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Things to Do in Northern Territory

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Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge National Park)
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Nitmiluk (also called Katherine Gorge) is the deep path cut through the sandstone by the Katherine River, and the Nitmiluk Katherine Gorge National Park is where you can go to lap up the luscious experience of the Gorge, whether that be swimming in it (sometimes with harmless freshwater crocodiles), canoeing in it, hiking around it, gazing it from an observation deck, flying over it on a helicopter...or any combination of the above.

The park is run by the traditional owners, the Jawoyn, in conjunction with the Australian government. It's a well-appointed place with lots of visitor facilities (and lots of visitors, especially in the dry season). You can choose your level of activity, from lounging around at your campsite or the visitor center café to strenuous canoeing trips or hikes. But make sure you take at least one long hike, perhaps to see the Aboriginal rock art, or at least to get sticky enough to make cooling off in the river a delight.

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Uluru (Ayers Rock)
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Uluru - or Ayers Rock - is Australia's proud symbol, and site of spiritual significance for the Anangu people. Like an iceberg, it's believed that only a third of the big red rock lies above ground. What we can see measures 3.6 km (2.5 miles) long, 348 meters (1,141 feet) tall, so Uluru is an awfully big rock. Ayers Rock is known for its fabulous colors at dawn and sunset, when the pitted rock surface turns from ocher brown to a rich burnished orange. Walking tracks lead around the base of the rock, ranging from easy 45-minute strolls to the circumnavigation which can take up to four hours and passes caves, paintings and sacred sites. The Anangu people ask visitors not to climb their sacred rock, and it is a dangerously steep and windy ascent. Instead, taking a tour led by the Anangu is a very rewarding experience, as is visiting their cultural center to learn the Dreamtime stories and cultural significance of the site.
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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
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The 36 domed red rocks known as the Olgas - or Kata Tjuta - dotting the desert are of huge cultural and spiritual significance to the Anangu people. Meaning 'many heads,' the huge rocks are separated by steep-sided gorges and valleys. Walking tracks lead around the area to lookouts, waterholes and picnic areas. The main trail is the Valley of the Winds, a 7.5 km (4.5 mile) loop, while the sunset lookout is an easy stroll from the car park for striking views of this surreal landscape. The tallest rock, Mt Olga, is much higher than Ayers Rock (Uluru), soaring 546 meters (1,790 feet).
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Ubirr
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It’s hard to grasp exactly what you’re looking at when you see the rock drawings at Ubirr. Here, etched before you on ancient rock that springs from the red dirt Earth, are drawings placed here by Aborigines nearly 20,000 years ago. How the drawings have managed to survive for so long is a fascinating geologic story, but it's one that pales in comparison to the stories told by the drawings themselves.

Located in what’s known as the East Alligator Region of Kakadu National Park, Ubirr is a UNESCO World Heritage site that borders on desert magic. In addition to collections of ancient rock art, the site offers sweeping, panoramic views of the surrounding flood plains and fields, and includes a sacred “Rainbow Serpent” painting in one of the three different galleries. According to local Aboriginal legend, the serpent was involved in the very creation of Earth surrounding the site, and is regarded as one of the world’s oldest figures of early creation.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre
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The drone of a didgeridoo, the chanting of the indigenous Anangu people, and the clapping sticks that drive their chanting and dancing can be heard as you approach the Tjukurpa Tunnel. This is your welcome to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

Tjukurpa is the story and the spiritual law of the Anangu people, and the Tjukurpa Tunnel is where you are encouraged to begin building your understanding of their way of life before your visit to Uluru or Kata Tjuta. Much of Tjukurpa is considered sacred and cannot be discussed publicly, so this is a fantastic opportunity to take in those parts which can be shared. Artefacts and informational plaques are displayed throughout the tunnel, and documentary DVD’s are screened on a loop, providing fascinating insights.

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MacDonnell Ranges
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Offering spectacular views both east and west of Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges are a 400 mile (644 kilometer) stretch of mountain ranges. The ranges hold some of the Northern Territory's finest attractions including the ancient ghost gums and rock wallabies at the majestic Simpson's Gap, the stark beauty of Standley Chasm in the midday sun and the secluded waterholes of Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole. The ranges are dotted with micro-climates offering rare wildlife including the Centralian Tree Frog that lives in some of the very cold rock pools. There are many sites of significance to the traditional owners, the Arrernte. These include ancient rock paintings at Emily Gap, Trephina Gorge and N’Dhala Gorge. You can also visit the old ochre pits where they quarried for ochre pigment.
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Watarrka National Park
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Watarrka National Park protects one of the Northern Territory's most legendary destinations, Kings Canyon. It's a rocky red desert park of rugged geological formations and sheer-edged sandstone gorges plummeting to waterholes and unexpected oases of cycad palms. Walking trails lead to lookouts for views over the canyon, and there are picnic tables at the sunset-viewing area and Kathleen Springs.

The overnight Giles Track takes you along the top of the range from springs to canyon, while the much easier Kathleen Springs walk takes 1.5 hours and is recommended for families. To get the most out of your visit to Watarrka National Park, take a guided walk with a ranger or guide to learn about the spiritual significance of this land for the local Anangu people.

