Even those without a reliable guidebook could stumble on natural beauty in the Northern Territory; it is, after all, home to a staggering 24 national parks. As local Indigenous populations will attest, the varied landscape of this state tells a thousand tales, with some stories dating back more than 65,000 years. Start your story with the Northern Territory with these 10 quintessential experiences.
Sample delicious cuisine
Don’t consider the Top End a premiere dining destination? It’s time to shift your thinking. Darwin has become something of a conduit for countless cuisine influences; one turn around through Mindil Beach Sunset Market (every Thursday and Saturday from April to October) delivers dishes of Bangladeshi to Indonesian influence – with one stall spruiking crocodile burgers. Bricks-and-mortar establishments are gaining ground, too; eatery Snapper Rocks props up its menu with fish caught sustainably within the state, as well as grass-fed beef hailing from Batchelor-based suppliers .
Hike through some of the state’s best national parks
Those with a penchant for perambulation can cover some of the country’s most unique ground on trails here – both short and long (as in, multi-week long) hikes are striped across this rugged state. Beginners can start by tackling the 9.4-kilometre loop in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park around its namesake monolith’s base, while the more adventurous will love the 224-kilometre-long Larapinta Trail, that skims the ridges of the West MacDonnell Ranges and tests even the most steely walker.
Admire resplendent rock formations
Like a sunset permanently setting on desert soil, Uluru is certainly the state’s most revered natural monument. It’s a must-do, of course, but it’s not where remarkable rocks end in the Northern Territory. Karlu Karlu, or The Devil’s Marbles, also teeter in the territory, as do the vibrant vermillion mounds of Kata Tjuta (less than an hour’s drive from Uluru) and the serrated edges of Ubirr Rock (at the very Top End, three and a half hour’s drive west of Darwin).
Deepen your understanding with Indigenous experiences
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders account for almost 30 per cent of the Northern Territory’s population but Indigenous habitation of this region dates back tens of thousands of years. Learn more about the customs and beliefs of the deeply spiritual people that have inhabited the land for millennia by signing up for an Indigenous owned and operated exploration. Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris operates within the Arnhem Land region, leading tours through the area’s lush wetlands, while Animal Tracks gives visitors a taste of true bush tucker – magpie geese cooked in a paperbark oven is one such item on the menu.
Do the Darwin Festival
A lively collection of music, theatre, dance and visual art events, the Darwin Festival celebrates 40 years this August for good reason; it’s one of the state’s annual highlights. This year combines the power of acts such as iconic group Yothu Yindi, Bangarra Dance Theatre and musician Archie Roach into 18 days of cultural immersion, with many events taking place in the open air, under star-studded skies.
Dive into deserted swimming holes
Although taking a dip can prove a risky pastime in parts of the NT (crocodiles also love the water, you see), there are exceptional spots are free from bathing partners. Litchfield National Park, an hour and a half from Darwin, has waterfalls worth chasing in the Wangi or Florence kind. Wading in the tiered rock pools of Buley Rockhole is also a worthy expedition for it deep and cleansing waters. The Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges also offers some respite from the oft-oppressing heat, too; gorges of Glen Helen, Redbank and Ormiston have soothing lakes amid craggy walls of cliffs.
Immerse yourself in Indigenous art
The Northern Territory is at the intersection of art and history. There’s more than 40,000 years of creation and creativity scattered around the state, both on canvases of modern galleries and across the ancient rocks deep in sacred bushland. History buffs will be floored by ancient rock art sites such as Burrungkuy, which reveals detailed stories of creation; while a glimpse of the state’s modern art scene can be had at MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory) at the edge of Darwin Harbour.
Tower over the land at a lookout
Topographically speaking, the Northern Territory is split in two, with a semi-arid heart and a tropical top. Whether it’s a wind-eroded sedimentary rock escarpment or a gorge tunneled like a scar across the land, there are so many varied and diverse landscapes to conquer. Nawurlandja Lookout, in Kakadu National Park, is short and steep but arriving at the peak is well worth the scramble – from here, climbers can peer over into the edges of Arnhem Land, some twenty kilometres away.
Barrack for your team on the Tiwi Islands
The two glittering islands of Bathurst and Melville are collectively known as the Tiwi Islands, about a half hour ferry ride north of Darwin. On these shores, common finds are smiles and AFL fanatics – the islands are packed with such athletic talent, it’s a regular stop for AFL scouts. Bathurst Island’s annual football grand final in March is a true NT spectacle –the streets teem with painted faces and coloured jerseys as fans gun for their favourite team to be victorious.
Take a very, very long road trip
You don’t traverse the NT in a day. Six times the size of Great Britain, this unique portion of Australia hides stretches of road that continue hundreds of kilometres between petrol stations (and pubs) but the vast, harsh landscape rewards adventurous road trippers. Consider the Arnhem Way, which takes travellers to the very tip of the state for coastal views and picturesque hiking, or the Outback Way, a track for four-wheel-driving enthusiasts that follows a bumpy, intrepid path from Western Australia all the way to Queensland.