In Northern Australia, the Northern Territory (NT) covers more than 1,300,000 km². However, in spite of its size, it is also one of the least populated states… But this shouldn’t put you off, quite the opposite, the is so much to see! From Darwin to Alice Springs, the NT contains several must-see spots. Among them are national parks, hot springs, and wonders of Aboriginal culture. Here are the best spots of the Northern Territory in Australia!
The starting point for this route, Alice Springs is a city in the desert in the middle of the country. If you arrive after a road trip through the outback, you will be more than happy to (re) discover what the civilized worth has to offer: supermarkets, showers, toilets, laundrymats! Otherwise, the city is simple: small but charming. You can walk down Todd Street, a pleasant shopping street with many galleries of Aboriginal Art. Then enjoy a 360-degree view of the top of Anzac Hill. Finish with a stroll to discover the fauna and flora desert Olive Pink Botanic Garden. The city is peaceful and there is a bohemian atmosphere.
Uluru & Kata Tjuta National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site promises a magical, spiritual, and highly interesting discovery. Start your trip with a visit to the cultural center. It will provide you with information about the Aboriginal culture, the symbol of Uluru and how this park is now managed. After that, don’t climb the rock. Rather sign the register of this all those who did not climb the rock (i.e. the ‘I did not climb Uluru book’)! You can enjoy the daily Mala Walk, which is offered free of charge and accompanied by a guide who will help you unravel the mysteries of Uluru. The 3-day pass goes for 25 AUD and it will also allow you to spend at least one day at Kata Tjuta. Why not go for a hike in the Valley of the Winds. This 7km circuit will offer you breathtaking views! The sunrises and sunsets, both on Uluru and Kata Tjuta, are absolutely sublime and are worth the trip in their own right. Check out our two-day itinerary for Uluru & Kata Tjuta for more travel inspiration!
King’s Canyon (Watarrka National Park)
Like Uluru & Kata Tjuta Watarrka National Park is accessible via an asphalt road. However, if you have an appropriate vehicle, you can take one of the “shortcuts” via the Mereenie Loop or another track. Before leaving check the weather conditions well and check if they require a permit (as you will probably cross Aboriginal lands).
Three hiking trails are available to visit King’s Canyon: The South Wall Return (about 5km) and Kings Creek (almost 3km) are accessible to all. If you are in shape, Rim Walk is a 6km loop, which will allow you to hike along steep cliffs and experience breathtaking scenery carved by erosion. This path will also allow you to access the Garden of Eden.
Finally, Kathleen Springs Walk (3km) offers a shaded path around King’s Canyon.
East MacDonnells Ranges
At the East MacDonnells Ranges you will find unspoiled natural areas, such as Emily (Anthwerrke) and Jessie Gap (Yeperenye). It is a little less known and therefore less crowded than the west side. If you are really quite and go in the early morning or at dusk you will be able to see amazing wildlife!
The main road to access the various points of interest is paved (Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve for example). But a few kilometers will lead you over gravel roads, including Trephina Gorge Nature Park and Ellery Creek Big Hole. A day is enough to visit these sites because the steps are never very long. Plan an extra half day if you want to join Ruby Gap Park, which has a long stretch of off-road.
West MacDonnells Ranges (Tjoritja)
The MacDonnells mountain range stretches west for more than 161km. There is a lot to see, mainly gorges such as Simpsons Gap, Serpentine Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, and Glen Helen. The only access to Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye) is not free ($ 12), the rest is. The protected site of Ocher Pits is pretty incredible. The extracted ocher is still used today for the ceremonies of Western Arrernte, Aboriginal community to which the mine belongs.
Unsurprisingly, driving along the Stuart Highway can be very monotonous… That’s why some villages deserve a stop, to unwind and take a break! At Wycliffe Wells, can take pictures with aliens! You can get up close and personal with them – paranormal atmosphere guaranteed! Still, in the strange urban category, Newcastle Waters is a ghost town, where you can visit abandoned houses and restaurants. Finally, at Daly Waters, check out the bewildering collection of random stuff at the bar: identity card or bank, underwear, everything is allowed!
Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu)
A multi-million-year-old geological show, Karlu Karlu is quite interesting to visit on the way.
The marble of the devil is actually granite, which sparkles in the sun. The Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra and Warlpiri Aborigines who have been watching over the place since the dawn of time have simply called it a “rounded rock block”. A very befitting name.
