you have any intention of getting to the cooler places.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Or, if you’re uncomfortable driving on dirt roads for long distances because that’s inevitably what you’re gonna have to do. The first place you could go, let’s say is Litchfield.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: As I mentioned, it’s like maybe an hour and a half drive depending on where you wanna go in the park from Darwin and it’s a pretty amazing park. It’s probably the underrated compared to Kakadu, which is what everyone else seems to always rave about. But Litchfield is much more laid back and there’s not as many tourists. It’s kind of, I mean there are tourists but you can go at your own pace a bit.

Chris: In all of these national parks are, we’re going there for the flora and the fauna.

Sam: Yep, and the waterfalls {laughs] I have to say.

Chris: And the waterfalls, okay, all right.

Sam: Yeah, and Litchfield National Park’s a perfect example. If you just wanna, like, kind of camp out and relax, the waterfalls there are pretty amazing. They have two of the bigger ones are Florence Falls, which I spent basically a whole day at. Nature makes the best swimming pools, I tell you.

Chris: [laughs]

Sam: It’s just a good place to relax is all. You have the giant waterfalls and they’re pretty much running year round if you… oh, speaking of which, if you intend on getting the most out of it I’d say you’d have to travel between late June and August.

Chris: Okay, so we’re travelling there in their winter?

Sam: Yes, but don’t let that fool you. It’s still very, very hot. When we were there it was early June and it was still pretty much averaging like 30 degrees every day.

Chris: In Celsius, obviously.

Sam: Which is great for me. I love the heat. My girlfriend didn’t necessarily like it that much. [laughs]

Chris: Right, and humid I would assume because of all of the water there? [laughs]

Sam: Yeah.

Chris: Cause we’re in the tropics.

Sam: Well, it’s supposed to be the dry season so it’s not as humid as it would otherwise be in, say, October when it’s supposed to be unbearable.

Chris: And then with that, for those who don’t think in Celsius, we’re still in the high 80’s, so.

Sam: Yeah.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: And it pretty much doesn’t change day to night. It’s pretty consistent.

Chris: [laughs] Okay.

Sam: [laughs] Yeah, the two waterfalls I’d recommend checking out in Litchfield is definitely Florence Falls, which is kind of hard to get down to, if you don’t . . . I mean, there’s a stairway, but it’s a very steep stairway that goes down to it, so it might be something to consider if you’re not too mobile.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: But, once you’re down there it’s awesome. And then, there’s another one, which is the bigger and more popular one is Wangi Falls which is further along the highway. That area, you can do a lot of hiking up and around the waterfalls and you can go swimming as well. There’s lot of flying foxes in the forest around there. It’s pretty interesting and tons of creepy crawlies as well.

Chris: And when you say flying foxes, I know exactly what you’re talking about-

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Because we saw them in Sydney at the Botanical Gardens there and they really creeped out my wife and my daughter, so we’re talking about really large bats.

Sam: Yeah, like the size of a fox. [laughs]

Chris: Right.

Sam: I found them pretty fascinating. I like, I love watching them. They’re very loud so you’re gonna hear them long before you see them.

Chris: Uh-huh.

Sam: You think that they’d be sleeping during the day but they seem pretty rambunctious. [laughs] Just to mention in case people are squeamish as well, like, there’s said to be sometimes freshwater crocodiles in the Wangi Falls, not in the Florence Falls, but the Wangi Falls which is the more popular one. But the freshwater crocodiles, apparently you don’t have to worry about.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: They’re not man-eating. Stay away from them and they will not bother you. They’re not gonna be in the center of the pool anyhow. They’re gonna be off on the side there.

Chris: Well, I heard an interesting stat. I don’t know if we’ve talked about it on the show but I heard this a few months back. People who go to Australia, they’ve read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country-

Sam: Mm-hm.

Chris: And all the things that can kill you in Australia, and they’ve heard about the sharks and the saltwater crocodiles and the-

Sam: Mm-hm.

