Things to Do in Northern Territory - page 2
Australia’s Top End is home to one-of-a-kind landscapes and ecosystems, and nowhere is it easier to witness this splendor than at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. The gardens were designed around a huge collection of flora native to the region, from the lush Arnhem Land to the Tiwi Islands, and visitors can feast their eyes on replicas of displays of various local habitats – monsoon forests, coastal fore-dunes, wetlands, mangroves and woodlands. More than 450 plant species can be found here, at one of the only botanical gardens in the world that successfully hosts natural displays of both marine and estuary plants.
Other plants of note include the stunning Desert Rose tree, bromeliads and orchids. There’s also a rainforest gully that contains many of the gardens’ palm and cycad species alongside ponds and a waterfall. In addition to showcasing the local ecosystems, the gardens also allow visitors to gain insight into the area’s Aboriginal culture through a self-guided walk conveying information of Aboriginal plant use.
In downtown Alice, the intimate Alice Springs Reptile Centre offers the chance to get up close and personal with some of the Northern Territory’s most fascinating inhabitants. The collection of over 100 reptiles includes pythons, goannas, a saltwater crocodile, and the bizarre thorny devil lizard, with interactive shows three times a day.
Covering around 114,000 acres (46,000 hectares) of central Australia, Finke Gorge National Park is one of the Red Centre’s most startling wilderness areas. The Finke River formed around 300 million years ago, and some sights, such as Palm Valley with its rare red cabbage palms, seem to re-create the landscapes of that lost world.
Mindil Beach is absolutely Darwin’s most visited and best known beach. Home to the famous Mindil Sunset Markets, the beach offers a little bit of everything to the visiting traveler, including 500 meters of golden sand bordered by Bullocky and Myilly points to the north and south, respectively. The beach looks west out onto the waters of the Beagle Gulf, perfectly situated for visitors to sit back and watch the sun set over the waves. The markets showcase the best local creative talent and offer fresh produce while promoting sustainability, supporting locally grown talent and food and encouraging the use of public transportation to and from the beach.
The Mindil Beach Reserve, a large park dedicated to preserving some of the city’s original wilderness, sits near the ocean, and the SKYCITY Darwin, the city's casino, is nearby in juxtaposition.
Offering sweeping views over Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges, Anzac Hill is named for its war memorial commemorating World War I ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers. Known to Aboriginal people as Untyeyetweleye or Atnelkentyarliweke, the hill plays a role in the Caterpillar Dreaming and Corkwood Dreaming stories.
Protecting some of Darwin’s most cultural and historically significant wetlands, Charles Darwin National Park is the home of mangroves and wildlife visible by walking, cycling, or simply sitting at one of the park’s many overlooks. A complex system of bays, waterways, and small islands, 31 of the 50 or so species of mangrove of the Northern Territory can be found here. Historically the Larrakia people called this area home with evidence suggesting the Aboriginals had inhabited here for thousands of years. Now it’s a wonderful place to take in views of Darwin city, the harbor, and the surrounding landscape.
The park is also home to concrete bunkers and shelters from World War II, which tell the story of Australia’s soldiers and are open to visitors. There is an impressive display of war memorabilia here, where ammunition was once stored and military tests were run. The park’s many paths can be used for both walking and cycling to take it all in.
The Royal Flying Doctors Service is the largest air medical response team in the world. The doctors fly an average of 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) a day attending to sick people in the remote outback of Australia. They have 53 aircraft operating out of 21 bases with 964 staff and attend to around 750 patients a day.
Alice Springs houses the Central Operations of the service and at the Royal Flying Doctor Service Alice Springs Tourist Facility (RFDS Museum) you can learn all about the incredible history of the RFDS and how it has shaped life in the outback. There is an interactive museum where you can find out what it is like inside the planes, you can even fly one in the flight simulator. Experience life in the early days of the service and try your hand at the Traegar pedal-powered radio which was the primary means of communication for many years.
One of the 12 stops along the Australian Overland Telegraph Line, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a great place for a picnic. The reserve has walking paths, swimming holes, a bicycle path, and shady spots to rest. There are also free electric barbecues.
