30/05/2024

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Australian Northern Territory: A Journey from Alice Springs to Darwin

18 min read
Australian Northern Territory: A Journey from Alice Springs to Darwin

It’s time to pack your bags and join me on the trip of a lifetime, following along as I journey through the Australian Northern Territory from Uluru to Kakadu!

In this article I’ll share tips from part of that trip, which is focused on getting from Uluru to Kakadu, exploring some of Australia’s most breathtaking destinations.

From the rugged landscapes of Alice Springs and Kings Canyon to the awe-inspiring beauty of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, my adventure was nothing short of incredible. But that’s not all – I also got to experience the tranquility of Renner Springs, the natural wonders of Elsey National Park, the cultural richness of Katherine and the tropical paradise of Darwin.

The whole “Big Walkabout” trip was 25 days long and started in Sydney. I booked this tour with Contiki.

Let me take you on a virtual tour of my unforgettable trip from Uluru to Kakadu!

Here is an overview:

ULTIMATE AUSTRALIA – ‘The Big Walkabout’

Experience the amazing blend of scenery and adventures that sets Australia apart. Begin your journey in Sydney and explore the East Coast, soaking up some sun on Bondi Beach, Byron Bay or Whitsundays before heading to Northern Territory for breathtaking landscapes & iconic destinations – including an unforgettable 3-night stay at Uluru.

One moment you’re sipping kaffir lime cocktails in a bustling cityscape; next thing you know, you’ll be stargazing under vast outback skies! You’ll feel like a genuine Aussie local in no time…

Find out more and book your trip at the Contiki website.

Alice Springs

It’s been just over two weeks since I arrived in Australia, and today marks the start of an exciting new adventure. Our group of nine has just landed in Alice Springs after a short flight from Cairns, ready to explore this remote town nestled deep in the Northern Territory.

It feels like we’re right in the middle of it all!

Sign of Alice Springs in Australia, the start of our journey through the Australian Northern Territory
Sign of Alice Springs in Australia.

Alice Springs offered us a unique experience with its half hour time difference, something not often found in other places. Our new tour group was introduced to Cassie and Dave before heading to our accommodation for the night. We quickly bonded and headed to the center of Alice Springs for lunch, followed by a visit to the Reptile Center where we met Rex, an expert guide who shared fascinating information about various reptiles.

During our trip we were able to see several species of lizards such as frilled necked lizards; bearded dragons like Bolton; northern blue tongue skinks named Snickers that licked our noses with their aptly colored tongues; legless lizards that can regenerate their tails several times and resemble snakes at first glance. In addition, the fangs of juvenile gaboon vipers and tiger snakes – small but deadly enough within 30 minutes – caught everyone’s attention, while watching northern red-faced turtles or green tree frogs brought joy.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Australia’s largest lizard, the perentie, along with Mertens’ water monitors and saltwater crocodiles! But the highlight was Barry: An Olive Python, known as the Rainbow Snake by the Aboriginal people for its beautiful colors when exposed to direct sunlight!

Olive python called Barry at the Alice Springs Reptile Center in Australia.
Olive python called Barry at the Alice Springs Reptile Center in Australia.

We made our way to the Anzac Hill War Memorial, a must-see that offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Alice Springs. It was an incredible experience to take in all the sights from every angle.

After returning to our hotel, we were treated to a mini pool party with live music and acoustic guitar. The perfect way to relax after such an eventful day!

View from Anzac Hill in Alice Springs, Australia.
View from Anzac Hill in Alice Springs, Australia.

The next morning we embarked on an Aboriginal Dreamtime and Bushtucker tour, led by our knowledgeable guide who shared fascinating insights into their history. We learned that these Aboriginal people have lived here for tens of thousands of years, migrating from Asia many centuries ago.

Interestingly, geneticists discovered some remarkable similarities between Aboriginal Australians and Sri Lankan/Indian Tamils through blood marker analysis about 20 years ago! Despite being separated for thousands of years, it’s amazing how parts of their languages are still understood by certain Tamil communities today.

Over time – driven purely by innate human curiosity – these nomadic tribes spread across Australia, hunting kangaroos or reptiles during the warmer months, while the women gathered food supplies along the way. They were truly capable individuals who adapted well to this tropical climate surrounded by familiar wildlife!

It’s fascinating to learn that there were originally over 300 different Aboriginal language groups, each with their own dialects. This made communication between the groups quite difficult and led to languages evolving in unique ways over time. Unfortunately, many of these languages have been lost to oral tradition.

Despite challenges such as finding food and water, I admire how resourceful the Aboriginal community was when it came to survival skills. They knew how to make bread from wattle seeds and season their meals with bush peppercorns – which we got to try! We also tasted some traditional treats like damper dessert bread and kangaroo tail soup (nothing goes to waste!) One brave member even tried adding witchetty grub for extra fat consumption!

