I feel like the Northern Territory gets a little bit overlooked by the average traveller to Australia.
When I visited this huge country on my first working holiday visa, the east coast of Australia kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to head over to the Northern Territory. And, no offence to Darwin, but it’s a little bit out of the way when you’re living it up on the east coast in Melbourne or Sydney.
But now I realise what an opportunity I missed.
On my second year and based in Western Australia, I am finally getting the chance to explore many of the places I missed out on in my first twelve months. Maybe it’s a sign of my age or maturity as a traveller (not something that I like to admit!) but visiting smaller towns and countryside in Australia is definitely higher on my list than the tallest skyscraper in Melbourne once was.
So, enter Northern Territory from Stage Left: it is your time to shine and show the world what you’ve got. The answer is: more than I ever imagined and here’s why you need to create a Northern Territory hit list.
Kakadu National Park
The Iconic Red Centre
What do you think of when you picture Australia? (Ok, ok, apart from bleach-blond surfers on a sunny beach that is).
How about: blue skies over wide open spaces, red dirt and a trillion stars strewn across a vast night’s sky? Roads that lead to nowhere across never-ending landscape, ancient geological formations and plants and wildlife that exist nowhere else in the world.
I’m talking about the outback. A formidable place of incomprehensible size and temperature. You may be forgiven for wondering what is out there to explore. Actually, it turns out that there are the most beautiful locations hidden away for you to discover.
The Heart Of A Country
Australia has to have one of the world’s most iconic natural formations. I’m talking about Uluru.
Miles from anywhere, rising proudly from the horizon there is the stunning Uluru; a place of incredibly special significance to the local indigenous people, the Anangu, for over 30,000 years. If the sight of this hulking mega-rock rising from the red earth is not impressive enough, up close you will appreciate how Uluru continues to be used for ceremonial and cultural purposes. Take the 10 kilometre base walk around this massive natural phenomenon and discover the many faces of the rock. I respected the local people’s wishes and did not climb this precious place.
Close by is the impressive Kata Tjuta range. These undulating domes rise up to 546 metres above the plain. I enjoyed the beautiful Valley of the Winds walk, a 6 kilometre round trip through ever-changing landscapes. One moment you are surveying a valley that is fringed with giant domes and the next minute you are climbing up the insides of a deep gorge formed thousands of years ago.
Alongside the incredible places that you are seeing, a visit to the outback is more about the experience of simply being there. The heat, the flies and the red dirt all sound a little off-putting but I promise you that you will not feel as close to nature anywhere else. Out here, miles from mobile phone reception and the mindless scroll of your social media feed your surroundings envelope you in an intense embrace.
Imagine the crackle of the campfire as you lie in your swag – an Australian bedding roll like a giant canvas sleeping bag – under a blanket of stars. Listen to the sound of your boots on the red earth as you walk trails passed geological formations millions of years old.
Far from the city you realise what Australia is truly like.
Darwin: A Phoenix From The Ashes
I never anticipated enjoying Darwin as much as I did. I’d heard it was a party town and I was apprehensive to get caught up in that scene. What welcomed me was a tropical town with leafy green parks, a beautiful waterfront, night markets, cute cafés and fabulous museum. The museum was my highlight due to the emotive display on Hurricane Tracy, which flattened the city on Christmas Day in 1974. I viewed Darwin in a while new light after that. This city was literally the architectural and cultural phoenix from the ashes.
Not Just Your Average National Parks
Australia is blessed with an abundance of beautiful national parks to explore and the Northern Territory is no exception. From the stunning Litchfield National Park on Darwin’s back doorstep to the incredible beauty, culture and history of Kakadu National Park there is plenty to explore. For Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge head to Nitmiluk National Park.
Take your time and spent at least a couple of days wherever you go as there are plenty of hikes, swims, cultural sites and camping to be done in each spot. Each park as its own unique story and you can explore wilderness wonderlands that have been treasured by their local aboriginal tribes for thousands of years.
You’ve come to Australia to see the country but what do you know about the aboriginal people who’ve called this land home for thousands of years? The history of white settlement in Australia only dates back a few hundred years yet many visitors to the country tend to overlook the land’s original owners.
Take the time to seek out information about the indigenous people of the places you visit. Up in the Northern Territory I felt the cultural significance of the land come through strongly in places such as Kakadu, Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Hearing a few creation stories, unique to each area, merely scratched the surface of this ancient history. I began to appreciate the effect of white settlement and subsequent tourism on these areas.
I would recommend park ranger talks in the national parks you visit, often led by a local indigenous guide. I also enjoyed all of the interpretive centres I visited at Kakadu, Darwin, Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Each region of Australia has its fair share of unique wildlife and the Northern Territory is no exception. From the ferocious saltwater crocodile lurking in rivers and waterholes to the colonies of fruit bats covering the night sky, there are a huge array of incredible animals to discover.
Northern Territory Hit List
If you’re only in Australia for a short time, I would strongly recommend creating a Northern Territory hit list. For an experience that defines a country you should not look any further.
Have I encouraged you to visit the Northern Territory? Do you have any questions for me?
If you’ve already explore the NT, what was your favourite part? Share your experience in the comments!
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