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Twice the size of California, the Northern Territory encompasses almost one sixth of Australia’s total land mass. The Northern Territory has a population of approximately 200,000 residents, of which 60,000 are Aboriginal people.
A vibrant and mythical destination, the NT is home to the legendary Outback, diverse Aboriginal cultures, and incredible landscapes and wildlife.
The Northern Territory is comprised of six main destinations including: Darwin, Kakadu and Arnhem Land, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Barkly, Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tujuta. Each of the Northern Territory’s destinations feature diverse topography, rich cultural heritage and offer a myriad of adventures for every traveler to enjoy.
The Northern Territory is home to a variety of Aboriginal communities, many of whom have preserved their traditional customs and lifestyle for tens of thousands of years. Visitors can experience native Aboriginal cultures through bush-tucker tours, story telling, and traditional dance performances, and artwork. The Northern Territory hosts numerous festivals year-round, and boasts some of the best art galleries in the country, showcasing a variety of works by local indigenous artists.
For the nature enthusiast, the Northern Territory also has 21 national parks, 400 species of birds, 150 species of mammals, 300 species of reptiles, 50 species of frogs, 60 species of freshwater fish, and several hundred species of marine fish as well. Even if you’re not a fishing enthusiast, catching a barramundi in the NT is a must-do.
The Northern Territory provides visitors with a wide variety of outdoor activities and water sports from fishing to canoeing, hot air ballooning, biking, trekking, and camel riding, to name a few.
Darwin is the tropical capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory and has a relaxed outdoor lifestyle with warm weather all year round. Perched on a peninsula with sea on three sides, Darwin is an excellent base to explore the natural attractions of World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, Litchfield and Nitmiluk National Parks, the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.
Darwin was founded as Australia’s most northerly harbor port in 1869, and its population rapidly expanded after the discovery of gold at nearby Pine Creek in 1871. World War II put Darwin on the map as a major allied military base for troops fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.
Today travelers can see evidence of Darwin’s World War II history at a variety of preserved sites including ammunition bunkers, airstrips and oil tunnels in and around the city. Darwin again made world news when the city was rebuilt in the wake of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 – an event well documented at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
Its colorful history has contributed to Darwin’s cultural diversity – more than 50 nationalities make up its 100,000 population, including the area’s traditional landowners, the Larrakia Aboriginal people. The cultural and culinary benefits of such a melting pot are best experienced at Darwin’s weekly markets, variety of restaurants and through the annual calendar of festivals and other Darwin events.
The heart of Central Australia is comprised of cavernous gorges, boundless desert landscapes, remote Aboriginal communities and a charming pioneering history. Alice Springs was established by the early explorers and remains as the centre of activity in this region.
From the early 1900s, the vast desert of Central Australia was explored for its promise of rubies and gold. Today, north of Alice is an adventure travel destination where visitors can still fossick for gems and explore the Australian desert while trekking, camping or four-wheel driving.
North-west of Alice, along the Tanami Track and south of Alice Springs in the Simpson Desert, the art styles and stories of the Aboriginal people give meaning to the surrounding landscape.
The most well-known natural highlights of Central Australia are the East and West MacDonnell Ranges that straddle Alice Springs and run for 223 kilometres.
Visitors to the NT’s Red Centre can enjoy views of dramatic scenery, bushwalking, swimming, four-wheel driving or quad-bike riding.
Culture, Nature and Environment
Australia’s Northern Territory is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, both listed for their natural and cultural legacy. These ancient natural marvels inspired the distinctive artistic styles of local Aboriginal populations that comprise the oldest continuing civilization on earth. Aboriginal people represent over one third of the Northern Territory’s population and they own over half the land, assuring that visitors to the area live a one of a kind cultural experience and provide back to the local communities.
Kakadu National Park, located in the Northern Territory’s Top End and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in Australia’s Red Center, are two of the World Heritage enlisted sites located within the Northern Territory.
Kakadu National Park
Australia’s largest national park spans some 12,000 miles of vast floodplains, billabongs, pristine waterfalls, delicate lotus flowers and a large population of crocodiles. Kakadu National Park is a nature lover’s paradise and is also rich with Aboriginal art sites, especially rock art, some sites believed to be up to 20,000 years old. The park is listed by the UNESCO as both a natural and cultural site. It is jointly managed by the Australian Government and by the traditional owners of the land, the Bininj Aboriginal people.
Kakadu is home to over 1000 species of plants and a quarter of Australia’s freshwater fish species. It is also a birdwatcher’s paradise where enthusiasts have the opportunity to spot more than a third of the bird species found in Australia. For the more serious birdwatcher, Kakadu is home to the endangered gouldian finch and red goshawk as well as several other species endemic to only this region. Millions of magpie geese also inhabit the northern wetlands providing a true spectacle.
According to archaeological studies, it’s believed that Aboriginal people have inhabited Kakadu for approximately 50,000 years. A visit to the park is an enriching experience in Aboriginal culture and its traditions of passing down through generations, laws, stories, and customs for tens of thousands of years. Visitors to Kakadu learn about the daily customs and traditions of the local Aboriginals exploring with them the spectacular bush environment and searching for traditional foods and medicines. Kakadu can also be explored on wildlife cruises past prehistoric crocodiles, from the air on a scenic light or on extended trips with a variety of local tour operators offering touring options to suite all budgets and time frames.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru / Ayers Rock, the world’s most famous monolith and a sacred site for the traditional owners the Anangu Aboriginal people exudes a sense of mysticism and immensity, providing a draw for visitors from around the world. Some 25 miles to the west of Uluru, majestically rises Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) – a group of large domed formations that are the remains of an erosion that began around 500 million years ago. Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987 and the park was returned to the traditional Anangu owners in 1985. The park is currently managed jointly by Parks Australia and the Anangu Aboriginal people.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta have great cultural significance for the traditional landowners. Archaeological studies suggest they have lived in the area for at least 22,000 years.
In addition to witnessing the marvellous spectacle of nature, visitors to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park can immerse themselves in the area’s local traditions and learn about the customs of the Anangu with local Aboriginal guides thus giving back to the community. Anangu guides lead walking tours around the base of Uluru sharing stories, bush food and discussing the symbolism of various rock art.
Visitors can also visit the Cultural Center that hosts art and craft demonstrations, bush tucker sessions, walks and cultural presentations.
Those looking for more fun and innovative ways to explore the area can join a sunrise or sunset camel ride to view the changing colours of Uluru from a secluded hilltop surrounded by desert oaks. More adventurous types will enjoy riding around Uluru on a late model Harley Davidson for a real sense of freedom in the Outback.
A wide range of accommodations are available in the nearby town of Yulara – from camp sites to five-star luxury resorts.