Overall, hearing about this shared culture left me feeling inspired by their ingenuity despite the difficult circumstances they face on a daily basis.

We had a blast trying to throw traditional boomerangs at Skippy the foam kangaroo. Even though I didn’t quite hit him, we still had a good time! Afterwards, we checked out some real Aboriginal artwork for sale and I ended up buying a beautiful little piece depicting bush medicine in vibrant colors.

To cap off an amazing day of adventure and exploration, we headed to Simpson’s Gap – a stunning gap along the impressive 600km long West MacDonnell Ranges.

Kings Canyon, Kings Creek Station and Walpa Gorge

Kings Creek Station

After a long drive we arrived at Kings Creek Station. It’s amazing how they use their profits from being the largest camel exporters in Australia to run a campsite and support Aboriginal children with education. We refreshed ourselves with a dip in the pool before settling down for the night in traditional swags, which resemble sleeping bags.

While playing cards, an unexpected visitor appeared – one of the world’s deadliest snakes! Luckily a ranger was nearby and took care of it quickly, but not without leaving us a bit shaken as there were no tents to protect us during the night.

We also had some fun moments like meeting a local cockatoo and celebrating our friend’s 30th birthday Aussie style with pavlova dessert followed by games around the campfire under a clear starry sky free of light pollution.

Birthday party at Kings Creek Station at the Kings Canyon in Australia.
Birthday party at Kings Creek Station at the Kings Canyon in Australia.

Kings Canyon

We started the next day at 4:30 a.m. with a three hour hike along the rim of Kings Canyon. The initial climb was quite steep, and I must admit that it wasn’t my cup of tea for about twenty minutes. After that, however, it became more level, with occasional stairs or uneven rocks to negotiate. It was an enjoyable hike before the scorching sun made its presence felt; we got some breathtaking views of the canyon and even caught a stunning sunrise!

Walpa Gorge

After filling our bellies with a delicious breakfast, we hit the road again and left the canyon in our rearview mirror. The Australian outback is so vast that it’s home to seventy cattle stations – can you believe it? And get this: the biggest one alone is nine times larger than New York City!

We made pit stops along the way for some snaps of Mount Connor and Lake Amadeus but unfortunately, due to cloudy weather they weren’t as jaw-dropping as expected. We then took a lunch break at Yulara; an isolated town where only 1,000 people reside.

Our next stop was Walpa Gorge which had us feeling like we were exploring an ancient temple built by Mother Nature herself! We spent half an hour walking around taking in all its beauty before hitting back on the open road once more.

Walpa Gorge close to Alice Spring, Australia.
Walpa Gorge close to Alice Spring, Australia.

Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park

Kata Tjuta

We had a blast exploring Kata Tjua, also known as the Olgas (named for their highest peak – Mount Olga). These massive dome-shaped rock formations hold great significance to the Aboriginal people and are believed to be around 500 million years old. The name “Kata Tjuṯa” means “many heads” in the Pitjantjatjara language. There’s a wealth of folklore surrounding these rocks; one such tale tells of Wanambi, the mighty serpent king, who resides on top and only descends during the dry season. Interestingly, Kata Tjura is taller than Uluru itself! Both sites are located within Australia’s famous national park – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

As we approached our destination, Uluru – also known as Ayers Rock – came into view. Its unique flat top was unmistakable and filled us with excitement for the adventure ahead.

Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku

We arrived at our lodge, which would be our home for the next two nights, eager to experience what was to come that evening. Although optional, everyone had opted to attend the Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku (which translates to “see many beautiful lights”) because it sounded absolutely incredible! The Field of Light Uluru is a stunning display of thousands upon thousands of colorful spikes glowing like stars in the desert sky. Created by an internationally acclaimed artist, it was originally intended to be a limited time event, but due to its popularity has been extended indefinitely.

The colors were breathtakingly vivid; every hue imaginable stretched before us across more than seven football fields, creating an immersive dream garden of 50,000 individual points of light!

It’s hard not to be in awe when experiencing something so magical firsthand – although capturing this beauty perfectly on camera proved difficult, even if you can get some great shots, then I highly recommend visiting for yourself!

The field of light was a fantastic way to bring the day to a close.

Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku at Uluru National Park in Australia.
Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku at Uluru National Park in Australia.

Uluru

On my seventeenth day of the Big Walkabout, we were treated to an awe-inspiring sight – the stunning field of lights surrounding Uluru in the night sky. As if that wasn’t enough magic for one evening, a singer and guitarist was performing in our accommodation! Being known as someone who never stops singing along to the music on bus rides, I was asked by one of my tour friends to sing with him. We ended up having a few drinks and singing duets before calling it a night.

