With vast red desert plains, cascading waterfalls, towering gorges and beautiful beaches, the Northern Territory is unlike any place you’ll find in the world. In 2021, keen Aussie travellers are flocking to this pristine natural environment to enjoy the great outdoors and finally have some much-deserved FUN. To help you make the most of your trip, we’ve rounded up the very best places to visit and things to do in the Northern Territory.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Let’s kick things off with one of the most famous – and inspiring – places to visit in the NT: the sacred site of Uluru. Forming more than 500 million years ago, Uluru is a towering sandstone monolith soaring 348m (1,142ft) high and spanning a perimeter of 9.4km (5.8mi). Not only is this natural landmark a remarkable sight to behold, it also holds important cultural significance to the Traditional Owners of the land, the Anangu people. When visiting Uluru, you should make sure to take the Mala Walk along Uluru’s base, scope out wildlife and native plants on the Walpa Gorge Walk and check out the technicolour Field of Lights art installation.
As the name of the national park would suggest, the region is also home to Kata Tjuta, a collection of large, domed rock formations. With its own unique topography and cultural significance, this is another must-visit when in the area – and it’s pretty easy to get to, sitting just 25km east of Uluru.
At the end of all your sightseeing, one of the best things you can do in the NT – and, probably, the world – is sit back and watch the sun set behind Uluru . Golden hour is an understatement in this beautiful park. Check out how you can make the most of a trip to Uluru with Contiki here.
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Kakadu National Park
The largest national park in Australia, and undoubtedly one of the best, Kakadu is known for beautiful landscapes and ancient Aboriginal art and cultural sights.
Cruise through the flat plains of the Yellow Water Billabong, keeping an eye out for some 280 bird species, crocodiles, wallabies and more. Or head somewhere you’ll want to get into the water like the tranquil Gunlom Plunge Pool (pictured below), Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. For the outdoorsy types among us, there are more than THIRTY walking tracks and hiking trails to enjoy. The Bardedjilidji Walk is one of the most popular. It shows off the diverse landscapes of Kakadu, with a monsoonal rainforest and sandstone pillars.
For insight into the lives and customs of the Traditional Owners of the land – the Bininj people in the north of the park and Mungguy people in the south – there are a number of excellent places to visit. Head to Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) to see the World Heritage-listed rock art, rock shelter; here, you can take a lookout to uncover how the Bininj lived. Or head to Ubirr, another famous site for rock art, to compare different rock styles and learn about its unique history. And be sure to check out the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre for displays and exhibitions.
See all of these incredible sights – and more – on the Kakadu Dreaming trip.
In the Watarrka National Park, just a three-hour drive from Uluru, lies the magnificent King’s Canyon. It’s considered one of the best places to visit in the NT, with sandstone walls reaching heights of 300m, red sand dunes and the surprisingly green Garden of Eden.
It’s a truly unique landscape, and one of the best ways to check it out is to walk the 6km Rim Walk circuit. Movie buffs will recognise the iconic ‘Priscilla’s Crack’ on the walk, made world-famous by the Aussie classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Nitmiluk National Park
Another national park stocked with travel-worthy places – are there any parks in the NT that aren’t beautiful? – the Nitmiluk National Park in the Top End is probably most famous for the striking Katherine Gorge. Cruising along the water, you’ll be left in awe of how these sandstone cliffs have been carved by the river. And the Katherine Gorge is just one of 13 magnificent gorges to explore!
If you’re visiting the park you should also try to check out these majestic water spots: Northern & Southern Rockholes, Sweetwater Pool, 17 Mile Falls, Crystal Falls and The Amphitheatre, a U-shaped gorge filled with monsoon rainforest.
Litchfield National Park
In the Top End of the Northern Territory you’ll find an abundance of cascading waterfalls, monsoonal vine forest and luxe waterholes. Looking oh-so-lush compared to the desert parks of the Red Centre, the Litchfield National Park offers up an oasis of glorious swimming spots and tranquil walks in nature. Check out the iconic Florence Falls and plunge pool, Wangi Falls, Tjaetaba Falls, Tolmer Falls, Walker Creek and Buley Rockhole (to name a few).
But it’s not all greenery and sun-drenched swimming holes. Visit the famous Magnetic Termite Mounds or The Lost City, a collection of large sandstone outcrops, to see how the NT’s landscape can really vary.
Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles)
Well, in ancient mythology the Devils Marbles (or Karlu Karlu in the Traditional language) are believed to be the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. These massive granite boulders sit in a valley just a short distance from Tennant Creek, and they’re incredibly special to see.
This remote town is considered one of the best spots to base yourself when exploring the Red Centre of the Northern Territory. Alice is known as the gateway to the natural beauty of the East and West MacDonnell Ranges, but even if you’re not staying in town it’s a fun spot to visit.
Immerse yourself in local culture with a visit to the Araluen Cultural Precinct and The Albert Namatjira Gallery, or catch an impressive sunrise from great heights with a hot air balloon ride.
Mindil Beach, Darwin
Further north from Alice (a LOT further) is the chilled-out capital city of Darwin. Known for outdoorsy adventures and friendly locals, Darwin is a must-visit for many travellers. Especially those keen to see one of the greatest sunsets Australia has to offer.
Head to Mindil Beach in Darwin in the afternoon to bask in the golden glow. The beach is a short walk from the centre of town and spans 500m so there’s room for everyone to pack a picnic and pull up a beach-chair.
If you’re in the mood to really make an evening out of it, head to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets in the afternoon once they open. You can shop at the local stalls which sell heaps of delicious fresh food and multicultural cuisine.
West MacDonnell Ranges
The West MacDonnell Ranges – Tjoritja in the Traditional language – is an expansive mountain range with some of the most famous and beautiful natural sights to see in all of Australia. Walking and swimming are the main activities on the agenda, with plenty of hiking trails and cool swimming holes to keep traveller’s occupied.
The impressive 223km Larapinta Trail weaves through the ranges, with hikers able to join for set tracks or – if they’re game – the entire 14 day hike. Or, if casual one-day events are more your thing (same) then check out the many gorges and swimming holes on offer, including the famous Simpson’s Gap, Ormiston’s Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Glen Helen Gorge.
Trephina Gorge Nature Park
Onto the East MacDonnell Ranges! Make sure you put Trephina Gorge Nature Park on your to-do list. With its rugged landscape and significance to the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal people, it’s not one to miss. Part of the landscape also connects to the Wallaby Dreaming Trail.
The Park has heaps of easy-to-access walking trails and picnic spots, giving you plenty of opportunities to check out the rocky walls of the Gorge and the sandy creek bed in the valley.
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Welcome to the ‘Island of Smiles’ AKA the Tiwi Islands! There are two main islands, Bathurst and Melville, and it takes about two hours to reach them from Darwin. Made even more famous by Miranda Tapsell’s recent rom-com Top End Wedding – the islands are known for their rugged natural beauty and the strong culture and traditions of the Tiwi people.
Immerse yourself in the traditional lifestyle of the Aboriginal community on the islands, learn about their history and check out their intricately designed artworks, vibrant fabrics and textiles. Or take a wildlife tour led by a local guide to check out the diverse landscape of lush tropical rainforest, white-sand beaches, rock pools and jungle. It’s a beautiful place to explore, and well worth taking a day-trip to Tiwi – or longer if you have the time.
Keen to explore more of Australia this year? Check out all of our exciting new Aussie trips for locals, by locals on the Contiki website. If you’re based outside Australia, these trips won’t show up for you just yet – but keep your eyes peeled for more domestic announcements!