The Top End of Travel Destinations: Northern Territory
By Richard Jones
Renowned for its richly diverse landscapes, untamed wildlife, culturally-significant Aboriginal sites, blue skies and starry nights, Australia’s Northern Territory is nature’s wonderland – and has been for millions of years.
Although we may not be able to travel Down Under until 2022, the stark emptiness of the Red Centre and the pristine coasts of the Top End is always ready for visitors, and will leave those lucky enough to go there with a lifetime’s worth of stories to take home.
Top 10 things to do in Australia’s Northern Territory
1. Explore Darwin
Named in honour of the famous naturalist, the Northern Territory’s thriving capital attracts travellers from all around the globe. The Darwin Waterfront Precinct is packed with activities to cool off in the steamy city, including the newly opened Aqua Park. For those who are even more adventurous, 007 Jet Ski Adventures depart daily from Stokes Hill Wharf, and from the water you can get the best views of Darwin’s city skyline and iconic Mindil Beach. The perfect way to discover Darwin’s emerging boutique bar and the Top End foodie scene is through Darwin Gourmet Tours.
2. Experience Aboriginal Culture
From the Arrernte in central Australia to the people of the Tiwi Islands, over 40 different indigenous language groups reside in the NT. Join Larrakia man Trent Lee, as he shares his stories and knowledge of the land in Darwin and surrounds with Saltwater Cultural Tours. You’ll get to try spear throwing, string making and making fire. Based in Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon), Karrke offer authentic Aboriginal Cultural Tours by the local Luritja and Pertame (Southern Aranda) people, covering bush tucker, medicines, dot painting and weapon making.
3. Camp Out and Cool Down
Several new campsites and swimming spots have recently opened in Litchfield National Park. Meanwhile, the Great Top End Escape is ideal for cycling enthusiasts, and after biking along sealed roads through Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, you can cool off with a rewarding swim beneath one of the fern-covered waterfalls. Cooinda Lodge in Kakadu also hits the mark with its new fully air-conditioned glamping tents, and it is also ideally situated near attractions such as Yellow Water Cruises and Warradjan Cultural Centre.
4. Experience Park Life
As well as two World Heritage-listed national parks – Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta – there are plenty of other parks to explore. The government manages more than 90 parks and reserves, including the Mary River National Park, 150km east of Darwin which is a haven for anglers and wildlife watchers. Meanwhile, the wildlife haven of Barranyi (North Island) National Park is situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria and this peaceful wilderness is one of the NT’s hidden gems.
5. Katherine is Gorge-ous
The town of Katherine is “where the Outback meets the tropics” and the nearby Nitmiluk National Park is home to spectacular gorges and misty waterfalls. Enjoy the best of the park’s natural beauty and Jawoyn culture with Nitmiluk Tours, exploring the Cutta Caves, boarding the Ancient Garlarr River Safari and trying your hand at basket weaving and fire lighting. Meanwhile, Katherine Hot Springs are are a great place to relax, swim and picnic. In the town itself, Katherine Museum has a wide and eclectic collection of pioneer and Second World War artefacts.
6. Take to the Skies in a Helicopter
Alice Springs Helicopters has launched an exciting new heli-mountain bike experience. There are five landing sites to choose from, and stunning scenic views of Alice and surrounds can be enjoyed from the air, before bikers hit the carved-out dirt tracks with their wheels. There’s also heli-fishing, as Airborne Solutions takes visitors to some of the Top End’s best angling spots. Or you could simply use a helicopter to transfer you to some of the best accommodation in Australia, including Matt Wright’s Top End Safari Camp or Bamurru Plains in the Mary River floodplains.
7. Marvel at Uluru
Containing more than 100 stories and in many languages, the self-guiding Uluru Audio Guide works by GPS, syncing as you travel around the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Meanwhile, a visit to the Maruku Arts Gallery is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in Anangu culture, attend punu-making workshops and purchase works to take home. The Uluru/Ayers Rock sandstone monolith is so big and beautiful that it can be viewed from any vantage point – but what about cruising around it on an off-road Segway?
8. Get Arty at Alice Springs
The unofficial capital of Australia’s Red Centre has the highest number of art galleries per capita than any place in Australia. Head to Alice Springs’ Araluen Cultural Precinct, the visual art and performance hub of Central Australia, which consists of the Albert Namatjira Gallery, the Museum of Central Australia, the Connellan Aviation Museum, the Strehlow Research Centre, the seven sacred Arrernte sites and significant trees of the Two Women Dreaming Track. Meanwhile, there’s no better place to stargaze than at the Earth Sanctuary.
9. Lights, Camera, Action
Crocodile Dundee is the highest grossing Aussie film of all time. In the movie, New York journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) travels to the NT to interview legendary hunter Michael J ‘Crocodile’ Dundee (Paul Hogan). Although fictional, the leather-clad bushman isn’t pure fantasy – he was inspired by Rod Ansell, a cattleman who was stranded in the Outback in 1977 for 56 days. What’s also real are the sweeping vistas in the film, shot in Kakadu National Park. Other movies set in NT include The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Kings Canyon), and Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia, which featured many scenes in Darwin.
10. Meet the Animals
With so many varied eco-systems, from desert plains to monsoon tropics, the Northern Territory is the place to get your wildlife fix. The state has 400 species of birds, 150 mammals, countless species of freshwater and marine fish, and over 300 reptiles. If you fancy getting up close and personal with crocodiles, head to Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of Darwin where you can swim with the salties in The Cage of Death. Finally, if you’re in Alice Springs, say “G’Day” to some of the Kangaroo Sanctuary’s newest residents, big, dark-eyed, fluffy joeys. You may even get a cuddle.
Facts about Northern Territory
The Northern Territory covers nearly one sixth of Australia’s landmass – about one and a half million square kilometres.
Although it is one of the driest towns on Earth, the Henley-on-Todd regatta takes place in Alice Springs. The event consists of land-based ‘boat races’ on the bone-dry Todd River bed.
The tiny town of Daley Waters (pop. 23) has the Territory’s oldest pub, and the most isolated and remote set of traffic lights in the country.
Created in 1958, the iconic ‘Darwin stubby’ held the equivalent of six regular stubbies of NT Draught. It was later downsized slightly to a two-litre bottle and remains a symbol of the Top End.
There are currently up to 200,000 saltwater crocodiles in the Top End. But while ‘salties’ can sometimes be found in unusual places, rangers are vigilant in trapping them before they pose a threat to people.