One of the largest remote regions in the world, the Northern Territory is the least inhabited area of Australia; however, it is also the most curious.
Showcasing unapologetic landscapes in their rawest forms, Australia’s Top End offers you a different side to this diverse country, and it is orange. The otherworldly landscape of the Northern Territory will teach you tactics for survival. The roads are longer, the terrain unapologetic – it’s uninhabitable, yet somehow people live here. This is the charm of the Northern Territory.
This Northern Territory travel guide will introduce you to the beauty of the Northern Territory in all its glory. Leaving Darwin behind, hitting the road here really means hitting the road; you might not see anything but rocks and forest for 1,000 kilometres. When you do find something, you encounter essential locations like Kakadu National Park or Alice Springs, the gateway to the Red Centre, that introduces you to arid adventures and Aboriginal culture in all its forms.
Deep in the Red Centre is the King’s Canyon, where Aboriginal elders will tell you themselves how important this land is to their people, and has been for over 20,000 years as you walk between the crevices in search of Aboriginal rock art. The King’s Canyon is a spectacular walking experience within Watarrka National Park that is essential for any self-drive trip in the Northern Territory.
We’ve saved the best for last – no trip in the Northern Territory is complete without an Uluru tour. Set in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, this impressive monolith is sacred to native Australians. Around half a billion years old, Uluru is the fabric of Australia, known for its red hue that showcases its sanctity in all its splendour around sunrise and sunset.
This is only the beginning of what the Northern Territory has to offer, let’s delve a little deeper in this Northern Territory travel guide;
When to Go to the Northern Territory
The Territory (as it is affectionately known to Aussies) is a year-round destination. Depending on what you like, there is no real answer to when it is best to go to the Northern Territories!
With a tropical climate in the Top End, the north of the north is always hot. For example, the capital, Darwin, never goes below 32 degrees Celsius! Here, you’ll find two seasons, dry and wet. While the wet season fills waterfalls and creates the perfect environment for wildlife to thrive, the dry season is the best time to visit, as temperatures and humidity levels are more accommodating to activities.
The Red Centre has a semi-arid climate that takes you on a cycle of the four seasons; summer, winter, spring and autumn – just remember they are the opposite from the west! In summer (December to February), you can expect high temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius, while in winter (June to August), you can expect frost at night.
Some may prefer to visit in winter, as it will be easier to walk around during the day, however, others may prefer the warmer temperatures.
Best Places to Visit on a Northern Territory Tour
Uluru is one of the largest monoliths in the world and is over 550 million years old. It is set in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and is protected and still worshipped by its traditional owners.
The orange and red-hued jewel of the Northern Territory, you cannot visit this desolate state without visiting Uluru. Coined as Ayers Rock by the first non-native Australian to set eyes on the great monolith, Uluru is a symbol of Australia and considered sacred to the Anangu people.
An Uluru rock tour typically starts in Alice Springs like in this Red Centre tour where you’ll learn the ways of the Outback and how everything, including humans, survive in this arid landscape. While staying in Ayers Rock Resort town, you’ll catch the sunrise and sunset; orange turns to red and the shadows of the monolith dance.
Often mistaken for Uluru, a visit to King’s Canyon is an adventure not to be missed. Don your most comfortable walking shoes for this one! King’s Canyon is a 300-metre red rock that, similar to Uluru, has been carved by time in the most curious ways.
You can do a tour of Ayers Rock and the Kings Canyon where you’ll have a day to explore the towering red walls, deep crevices and steep gorges that have been formed over millions of years. The King’s Canyon Rim Walk can prove to be challenging yet rewarding, with 360-degree views of the Red Centre.
From national parks and the Aboriginal culture to wining and dining, festivals and markets; the city of Darwin is alive and thriving, just moments from the spectacular beaches of the Northern Territory.
Multiculturalism is the vibrating soul of Darwin, where its original inhabitants, the Larrakia people are at the forefront of the community. With people from over 70 different ethnic backgrounds living in the city, Darwin’s scene is eclectic, laid-back and immersive.
Most evident of Darwins’s diversity is the food scene that has rocketed in recent years, known for its authenticity with that little Darwinian twist as you’ll find in this Darwin tour. To find out what it’s all about, hit up a market or a festival, neither are ever too far away.