Chris: Seven of the top ten venomous snakes and the box jellyfish and the tunnelweb spiders and all of those things I was surprised to learn that the thing that kills the animal, that kills more people-

Sam: Yeah.

Chris: Than all those combined-

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Is-

Sam: The king toad.

Chris: No, no-

Sam: No?

Chris: Is the bumblebee. [laughs] From allergic reactions. I mean, basically they do have some deaths from saltwater crocodiles and box jellyfishes. It’s about one a year for most of those except for the venomous snakes-

Sam: Mm-hm.

Chris: And they haven’t lost anybody to venomous snakes in 20 years or something like that. I mean, really rather a long time since they invented anti-venom.

Sam: Mm-hm.

Chris: So it’s just not quite as dangerous as they told about in some of the books and The Crocodile Hunter-

Sam: No.

Chris: And some of those things. [laughs]

Sam: Yeah, I, to be honest all-

Chris: Unless, of course, you’re allergic to bumblebees in which case, you know. [laughs]

Sam: [laughs] Speaking of bumblebees, funny story. We were camping, not in Litchfield but near in one of the other national parks, and we had our windows down as we would have to in such heat and we had a hornet fly into our window that was, it was the largest flying insect I have ever seen in my life.

Chris: This is the flying fox version of the-

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Hornet family.

Sam: Yes, it was probably as big as the palm of my hand and it-

Chris: Oh my, okay.

Sam: Sounded like a helicopter when it came in and out. It was just, I had to tell my girlfriend in a very particular way so that she wouldn’t panic that we had to get out of the car.

Chris: Yeah.

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Well, you figure if the bats are larger then the insects probably are larger, that there’s-

Sam: Yes.

Chris: Probably a reason for that.

Sam: Everything is larger. If you don’t like creepy crawlies then, like you said, it is a bit overstated. They’re not everywhere, but this region of Australia is the home to them. Like-

Chris: Sure, yeah.

Sam: If you’re going to find them, this is where you’re gonna find them. And do I, we saw more than our fair share of large spiders and bugs of, and they have an infestation of king toads in some places as well which is an invasive species here.

Chris: Right.

Sam: Actually, they kill the snakes because the snakes try to eat them and they’re venomous.

Chris: Hm.

Sam: They even kill crocodiles when crocodiles try to eat them.

Chris: Oh wow, interesting.

Sam: Yes.

Chris: So when we’re eating the wild animals at the market-

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Stay away from the king toad, okay. [laughs]

Sam: Yeah, no one’s gonna try to sell you that.

Chris: Good to know that.

Sam: They hate them here. One more place I’d recommend checking out, just for a quick stop, in Litchfield is the termite mounds.

Chris: Oh, that’s excellent.

Sam: Yeah, they have massive termite mounds that are, can be 15 feet high.

Chris: Okay, I was picturing six feet high and thought that was pretty big, so.

Sam: Nope, they’re like, they can be 15 feet tall and you will no doubt see them if you’re going down the highway.

Chris: Huh.

Sam: They’re built, apparently, to, like, perfectly regulate the temperature so they’re kind of like a Phillips screwdriver.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: So that all of the thin ends are facing towards the direction that the sun is moving so that the sun never hits them-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Directly or on a flat surface and there’s just so many of them. Apparently, prior to the introduction of livestock into the Northern Territory, the termites actually served the same function.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: So they would clear the grass and the debris and, like, they, like, will prune the landscape, prune the environment.

Chris: Interesting.

Sam: And there’s so many of them. Like, I mean, each, I’m not sure exactly how many termites each one would hold but, well there’s millions of them probably cause you see them all along the highway as well and people [laughs] . . . along the highway if you’re driving, you’ll notice people put shirts over them so that they look like people and they’ll put like bonnets on the top and everything.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: I don’t know why they do this but never was able to figure out or get an answer to that-

Chris: [laughs]

Sam: But, so kind of the main attraction in the Top End is Kakadu National Park.

Chris: Mm-hm, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site too.

