Top five road trips in the Northern Territory
From the Red Centre to white sandy beaches and cascading waterfalls, the Northern Territory has the best road trips this country has to offer.
1. Nature’s Way
(a loop from Darwin to Katherine and back)
Weave your way through some of Australia’s most stunning landscapes on this scenic 735km loop through the Top End. Starting in Darwin, this drive will take you south to Katherine via Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Park before taking in the picturesque Litchfield National Park on the return trip north.
Give yourself at least seven days to explore the towering gorges, stunning waterfalls and refreshing waterholes along the way. If you are a photographer, wildlife or birdwatching enthusiast you will love the flora and fauna showcased on this extensive road trip.
At the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, you can stretch your legs on one of the park’s 28 hiking tracks. Cruising the park’s waterways on the hunt for crocodiles and birdlife is a must-do and see some of the region’s ancient Aboriginal rock art.
You’ll feel really small if you get a chance to explore Nitmiluk’s staggering network of gorges, carved in the ancient sandstone by the powerful waters of the Katherine River. There’s plenty of spots to cool off as well, but put the Florence Falls at Litchfield National Park at the top of your list. If you have got some time in the Northern Territory, Nature’s Way is not to be missed.
2. 4WD Adventure
(Alice Springs to Uluru via Kings Canyon)
Alice Springs is surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery with one catch – a lot of it can only be fully experienced by 4WD. Hit the dirt roads and you’ll be rewarded with some of the Red Centre’s most spectacular attractions.
As you cross the McDonnell Ranges and travel along the Mereenie Loop Road dirt track you’ll see giant meteorite craters, camels, wedge-tailed eagles and even rusty old cars that weren’t built to withstand the harsh outback conditions.
About 150kms down the track you’ll reach Kings Canyon, a 270m deep ravine in the George Gill Range. The best views of the canyon are from the Rim Walk, a four-hour trek that will take you through the Beehive Domes and on to the Garden of Eden and its permanent water holes.
From Kings Canyon, drive 260kms along a sealed road to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Here, you can fill your days circumnavigating Uluru, exploring the wave-shaped caves at its base and hike through the Valley of the Winds rock formation at nearby Kata Tjuta. From Uluru, return to Alice Springs along the Lasseter Highway and Stuart Highway.
3. Waterfalls Way
(Darwin to Litchfield National Park)
Litchfield National Park is only a two-hour drive from Darwin, making it the perfect place for a day trip. On your way to the park, stop at Batchelor Butterfly Park and take in the vibrant species on show. As you travel further into Litchfield, marvel at the giant termite mounds located about 17km from the eastern boundary, swim beneath Florence Falls and hike along the Florence Creek Walk which leads to the Buley Rockhole.
If you’re a history buff, visit the Blyth Homestead which dates back to the early 1920s. This estate shows how tough pioneer life was in the Australian outback with a display about the trials and tragedies of the remote location. There’s so much to do in this beautiful national park that you’ll want to spend more than one day. If you stay overnight, it’s worth taking the Wangi Falls Walk through monsoon forests or, if you’re up for a bit of adventure, opt for a bird’s-eye view of the national park in a helicopter.
4. The Arnhem Highway
(Darwin to Kakadu)
Flourishing wildlife, countless wetlands and mango plantations will welcome you as you head east along the Arnhem Highway. The Arnhem Highway connects Darwin with the Kakadu National Park, branching off the Sturt Highway about 34km south-east of the Northern Territory capital.
While many travellers only stop for petrol as they drive to Kakadu, there’s plenty to see along the way including river cruises or birdwatching at one of the many wetlands. It wouldn’t be an Aussie road trip without coming across a big object. As you pass through the agricultural hub of Humpty Doo, known for its mango plantations, you’ll find a big boxing crocodile. The 13m high structure was inspired by the boxing kangaroo logo used in Australia’s successful 1983 bid for the America’s Cup and cost a staggering $137,000 to build in 1987.
If you want to take in some of the local wildlife on your way to Kakadu, stop at the Windows on the Wetlands. During the first half of the year the wetlands are flooded and full of life while in the dry season it’s baked dry.
5. Go Remote
(Darwin to Cobourg Peninsula)
This road trip, which will take you about 13 hours, is paradise for adventurers in search of a remote, rugged area fringed by magnificent white beaches. Your final destination is the Cobourg Peninsula in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. This stunning location is only accessible by 4WD through Arnhem Land.
The remoteness of the national park provides a perfect setting for photography, bushwalking, bird watching and fishing. While the beaches may be beautiful, it’s best to stay out of the water as there are saltwater crocodiles and box jellyfish in the area. If you’re lucky, you might even see an endangered dugong or a turtle.
For a history lesson, stop at the Black Point Cultural Centre to learn about the Aboriginal, Macassan and European people who’ve lived in the area. If you have a boat, take a trip across the bay and visit the ruins of a Victorian settlement.
As magnificent as it is, this trip does require a lot of preparation. You need a permit to enter the region, be fully self-sufficient and take enough food, water and fuel.