Things to Do in Northern Territory
Nitmiluk (also called Katherine Gorge) is the deep path cut through the sandstone by the Katherine River, and the Nitmiluk Katherine Gorge National Park is where you can go to lap up the luscious experience of the Gorge, whether that be swimming in it (sometimes with harmless freshwater crocodiles), canoeing in it, hiking around it, gazing it from an observation deck, flying over it on a helicopter...or any combination of the above.
The park is run by the traditional owners, the Jawoyn, in conjunction with the Australian government. It's a well-appointed place with lots of visitor facilities (and lots of visitors, especially in the dry season). You can choose your level of activity, from lounging around at your campsite or the visitor center café to strenuous canoeing trips or hikes. But make sure you take at least one long hike, perhaps to see the Aboriginal rock art, or at least to get sticky enough to make cooling off in the river a delight.
It’s hard to grasp exactly what you’re looking at when you see the rock drawings at Ubirr. Here, etched before you on ancient rock that springs from the red dirt Earth, are drawings placed here by Aborigines nearly 20,000 years ago. How the drawings have managed to survive for so long is a fascinating geologic story, but it's one that pales in comparison to the stories told by the drawings themselves.
Located in what’s known as the East Alligator Region of Kakadu National Park, Ubirr is a UNESCO World Heritage site that borders on desert magic. In addition to collections of ancient rock art, the site offers sweeping, panoramic views of the surrounding flood plains and fields, and includes a sacred “Rainbow Serpent” painting in one of the three different galleries. According to local Aboriginal legend, the serpent was involved in the very creation of Earth surrounding the site, and is regarded as one of the world’s oldest figures of early creation.
The drone of a didgeridoo, the chanting of the indigenous Anangu people, and the clapping sticks that drive their chanting and dancing can be heard as you approach the Tjukurpa Tunnel. This is your welcome to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.
Tjukurpa is the story and the spiritual law of the Anangu people, and the Tjukurpa Tunnel is where you are encouraged to begin building your understanding of their way of life before your visit to Uluru or Kata Tjuta. Much of Tjukurpa is considered sacred and cannot be discussed publicly, so this is a fantastic opportunity to take in those parts which can be shared. Artefacts and informational plaques are displayed throughout the tunnel, and documentary DVD’s are screened on a loop, providing fascinating insights.
Kakadu National Park has a feeling and a beauty unlike anywhere else on earth. With its sandstone escarpments looming up from the plain, its secret waterholes and lily-strewn waterways, its teeming birdlife and ancient rock art, it's a place that will get a hold on something old in your soul.
It's Australia's largest national park, clocking in at a mindboggling 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres). In that vast space shelters a staggering multiplicity of fauna, including dingos, wallabies and saltwater crocodiles. There's plants and animals here that are found nowhere else in the world, and a number of endangered species.
Make sure to take a cruise along one of the numerous park rivers - cruising along the Alligator River will allow to discover amazing birds and see crocs up close safely. Yellow Water near Cooina is a good starting point for sunrise cruises, usually the best time of the day for wildlife viewing.
The Tiwi Islands sit about 50 miles off the north coast of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the chain is made up of 11 individual isles. The largest are Melville – the second largest island in Australia behind Tasmania – and Bathurst, the fifth largest of Australia’s islands.
It is believed that this string of islands has been inhabited for the past 7,000 years by the Tiwi people, which led to them being named an Aboriginal Reserve in 1912. Like at Arnhem Land, another Aboriginal Reserve, visiting these islands requires an invitation or an escort, as well as a permit. The islands are governed mostly by the Tiwi Aboriginal Land Trust and the Tiwi Land Council. The island communities are renowned for their art, particularly for their wood carvings of birds. Fabric creations are also common and made in a similar fashion to Indonesian batik prints.
In the far reaches of Australia’s Northern Territory, the rough and tumble outpost of Darwin is a hotbed of quintessential Australian adventure, and none more so than a cruise on the Adelaide River to see the legendary jumping crocodiles, which can grow upwards of 20 feet long. Salt-water crocodiles are some of the most fearsome and notorious wild animals in the Australian bush, and the Adelaide River literally teems with them—don’t plan to take a swim during a day on the water.
Experienced guides control the experience so you can see these incredible prehistoric reptiles from the comfort and safety of a boat. And while the crocs are certainly the highlight of a trip to the river, you can see plenty of other wildlife along the way, including wild buffalo and white-breasted sea eagles. The Adelaide River is also a hotspot for fishing trips to snag massive, hard-fighting barramundi fish.
More Things to Do in Northern Territory
Walk alongside the imposing form of Uluru to the Kantju Gorge and waterhole, on land held sacred by the Anangu indigenous people. The Anangu have walked this land for thousands of years, and once held religious ceremonies here. They believe that the shape and physical features on this section of the monolith represent the activities of the Mala (or rufous hare wallaby), which they see as one of their ancestral beings, during the time of the Tjukurpa (creation time).
The sheer cliffs of Uluru look amazingly different from every angle, and scroll through a vast array of colours as the sun moves across the desert sky. You will never tire of looking at this incredible figure, as it is always changing. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during heavy rain you will see quite a show, since small streams and waterfalls cover Uluru, transforming it into a completely different natural wonder.
The Darwin Wharf Precinct, a scenic waterfront area full of options for dining and play, exists thanks to an initiative by the city of Darwin that turned 61 acres of industrial wasteland into a thriving center for the city.
The area includes the Stokes Hill Wharf, a historical site that was constructed in the early 1800s by Darwin’s first European settlers and bore much damage from the 1942 air raid upon the city during World War II. These days, the wharf is home to a much livelier atmosphere. Award-winning dining, entertainment, shopping and outdoor attractions have helped transform the wharf precinct into one of the most celebrated parts of Darwin. The wharf is connected to Darwin’s Central Business District by a dedicated walkway lined with parks, tropical landscaping and, of course, the waterfront itself.
Cullen Bay is about 10 minutes outside of Darwin. Its drawcard is a big sleek marina packed with yachts. In an uncertain tropical climate like Darwin's, this marina offers yachting traffic the security of a man-made environment with a locked waterway and sea walls that close. This means it's accessible in the low Spring tides and a registered cyclone haven - hence its popularity.
For the landlubber, Cullen Bay is an equally sleek oasis of shops, restaurants, bars and day spas. It's a popular place for visitors to stay, as its serviced apartments are so close to all these amenities - and water views. It's also close to the ferry terminal, so you can take off on trips to Mandorah and Tiwi islands.
Located in the heart of Darwin, Crocosaurus Cove is home to the largest display of Australian reptiles in the world, including species unique to the Top End and Kimberly regions of Australia. There's also a turtle sanctuary and a two-story freshwater aquarium.
If you've always wanted the thrill of getting reeeeeallly close up to these massive reptiles, here's your chance. At Crocosaurus Cove you can lure a hungry croc close to you with a chunk of buffalo meat on your fishing line, 'swim' with them (you'll be snorkeling in a glass cage, the crocs will be outside the cage) and meet and hold baby crocodiles. Don't forget to pay a visit to the infamous Burt, star of the iconic Australian movie Crocodile Dundee. If you need a rest from all that croc-fired adrenaline you can take some time out to pet a (relatively) innocuous snake or feed some fish.
Nestled between Fannie Bay beach and the Nightcliff Headland, East Point Reserve is a nature reserve and the largest park area in Darwin. In addition to the many outdoor activities available here, the area’s military history draws both visitors and locals alike. The active at heart can enjoy the many walking trails and cycling paths, or take a swim in the saltwater of Lake Alexander. For those who prefer to lounge, there are dozens of ideal picnic spots from which to catch the views and sunsets, including those at the most popular beach on Fannie Bay.
The area is home to lots of Australian wildlife — everything from wallabies and bandicoots to reptiles and birds. The Mangrove Walkway is the best bet for seeing the animals that call East Point home. The Reserve furthermore played a role in defending Australia in World War II, which can be explored in the Darwin Military Museum here.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has a fine collection, but what is its most popular attraction by far? That's right - a preserved saltwater crocodile called 'Sweetheart.'
Sweetheart, a 50 year-old male, was menacing boats on the Finnis River, so he was captured by rangers. They intended to give him to a croc farm for breeding. Sadly, during the capture, the drugged crocodile drowned and could not be resuscitated. His body was given to the museum. If you can drag yourself away from Sweetheart, there's a fine natural history collection and plenty of indigenous art. You'll also get a good grounding in the Territory's history, including Cyclone Tracy (there's a room that simulates the cyclone) and visits by Indonesian sailors back in the day. The museum looks beyond the mainland to focus on Southeast Asian and Pacific culture.
