Travel by car, caravan, or 4WD across the Northern Territory, and the diversity of the landscape will astound you. The Northern Territory is like no other place on Earth – from the red desert sands of Uluru, to tropical Kakadu National Park, to the azure waters of Darwin Harbour, you’ll tread some of the country’s most iconic touring routes. Along the way you’ll discover a region rich in ancient art and culture, pioneering history, extraordinary wildlife, and some of the most incredible sunsets you’re ever likely to see.
The Northern Territory is a vast landscape and in order to explore it properly, you must be prepared and well organised before setting off. Set aside time for rest stops, work out where you’ll get petrol, and do your research. Know how to change a tyre and consider picking up an emergency radio device. The last thing you want is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, far away from water and fuel.
When choosing your route, consider what it is you want to get out of your road trip. With such diversity, there’s a route to suit everyone:
If going back to nature sounds like your kind of holiday, consider travelling the Nature’s Way. Follow the long, winding route from Darwin through World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, and onto Litchfield and Nitmuluk National Parks. The journey should take around five days and will take you past wetlands, gorges, waterfalls, and waterholes – perfect for photography, wildlife, and birdwatching enthusiasts. Swim at Edith or Wangi Falls, travel by canoe through Katherine Gorge, and marvel at the fascinating termite mounds.
Drive the loop from Alice Springs and discover some of Australia’s most iconic natural landmarks, including Uluru, Kata Tjuta, King’s Canyon and the West Macdonnell Ranges. Over 6 days you’ll travel through red desert sands, spinifex and mulga forest, as well as lush valleys and imposing gorges. Take a camel ride around the base of Australia’s most famous rock, explore the region via helicopter, or take a quad bike through bush tracks and dry sandy river beds.
Arnhem Land is considered one of Australia’s last unspoilt areas, and in order to explore the region you must first acquire a permit from the Northern Land Council. This is to ensure the beauty of the region is preserved. On route you will experience traditional Aboriginal life and learn a great deal about authentic Aboriginal culture. This is the land where the didgeridoo originated, so make sure you visit the local art and craft galleries to secure an authentic souvenir.
After exploring the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, home to magnificent displays of orchids, palms, bamboo, waterfalls and ponds, travel roughly 80 km north to explore the dense rainforests, sandy beaches, mangroves, and rockpools of the Tiwi Islands. The islands have been isolated from the Australian mainland since the last ice age, and a number of plants and invertebrates are found nowhere else.
The Bird Watcher
Home to more than 400 species of birds, the Darwin region is a bird watcher’s paradise. Between the harbour, mangrove-lined creeks, billabongs, savannah woodlands, and seasonal wetlands, the diverse habitats house millions of birds, including the Azure Kingfisher, Black Kites, and Yellow Orioles. If exploring it all sounds overwhelming, try packing 4 days of exploration into 4 hours, and visit the Territory Wildlife Park.
The Beach Lover
Darwin has a range of beautiful beaches, some of which are located right in the city. Mindil Beach offers some spectacular sunsets, but it can be very crowded in the evening with hundreds of people waiting eagerly to capture the colourful sky. If you prefer something quieter and you have a 4WD handy, travel the long route from Darwin to Cobourg Peninsula, made up of Gurig National Park and Cobourg Marine Park. The setting is idyllic, the fish abundant, the sunsets spectacular, and people are sparse.
The Young Family
When travelling with a young family, safety is a must, but adventure is just as important. Katherine and its surrounds are full of natural wonder, a place where the outback meets the tropics. Activities to try include barra feeding, an outback stockman’s camp, and the Mataranka Thermal Pool. For total isolation, explore Lorella Springs Wilderness Park, or learn about Aboriginal culture at the Nitmiluk National Park Visitor Centre.
If you’re after a unique romantic escape, you can’t go past Australia’s Top End. Arnhem Land is mystical and magical, breathtakingly beautiful, and is the heart of the country. Alternatively you could enjoy a fine dining experience at Uluru, take a shower in Katherine’s 17 Mile Falls, soak up the multicultural lifestyle in Darwin, or cruise down the Mary River Wetlands and spot wildlife, birds, and fish unique to the region.
The Explorer’s Way extends from Darwin to Adelaide and was blazed in the 1860s for the Overland Telegraph. Along the way you’ll discover historic outback pubs, towns buzzing with activity, World Heritage-listed sites, the spectacular Katherine Gorge, and the subterranean mining town of Coober Pedy. Learn about the Gold Rush in Tennant Creek, marvel at the Devils Marbles, and cool off in the refreshing waterholes of Litchfield National Park.