Holiday highlights when travelling to the Northern Territory
Home to some of Australia’s most iconic and heartbreaking scenery, the Northern Territory is a vast and unforgettable land. Travel down the guts of it, from Darwin to Alice Springs, and take one of many Uluru tours. Or explore up north, with Kakadu tours through majestic canyons and along winding rivers. We’ve handpicked some of the Northern Territory’s best bits to get you on your way.
Darwin-to-Uluru road trip
This is one of Australia’s most iconic road trips – from the territory capital, Darwin, straight down south to Alice Springs and Uluru. The trip, which runs via Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, has a total driving time of 22 hours and 30 minutes.
If you’re spending some time in Darwin, make sure you visit the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Home to an impressive collection of Aboriginal art, it’s a fascinating and well-curated museum. There is a wave pool in the city’s waterfront area for those who want the waves without the fear of wildlife.
Head down to Mindil Beach Sunset Market on Thursday and Sunday evenings to taste the local tucker and buy some arts and crafts while viewing a stunning coastal sunset on Mindil Beach. Territory Wildlife Park is also close to Darwin and worth a visit to see some crocs up close. Be sure to hire 4WD in Darwin then head south.
The Top End
There is plenty to explore in the north. Kakadu National Park offers a huge range of activities – explore ancient rock art at Ubirr, swim beneath beautiful waterfalls, and see rivers, wetlands, sandstone gorges such as the stunning Barramundi Gorge where you will see a huge variety of birds and other wildlife that can range from beautiful to dangerous.
Arnhem Land, to the east of Kakadu, offers fishing, art tours and wilderness lodges. A vast and sacred place, it’s been home to the Yolngu people for 60,000 years.
Northeast of Katherine, you’ll find Nitmiluk National Park, home of the breathtaking Katherine Gorge. Enjoy canoeing, kayaking, walking and fishing in this beautiful gorge.
Stay the night in Katherine and be sure to stop off at the beautiful Mataranka Thermal pools for a swim on your way down to Tennant Creek where you will stay the night. The morning after you should visit Karlu Karlu, also known as the Devil’s Marbles. It’s a conservation reserve located 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek and home to gigantic granite boulders, some of which are perched precariously on top of each other. It’s a site of great significance to the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land and the source of many sacred stories.
Spend the night in Alice Springs, then drive west to the dusty red heart of Australia: Uluru. It’s nearly six hours’ drive from Alice Springs and an awe-inspiring experience. Walk around the base during the day, then watch the colours magically change in the special light of dusk. Remember not to walk on the rock – it’s a sacred place for the traditional Aboriginal owners and they ask you not to climb it. From October 2019, climbing Uluru will be strictly banned.
Down the road, Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas) is a group of domed rocks that rise majestically from the desert. You can then visit Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park for majestic gorges, river swimming and hiking.
The best way to see the whole area, though, is to drive the Red Centre Way – from Alice Springs to the West MacDonnell Ranges, Finke Gorge, Watarrka National Park, Uluru-Kata Tjuta and back to Alice, where you can drop off your hire 4WD at the airport. The whole trip, from Darwin to Alice Springs and the Red Centre Way, will take seven nights.
How to get there
If a road trip isn’t your style, or you’re strapped for time, you can fly directly to Darwin, Alice Springs, Uluru Katherine and Tennant Creek.
If you love to travel by train, you can also take The Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs, then take a tour or self-drive the Red Centre. The full trip, from Darwin to Adelaide, is considered one of the world’s greatest train journeys.
When to go
The best time is during winter, when it’s dry and slightly cooler. May to September are the best months.
If you’re self-driving, refuel your vehicle as frequently as possible. Fuel stops can be few and far between in outback Australia. Remember to pack warm clothes, as the nights can be very cold in the desert. And remember to be respectful to the land’s traditional owners; try to understand their culture and respect their customs. And who knows –as you’re walking on ancient Aboriginal land, perhaps the spirits will tell you a story or two.
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