The Top End of Australia welcomes travellers with a melting pot of torrid outback, indigenous tradition and intriguing art. Take a look at our guide to build your ideal Northern Territory trip.
Discover Darwin – the launch pad for your Northern Territory trip
The compelling capital of the Northern Territory offers visitors a range of unique city experiences in the state most known for its expansive landscapes and wildlife. Darwin is the perfect place to begin your Northern Territory trip.
Some of the best things to do in Darwin include enjoying the impressive sunsets and cruising the harbour. The NT heat will leave you looking for a swim, but the saltwater crocodiles will definitely turn you off from taking a dive in the ocean – unless you have a wrestling match on your agenda! Instead, you can cool off in the Wave Lagoon or hang out at your hotel pool – something to keep an eye out for when booking your accommodation in Darwin.
If getting close to the crocs doesn’t give you too much of a fright, spend some time in the death cage at Crocosaurus Cove. To admire them from afar, opt for the Adelaide River Queen Jumping Crocodile Cruises, about a 30 minute drive south-east of Darwin.
Darwin is a city full of history and culture. The Bombing of Darwin took place in 1942 when Japanese aircraft attacked military bases and the city. Several ships were sunk in the harbour and an estimated 240 people were killed. To fully understand the effect of the largest attack by a foreign power on Australia, we recommend taking one of the WWII tours on offer.
Take the Bombing of Darwin WW2 Heritage Tour to hear the first hand accounts from a family that was in Darwin at the time of the bombing. If you’d prefer a boat tour, Sea Darwin has a Bombing of Darwin Cruise. On this tour, learn by seeing the remnants of war along the shoreline. With the Darwin History and Wartime Experience, you’ll get to ride in a WW2 army truck while exploring historic sites.
Travelling to the Tiwi islands
Known as the island of smiles, the Tiwi Islands are 80 kilometers north of Darwin and are the perfect destination to escape from the city. Bathurst and Melville are the two main islands, and they’re full of adventure – from excellent fishing and beautiful coasts to history and art.
Check out the Top End’s Tiwi Island Retreat for all-inclusive packages for every type of traveller. You also have the opportunity to add on optional tours. Go on a guided fishing trip in a 12-metre catamaran, take a helicopter ride to a remote swimming hole for a delightful picnic or go on a day tour to learn about the indigenous culture of the Tiwi people.
The people native to the Tiwi Islands have a rich culture and a fascinating history. Traditional Tiwi culture was met with Catholicism in 1911 after French Catholic Priest Francis Xavier Gsell arrived. Art has continued to be representative of the long-lasting traditions of the Tiwi people and include carvings, paintings and screen-prints. The Tiwi Islands have three art centres – Tiwi Design, Jilamara and Munupi Arts and Crafts. Local artists provide art classes for those who are creators at heart.
For a more detailed account of the Tiwi people, read Exploring the Tiwi Islands: history, culture and art collide
Art Galleries to visit on your Northern Territory trip
The Tiwi Islands aren’t the only place to get your dose of art in the Northern Territory. The Top End is home to many galleries that you should check out on your Northern Territory trip.
First on the list is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). At the six NT galleries, you can view the display of internationally renowned collections with cultural and scientific pieces, research and exhibitions.
If you’re planning to visit Uluru on your Northern Territory trip, be sure to stop by Maruku Arts in Petermann. Maruku Arts shares the stories of Anangu culture. There are 900 artists that make up the Maruku aboriginal art collective. Learn about the culture through paintings and punu (wooden carvings). You can even create your own art during a workshop with a local artist.
In Darwin you’ll find the NT Chinese Museum. There are photographs, memorabilia, heritage objects and family history that share the timeline of the Chinese people in the Top End since 1874, when the first Chinese laborers arrived in Darwin. The museum also contains information surrounding WW2 and its impact on China Town.
Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park will fulfil all your scenic outdoor dreams. Explore the 1.5 kilometre circular walk through rock shelters where Aboriginal people once lived. The Burrungkuy Aboriginal Art Rock Sites cannot be passed up, either. You’ll learn about the relationship between the ancient people and their connection to country.
Make sure you have enough time to visit the Yellow Water Billabong, either aboard a cruise or by walking the boardwalk. The billabong is covered with native flora and is home to crocodiles, wallabies, wild horses and buffalo, so you’ll be sure to discover plenty of wildlife along the way.
Kakadu has two major waterfalls, Jim Jim and Twin Falls, that are too stunning to pass up. During the summer season you can see the powerful waterfalls from above on a scenic flight. You can also experience the falls from a closer view by a four-wheel-drive tour.
If you have access to a four-wheel-drive vehicle, take a ride to Maguk, one of the lesser known areas of the national park. Here, there’s a crystal clear secluded pool at the bottom of a natural waterfall. Take a swim under tall gorge walls and enjoy the black bream and Anbinik trees that are kind enough to share the national park with you.
Delicious food to fuel your Northern Territory trip
The Northern Territory comprises more than 50 nationalities, so the options for dining are varied and delicious. Many dishes are influenced by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian ingredients because of the NT’s proximity to Asia. The Top End is particularly known for its exquisitely prepared mud crabs and barramundi.
In Darwin, taste it all with Darwin Gourmet Tours. During this three-hour food tour, you’ll be exposed to the freshest local ingredients in the region. While walking through downtown Darwin to each food destination, your guide will provide information about the city and its landmarks. There’s also a two-hour drink tour where you’ll get to watch bartenders demonstrate their creations and munch on bar food along the way.
Spend a Thursday or Sunday evening at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Be prepared for a lot of options, though – there are more than 60 stalls to choose from with cuisine from all around the world.
Uluru: Australia’s Red Centre
Uluru is an enormous sandstone rock in the southern part of the Northern Territory. Even though the Anangu people hold Uluru close to their hearts and stand against climbing it, the climb was once popular among tourists. In 2019, however, it was banned. The ascent came with risks, as strong winds and the steep climb have caused dozens of deaths.
There are many other things to do in Uluru that don’t involve the dangerous and culturally insensitive climb. During the day, you can explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park by camel. Uluru Camel Tours offer sunrise and sunset rides through the expansive outback, and you’ll get to stop at their sand dune lookout for photo ops.
In the darkness of Uluru, experience the spectacle of Bruce Munro’s Field of Light. Let the 50,000 spindles of light (spanning over 7 football fields) dazzle you. It’s a colourful display so unique you won’t find it anywhere else.
In short, there are many different directions that you can travel in the Northern Territory, and we hope this guide will help you decide which route to take.
Read more about the Northern Territory to get ready for your trip.