Sam: Yes, and it’s massive. It’s, you won’t be able to see hardly any of it. Even the mountain that’s accessible by road is so, such a small percentage. The first stop there, and this is probably one of the best highlights for us, was the Mary River Wetlands.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: We took a tour. There’s plenty of providers to go cruising on the Mary River Wetlands. The region’s pretty set up for tourism, for the most part.

Chris: And we’d find them before we’d leave Darwin or we’d find them after we went to the national park?

Sam: Preferably before you leave Darwin because-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: The phone coverage, even if you have a phone you can use in Australia it’s pretty spotty once you get out of the city.

Chris: And, by the way, I did look the size of the national park and and it is 19,804 square kilometers 7,646 square miles, so large.

Sam: Very. The Mary River Wetlands cruise, the day before we did it actually, a man was fishing on the Mary River Wetlands, not on a tour but on his own, fishing in a local. And he was taken by a crocodile and it was all over the newspapers as often are crocodile-related things in the Northern Territory.

Chris: Well, and the good news is that it’s notable, that it doesn’t happen every day. [laughs]

Sam: Yeah. [laughs] Indeed. If you are into wildlife photography, that is the place to go because they take you out onto the billabong.

Chris: And billabong would be watering hole?

Sam: Yeah, it’s like a wetland or a swamp, I suppose.

Chris: Okay, I just remember that once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, so.

Sam: [laughs] Yeah, if you’re into wildlife photography, that’s definitely the place to go-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Because there’s just an endless amount of birds, bird life, that’s where you’re gonna see the crocodiles as well-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: If you, if that’s indeed that’s what you want to see. We did manage to see a few of the females which aren’t technically, aren’t usually as large as the males, but we went pretty early in the season so a lot of the . . . basically the later you go into the dry season, the more chances are that you’re gonna see larger crocodiles because the watering holes, they dry up.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: So, this will be the only source of water for them to live in.

Chris: Got it.

Sam: But yeah, we did manage to see a few six-foot crocodiles or so. They got, brought us fairly close to them, not uncomfortably close but-

Chris: Well, and as I recall from going to a zoo up in Queensland in Australia, the crocodile hunts by ambush and so if it can see you and you can see it, you’re relatively safe because it knows that-

Sam: Yep. [laughs]

Chris: You would be watching for it, so it’s swimming in those muddy creeks is where people usually get hurt.

Sam: Yep, the tour guide actually told us his friend had been down there not on the billabong itself but in another little kind of puddle, I suppose [laughs]-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Photographing the birds, and when he developed his pictures he actually saw that there was a crocodile in the puddle. He saw the little eyes poking up and he was probably closer than he should’ve been given that, he told us, for every one you see there’s twelve you don’t.

Chris: Huh.

Sam: But not to scare you, it’s definitely worth doing. I mean, just, they have the lotus flowers-

Chris: Uh-huh, sure.

Sam: Were in bloom when we were there and that was just incredible. You can actually take three different tours. You can either take like and hour, an hour and a half or like two and a half hours with dinner or something like that. We took the short one because we’re backpackers on a budget it would’ve been nice to really get to relax and see everything. But yeah, I would recommend as well you take a camera with a pretty good zoom because they don’t necessarily get you that close.

Chris: That’s sounds-

Sam: A lot of it is birds.

Chris: And what else did you do in the park?

Sam: Another one of the pretty amazing sites was the Aboriginal rock art sites at Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock. They’re two different sites at two kind of different ends of the park but, I mean, I haven’t seen much rock art to be fair, but I was really shocked at how well-preserved it is. Basically, they have these large overhangs and underneath them, they call them the rock art galleries. Over the last 10,000 years the Aboriginal people have been painting on these surfaces and then every generation will come back and paint over the previous generation’s thing. So you kind of see several layers going back just by looking at one wall.

Chris: Hm.

Sam: Some of the art is as recent as the 1960s. Very interesting artwork.

Chris: Yeah, I was looking at some of the pictures. It looks fascinating.

