The Northern Territory is the stuff Aussie dreams are made of. The iconic Uluru, the stark & rugged Outback landscapes, and remote Indigenous communities expressing their love of country through stunning art that has caught the imagination of the world: all of this and more makes it the perfect place for the great Aussie road trip. So get your bucket list ready, because the NT is a must-do adventure!
Of course, there’s only so much of this incredible destination we can cover in just one post – we’re only just getting started! So don’t forget to head to northernterritory.com for even more things to do in the NT. For more expert advice, get in touch with an ATAS-accredited travel agent!
Explore Uluru at sunset – Image by Tourism NT & Emilie Ristevski
The NT’s state capital Darwin is a whole lot of fun! For some wildlife adventures, you can get up close and personal with crocs at Crocosaurus Cove and Crocodylus Park; hand-feed hordes of frenzied fish with Aquascene; and visit the seriously awesome Territory Wildlife Park to get to know the amazing animals of the Top End.
More of a culinary adventurer? With Darwin’s balmy nights, it won’t surprise you that there’s a thriving food market scene. The oldest markets at this historically multicultural city, the Rapid Creek Markets, are a great place to discover tropical fruit you may have never heard of (or taste your favourites that you won’t find at Coles!) as well as highly noshable hawker delicacies. There’s also the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, considered one of the country’s best: think your dream flea market, with tasty street food as well as cool knick-knacks that’ll make a perfect souvenir of your trip.
Darwin is quite close to two fabulous national parks: Litchfield and Mary River National Park. You’ll find incredible natural beauty here, with Instagrammable landscapes and abundant native wildlife; make sure you make time for both.
The Mary River National Park is a popular spot for bird & croc spotting, fishing, river cruising and 4WDing, while Litchfield National Park is a firm favourite for its waterfalls, plunge pools, walking trails and picnic spots (as well as out-of-the-ordinary magnetic termite mounds, and its Lost City) If you’re in the mood for a great hiking adventure, the Tabletop Track multi-day circuit is spectacular. The camping is great here too, so pitch your tent and get ready to enjoy the best of NT nature.
Termite Mounds at Litchfield National Park – Tourism NT & Ashley Dobson
Indigenous art lovers will find Darwin an absolute delight; try to schedule your trip around the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in August to see some of the best and brightest artists. You’ll also find an incredible collection at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, as well as the Outstation Gallery which is dedicated specifically to Indigenous art, and the exceptional non-profit art gallery Aboriginal Bush Traders, dedicated to empowering local indigenous artists through ethical sourcing of unique, authentic products and cultural experiences. (Want to know more about Indigenous art in Darwin and beyond? Check out this feature from Tourism NT, and explore the Territory Arts Trail)
While you’re in Darwin, you won’t want to miss the unique Tiwi Islands, only a 2.5 hour ferry ride away but practically another world: this off-the-beaten-track destination is known for its welcoming locals (most of whom are of Aboriginal descent), vibrant art culture, incredible landscapes, fantastic fishing and some serious love of AFL.
Stay in a tropical fishing lodge, check out the informative and entertaining cultural and nature tours, visit an art centre, and meet the famous “morning tea ladies” (Tiwi women elders serving damper and billy tea). The Tiwi Islands are an amazing insight into the traditional rhythms of life. After visiting the islands you’ll understand why they’re nicknamed the “Island of Smiles” – you’re bound to have one on your face too.
Alice Springs & Uluru
Alice Springs is a remote town halfway between Darwin and Adelaide which holds an almost-legendary status in Aussie culture as the beating heart of the Red Centre; it’s the perfect spot to base yourself for your ultimate Outback exploration. ‘Alice’, as it is known by the locals, is known for its warm hospitality, adventurous spirit, and extraordinary desert scenery (best explored by camel!) as well as its vibrant Aboriginal culture.
While you’re in town, check out local art galleries like the magnificent Araluen Arts Centre, learn about its wondrous nature at the Alice Springs Desert Park and the magnificent showcase of arid-region flora you’ll find at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. You can also join in on one (or many!) of the fascinating local tours, and even get the ultimate 360 view from a hot air balloon.
There’s many adventurous attractions just out of town, too: from hiking the MacDonnell Ranges or 4WDing the vast, harsh and humbling Simpson Desert, to exploring lush oases and Aboriginal cultural sites in the massive Finke Gorge National Park, and admiring the colourful splendor of the Outback in the Rainbow Valley.
