Itineraries

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Fish on a platter

Only got a day in Darwin? No worries, the Northern Territory is home to plenty of fishing hotspots within easy reach when you’re tight on time. We reckon heading out onto beautiful Darwin Harbour with an expert fishing guide gives you a fair chance of reeling a prize-tagged barramundi, while still giving you time to explore the sites. Check out the full list of operators offering half-day and full-day experiences here or find out more from our mates at Tourism Top End.

Queen Mary II arrives

Whether you’re an experienced angler or a first-time fisho, our local guides are well-equipped with the inside scoop to give you the best chance of baggin’ a barra. Early starts go with the territory when it comes to joining a fishing charter, so get a good night’s kip before hitting the water. Most fishing tour operators supply rods, reel, tackle and water, but it’s a good idea to bring your own drinks, food, hat and sunscreen. We’d also recommend wearing polarized sunnies and cool, light clothes – long sleeves are the go. If you haven’t got yourself a fishing shirt yet, check out the Million Dollar Fish Season 6 shirt made right here in Darwin by Big Fish Gear.

Million Dollar Fish Season 6 shirt

The Darwin Harbour catchment is bloody massive – five times bigger than Sydney Harbour, so the experts reckon, and we’re not gonna argue! With so much water and plenty of arms and estuaries to explore, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Darwin Harbour is also home to a bunch of other fish species including threadfin salmon, golden snapper and mangrove jack, to name a few, so you’re more than likely to hook onto something. Back in Darwin, relax after a big day and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Wharf One Food and Wine barra masterclass Wharf One Food and Wine barra masterclass

Barra is best eaten fresh, so if you’re not much of a master chef or don’t have the means to cook in your accommodation, there are plenty of restaurants in Darwin that will cook your catch. Contact Wharf One, Hanuman, Oka Teppanyaki and Fusion on the Wharf. For those who are handy in the kitchen, keep it simple – try oven-baked barra with lemon butter sauce. Quick, easy and delicious.

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Discover barradise with our unique two- to three-day itineraries featuring some of the Territory’s top fishing spots.

Million Dollar Fish runs from the start of October through to the end of March each year, and covers the Build Up, the Wet Season (we call it the ‘Tropical Summer’) and the beginning of the Run-Off. Lucky for all you fishos out there, these six months are well known for producing some of the best barra fishing in Oz.

Whether you’re an experienced angler, or still working out how to tie your rig, there’s a number of itineraries exploring the Top End’s arms and estuaries to choose from. They will draw you in hook, line and sinker. So grab your rod and reel and let’s get started. And remember, make sure you register for Million Dollar Fish before you hit the water in case you hook on to a red-tagged fish.

2-DAY TRIPS

Finniss River

The big girls bite in the Finniss River south of Darwin, which runs west through Litchfield National Park and flows into the sea at Fog Bay. Less than a 90-minute drive from Darwin, the Finniss offers the best of both worlds with saltwater estuary and freshwater fishing, where you can reel in saratoga, tarpon and, of course, more barra. You could easily make the trip from Darwin in a day, but it’s worth taking a bit longer to fully explore the area and get the most bites.

Shady Camp

Shady Camp is a hugely popular place for fishos, with trophy barra over the magic metre mark not an uncommon catch in the Mary River system. Located in the picturesque Mary River National Park, Shady Camp is a good two hours’ drive towing a boat from Darwin and one hour 40 minutes by 4WD only during the Wet, so it’s worth looking into camping and cabin options. Surrounded by freshwater billabongs, paperbark and monsoon forests, you won’t regret spending a night or two as you spin a few yarns over a few bevvies about the one that was ‘this’ big.

Classic barra run-off conditions at Shady Camp

3-DAY TRIPS

Daly River

At the top of most Territory anglers’ list is the Daly River – one of the most iconic spots to catch a barra in the Territory. Renowned for producing huge barra, if you’re looking to tick that metery off your bucket list, you’ve come to the right place. It’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Darwin, so unless you’re up for a super early start, we suggest staying the night before you hit the water. The fishing is likely to be so good you’ll want to stay as long as you can, which tips this spot into our three-day itinerary list. Camping is popular and there is hotel accommodation at the Daly River Resort, which provides fishing charters and guides to improve your chances of baggin’ and snaggin’ a pic with your very own barra.

