Popular destinations in the Northern Territory
Here you will find an introduction to some of the most popular destinations and activities in the Northern Territory. For more inspiration and valuable tips on your dream destination, simply follow the links under each destination. But first, the most popular top-five destinations in the Northern Territory followed by a range of more detailed and inspiring destinations, as well as good-to-know advice on when planning a trip here, or for when travelling in the area.
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; A scorching sun and rust coloured desert sand. The red dust constantly hanging in the air. Only the most enduring and toughest plants can be seen scattered like green and yellow dots in the landscape. The massive red sandstone monolith Uluru (Ayers Rock) rises a whole 348 m up out of the flat Simpson desert. Especially beautiful in sunrise and sunset when the colour of the mountain shifts in soft shades. This is sacred land, and home to the Aboriginal people Anangu who have lived here for over 30,000 years. Learn more about Aboriginal history and culture here (wotif.com/discover/australia/northern-territory/petermann/uluru.d6054666).
- Kakadu National Park, Top End; Australia’s largest national park and the second largest in the world. A landscape full of contrasts and spectacular sights. Wetlands, impressive waterfalls, rock carvings, incredible hiking trails and campsites amidst the nature. A place to rest and gather in the evenings to tell stories around the glowing embers of the fire. The park is listed as a World Heritage site thanks to its cultural heritage and the large number of rare species of plants and animals found here. Get a permit and travel into the spiritual Arnhem Land, Australia’s most inaccessible nature area and make a culture stop at the Visitor Information Centre in Jabiru.
- Darwin, Top End; Go on a crocodile cruise, feed wild fish, see Aboriginal art, or learn more about the dramatic history of the city of Darwin during World War II. Sample exciting cuisine from all corners of the world and stroll around in a botanical garden or on the beach market while the sun sets over the sea (wotif.com/discover/australia/northern-territory/darwin.d6131317). Darwin is a good starting point for adventures to national parks like Kakadu and Litchfield. There you can experience everything from tropical monsoon rainforests to open woodland, giant termite mounds, staggering high gorges and red weathered sandstone among waterfalls surrounded by lush vegetation.
- Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) Conservation Reserve, Tennant Creek; Tennant Creek. The mysterious Karlu Karlu, also known as the Devil’s Marbles, are scattered like oversized stone marbles 400 km north of Alice Springs along the Stuart Highway. The giant red granite stones have been formed by erosion and are available in varying sizes, of which the largest are over five meters wide. Some of the giants balance on top of each other, others have cracked open. For the indigenous Aboriginals, this is a sacred place, and it is possible to camp here if one respects this and neither litters nor climbs the rocks.
- Alice springs; Rarely do you get thrown into an unknown land in the same way as when you set foot in a desert town. In the south, Alice Springs is lined by the MacDonnell Ranges, in all other directions, red sand stretches into a seemingly endless desert. There are plenty of good food, cosy cafés and a nice nightlife in the town centre. Driving out into the desert with a four-wheel drive vehicle (wotif.com/things-to-do/palm-valley-outback-safari-4×4-day-tour.a228487.activity-details) or to go on a hot air balloon trip are popular activities for both tourists and residents. The town is around half a day’s ride from attractions such as Uluru, MacDonnell Ranges and Kings Canyon.
With its ancient landscapes, isolated and expansive sandy plains marked by a merciless sun and a rough climate, you will encounter the characters that many associate with Australia. If you never get enough of nature and are looking for a place with countless national parks to discover, perhaps a visit to the Northern Territory might fit. You can get large doses of sparsely populated areas, desert and stillness. For nature lovers there is much to discover; the gigantic red monolith Uluru, the desert’s rolling sand dunes, hiking trails, staggering high gorges, camping and fishing waters, and the list keeps growing. Cascading waterfalls, unique rock carvings, desolate wetlands, monsoon rainforests, towering termite mounds and a variety of wildlife to see.
For those who prefer city life and a proximity to amenities, the capital Darwin is worth a visit. A multicultural melting pot where exciting dishes from all over the world are served. Explore the Aboriginal culture at an art gallery. Learn about Darwin’s history, a city which during World War II was bombed by the Japanese or learn about local politics during a visit to Parliament House. Start your day in the city with shopping and markets, unwind by strolling through a small rainforest where you can enjoy exotic plants and bird life and end the day at the casino or a nightclub.
If you can’t get enough of Aboriginal culture, visit one or more of several art galleries near the small-town Katherine. In the country’s centre, surrounded by a barren red desert, you will find Alice Springs, a city with a variety of activities. For an even more desert-like experience, go to the fifth largest populated area in the Northern Territory, a rural town with a whole 3,000 inhabitants located in the middle of nowhere. Tennant Creek. This is a place for those who want to get away from the city life and get to know life in the wilderness but with access to housing and some comforts.
Destinations in the Northern Territory
Getting to and getting around the region
You can get to the state capital Darwin by car, plane, train, bus or boat. If you want to travel outside of Australia from Darwin, there are good connections to Asia by plane from here. Travelling between Darwin and some smaller Australian towns can be done by bus, car, train or plane. Just be prepared that the departures are not daily and that the distances are far. There are guided tours for old and young, from budget to luxury, suiting families or lonely travellers, the choice is yours. But if you choose to drive a car, make sure to have plenty of time and patience, and a good four-wheel drive to get around in some national parks. Also consider the option of having a motorhome made for tough roads for a more comfortable trip. The Stuart Highway and the cities work well for those travelling with ordinary cars. For more specific information, see each separate destination.
Keep in mind
For those who intend to go to the Northern Territory, it is important to look up current temperatures and weather conditions. Make a careful choice to suit your preference. Check which season suits your choice of activity and what it takes to complete it – then pack all necessary equipment! If you are travelling in the Northern Territory’s Top End, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a place that can be transformed from being the driest state of the country with temperatures of over 40 °C, to a place with potentially dangerous flooding when the rainy season breaks loose. Tropical storms or cyclones can appear all year round. If you travel into The Red Centre, a hostile desert awaits. Planning is the key. If you feel unsure, get around with the help of guided tours and stick to the attractions that are slightly more accessible or coastal where the population is most dense.
To go out on your own in unknown territory is taking several risks. Some to mention besides torrents and closed off roads are risks like having a heat stroke or sunstroke, shortages of supplies or to unconsciously dwell on hazardous places. Watch out for the saltwater crocodile that can be up to six meters long and much more dangerous than the freshwater crocodile. ALWAYS read the rules and safety instructions in national parks. A reliable four-wheel drive is a must. If you are planning to camp, some national parks will only cash take, and it is first-come, first-served basis that applies. The shower will have to wait sometimes. There are a multitude of protected national parks and numerous river systems flowing through the land, contributing to a rich wildlife. Again, find out what is allowed in each respective area if you are travelling without a guide.
There are places that belong to the indigenous people where permission to enter is required due to the area’s spiritual value. Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands are two areas worth mentioning. To obtain permission, your specified purpose must be stated, but the easiest option is to accompany an organizer or take a guided tour. Two spectacular rock formations are Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). These are major tourist attractions but as they are sacred places for the Aborigines, restrictions apply. Find out what applies in each area and respect Aboriginal beliefs. And do not climb Uluru. From 26th of October 2019 it is forbidden to climb the monolith Uluru.