Situated in the heart of the so-called Red Center, Uluru is one of the great natural wonders of the world, rising 1,141ft (348m) out of the desert. Uluru is an important spiritual place for the local Anangu people, who are the traditional owners of Uluru. Visitors are asked not to climb the rock as the path follows the same walked by initiated senior indigenous men, the Mala. An official climbing ban comes into effect in October 2019 out of respect to local custom. The climb is also incredibly dangerous and has resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people. For a much better appreciation of the famous monolith, take the 6.2mi (10km) Uluru Base Walk, or wake up early a catch a colorful sunrise from Dune Walk Lookout.
A 45-minute drive away, Kata Tjuta is a 36-dome rock formation that is as beautiful as Uluru but has fewer crowds. The Valley of the Winds walk winds through the heart of Kata Tjuta offers incredible views of the ancient landscape. There are many Dreamtime legends associated with Kata Tjuta, but the most shared story is about the great snake king, Wanambi, who is said to live on the summit of Kata Tjuta. Many of the traditional stories of the Anangu are not shared with outsiders as is customary.
Take a three-hour drive north of Uluru to Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park. Lace up your hiking boots and discover the natural beauty of the 328ft (100m) sandstone walls of the canyon on the 3.7mi (6km) Rim Walk. The Rim Walk starts with a difficult climb uphill before you reach the top of the canyon. Halfway along, stop to see (swimming isn’t allowed) the waterhole surrounded by rare plants in the “Garden of Eden”, and walk in the shade of ancient palms that dot the length of the trail.
Home to Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park belongs to the Jawoyn and
Covering more than 7,722mi2 (20,000km2) the World Heritage site of Kakadu National Park is considered one of the best national parks in the world. With incredible biodiversity, Kakadu is filled with wildlife and dramatic rugged landscapes. Search for crocodiles and birds in Corroboree Billabong, watch the sunset in Ubirr, and take a dip in nature’s infinity pool at Gunlom Falls.
The Bininj and Mungguy people have lived in Kakadu for more than 50,000 years, and the local rock art is some of the best in the country. Nourlangie is home to the famous Lightning Man Creation Ancestor where you’ll see lots of hand art, figures hunting, and more. Look for the Tasmanian tiger at Ubirr, where the smooth stone surfaces were perfect for painting. For even more waterfalls and giant termite mounds, visit Litchfield National Park, just south of Darwin.
The NT offers an abundance of hiking trails just waiting to be discovered, from classic walks at Uluru and Kings Canyon in the Red Center to Aboriginal art walks in Kakadu National Park. The 7.4mi (12km) Barrk Sandstone
On a humid day in Litchfield National Park, the Florence Creek Walk is a great way to cool off. Splash in the rock pools of Buley Rockhole before walking the 1.9mi (3.2km) trail to Florence Falls for a swim under the waterfall.
Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk (Katherine) National Park is 36mi (58km) long and starts at the visitor center and ends at Leliyn. The trail passes by ancient Aboriginal rock art, waterfalls, monsoon rainforest, and takes about four days. The trek can be completed with or without a guide, and you should expect to carry all your equipment and food, walking approximately 6–10mi (10–17km) a day.
The Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs is 138.5mi (223km) long, and winds through the West MacDonnell Ranges, and typically takes 12 days to complete. Due to the intense heat, the best time of year to walk the trail is between May and August. If you don’t have time to hike the trail in its entirety, many people choose to hike small sections in a day or over a weekend. The trail is challenging and remote, so you need to be prepared with the right equipment, water, and food.
Driving the Northern Territory from Alice Springs to Darwin via the Stuart Highway is one of the classic Northern Territory road trips, and will take you from the red dirt of the desert to the coral reefs in the Arafura Sea. There are plenty of places to stop along the 932mi (1,500km) route to break up the drive, including Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), Daly Waters Pub, and Katherine Gorge.
Take the long way to Uluru from Alice Springs and visit Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, and Finke Gorge National Park, where the Finke River, one of the oldest waterways in the world, flows. Peer into Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), a comet crater that’s more than 140 million years old.
Driving the Savannah Way, from Cairns to Broome, is one of Australia’s most epic road trip routes. Drive the 2,175mi (3,501km), to see the best the Australian Outback has to offer. If you’re driving a 4WD, you can explore remote parts of the Outback, see the sandstone spires in Cape Crawford before visiting Borroloola, one of Australia’s most remote towns, which is also home to excellent fishing. On the other side of Katherine, Flora River Nature Park is one of the best barramundi fishing destinations in the NT. Catch your dinner and roast it over a campfire under the stars.
From a pub meal in the Outback to Asian dishes in Darwin, a wide range of food is on offer around the Northern Territory. Mindil Beach Sunset Market in Darwin is a great place to sample food from around the world, such as crepes, kebabs, Indian dishes, and more. Daly Waters Pub first opened in 1930 and is one of the most famous stops along the Stuart Highway. While you’re there, try the Barramundi sandwich.
Check the menu carefully if you’re looking for something uniquely Australian, as many restaurants around the state also serve meat from crocodiles, camels, emus, and kangaroos. Kangaroo is very rich and lean,
Alice Springs is the cultural hub of the Red Center. Just outside of town, you’ll find the Alice Springs Telegraph Station that was established in 1871 to relay telegraph messages from Darwin to Adelaide. Downtown, you’ll find incredible Aboriginal art in many of the art galleries in Todd Mall and the Araluen Galleries. Before buying any art, ensure the dealer follows the Indigenous art code or buy directly from the artist at a community art center.
Located 62mi (100km) offshore from Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are home to the Tiwi people. Tours leave from Darwin by plane or ferry and include morning tea with the Tiwi women, a stop at a Tiwi burial site, and a traditional smoking ceremony. Smoking ceremonies are performed by the women of the community to bless their visitors.
Driving in the Northern Territory is both exciting and nerve-wracking. With long distances between petrol stations, it’s critical to carry jerry cans with fuel for remote road trips. Always stop and top off your fuel tank at every petrol station, as the next stop could be hundreds of miles away, and mobile reception is spotty in the Outback. Unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, stick to the highways.
During the wet season, flooding is a major concern and happens often. When it floods, saltwater crocodiles can travel hundreds of miles inland to freshwater lakes and rivers. Always be mindful of crocodile signs, and when in doubt, don’t swim in the water.
The Northern Territory is hot and humid. Always wear sunscreen and a hat to protect your skin from the strong Australian sun, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
A bad wildlife experience may not always be easy to spot. As with any aspect of responsible travel, do your research.
Australia's east coast has more to see under the sea and there are plenty of spots from Queensland to Tasmania. Scuba diver and World Nomads writer Allyson Jennings shares her picks on where to go to get wet.