The mighty Daly River is a mecca for barra anglers

South Alligator River and East Alligator River (Kakadu National Park)

Most locals fish one or the other when it comes to the South and East Alligator Rivers, but if you’re short on time you can easily combine these two epic wild rivers on a multi-day fishing adventure in Kakadu National Park. Fish the South on day one and, if you’ve got the right safety gear and a big enough boat, super-size your adventure by taking a long trip to the river mouth. Spend the night in Jabiru, where there is a range of sleeping options, from a swag under the stars to camping spots with basic comforts, plus hotels and cabins. Then head to nearby Cahills Crossing to launch on the East and experience a true Kakadu experience surrounded by epic escarpments, wide floodplains and plenty of wildlife. Keep an eye out for submerged stumps, sandbars and, of course, the ever-present crocs.

Working the mouth of a South Alligator creek

Melville Island

If you’ve ever dreamed of casting your line and being hit by a huge barra while surrounded by some of the wildest, most untouched scenery in Australia, dream no more. The Tiwi Islands are a special place and, through an exclusive lease agreement with Melville Island Traditional Owners, Melville Island Lodge can offer you a very special fishing experience. The agreement provides sport-fishing access to five magnificent river systems; Snake Bay, Shark Bay, the Johnson and Jessie Rivers, and famous Goose Creek. It’s an unspoiled angler’s paradise teeming with barra, with trophy-sized monsters in excess of one metre and 20kg caught (and released) by anglers each year. In addition, there is also access to pristine reefs and bluewater fishing that will blow your mind.

Not experienced, but keen to cast?

If you’re not an experienced fisho or don’t have your own boat, we highly recommend heading out with one of our fantastic fishing tour operators. Most are fully equipped with everything you need, but if you’ve got a lucky lure or preferred snacks, it can’t hurt to bring your own. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and sunnies, and a cool, long-sleeved shirt.

Check out the full list of fishing tour operators here.

People riding in a small boat

You don’t have to travel far to snag a barra in the Top End. You can base yourself in Darwin and enjoy all the comforts of a city stay while venturing out to several of our easily reached fishing hotspots.

DAY 1: DUNDEE

A favourite with Darwinites, Dundee is just 90 minutes from the city by sealed road. This sleepy beachside community spills out on to some of the region’s best bluewater fishing spots. There’s a boat ramp – check tide times, as they affect access – and nearby points and exposed reefs are ideal for small boat fishing.

Huge jewfish get caught less than two kilometres out, while barra are common along the coast. On the top of a big tide, watch out for blue salmon. Out wider, both coral trout and red emperor are regular catches, Spanish mackerel can eat you out of the boat, and cobia are often prolific. Bluewater charters and boat hire are available.

DAY 2-3: THE TIWI ISLANDS

Bathurst and Melville Islands – the Tiwi Islands – lie about 80 kilometres to the north of Darwin. There’s some great estuary fishing for barra, salmon and mangrove jack, and excellent bluewater fishing around the rocky headlands for queenfish, giant trevally, golden snapper and black jewfish. Marlin and sailfish are caught in the areas known as the ‘Bathurst Trench’ to the north-west of Bathurst Island, the Afghan Shoals south of Cape Fourcroy and around Shepparton Shoals to the west.

This is Aboriginal-owned land, so you need a permit to enter the waters, but the Tiwi Land Council and Traditional Owners have a streamlined permit process. Call the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT) on (08) 8945 6455 or visit www.afant.com.au to find out more. Accommodation options include lodge and safari tents, both with guided fishing. Travel is by light aircraft from Darwin, and Darwin-based fishing guides also regularly visit the Tiwi Islands.

