The Northern Territory is vast at a whopping 1.4 million sq km. It’s famed for its outback desert landscapes, from the iconic sandstone monolith Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the arid Red Centre to the wetlands of Kakadu National Park and the sculpted cliffs of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
There is a lot to see. And perhaps the best way to take in the ancient art and culture, amazing wildlife and breathtaking sunsets, is on a drive holiday.
Whether you are a curious adventurer longing for the open road or you just want to get behind the wheel and take your time to discover one of the world’s most amazing terrains, driving through the NT is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The joy of a driving holiday is that you can enjoy the scenery at your own pace, whether you are in a car, campervan or 4WD. As you travel across red desert terrain, lush rainforest, rugged coastlines and tropical landscapes you will discover that the NT is one of the best places to recharge.
So when the NT borders reopen on July 17, you can embark on a fly-and-drive holiday and discover rich Aboriginal culture, amazing local produce, bush tucker infused cuisine, swim in outback waterholes, explore breath-taking waterfalls or immerse yourself in some of the unique art trails in the territory.
You will truly be spoilt for choice.
The best time to visit NT is during the dry season from May to October. So right now, really.
Even during the cold season from June to August, over night temperatures may dip to mid-teens but daytime temperatures will soar to over 30C.
It is recommended that you should either do a short drive of two to five days or a long drive of more than six days. Most drive holidays start from the Darwin, the capital of NT.
Here are the highlights for a short car drive holiday of up to five days.
From Darwin, head to Litchfield National Park for Wangi Falls which has two waterfalls that cascade into a large swimming hole. The popular swimming spot is next to a green lawn area with barbeque facilities for a idyllic picnic spot. Try to visit two other swimming spots including Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. There are plenty of walks, waterholes and waterfalls in Litchfield National Park to explore – just make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen.
Head back to Stuart Highway and discover more swimming spots in Adelaide River where Robin Falls is a popular local hangout.
No visit to the NT is complete without a visit to Kakadu National Park which is an easy three-hour drive from Darwin. Paul Hogan’s iconic movie Crocodile Dundee put Kakadu on the world’s travel map.
Take a walk to Burrungkuy to explore the famous Aboriginal rock art sites. Book a cruise on Yellow Water Cruise where you can spot many crocodiles and hundreds of birds from majestic eagles to the comb-crested jacana better known as the Jesus bird. Just before the sun sets, head to Ubirr, a rock formation where Paul Hogan as Mike Dundee climbs to the top of the rock, points to the horizon and declares: “This is my backyard and over there is the Never, Never” when the movie cameras pan across the flood plain. During sunset, a rich palette of colours is thrown on the rock outcrops. It’s an amazing sight.
Another popular short trip out of Darwin is the charming town of Katherine. Head straight for Katherine Hot Springs which is surrounded by a beautiful picnic area and several delightful walks. You can spend time exploring the Nitmiluk National Park. Walk to the top of Nitmiluk Gorge with magnificent views of the Katherine River and valley, you can hire a canoe, try fishing for barramundi, go bird watching and look out for the Gouldian Finch. You can also book an exciting helicopter scenic flight to view the spectacular Katherine Gorge.
If you are strapped for time, fly directly to Uluru and spend a couple of nights there including one night at Kings Canyon.
When you arrive at Uluru, drive to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to see Uluru up close. Time your visit close to sunset to watch the best sunset views in the country. In the evening take a tour of the Field of Light, a solar light installation designed by international artist Bruce Munro and enjoy the Sounds of Silence dinner which is absolutely mind-blowing and unforgettable.
Drive to Kings Canyon and visit the Watarrka National Park. Stop by the Karrke Aboriginal Culture Tours for a great introduction to the rich Aboriginal culture. Take a helicopter flight over Kings Canyon for some of the best views that take your breath away. Early the next morning, head back to Kings Canyon and do the Rim Walk, a three-to-four hour walk around the rim to give your legs a good work out. Try to finish before 10 am to avoid the heat of the day.