I remember an old television commercial about visiting the Northern Territory, and the tagline simply said,
“If you never ever go, you’ll never ever know.”
Ever since, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that the NT is a different side of Australia. It’s an adventure to The Outback and the Red Centre that’s so uniquely Australian and it’s possibly the part I’ll speak most about from our road trip in years to come.
Sure, Australia is well known for its stunning beaches that are second to none as far as I’m concerned, but it’s The Outback that’s unlike anywhere else in the world.
There’s something about the vastness, the ancient aboriginal culture, the natural wonders, the starry skies, and the wildlife that you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else down under.
And Darwin, a tropical city boasting incredible sunsets and cloudless skies grows on you the longer you linger.
Like me, you’ve probably seen hundreds of photos and TV commercials about the Northern Territory, but like they say it’s a place you have to see and feel, for yourself.
The Northern Territory gave birth to a deeper love and connection within me for Australia. Below are my favourite experiences. You’re mad if you miss it.
34 experiences in the Northern Territory
1. Sunset at Uluru
We discovered 9 ways to experience the magic of Uluru but let’s start with sunset. As the sun sinks below the Outback horizon the colours of the rock change by the minute, and it truly is magical. The most popular viewing spot is the official Sunset Lookout 10 kilometres through the entrance gates to the park.
2. Gunlom Falls, Kakadu National Park
I’m putting Kakadu National Park in our top 3 favourite National Parks in Australia, and Gunlom was our favourite waterhole. Let’s call it nature’s best infinity pool. With spectacular views over the valley and surrounded by shady gums, it’s perfect for a refreshing swim and a spot of lunch. And the bonus – no crocs up here guys!
3. The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs
We visited The Kangaroo Sanctuary at the end of our 18-month road trip around Australia and had seen enough roos to last a lifetime, and wondered if this place would be worth it? You betcha, it was awesome. We all got to hold a joey – which the kids adored – and Brolga the owner and star of the hit BBC TV series Kangaroo Dundee was as passionate and knowledgeable as anyone I’ve met!
4. Sunset at Mindel Beach, Darwin
Darwin ranks in our top places to see the sunset in Australia and Mindil Beach is probably the most popular location, especially during the Thursday night markets when hundreds hit the beach to watch the sun sink below the horizon – a site in itself.
5. Drive the Red Centre Way
Don’t just stick to the main Stuart Highway between Uluru and Alice Springs, our road trip along the Red Centre Way taking in the West MacDonnell Ranges was an adventure to remember with an infinite number of surprises waiting for you to explore.
6. Kings Canyon Rim Walk
The highlight of the Red Centre Way is the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, a 6-kilometre loop walk including spectacular Cotterill’s Lookout and the Garden of Eden and stunning views over the ‘Lost City’, a mini-Purnululu of striped stone domes. A close third behind Uluru and Kata Tjuta for things to do in the Red Centre!
7. Dinner and drinks at the Ski Club, Darwin
My favourite place to finish the day in Darwin is at the Ski Club with dinner and drinks. Super casual and perfect for families, and, you get a front row seat for the famous Darwin sunset. This place is a great example of Darwins outdoorsy lifestyle that the locals soak up.
8. Sunrise at Uluru
Watching the desert come alive is an unmissable moment. Either head to the main sunrise lookout at Talinguru Nyakunytjaku and see the sun shining on the rock (with bus loads of others) or, to escape the crowd and for a great sunrise silhouette head back to the sunset lookout spot and you’ll get the rock blocking the sun as she rises.
9. Glen Helen Gorge
This beautiful, permanent waterhole lies at the headwaters of the Finke River and the traditional owners believe Glen Helen Gorge is the home of an ancient and powerful Rainbow Serpent. Stop here a while, the Glen Helen Homestead is the perfect place to base yourself and explore the West MacDonnell Ranges.
10. Yellow Water Billabong Cruise, Kakadu
A journey through Kakadu’s wetlands on the Yellow Water Cruise is a memorable experience, especially at sunrise when the billabongs abundant wildlife wakes up. Flocks of egrets soar, sea eagles perch above looking for their morning feed, and you get up close with the ancient example of perfect evolution – the crocodile!
11. Sunset at Kata Tjuta
Also known as The Olgas, Kata Tjuta is the Aboriginal name and means “many heads’. Kata Tjuta is only 50 kilometres up the road from Uluru, and whilst my sunset family photo doesn’t do the scale of this place justice, once again the changing of the colours in the rocks as the sun goes down is truly remarkable.
12. Buley Rockholes, Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is only a 90-minute drive from Darwin and is one of the best places in the Top End to go swimming. Buley Rockholes, a series of rock pools that has water cascading through them, is my favourite part of Litchfield and the perfect place to swim with our kids. Get there early to beat the tour buses!
13. Walk the base of Uluru
A must do at Uluru, this 10-kilometre loop walk around the whole base of the rock took us 3.45 hours, and that’s with a three-year-old. Start at first light to beat the heat froma the Kuniya walking point and walk anti-clockwise. Take lots of water, snacks, short breaks, comfortable walking shoes, and a hat. Be warned, in summer, the flies can be horrendous!
14. Tubing in Redbank Gorge
You have to go tubing at Redbank Gorge when you visit the West MacDonnell Ranges. The gorge sits in the shadow of Mt Sonder and is known for its chilly but refreshing water. There’s a small swimming hole that leads to a narrow crack in the wall. Paddle on through it with your tubes and then clamber over the rocks that lead up to each new level.
15. Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park
Florence Falls is a stunning double-plunge waterfall leading to a popular swimming hole. There’s a steep staircase down to the pools passing through a lovely viewing point, and you can walk between Florence Falls and Buley Rockholes.
