The Best Destinations in Australia's Northern Territory

Lirrwi Indigenous tours in Arnhem Land
Lirrwi Indigenous tours in Arnhem Land | © Roderick Eime / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer9 October 2020

Australia’s Northern Territory is home to many national parks and remote towns. If you’re trying to decide where exactly to visit in the state, we’ve got you covered. From the capital city of Darwin to the Tiwi Islands, here are the best destinations in the Northern Territory.

Darwin

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Australia, Northern Territory, Darwin, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Parliament House of Darwin, completed
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Darwin is the Northern Territory’s capital city. It was named after Charles Darwin and has been nearly entirely rebuilt four times, due to destructive cyclones and Japanese air raids during World War II. Darwin has a tropical savanna climate, which means it has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is the best time to visit, when the weather is warm but humidity is low. Things to do in Darwin include visiting the Waterfront Precinct, Crocosaurus Cove, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Mindil Beach and the Botanic Gardens.

Litchfield National Park

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Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
© Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is the perfect day trip from Darwin. Many locals visit on the weekends to cool down in the swimming holes at Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. For bushwalkers, there’s the 39km (24mi) Tabletop Track, or the more serene 3.5km (2mi) Walker Creek trail. Another two attractions that bring people to Litchfield National Park are the magnetic termite mounds and the Lost City, which includes a series of sandstone formations that look like ancient city ruins.

Kakadu National Park

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Sunrise Cruise, Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, NT, Australia
© Genevieve Vallee / Alamy Stock Photo
Kakadu National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site, covers an area of approximately 20,000sqkm (7,722sqmi). See ancient Aboriginal rock art sites at Nourlangie and Ubirr (which is known for its spectacular sunsets). Cruise the Yellow Water billabong, swim at Maguk and Jim Jim Falls or Gunlom Plunge Pool with its panoramic views or take a scenic flight and see Australia’s biggest national park from the air.

Katherine

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Northern Territory Tourism says Katherine is where the “Outback meets the tropics.” Set 320km (200mi) southeast of Darwin this small town offers plenty to see and do. First, there’s Nitmiluk National Park and its world-famous Katherine Gorge. Then there’s Elsey National Park, which is best known as the setting of Australian novel We of the Never Never (1908). Here you’ll find Mataranka Thermal Pool and the less crowded — but nonetheless pretty — Bitter Springs. Finally, Cutta Cutta Caves is one of Australia’s only tropical limestone cave systems.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

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Uluru (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Uluru and Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas) are both beautiful destinations to visit within this Unesco World Heritage site. The large red sandstone monolith that is Uluru is said to have begun forming over 550 million years ago. Uluru is culturally and spiritually significant to the local indigenous Anangu people. The Olgas are another ancient red rock formation within the national park. Both sights are best seen at sunrise or sunset, when the sun makes them change colour.

Alice Springs

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Alice Springs is a very remote town. However, it’s a great destination to base yourself in the Northern Territory, as there are plenty of things to do in the area. First, check out the West MacDonnell and Finke Gorge National Parks. Then there’s the Alice Springs Desert Park that states it “seamlessly blends the plants, birds, animals and people of our arid regions within one tourism and conservation facility.” There’s also the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and the Alice Springs Reptile Centre.

West MacDonnell National Park

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West MacDonnell National Park is home to several enticing permanent waterholes, including Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. There are also many walking trails, but the most extensive is the 223km (139mi) Larapinta Trail, which stretches through the national park. Finally, don’t miss the ochre pits, which local Aboriginal people have used for generations, in paintings and for body decorations.

Watarrka National Park

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Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.
© Adrian Lyon / Alamy Stock Photo
Watarrka National Park is best known as the home of Kings Canyon. The Luritja people have called the area home for over 20,000 years. With its 100m (328ft) red sandstone walls and expansive desert views, Kings Canyon is a unique place. The best way to experience it is via the 6km (4mi) Rim Walk. Take time to visit the lush and permanent waterhole at Garden of Eden, as well as the weathered rock formations of the Lost City.

Arnhem Land

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View of floodlands from a view point in Arnhem Land, a country belonging to aboriginal people, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory,
© Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Arnhem Land is one of the world’s least-inhabited regions, so it’s the epitome of an off-the-beaten-path destination in the Northern Territory. It’s known for untouched fishing habitats, where you can catch species like barramundi, Spanish mackerel and coral trout. When in Arnhem Land, visit Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, which is home to authentic Aboriginal bark paintings and carvings. Ensure you also check out East Woody Island and Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.

Tiwi Islands

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Nicknamed the Islands of Smiles, the Tiwi Islands are located 80km (50mi) north of Darwin. The two main inhabited islands are Bathurst and Melville Islands. The indigenous Tiwi people are known for their art and love of the Australian Football League (AFL). People can visit the Tiwi Islands via a scenic flight or the ferry. There are cultural day trips available from Darwin as well; a local guide shares the history of the islands and takes you to a museum and art-making workshop.

These recommendations were updated on October 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.