Kakadu National Park
The largest national park in Australia, Kakadu is known as the timeless rainforest; it’s one of the oldest in the world. With an impressively biodiverse landscape of 20,000 kilometres, the national park presents spectacular hiking opportunities. Kakadu is home to ancient peaks, cascading waterfalls, the oldest Aboriginal rock art in the world and endless wildlife opportunities.
While it’s impossible to cover all there is to see in Kakadu National Park, it is best explored aboard a cruise through the wetlands as an introduction to its biodiversity. The centre of all wildlife activity, cruising along the river brings the action straight to you. This tour from Darwin to Kakadu brings you face to face with the abundant nature that is Kakadu!
The gateway to your Uluru trip and capital of the Red Centre, Alice Springs is the essential Outback experience in the Northern Territory.
Characteristic of the Outback, Alice Springs kicks up the vibrant red dust of the Aussie desert and paints the picture for the adventures found here with Uluru day tours being among the top things to do.
Alice Springs is particularly well known for representing Aboriginal artists, with a range of galleries showing works from local artists and hosting regular talks to learn more about this ancient and well preserved traditional art style.
A region of the Northern Territory (NT) that has it all, Arnhem Land stretches from vast rainforests to remote islands to give you all that the tropical side of NT has to offer.
Think boutique camping retreats with hiking adventures galore, island escape with birding experiences like nowhere else in the world, and wining and dining that ranges from some of the freshest seafood in Australia’s north to bush tucker traditions.
Tours like this 7-day culture and nature in the Top End trip will show you the abundance of nature in NT’s Arnhem Land.
How to Get Around the Northern Territory
Self Drive in the Northern Territory
With so many kilometres to cover and such an unpredictable landscape, it would be rude not to make your way through the Northern Territory in your own car.
It is possible to rent cars or purchase a second-hand one in all of the major towns and cities in the Northern Territory. While most of the roads are well-paved, when you get into the Red Centre, it is highly recommended that you hire a 4WD as there is a considerable amount of off-roading to do to reach the most interesting sites like in this Uluru tour.
If you wish to make your journey into even more of an adventure, it is possible to hire a campervan to sleep under the stars.
Hiring a Private Driver in Northern Territory
Screwing your face up at the idea of the above? You can hire someone to do the long drive for you on a private tour, like this 6-day Kakadu and Litchfield park tour.
Your driver and guide can take you in either a 4WD or a car to explore the Northern Territory, leaving you to sit back, relax and take in the scenery.
Should you only have a short period of time to explore the Northern Territory, you can fly to the major cities within the state. This is perfect if you would like to make the drive from Darwin to Alice Springs, but don’t have the time to drive back like in this tour out of Darwin.
Where to Stay in the Northern Territory
The accommodation options are as diverse as the land itself; our Northern Territory travel guide breaks it down to show you what is in store;
Darwin is home to a mix of resort-style accommodation, historic city hotels, apartments and big-name hotels. Catering to all budgets, Darwin has an eclectic vibe that you won’t be able to get enough of, no matter what suburb you decide to stay in, you’ll be within reaching distance of the bustling markets and amazing food this city is known for.
The gateway to Uluru, Alice Springs welcomes all kinds of travellers, whether you are on a once-in-a-lifetime luxury trip or looking for one last comfortable bed in a hostel before camping in the Outback, Alice Springs no doubt has something within your budget range.
One thing holds true, no matter what your accommodation choice, you’ll be welcomed with the wit and charm of Aussie Outback hospitality, there is nothing quite like it!
While it is not possible to stay in the national park, all accommodation options are found within Ayers Rock Resort, a small resort town with supermarkets, bars and restaurants. The accommodation options in Uluru are limited. There are a few mid-to-high range options, great for couples and families on a high-budget trip, and budget travellers will seek comfort in the campsite with space for tents and campervans.
There’s no end to the amazing experiences that come with accommodation in Arnhem Land.
While the options are spread out and sparse, what is impressive about Arnhem Land is that there is such a great variety of accommodation. From campgrounds to remote, intimate island resorts, what lies in between budget and luxury options is beautiful lodges that sit on the coast and deep in national parks.