Sam: The main attraction in Kakadu, aside from the Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock sites are Jim Jim and Twin Falls-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Which unfortunately, we could not visit which is very disappointing because we got there quite early in the dry season so a lot of things were still flooded and they hadn’t had time to open up the roads again.

Chris: Oh, interesting, okay.

Sam: So, our only option of getting there was a very expensive tour to go to only one of the falls cause the other one hadn’t had the roadwork done yet, which we just chose to forego. But from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s [laughs], it’s quite amazing. The landscape itself is just, like, epic. It goes on forever. When you, like, when you go to Ubirr or the Nourlangie Rock site, when you get up on top of the escarpment-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: It just reaches forever. Just, it’s just endless wetland and savanna forest land.

Chris: Excellent.

Sam: The last place in the loop would be Nitmiluk National Park.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: And Nitmiluk is mainly known for Catherine River that flows through the park. Like, and it’s another good place to go just to relax-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: So the Leilyn Falls is further up the river and once you get there, again you have a big waterfall and a big swimming hole. You can go do a lot of hiking around the area, and if you just go up to the upper pools, just that walk alone is worth it. I mean, it’s just like a rock pool playground. It’s incredibly beautiful.

Chris: Now it sounded like you were saying that we should spend more than a couple days doing this whole loop and you had said budget more than a week to do the whole trip. But it doesn’t sound like the whole loop is taking us a week in the way you’re recommending we do it.

Sam: I suppose it just depends on how much you wanna relax.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Because I would recommend at least a full day in Litchfield.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: But then Kakadu you can easily take I would say four or more days probably just to do it because you have, depending on how busy you wanna be in one day . . . my travel style technically is a bit hectic. I like to see a lot and do it really quickly.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Cause we often don’t have a lot of time. So we ended up doing several things stacked up so that we were busy from the moment we got up to the moment we go to bed. But I know a lot of people who go on vacation don’t really prefer to spend their time like that.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Kakadu, yeah, like I managed three or fours days and then Nitmiluk I would say you’d probably spend another two to three days there as well.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: The most popular thing to do in Nitmiluk National Park is to go on a boat trip up the Catherine Gorge.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: Which is basically a big sandstone gorge that rises pretty precipitously on both sides of the river. I would actually recommend, instead of paying for the boat ride, you just rent a kayak and do it if you are fit enough to do so. The kayaking itself isn’t very difficult, especially in the dry season when the river isn’t flowing. Because of the way that it works, there’s kind of like natural dams at various points in the river-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: So that it just stops the movement of the water. But the kayaking looked like it would’ve been probably the better decision.

Chris: So it sounds like you did the riverboat cruise?

Sam: Yes.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: I did do the riverboat cruise, and the only reason I would suggest the kayaking is just because the riverboat makes a lot of noise-

Chris: Okay.

Sam: When it’s moving and towards the end of the second gorge which is probably the most beautiful part, easily, they turned off the boat and just let you sit and kind of take in ambiance and you can hear, like, condors shouting in the distance.

Chris: Hm.

Sam: And it, just, the way that it echoes down the canyon, just looking at the walls and, it kind of . . . the whole time you’re in the Northern, the Top End I would say, is, just feels like you’re in an ancient place. It just has this sense about it. With the kayaking as well you can stop and swim and there’s plenty of places to do so at your own leisure, which when you do the boat isn’t exactly the case. But, if you weren’t going to kayak I’d still recommend doing the boat trip. It’s definitely worth it.

Chris: Anything else we should see here before we head back to Darwin?

Sam: There are things that we didn’t go to but if we had time we could’ve-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Such as Berry Creek. I believe they have hot springs. If you feel like getting into a hot spring when it’s already 30 degrees outside, you can be my guest.

Chris: [laughs] What surprised you about Northern Australia?

Sam: Well, the distances [laughs].

Chris: Sure.

Sam: It feels like how maybe Australia would’ve been 40 years ago.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: There’s relatively little civilization as far as that’s concerned. You can easily drive for hours and hours and hours and not see a place to eat. I mean, they have gas stations and such.