Cultural tour at Rainbow Valley – Image by: Tourism NT & Shaana McNaught
Just over 300km from Alice, you’ll find the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, home to two of Australia’s most beloved and iconic rock formations: Uluru (also known as Ayers’ Rock, and considered Australia’s spiritual heart) and Kata Tjuṯa (“many heads”, also known as the Olgas). The extraordinary geological formations, unusual plants and animals, cultural significance and breathtaking beauty of the National Park have led it to receive a dual World Heritage listing (one of only a few dozen places globally to do so). This area feels as Outback as it gets, and there’s something truly special that will soothe the soul here.
Three hours from Uluru, you’ll find Watarrka National Park, home to the mighty Kings Canyon – take in the expansive Red Centre views from atop of the towering 300-metre high sandstone walls, underneath which is a picturesque palm-filled oasis that’s rather unexpected in the middle of absolute desert. The contrasts here truly are nature at its most incredible.
Lonely Planet named the Red Centre to be one of its top 10 regions to travel to worldwide in 2019, and with good reason – it definitely deserves a place on your bucket list.
Relaxing at Sandy Creek, Litchfield National Park – Image by Tourism NT & Lucy Ewing
Where the Outback meets the tropics: this lush, verdant area is full of flowing waterfalls, relaxing thermal springs, gorgeous gorges and much more. It’s also renowned for its strong Indigenous arts and culture scene, with fascinating tours offering insights galore.
Cruise along the Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park; follow in the footsteps of generations of Jawoyn travellers as you hike the 62km Jatbula Trail; soak away your worries (or your sore post-hike muscles) in the swimming hole at the base of the Edith Falls, or at the postcard-perfect thermal springs at Mataranka in the Elsey National Park or the Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park; explore the natural wonders of the magnificent Judburra Gregory National Park, and be awestruck by the natural geological formations of the Gulf Region.
Kakadu is a national treasure, beyond a doubt! Australia’s largest national park (at 20,000 sqkm) is UNESCO World Heritage listed for its natural and cultural significance, and boasts extraordinary landscapes, pristine waterfalls, stunning rainforests and wetlands, and over five thousand Aboriginal rock art sites (including some of the world’s oldest). It’s a great spot for birdwatching, fishing and boating, swimming, hiking, and even spotting crocs! Find out more about the park’s nature, culture and highlights courtesy of the experts at Parks Australia.
One of the least inhabited places in the world, with its endless unspoiled nature, dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife, Arnhem Land is just perfect for getting away from it all and discovering the best of Australia. Spectacular fishing, camping, hiking and 4WDing await you, and some traditional Aboriginal communities welcome visitors (more info here).
Explore indigenous artistry at Injalak Arts and Crafts, the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, the Bábbarra Women’s Centre textile studio, the Anindilyakwa Arts gallery representing over 100 Aboriginal artists, or hone your craft as a photographer with the incredible views of the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.
To visit Arnhem Land you will need a permit from the Northern Land Council; make the most of your visit and join a tour with an operator who has permission to enter the region and the expertise to help you truly understand the deep significance of this area. You’ll leave with a sense of wonder.
Artwork at Aboriginal Bush Traders – Image by Tourism NT & Nick Pincott
Tennant Creek & Barkly Tablelands
This is absolutely Outback: the million-acre cattle stations and the remoteness and ruggedness that has inspired endless generations of artists and storytellers. Ancient rock art, outback hospitality, country pubs popping up unexpectedly in the middle of nowhere: Australiana in a nutshell. Check out The Pebbles and the Devil’s Marbles to geek out on geology, and be inspired by their beautiful place in local indigenous cultural traditions.
Go where few have gone before with a 4WD adventure in the Davenport Ranges, relive the heady gold rush days in Tennant Creek’s Battery Hill Mining Centre, and be both fascinated and humbled by the Indigenous art and culture at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre (considered one of the best in the Territory).
Finally, the Barkly Tablelands are absolutely postcard-perfect, with its never-ending plains and Outback horizons making it a fab addition to your road trip.
Want to know more? You’ll find exciting ideas and sample itineraries at the Tourism NT website, and plenty of travel inspo on their Instagram. Get in touch with an ATAS-accredited travel agent for your dream Territory holiday.
Looking for more true-blue Aussie travel tips and insight from ATAS? Check out our traveller’s guide to SA and Adelaide, uncover Perth’s hidden gems, and find out why Hobart is for lovers.