With so many options to suit every traveller, Arnhem Land is accessible to couples, families and solo travellers alike.
Where to Eat in the Northern Territory
No Northern Territory travel guide is complete without a breakdown of the culinary experiences that you can find!
An underdog of the Aussie food world, Darwin is packed with tasty secrets that are starting to be outed – and fast! Small cafes, restaurants and food trucks are creeping up in laneways, alleys and at the ever-popular markets that pop up around the city.
With heavy lashings of internationalism, some of the must-try dishes include tamales, laksa, and fresh oysters.
Skirting the coastline, while in Arnhem Land, you cannot leave without eating seafood – and lots of it! With restaurants ranging from the local pubs to exclusive boat clubs, Arnhem Land dining experiences have one thing in common – freshness.
With a thriving Aboriginal community, Arnhem will introduce you to traditional bush tucker meals properly. With a variety of bush food to try, you’ll learn about the health benefits of eating the native fruits of Australia.
Despite its remote location, Alice Springs has international cuisine at every turn.
Whether you are looking for Indian and Thai food or are craving a flavoursome pasta, you’ll find it in the Red Centre. Alice Springs is also home to an impressive variety of bistro restaurants, including one set in beautiful botanic gardens.
Cost of a Trip in the Northern Territory, Australia
There are a few things to factor in when planning a trip to the Northern Territory:
- Length of your trip
- Season or month you choose to travel in
- Accommodation class and type
- Number of activities or tours you take part in
- Chosen method of transportation
And you haven’t even booked the flights yet! When looking over the above factors, making sure your trip to the Northern Territory is within budget can become tricky. However, there is a way to make budgeting and planning your trip easy.
At Designer Journeys, we have a host of Local Designers in Australia ready and waiting to make your dream trip to the Northern Territory a reality.
After specifying your budget, trip duration, activity preferences and how you like to travel, you will connect with an in-destination Local Designer who will plan your trip based on your requirements.
Alternatively, you can design your own Northern Australia trip, whether you are looking for the best Uluru tours or a once-in-a-lifetime Outback holiday package with the family, with Designer Journeys you can relax in the knowledge that everything has been taken care of by our Local Designers.
By specifying your budget, your Australia tour can be tailor-made to what is achievable for you.
As an example, take a look at this 5-day dreaming of NT from Darwin to Alice Springs trip for US$3,073;
The trip includes;
- 3-star accommodation
- Three guided activities
- Airport transfers and transport by private car
- Four breakfasts
Altering parts of this trip will change the cost considerably. For example, if you upgraded the accommodation, the trip would become more expensive, however, if you made this a self-drive trip, the cost would drop considerably and offer you more freedom.
Everyone has different interests, priorities and preferences when it comes to planning a trip. With Designer Journeys, you can browse our range of fully-customisable Australia tours and tailor any one of them to your preferences with an expert Local Designer. Or better yet, create your very own from scratch by opting to ‘Design Your Own Trip’ to see what is possible in the Northern Territories and beyond!
Unmissable Events in the Northern Territory
Finke Desert Race
Think Mad Max in Australia, and you get the picture
Taking place in June, Tatts Finke Desert Race is a two-day dirt race for motorbikes, buggies and quads. The race has become one of the greatest challenges on the off-roading calendar with people coming from across the world to get the ‘King of the Desert’ trophy.
Celebrating remote Aboriginal culture, Barunga Festival welcomes indigenous and non-indigenous people to camp together and enjoy music, sports and cultural activities.
The weekend-long festival is run by traditional owners of the land who educate people about the Katherine region and celebrate it in all its glory.
Beer Can Regatta
Somewhat of a legacy in Darwin, this family-fun event started in 1974, Beer Can Regatta has become one of the biggest events in the city!
Families and friends are invited to get creative to make a boat from beer cans, milk cartons, bottles – whatever you think will float! The competition is judged based on design, structural strength and floating ability.
Ready to Design Your Trip to the Northern Territories?
Armed with this Northern Territory travel guide, you can work with one of our Local Designers based in Australia to hit the road and get deep into the Red Centre and all it has to offer. To begin making plans and make those dusty dreams a reality, check out our host of Northern Territory tours and connect with one of our Local Designers today!