Top Destinations 2015: Northern Territory, Australia
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From exhilarating adventure pursuits like crocodile-jumping, heli-fishing and the ‘Cage of Death’, to becoming immersed in local indigenous culture by experiencing Aboriginal dance, art and song, to exploring natural wonders like Uluru/Ayer’s Rock and the intriguing Kata Tjuta rock formations, Australia’s Northern Territory is a rightful Top Destination 2015.
We’re all so used to hearing stories about people’s trips to the beautiful, vibrant New South Wales; the world-famous Sydney harbour, the equally as famous white sands of Bondi Beach and the excitement of dolphin-spotting in Byron Bay... but the lesser known Northern Territory of Australia offers all this and more. Boasting Darwin Harbour, twice the size of Sydney Harbour and twice as spectacular, the exotic Mindil beach and the thrill of crocodile-spotting on the Adelaide River, the Northern Territory offers everything NSW does, and so, so much more. With quad-biking and camel tours through the sands of Central Australia, camping under the desert stars and seeing Ayers Rock and the mystifying Kata Tjuta red rock domes at sunset, why would you not want to go?
Where to go
Darwin (pictured), the Northern Territory’s capital city, has more to offer than just the tropical climate, spectacular harbour, extensive beaches and eclectic cosmopolitan vibrancy that it is most renowned for. From the grand cosmopolitanism of the harbour-front, to the adventurous pursuits like sea-kayaking, sea-sailing and scenic flights taking place just minutes away, in and over the harbour itself, Darwin is not one to be missed. It’s home to the world-renowned Mindil Beach and the Sunset Markets hosted on it; known for their diverse range of cultural cuisine and colourful arts and crafts. Within close proximity of all this is a completely contrasting set of wonders... you can fish for local Barramundi fish and then have a seafood BBQ, or go crocodile-spotting on the Adelaide River and explore its secluded waterways by kayak or canoe. You can also take an exhilarating low-flying helicopter ride over the Mary River or explore the plunge-pools and waterfalls of Litchfield National Park.
Travel just across the harbour from Darwin, a mere 80km north, and experience the rock-pools, rainforests and sandy beaches of the Tiwi Islands, where dugongs, whales and rare marine turtle species can be spotted just offshore. Take a local indigenous guide-led tour and experience the local culture first-hand - witness bush-tucker demonstrations, Aboriginal art galleries, dancing, dream-time stories and Smoking Ceremonies.
The town of Katherine, South-East of Darwin, and its surrounding areas, offer incredible natural wonders like the waterfalls and thermal springs of Nitmiluk National Park/Katherine Gorge. Take in their beauty via helicopter or hike the five-day Jatbula Trail and see the Aboriginal rock art, waterfalls and monsoon rainforest it also has to offer. Canoe down the Katherine River and camp on its shores, take a dip in the cool waters of Edith Falls’ rock pools or a Bitter Springs thermal pool... there are limitless exhilarating outdoor pursuits on offer here. To take a break from all this excitement, visit a traditional corrugated-iron clad Outback pub, like the famous Daly Waters Pub, founded in 1934, outside of Katherine.
What to do
Go to a festival
The Northern Territory offers lots of brilliant festivals, whether they are art, sport or music-based. Visit Darwin’s day-long music festival BASSINTHEGRASS in May, which plays host to local, national and international musicians with every kind of music from punk to pop. See local culture at its finest at the cabaret, comedy and music festival, Darwin Festival, in August, where the best of local and international talent is showcased. Get in the true Aussie spirit by joining locals at the weekend-long Outback Fest, near Uluru, in May,which is kicked-off bya special Outback dinner under the stars and consists of a weekend full of camel racing, BBQ food, Australian wine and a concert to finish. Go to the Alice Desert Festival, the premier arts and cultural festival every September or MiliMika, the Tiwi Islands Festival in April, with great local performers, arts and culture. The world-renowned Lasseters Camel Cup in Alice Springs, with rickshaw races, bellydancers and a great carnival atmosphere, makes for another brilliant day out.
Go on a full moon walk
Walk or hike around Mount Connor, and take a guided salt lake walk or Full Moon Walk around the salt lakes in the area. Take an evening walk along the ancient salt lake system and watch the moon rise and shine over the crystalline surface, a highly unique experience. With 15km and 30km walks throughout the day, you can see the salt lakes in different lights as well as see the effect of the light on the sand dunes and Mount Connor, which glows pastel pink, purple and bright red at sunset, and is often mistaken by tourists for Ayers Rock. Budget accommodation is available nearby on a ranch and many visitors use this as a base for visiting Uluru/Ayers Rock, as it’s only 100km away.
Dive with crocodiles
With approximately 100,000 crocodiles in the wild, the Northern Territory is one of the best places in the world to see them. However, for a close-up look at a croc, head to Darwin’s Crocosaurus Cove, for an exhilarating, fear-inducing experience in the ‘Cage of Death’. Crocosaurus Cove is home to some of the world’s largest crocodiles, and you can climb into the Cage of Death for an incredible adrenalin rush and dive face-to-face with them. Whether you dive on your own or with a friend, it is the ultimate fear-factor experience.
See the sunset over Uluru
There are a myriad ways to see this iconic World-Heritage listed rock formation, including taking an Aboriginal guided walk and learning about Uluru’s spiritual significance to Aboriginals. It’s best to see it at sunrise or sunset, as it looks as if it changes colour from pink to purple to red. For a unique way of viewing it, take a hot air balloon, helicopter, motorbike or a camel ride... though walking is just as good and every bit as memorable. For the most authentic outback experience, camp in the Ayers Rock Campground and try outback delicacies and Australian wine at The Sounds of Silence dinner at Ayers Rock Resort.
Do it your way
A great, cost-effective way to explore the Northern Territory is to drive the area yourself, whether that be in a four wheel drive or a hired campervan. There are hundreds of itineraries already created by people who’ve been or who live in the area, so you could follow one of theirs, make your own in advance or just wing it when you’re there... with so many natural wonders and great cultural places to stop off, you’re sure to find something great to see and do anyway. Two of the most famous journeys to drive yourself in the area are Nature’s Way, from Darwin to Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park, and the Explorer’s Highway; from Adelaide to Darwin. The Northern Territory has some of the most beautiful touring routes in the world, including drives across Australia’s Red Centre desert and drives from Darwin to Alice Springs past Uluru, Kakadu National Park.
See our full list of Top Destinations 2015 here.