Six times the size of Britain, Australia’s Northern Territory is the home of the real outback. Welcoming and laid back, the NT is known around the world for its iconic natural treasures, ancient Aboriginal culture, birds and wildlife, dramatic landscapes, opportunities for adventure and colourful characters. Here are 10 of the best things to do in the Northern Territory.
This article originally featured on northernterritory.com.
1. Fish for the famous silver barramundi
Beginners to experienced anglers can have one of the NT’s best experiences: fishing for barramundi, a fish prized for its exhilarating fight and enormous leaps out of the water. Join one of the many tours from Darwin that cater for all visitors, or go remote into Arnhem Land where the fishing is some of the world’s best. Try helifishing for the ultimate NT barramundi adventure. Register for the NT’s Million Dollar Fish competition for the chance to win a million dollars!
2. Meet Aboriginal artists and watch them work
The Northern Territory’s Aboriginal art is sold all over the world, and meeting the artists on their land and watching them work is a must-do NT experience. There are art centres spread all over the NT. Visit the three world-renowned galleries on the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin or sit with the Maruku artists near Uluru. Or join in the many Aboriginal art festivals held all over the NT, like the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Walking with Spirits at Beswick near Katherine or Desert Mob in Alice Springs.
3. Cruise Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge at dawn
Wake early for one of the NT’s most special experiences—cruising peacefully up Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park as dawn breaks. Drift past Aboriginal rock art with the changing colours of the dawn light, mist rising from the water and wildlife stirring on the bank. Learn about the ancient Aboriginal culture of this area. Don’t forget your camera.
4. See ancient Aboriginal rock art in Kakadu National Park
See for yourself why Kakadu’s rock art is world class and one of the reasons for its dual World Heritage status. Visit Kakadu’s rock art galleries at Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur and see their fascinating record of Aboriginal life over thousands of years. You’ll see images of animals, Dreamtime figures, traditional x-ray art and paintings of early contact with European people. Some paintings are 20 000 years old. Join the free guided walks that run in the dry season.
5. Watch the changing colours of Uluru at sunset
One of the best times to see Uluru—Australia’s most famous landmark—is at sunset as the sun hits it on its way down, changing the colour of the rock from a sizzling red to burnt orange to a deep purple as the light fades. This incredible spectacle draws visitors from all over the world. Catch an Uluru sunset from one of the viewing areas or join a gourmet dinner, watch it from atop a camel, on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, or you can even do a sunset skydive.
6. Walk through the domes of Kata Tjuta
Take a walk to experience Kata Tjuta (also known as ‘the Olgas’), 36 steep domes only a 20-minute drive from Uluru. Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ in the local Aboriginal language. Choose from three established walking trails, including the renowned Valley of the Winds walk, a four-hour circuit that takes in two spectacular lookouts and ventures into the heart of Kata Tjuta. Early morning is the best time for walking.
7. Explore the escarpments and swimming holes of the West Macs
Join one of the many tours or drive yourself to explore the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs. Swim in the ranges’ pretty waterholes at Glen Helen Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge or Redbank Gorge. Explore the desert country and its escarpments, including Standley Chasm, whose walls glow bright red at noon followed by Simpsons Gap, home to a colony of rock wallabies. Make it a day trip or pack a tent and camp at one of the many campsites.
8. Taste the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Thursdays and Sundays during the Top End’s dry season (May–October) herald one of Darwin’s biggest drawcards: the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Wander around some 60 food stalls that serve dishes from every corner of the earth—Thai and Indian to Brazilian and Portuguese. Try fragrant paella bejewelled with mussels, a Japanese omelette with sticky sauce, authentic laksa or a fresh mango smoothie. Eat on the beach as the sun sinks into the ocean right in front of your eyes.
Pack a picnic and spend the day swimming under waterfalls at Litchfield National Park, a local favourite 1.5 hours from Darwin. Glide under the impressive double cascades of Wangi and Florence Falls that drop into sublime natural swimming holes, or soak in the tiered rock pools at Buley Rockhole. These three main swimming areas are all within short drives of each other on sealed roads. Or jump in a four-wheel drive to experience the lesser-known Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek).
10. Catch a sunset at Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles)
Plan a sunset stop at Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles) an hour south of Tennant Creek. At this time of day, the hundreds of granite boulders scattered around a shallow valley turn a fiery red as the sun sets—an unforgettable sight. Take the interpretive walk to learn about the site’s significance to the Warramungu people. Camping is available.