3 Hour Creek Fishing Adventure

DAY 4: ADELAIDE RIVER

After three days of bluewater fishing it’s time to hit our wild rivers. Access to Adelaide River is 70 kilometres east of Darwin via the Stuart and Arnhem Highways. A concrete boat ramp just upstream from the Adelaide River Bridge provides easy access, and the river has many creek mouths that can be fished for barra during both the Wet and the Run-off.

Upstream, around Goat Island, there are submerged rockbars, and around the river mouth there’s excellent fishing for jewfish, golden snapper and saltwater barra. Succulent mud crabs can also be found almost year-round. Guided barra fishing trips to Adelaide River are available from Darwin, and there’s bungalow accommodation on Goat Island, approximately 20 kilometres up the river from the Arnhem Highway boat ramp, if you want to do an overnighter.

DAY 5: MARY RIVER

With several tidal and billabong barra fishing options less than two hours’ drive from Darwin, the Mary River system has much to offer fishos. The famous Corroboree Billabong has a boat ramp launching into 45 kilometres of fishable water, and a range of native wildlife and aquatic bird life as good as you’ll experience anywhere in the tropical Top End. Shady Camp provides boat access to vast mangrove-lined sections of Sampan Creek and Tommycut Creek.

From February to May every year, huge barra are caught trolling at the mouths of both creeks and along the coast of Van Diemen Gulf, wherever there’s run-off into Chambers Bay. On neap tides, boating a few kilometres offshore from the river mouth will place you in the vicinity of shallow reefs, which are home to schools of black jewfish. Tides are critical – you need to time your departure and return with the top of the tide. The tidal section of Mary River, below the shady camp barrage, is closed to fishing from 1 October to 31 January and special rules apply to fishing within 100 metres of the barrage itself. Fishing dinghies are available for hire, and professional fishing guides operate for most of the year.

Mary River in the wet

DAY 6: DARWIN HARBOUR

Darwin sits on a peninsula surrounded by water. To the west is the vast Darwin Harbour; to the north lies the Timor Sea; to the east is Shoal Bay. Numerous boat ramps service all three, providing easy access. During the calmest months of October to December, heading out to troll baits for sailfish and marlin is a serious option. You can bottom bounce for those favourite Top End reef fish, black jewfish and golden snapper, almost year-round. Darwin Harbour has three major arms and several inlets. Barra, juvenile golden snapper and a variety of other estuary species can be caught in them all.

There are many artificial reefs dotted around, including at Fenton Patches, Adelaide River Mouth, North Gutter and Lee Point, plus several shipwrecks that attract the fish. North-east of Darwin, Shoal Bay and the Howard River are also top barra locations with boat hire and secure parking available for a fee. Large barramundi are regularly caught at ‘the rock’ in shoal bay during the Build-Up.

The area is also renowned for great mud crabbing. Guided barra and/or reef fishing trips in the harbour are available, and there’s secure parking at both Buffalo Creek and Leaders Creek boat ramps to the north. Daily bluewater charters depart Cullen Bay Marina, and professional fishing guides can pick you up from your hotel for a one-day or extended barra fishing tour. There are also a number of boat hire outlets and tackle shops.

DAY 7: R ‘N’ R

End your stay with a relaxing day. Start with breakfast at a waterside venue, such as Fannie Bay Cool Spot, The Foreshore Café at Nightcliff or The Boatshed Coffee House at Cullen Bay. Or try the Darwin Waterfront for a resort-style vibe and swim in the Wave Pool. If it’s a Saturday head to Parap Markets in the morning. If it’s a Sunday stop in at Nightcliff Markets. Both are packed with food stalls and local arts and crafts – great gifts for those back home.