One of Australia’s defining long-distance walks, the Larapinta Trail runs 139 miles (223 kilometers) along the spine of central Australia’s West MacDonnell Ranges, from Alice Springs to the summit of Mt. Sonder. Each of its 12 sections can be reached by 4WD, and highlights include Ormiston Gorge, Simpsons Gap, and Ellery Creek Big Hole.
The red sandstone walls of Kings Canyon rise abruptly from tranquil pools and pockets of cycads and vegetation in the middle of the red centre desert.
The prized activity here is the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) return Kings Creek Walk around the rim of the canyon to a lookout for fabulous views of the lush Garden of Eden.
The reward for taking on the longer 4-hour walk is even better views including the rock formation known as the Lost City.
The 1-hour return Kathleen Springs Walk is wheelchair-accessible and leads to a lovely waterhole.
More Things to Do in Northern Territory
Nestled between Fannie Bay beach and the Nightcliff Headland, East Point Reserve is a nature reserve and the largest park area in Darwin. In addition to the many outdoor activities available here, the area’s military history draws both visitors and locals alike. The active at heart can enjoy the many walking trails and cycling paths, or take a swim in the saltwater of Lake Alexander. For those who prefer to lounge, there are dozens of ideal picnic spots from which to catch the views and sunsets, including those at the most popular beach on Fannie Bay.
The area is home to lots of Australian wildlife — everything from wallabies and bandicoots to reptiles and birds. The Mangrove Walkway is the best bet for seeing the animals that call East Point home. The Reserve furthermore played a role in defending Australia in World War II, which can be explored in the Darwin Military Museum here.
Like a vein through the heart of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the trail through rugged “Valley of the Winds” is a scenic, mind-bending journey. Far less crowded than the trail at Uluru and in many ways more powerful, the Valley of the Winds traverses land that’s used by Aborigines for traditional cultural ceremonies. It’s a spot where the silence can often seem deafening—even in busier times of year—and the sun bathes the rocky Olgas in a deep, reddish hue. The first lookout is less than a mile from the main trailhead parking lot, and the entire loop past both lookouts is approximately 4.5 miles. Allow three hours to complete the hike—and be sure to pack plenty of water—as portions of the trail are actually closed in summer for stifling desert. As the longest hike in the Kata Tjuta, Valley of the Winds is the deepest foray you can make out into this landscape, where dreamtime stories and ancient spirits all seem to drift on the wind.
This expansive park runs the length of Darwin’s waterfront, looking down onto the Darwin Harbor and Lameroo Beach. It stretches south from the Northern Territory Parliament House down to the Doctor’s Gully area. It is a large outdoor space popular for holding local festivals, including May Day and the Darwin Festival, as well as many weddings. It is a great place to simply take a stroll and enjoy the scenery in Darwin, with paths often shaded by tall tropical trees.
The park is also home to several war memorials, including the Cenotaph War Memorial, the Civilian Memorial, and the The USS Peary Memorial (which sunk in the Darwin Harbor.) Memorial plaques commemorate the stories of those who have served their country, both Australians who lost their lives in the Bombing of Darwin and Aboriginal men and women who helped defend the Northern Territory coastline.
Imagine sweltering in Darwin’s heat inside of small, brick rooms, crammed with dozens of other prisoners as you wait to hang at the gallows. That was the scene for many prisoners at Darwin’s Fannie Bay Gaol, which served as the city’s principal jail for nearly 100 years. Opened in 1883, the Fannie Bay Gaol held everything from murderers to lepers, refugees, and “natives,” and the last hanging took place on the gallows in 1952.
When visiting Fannie Bay Gaol today, peek inside the macabre building where hundreds of prisoners were held, and see the gallows inside the infirmary where the last two hangings took place. Run your hand on the wooden handle that dropped the floor of the gallows, and hear the stories of ghosts and ghouls that haunt the building today. While the gaol is open to public visitation, it’s also a popular stop on tours that visit the city highlights.
