Northern Territory

Exploring theNorthern Territory

Soul-stirring and steeped in spirituality, the Northern Territory is an achingly beautiful part of Australia, home to larger-than-life scenery and six dramatically different seasons.

With its ancient Aboriginal connection, the stories of the Dreamtime are shared on cliff-face galleries, creating the greatest and oldest collections of rock art in the world.

Home to the smallest population of any Aussie state or territory, the NT is big on landscape and natural beauty. Here, indigenous culture looms large, lush nature reserves are a rock wallaby’s hop from town, and the feeling of having entered a parallel world never goes away.

Top things to do in the Northern Territory

Explore the Red Centre

Uluru is far from the only awesome thing to see in Australia’s Red Centre. To the north-east, the mighty Kings Canyon cleaves deep into the earth. Trek to the rim for views across the bluffs and gorges of Watarrka National Park, or through the West MacDonnell Ranges, which stretch for hundreds of kilometres, harbouring gorges and rock pools. It’s one of those trips-of-a-lifetime that is almost always underestimated, but the Red Centre sure packs a punch when you get there.

Chill out in Darwin

Closer to Bali than it is to Brisbane, Australia’s smallest capital blends 56 nationalities, a perky pulse and a laid-back tropical air. From the steamy weather right down to the faces you’ll see in its streets, Darwin is exotic. The city hosts incredible Asian food markets, galleries and museums walled with beautiful Indigenous art, and in the dry season (May to October), a continuous line-up of bumping cultural festivals.

Go Wild In Kakadu

Where better to get back to nature than in Australia’s largest national park – covering almost two million hectares of wilderness? Enter the unique World Heritage-listed landscapes of Kakadu and discover outdoor galleries of ancient art. Swim under Insta-worthy waterfalls, hike through deep red gorges, cruise the Yellow Water wetlands and learn from Indigenous people about how their ancestors related to this land.

Experience the world’s oldest living culture in Arnhem Land

Stunning scenery, abundant wildlife and a total lack of pretension – only a privileged few get the chance to travel to Arnhem Land. A focus on the pristine natural environment, rather than on man-made luxuries, combined with the deeply spiritual feel of the area – the Yolngu people are thought to have lived here for at least 50,000 years – make this a very special place. Whether you go for the fishing, for the wildlife, the beautiful beaches or the extraordinary art and cultural festivals, you’re guaranteed to come home changed by what you’ve seen and done.

Go fishing

The NT is world famous for its fishing, the ultimate dream being to battle metre-plus barramundi. Someone will one day be lucky enough to land the Million Dollar Fish.

While locals won’t tell you, we have managed to find the best places to fish in the NT.

Must See Sights in the Northern Territory

See Uluru change colour

Close up, Uluru is powerful, awe-inspiring and intimidating. From a distance, Uluru famously changes colour, anything from blue or violet to glowing red. There are numerous ways and places to watch the sun rise or set over this remarkable pebble (a term coined by explorer Ernest Giles in 1872), from the back of a camel or a roaring motorbike to a romantic candlelit table set for two underneath a million stars.

The waterfalls of Litchfield National Park

Equal to, if not more stunning than, Kakadu, Litchfield is an easy day trip from Darwin. Quite apart from boasting one of the best waterfalls in the Northern Territory, Litchfield National Park features marvels like the Lost City (weathered sandstone pillars), the cooling (wheelchair accessible) swimming hole at Wangi Falls, the breathtaking view from popular Florence Falls, and the fun pools at Buley Rockhole.

The Tiwi Islands

The remote Tiwi Islands (Melville Island, Bathurst Island) off Darwin are worth visiting for so many reasons: art, culture and fishing, to name a few. Think you’re sports mad? Wait until you experience the Tiwi Islands football grand final in March. Before kick-off though, check out the Tiwi Islands Art Sale. You’ll learn about the cultural history of the islands and, for a reasonable price, you’ll get to hang a piece of that history on your wall back home.

Reflections in Nitmiluk Gorge

Over a millennia, Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge has been snaking its way for 12km along the Arnhem Land Plateau toward the sea. You can walk, canoe, boat or fly above a series of 13 stunning gorges; be sure your camera has plenty of memory space to capture such a magical place.

Northern Territory Road Trips

Whether you’re hitting the highways in a hire campervan or kicking up dust in a 4WD, there’s no better way to see the Northern Territory than on a road trip. From the seaside capital of Darwin to the mesmerising landscape around Uluru and the quintessential Aussie towns of Tennant Creek and Katherine, there’s a tonne of places to see.

Driving routes

You could almost go as far as saying the Northern Territory is the road-tripping capital of Australia, with a swathe of ready-made routes.

You can pick an easy option and hire a vehicle at Darwin airport for a short sojourn around the city, venturing no farther than Litchfield National Park; you can head into Kakadu National Park for a week of waterhole hopping; you can embrace the Red Centre by discovering the stunning landscapes around Alice Springs; or go all out on an NT odyssey from Darwin to Uluru, taking your time to really see all this territory has to offer, along the Explorer’s Way.

If you do leave the city behind, be mindful that the NT is big and remote, so be prepared. Carry extra fuel and plenty of water, and ensure your vehicle is up to scratch for plenty of kilometres on sometimes bumpy, challenging tracks.

Here’s what you can expect on a Northern Territory road trip

Exploring Aboriginal culture in the NT

Nowhere in Australia is Aboriginal culture and history as prevalent, present and thriving as in the Northern Territory. Accessing this incredible eternal culture is a non-negotiable on a trip to the NT.

