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  • Northern Territory

    Northern Territory travel guide


    A slice through the centre of Australia, the Northern Territory contains the 'Red Centre' of the country with its rugged bush, ancient Aboriginal culture and amazing flora and fauna. This abundant wide open space is the 'Outback' of Australia. The Northern Territory is twice the size of California, but is inhabited by fewer than 250,000 people. It draws tourists by droves, however, because it forms the backdrop for adventure on a grand scale - hot-air ballooning, bushwalking, four-wheel drive safaris, camel rides - all enabled by good roads, quality accommodation and vast swathes of unspoiled wilderness.

    From Darwin, the capital of Northern Australia in the far north, down to the mysterious Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the pioneering town of Alice Springs in the south, the Northern Territory is a land of contrasts. Here you will meet some of Australia's most colourful characters and experience deserts, islands and beaches, wetlands teeming with birds and crocodiles, shining rivers and ancient Aboriginal sites.

    Travellers should be aware that especially during the summer months (usually between October and May) the shallow coastal waters of northern Australia become infested with marine stingers, commonly known as box jellyfish, whose sting is highly dangerous and can be deadly. Many beaches offer protected swimming with stinger nets in place, or enclosed tidal pools, and surf lifesavers may warn people off infested beaches. Swimmers may also wear a lycra 'stinger suit' as protection.

    The Northern Territory is best known for its dramatic outdoor attractions: the globally recognisable Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock); the Olgas, a remarkable collection of massive domed rocks; Watarrka National Park and the magnificent King's Canyon therein; Kakadu National Park, with its incredible rock art; the Tiwi Islands, home to the Tiwi Aboriginal people; the beautiful, rugged landscapes of Katherine Gorge; and Litchfield National Park, loved for its natural rock pools and waterfalls.

    The Northern Territory is also home to some charming towns and cities, and popular travel bases include Darwin, a much-loved tropical, seaside city; Alice Springs, the gateway to the delights of the Australian Outback; Yulara, an isolated resort town situated close to Uluru; Jabiru, a town located within Kakadu National Park; and Katherine, named for the nearby gorge. It is a large but sparsely populated territory and a thorough exploration of the main tourist attractions requires covering quite big distances. Bushwalking, ballooning and fishing are all very popular activities in the region.

    Kakadu National Park

    This stunning park, covering almost 12,500 square miles (32,375 sq km) was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage areas in 1984 and is regarded as one of the natural marvels of Australia. The land itself is believed to be more than two billion years old, and is a jigsaw of wetlands, gorges, waterfalls, floodplains, rainforest pockets and escarpments. It offers the visitor an impressive variety of superb landscapes teeming with wildlife, and features some of Australia's most magnificent examples of Aboriginal rock art. About 5,000 Aboriginal sites have been identified in the park area, making it arguably the best destination in Australia for those wanting to experience the oldest living culture on earth. The park can be visited on a day-trip from Darwin and contains more than 1,600 species of plants and 500 different kinds of birds and animals.

    Kakadu National Park, Northern
Territory Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory Ron Knight
    Tennant Creek

    Now a popular holiday resort, the old mining town of Tennant Creek, about 300 miles (500km) north of Alice Springs, was allegedly born when a beer wagon en route to an Overland Telegraph Station broke down in 1934 and the driver, Joe Kilgariff, decided to set up a store and pub at the breakdown site. Such legends abound in the Tennant Creek area, which was the site of Australia's last gold rush.

    At the Battery Hill Mining Centre visitors on holiday can take a mine tour and hear the miners' stories, before enjoying a nature walk and a picnic. The small holiday town is situated at the junction of the Stuart Highway, which runs between Darwin and Alice Springs, and the Barclay Highway that travels east to Mt Isa.

    Tennant Creek is an excellent point from which to make an excursion to the fascinating signature landforms of the area, the granite boulders known as the Devil's Marbles. Thousands of huge, red boulders, some nestling together and others poised on top of each other, are a compelling spectacle in this shallow valley 60 miles (100km) south of Tennant Creek. The local Aboriginal people regard the Devil's Marbles site as a sacred place, believing that the boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.

    Devil's Marbles, near Tennant Creek Devil's Marbles, near Tennant Creek David Taus
    Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

    Formerly known as Ayres Rock, Uluru rises from the surrounding plains, protected within the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, and belongs to the Anangu Aboriginal people, for whom it holds a special spiritual significance. In an isolated spot 280 miles (450km) from Alice Springs, the power of the rock draws hundreds of visitors taken on tours by Aboriginal guides who explain the monolith's importance in Aboriginal culture. A visit to this monolithic rock, the world's greatest, is an awesome experience. It is composed of a type of sandstone that has been exposed through folding, faulting, the erosion of rock and infill. At the base are caves, inlets and overhangs formed by chemical degradation and erosion.

