8 Adventures You’ll Only Have in the Northern Territory
Embrace ancient traditions through new experiences in the Northern Territory, a tapestry of monumental landscapes, outback culture and Dreamtime lore.
Seek different in the Northern Territory
1. Watch Uluru come to life under a starlit sky
A must-see in the NT, the World Heritage-listed Uluru is one of the most recognisable natural sites in the world. Steeped in Indigenous significance, Uluru's imposing presence is enhanced by the internationally acclaimed Field of Light – an uplifting art installation that conjures up a magical experience for lovers of art, science and spirituality alike.
As night falls, the 550-million-year-old monolith transforms into a silhouette against the star-filled sky and a wave of 50,000 spindles of light, crowned with spheres of radiant violet, blue, ochre and white, emerge from the darkness — gently pulsing as they bend and sway like stems in the wind. Blanketing a vast open space — equivalent to seven football fields — this enchanting garden of lights is crisscrossed by a network of walkways: take a self-guided stroll and immerse yourself in the spellbinding landscape or elevate your experience with a Sounds of Silence dinner and pair sparkling wine with sparkling skies and a bush tucker-inspired menu.
LE recommendation: The Field of Lights experience is hosted in a beautifully remote location — pre-booking a guided tour is essential.
2. Tuck into flavours from nature’s supermarket
A small city bursting with big flavours, Darwin’s proximity to Asia and rich Indigenous culture creates a food culture unlike any other in Australia, where laksa for breakfast at Parap Village Market, barra burgers at lunch and green-ant sorbet after dinner are all in a day’s eating.
For millennia, the Gulumoerrgin (Larrakia) people in this region have followed a seven-season calendar that determines when to hunt and gather the best produce, and the city abounds with flavour-filled food prepared using original methods that honour their cultural connection. Check out Aboriginal Bush Traders, a not-for-profit gallery and café that transforms native ingredients into classic dishes, from Kakadu plum and finger lime granola to quandong lamingtons.
LE recommendation: Head to Darwin in May for the Taste of Kakadu, a cultural food festival which showcases modern bush-food creations like crocodile satay and magpie goose charcoaled in paperbark.
3. See Aboriginal artists in action in the Tiwi Islands
Voted one of ‘The Top 100 Thigs to Do in Australia Before You Die’ by Australian Traveller, a day trip to the ‘Island of Smiles’ will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Located 2.5 hours by ferry from Darwin, the islands’ striking coastal landscapes and kaleidoscopic sunsets are overshadowed by its thriving Aboriginal arts culture, with every corner of the island adorned with carvings and paintings, and prints and pieces by resident artists hanging in galleries across the world.
The locals’ traditional lifestyle and distinctive artistic methods are showcased across a collection of art centres, which work to promote, preserve and enrich Tiwi culture. Visit Tiwi Design — home to one of the most diverse collections of Indigenous art in the country — and watch resident artisans weave, sculpt and carve their stories into being, from screen prints and ceramics to bronze and glass sculptures. Share stories and morning tea with the elders, watch a smoking ceremony and totem dance, or pick up some tips from the artists and have a go yourself.
LE recommendation: Take the opportunity to buy direct from the artists for reasonable prices and look for limited-edition prints.
4. Seek a deeper connection on a multi-day hike
Avid adventurers can sign up for the epic Larapinta Trail (223km), voted as one of the Top 20 Trekking Experiences by National Geographic. This challenging route traces the rocky spine of the Western MacDonnell Ranges and leads experienced hikers into the heart of the outback. The trail is layered with snaking rivers and ample opportunity for summit sunrises; spend days scrambling over boulders and traipsing through gorges before setting up your swag under a blanket of stars. The ranges are split into 12 sections so hikers can pick and choose or go the full 16-day distance.
For a shorter trail, follow in the footsteps of the Jawoyn people along the Jatbula Trail (62km) and enjoy a five-day journey through riverine landscapes and monsoon forest, interspersed with stunning vistas across Katherine Gorge and the magnificent Seventeen Mile Valley as you trace the Arnhem Land escarpment. For a shorter stretch tackle Tabletop Track (39km) in Litchfield National Park, or venture from Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs along the Giles Track (22km).
LE recommendation: Avoid the scorching NT sun and hike from June to August.
