The "Top End" is a last frontier, a vast sweep of barely inhabited country from Broome on the west coast to Arnhemland in the Northern Territory and eastern Queensland. Most of it is in the Northern Territory, and the term also differentiates the northern part of the Territory from the Red Centre. It is a place of wild, rugged beauty and, sometimes, hardship.

The Northern Territory's capital, Darwin, is a small city, modern, wealthy, tropical, and rapidly growing. To the east of Darwin is Kakadu National Park, home to wetlands teeming with crocs and birds; a third of the country's bird species are here. Farther east is Arnhemland, a stretch of rocky escarpments and rivers owned by Aborigines and seen by few others. The town of Katherine is famous for its river gorge. You'll find a wealth of experiences: Visit an Aboriginal community, canoe along lonely rivers, and soak in thermal pools.

Life in the Top End is different from life elsewhere in Australia. Its slightly lawless image is one the locals enjoy, but in Darwin you'll also get a sense of a city on the move. And it seems unlikely that development will change its essence. Isolation, the summer Wet season, monsoons, predatory crocodiles, and other dangers make 'em tough up here, but you don't have to do without the comforts you're used to.