Natural beauty in the Northern Territory: the top 10 sites to visit

With 2020 being the year to travel domestically, the Northern Territory’s vast red centre, scenic national parks and cascading waterfalls are becoming increasingly appealing. In fact, for many Australians, particularly those who live near the coast, a trip to the NT is about as equally exotic as travelling overseas.

The Northern Territory borders have been open to interstate travellers from 17 July, with the exception of Victoria and residents from Sydney.

However, it’s been announced that Sydneysiders might not have to wait much longer with NT’s Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, confirming that the city’s hot spot status will be revoked from Friday 9 October – provided New South Wales maintains their steady downward trend of COVID-19 cases.

“From Friday, October 9, arrivals from Greater Sydney will not need to undertake 14 days of supervised quarantine,” said Gunner.

In the meantime, anyone who arrives from these listed coronavirus ‘hotspots’ will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days in a regional centre and charged $2,500. Travellers transferring through Sydney Airport will not need to quarantine so long as they don’t leave the airport. Anyone arriving from other parts of NSW or any other states, bar Victoria, will be given the green light to enter the NT provided they fill out a declaration stating they have not been in a COVID-19 hotspot in the last 28 days. 

In light of this news, we’re celebrating the incredible natural beauty this state has to offer with a round-up of Northern Territory’s ten must-see sites.

1. Alice Springs

Northern Territory: Pyndan Camel Tracks Image: Tourism NT
Pyndan Camel Tracks | Image: Tourism NT

Alice Springs, or ‘Alice’ as it’s affectionately known, is one of Australia’s most famous outback towns known for its beautifully expansive desert landscape. A trip to the Northern Territory, almost isn’t complete without passing through this thriving country town at least once. And there are plenty of ways to witness its beauty: admire from above in a hot air balloon, go quad biking through the desert, camel riding across the sand, and star gazing at night on the award-winning Earth Sanctuary tour. Other key attractions to see in Alice Springs is the Kangaroo Sanctuary, which is best visited on a guided tour at sunset, and explore the local aboriginal art galleries. 

2. Litchfield National Park

Northern Territory: Florence Falls. Image | Tourism NT/Lucy Ewing
The inviting pool at Florence Falls | Image: Tourism NT/Lucy Ewing

Travel along the Greater Litchfield Loop to discover its incredible landscapes, cascading waterfalls and tropical walking trails. Litchfield National Park is like the  Northern Territory’s ultimate outdoor playground. Visitors can enjoy a dip in the natural swimming holes at the impressive Wangi Falls or Florence Falls. Or spend the day relaxing at Buley Rockhole, a collection of waterfalls and rock pools ideal for swimming and picnics. 

3. Uluru

Northern Territory: Uluru. Image: Tourism NT/Luke Tscharke
Uluru at night | Image: Tourism NT/Luke Tscharke

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without Uluru. Considered to be the world’s largest monolith, Uluru hums with 65,000 years’ worth of culture. Arrive at sunrise and witness the amazing colours of the rock shift from a dramatic purple, through terracotta hues to its distinct vibrant and rich red.

4. Kata Tjuta

Northern Territory: Kata Tjuta at sunrise Image: Tourism NT/Jason Charles Hill
Kata Tjuta at sunrise | Image: Tourism NT/Jason Charles Hill

Just a few kilometres away from Uluru is the Kata Tjuṯa also known as the Olgas, which is a group of large, domed rock formations that rise from the desert and make for an incredible sight to see in Central Australia. Travellers can choose to explore the domes by helicopter or go on one of the popular walking tracks around the base, such as the ‘“Valley of the Winds”.

