I am limited on time and have to chose one or the other. I will be spending some time in Cairns and Mission Beach. Originally I planned to go up to Cape Tribulation afterwards but now I am thinking about leaving that out and checking out Kakadu NP before heading into the Centre.
Cairns - Mission Beach - Cape Trib - Red Centre
Cairns - Mission Beach - Kakadu - Red Centre
You can do a decent daytrip to Cape Tribulation from Cairns. I'm really not a fan of organized tours like that, but if you have limited time, it might be worth it to do things that way; the size of tour groups is fairly limited because only small minibuses can cross on the Daintree River ferry.
OK. I didn't go to Cape Trib but I did go to Kakadu, so this is purely my point of view on that.....
I'm not a fan of really big organised tours either, but small ones are ok. You kind of have to if you're alone, and its a reliable way to meet new people, especially if it involves camping, which is soooo much fun. Whether you're on your own or not, I would strongly recommend it for somewhere like Kakadu and I'll explain why in a minute....
Kakadu was possibly the best place I went to in Australia. I did it as an organised tour, only about 8-10 people cos you're in a 4x4. Its the kind of place where you have to, to get the most from it. It was the tour guide and the group that made it so brilliant. I can't remember the name of the company (it was July 2005) but it had its office opposite Red Hot Chilli Hostel, next to Melaleuca Hostel in Darwin.
Anyway, Kakadu National Park is vast, takes a while to get about. It is very beautiful indeed. And you need a 4x4 to access a lot of the most beautiful places, like the fantastic waterfalls. They aren't necessarily easy to find, nor are the paths etc obvious. One reason I like a tour guide for things like this is, apart from avoiding getting eaten by crocodiles, I usually have a million questions about everything. I like the explanations, background and stories you get from a really knowledgable person. As well as knowing where was safe and great to swim etc, our tour guide would stop and tell us about plants we saw, animals, birds, and for example, how the aboriginal people use this tree as medicine. He spotted all kinds of cool stuff we'd have otherwise missed, like a beautiful, huge frill neck lizard on a tree in the bush while we were driving along. Passing over a bridge at night, he shone a torch down to the river, and it caught the eyes of dozens of crocs like cat's eyes. Oh I had such a good time.
Also in the North of the Northern Territory is Katherine Gorge which is supposed to be amazing.
Anyway, I completly recommend Kakadu, you shouldn't miss it.
[ Edit: Edited at Oct 14, 2006 1:30 PM by Clarabell ]