16. Sunset at Ubirr, Kakadu
The best place to see the sun go down in Kakadu National Park is from up top of the rock at Ubirr with views over the Nadarb floodplains and Arnhem Land. One of the most beautiful sunsets we have seen!
17. Sunrise cruise in Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is made up of 13 gorges carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River which have great ceremonial significance to the local aboriginal people. A popular way to experience the gorge is via a cruise. We chose the 2-hour dawn break cruise and it was magical to see it awaken in the morning light.
18. Mataranka Hot Springs
This place is awesome. The Mataranka Thermal Pool is a constant 34 degrees celsius, its waters are rejuvenating, and surrounded by a palm forest. Bring a noodle or other flotation device and let the current take you along. Hop out, and do it again.
19. Cycle the base of Uluru
If you’re not up to walking 10 kilometres, hire bikes from Outback Cycling ($30 for three hours) or bring your own and cycle it. We had a tag-along for Kalyra, Savannah sat in a baby seat, and the 15-kilometre track took us two hours, again stopping for more photos and drink breaks.
20. Explore Kata Tjuta by foot
There are many walking trails that lead you between the domes of Kata Tjuta, such as the Walpa Gorge Walk, but also do the Valley of the Winds Walk for breathtaking views over the desert plains. Start this walk at first light, especially in the warmer months.
21. Ormiston Gorge
Probably the biggest and prettiest swimming hole in the West Macs, and the most popular. Take a short walk into the gorge for a refreshing swim, or walk up to the steel viewing platform overlooking Ormiston Waterhole (20 min return) or continue walking along the Ghost Gum Walk (1.5 hour loop).
22. Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park
Litchfield’s most popular attraction with the largest swimming hole, a nice waterfall, and a picnic area and onsite cafe – our kids enjoyed an ice cream here on a hot day – busy in peak season. If you’ve got young kids like us entering this waterhole is far easier than at Florence Falls and it’s clear and shallow in close.
23. Darwin Military Museum at East Point
As Australian’s we learned a lot at school about Gallipoli, but not as much about what happened on our home soil. On 19 February 1942, Darwin was devastated by Japanese bombing, and despite 58 further raids, Darwin rose to the challenge, becoming a major forward base for the Pacific Campaign. The Darwin Military Museum tells the story.
24. Camel sunset ride at Uluru
Looking for someone else to carry your load whilst you sit back and marvel at the landscape, then one of the unique ways to take in Uluru is on the back of a trusty camel and you’ll have amazing views all the way over to Kata Tjuta. Our kids loved this experience.
25. Sunset drinks at SkyCity Casino, Darwin
It may not be Vegas, but Darwin has the SkyCity Casino and the best part is you can take in the famous Darwin sunset with drinks by the pool. And I highly recommend dinner at the il Piatto Italian restaurant – one of the best meals we had on our 18-month trip!
26. Sunrise at Mt Sonder
Five minutes down the road from Glen Helen Gorge is Mt Sonder Lookout, the highest point on the famous Larapinta Trail and the place to come for sunrise (and sunset). With its changing colours, it’s a favourite for painters, including the famous Australian artist Albert Namatjira.
27. Standley Chasm
Close to Alice Springs, Standley Chasm cuts through tough quartzite to form a picturesque natural alleyway created by surging flood waters over thousands of years. Noon is the best time to visit when the sun’s light shifts across the cleft, the walls of the chasm glows golden, orange and red.
28. Aboriginal Rock Art in Kakadu
Kakadu is home to some of the best aboriginal rock out in the Northern Territory. Guided talks run through the Ubirr rock art gallery. An Aboriginal ranger will tell you many of the stories behind the paintings on the wall of the 1km circular walk. Also, head to the Nourlangie region for more incredible rock art.
29. School of the Air, Alice Springs
If you’re traveling around Australia like we did and teaching your child via Distance Education or Homeschooling, then a visit to the original School of the Air is interesting. The visitors centre has films and guides sharing the stories of this uniquely Australian school and how it covers 1.3 million square kilometres.
30. Termite Mounds, Litchfield NP
These giant magnetic termite mounds are built by thousands of termites with a north-south orientation to control the temperature inside the mounds and to minimize exposure to the sun. You will pass these termite mounds first if you enter the park from Darwin.
31. Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin
Held Thursdays to Sundays from March to November, Mindil Beach Markets are the place to go for cheap and tasty eats from around the world, a vibrant mix of cultures, live music, clothing and souvenirs, and of course, everyone heads down onto the beach for THAT sunset!
32. Simpsons Gap
A short drive from Alice, Simpsons Gap is one of the most prominent gaps in the West MacDonnell Ranges. It features the towering cliffs of Simpsons Range, a permanent waterhole, and at dawn or dusk is renowned as a place to see Black-footed Rock-wallabies along the gap’s short walking track.
33. Arnham Land
Arnhem Land is a highly spiritual and sacred Aboriginal area just east of Kakadu. The aboriginal people live in close connection with the land as they have always traditionally done. To visit you need a permit or to go on a tour, and it is what would be considered one of the most off-the-beaten-path experiences in the Northern Territory, if not Australia.
34. Sunset drinks at Uluru
A fitting farewell to our time at Uluru was sipping on a few glasses of champagne with the folks from AAT Kings. It’s always nice to mingle with others from around the world and share stories about Uluru. And funnily enough. it looks and feels even better ofter a few glasses of the old bubbly!
- 9 ways to experience the magic of Uluru
- How to explore Kakadu National Park
- Highlights of a Northern Territory road trip from Darwin
Plan Your Trip to the Northern Territory
We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:
- Booking.com has 150+ properties in the Northern Territory including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancelation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.
This is just my list of experiences for the Northern Territory. Please share any of your suggestions in the comments below.