Why Australia's Northern Territory Should Be On Your 2019 Bucket List
From Uluru to the wetlands in Kakadu, here's why the Northern Territory should be on your Australian itinerary
Australia is at the top of many travellers' bucket lists, and for good reason. To some, it’s a country of urban wonders, home to bustling cities blooming with vibrant food and art cultures; to others, it’s a paradise where some of the world's best waves meet chalky white sand.
Not quite fitting into either of those categories, The Northern Territory is Australia’s best kept secret, steeped in spirituality and an indigenous culture that stretches back 40,000 years. From the Outback’s red earth deserts to aboriginal rock art in Kakadu, a visit to the Northern Territory is an intimate encounter of one of the world's most ancient continents.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
More than just an iconic natural landscape, Uluru is a sacred aboriginal site to its traditional owners, the Anangu people, and is home to one of the oldest living cultures in the world.
Watching Uluru change colours at dawn and dusk is one of the most magical ways to experience Outback Australia, a region known for its extraordinary landscapes of red desert, mountain ranges and rocky gorges.
There are couple of designed viewing platforms to choose from, but we’d recommend Talinguru Nyakunytjaku—or "a place to look from the sand dune" in the local aboriginal language—where you can capture both Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the same shot and marvel at the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
It’s especially worth waking up early to watch Uluru come to life at sunrise, as its silhouette appears against the sky changing from a deep purple to a sizzling pink to burnt orange.
Field of Light, Uluru
Uluru’s dazzling lights go beyond the sky at Field of Light, a one-of-a-kind art installation created by internationally celebrated artist Bruce Munro. Made up of a sea of 50,000 illuminated glass-domed lights, the exhibition covers an overwhelming size of over seven football fields, and invites immersion in a desert spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and white.
There’s the opportunity to take a camel or helicopter ride to arrive at the remote desert location and dine under the starry Outback sky with “Sounds of Silence”, an award-winning dining experience that offers magnificent views of Field of Light with Uluru as the backdrop, an exclusive three-course bush tucker menu paired with premium Australian wines and beers.
West MacDonnell Ranges
If you expect the Red Centre to be flat, you’d be surprised to find that there are a number of spectacular natural waterholes amongst the desert landscape. The escarpments and swimming holes of the majestic West MacDonnell Ranges, west of Alice Springs, make for the perfect spot to cool off after a long day of exploring.
Whether you’re up for an adventure climbing over rugged terrain or a leisurely stroll on the sand, the rock gorges and waterholes will show a different side of the Outback that beckons you to explore. Ellery Creek Big Hole is one of the most remarkable waterholes in the area, formed by water runoff from the ranges, meeting a white sandy beach surrounded by gum trees and dramatic red rock walls.
To truly earn a dip, follow one of the many marked walking tracks to Ormiston Gorge, where a permanent waterwhole sits in the gorge surrounded by sandy verges. Watch out for black-footed rock wallabies in the area, which can be spotted on the rock ledges, if you’re lucky.
Aboriginal culture in Kakadu
One of the many things that makes the Northern Territory so special is the aboriginal people who inhabit the region. Believed to be Australia’s first inhabitants who arrived on the continent over 50,000 ago, the Aboriginal population represents one of the oldest living cultures on earth, with over 500 clan groups with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages.
At Kakadu National Park, you can get a glimpse of the lives of the Bininj and Mungguy clan group, both of which have inherited indigenous traditions that are still active today.
Warradjan Cultural Centre is your gateway to explore aboriginal culture, where you’ll get to sit with aboriginal artisans and try your hand at prehistoric bark paintings and traditional weaving using pandanus leaves. The gallery shop is a great place to shop for unique souvenirs and locally made arts and crafts.
Yellow Water, the famed billabong in the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park is home to one third of Australia's bird species and offers a rare opportunity to view saltwater crocodiles up close.
Operating year round with up to six cruises a day, the Yellow Water cruises are guided by indigenous owners of the park who can give fascinating insights into the flora and fauna in the wetland ecosystem.
The best time to embark on a Yellow River adventure is during sunset, where a delicious array of native-inspired canapes (including crocodile meat) and champagne are served as you sit back and take in the breathtaking scenery and spot the ‘salties’ with the help of your guide.
Ancient rock art
Kakadu may be known for its rich wildlife, but it’s also the cultural heart of Australia, where its natural landscape is steeped in ancient aboriginal stories. A visit to Kakadu’s rock art sites will give you an insight into ancient aboriginal life through one of the world’s oldest rock art paintings, which are dated at over 20,000 years old.
The rock art galleries at Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur are open to public, each displaying a fascinating record of the aboriginal clans’ relationship with their land and spiritual heritage that are still relevant today.
You’ll be transported back in time through powerful paintings of ancestral spirits, animals, and the fascinating depictions of early contact with Europeans in the form of a two-masted sailing ship with anchor chain.