When Qantas was established in 1920, it started with an airplane used primarily for joy rides that sometimes delivered the mail. Just 14 years later, in 1934, the city of Darwin had become integral to air service between Australia and Europe, that Qantas airlines—with its multiple planes—ordered construction of a steel air hangar set right on the outskirts of Darwin. It was used by Qantas, as well as Guinea, which ran regional flights down to Adelaide, though that all changed when the Japanese bombed the city in 1942. Heavily damaged by Japanese bombs, the hangar was fixed, sold, and passed to multiple different businesses, before the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club signed a lease on the building in 1999. Today the hangar holds cars—not aircraft—beneath its 20-foot roof, and has gradually become the ultimate “man cave” escape when visiting Darwin. Here you’ll find engines, classic cars, and even an old-fashioned steam train, and the hangar is a popular stop on small group scooter tours of the town.
Tnorala/Gosse Bluff Conservation Reserve is a site of great cultural significance to the local Western Arrernte Aboriginal people. According to belief, the low, circular range of mountains was formed when a woman put her baby in a wooden cradle while she danced across the sky as part of the Milky Way. Forgotten, the carrier toppled to earth and was transformed into the circular rock walls of Tnorala. Scientists believe that the formation occurred when a comet crashed to earth and hardened the land for a six-mile (20 km) diameter before the surrounding earth eroded over time.
Whichever story you believe, visiting Tnorala is an awesome sight. A short walk to a lookout on an adjacent ridge gives views into the crater, while a longer loop walk takes visitors higher still to get an even more expansive view. As the traditional owners manage Tnorala, access to the site is in accordance to their wishes. Visitors are not permitted to enter the crater or walk along its rim.
An access point to the wildlife and natural landscape of the Northern coastal wetlands, this area is significant to the Aboriginal Limilngan-Wulna people. The Window on the Wetlands Visitor Center grants visitors the historical and cultural insight they’ll need to fully experience it. There are dozens of displays detailing the unique ecology of the Northern Territory wetlands, as well as European and Aboriginal history. Seasonal changes are the key to understanding the wetlands, as they are both wet and dry at different points in the year and the wildlife has to adapt. Exhibits are educational and highly interactive.
Parks and Wildlife staff here can also assist with where to visit and what you’re likely to see. From the center you can get an overview of the Adelaide River plains and wetlands. You can see for miles, particularly with the use of binoculars.
There’s a cattle ranch in Australia’s center that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island. An arid grassland covered in dust and 4,500 cattle, it’s also a welcome, comfortable stop on the road leading west towards Uluru. When the Severin family moved out here in 1956, they saw a total of six people in their first year out on the ranch. Gradually, however, hardy tourists heading west towards Uluru would stop for fuel and supplies, and what began as a way to help weary travelers has grown to a guesthouse, bar, and ranch that’s an Australian site to itself. Take a guided walk through grasslands that stretch towards red-earthed horizons, and learn how the grass is converted on site into natural, Curtin Springs paper. Hop aboard a 4WD and go bouncing away towards Mt. Conner—an open swath of land and hills that’s covered in kangaroos. Have a yarn at the Curtin Springs pub with a colorful outback character, or simply get some much needed sleep from the long, adventurous drive. To do as most travelers do who stay here, use Curtin Springs as a base for exploring Uluru and Kata Tjuta—thereby escaping the higher prices and crowds found near the rock.
Walk alongside the imposing form of Uluru to the Kantju Gorge and waterhole, on land held sacred by the Anangu indigenous people. The Anangu have walked this land for thousands of years, and once held religious ceremonies here. They believe that the shape and physical features on this section of the monolith represent the activities of the Mala (or rufous hare wallaby), which they see as one of their ancestral beings, during the time of the Tjukurpa (creation time).
The sheer cliffs of Uluru look amazingly different from every angle, and scroll through a vast array of colours as the sun moves across the desert sky. You will never tire of looking at this incredible figure, as it is always changing. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during heavy rain you will see quite a show, since small streams and waterfalls cover Uluru, transforming it into a completely different natural wonder.
Though the Mala walk can easily be self-guided, a free ranger-guided tour will provide much more insight into the ways of the Anangu, their rock art, and the story of the Mala. These tours can be accessed all year round, by meeting a ranger at the Mala Walk sign at either 8am from October to April, or 10am from May to September.
This is one of the shortest walks at Uluru, covering a 1km stretch of its west side.
In the heart of Australia’s Red Centre lie the West MacDonnell Ranges. 1,500 kilometres south of Darwin and just west of the infamous Alice Springs, the western MacDonnell Ranges offer an enchanting look into an ancient culture and an even older landscape.
