Gleaming beaches, dense jungle and vast swathes of outback are just a few of the diverse landscapes you might stumble across during a trip to Australia. While many visitors are drawn to world-class scuba diving off the east coast or the cosmopolitan coffee culture of Melbourne, the nation’s northernmost province is also ripe for exploration.
The Northern Territory (NT) shares borders with Western Australia (WA), Queensland and South Australia (SA) and boasts some of the nation’s most treasured gems. In fact, you may have heard of a little place called Uluru – more commonly known around the world as Ayers Rock, one of the country’s most sacred places amongst Aboriginal communities.
Small towns are scattered across the sprawling region, with most major settlements dotted along “the track” – the road that links the city of Darwin to southern Australia. For travellers that want to carve a path away from the beaten track, the NT offers something a little wilder – away from the surf scene of the east coast. It also offers an unparalleled opportunity to delve deeper into the country’s indigenous culture.
Rising from the scrubland like a vast rust-coloured giant, Uluru sits at a hefty 3.6 kilometres long and 348 metres high. Nestled within UNESCO World Heritage area Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, this colossal rock formation bears a revered status amongst the Anangu people who have lived in the region for thousands of years. Much of the park is off limits to visitors, and climbing the rock is strongly discouraged as a mark of respect for the Aboriginal culture. If you have travelled all this way to marvel at one of Australia’s most iconic sights, dawn and sunset offer the most spectacular views as the sun burns the rock a deep, tawny hue.
Get Down in Darwin
Often described as the place where Aboriginal culture meets non-Aboriginal culture, Darwin is a dynamic destination that’s often used as a jumping off point for the exploration of NT. This tropical port city is Australia’s main gateway to Asia, and the marvellous mix of nationalities is one of its most appealing traits. As cities go, Darwin is certainly on the smaller side. However, its big-town vibe gives it a comfortable, laid back feel, making it a wonderful place to take in the dreamy coastline and tuck into a plate of mouth-watering fusion cuisine. Darwin’s key role during WWII also makes it an interesting destination with history buffs, with historical tours of the city proving some of the most popular attractions. The Defence of Darwin Experience, an interactive multimedia museum, is another poignant place to learn about the city’s past.
NT’s Kakadu National Park is home to some stunning wetlands and a vibrant array of ecosystems that form the habitat of many fascinating creatures. Stretching across an area of almost 20,000km² the park also provides a tangible link with the history of Australia’s Aboriginal people, and is home to an array of incredible ancient rock art – some of which dates back 25,000 years. For those that want to plunge into the park’s wild side, there are plenty of popular guided hiking trails that take in waterfalls, billabongs and bush over the course of a few days. The park is popular with visitors, but thanks to its enormous size, it’s never too difficult to get away from the crowds.
A Central Gateway
Situated at the heart of Australia in southern NT, Alice Springs is one of the country’s most remote cities. Visitors that head this way come to enjoy the serenity of the endless bush horizon, as this settlement is 1,500 kilometres from the nearest major city. It’s often thought of as the central hub for modern indigenous way of life, and a trip to the Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre offers the chance to meet Aboriginal people and learn about their people’s past through bush walks, dance performances and even didgeridoo lessons. If natural history also piques your interest, the Museum of Central Australia has an impressive collection of artefacts from meteorite fragments to displays of all the ancient creatures that once roamed the land.
The Mighty River
The Victoria River – NT’s longest and most mighty waterway – is a vital lifeline to many of the province’s cattle stations. Flowing for 560 kilometres (350 mi) from its source, the enchanting landscapes of “The Vic” – as it’s locally known – offer a wealth of opportunities to truly lose yourself in nature. Whether you want to experience the sight of scorched plains or crushing wet season torrents, there are a multitude of ways to explore. Overland treks in a 4×4 vehicle are popular with many, although for those that want to splurge a scenic helicopter ride over the Gregory National Park may be ideal. Nature watching, fishing, hiking and bush walking are also fabulous ways to enjoy the best of what Mother Nature has to offer in this region of Australia.
- NT records some towering temperatures, so always come prepared with sun block, a hat and clothes that you can cover up in. Per capita, the population of Australia leads the world in skin cancers, so you would be wise to take precautions when you’re travelling – particularly if you’re outside enjoying NT’s natural treasures.
- Foodies in the mood for something special should make a trip to Darwin’s Parap Village Market a priority. Cuisine here reflects the city’s wonderful mix of ethnic backgrounds, and the Southeast Asian flavours you will find on offer at Parap Market rival the best curries and noodles you will find in Thailand, Indonesia and the like.
- Another thing Darwin is famous for is crocodiles – although a trip to the city’s Crocosaurus Cove is not for the faint of heart. Those who dare can hop into a transparent tank to be lowered into a pool of crocodiles for the most authentically terrifying experience.
- Those in search of more laid-back pursuits shouldn’t miss out on stargazing in Alice Springs. Because the city is at the centre of the largest area of unlit land on the whole planet, stunning vistas of the night sky are unparalleled – except if you’re bobbing on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
- NT is fast gaining a rep as one of Australia’s finest destinations for avid hikers. The Larapinta Trail through the West MacDonnell range of mountains outside Alice Springs is particularly popular. Hiking is best during the dry season from May to September. Hiking outside this time can be dangerous, as much of the region can be prone to flooding. Booking onto a guided tour is the safest option for those that want to explore NT on foot.