The next morning started early at 3:50 a.m. as we groggily boarded the bus in the dark to see the sunrise at Ayers Rock. Although there were too many clouds blocking much of the sunlight, making it less impressive than expected, it was still pretty cool!

Northern Territory - Australian Northern Territory: A Journey from Alice Springs to Darwin
Uluru in Australia’s Outback

Uluru is a towering wonder, standing at an impressive height of 348 meters. But did you know that it’s thought to be another two to six kilometers underground? Geologists have discovered that Uluru was once part of the Petermann Range – a mountain range with peaks even higher than the Himalayas! Unfortunately, due to lack of vegetation and erosion over time, only Uluru remains.

During our visit, we took a three hour walk around this magnificent rock formation. The sheer size left us in awe; however, there were some areas where photography was not allowed out of respect for their cultural significance.

We also made sure not to miss a visit to the fascinating Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center, where we learned about its rich history. In fact, a significant event took place in October 1985 when Ayers Rock (as the settlers called it) regained its original name of “Uluru”, meaning “Great Pebble”, after being returned by the local Aboriginal people who consider it one of their most sacred sites. Today, the government shares ownership of this natural treasure with traditional owners to preserve what makes this landmark so special!

Listening intently during the storytelling sessions held within these walls gave us a glimpse of how ancestral spirits created features like Ulura from scratch many moons ago, according to Aṉangu beliefs. It’s said that the spirits of the past still reside here today, making every step you take here feel truly magical!

Uluru with blue sky
Uluru with blue sky

We had an amazing morning exploring the fascinating wonders of Uluru and then decided to check out Yulara. We took a shuttle bus from our lodge and had a great time exploring the area. When we got back we thought about soaking up some sun, but it was just too hot! Instead, we took advantage of the cool waters of the pool for a refreshing swim.

Later that evening, before leaving this stunning place behind forever, we knew there was one more thing to do – watch Uluru at sunset. With champagne in hand and nibbles aplenty, my companions and I enjoyed each other’s company and the beauty of nature unfolding before us with each passing moment until dusk finally arrived.

As we made our way back to the lodge, we kept up with the good vibes and enjoyed some more entertainment from last night’s musician. The following day started at a leisurely 8:20 am which was much appreciated after previous early starts. To top it off, breakfast was cooked for us! As soon as we boarded the coach, a movie played and before long, thanks to those bumpy outback roads sending us into slumber mode – we arrived in Alice Springs again. We headed over to an eccentric local bar/restaurant where dinner awaited us.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Alice Springs boasts the highest homicide rate in Australia. However, we didn’t have much time to dwell on it as we had plans to leave almost immediately and set off for Renner Springs early the next morning!

From Alice Springs to Daly Waters

Wycliffe Well – UFO capital of Australia

As we drove on, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and settled in to watch today’s bus movie – Gone Girl. Our next stop was Wycliffe Well, a place known as Australia’s “UFO capital”. The fascination with UFOs here dates back to World War II, when soldiers stationed nearby began documenting strange objects they saw flying overhead at night. Over time, these records were discovered by others and blown out of proportion. We visited the Wycliffe Well Holiday Park, where they claim that sightings are so common that if you don’t see anything, it’s considered bad luck!

Wycliffe Well in Australia's Outback.
Wycliffe Well in Australia’s Outback.

Karlu Karlu

Our journey continued to Karlu Karlu or “round boulders” which has an interesting Aboriginal dreamtime story attached to it. Legend has it that Arrange (the Devil Man) passed through this area while making his hair string belt for men and dropped tufts of hair on the ground which later became large red boulders! Today people call this place Devil’s Marbles because one explorer described it as if Satan had emptied his sack of marbles all over the place.

Overall, our trip was amazing, filled with fascinating stories about places like Wycliffe Wells and Karlu Karlu – both unique destinations worth visiting!

Back on the road, we passed a bunch of termite mounds. These little guys look like tiny tombstones, but they are fascinating! Did you know that each mound can only have one queen? So when a new queen is born, she creates her own brand new mound. No wonder there are so many of them!

Daly Waters pub

We finally arrived at our accommodations in Renner Springs, a cozy roadside lodge that made us feel like we were miles away from civilization. After a good night’s sleep, Cassie (our trip leader) led us in an exciting trivia game during the bus ride, and my teammate and I came in second place!

Our next stop was the historic town of Daly Waters, where we visited the famous pub built in 1930. This iconic establishment has seen it all – murders, shootings, cattle stampedes through town… you name it!

