Where to go in the Northern Territory

It’s hard to decide where to go in the Northern Territory, it’s a vast area where weather and distance make planning important. We have several articles on specific spots like Kakadu, Darwin and Uluru but today we thought an overview might be a good place to start.

At 1600km from top to bottom, if the Northern Territory were its own country, it would be the 20th largest in the world! Unless you have a month or more to explore, you will probably only visit one or two of these regions on any trip. The state has so much to offer that it’s a good idea to get a lay of the land and see where the visitor hotspots are.

The NT is divided into seven regions; we have listed the main sites in each place if you are not exactly sure where everything is.

Just under 250,000 people live in the Northern Territory.

Darwin and the Top End

Where to go in the Northern Territory - Aerial landscape view of Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park Northern Territory Australia
Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park

Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, with a harbour bigger than Sydney Harbour, a tropical vibe and a lot more culture than you may expect. This is a young city with some great food and plenty of friendly locals.

Mindil Beach Markets Darwin Northern Territory
Schedule a sunset at Mindil Beach Markets Credit: Kevin Phan Tourism Australia

Things to try in and around Darwin:

  • Enter the Cage of Death and swim with the crocodiles
  • Learn more about the culture of the people of the Tiwi Islands
  • Visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and experience the Cyclone Tracy simulation.
  • Fish for Barramundi and maybe win a million dollars!
  • Swim in the waterfalls at Litchfield National Park

Local tip: Hit up Parap Village Markets for a special much loved Darwin breakfast – a big bowl of laksa

Kakadu

The second UNESCO World Heritage Park in the Northern Territory, we think Kakadu is best experienced with a guide or at the very least, taking some short local guided talks while you are there.

 Aboriginal Art on the rocks. Nourlangie  Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory
Nourlangie is one of the best places to learn about Aboriginal art

Key sites in Kakadu are

  • Gunlom Plunge Pool – this seasonal swimming hole in Kakadu is beautiful, but check for crocodile warnings before you jump in
  • Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls – the two most significant and beautiful falls in the territory
  • Ubirr (rock art) – considered to be some of the most stunning rock art ever seen – take the Guluyambi Cruise
  • Ngurrungurrudjba (Yellow Water) – wetlands with abundant bird life 
  • Bowali Visitor Centre – make this your first stop to learn about the history and culture of the area

Local tip: Access to some key sites is seasonal – several waterfalls cannot be visited in the wet season – so check this to avoid disappointment. Check out our detailed guide to where to stay in Kakadu before you book.

Arnhem Land

One of the least visited regions in Australia, Arnhem Land, is the traditional country of the Yolngu people. This is the best way to learn about traditional First Nation culture.

Unless you are experienced with off-road driving, you will probably be best taking an organised tour to Arnhem Land rather than planning an independent trip.

Arhnam Land Tourism NT Kyle Hunter 800
Arnhem Land is the last frontier in Australia Credit: Tourism NT Kyle Hunter

Unless you are visiting on tour, you will need to apply for a permit from the Northern Land Council at least ten working days in advance.

Local tip: You can’t access Arnhem Land via road in the wet season, although there are daily flights from Darwin.

Katherine

The third-largest town in the Northern Territory, Katherine, can be visited on a day trip from Darwin, but an overnight stay is a better idea. The journey takes a little over 3 hours, and there is enough to do here to keep you busy for a full day or two, just scratching the surface.

katherine Gorge Nitmiluk Northern Territory Australia
Nitmiluk near Katherine was previously known as Katherine Gorge

We got stuck in town for an extra day because of flooded roads when we visited. This turned out to be lucky because we would have missed out on so much had we left on time. There are some beautiful swimming holes and several excellent short tours covering everything from WW2 history to lessons about being a stockrider!

Some of the most popular things to include:

  • Visit the hot springs at Mataranka
  • Sail the gorges of Nitmiluk National Park
  • Grab a drink at the Daly Waters Pub
  • Complete the Jatbula Trail, a five-day, 58km walk
  • Visit Cutta Cutta Caves

Local tip: Visit Elsey National Park – it was the setting of the classic Australian novel We of the Never-Never by Jeannie Gunn.

Tennant Creek and Barkly Region

Sitting ten hours along the highway between Darwin and Alice Springs, Tennant Creek is a popular stopover. Along with perhaps a cold drink and a tank of petrol, the biggest draw card to the area is Karlu Karlu, previously known as the Devil’s Marbles. These rock formations are found about 100km south of Tennant Creek in an area home to the Alyawarre people. Karlu Karlu is a registered sacred site.

 Karlu Karlu Devils Marbles
Karlu Karlu, which translates to round boulders, is located south of Tennant Creek.

While you are in the area don’t miss

  • Karlu Karlu – aka the Devil’s Marbles are an impressive site worth driving for.
  • Tennant Creek Telegraph Station – Australia’s first telegraphic link to Britain through the colonial telegraph system.
  • Kunjarra (the Pebbles) – a sacred site of the Warumungu Aboriginal
  • Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre – the Warumungu people own and operate this centre – book a tour or just pop in for a look.

Local tip: Please respect the traditional owners and not climb the boulders or use drones within the parks.

Related: Check out our guide on where to stay in Yulara

Alice Springs

These days many travellers bypass Alice Springs and fly directly to Uluru, which is a shame. There is plenty to see and do here if you have time for a few extra days in the area. We think it makes sense to fly into Alice, explore for a couple of days and then rent a car to drive to Uluru via Kings Canyon to Yulara.

Alice Springs town centre northern territory at sunset
Alice Springs at sundown

The drive takes about 6.5hrs and is best done over two or three days to allow time to walk in Kings Canyon.

Other key sites in the Alice include:

The Arrernte people are the traditional custodians of Mparn­twe (pro­nounced m’barn-twa) – the land where the town of Alice Springs lies.

Local tip: You can get surprisingly good coffee in Alice Springs – we suggest Page 27 in Todd Street Mall

Uluru and Kings Canyon

You head to Uluru for one reason – to see the UNESCO listed magic of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and this is the only reason you need! Our biggest tip is to stay at least two full days and plan your activities in advance so you don’t miss out on that perfect sunrise walk or sunset dinner.

Kata Tjuta in the afternoon light
Kata Tjuta in the afternoon light

Most of the activities here revolve around the three key sites:

  • Uluru
  • Kata Tjuta
  • Kings Canyon & Watarrka National Park

Join as many of the free cultural activities at Yulara as you can. We did everything; the morning garden walks around our hotel, the introduction to Aboriginal Art and enjoyed the great talk about local food. We recently spent four days at Desert Gardens in Yulara and have posted an Uluru holiday planning guide here.

Local tip: Regardless of which hotel you book, you can swim in any of the pools at Yulara.

Related: Check out our guide to the walks at Uluru; we highly recommend the base walk.

We hope this helps you start planning where to go in the Northern Territory – if you are anything like me you will need an extra week after seeing all the options!

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