    Some opt for the 1,142ft (348m) climb to the top, which takes about 45 minutes and is not for the faint-hearted; however, it should be noted that for spiritual reasons the Anangu people request that visitors not climb the rock. Visitors should try to view Uluru at different times of the day - part of the magic of the rock is its constant colour changes in different lights, particularly at sunrise and sunset. Visitors can take a camel tour of the Outback at Uluru, or enjoy an unforgettable flight in a light aircraft or helicopter for a bird's eye view of the monolith.

    About 19 miles (30km) from Uluru is another fascinating geological formation on the desert landscape. Known as Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas), these comprise 36 domes of red-brown earth, the tallest of which, Mount Olga, is 656ft (200m) taller than Uluru. There is a range of accommodation at Uluru, from luxury resorts to campsites. There is also an Aboriginal cultural centre and an arts and craft centre, along with restaurants, swimming pools, galleries, a supermarket, a medical centre and a post office.

    Uluru, formerly called Ayres Rock Uluru, formerly called Ayres Rock ptwo
    Crocodylus Park and Zoo

    Housing over three decades of research on Australian crocodiles and a comprehensive crocodile museum, not to mention more than a thousand resident crocodiles, the Crocodylus Park and Zoo is designed to educate people about this lesser known predator. While the focus at the park is on crocodiles, there are plenty of other animals to keep visitors interested. At this, the largest attraction in Darwin, visitors can learn about these reptiles as well as view a collection of other animals such as big cats, monkeys, birds, snakes and turtles, to name a few. Regular daily tours, including crocodile feeding sessions, will captivate visitors. There are well-trained guides who are willing to answer any questions about the dinosaur-like creatures, both the species in general and the particular crocodiles housed at the park. Visitors are allowed to get as close as is safe to get the best pictures possible.

    Address: 815 McMillans Road, Knuckey Lagoon
    Saltwater Crocodile Saltwater Crocodile Tourism NT
    Deckchair Cinema

    Operated by the Darwin Film Society and completely independent, the Deckchair Cinema is unique in more than one way. Screening mainly films that would otherwise be unavailable to local audiences, the Deckchair Cinema is set outdoors on the edge of Darwin Harbour and is the perfect location for a sunset picnic followed by a movie. The cinema usually operates seven nights a week during the dry season (April to November) and screens a range of movies from family friendlies to foreign films. With 250 deckchairs and about 100 straight-backed seats, the cloudless skies above the Deckchair Cinema and harbour lights make a breath-taking backdrop for the screen. An evening at the Deckchair Cinema makes for a unique way to experience Darwin and its beautiful outdoors.

    Address: Jervois Road, off Kitchener Drive, Darwin Waterfront
    Deckchairs Deckchairs Ellen Munro
    Outback Ballooning

    Surely the most iconic image of Australia is the blood-red dust of its sere and sparse Outback - and what better way to experience it than from a hot air balloon, in the dawn hours, with the sky full of a million colours? Alice Springs' Outback Ballooning company has been offering this once-in-a-lifetime experience to eager visitors since 1986, and has built a solid reputation for itself as a high-quality, and dependable tour operator (with an impeccable safety record). You'll be accompanied on your hot air balloon ride - which also includes refreshments and a light breakfast - by an informative guide, to ensure you appreciate the full impact of the unique landscape spread out beneath you. Visitors of all ages, sizes, shapes and fitness levels are welcome, and are all bound to leave with a memory they'll cherish for the rest of their lives. Don't forget to pack your camera.

    Address: 35 Kennett Court, Alice Springs
    Deflating an Outback Balloon Deflating an Outback Balloon Arturo Pardavila III

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    The Northern Territory covers two distinct climate zones. The north, including Darwin, is tropical with high humidity and a wet and dry season. Rainfall during the rainy season (November to April) can be very heavy. The central region is the desert centre of the country, which includes Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock), and is semi-arid, hot and dry. What little rain does fall, usually arrives during the hottest months between October and March.

    The best time to visit the tropical north is during the dry season (May to October) as travel is very difficult during the heavy rains, and for the arid central region the most popular time to visit is in the cooler months between April and September.

    Darwin International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated eight miles (13km) northeast of Darwin's city centre.
    Time: GMT +9.5.
    Getting to the city: An airport shuttle bus meets all flights, and taxis are available. Public transport to and from the airport is limited, but a public bus operates to bus stops near the airport.
    Car Rental: Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar and Thrifty are represented at the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are available from the taxi rank directly in front of the terminal. Taxis are metered and an approximate fare for a trip to the CBD is A$25 to A$30.
    Facilities: The airport terminal has ATMs and foreign exchange, several food and drink options, duty-free shopping, internet kiosks, wifi, shower facilities, and a variety of general shops. Facilities for the disabled are good. The airport is a smoke-free zone, but smoking areas are provided.
    Parking Short-term parking is available adjacent to the airport. Parking is free for the first 15 minutes, A$8 for the first hour, and an additional sum of about A$3 per hour thereafter, up to a daily maximum of A$40. Long-term parking is available at A$35 for one day, A$60 for two days, and about A$20 extra per day thereafter.
    Northern Territory