Today, however, visitors can witness some amazing Australian history while enjoying outback hospitality. Since the 80s, it’s also become customary for women to leave their bras behind when visiting this legendary place, so of course we left something of ours behind – a Polaroid picture of our group! And let me tell you about those barramundi wraps – absolutely delicious! We enjoyed them under the scorching sun before continuing our journey, feeling satisfied and energized.

After getting back on the bus, we had a lot of fun with some “bus karaoke”. As our trip continued, we saw an area that had been intentionally set on fire. This controlled burning is actually beneficial to nature and helps prevent forest fires.

From Elsey National Park to Katherine and Kakadu National Park

Elsey National Park

In the early 1900s, a lovely couple made their home at Elsey Homestead and quickly struck up a friendship with the local Aboriginal community. The lady of the house later wrote an autobiographical story about their adventures entitled “We of the Never Never.”

During our travels, we also had the opportunity to take a dip in Mataranka’s thermal pool, once frequented by soldiers seeking relief from the fatigue of World War II. Despite the sweltering temperatures outside, it felt absolutely divine to float lazily in the soothing warm waters!

Elsey National Park in the Outback, Australia.
Elsey National Park in the Outback, Australia.

Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park

When we arrived in Katherine, our group stopped at a supermarket and some of us were thrilled to discover Love Actually on DVD. It was the perfect addition to our bus movie time and added some festive cheer!

Our day ended with a delicious Domino’s delivery by the pool. We couldn’t help but compare it to its British counterpart – they were pretty similar except for one thing: Australia is missing garlic and herb dip! To top off an already amazing meal, we indulged in Australian lamingtons, which are truly unique cakes that I wish we had back home.

The next morning brought excitement as we embarked on our Katharine Gorge River Cruise through Nitmiluk National Park, led by Jamie who shared fascinating stories about the history of the gorge along with sightings of crocodiles swimming nearby. During a break in the cruise, the Jawoyn people displayed their ancient art from 30,000 years ago, including paintings of extinct animals, while reclaiming the land as their own today. Interestingly, Aboriginal beliefs suggest that the Rainbow Serpent rests in the corners of this deep waterway – what an incredible experience!

We made a pit stop in Katherine’s quaint town center for some food before continuing on to Edith Falls. We got quite a workout swimming through three Olympic-sized pools to get there, but it was all worth it when we saw the stunning cascading waterfalls.

Kakadu National Park

We spent the evening in Kakadu National Park and some of our group decided to take a scenic flight over the park. I opted out and instead visited the uranium mine, which has been in operation since 1969 after being discovered from above. This hot commodity is sold internationally for $25 billion, which is great for Australia’s economy, but not so good for the environment.

Kakadu National Park boasts an impressive array of wildlife including crocodiles, insects, birds, mammals and reptiles.

After our friends returned from their flying adventure, we headed to Nourlangie Rock for an Aboriginal rock art walk. The paintings were created with a purpose – to tell stories or mark ceremonies – all while dating back 2,000 years! It was fascinating to learn about this culture, which claims to be one of the longest surviving cultures in the world. To preserve these precious works of art, they even coated them with silicon to protect them from rain damage!

As day 23 of The Big Walkabout Tour rolled around, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness knowing that my time with the amazing new friends I had made was coming to an end. However, we were in the midst of exploring Kakadu National Park and embarking on an Aboriginal Rock Art Walk – which offered some truly incredible views.

Our final activity of the day was a Yellow Water Billabong River Cruise, led by our knowledgeable guide Travis, who shared fascinating information about his Aboriginal ancestors and pointed out all sorts of wildlife inhabiting the river. We saw red-tailed black cockatoos (which looked like they came from another planet), pygmy geese swimming in buffalo grass, freshwater mangroves, lotus lilies, pandanus trees and bamboo used by the local Aboriginal people to make rafts!

In the Kakadu National Park, Australia.
In the Kakadu National Park, Australia.

We also spotted kingfishers soaring overhead, as well as black-necked storks and jacana birds wading in the shallow water. A snake-necked darter also caught our eye! And let’s not forget the magpie geese or the file snakes – two of which Travis even brought onto the boat! Oh yeah… did I mention that over 400 crocodiles live in these waters? What an adventure it has been so far!

Travis told us that the Aboriginals made dugout canoes, and I imagined they were similar to the ones I rode in Botswana. Our guide told us about Kakadu’s six seasons, each with a fascinating Aboriginal name:

  • Gudjewg – The monsoon season from December to March brings temperatures between 24°C and 34°C.
  • Banggerreng – April is the ‘knock ’em down’ storm season with temperatures ranging from 23°C – 34°
  • Yegge – May to mid-June is a cooler (but still humid) period with temperatures around 21°C – 33°C.
  • Wurrgeng – