As the name would suggest, Australia’s Northern Territory (NT for short) sits north and centre of the country. It’s sparsely populated, despite its large size (the third-largest state, to be precise). However, a low population doesn’t mean that there isn’t loads to do! NT contains world-famous wilderness, like Kakadu National Park, as well as urban hotspots like Darwin. Here’s our ultimate guide to the Northern Territory so you know what to see and do when visiting NT.
How to Get to the Northern Territory
If you’re coming from overseas, chances are you’ll be flying, and this means landing in the capital city of Darwin, where the international airport services flights from Europe, the US and Asia. There is also the option to fly domestically, with smaller airports located at Alice Springs and Katherine. Another option if travelling domestically is, of course, soaking in the territory’s magnificent landscapes on a road trip. There are plenty of well-maintained highways crisscrossing the state, but you should stay alert in more remote areas to avoid getting caught out in floods during the wet season and heat during drier periods.
One of the more romantic ways to get to the Northern Territory is The Ghan, a classic train journey that takes you from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs. This isn’t the fastest way to travel, taking upwards of 50 hours – but if you want to avoid flights, it makes for a rather interesting option.
When to Visit the Northern Territory
When you visit the Northern Territory will really depend on what you’re coming to see and what kind of climate you like. It can be a little trickier than just ‘come during the summer’, because there are actually two distinct areas within the NT, each with their own seasons.
The Top End, which includes Darwin, Katherine and Kakadu, has a tropical climate, meaning it has two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season (or rainy season) runs from November to April and makes for higher humidity, massive storms and big rain. This can result in flooding, with areas such as Kakadu prone to closure. The dry season (May to October), on the other hand, sees clear skies, warm days and cool evenings. Of course, this means that many tourists head to the Top End during the dry season, but the wet season can be equally as spectacular in its own way (especially if you’re a storm-chaser).
The lower parts of the territory (including Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park) have more traditional seasons, with summer running from December to February and winter from June to August. That said, there is still some oddities due to the arid nature of the region, with the Red Centre often experiencing scorching days and sub-zero nights. This means you’ll always have a great trip; you just need to be prepared!
What to Do and See in the Northern Territory
The capital of the Northern Territory is located on the northern coast and is in fact the smallest of Australia’s capitals. But despite its size, it still packs a punch with events and festivals throughout the dry season such as the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Being a tropical city, it’s also a fantastic destination for sun-worshippers, with temperatures frequently in the mid-30s. Swimming is generally considered too dangerous, but if you want to take a dip, the netted lagoon is the place to go, or one of the man-made pools. There are also galleries and museums if you’re looking for a little culture or to explore the city’s interesting history. Darwin is also a fantastic destination if you want to spot a wild salt-water crocodile – just make sure to keep your distance!
Litchfield National Park
Sitting just over an hour from Darwin is Litchfield National Park, considered a water-world paradise. It can be visited on a day trip from either Darwin or Katherine and contains several stunning waterfalls and crystal-clear waters to relax in. It can be partly explored by car or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, there are plenty of trails to walk.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Almost 2,000km south of Darwin is Uluru-Kata Tjuta park, which is home to two of Australia’s most famous landmarks: Uluru and Kata Tjuta (sometimes known as Ayers Rock and The Olgas respectively). These two stone monuments are spectacular in their own right, but are also surrounded by 1,326 square kilometres of UNESCO World Heritage-listed land. This is a must-see stop on almost any trip to Australia, so should be at the top of your list for the NT.
The closest large town to Uluru is Alice Springs, which is still more than a five-hour drive (440km) to the park. The town is a great place to use as base to explore the central region, but also has a rich pioneering history to delve into and galleries of Aboriginal artwork that can help you understand the cultural landscape. Alice Springs also has plenty of dining options to relax at in the evenings, and if you’re looking for an activity during the day, the beloved Kangaroo Sanctuary is well worth a visit.
When in Alice Springs or visiting Uluru, it’s also worth looking into making a trip to Kings Canyon, which a little over five hours from town. This magnificent natural landmark is part of the Watarrka National Park, which offers plenty of hiking trails as well as options to drive – just be wary of the heat and make sure you’re prepared!
Kakadu National Park
Another national park that shouldn’t be missed when visiting the NT is Kakadu, which has an impressively diverse range of flora and fauna. As well as the natural beauty, the park is also home to some of the county’s most important rock-art sites.
From the crystal-clear falls of Litchfield to the towering rock formations of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, there is a diverse and beautiful range of natural sites to see in the Northern Territory. However, it’s not all outdoor adventure – there’s plenty to see and do in the major towns and cities of Darwin and Alice Springs as well. Whether it’s history, hills or a little mix of everything, you’re sure to enjoy something in this ultimate guide to the Northern Territory.