Vast desert, red dirt, crocodiles, unfathomable gorges, untouched coastline, indigenous history, and of course the famous Uluru. There’s so much to see in Australia’s Northern Territory.
While many people see the Territory from the window of a tourist bus, the only true way to experience this magnificent place is by getting outdoors.
“The hills are low and the sky enormous over a tumbled spread of rocks and soil, Mitchell grass and acacias. In such a landscape, it’s easy to imagine an Australia of before: before Europeans, before the frontier, before the Australia we know today.”
– Glenn Morrison (author of Songlines and Fault Lines: Epic Walks of the Red Centre)
While Uluru is a definite must visit, you’d be missing out on a ridiculous amount of beauty, adventure and culture if you didn’t go anywhere else.
Here are some of the best adventures that the Northern Territory has to offer.
Hike the Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park
Image courtesy of Bruce, on flickr
The six-day, 65-kilometre Jatbula Trail follows the ancient songline pathway of the Jaowyn aboriginal people, who used to walk from waterhole to waterhole between Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls.
The waterholes are undoubtedly the highlights of this trail and all campsites are located by a waterhole. It gets mighty hot in this part of the Northern Territory, so you’ll start hiking in the cool early mornings each day with the goal of arriving at camp for a swim at around lunchtime.
The trail is very well marked and there are lots of flat sections, so it’s even good for those new to multi-day hikes. A trek on the Jatbula will be relatively easy to organise for yourself, but you can go with a guided tour to learn more about the indigenous history of the area and see rock art and other sacred places that you wouldn’t normally see.
Need to know
Length: 65 km
Time: 6 days
Style: One Way
Park: Nitmiluk National Park
Access: Since Jatbula is a one-way trail, you’ll need to arrange a shuttle with either Gecko Canoeing and Trekking or Travel North.
Further Info: The Jatbula Trail operates on a permit system with only 15 hikers allowed to depart each day. In busy times, you may need to book up to 9 months ahead unless you go with a guided tour. The best time to visit is between June and September. There’s a great guide with pamphlets on the Northern Territory Government website. Guided tours are available. I recommend Trek Tours Australia.
Map: This map from Northern Eye should do the job. They also sell a handy detailed trail guide.
Getting to the Northern Territory
There are many options for your journey to the Northern Territory but obviously, the quickest way is flying. Domestic and international flights are available from a range of locations, though many international flights require a stop in another capital city before landing in Darwin, Alice Springs or Yulara (Uluru). If flying internationally, don’t forget your Australian visa.
Hot air balloon over Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges
Image courtesy of Outback Ballooning
Watch the sunrise from high above the Red Centre, floating gently over the breathtaking desert landscape. With the only noise being the occasional roar of the burner keeping your balloon afloat, you’re likely to spot kangaroos and camels. You’ll fly peacefully alongside the freshly awoken local birdlife.
For the less active visitor, this is a great way to take in outback Australia. It’s accessible for all ages and abilities. The only thing that might stop you is a fear of heights.
Upon landing, you’ll be treated to light refreshments including sparkling wine (because who doesn’t love drinking in the morning?!) and if you’re interested you can even help pack up the balloon.
Need to know
Outback Ballooning runs daily tours, starting seriously early. I’m talking pickup around 5am in winter and 4am in Summer. You can book online via their website.
Swim with saltwater crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove
At Crocosaurus Cove you can see turtles at the Turtle Billabong, visit the many different aquatic species in the freshwater aquarium, hold a baby saltwater croc, explore the Reptile House, watch a crocodile feeding show or even feed the baby crocs yourself.
The main attraction, though, is undoubtedly the Cage of Death. Don’t let the overdramatic name fool you – there’s not really any actual danger – but this is a rare chance to get up close and personal with a 5+ metre saltwater crocodile, with a glass enclosure to keep you safe.
Need to know
Crocosaurus Cove is open every day except Christmas Day, from 9am until 6pm. The Cage of Death runs 11 sessions per day between 9.30am and 5pm. There are many options for entry tickets, depending on what you plan to see and do, which can all be booked online.
Explore the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Watarrka National Park
If you’re visiting Uluru or Alice Springs, Kings Canyon makes the perfect stop off along the way. It’s a must visit. I’m including it here even though it’s already ticked off my bucket list because I don’t feel it gets the attention it deserves.
The landscape here is otherworldly and even if you’re planning to walk around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (which are relatively nearby) it’s still well worth a visit. While the Rim Walk itself is the highlight at Kings Canyon, I recommend also walking the short trail along Kings Creek. Both trails will take you about four and a half hours.
Read my full blog post about this walk here.
Need to know
Length (km): 8.6 km
Time (hrs/min): 4.5 hrs
Style: Partial Circuit
Park: Watarrka National Park
Closest Town: Alice Springs (330 km)
Getting There: Kings Canyon is roughly half way between Alice Springs and Uluru and is about 3 hours from either place via the Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road.
Further Info: The Rim Walk starts with a 500 step climb which may turn some people off, but I assure you it will be worth the climb.
Map: A great map is available from NT Parks & Wildlife.
Canoe for a day or two through Nitmiluk Gorge
Image courtesy of Nitmiluk Tours
Nitmiluk Gorge is actually made up of 13 different gorges, which are perhaps best explored by canoe. Though guided tours are obviously available, Nitmiluk Tours offers a one or two-day canoe hire service which allows visitors to independently explore further into the gorge than any package tourist ever sees.
Your trip will begin with a boat cruise through the main gorge before you are dropped off with your canoe. You’ll need to carry your own canoe between each of the gorges, so a good level of strength and fitness is required. There are multiple designated campsites, but the first is at the 5th gorge, so most visitors spend the night there sleeping under the stars.
Need to know
Canoes are hired through Nitmiluk Tours. There’s further info on their two-day hire option here. Bookings can’t be made online so e-mail them or call them on (08) 8971 0877 to start planning your trip.
Have you been to the Northern Territory? Got it on your bucket list? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.
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