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10 incredible festival experiences you can only have in Australia’s Northern Territory

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It’s like nowhere else in the world: a million miles (ok, a few thousand – but you know where we’re going) from the bustle of Sydney and Melbourne and the golden beaches of Queensland, Australia’s Northern Territory has a personality that’s more distinctive than many of its neighbours. 

With a capital city (Darwin) that’s just a hop skip and a jump from Asia, the Northern Territory is a unique destination that centres on epic landscapes, sweeping vistas, and ancient traditions. Local arts thrive, music festivals light up the cloudless night sky in the historic Red Centre, and the iconic sights just keep coming: the soaring Kings Canyon, where you can catch a sunrise via helicopter or dine under the stars. The red domes of 800 million year old Kata Tjuta; the stuff of dreamtime legend. Uluru, rising from the desert.

The nature might be unlike anything you’ve seen before, but that’s not the only thing that’s going on here. In fact, as Australia’s southern states begin to feel the chill of autumn, the Northern Territory is entering into its peak season with incredible, guaranteed sunshine, warm temperatures and more festivals than you can shake a stick at - think fringe comedy, aboriginal art, bluegrass music and gigantic light installations.

We picked just a few – so, from botanic garden vibes to aboriginal culture to a “spiritual hoedown”, here are ten Northern Territory festivals for you to start dreaming about…

1. Embrace your calm with botanic garden tunes

Where? BASSINTHEGRASS Music Festival, Darwin

It’s time to embrace the city for BASSINTHEGRASS, a one-day festival that takes over Darwin’s “vibesque” George Brown Botanic Gardens and resident amphitheatre with “12 hours of back to back sweet beats, chilled vibes” and “an eclectic mix of genres and all round top-notch people.” We could think of worse ways to spend an Aussie Saturday.

When? 19th May

2. Experience the Aboriginal way of life (without appropriating a culture)

Where? Barunga Festival, Katherine

The town of Katherine, found in the Northern Territory’s “Top End” on the Katherine River, plays host to Barunga Festival, a celebration of culture, sport and music from the local indigenous community. It’s not just a festival for locals, though – 4,000 visitors from across the world drop in across the festival’s three days, and international visitors are embraced warmly. This is the real Australia, free from Westfield and surfers. It’s been called “the kind of festival that changes the way you see the world forever”, so get ready to be irrevocably altered (in a good way).

When? 8th – 10th June

3. Catch an up-and-coming star of the arts world

Where? Darwin Fringe Festival

A “community arts festival with bite”, you wouldn’t be far wrong if you thought of Darwin Fringe as similar to the one that takes place in our very own capital (well, Scotland’s – but we love Edinburgh so we’ll be claiming it as our own.) The nine-day arts festival promises to showcase “work in every genre you can think of (and a few that might be made up)”, and is dedicated supporting the NT’s diverse local arts sector. Sign us up!

When? 6th – 15th July

4. Get the real Outback experience, “amongst the red dirt and under a blanket of stars…”

Where? Desert Harmony Festival, Tennant Creek

Back to the desert for August, and we’re back in Australia’s deep, red heart. Tennant Creek’s Desert Harmony Festival is all about place and belonging in 2018, and will give visitors a rare insight into the state’s desert culture. Expect locals to bring their art and performances from across the arid landscape as an opportunity for “everyone, especially for those seeking an adventure in a VERY remote Australian destination”, to get a taste of the indigenous world.

When? 3rd – 7th August

5. Get creative in the heart of the arts

Where? Darwin Festival, Darwin

Music, theatre, visual art, dance and cabaret are all covered at Darwin Festival, centred on Festival Park (the heart of the capital’s arts scene.) It’s bright, bold - and more than anything, it’s unexpected. 

When? 9th – 26th August

6. Celebrate global heritage through music

Where? Desert Song Festival, Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the gateway to Uluru, possibly Australia's (and definitely the Northern Territory’s) most famous sight. Referred to simply as “Alice” by the locals, it’s a desert town surrounded by mountain ranges whose relative isolation hasn't stopped it being a thriving arts centre. This vibrancy is reflected every September, when world music – from India, Africa, the Americas and, of course, Central Australia - is celebrated at Desert Song Festival.

When? 7th – 16th September

7. Witness “the oldest continuous culture on earth through the newest technologies...”

Where? Parrtjima – A Festival in Light, Alice Springs

Get ready to be dazzled, as the world’s oldest culture is brought to life with a light show of epic proportions in the middle of the desert. The Parrtjima (pronounced “par-chee-ma” in the local Arrernte language) festival is curated to shine a light on the culture of the people who call the area home. Aboriginal storytelling at its very best.

When? 28th September – 7th October

8. Welcome the spring to Central Australia

Where? Desert Festival, Alice Springs

Staying in the desert for the aptly named Desert Festival, which uses independent artists to support the local community. There’s a local vibe here (you might be noticing that this is a distinct theme of festivals in the Alice.) We also heard something about sequinned mermaid trucker caps being given out, but maybe that was just a rumour…

When? September – 13th October

9. Embrace the spiritual heart of Australia

 

Where? Field of Light Uluru, Ayers Rock Resort

A "fantasy garden of 50,000 spindles of light” that covers a space equivalent to seven football fields, Bruce Monroe’s critically acclaimed installation will be lighting up the NT’s night for another 18 months – at the very least. Oh, and it’s right by Uluru. Life-changing. 

When? Until 31st December 2020

10. Get lost in a spiritual hoedown

Where? Wide Open Space, MacDonnell Ranges

If you can’t quite fit a Northern Territory trip in this year, never fear. You could do worse than planning ahead and welcoming summer 2019 by heading way out over the horizon to Ross River Resort in the MacDonnell Ranges, where Wide Open Space festival kicks off in early May.

This land is 700 million years old, and great care is taken to respect its traditional Arrernte owners. Expect music, art, markets and workshops, all “temporarily stitched into a patchwork of rocks, River Redgums and sand.” It’s been described as “one helluva hoedown” and “the best godayum party of the year”. See you there in 2019.

When? May 2019

Ok, I’m convinced. How can I get there?

You can fly to Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, with STA Travel. Find out more here. 

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