Chris: Well, I know Australia is not very densely populated anyway and I was just seeing that Northern Australia has half the total area of Australia and a quarter of the population. So it’s even less densely populated.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, this kind of trip, to be fair, it takes a bit of planning. Unless you go on a tour, if you’re gonna do it by yourself, you should probably kind of work out the distances, work out-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: What you’re going to eat and make sure that you get gas when you can.

Chris: Okay. [laughs]

Sam: Don’t ever assume that there will be another gas station. We pretty much used a half tank rule. So as soon as we hit half tank, the next gas station we saw, that’s where we’re getting gas because you can . . . there’s plenty of signs, maybe not so much in the Top End but around Australia where you see, there is no gas for the next 200 kilometers.

Chris: Hm.

Sam: And another, actually, recommendation I would give is to take plenty of cash with you because apparently ATMs in Northern Territory do not work.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: I don’t know how many times I found myself in this situation where no one would take debit or credit and every ATM I went to was out of service.

Chris: Oh, wow. Okay.

Sam: So… [laughs]

Chris: That’s surprising.

Sam: I don’t know if it was just the season or what the deal was but it just could’ve been our luck. Another thing is, if you’re looking to buy any Aboriginal artwork-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Preferably do it at the cultural centers, which are, like, they have in Kakadu National Park.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Because there it’s typically non-for-profit or less expensive than you would buy in, say, a gallery in Darwin where it’s primarily geared towards tourism.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: And obviously you might, you probably end up getting something a bit more authentic in that case anyhow.

Chris: What do the guidebooks recommend for Northern Australia that you would say, probably not worth the time?

Sam: Probably, like as mentioned, I would say just say stay out of Darwin for the most part. [laughs] There’s not much to do there. It’s not very interesting and take the kayak instead of the boat.

Chris: Okay.

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: And then, it sounded like, just because when we started talking about the Top End, that you’re gonna recommend, if we go down to Uluru or Alice Springs, that we fly. That that drive, you did-

Sam: Yes.

Chris: You’ve done the drive.

Sam: Yes.

Chris: You can say you’ve done it but you wouldn’t necessarily say that I should do it?

Sam: Exactly. There is a whole lot of nothing for a whole lot of hours. I think it was something like 20, 25 hours to get from Darwin to Uluru driving and obviously when you’re on a limited time frame in a vacation that’s not exactly how you wanna spend your time.

Chris: Well, and we should say, so, as long as we’re talking about Uluru or Ayers Rock, there’s some controversy about whether you should visit it. Whether you should go up into the rock because it is sacred ground for the Aborigines is my understanding.

Sam: Right.

Chris: So, what did you decide?

Sam: Well, to be honest, I didn’t have a choice at the time because the high winds prevented anyone. They closed it down but I would personally, I would’ve not gone up because you can just kind of see when you go look at where the people usually go up, the chain that’s running up the rock-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Just from the foot traffic that goes up there, I mean, it’s sandstone so it rubs away fairly easily. There is a pretty deep indentation going up the rock of where people are walking. So if you keep climbing the rock there will be no more rock eventually.

Chris: Might take a little time, but.

Sam: Yeah, just a little while but I was actually surprised, for speaking of Uluru, that apparently in the wet season there are waterfalls coming down on all sides of the rock.

Chris. Mm-hm, no I remember seeing pictures of that.

Sam: I was not expecting that, to be honest. I was not there during the wet season but there were still some trickles of waterfalls coming down from the top and you could definitely see all of the, where the water had worn away holes in the rock.

Chris: And besides making sure you keep the car filled up, any other warnings you would give?

Sam: Watch where you’re walking. Things like that, because there are spiders and snakes about. They’re generally not going to bother you but just-

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: Don’t antagonize them.

Chris: Now, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about that people should know about it you’ve been in New Zealand and Australia for more than just a few weeks because you’re taking advantage of an interesting legal opportunity in both the two countries. You wanna tell us more about the visa that you’re on?

