The Northern Territory spans Australia’s famous outback, from the sandy deserts of the Red Centre — home to the pioneering town of Alice Springs, rugged Kings Canyon, Uluru (Ayers Rock), and vast outback landscapes — to the tropical oasis of the Top End in the north, with its waterfalls, billabongs, thermal pools, ancient Aboriginal rock art and more. The local Aboriginal people hold a deeply spiritual connection to the land. Their culture dates back more than 50,000 years, and
their ancient stories are still being told today. The Northern Territory is also renowned for its colorful outback characters. Larger than life and only too willing to share a tale or two, it’s hard not to fall in love with their down-to-earth attitude
POINTS OF INTEREST
Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, is a modern city situated on a harbor twice the size of Sydney Harbour. Home to people of more than 50 nationalities — including the area’s traditional Aboriginal landowners, the Larrakia people — Darwin is considered one of Australia’s most culturally diverse cities. Darwin is the perfect base for exploring some of the Northern Territory’s best destinations, including the Tiwi Islands, Litchfield National Park, Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land, and the Katherine Region. It is also the main entry point for international visitors to the Northern Territory, and part of Australia’s Southeast Asian gateway.
Residents make the most of Darwin’s tropical setting and balmy weather with a year-round celebration of outdoor living. Open-air cinemas, markets on the beach, outdoor festivals, fishing, and cruising on Darwin’s pristine harbor are all popular activities.
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Visitors can take the 90-minutes drive from Darwin or book a tour to discover Litchfield National Park’s 579 square miles of sandstone escarpments, cascading waterfalls, and monsoon rainforest. Litchfield’s crystal-clear swimming holes and many bushwalks make it a very popular day trip from Darwin, but it’s also great for an extended visit, thanks to the local campsites and accommodation properties nearby.
Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park and is dual World Heritage-listed for both natural beauty and Aboriginal culture. Kakadu boasts a varied landscape that includes wetlands, forests, and savannah. Kakadu is located approximately 2.5 hours drive east of Darwin. Visitors will enjoy uninterrupted views to the horizon and learn about Kakadu’s Aboriginal culture and history at Bowali Visitors Centre or Warradjan Cultural Centre. Other favorite experiences include a billabong cruise, visiting rock-art galleries, swimming at the waterfalls, or enjoying a scenic flight.
Arnhem Land is the Aboriginal-owned region that borders Kakadu to the north and east. One of the last great untouched areas of the world, the region features wild coastlines, deserted islands, fish-filled rivers, rainforests, and soaring escarpments. The main areas to visit are the Cobourg Peninsula, Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula, Maningrida, and Gunbalanya (Oenpelli). The culture of the Aboriginal people who own this land remains largely intact and a permit is required to travel within Arnhem Land. An organized tour is highly recommended as the best way to explore this region of the Northern Territory.
The township of Katherine is often described as a place where the outback meets the tropics. Katherine’s diverse landscapes and unique ecosystems offer an ideal setting for activities including fishing, canoeing, bushwalking, camping, and four-wheel-drive adventures. Katherine is located approximately three hours’ drive south of Darwin. Day trips from Darwin are possible, however, it is recommended that visitors stay at least overnight to make the most of their visit.
The Katherine region is most famous for Nitmiluk Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park, a place of cultural significance for the Jawoyn people. The area boasts a system of 13 individual gorges, each separated by rapids and waterfalls. The famous Jatbula Trail bushwalk also starts here, stretching for 36 miles before its end at Edith Falls. Pine Creek is a small town on the route from Darwin to Katherine. Established in the late 1800s after a gold rush in the area, itis a great place for exploring heritage bush buildings and historic gold mining sites.
Traveling south from Katherine, the landscape slowly transforms into desert, and Tennant Creek, in the Barkly region, offers a real Australian outback experience. The crossroads of the Explorers Way and Overlander’s Way driving routes, and the site of Australia’s last major gold rush in the 1930s, Tennant Creek is known as the Northern Territory’s ‘heart of gold’. Tennant Creek is approximately 8 hours drive from Katherine.
THE BARKLY REGION
The Barkly is a region of vast grassy plains and spectacular rock formations between Alice Springs and Katherine, most famous for the Karlu Karlu Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve. This collection of ancient, giant boulders scattered on a valley floor are said to represent the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent, part of an important Aboriginal Dreamtime story. Karlu Karlu Devils Marbles is 65 miles south of Tennant Creek.
A thriving outback town, Alice Springs is as famous for the personality of its locals as it is for the nearby Larapinta Trail and the MacDonnell Ranges. Visitors can head into town and explore the Todd Mall, visit art galleries, discover native animals at the Reptile Centre, and learn about the town’s unique pioneering history. For those seeking adventure, there are plenty of activities including mountain biking, quad biking, taking a camel ride, a hot air balloon flight. Alice Springs also hosts unusual events such as the Lasseters Camel Cup or the Henley-on-Todd Regatta.
Alice Springs is the location for many places of cultural and spiritual significance for its traditional owners, the Arrernte people. Local indigenous culture and tradition can be explored through the colorful canvases of local Aboriginal artists. on display in the galleries and art centers around the town.
The MacDonnell Ranges, dated between 310 and 340 million years old, rise dramatically from the Central Australian desert floor. Stretching east to west for 249 miles on either side of Alice Springs. they provide a stunning backdrop to the town and offer a rich landscape to explore. The Arrernte people, the traditional owners of the Alice Springs area, believe giant caterpillars called the Yeperenye formed the Ranges after entering this world through one of the gaps in the surrounding escarpment.
For its Aboriginal custodians and the many travelers that come here, World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park represents the physical and spiritual heart of Australia. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is located approximately 5 – 6 hours drive (276mi) south-west of Alice Springs. As such, a day trip is not recommended and visitors should stay at least one night in the area to enjoy the best experience. There are also direct flights from various cities to Ayers Rock Airport. Standing at 1141 feet tall, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is taller than the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower.
Just 45 minutes west of Uluru is Kata Tjuta, a series of rock formations estimated to be over 500 million years old. These 36 domes are best explored through Walpa Gorge or the Valley of the Winds Walks. Visitors can also join an Indigenous art class, take a bike ride around the base of Uluru or ride a camel to dinner under the stars.
WATARRKA NATIONAL PARK
Watarrka National Park is best known for Kings Canyon — a huge gorge that splits the earth to a depth of 984 feet. The Park, located 200 miles west of Alice Springs, is an important conservation area, where rock holes and gorges provide shelter for over 600 species of plants, and many native animals. The Luritja Aboriginal people have called the area home for more than 20,000 years.