Welcome to Australia's most adventurous region, stretching from the capital city of Darwin on the country's northern coast to Alice Springs in the heart of the outback. In the Northern Territory (the Territory to locals), you can cage dive with crocodiles, swim under waterfalls and marvel at world-famous rock formations like Uluru.
With so much to do, the NT is ideal for road trips and slow travel, although there are flights available to the major attractions. In the Top End, the wet season that runs from November to April, but the Red Centre is warm and sunny almost all year round. Read on for our guide to the best things to do in the Northern Territory.
Hike the Larapinta Trail
The 140-mile Larapinta Trail is one of Australia's top long-distance hikes, but it can also be tackled in smaller sections that only take a day or two. The track winds through the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs, covering gorges, swimming holes, and mountains with incredible views across the unique landscape of Central Australia.
There are camping grounds along the trail, and each section can be accessed by road (although some require a four-wheel drive). The best time to walk the path is between May and August, to reduce the risk of heat stroke and sun exposure. Despite the sunny days, temperatures can fall below freezing at night, so make sure to prepare for the changing conditions if you plan on camping.
Watch the Sunset Over Uluru
The world's largest monolith is the NT's biggest drawcard, located five-hours southwest of Alice Springs. (There is also an airport near Uluru for those on a tight schedule.) Visitors are no longer permitted to climb the rock, at the request of its traditional owners, the Anangu people, for whom Uluru is a sacred site.
There is still plenty to do and see in this iconic national park. Once you've hiked around the rock or taken a cultural tour, settle in to watch the sunset behind Uluru, either from your car or from one of the designated viewing platforms. As night falls, the rock appears to change color, glowing bright red and then fading to purple in the twilight.
Explore Kata Tjuta
Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas) is a cluster of 36 domed red rock formations, around 20 miles west of Uluru. Kata Tjuta means "many heads" in Pitjantjatjara, and the site is sacred to the Anangu people.
We recommend visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre to get your bearings before heading out on a hike around the base of the rocks. (The Valley of the Winds is a popular option; make sure to get started before the sun gets too hot.) Like Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a fantastic place to watch the sunset.
Swim in a Waterfall at Kakadu
Kakadu is Australia's largest national park, covering an area of over 12,000 square miles. It is the traditional country of the Bininj/Mungguy Aboriginal people. Visitors could easily spend a week taking in the natural wonders and ancient culture that make this a dual-listed World Heritage Site.
Kakadu has so many gorgeous waterfalls that it can be hard to choose which make it onto your itinerary, including Motor Car Falls, Boulder Creek, Gubara Rock Pools, Ikoymarrwa Rock Pool, and Maguk Gorge. Make sure to check with park authorities before swimming, as the park is home to around 10,000 crocodiles (both freshwater and saltwater varieties).
Cruise Nitmiluk Gorge
Just north-east of Katherine, Nitmiluk National Park, covers 13 spectacular sandstone gorges that can be explored by riverboat, canoe, or on foot. Scenic flights are also available to take in the full expanse of this beautiful region. The traditional owners of Nitmiluk are the Jawoyn and Dagomen people.
Many tours leave at sunrise or sunset to catch the gorges at their most dynamic, but there are regular departures throughout the day during the dry season. Make a stop at the Visitors Centre for information about specific tours and other things to do. For more extended stays, camping and other accommodation can be found in the park.
Shop at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Darwin is known for its thriving markets, and Mindil Beach is one of the best. Running every Sunday evening during the dry season (July to September), this eclectic market features stalls with the city's favorite food, art, jewelry, fashion, and homewares, accompanied by local live music.
There are ATMs at the market, but we recommend bringing cash if possible to avoid the queues. Mindil Beach is a five-minute drive northwest of the city center near the Darwin Botanic Gardens. Adventurous eaters shouldn't miss the Roadkill Cafe, serving up kangaroo, crocodile, and buffalo burgers.
Fish for Barramundi
The Top End is a world-class fishing destination, from the estuaries and open sea to the billabongs and rivers scattered across this rugged landscape. Barramundi, also known as Asian sea bass, giant perch, or giant sea perch, is a prized fish that lives in freshwater and saltwater and is most active from March to May.