Arriving from the South, Mataranka certainly marks a notable change of scenery: the desert gives way to a green and wet mangrove. No doubt about it, you are in the tropics! To relax, you can enjoy two types of hot and natural springs. The Bitter Springs provides a small bathing circuit in a beautiful setting, closer to nature. A note of caution, this pleasant and frequented setting is also the habitat of crocodiles! You will also have free access to the Thermal Pool of the city camping which has a more family oriented atmosphere. If like me you want to avoid the crowds and dream of an unusual spot: try a midnight swim or take a dip at dawn!
Stop at Katherine to enjoy the hot springs. More extensive than those of Mataranka, this spring meanders through the rocks, providing for natural “seats”. Different access by stairs will allow you to jump into the water. Here again, you will have the choice: to swim among the hustle and bustle of the day, or to let yourself be tempted by the experience of swimming under the stars… You can also stroll along the river at Low-Level Reserve. Due to the many farms in the area, you may encounter some backpackers cooking on the BBQ!
Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park)
Two days are not really enough to visit Nitmiluk. An eight-kilometer hike will take you to discover Leliyn (Edith Falls): a succession of waterfalls and other natural pools, in the shade of palm trees, in lush vegetation.
The Upper and Lower Pool, as well as Sweetwater Pool, are the recommended swimming spots.
You can then hike or take a canoe to admire the different gorges: whether you are high or at water level, the gorge is impressive! The highlight of the show? Stay until sunset and watch the incredible flight of hundreds of waking bats …
Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest park, with 20,000km² of the surface to explore! As such, expect to drive a lot during your visit … Also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kakadu combines Aboriginal arts and culture nature-related activities such as hiking and wildlife spotting.
Find out about the different access to the spots that interest you. During the dry season the entrance fee will be $ 40 (valid for 7 days) and during the wet season $ 25.
The southern part of the park seems more intended for 4 × 4 drivers. The north is accessible in most weather and by any type of vehicle. Because it will take a little climbing to reach Gunlom Waterfall, you will enjoy even more the epic view of the park and a spot for swimming to cool off. Also discover Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) and its translucent waters, a little further north. Jim Jim Falls and the Twins Falls are the iconic waterfalls of Kakadu. Do note that it is essential to be equipped with a 4 × 4 to reach them.
Check out Yellow Water or along the South Alligator River, which is very aptly named! The artistic tour of Burrungkuy (Nourlangie Rock) will allow you to admire various Aboriginal paintings. Learn a little more about ancestral traditions!
Another imperative stop is the visitor center of Bowali which is quite modern and interactive. It has a lot of information on the management of the park and the unique ecosystems found there.
In Ubirr, enjoy the explanations of a guide (free) while discovering sublime Aboriginal paintings. At the top of a rock, you will enjoy an unobstructed view of the rest of the park. It is a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Litchfield National Park
Different from its neighbour Kakadu, Litchfield National Park is perfect for a one-day adventure. On the road and at the entrance you will be welcomed by termite mounds (termites). You will find small walking trails and swimming spots in Buley Rockhole, Florence Falls, and Wangi Falls. At the end of the park, you can visit the former site of a tin mine. A good way to learn a little more about the extraction process. In general, the drive through the park is really pleasant: the red of the beaten earth contrasting with the bright green of the vegetation, all to the sound of cockatoos!
The final point of this road trip through the NT: Darwin. I highly recommend visiting the city during the dry season (May to October). To fill up on food and live music, head to the markets! Check out Mindil Market to the sound of the EDM didgeridoo, but also Rapid Creek (specializing in Asian, Indian and Indonesian cuisine), Malak Market (and its organic products), through Nightcliff, Parap, and Palmerston are worth visits. It is clear in this town you will find something that pleases you!
Darwin is also famous for its fabulous sunsets: why not admire them from the beaches? Mindil, Vesteys, East Point, being incidentally the meeting places for backpackers. In terms of culture, you can visit MAGNT (Museum & Art Gallery Northern Territory) to discover the permanent collections on wildlife, Aboriginal Art or take a look at the temporary exhibitions (the one of the moment is very interesting, about the migrations throughout the country since the 40’s). Head for Leanyer Recreation Park or Palmerston Water Park to spend an afternoon splashing around the pool or down the water slides, all for free!
Smith Street (“The Mall”) is the main shopping street, ideal for strolling. If you want to have some beers Mitchell Street with its bars is the best place to go. If you want to disconnect with modern life go to the Botanical Garden. With 42 hectares of vegetation, you will have the opportunity to wander through the rainforest as the “gardens” of the desert. To finish off your tour, head to the Waterfront for a drink and/or fish and chips.
You will understand that having road tripped through the NT, doing some of my farm work in Katherine and having lived a few months in Darwin has made the Northern Territory my favorite state (for mow…)! I wish all you wonderful discoveries and fabulous encounters.
Written by Marina