When people think of Australia's Northern Territory they tend to picture the magnificent monolith of Uluru or the ancient aboriginal rock art of Kakadu National Park. While these iconic Australian experiences are certainly not to be missed, the Northern Territory has so much more to offer.
Lush greens, deep reds
"The NT (Northern Territory) is one of those places that's special for a whole heap of reasons," says Flight Centre Australia expert Tyson Megaw. "The landscape is so diverse, with amazing green tropics up north, a constantly changing landscape the further south you travel and finally the red dirt outback. Aboriginal culture exists everywhere you go.
"But the serenity is what I think makes the NT most special. You can be so remote, yet never too far from some of Australia's most iconic natural wonders, and the bright stars in the night sky - with little to no light pollution - will amaze anyone!"
The NT is a place to appreciate the tranquillity of nature, and gaze in wonder at some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes on the planet. It's a place to find total peace, and to walk in the footsteps of ancient people.
Specifically, Tyson names Kings Canyon – the NT's answer to the Grand Canyon – as a highlight of any red centre itinerary. "The rim walk is not to be missed. Admire the sheer size of huge gorges and the tranquil pool of the 'Garden of Eden', the canyon's very own green oasis," he adds.
If you're journeying to or from Katherine in the NT's "Top End", Tyson recommends stopping off at stunning Mataranka hot springs. Here you can sooth aching muscles in the crystal-clear waters of the thermal pool, and experience the intense calm of floating under dappled light filtered by a palm forest canopy.
And while you're in the area, don't forget to experience the desolate beauty of Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge. "Rock art sites are located around the park for those wanting a cultural experience, but the best way of experiencing this majestic highlight is to go canoeing or doing a cruise through the Gorge," says Tyson.
"Also, as with all popular destinations in the NT, bushwalking is a fantastic way of exploring nature around this amazing spot."
The areas bordering the Explorers Way (the Stuart highway from North to South) are littered with interesting historical, cultural and geological stop offs. One of the best is Devils Marbles, a series of huge, precariously balanced granite boulders scattered across a wide, shallow valley, 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek.
"You can climb over and explore these incredible round red boulders while embracing the Aboriginal Dreaming of the Rainbow Serpent - the boulders are said to be the serpent's eggs," says Tyson.
City and country
Those are a few of many highlights in the NT's ever-changing and infinitely fascinating wilderness. But if you want to mix a wild adventure with a chilled-out city break, Tyson says the NT can offer that too.
"Darwin's closeness to Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks makes it a great place to base yourself, but the city itself is such a chilled, relaxing location. Nothing is more than a short walk away, and on Thursday and Sunday evenings during dry season the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets become a must do for any visitor."
Talking of seasons, it's worth remembering that Darwin and much of the NT enjoy a tropical climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons rather than summer and winter. The wet season occurs during Australian summer, from late November through to April. Check before you go that a particular highlight is open and accessible at the time you want to visit. The upside of the wet season is that nature, parched during the dry months, explodes into life, including many of the waterfalls the Top End region is famous for.
Finally, the same advice applies to the NT as much of the rest of Australia. You'll appreciate the country more if you bite off a manageable chunk, rather than trying to devour everything in one trip.
"Why not explore just the Red Centre, with the iconic Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon and West McDonnell Ranges all within a few hours' drive of each other, or explore the Top End with Kakadu, Litchfield, Arnhem Land, and Nitmiluk National Parks," says Tyson.
Alternatively, why not travel between the two on the legendary Ghan railway. "It's the most relaxed way to cross this vast land and watch the landscape change from luscious greens to earthy red tones," he add.
"But however you choose to explore the NT, and whatever attractions you choose to see, you won't miss out. There's so much to see and do in this amazing place."
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