Embrace the steamy weather for a Northern Territory Christmas you’ll never forget.
If dazzling light shows, an abundance of chilli mud crab and thundering waterfalls sound alluring, then prepare yourself to be swept away by the charm of the Northern Territory this Christmas. Escape the crowds of the east coast and embrace a truly unique festive experience by heading to Australia’s often overlooked but fun – and accessible – holiday destination. This is what you can expect.
Let’s talk weather
Yes, it’s hot but the great thing about the NT is that hotel and tour operators are prepared for the heat, and you can be too. Wake early for that hike in the MacDonnell Ranges and embrace afternoon siestas for a well-rested holiday season. Take comfort in the fact it’s the wet season. Yes, take comfort. Because anyone who’s travelled to Thailand or Bali in the wet will know how welcoming an afternoon downpour is. It’s so refreshing you’ll find yourself with renewed enthusiasm to set off exploring again.
Jim Jim Falls Kakadu just after the wet (Photo: Tourism NT)
“I love the unpredictability of the big storms and how you can get drenched and not feel cold, but rather exhilarated and alive,” says Kakadu National Park threatened species officer Shiona Macdonald. “Being muddy and wet up here doesn’t matter.”
Fancy yourself a storm chaser?
If you love a Christmas drama, watch the skies light up with magnificent electrical storms. One of the best places to enjoy the wild weather is from one of the eateries at Darwin’s historic Stokes Hill Wharf. Our pick is Crustaceans on the Wharf, where you can dine on wild-caught barramundi and chilli Singaporean-style mud crab while soaking up the ocean views.
Stokes Hill Wharf. Image by Tourism NT
“When Christmas rolls around in the Top End, Mother Nature reminds us,” says Tourism NT deputy CEO Andrew Hopper. She puts on a show of ruby-red Darwin sunsets and the summer rains add a lushness to the tropical greenery in our parks and reserves.
“And to help get Territorians into the festive mood – not that we need encouraging – our sultry nights and summer lightning storms add a touch of festive bling to the season.”
Yes, you can swim
Swimming at Christmas is as quintessentially Australian as cooking a feast on the barbie, and there are plenty of safe and beautiful areas to take a dip in the NT. Swap the surf crowds of Byron for the fun vibes of Darwin Waterfront, where there’s a gentle beach and family-friendly wave pool.
Cool off at the Darwin Waterfront wave pool and lagoon.
You won’t be able to swim in the waterholes of Kakadu and other parks (wet season = more crocs) but the City of Darwin understands the need to cool down and has provided plenty of water parks (and check out our reasons why you should still visit Kakadu in the wet season). Families will love Leanyer Recreation Park, where there is a splash zone, slides and a large pool. It’s closed on Christmas Day but open Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. And did I mention it’s free?
The waterfalls are working
Peering at Motor Car Falls atop a giant boulder (photo: Jennifer Pinkerton).
Sure, the wet season means fewer natural waterholes to swim in thanks to saltwater crocodiles moving in, but the trade-off is that the waterfalls are in full flow. It’s one of the main reasons travellers love Christmastime in the NT. Let Santa gift you a scenic flight over the magnificent Jim Jim Falls and you’ll instantly be transported out of World Heritage-listed Kakadu and into Jurassic Park; check out Kakadu Air (and read all about our favourite Kakadu tours).
Litchfield National Park’s waterfalls are also a sight to behold in December, with Wangi Falls a highlight. Some roads and walking tracks close over summer, but most of the park is open year-round and there are viewing platforms from which you can watch the falls.
The cooling Oasis of Wangi Falls deep inside Litchfield Park.
There are fish in the sea
It’s no secret the NT lures fishermen from around Australia thanks to the mighty barramundi, and one of the best ways to catch fishing fever is by signing up to the Million Dollar Fish competition. Held over summer (October to March), it’s the Territory’s largest fishing competition thanks to its whopping jackpot (check out our guide to NT fishing in the wet season).
Fishing at Yellow Water River with a spectacular sunset glowing in the distance.
Gardens are green
A butterfly in Darwin’s George Brown Botanic Gardens
Tourism NT has dubbed the wet the ‘green season’ for good reason – the vegetation flourishes over Christmas and well into summer. It makes for the perfect time to take a stroll through the tropical George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens (read more about the gardens in our Darwin guide), earmarked for a $9.9 million facelift in 2019. In the lead up to Christmas, the gardens host carols by candlelight and have a Christmas tree lights display.
The list goes on
Kicking off the festive season in the Red Centre is the Alice Springs Christmas Carnival. Held at the start of December, the heart of Alice thrives with buskers and street performers, market stalls and food vendors.
Back in Darwin, you can enjoy Christmas feasting of an untraditional kind at Rapid Creek Markets, where stalls overflow with a wonderful array of Thai herbs, vegetables and desserts. The markets are open year-round and, just 20 minutes from the city, are easy to get to.
Not all roads are closed
The West MacDonnell Ranges from the road AKA The Red Centre Way
Yes, some roads around the NT will be closed as frequent downpours make them impassable to everything other than a boat, but not everywhere is off limits. The aforementioned Litchfield is open and is only 120 kilometres south-east of Darwin. Kakadu is also open, and a highlight of any trip to the NT is a journey on the park’s beautiful Yellow Water Billabong with Indigenous-owned Yellow Water Cruises (read up on the Yellow Water Cruises and our other favourite tours). Operating 12 months of the year, be wowed this Christmas by getting close to estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles. Other wildlife, such as golden tree snakes, black-necked storks and Jesus birds, are also bound to impress.
Enjoy a Yellow Water Cruise at sunset through the Kakadu wetlands (photo: David Hancock).
Check the NT’s weather-dependent roads here.
Embrace your inner Scrooge
Christmas can be expensive, so let’s not overlook one of the main drawcards for spending the holiday season in the NT – it’s cheaper. That’s bound to please even the grumpiest of Scrooges, who’ll be able to scrimp on discounted flights, accommodation and attractions. Perfectly positioned Cooinda Lodge in Kakadu, for example, has special festive-season rates; book through kakadutourism.com.
Open air dining par excellence: Longitude 131, Uluru.
If budget isn’t of concern and you want to experience some of the NT’s seriously seductive resorts, Christmas could be the perfect time. At the exclusive Longitude 131° (read our review of Longitude 131°) you can start Christmas Day with a special pre-dawn guided tour of Kata Tjuta, and later enjoy a shared-style seafood lunch with local bush flavours. That beats Aunty Susan’s pavlova any day, right?