5. Kings Canyon

Northern Territory: Exploring Kings Canyon on the rim walk Image: Tourism NT/Matt Glastonbury
Exploring Kings Canyon on the rim walk | Image: Tourism NT/Matt Glastonbury

Located in Watarrka National Park, the Kings Canyon features spectacular sandstone walls soaring almost 300 metres skyward. The best way to experience this rocky panorama is on the popular Canyon Rim Walk. Completing the entire walk will take about three to four hours but it will lead you to the supernatural sandstone landscape known as the Lost City and the Garden of Eden natural waterhole – however this one is not for swimming. However, be aware, you’ll need to have a certain level of fitness to achieve this one,  as this route for Kings Canyon starts with a challenging climb up 500 uneven steps to navigate in order to ascend to the top.

6. Kakadu National Park

Northern Territory: sunset at Ubirr Image: Tourism NT/Daniel Tran
Sunset at Ubirr | Image: Tourism NT/Daniel Tran

Covering almost two million hectares of wilderness, Kakadu National Park, certainly stands out from the rest. The unique World Heritage-listed site is renowned for both it’s cultural and natural treasures, including ancient rock art, lush rainforests, tranquil swimming spots and impressive waterfalls. Noteworthy spots include Ubirr rock formation, where you’ll find centuries old aboriginal rock art stories; the Yellow Water Billabong, where travellers can cruise along in search of iconic flora and fauna and perhaps even a crocodile; and Gunlom plunge pool, a glorious natural infinity pool with expansive views across Kakadu. Other favourites include the magnificent waterfalls: Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls.

7. Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges

Northern Territory: Exploring Ellery Creek Big Hole Image: Tourism NT/Jesse Lindemann
Exploring Ellery Creek Big Hole | Image: Tourism NT/Jesse Lindemann

Known as Tjoritja by the Traditional Owners, West MacDonnell National Park stretches for 161 kilometres west of Alice Springs and is home to some beautiful gorges and rock pools. You’ll want to allow at least a day to explore this area’s natural beauty, starting with a stop at Simpsons Gap for sunrise to see the rocky peaks transform from red and purple. After that, head towards Standley Chasm to wander through the alleyway cut into the quartzite rock. Then hop from waterhole to waterhole, stopping at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and Ormiston Gorge.

8. Mindil Beach, Darwin

Northern Territory top sites: Mindil Markets. | Image: Tourism NT/Nick Pincott
Mindil Markets. | Image: Tourism NT/Nick Pincott

Being closer to Bali than it is to Brisbane, Darwin is a rather exotic city to explore, buzzing with a lively cultural scene. However if you want to catch some of the best sunsets in the country, head towards Mindil Beach, especially during the dry season (April – October) when you can experience the famous beach markets.

9. Katherine Gorge

Northern Territory: Katherine Gorge. Image: Tourism NT/Jason Charles Hill
Cruise Katherine Gorge at sunset | Image: Tourism NT/Jason Charles Hill

Located in Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge is one of the most popular destinations to visit in the Northern Territory. The main must-see site is the series of gorges, up to 100 meters deep, carved by the Katherine River running through the soft sandstone of the southern Arnhem Land plateau. Travellers can choose to explore the gorges by boat or on land, where trails range from two-hour hikes to a five-day hike to Edith Falls in the park’s northwest.

10.  Karlu Karlu/ The Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve

Northern Territory: Devil's Marbles Image: Tourism NT
Giant granite boulders at Karlu Karlu | Image: Tourism NT

The Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve (also known as Karlu Karlu) is essentially another of Northern Territory’s famous rock formations, yet its beauty is rather unique. Located 100km to the south of Tennant Creek just off the Stuart Highway, this unique reserve consists of a large number of huge granite boulders scattered haphazardly across a wide valley – creating a Stonehenge kind of feel. The name is derived from the site’s two signature rounded “marbles” which are quite bewildering to say the least. The diversity of its different ‘marble stacks’, along with the stories behind them, makes exploring the grounds exceedingly interesting. And if you have the time, stay until the sun sets to engage in amazing stargazing.

Find out more: northernterritory.com

Feature image: Couple walking towards Simpsons Gap. | Image: Tourism NT/Jesse Lindemann

This article was first published on 16 July 2020 and updated on 14 September 2020. 

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