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Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre
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These days it’s commonplace for many schools to offer programs online, where you can receive a degree without ever seeing a teacher. Well, before the age of the internet, there was radio-- the means of how School of the Air in Alice Springs, Australia, nobly pioneered the idea to reach out to kids in obscure destinations without proper schools. One visit to the school premises, which is now complete with its own Visitor Center, and you can share a moving experience that shows how the utilization of technology we take for granted has not only brought people together, but shaped lives.

Teaching primary and secondary level students since the 50’s, today students are outstretched as far as 502,000 square miles from the school. You can watch a film about the history of this truly unique school, and even listen in on live classes, which have since switched from the radio era to a highly more modernized and efficient broadband internet model.

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Edith Falls (Leliyn)
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Located in Nitmiluk National Park in the Top End of the Northern Territory, Edith Falls offer gorgeous views over the river, tiers of rock pools and waterfalls that cascade through the gully. All that, along with the area's wildlife, makes Edith Falls one of Australia's most picturesque -- not to mention underrated -- natural attractions.

The falls are full of water year-round, but the clear, dry season between May and September is the best time to visit. Even so, the area surrounding the falls is especially lush and green during the intense rains earlier in the year, so visitors are in for a treat no matter when they go. A visit to the falls typically involves swimming, and Sweetwater Pool, as well as both the upper and lower pools, are all particularly suited for the activity. Visitors to the falls during the wet season, however, may find that swimming is off-limits due to potentially dangerous conditions.

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More Things to Do in Northern Territory

West MacDonnell Ranges

West MacDonnell Ranges

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In the heart of Australia’s Red Centre lie the Western 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 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.

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Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye)

Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye)

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Standley Chasm, also known as Angkerle, is a place of great significance to the local Aboriginal people. A spectacular slot gorge, the deep, narrow chasm cuts through the tough quartzite of the native stone and puts on a magnificent display of color and form as the sun passes through the sky.

Surrounding the chasm is a lush valley and an abundance of walking trails. A short walk from the kiosk to the chasm is particularly rewarding at midday when the sun shines directly overhead. Another walk from the kiosk heads west and climbs to a saddle with views of the area's mountains and valleys. For more avid hikers, sections 3 and 4 of the Larapinta Trail meet at Standley Chasm and can be hiked as either long day trips or overnight hikes. Standley Chasm is the easiest place to access the Chewings Ranges for those who do not wish to hike the Larapinta Trail. The Chewings Ranges are home to some of the most rare and threatened wildlife of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

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Nourlangie (Burrungkuy)

Nourlangie (Burrungkuy)

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Nourlangie, also known as 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. Burrunggui, an Aborigine 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.

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Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land

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Arnhem Land, one of Australia’s wildest and most sacred areas, lies at the lush northern tip of the continent. It was declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931 and remains a place of strong tradition with a distinctive culture and famous artwork, while also staying largely untouched by European colonization.

The beautiful landscapes provided by the area’s diverse ecosystems include rugged coastlines, rivers, remote islands, a rainforest, woodlands and bluffs. Arnhem Land is home to both saltwater crocodiles and gentle dugongs, for which this area works as an important conversation habitat. Visitors drawn to Arnhem Land for its culture won’t be disappointed. Gunbalanya (also known as Oenpelli) is home to the Injalak Art and Craft Centre, where artists work and their wares are available for purchase. Tours often take travelers into the nearby bush to learn about the Aboriginal rock art, Dreamtime myths and bush tucker, the foods native to Australia.

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Magnetic Termite Mounds

Magnetic Termite Mounds

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Across fields in northern Australia stand these tall magnetic termite mounds standing up to two meters high. As a habitat created by termites, they’re strategically built to face away from the hot sun and keep temperatures cool. Inside are complex and fascinating architecture and networks of arches, tunnels, chimneys, and various chambers. Thousands of termites live in a single mound and are known to last anywhere from fifty to one hundred years — which can also be the lifespan of one termite queen. Looking at the mounds it’s hard to believe such a small insect could create such a large, elaborate dwelling for itself. There are several types of termite mounds, and in this case ‘magnetic’ refers to the way they are aligned (in conjunction with the earth’s magnetic field.) How the termites are able to consistently determine the north-south orientation to avoid the heat is unknown, and these structures remain a bit of a natural phenomenon.

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Cullen Bay

Cullen Bay

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Cullen Bay is about 10 minutes outside of Darwin. Its drawcard is a big sleek marina packed with yachts. In an uncertain tropical climate like Darwin's, this marina offers yachting traffic the security of a man-made environment with a locked waterway and sea walls that close. This means it's accessible in the low Spring tides and a registered cyclone haven - hence its popularity.

For the landlubber, Cullen Bay is an equally sleek oasis of shops, restaurants, bars and day spas. It's a popular place for visitors to stay, as its serviced apartments are so close to all these amenities - and water views. It's also close to the ferry terminal, so you can take off on trips to Mandorah and Tiwi islands.