For the ultimate fishing adventure, book a tour from Darwin or stay at a fishing lodge on the Tiwi Islands or in Arnhem Land. The Top End is also home to plenty of other fish, including giant trevally, golden snapper, red emperor, coral trout, and marlin.
Take a Day Trip to Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park, an hour's drive south of Darwin, is an ideal day trip for nature lovers. Here, you'll find waterfalls, hiking trails, giant termite mounds, and a group of sandstone pillars known as the Lost City.
There are campsites available if you're planning on staying overnight and plenty of tour options leaving from Darwin and Katherine. Don't miss Batchelor Butterfly Farm outside the park, with a rainforest butterfly house and a petting zoo. Check for road closures before you leave if you're renting a car, especially in the wet season.
Wander the Devil’s Marbles
Karlu Karlu/Devil's Marbles Conservation Reserve can be found south of Tennant Creek, around halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs. The rock formations are believed to be the fossilized eggs of the Rainbow Serpent by the Warmungu Aboriginal people. The Rainbow Serpent is a creator god in many First Nations cultures in Australia.
With some of the boulders standing up to 20 feet high, they offer shelter to native plants and animals, including goannas and finches. If you're planning on watching the sunset across the boulders, it's a good idea to camp overnight to avoid the drive back in the dark. Traditional owners ask that visitors do not climb the rocks.
Take in the Views from Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon is another essential stopover on your trip to the Red Centre. Part of Watarrka National Park, the canyon is over 800 feet deep, with soaring sandstone walls and a lush green valley below.
The Kings Canyon Rim Walk offers unbeatable views over almost four miles, including the picturesque Garden of Eden. For a less strenuous hike, try the Kings Creek walk along the base of the canyon. Start your walk early in the day to beat the heat.
Relax at Mataranka Thermal Pools
In Elsey National Park, an hour south of Katherine, the Mataranka thermal pools provide a welcome respite for weary travelers. The warm springs here run with clear blue water, with a consistent temperature of around 85 degrees F. There are two pools in the park, Mataranka Thermal Pool, which has ladders and concrete added to create a more traditional swimming pool, and Bitter Springs, which has stairs but no other additions.
In the town of Mataranka, check out the Never Never Museum to learn about this country’s traditional owners, the Mangarayi and Yangman people. The town has accommodation, as well as all the essentials to refuel for your trip.
Marvel at Traditional Rock Art
Mineral pigments, such as ochre, are the oldest evidence of human occupation in Australia, with some sites found to be around 55,000 years old. First Nations people have long used these pigments for rock art, with some of the world's most significant collections found in Australia.
In the NT, rock art by the Eastern Arrernte people can be seen in the East MacDonnell Ranges, while Ubirr and Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) are the two most well-known sites in Kakadu. Join a tour with an Aboriginal guide to learn the story behind some of these ancient artworks. In many places, the traditional owners request that you do not touch or photograph the rock art, so please respect any signs.
Take a Scenic Flight
The sheer scale of the Northern Territory, which covers an area bigger than Texas and California combined, can only really be comprehended from the air. Especially if you have just a couple of days in the NT during your trip to Australia, a scenic flight can be a great way to see some of the region's key attractions and reach extremely isolated areas.
Many providers offer flights over Uluru, the MacDonnell Ranges, and Kata Tjuta in the Red Centre and Litchfield National Park, Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park, and the Tiwi Islands in the Top End.
Meet a Saltwater Crocodile
Australia is home to two types of crocodiles: salties and freshies. In the NT, the colossal saltwater (or estuarine) crocodiles are the largest predator, coming in at up to 20 feet in length and weighing up to a ton. However, attacks are rare, and saltwater crocodiles have been a protected species since 1970.
Treat Yourself to Local Mud Crab
Mud crab is a Top End delicacy, found in many of the Territory's creeks and rivers. The crabs are usually caught in the dry season, so you will have more luck seeing them on the menu in Darwin between May and October.
The crab is often combined with the Top End's Asian culinary influences, served with chili or a crispy batter. Try Cathy's Place on the Cullen Marina for the freshest seafood or Pee Wee's at the Point for top-notch views across the city.