Aboriginal cultural tours in the NT

Perhaps the best ‘first stop’ is an Aboriginal tour. Tours are as varied as Aboriginal nations, from one hour experiences in Visitor Centres to multi-day immersions. To help find the tour for you, we have created this guide to choosing an Aboriginal tour.

Most tours start and end around the major centres of Darwin, Jabiru or Cooinda in Kakadu, Katherine, Alice Springs and Uluru. We have done the heavy lifting for you and have chosen our favourite Aboriginal tours in the NT for you.

Aboriginal Art in the NT

Part of understanding and enjoying indigenous culture is an appreciation for the most common Aboriginal cultural expression – art. Typically this will mean appreciating the ochre-coloured dots (in the Red Centre) or hatching (Top End) canvas but increasingly through textiles and objects. As with any unfamiliar cultural practice, it is best to understand how to ethically buy Aboriginal Art. Even better, perhaps take on a specific Aboriginal Art Tour.

The Aboriginal Art tours of Tiwi Islands are accessible from Darwin and very popular. Meanwhile, you can self-drive the Red Centre on an art trail in luxe. And occasionally there are private art tours of Arnhem Land and elsewhere that will leave you not just breathlessly overwhelmed, but full to the brim with appreciation for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters’ craft.

Aboriginal Festivals in the NT

Another popular way to experience and understand living Aboriginal culture is through one of the many Aboriginal Festivals in the NT. The festivals can focus on specific parts of culture, like the impressive Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, to the half Aboriginal conference/half dance festival of Garma.

An exemplar of the modern Aboriginal festival is Parrtjima. A quixotic mix of light projections on the desert landscape including the West MacDonnell Ranges, installations and activations it has quickly become a top 10 bucket list experience in Australia.

Find the right festival for you with our picks of the best Aboriginal festivals in the NT.

Bush tucker in the NT

Trying bush foods with a local guide gives visitors to the Northern Territory a window into Aboriginal culture. Throughout the NT you will find restaurants that include native foods and ingredients on the menu.

You can also do bush tucker experiences in the Alice Springs Desert Park and at Uluru, Mark Olive has a truly educational bush foods program.

Itineraries and Guides

With so much to see and do in the Northern Territory, we created some suggested itineraries for couples and families.

And for those that like to make their travel dollars stretch but don’t want to compromise on comfort, here are some helpful guides for the budget-conscious traveller.

Northern Territory Family Holidays

If you want to show the kids somewhere really special in Australia and open their eyes to new landscapes and experiences, then the Northern Territory ticks the boxes.

Family-friendly attractions and destinations

If you love the outdoors, your family will thrive in the NT. There are myriad water parks and waterholes (natural and man-made) in and around Darwin that will entertain big and little children for hours. Plus, the city has great family friendly dining, hotels and museums, and if you want to hand over the reins to a guide, there is a great mix of Darwin tours to choose from.

Leave the city behind and you’ll discover the natural adventure playgrounds of Litchfield and Kakadu national parks, where days are spent hiking, 4WDing and swimming.

Venture further south to introduce the children to Australian reptiles, birds of prey and other outback animals in and around Alice Springs and Uluru. If you head east,  you can expand their knowledge of Australian history in Tennant Creek (check out Battery Hill Mining Centre) and Indigenous culture in Nitmiluk National Park.

To help get you started, here are some of our favourite family trips and activities.

Top Foodie Experiences in the Northern Territory

The NT’s an outdoorsy type of place, so it’s only natural that it’s home to two of the country’s most memorable ways to dine alfresco. There’s nothing quite like the assault on the senses you get when walking among the food stalls of Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Market – it’s a tropical fantasy come to life. But the market is only the tip of the iceberg, with Darwin blessed with a plethora of incredible places to eat.

Head inland and there’s nothing like watching the setting sun paint Uluru in a cloak of changing colours while dining atop a desert dune at the Sounds of Silence or Tali Wiri dinners.

Best Accommodation in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory holds an undeserved reputation for having only rough-and-ready accommodation options when, in fact, there are far more choices than most travellers would first expect. From luxury lodges to glamorous glamping and million-star camping and crocodile-shaped hotels in the wilderness, there is accommodation to suit any taste and budget.

Accommodation in Kakadu comes in all styles. For those who like a little (or a lot) more comfort, Bamurru Plains Lodge or Wildman Wilderness Lodge on the edge of Kakadu are our pick.

In Uluru, Longitude 131 holds the title for one of Australia’s most iconic accommodation offerings, but there are plenty more: find something to suit you in our Uluru guide.

Katherine is similar, with campsites, rustic and affordable options and the more indulgent Cicada Lodge. 

Like any capital city, the accommodation options in Darwin are almost endless, but this beachfront casino resort has the wow factor.

Hot Deals

Camping & Glamping in the Northern Territory

Swagging, campervanning, pitching, unhitching: however you like to camp, you’ll find a site for you in the Northern Territory. This place is a camper’s dream, and you’ll continually be spotting 4WDs with rooftop tents, off-road camper trailers, motorhomes and caravans rattling along the roads.

Best campgrounds

But let’s start with the most important part – the locations. Litchfield National Park has a couple of great campsites within easy walking distance to its famous waterholes, while Kakadu National Park has a fantastic mix of caravan park-style sites to rough-and-ready options where you’ll need to be self-sufficient.

And let’s not forget Darwin and its bunch of holiday parks, if you need to unwind, soak in city delights (Mindil Market to name one) or spend a day or two recalibrating after an epic Uluru to Darwin road trip.

Best Glamping

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the NT’s remote and hardy reputation means finer options are out of the question. Glamping has taken off in the Northern Territory and a few of our favourites are Bamurru Plains, Longitude 131° and Wildman Wilderness Lodge.