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Defence of Darwin Experience

Defence of Darwin Experience

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The Defence of Darwin Experience chronicles the Northern Territory’s role in World War II through a number of powerful exhibits that educate visitors on how the war deeply affected the region and its residents. This multimedia museum offers fascinating insight into the fateful events leading up to and on Feb. 19, 1942, when the Bombing of Darwin took place, killing over 250 people, sinking 10 ships, and kicking off a period of nearly two years of bombings in the Northern Territory. Guests can view historic equipment and artifacts from the war and listen to somber stories of locals’ whose lives were changed forever, as well as firsthand accounts of those who went off to war to avenge the lives that were lost.
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Walpa Gorge (Olga Gorge)

Walpa Gorge (Olga Gorge)

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Darwin Waterfront Precint

Darwin Waterfront Precint

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The Darwin Wharf Precinct, a scenic waterfront area full of options for dining and play, exists thanks to an initiative by the city of Darwin that turned 61 acres of industrial wasteland into a thriving center for the city.

The area includes the Stokes Hill Wharf, a historical site that was constructed in the early 1800s by Darwin’s first European settlers and bore much damage from the 1942 air raid upon the city during World War II. These days, the wharf is home to a much livelier atmosphere. Award-winning dining, entertainment, shopping and outdoor attractions have helped transform the wharf precinct into one of the most celebrated parts of Darwin. The wharf is connected to Darwin’s Central Business District by a dedicated walkway lined with parks, tropical landscaping and, of course, the waterfront itself.

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Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park

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Kakadu National Park has a feeling and a beauty unlike anywhere else on earth. With its sandstone escarpments looming up from the plain, its secret waterholes and lily-strewn waterways, its teeming birdlife and ancient rock art, it's a place that will get a hold on something old in your soul.

It's Australia's largest national park, clocking in at a mindboggling 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres). In that vast space shelters a staggering multiplicity of fauna, including dingos, wallabies and saltwater crocodiles. There's plants and animals here that are found nowhere else in the world, and a number of endangered species.

Make sure to take a cruise along one of the numerous park rivers - cruising along the Alligator River will allow to discover amazing birds and see crocs up close safely. Yellow Water near Cooina is a good starting point for sunrise cruises, usually the best time of the day for wildlife viewing.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a World Heritage Area and iconic Australian destination. Preserved within the park are two of Australia's most striking natural landmarks: Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas (Kata Juta). The park is co-managed by the Anangu people and the Australian government. The traditional owners run walking tours through the park and co-manage the park's cultural center which provides valuable insights into the land's significance for Anangu culture. At the cultural center you can also browse traditional carvings, paintings and ceramics made by central Australia's Anangu communities. Along with sunrise or sunset viewings of Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas (Kata Juta), you can take a tour of the park by camel, motorbike or scenic flight, witness traditional activities such as boomerang-throwing, or see the park through the eyes of the Anangu on a cultural tour.
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Simpsons Gap

Simpsons Gap

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Simpsons Gap is one of the most prominent areas in the West MacDonnell Ranges, home to one of the most well-known waterholes of the Alice Springs region.

There are a few bush walks nearby, including the short Ghost Gum Walk and longer Cassia Hill Walk, which takes one hour each way. Longer walks around Simpsons Gap include the Woodland Trail, which connects Simpsons Gap with Bond Gap on an 11-mile (17-km) return track, and sections one and two of the Larapinta Trail. Visitors also have the opportunity to picnic at Simpsons Gap, with gas barbecues available for free use, or opt for a bicycle ride along a sealed track. The rare black-footed rock wallaby is often seen at Simpsons Gap, best seen in the early morning or late afternoon. The wallaby is one of several creatures unique to Australia’s Red Centre.

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Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

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The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has a fine collection, but what is its most popular attraction by far? That's right - a preserved saltwater crocodile called 'Sweetheart.'

Sweetheart, a 50 year-old male, was menacing boats on the Finnis River, so he was captured by rangers. They intended to give him to a croc farm for breeding. Sadly, during the capture, the drugged crocodile drowned and could not be resuscitated. His body was given to the museum. If you can drag yourself away from Sweetheart, there's a fine natural history collection and plenty of indigenous art. You'll also get a good grounding in the Territory's history, including Cyclone Tracy (there's a room that simulates the cyclone) and visits by Indonesian sailors back in the day. The museum looks beyond the mainland to focus on Southeast Asian and Pacific culture.

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Hermannsburg (Ntaria)

Hermannsburg (Ntaria)

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Hermannsburg, known in the local language as Ntaria, is an Aboriginal community approximately 80 miles (131 km) southwest of Alice Springs. The town began life as an Aboriginal mission in 1877, established by missionaries traveling from Germany. When they left in 1891, the settlement remained, undergoing several influencing leaderships until the land was returned to the traditional owners in 1982. These days, the town is named the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct and included on the Australian National Heritage List.

Hermannsburg is famous as the home of Albert Namatjira, an Aboriginal landscape watercolor artist. His house is open to visitors and serves as a gallery. Many buildings here are historical reminders of early colonists, and the Kata Anga Tea Rooms serve homemade meals to visitors. Also of note within the town are the Hermannsburg Potters, whose handmade terracotta pots are beautifully decorated and available for sale.

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