Protecting some of Darwin’s most cultural and historically significant wetlands, Charles Darwin National Park is the home of mangroves and wildlife visible by walking, cycling, or simply sitting at one of the park’s many overlooks. A complex system of bays, waterways, and small islands, 31 of the 50 or so species of mangrove of the Northern Territory can be found here. Historically the Larrakia people called this area home with evidence suggesting the Aboriginals had inhabited here for thousands of years. Now it’s a wonderful place to take in views of Darwin city, the harbor, and the surrounding landscape.
The park is also home to concrete bunkers and shelters from World War II, which tell the story of Australia’s soldiers and are open to visitors. There is an impressive display of war memorabilia here, where ammunition was once stored and military tests were run. The park’s many paths can be used for both walking and cycling to take it all in.
Australia’s Top End is home to one-of-a-kind landscapes and ecosystems, and nowhere is it easier to witness this splendor than at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. The gardens were designed around a huge collection of flora native to the region, from the lush Arnhem Land to the Tiwi Islands, and visitors can feast their eyes on replicas of displays of various local habitats – monsoon forests, coastal fore-dunes, wetlands, mangroves and woodlands. More than 450 plant species can be found here, at one of the only botanical gardens in the world that successfully hosts natural displays of both marine and estuary plants.
Other plants of note include the stunning Desert Rose tree, bromeliads and orchids. There’s also a rainforest gully that contains many of the gardens’ palm and cycad species alongside ponds and a waterfall. In addition to showcasing the local ecosystems, the gardens also allow visitors to gain insight into the area’s Aboriginal culture.
Boasting dozens of aircrafts, engines and plane crash remnants, the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre is the best place in Darwin for anyone with their head in the clouds. The enormous museum prides itself on its coverage of the fateful bombing of Darwin in 1942 and many other air battles of World War II. Its North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber is especially notable, as it is one of the last in the world and only one of two on display outside of the United States. Other exhibits include an Auster biplane, a Japanese Zero fighter, shot from the sky in 1942, a Tiger Moth, the remains of a crash-landed RAAF Mirage jet, a Spitfire replica and even a few of the first attack helicopters
One of the twelve stops along the overland telegraph route the Alice Spring Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a great place for a picnic. The reserve has walking tracks, swimming holes, a cycle path and shady spots to rest. There are also free electric barbeques. Several colonies of rock wallabies share the reserve with plenty of other native wildlife and some pet camels.
Many of the buildings in the old Telegraph station have been restored and offer a look at how messages were sent across Australia in the days when the trip took weeks by horse. In the Post and Telegraph Room you can still post a letter and send a telegram (email) to a friend. In the cooler months (May - Oct) the wood-fired oven is lit and damper ('outback bread') and scones are served.
Australia’s newest parliament house was built in Darwin in 1994, and has been the seat of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly since then. It was designed in a postmodern style and built to suit the tropical climate of Darwin. The entrance features a Northern Territory coat of arms placed at the top of its ceremonial doors.
The building overlooks Darwin Harbor, sitting on the site of the former Post Office and Telegraph Station which were bombed during a raid in 1942. There is a state library, portrait gallery, and a massive Main Hall indoors, and the Speakers Green outdoor. The areas function both as parliamentary and government receptions and public exhibitions. Unique tributes to the symbols of the Northern Territory, such as a desert rose in the reception foyer, are present throughout.
These days it’s commonplace for many schools to offer programs online, where you can receive a degree without ever seeing a teacher. Well, before the age of the internet, there was radio-- the means of how School of the Air in Alice Springs, Australia, nobly pioneered the idea to reach out to kids in obscure destinations without proper schools. One visit to the school premises, which is now complete with its own Visitor Center, and you can share a moving experience that shows how the utilization of technology we take for granted has not only brought people together, but shaped lives.
Teaching primary and secondary level students since the 50’s, today students are outstretched as far as 502,000 square miles from the school. You can watch a film about the history of this truly unique school, and even listen in on live classes, which have since switched from the radio era to a highly more modernized and efficient broadband internet model.
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