Jump in the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove in the CBD, where you come nose to snout with a five-metre saltwater crocodile, or check out the Darwin Military Museum or a hop on, hop off bus tour of the city. Top off your trip with a casual dining experience in our stunning open spaces thanks to the many street food vendors dotted around Darwin. Visit www.darwin.nt.gov.au and search ‘street food’ for information about what stalls are where on what days. Looking for one last fix of water? Join a Darwin Harbour sunset cruise, or enjoy dinner overlooking the ocean at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club, Darwin Ski Club, Darwin Sailing Club, or Stokes Hill Wharf.

darwin-harbour

The Top End hosts some of Australia’s most incredible angling adventures, and a fishing trip here is your chance to get amongst it. From the blue waters of Darwin Harbour and Dundee to the wild waterways of the Kakadu and Katherine regions, there are heaps of experiences to be had … and fish to catch.

DAY 1-2: KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

Dive straight into your trip with a visit to Kakadu National Park. This vast, rugged wilderness is home to the tidal sections of the wild South and East Alligator Rivers. Both are easily accessed by sealed roads and concrete boat ramps, with South Alligator around 200km from Darwin and East Alligator another hour’s drive east, on the border of Arnhem Land. South Alligator is one of the Top End’s most productive barra rivers, especially during the Wet Season.

At other times there is excellent reef fishing for black jewfish and golden snapper out from the mouth of the river, around Field and Barron Islands. East Alligator is another cracking barra spot, with its tidal and freshwater sections split by the famous Cahills Crossing. Kakadu is also home to dozens of pristine billabongs, with barra and saratoga begging to be caught. Rules apply to fishing in Kakadu. View the NT Guidelines. Accommodation in the park includes hotels, lodges, caravan sites and camping areas, with services and facilities available in the township of Jabiru. Several professional fishing guides operate in Kakadu, and boat hire is available.

Scenic flight around Kakadu with North Australian Helicopters

DAY 3-4: DALY, VICTORIA AND ROPER RIVERS

From Kakadu, travel 300km south-west to Katherine. The draw here is the town’s close proximity to some of the Territory’s best fishing areas. The legendary Daly River is one of the Territory’s top barramundi fisheries, with no commercial barra fishing allowed. The wildlife is prolific, including a healthy population of freshwater and saltwater crocodiles, and tides up to seven metres are common.

The Territory’s biggest river, the Victoria River, flows through this region into the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf on the Territory’s west coast. This is a big-tide river and fishing is best on neap tides when the water is clear. Closer to Katherine is the Victoria River Bridge. There are freshwater holes in this section of the river, the most popular being the Victoria River Gorge. Upstream, the ‘Vic’ meanders many kilometres inland, becoming a series of segmented pools, which can be fished from the shore and contain some surprisingly large barramundi.

An hour south of Katherine lies the township of Mataranka, where you’ll find the headwaters of the mighty Roper River. Flowing 250 kilometres east to the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Roper is famous for its barra fishing, with most taking place east of Roper Bar, the crossing separating the saltwater and freshwater sections. The tidal section of the Roper is home to most popular estuary species, including black jewfish, threadfin salmon, giant trevally and golden snapper. Mud crabs are abundant.

DAY 5: R ‘N’ R

After four days of fishing action, head back to Darwin to rest and recharge your batteries. Ease into the day with breakfast at the Darwin Waterfront where you’ll find a variety of eating spots. Enjoy a swim in the Recreation Lagoon or catch a wave in the Wave Pool. After lunch, make your way to Crocosaurus Cove in the CBD and get your heart racing in the Cage of Death. The ultimate adrenalin rush, here you come nose to snout with a five-metre saltwater crocodile – with just a piece of plastic between you. Alternatively, check out the Darwin Military Museum or join a hop on, hop off bus tour around the city. Tonight, head into the CBD for some R ‘n’ R.

Holidaymakers enjoying the surf

DAY 6: DUNDEE

Eager to get back out on the water? Go to Dundee. A favourite with Darwinites, Dundee is just 90 minutes from the city by sealed road. This sleepy beachside community spills out on to some of the region’s best bluewater fishing spots. There’s a boat ramp – check tide times, as they affect access – and nearby points and exposed reefs are ideal for small boat fishing. Huge jewfish get caught less than two kilometres out, while barra are common along the coast.