5. Seek out the NT’s hidden hot springs
The iconic image of the NT is an endless red desert, so many people are surprised to hear that the state is dotted with hidden oases – incredible thermal pools hidden in pockets of native vegetation. Tucked within Elsey National Park’s tropical woodland, an hour south of Katherine, lies an unexpected sweet spot — Bitter Springs. A natural pick-me-up from a long road trip, this 500-metre, crystal-clear watercourse invites weary travellers to slip into the spring-fed, tranquil current and wash away their worries on a gentle float downstream – with the water temperature sitting at a pleasant 30 degrees Celsius year-round, this soothing experienced guarantees that the only blues you’ll feel are the surrounding azure waters – don’t forget to pack your pool noodle!
The state is scattered with more opportunities to drift away, including an easily accessible, sandy-bottomed thermal pool just a few minutes away at the small town of Mataranka, and the picturesque Berry Springs, a collection of pools fed by a warm spring, just 45 minutes from Darwin.
LE recommendation: Temperatures in the NT can reach 40 degrees Celsisus – plan your trip wisely and remember to stay hydrated.
6. Explore one of Australia’s last wild landscapes
One of Australia's last wild frontiers awaits: Arnhem Land in the NT's remote northwest is a place of clear waters, plunging waterfalls and thick monsoon forest that provides relief from rocky plateaus and dusty escarpments. Go behind Arnhem Land’s breathtaking façade on an intimate tour and let the local guides share their knowledge of this sacred land. Climb to the peak of Injalak Hill and explore the open-air art gallery of Kunwinjku rock art or discover how settlers failed to adapt to Arnhem’s unforgiving terrain on a stroll through the ruins of the Victoria Settlement. Birdwatchers can find serenity on the banks of lily-clad billabongs while tidal rivers teeming with fish make this an angler’s paradise. Sink your toes into East Woody beach – known for its white sands and turquoise waters – or carve out your own 4WD adventure with a bespoke itinerary that tackles unsealed roads in search of true isolation.
LE recommendation: Permits are required for Arnhem Land and the area is best explored with a guided tour to avoid disappointment.
7. Hop between Darwin’s pubs in celebrity style
Voted one of the top 10 bucket-list-ticking things to do in Darwin, the Heli Pub Crawl invites you to hop between the region's best bars onboard your own private chopper. Strap in for a day of adventure on this unique full-day tour that promises the best views of Darwin and surrounds paired with regular stops at the area’s iconic watering holes.
Capture unparalleled views across the sprawling tropical savannah’s murky billabongs, towering termite mounds and crocodile-concealing creeks in your quest to find the NT’s best beer.
Land in rock-star style and enjoy a warm greeting and a cold drink with the charismatic publicans and laid-back locals that make each stop unique. From beachside bars to riverfront taverns and remote island lodges, this all-encompassing adventure is the biggest way to see Australia’s smallest capital. Go solo, as a couple or round up your friends for a private departure.
LE recommendation: Fancy a flight without the beer? Soar above Katherine or Kakadu’s stunning landscapes on a once-in-a-lifetime scenic small-plane flight.
8. Celebrate weird and wonderful events
Home to a year-round carnival of events, the NT always has something to celebrate, from the culturally significant to the weird and wacky.
Head to Alice Springs in May for the annual Camel Cup: jam-packed with food trucks, outback games, reptile shows and its very own ‘Fashion on the Field’ competition, or check out the Beanie Festival in June, a community-based event dedicated entirely to the humble head-warmer. For some family fun, head to Darwin in September for the annual Beercan Regatta where you’re encouraged to build a boat out of anything that floats or spectate the race to see who sinks and who survives!
In April, the depths of the MacDonnell Ranges hosts a celebration of Aboriginal culture at Parrtjima – a free, 10-day festival of light that showcases ancient customs through ultra-modern technology. Or book tickets to Wide Open Space Festival, an eclectic three-day mash-up of arts, music and desert culture featuring interactive installations, artistic workshops and a whopping sound system pumping out tunes from chilled acoustics and reggae sessions to nocturnal thrash metal.
LE recommendation: Stay up to date on the NT’s endless calendar of events here URL> and secure tickets and accommodation in advance.