With a land area close to the size of Texas and New York state combined, Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) is a vast and rugged wilderness surrounded by a pristine coastline and endless blue sky. Amid diverse landscapes and postcard-worthy surroundings, visitors have the opportunity to truly disconnect from the frenetic pace of life at home. From the lush green landscapes of the Top End to the vibrant red deserts of the Red Centre, this remarkable region offers an immersive outdoor experience that encourages visitors to be themselves, and to encounter the great outdoors in a refreshingly authentic way.
The Regions of the Northern Territory
The northernmost geographical region of the Northern Territory known as the Top End, with its lush green landscapes and dazzling shorefront, is a true paradise for nature lovers by land and by sea. Here, visitors can explore Kakadu National Park and the beautiful beachfront Darwin, the park’s gateway city, along with Arnhem Land and Katherine. From the biodiverse ecosystems, to the rich cultural heritage of the Aboriginal, each stop in the Top End is a worthy destination for visitors of all backgrounds and interests.
South of the Top End, the dramatic Red Centre offers visitors a rugged and authentic outdoor experience. Alice Springs and the surrounding areas, Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, combine to create the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventures that feel quintessentially Australian. In this region, visitors can explore a vast collection of towering rock formations, witness a variety of natural geological features and formations, and experience the unique flora and fauna of this magnificent region. Whether you're hiking through the rugged terrain, admiring the ancient sandstone formations, or simply taking in the breathtaking vistas, visitors will feel truly connected to the great outdoors in the Red Centre.
Setting off from Darwin Harbour, Turtle Tracks is a one-of-a-kind water adventure that takes visitors to the remote Bare Sand Island. There, witness colonies of incredible Olive Ridley and Flatback turtles in their natural habitat, and also learn fascinating information about the creatures—all while taking in the unique war history of the region. Tours are led by local guides who are passionate about the environment and the traditional stories of the Larrakia peoples, providing an immersive and educational experience. What’s more, proceeds from the tours go towards protecting the Olive Ridley and Flatback turtles that make their homes in the area.
With a range of sailing destinations and diverse marine ecosystems to behold, a relaxing cruise around Darwin Harbour is the perfect way to start off a trip in the Northern Territory. Get your bearings while snapping a few unforgettable photos of the region, enjoy stunning views of the city skyline, or simply relax and soak in the salty sea air. Darwin Harbour is also steeped in cultural heritage, with a rich history of indigenous, colonial, and military significance—so history lovers are bound to learn a few things about the land and its peoples, too.
Swimming at Litchfield National Park is a real indulgence for any visitor to the Northern Territory—and it’s easy to work into just about any itinerary, thanks to its convenient location just a 60-minute drive south of Darwin. With its crystal clear waterfalls and waterholes surrounded by lush forests, it's an ideal place to cool off and escape the heat. The park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with a range of guided tours available to help visitors make the most of any length of visit.
While enjoying the swimming opportunities at Litchfield, make time to explore the surrounding flora and fauna. In particular, the park is a haven for birdwatchers, with a stunning array of species to admire. Beyond that, visitors can marvel at the hundred-year-old termite mounds scattered throughout the park. These structures are not only fascinating to observe, but they also play an important role in the park's delicate ecosystem, providing homes for a wide range of wildlife.
Kayaking along the sandstone walls of Nitmiluk Gorge is a jaw-dropping adventure. Just 18.6 miles from the lovely adventure outpost of Katherine, and located on the lands of the Jawoyn people, this stunning natural landmark comprises a series of 13 towering gorges. Visitors can kayak through the narrow waterways, taking in the towering rock walls and geological formations. What’s more, the Nitmiluk Gorge is home to some of the region's most famous and awe-inspiring rock art sites, reachable by both river cruise and on foot.
Another way to explore the beauty of Nitmiluk Gorge is by taking a scenic flight over the region or park—an ideal vantage from which to see an entirely different perspective of the Northern Territory, with breathtaking views of the soaring rock formations, river systems, and the ancient sandstone geology that make this region so unique. The Katherine River has shaped the landscape over millions of years through its erosive power, and it is a genuinely awe-inspiring sight to behold.
The Northern Territory is home to a wealth of World Heritage-listed sites, national parks, and conservation and wildlife sanctuaries that give visitors the chance to spot an dynamic and biodiverse array of wildlife. From tropical wetlands teeming with avian life to stunning Outback landscapes teeming with fascinating and unusual species.
One of the best places for visitors to begin their wildlife-spotting journey is at Kakadu National Park, the largest national park on the continent. Owned and managed in partnership with Parks Australia, it’s home to a staggering one-third of all bird species in the nation—not to mention, well over 10,000 crocodiles.
Visitors can take a Yellow Water Cruise to see the rich wetlands and the variety of birds that inhabit them. Or set out on a Guluyambi Cultural Cruise to learn about the cultural significance that the park has among the local indigenous peoples. In addition to its magnificent parade of native wildlife, Kakadu National Park also features a surprising bounty of Aboriginal rock art, along with picture-perfect swimming spots, waterfalls, and the Nature's Way self-drive route—an enormous loop that can be tackled in 5-7 days on the speedy side, or up to 10 days for visitors who can spare the time to slow down and enjoy.
Another great location for wildlife spotting is Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park. This iconic park is home to the towering monolith of Uluru and the Kata Tjuta rock formations, as well as many fascinating species. From the elusive centralian rock-wallaby to the majestic wedge-tailed eagle, visitors can expect to see a shockingly expansive range of wildlife in this gorgeous park.
Hiking and Walking (and Camping, too!)
Among the most notable and beloved hikes in the Northern Territory is the 5.8-mile base walk around Uluru, an impressive sandstone monolith (also known as Ayers Rock) that is the world’s largest monolith. This scenic hike—or stroll—runs up to and beneath the towering rock formation, affording astonishing views and the chance to learn about the Anangu peoples, who inhabit and maintain the land.
The NT’s Outback just may be the best place on Earth to spend the night camping beneath billions of glittering stars. The clear night skies and lack of light pollution in these parts combine to form near-perfect conditions for all-night stargazing. Whether visitors are experienced or first-time campers, the Northern Territory's unique landscapes and tranquil atmosphere make it easy to reconnect with nature—and disconnect from the rest of the world.
While the Northern Territory is spectacular from both land and sea, taking flight can afford an unparalleled perspective of the region’s diverse landscapes from above. One ultimate favorite feat is to embark on a hot-air balloon ride from Alice Springs. Situated over 930 miles away from both Darwin and Adelaide, this remote town is an excellent launch point for such a serene excursion. Visitors can capture vacation photos as the balloon glides across the open sky, all while gaining a new perspective on the awe-inspiring region.
For a more high-speed adventure, scenic flights via chartered helicopter tours are another option that gets a lot of mileage with visitors—and in the air. Thanks to the relative speed of the chopper, even more of the region can be seen. Explore the rugged Outback, behold a variety of rivers and natural falls, and chase the sunset as it begins to dip beyond the horizon. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the Northern Territory from above.