Great Australian road trips: NT
Portrait of an Aboriginal girl at Nyinyikay Homeland. Photo: Getty/Lonely Planet
Katherine and surrounds
Northern Territory’s fourth largest town, Katherine and nearby Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) provides an interesting mix of the outback with the greenery and breathtaking beauty of the numerous gorges carved from sandstone.
A comfortable three hour drive south of Darwin, Katherine is the home to great Aboriginal art. Wander through the museums to learn about its rich cultural history and then relax at Katherine Hot Springs where a series of bubbling thermal pools is considered to be therapeutic.
Uluru ... You can take in the splendour of Australia’s most famous natural landmark. Photo: Getty Images
Take a guided evening wildlife cruise to see freshwater crocodiles, owls, wallabies and other nocturnal animals in their natural habitat, before enjoying a barbeque dinner on board.
Head to the Nitmiluk National Park and explore the Katherine Gorge, which is the centrepiece of the park. You could hop on a sunrise cruise, a high-powered speedboat or you may choose to hire a canoe and take a self-paced tour admiring the waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art and wildlife as you go along. For the adventurous, a 5-day walk along the Jatbula Trail may also be appealing.
Visit the Katherine Outback Heritage Museum before enjoying a campfire dinner in the Museum’s grounds.
Tropical flowers in Darwin. Photo: Getty/Lonely Planet
Take the kids to the Visitor Centre at Katherine’s School of the Air and see how school lessons are delivered via HF “air waves” for many children in the state. Shop for souvenirs and learn about Aboriginal artwork and practises at Top Didj and Art Gallery before heading south to Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park. You could explore the underground limestone caves formed millions of years ago or take the short Tropical Woodland walk to see native animals.
On the return trip to Darwin, stop at Pine Creek for a picnic at the Water Gardens and learn about the area’s gold-mining history. The kids might also enjoy a visit to the Adelaide River Inn, north of Pine creek where you can see Charlie the Buffalo, from Crocodile Dundee.
Up close with a crocodile.
Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land
The diversity and beauty of the world heritage listed Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land will leave you in awe as you take in wonderful natural landscapes, some of Australia’s largest animals and the rich cultural history of this vast area.
In less than three hours from Darwin, you will be at Jabiru, Kakadu’s main township. The Bowali Visitor’s Centre is a great first stop to learn about the area and its attractions. In the months between May-November, you could hop on the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise, which gives you a unique introduction to area’s main points of interest – including Aboriginal culture, mythology, bush foods and survival skills. A short visit into Arnhem Land is also included where you can learn about traditional hunting and gathering techniques.
Back at Jabiru, see Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr which tell various stories about law and creation. You can head to the lookout to marvel at the sweeping views of the floodplains and watch the sun set.
In the morning, take a scenic flight from Jabiru to discover the park’s many features including wooded savannah forests, huge waterfalls flowing over escarpments and green floodplains. Tour Nourlangie Rock where there is evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating back 40,000 years and learn about their way of life depicted in the rock art.
Head to Cooinda and the Warradjan Cultural Centre to find out more about Aboriginal culture and beliefs. The Yellow Water Billabong sunset cruise is a great way to see the local wetland wildlife such as Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese. Or take the kids on a fishing experience to try your chance at catching the famous Barramundi. For the more adventurous types, a night cruise guided only by the light of the night sky is also available. Spend the night in the camping ground or in the air-conditioned comfort of the lodge.
Before returning to Darwin, visit Gubara for a refreshing six-kilometre walk amongst sandstone cliffs and a shady monsoon forest. And for the bird enthusiasts, there are opportunities at Mamukala Wetlands and Bird Hide to watch undistributed bird life as you head back towards the capital.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta
You can take in the splendour of Australia’s most famous natural landmark and its surroundings in many ways – including walks around the base of the structure, aerial tours as well as camel back and motorbike rides.
Uluru is a four and half hour drive from Alice Springs and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre provides a great introduction to the activities on offer and information about the Anangu culture – the traditional custodians of Uluru. Here, you can learn about the history of the land and appreciate the local art work.
Depending on the fitness level of members in your family, you can choose from several walks at Uluru. The shortest walk, the Kuniya Walk is 45 minutes long and the longest, the Uluru Base Walk takes 3.5 hours. These walks are a great way to see rock art, waterholes, springs and various wildlife including birds and reptiles. The free-ranger guided Mala walk also takes you past the serene Kantju Gorge – a great sunset location in winter.
Climb aboard a camel for an authentic desert style experience as you meander along the red sand dunes and enjoy the diverse flora and fauna in the Central Australian Desert. For families with younger children (and the more adventurous), hop on a 4WD day tour of Mt. Conner and explore the natural habitat of kangaroos, wallabies, birds and reptiles. Be witness to the spectacle of the dramatic change in colours as the sun sets over Mt. Conner before heading back for dinner (included in the tour). If you have children over the age of 10, you may wish to choose the Sounds of Silence dinner experience instead.
Start the next morning early by watching the sunrise at one of the viewing platforms before driving 30 minutes to explore the series of rock domes known as Kata Tjuta. Embark on one of the walking tracks to absorb the spectacular, ever-changing landscape before heading back to Uluru.