If you are looking for one of the best Top End experiences from Darwin, look no further than a cruise on Corroboree Billabong in Mary River National Park. Closer to Darwin than Litchfield National Park or Kakadu, Mary River National Park is a fantastic nature experience with abundant birdlife and crocodiles.
We did a morning cruise but there are four cruises across the day. Read our guide and review of the cruise to see why you should put it on your list of day trips from Darwin or as something to do on your way to Kakadu.
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- Where is Mary River National Park?
- When does the Mary River Cruise run?
- Will you see crocodiles on the Mary River Cruise?
- 5 Best Things about the Mary River Cruise
- Places to Stay
Where is Mary River National Park?
Mary River National Park is 80 minutes southeast of Darwin on the Arnhem Highway. You will go past it on your way to Jabiru and Kakadu.
The cruise in Mary River National Park is on Corroboree Billabong. The road to Corroboree Billabong is sealed but for the last 4km which is dirt road. During the dry season the dirt track is well maintained and suitable for 2WDs.
If you are in a rental car and want to stay off the dirt, a shuttle bus runs from the nearby Corroboree Park Tavern to the billabong for the cruise.
When does the Mary River Cruise run?
Mary River Cruises run in the dry season from April to October. In the wet season the wetlands are completely inundated. As we headed off on our cruise, the guide showed us some bins and a sign and said they would be underwater in the wet season.
There is so much water in the wet season, the channels we cruised around disappear under several metres of water. It was quite something to contemplate how different the landscape would look when changing from a billabong to an inland sea!
4 Mary River Cruise Options
There are 4 different cruises to choose from on Corroboree Billabong:
- Sunrise Cruise, 2 hours, available in June to August
- Morning Cruise, 90 minutes, available April to the end of October
- Lunch Cruise, 2.5 hours, available April to the end of October, cold meat and salad lunch provided
- Sunset Cruise, 2 hours, available April to the end of October, BYO cooler bag and drinks – while you enjoy sunset
Because we had other plans for the day we went for the Morning Cruise, and it was fantastic. If you are especially keen on seeing crocodiles on the banks maybe avoid the sunrise cruise as the air can be a bit cool for them to be out of the water.
There is also an option if you don’t have your transport. There is a great tour form Darwin that not only includes the lunch tour cruise on Corroboree Billabong, but you also stop at Fogg Dam and the Window into the Wetlands Centre. It is a brilliant way to experience the monsoon wetlands and Fogg Dam is a great addition to the day.
- Full Day Mary River Tour from Darwin including Corroboree Billabong Lunch Cruise, Fogg Dam & Window on the Wetlands Visitor Centre – perfect if you don’t have a car
Will you see crocodiles on the Mary River Cruise?
Mary River National Park has the highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the Northern Territory. This, along with the experienced guides knowing where these territorial creatures call home, means you are almost certain to see crocodiles at Corroboree Billabong.
On our cruise in the morning, we had only just pushed off from shore and a 4 metre long crocodile cruised right past the boat. We continued spotting them both in the water and sunning on the bank as we cruised around. We not only saw enormous saltwater crocodiles, but also spotted some smaller freshwater crocodiles on the bank too.
Just keep in mind that if you do the Sunrise Cruise, you will likely see fewer crocodiles on the bank because the air will be too cool for them to leave the water.
5 Best Things about the Mary River Cruise
Corroboree Billabong is a bit of a Hidden Gem
We have been to the Northern Territory a few times, but this was our first look around Mary River National Park. It was one of those things we can’t believe we hadn’t got to sooner. So, if you have been to Litchfield or Kakadu National Park before, or if Kakadu is a bit out of the way on your next trip to the Top End, check out Mary River National Park and Corroboree Billabong.
The Billabong is Beautiful
There is nothing like the Mary River Wetlands and Corroboree Billabong. The cruise takes you around the billabong and into narrow channels. There are beautiful pink lotus lilies everywhere. Guides will point out paperbark forests, stands of native bamboo and pandanus.
Our morning cruise was done under stunning blue skies but if you choose the dawn or dusk cruise, you can see the wetlands and floodplains light up in the pink and peach colours of the rising or setting sun.
And topping it all off is the birdlife…
Corroboree Billabong Birdlife
It won’t matter whether you are a serious bird nerd or just a nature lover, you will love the birdlife you see on the cruise. The highlight for us was getting up close to a pair of Jabirus on the bank. But there is birdlife everywhere. Overhead you can spot kites and sea eagles. We saw egrets, Australian darters, spoonbills, brolgas, herons and more ducks than we can name.
The birds have got use to the boat so you can get quite close to them. The guides also know where many of them nest. We saw sea eagle nests and a Jabiru standing in a huge nest at the very top of a tree which was great sight.
Dusk and dawn cruises will see the birdlife at its best as it wakes then comes into roost at the end of the day. But no matter which cruise you go on, there will be plenty to see.
Mary River Crocodiles
Going to a crocodile park is one thing but seeing saltwater crocodiles in the wild is even better. And there is no better place to do this than Mary River National Park which has the highest concentrations of crocodiles in the Northern Territory.
We rarely rounded a bend without seeing a huge croc sunning itself on the bank or lurking in the shallow water. And the boat safely gets right up close to them so you can get a great look at them. Because they are territorial creatures, the guides not only have names for the regularly sighted crocodiles, but they also know where they should be lurking.
The scenery on the Mary River cruise is fantastic but the guides do a great job adding to the experience. They know the billabong like the back of their hand, so take you to best spots depending on the time of day. They know the history of the place, when a lightning storm knocked off which tree, whether a nest has chicks in it and have stories about their favourite crocodiles.
They also do a great job making sure everyone gets to see everything. It won’t matter which side of the boat you are on, both sides will be steered into a position to get great pictures or see something special.
If you are heading to Darwin for a holiday, make sure you put the Corroboree Billabong cruise at Mary River National Park on your list of things to do.
Places to Stay
If you go for sunrise or sunset cruise it might worth staying overnight near Corroboree Billabong. The nearest option is the Corroboree Park Tavern on the Arnhem Highway right by the turn off to the billabong. They have a caravan park, camping sites and cabins. The tavern is a great spot for a meal, a drink or to talk fishing. There is also a shuttle bus from the tavern into Corroboree Billabong.
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