Get face-to-face with a crocodile, thorny devil or orphaned kangaroo on an Aussie safari, says Jennifer Ennion.
You don’t have to make the long journey to the African continent to give the family an outstanding safari-style holiday. The Northern Territory has a huge range of animal encounters, many of which are bucket-list experiences. Here are our favourites:
Top End Family Wildlife Experiences
Turtles with Sea Darwin
One of the best parts about northern Australia is having the opportunity to watch turtles, and Sea Darwin runs a fabulous Turtle Tracks tour for ocean lovers. Head over to Njulbitjlk (also known as Bare Sand Island), west of Darwin, in time for sunrise or sunset, when you can watch flatback and olive ridley turtles return to shore to nest.
Witnessing turtles lay eggs is always a special wildlife experience and no doubt you’ll feel privileged to be there. The tour includes a fast boat ride to and from the island (ex- Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin), as well as guides, dinner and drinks. The experience is timed with the lunar cycle and tides so be flexible and pack some cards to pass the time while you wait for the turtles to make an appearance.
Crocs (of course) at Crocosaurus Cove
Feeding animals isn’t for everyone, but Crocosaurus Cove ups the ante with the “wow” factor and is therefore hugely popular. Easy to get to in Darwin, Crocosaurus is famous for its Cage of Death, a croc “dive” where the participant snorkels in a Perspex tank for a face-to-face encounter with a five-metre saltie.
If that’s not for you, there’s also the Big Croc Feed VIP Experience, during which you feed a croc as part of a 1.5-hour guided tour. Crocosaurus Cove is just one of numerous family-friendly activities in the Top End.
All creatures great and small at Territory Wildlife Park
Call into Territory Wildlife Park to experience a gamut of Aussie creatures, 45 minutes’ drive south of Darwin, in lovely Berry Springs. This place has it all: carpet pythons, blue-winged kookaburras, bandicoots, wallaroos, curlews, bats, echidnas and emus. If you love birds of prey, sign up for the On the Glove experience where intimate groups of five all get the option to hold one. There is also the “pelican brekky” where you get to feed them fish, as well as the Secret Creatures Nocturnal House for reptiles, mammals and birds. The park makes a great stop for animal-loving families on a caravanning trip through the NT.
Bag a barra with Wildman Fishing Tours
The Mary River wetlands are thriving with fish, so you’ll keep keen anglers in the family happy if you book a charter with Wildman Fishing Tours. Try your luck snagging a prized barramundi, or reel in a salmon, mackeral or snapper on a private or shared charter.
Along with Mary River, the company can also take you to Shady Camp, Finniss River and Dundee on single or multi-day tours. Before you go fishing in the NT, check out our guide to bagging a big one.
Birds and Buffalos (and of course crocs) with Yellow Water Cruises
A highlight of any trip to Kakadu National Park is a tour with Yellow Water Cruises along Yellow Water Billabong and South Alligator River. The major selling point is seeing crocs in the wild, but what you’ll love about this trip is the plethora of other Top End animals you come across: majestic storks with blue necks, darters with their impressive black wings, golden tree snakes and water buffalo.
The most popular times to join the year-round tours are sunrise and sunset when avid photographers can capture the billabong awash in pinks and tangerines (bookings recommended). On top of all this, the company is Indigenous-owned and focused on positive Indigenous outcomes, which makes it a popular tour with ethical travellers.
Horsing around outback style at Katherine Outback Experience
Instead of looking at animals from a Jeep, try your hand at being an Aussie cowgirl or cowboy at Katherine Outback Experience. Sign up for a private or group horse-riding lesson that suits your ability – whether you’re a complete novice or advanced rider.
While you’re there, catch the Outback Show, featuring horse-starting and working dog demonstrations. Read up on our safety tips before you head into the NT’s more remote areas, such as Katherine and surrounds.
Red Centre Family Wildlife Experiences
Birds of prey at Alice Springs Desert Park
In the heart of Australia is where you will find one of the country’s most impressive wildlife centres – Alice Springs Desert Park. This place rates highly because of its free-flying bird show, where visitors sit in an outdoor amphitheatre as expert handlers entice eagles, kites and other species to the “stage”.
The show is about the birds’ natural behaviours and both children and adults will be enthralled with the high-altitude show. Alice Springs is usually the first destination on a Red Centre holiday, with plenty more to see for families if you have a spare week or two.
The silent but deadly critters of Alice Springs Reptile Centre
Continue your Aussie animal-themed holiday by checking out some of the nation’s favourite and most feared slippery, spikey critters at Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Get up close to snakes and a saltwater croc, as well as beautiful outback lizards such as thorny devils, goannas, bearded dragons, and frillneck lizards. Try and catch the daily reptile shows, which include the chance to handle some of the animals.
The lovable joeys at the Kangaroo Sanctuary
Alice has it all, with a visit to The Kangaroo Sanctuary rounding out a trio of wildlife encounters. The sanctuary is for rescued and orphaned kangaroos and joeys, and is aimed at educating visitors about one of Australia’s favourite marsupials and encouraging them to care for injured wildlife. Call in for a guided sunset tour (once they’re back up and running), and tick off some home-schooling for the kids while you’re at it.
Board the bumpy desert barges with Uluru Camel Tours
It really doesn’t get more “safari” in Australia than by joining a caravan of camels traipsing through the desert, so if you’re really craving an iconic experience, head out with Uluru Camel Tours. There are sunrise, sunset and express rides during which you not only learn about camels but also the landscape and outback flora and fauna. You may also get to try some freshly baked beer bread damper (adults only, of course).
Round out your NT safari with other great activities such as hiking in Kakadu, market-hopping in Darwin and road-tripping through the Red Centre. Click here for more NT inspiration.