The Best Time to Visit the Northern Territory

Boat on the river in Katherine Gorge

Posnov / Getty Images

Australia's outback paradise, the Northern Territory, is divided into two regions with distinct climates: The Red Centre in the heart of Australia and the Top End on the Timor Sea in the north. The best time to visit the Red Centre is in the transition seasons of fall (March to May) and spring (September to November) which offer pleasant weather and low crowd levels. The days are sunny and warm, perfect for sightseeing, while the nights are crisp and clear. The Top End is at its coolest and most accessible during the dry season from May to July. Visit in May or early June to avoid the crowds. If you want to visit both regions, the best time to visit the Northern Territory is from May to October, thanks to the lower humidity levels and the ability to access most parts of this incredible destination without the risk of flooding.

The biggest town in the Red Centre is Alice Springs, which experiences clear skies, low rainfall, and hot temperatures throughout most of the year. Further north, the capital city of Darwin has a wet season from November to April and a dry season from May to October. Read on for our full guide to the weather, events, and attractions of the Northern Territory.

Dangerous box jellyfish can be seen off the coast from October to May, so make sure to obey any warning signs at beaches during this time. Saltwater crocodiles also pose a threat in waterways in the Top End, so do your research before swimming.

Popular Events and Festivals

Most of the Northern Territory's big events take place in the dry season—especially the cooler months of June, July, and August—and range from internationally renowned arts festivals to quirky outback races. Accommodation for these events can book out months in advance, especially for the ones held in small communities, so we recommend planning ahead.

The Northern Territory also observes Australia's national public holidays including Australia Day (Jan. 26), Easter (mid-April), Anzac Day (April 25), May Day, Queen's Birthday (mid-June), Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day.

The Ghan Railway (a luxury train between Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin) has departures once a week from November to March, and twice a week from April to October.

The Weather in the Northern Territory

Daytime temperatures in the Northern Territory are generally on the higher side, although winter brings cold nights to the Red Centre. Average maximums hover around 90 F (32 C) in Darwin throughout the year, while Alice Springs has a larger range of fluctuation, from around 65 F (18 C) in winter to around 95 F (35 C) in summer.

The wet season can result in flooding and road closures in the Top End, making it a tricky time for tourists. It is also the time of the year with the highest humidity levels.

Peak Season in the Northern Territory

The whole Northern Territory experiences a boom in tourism in winter, as travelers make the most of the milder temperatures and the Australian school holidays. from late June to late July, popular destinations like Uluru and Kakadu can be crowded at these times, but there is still plenty of space to get away from it all.

Summer (December to February)

Summer is hot all over the Northern Territory, and hot and wet in the Top End. Some visitors to the Top End may enjoy the sunny mornings and the lack of fellow travelers, along with the incredible flowing waterfalls and vivid green foliage in the region's national parks. However, most will find that the monsoon rains and the humidity put a damper on their travel plans.

Average summer temperatures range from 75 to 90 F (24 to 32 C) in the Top End, with humidity over 80 percent. January is the wettest time, with around 17 inches of rainfall across 21 days out of the month. From October to December, dramatic storms hit the north coast.

Further south, in the Red Centre, summer temperatures range from 60 to 95 F (15 to 35 C) and the sun can be a little harsh for outdoor activities, while nights sometimes dip down to 35 F (2 C). Events are often held in the evenings to avoid the heat of the day.

Events to check out:

  • Alice Springs Town Council Night Markets: This market is held in the Todd Mall on Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. once a month, with live entertainment, snacks, Aboriginal art, second-hand books, and boutique cloth­ing and jew­ellery.
  • Parap Village Markets: In Darwin, this event runs every Saturday morning year-round, with local food, fresh produce, clothing, jewelry, art, plants, and live music.

Fall (March to May)

The weather cools off a little in most of the Territory from March to May, although regular rain and high humidity continue in the Top End until the end of April. Average temperatures range from 50 to 80 F (10 to 27 C) in Alice Springs and highs drop down to the 70s and 80s in Darwin by May.

It is a great time to visit Alice Springs before the crowds arrive in June, and prices for accommodation and tours may be lower in Darwin through the tail end of the wet season.

Events to check out:

  • Alice Springs Cup Day: The biggest thoroughbred race day of the year happens in early May, with fashion and entertainment.
  • Tiwi Islands Grand Final and Art Sale: On Bathurst Island, north of Darwin, the two local passions of art and football collide for one day in March, drawing visitors from all over Australia.
  • Bassinthegrass: An all-ages music festival in Darwin since 2003 with international headliners.

Winter (June to August)

Winter is peak season across the Territory, as domestic and international travelers make the most of the cooler temperatures in Alice and clear skies in Darwin. Average temperatures in Alice Springs range from 40 to 65 F (4 to 18 C), with the occasional morning frost. In Darwin, the cool weather continues until July, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The dry season runs through winter.

Prices and crowds are higher across the board, but visitors will be rewarded with access to many parts of the Top End that are cut off during the wet season.

Events to check out:

  • Barunga Festival: This festival first took place in the remote Aboriginal community of Barunga (near Katherine) in 1985, and has grown into a three-day program of music, sport, traditional arts, and cultural activities open to visitors.
  • Darwin Festival: With music, art, dance, and storytelling, this festival celebrates all the cultures of the Northern Territory.
  • Finke Desert Race: A famous off-road two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies, and quads from Alice Springs.
  • Run Larapinta: A four-day trail running race through some of Australia's most iconic landscapes near Alice Springs.
  • Beer Can Regatta: A local favorite in Darwin since 1974, all are welcome to make a small boat out of cans, plastic bottles, or milk bottles and race them along the waterfront.
  • Uluru Camel Cup: Two days of camel racing, Fashions on the Field, and an Outback Ball await at the Uluru Camel Cup.

Spring (September to November)

Days start to get warmer in the Red Centre—averaging around 55 to 85 F (13 to 29 C) in Alice Springs—bringing the occasional afternoon thunderstorm. If you're planning on getting outdoors in Central Australia, the spring weather is sunny but not too hot for hiking.

Up in the Top End, it's a different story. The two months preceding the start of the wet season at the end of November are known to Darwin locals as the build-up, as temperatures increase slowly but steadily until the rains roll in. Most attractions are still accessible, but the rising humidity can be uncomfortable for some.

Events to check out:

  • Parrtjima: A free light festival in Alice Springs in September, featuring Aboriginal artists.
  • Desert Song Festival: 10 days of concerts and workshops that draw on the Aboriginal, African, classical, and Caribbean musical transitions of Central Australia.
  • Darwin International Film Festival: An extensive calendar of events in September with a focus on local filmmakers and independent international cinema.
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