The Northern Territory is certainly more than just crocs and rocks! Globus family of brands’ Business Development Manager, Melinda, recently experienced our Cosmos ‘Top End & Central Australia Explorer’ tour. Melinda fell in love with a place that had always played second fiddle to the appeal of holidaying on Queensland’s idyllic beaches.
Whether you’re looking to enhance your understanding of our cultural heritage, immerse yourself in the abundance of wildlife or seek adventure through ample hiking trails, exhilarating waterholes, or canoeing treks – the NT really offers something for everyone.
Most Top End adventures begin in the capital city of Darwin which has plenty to offer.
The easily accessible town centre has a wide array of cuisine on offer, largely thanks to its geographic proximity to Asia. If the copious number of restaurants in the city centre aren’t your style, then head 10 minutes’ drive north to Cullen Bay Marina. This premium residential suburb houses luxurious watercraft that have to be seen to be believed! For travellers, the outdoor dining precinct is the perfect spot to watch the sun set in the evening.
Close to the marina, you’ll also find the Mindil Beach Markets for another relaxed dining option on Thursday and Saturday evenings. There are over 200 stalls ready to appease your tastebuds (as well as your retail therapy urges!)
Kakadu National Park
With excitement building, we headed just shy of 3 hours east to enter Kakadu National Park. Staying in the township of Jabiru at the Mercure Crocodile Hotel, we were pleased to have stocked up on some snacks in Darwin to take on the journey. Other than the local supermarket, there aren’t many other food options available.
Guluyambi Cultural Cruise
Approximately 45 minutes’ drive from Jabiru’s town centre, we had our first adrenaline hit spotting huge 4-metre-long saltwater crocodiles as we cruised along the East Alligator River on the iconic Guluyambi Cultural Cruise. Nigel, our Indigenous guide, explained that Guluyambi translates to ‘paper bark tree’ which are abundant in the area and highly useful for the Aboriginal people. We learnt about bush survival skills, ancient mythology and even disembarked onto Arnhem Land for a display of traditional hunting implements.
Yellow Waters Cruise
Cruising along the majestic Yellow Water Billabong, (known locally as ‘Ngurrungurrudjba’) you would be forgiven for wanting to relax and immerse yourself in the peaceful waters. The serene setting hosts an abundance of birdlife amongst the wetlands of the South Alligator River system. Keep a careful eye out though, as large salties lay in wait for their unsuspecting prey! A great time to visit is in the dry season when water levels are lower and wildlife more easily spotted (between May – September).
Nourlangie Rock & Warradjan Cultural Centre
An absolute cultural highlight was visiting the ancient rock art galleries of Nourlangie Rock, which tell the story of Namarrkon (‘Lightning Man’). Namarrkon is an important Indigenous figure who throws axes to signify thunderstorms or the monsoon is coming.
Stopping in at the Warradjan Cultural Centre is a must as it explains that most rock art is found under ledges to protect from the elements, hence why so much Indigenous artwork is still able to be viewed thousands of years after its creation. The centre also explains the variety of artwork, whether the skeletal frame of animals and people or the more famed dot work.
Edith Falls, Nitmiluk National Park
A real surprise gem was Edith Falls in Nitmiluk National Park. We did the Leilyn Trail, a moderate level of hiking ascending to a spectacular view of the top waterfall and swimming area. This took around 1.5 hours. Group members who opted not to do the hike were still treated to amazing scenery with the lower falls and a large waterhole enticing visitors for a refreshing swim. There was a bustling café here, but many travellers chose to have a picnic lunch in the tranquil setting.
Daly Waters Pub
There is nothing more iconic to represent the unique nature of the Northern Territory than a visit to Daly Waters Pub! It’s a welcome site for weary travellers after a long day of driving, situated almost 300 kilometres south of Katherine and 900 kilometres north of Alice Springs.
The quirky pub is filled with trinkets left by travellers from all over the globe that creates a fun atmosphere. The cold beer was just what we needed, and the food was delicious. Even a vegan foodie like me found plenty of great options along the remote journey!
Karlu Karlu, colloquially known as the Devils Marbles, are found about 100 kilomeres south of Tennant Creek. The sacred site consists of large granite boulders, precariously balanced on top of each other in unique formations. Dreamtime stories refer to them as the eggs from the Rainbow Serpent.
This was our first taste of the rock formations and excitement was building as we all had a giggle posing for photos. As we travelled further south, the landscape became a lot more arid, with more shrubs than trees and plenty of that famous red soil we associate with the Red Centre.
Throughout the NT, the unspoken notion of ensuring we use the Aboriginal names is highly prevalent. However, when it comes to Standley Chasm, for some reason the Indigenous name of Angkerle Atwatye (‘the Gap of Water’) is not commonly used.
Our quietly spoken, but highly informative, guide Kevin took us along a well-maintained trail. He provided a bush tucker demonstration along the way, stopping to show us how traditional custodians would use the flora and fauna for everyday use. We learnt about the Chasm and how it was formed from erosion over thousands of years, but by far the most intriguing fact was learning how to find water! Kevin pressed his ear to the trunk of a ghost gum tree and explained that he could hear the water gushing well below the earth’s surface. To our astonishment, the unmistakable gurgle of water was easily heard when we all tested his theory!
Appealing to all levels of fitness, Kings Canyon is simply spectacular!
The Base Creek Walk is approximately 2 kilometres of relatively flat terrain through the heart of the canyon, showcasing the plentiful species of wildflowers and dramatic sheer cliff faces.
For the more adventurous, although only 5 kilometres, the 500 steep rocky steps at the start of the rim walk set the scene for an energetic hike to encompass the entire canyon from above. The impressive vista overlooking the Watarrka National Park is reward enough, but continue on and you’ll discover the unexpected lush Garden of Eden in the centre.
Uluru and its surrounds
The real jewel in the NT Crown of course has to be Uluru.
Sprawling over 10 kilometres around the base, taller than the Eiffel Tower and allegedly extending over 5 kilometres underground, this monolith commands your attention at every turn.
The ever-changing colours of Uluru provide a unique backdrop to watch the sun rise, set or simply illuminate the crevices and incomparable landscape. For me personally, I think you can’t beat seeing the sun set over Uluru teamed with a glass of bubbles and warm jacket.
Closed for climbing in 2019 to protect the spiritual significance of the site, it’s hard to imagine actually wanting to climb Uluru these days, knowing how sacred this site is to the local people.
Another highlight in the area is Mutitjulu Waterhole, embodied in traditional culture with ancient rock art & formations detailing the deadly battle between the mythological Kuniya and Liru.
If you’re after an adventure in the NT, you can find more information, dates and prices for Cosmos’ Top End & Central Australia tour here.