From Kakadu to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), the vast Northern Territory is like nowhere else on Earth. It spans two climate zones and comprises two very different worlds.
The Top End is a tropical paradise of swaying palms, fragrant frangipani and tepid waters, which are alive with crocodiles and fat barramundi. By contrast, the Red Centre around Alice Springs, is the raw untamed heart of Australia – as ageless and limitless as the fabled Aboriginal ‘Dreamtime’. The classic scene of a brilliant sunset illuminating Uluru, is the recognised pictorial symbol of the Outback. It is so unique that locals will say that you haven’t seen Australia until you’ve been to the Outback.
One way to access the Red Centre is to drive from Adelaide through Coober Pedy to Alice Springs. Another option is to take one of the world’s great rail journeys, ‘The Ghan’, which was named after the Afghan camel drivers of antiquity. ‘The Alice’ as this lively frontier town is affectionately called, is the hub of a surreal landscape of giant monoliths, meteorite craters, canyons, chasms, sacred sites, lost cities and palm-fringed gardens. The must see highlights are Uluru, MacDonnell Ranges (including the Larapinta Trail), Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Mt Olga. Once you have caught the ‘land before time’ magic and eerie emptiness of the Red Centre, you will easily grasp the logic of September’s Henley-on-Todd regatta on a dry riverbed. This is followed by Octoberfest, which is a feature of the boisterous festival spirit of ‘The Alice’. North of Alice Springs is the old mining town of Tennant Creek, and a geographical curiosity – the balancing Devil’s Marbles.
Driving north on the Stuart Highway is sound logic too, as at the other end of ‘The Track’ is Darwin. The Northern Territory’s boomtown capital is multi-cultural, and very proud of its modernity – a legacy of a total rebuild after Cyclone Tracey in 1974. The new tropical metropolis has excellent museums, art galleries, gardens and wildlife parks. Take an evening stroll along the esplanade and savour the atmosphere and glorious sunsets.
Darwin is an ideal base for exploration of the Top End attractions. Foremost of these are three national parks all within three hours drive. Kakadu is a natural wonder, featuring Aboriginal rock art, and vast wetlands teeming with life. Nitmiluk contains the precipitous Katherine Gorge and Litchfield embraces the Tabletop Range, replete with cascading waterfalls. Remote Arnhem Land and the Gove Peninsula are renowned for culture, ecotourism, fishing and diving, and can only be reached by sea or air.
Visiting the Northern Territory is not simply a holiday but a deeply moving experience. Although the torrid desert landscapes are severe, the sheer grandeur and beauty make them user friendly. Dancing with a local tribe at a corroboree, listening to the primitive sound of a didgeridoo, and sampling a succulent witchetty grub, is all part of the unique Outback Experience.