On the top of a big tide, watch out for blue salmon. Out wider, both coral trout and red emperor are regular catches, Spanish mackerel can eat you out of the boat, and cobia are often prolific. Camping, caravan and lodge accommodation is available, as well as bluewater charters and boat hire. Mothership fishing cruises are also an option, most providing all accommodation and meals on large, comfortable vessels.

DAY 7-8: THE TIWI ISLANDS

Bathurst and Melville Islands – the Tiwi Islands – lie about 80 kilometres to the north of Darwin. There’s some great estuary fishing for barra, salmon and mangrove jack, and excellent bluewater fishing around the rocky headlands for queenfish, giant trevally, golden snapper and black jewfish. Marlin and sailfish are caught in the areas known as the ‘Bathurst Trench’ to the north-west of Bathurst Island, the Afghan Shoals south of Cape Fourcroy and around Shepparton Shoals to the west.

This is Aboriginal-owned land, so you need a permit to enter the waters, but the Tiwi Land Council and Traditional Owners have a streamlined permit process. Call the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT) on (08) 8945 6455 or visit www.afant.com.au to find out more. Stay overnight to fully appreciate this piece of fishing paradise. Accommodation options include lodge and safari tents, both with guided fishing. Travel is by light aircraft from Darwin. Darwin-based fishing guides and motherships with guided fishing also regularly visit the Tiwi Islands.

3 Hour Creek Fishing Adventure

DAY 9: DARWIN HARBOUR

Darwin sits on a peninsula surrounded by water. To the west is the vast Darwin Harbour; to the north lies the Timor Sea; to the east is Shoal Bay. Numerous boat ramps service all three, providing easy access. During the calmest months of October to December, heading out to troll baits for sailfish and marlin is a serious option. You can bottom bounce for those favourite Top End reef fish, black jewfish and golden snapper, almost year-round. Darwin Harbour has three major arms and several inlets. Barra, juvenile golden snapper and a variety of other estuary species can be caught in them all.

There are many artificial reefs dotted around, including at Fenton Patches, Adelaide River Mouth, North Gutter and Lee Point, plus several shipwrecks that attract the fish. North-east of Darwin, Shoal Bay and the Howard River are also top barra locations with boat hire and secure parking available for a fee. Large barramundi are regularly caught at ‘the rock’ in shoal bay during the Build-Up. The area is also renowned for great mud crabbing.

Guided barra and/or reef fishing trips in the harbour are available, and there’s secure parking at both Buffalo Creek and Leaders Creek boat ramps to the north. Daily bluewater charters depart Cullen Bay Marina, and professional fishing guides can pick you up from your hotel for a one-day or extended barra fishing tour. There are also a number of boat hire outlets and tackle shops.

Queen Mary II arrives

DAY 10: R ‘N’ R

End your stay with a relaxing day. Start with breakfast at a waterside venue, such as Fannie Bay Cool Spot, The Foreshore Café at Nightcliff or The Boatshed Coffee House at Cullen Bay. If it’s a Saturday head to Parap Markets in the morning. If it’s a Sunday stop in at Nightcliff Markets. Both are packed with food stalls and local arts and crafts – great gifts for those back home.

Top off your trip with a casual dining experience in our stunning open spaces thanks to the many street food vendors dotted around Darwin. Visit www.darwin.nt.gov.au and search ‘street food’ for information about what stalls are where on what days. Looking for one last fix of water? Join a Darwin Harbour sunset cruise, or enjoy dinner overlooking the ocean at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club, Darwin Ski Club, Darwin Sailing Club, or Stokes Hill Wharf.

Laksa at Parap Markets

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Acknowledgement to Country

Northern Territory Major Events Company respectfully acknowledges the past, present and emerging Traditional Owners of the beautiful land on which we live, work and gather. We respect the cultural practices and traditions of our hosts, recognise the importance of sustainably caring for our country, and commit to being respectful visitors to traditional lands.

© Million Dollar Fish - 2020ABN: 17 435 764 236