Sam: Yeah, it’s called the working holiday visa. Americans can, American youth I should say, between the ages of 18 and 30, can travel in Australia or New Zealand for up to 12 months and they can, it gives you all the rights to work and everything so that you can just make money to keep the travels moving. It’s not a very difficult thing to obtain and it’s not even, I don’t even think there’ s a limit on the number that you can get, that we can get per year so. I mean, me and my girlfriend applied for New Zealand and Australia and probably had our answer within less than a week. And it was a just a short questionnaire basically making sure that we weren’t convicted felons of any kind and that we didn’t have children.

Chris: No, we certainly wouldn’t want convicted felons in Australia, which-

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: So, the language. Any time that you have been standing there speaking the same language as somebody in Australia and yet had no idea what they were talking about?

Sam: I would say no but I had the unfair advantage of having lived in New Zealand for a year before coming to Australia.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Sam: So, their lingo is pretty similar. When I first arrived in New Zealand I would definitely say it took me a moment to kind of adjust. But, once I was in Australia, it’s not so different from the New Zealanders to where I even could tell a difference other than they say no worries and meet.

Chris: They really do.

Sam: [laughs]

Chris: Well, that is a stereotype and what I love it is they don’t just say it, it really is an attitude.

Sam: Indeed.

Chris: Before we get to my last three questions, anything else we should know before we head off to Northern Australia?

Sam: Bring bug repellent and sunscreen.

Chris: Well, sunscreen, sure. The hole in the ozone there.

Sam: [laughs] Yeah. The bug repellent is an absolute necessity though because mosquitoes are absolutely ravenous.

Chris: The last three questions. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Northern Australia”.

Sam: It’s just when you’re driving along the highway and not only are you seeing termite mounts dressed in bonnets and shirts but they’ve also altered some of the signs in creative ways like the kangaroo sign. I remember I passed a lot of the signs and someone had pretty convincingly turned the black sign of like a kangaroo into a dinosaur.

[both laughs]

And it looked pretty authentic.

Chris: Finish this sentence for me, “You really know you’re in Northern Australia when…” what?

Sam: When you are surrounded by national beauty and aboriginal culture and the temperature never reached any 31 degrees Celsius.

Chris: And if you had to summarize Northern Australia in just three words, what three words would you use?

Sam: Ancient, exotic and untamed.

Chris: Our guest again has been Sam Gouveia, and Sam, where can people read more about your travels?


Chris: And the bay that you’re escaping from is?

Sam: The San Francisco Bay area.

Chris: You made some reference to that but we didn’t say it. Excellent, Sam. Thanks for coming on the Amateur Traveler and thanks so much for listening for the last, whatever, seven years or something like that.

Sam: My pleasure.


Chris: In news community, I heard from Jamie and Jamie had recommended an episode on Baltimore and in response to that episode said,

“I usually make a weekend breakfast/brunch for the whole family while listening to your latest show. I did quite a dance when I heard you already moved forward with the Baltimore podcast. NancyParode did such a great job. I really enjoyed the show and look forward to sharing. My husband and I are DC junkies so people often ask us what to do while visiting there. I would definitely include this episode in future suggestions. Hope you get a chance to kick back in Baltimore one weekend in the future trip out east. What Nancy said about people being super accepting is true. It is as diverse as it is laid back and accepting. If you go in the summer there’s always a festival going on and some neighborhood we found they just close off the streets, a lot of drinks on the streets and everyone is welcome. Thanks again for this episode specifically but for all of them too. Best wishes, from Sunny Southwest in the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, Jamie.”

And Jamie, I’m glad you enjoyed it.



With that we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. Remember to check out our sponsor, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides at

If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to host at or better yet leave a comment on this episode at You can also check out the links for everything we talked about in the show notes and in the lyrics of this episode, and in a few weeks a transcript of this episode will go up. Thanks to Jay Way Travel from You can follow me on Twitter, @chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.


Share this:
Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

Leave a Reply

Tags: , , , ,