The best ways to explore the often rugged territory are by 4WD, motor-home, or even on bike -a mode of transport that is surprisingly well catered for, with even the famous Simpson’s Gap providing a seven kilometre section of sealed bike track.
Covering an area of just over 2,000 square kilometres, the canyons, gorges, and waterholes in the West MacDonnell National Park area provide a stunning and insightful backdrop for any number of outdoor activities, including camping, swimming, and hiking, to name a few.
Hiking enthusiasts should consider the 250 kilometre Larapinta Trail, which traverses the ranges from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder. This trail can be hiked either with a guided tour or independently, but independent hikers should seek expert guidance before their tour as the conditions can be harsh. Those not wishing to undertake the full length of the famous trail can choose to do shorter sections.
Dingoes, native fish, carpet pythons, and endemic birdlife frequent most areas of the Western MacDonnell ranges, especially those that are more obscure and located off the well travelled roads. The summer months see the Ormiston Gorge, in particular, a haven for a large assortment of native reptiles.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are rich in indigenous culture and historical locales. The Ranges, like the rest of the Territory, are most pleasant in the cooler months of April to September. Camping facilities are well maintained and modern, and the National Park is accessible year round, with the exception of short periods of sporadic road closures following heavy rain.
Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, is also it’s only tropical capital, a city closer to Asia than it is to Sydney. The cosmopolitan city’s massive natural harbor is home to Fort Hill Wharf, the Darwin Port cruise terminal, a stop-off point for long, around-the-world itineraries and short, small-vessel cruises along coastal Australia. The markets and cultural festivals of this youthful and highly multicultural city are famous throughout the world.
Nourlangie, also known as Burrungkuy (sometimes written Burrunggui), is an escarpment in Kakadu National Park filled with over 20,000 years' worth of Aboriginal history, making it a site of extreme cultural importance. Burrungkuy, an Aboriginal word, refers to the higher parts of the rocks, while the word Anbangbang references the lower parts. The rock art and archaeological details here illustrate the social and environmental history of the Top End area.
There are many ways to experience the heritage of Nourlangie, including following the mile-long circuit trail that winds through what was once a home for the Aboriginal people during wet seasons. Indoors, the Anbangbang Gallery showcases the art of an Aboriginal artist who repainted his works in 1964 to restore much of their original vibrancy. Those who visit Nourlangie during the months of June through September can hear stories of the area's cultural significance from rangers in the area.
The Tiwi Islands sit about 50 miles off the north coast of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the chain is made up of 11 individual isles. The largest are Melville – the second largest island in Australia behind Tasmania – and Bathurst, the fifth largest of Australia’s islands.
It is believed that this string of islands has been inhabited for the past 7,000 years by the Tiwi people, which led to them being named an Aboriginal Reserve in 1912. Like at Arnhem Land, another Aboriginal Reserve, visiting these islands requires an invitation or an escort, as well as a permit. The islands are governed mostly by the Tiwi Aboriginal Land Trust and the Tiwi Land Council.
The island communities are renowned for their art, particularly for their wood carvings of birds. Fabric creations are also common and made in a similar fashion to Indonesian batik prints.
The wilderness of the Tiwi Islands is not to be outdone by that on the Northern Territory mainland -- Melville Island is particularly known for its swimming holes at Taracumbie and Tomorapi Falls, and the islands are full of charming secluded waterfalls and dense rainforest areas.
In the far reaches of Australia’s Northern Territory, the rough and tumble outpost of Darwin is a hotbed of quintessential Australian adventure, and none more so than a cruise on the Adelaide River to see the legendary jumping crocodiles, which can grow upwards of 20 feet long. Salt-water crocodiles are some of the most fearsome and notorious wild animals in the Australian bush, and the Adelaide River literally teems with them—don’t plan to take a swim during a day on the water.
Experienced guides control the experience so you can see these incredible prehistoric reptiles from the comfort and safety of a boat. And while the crocs are certainly the highlight of a trip to the river, you can see plenty of other wildlife along the way, including wild buffalo and white-breasted sea eagles. The Adelaide River is also a hotspot for fishing trips to snag massive, hard-fighting barramundi fish.
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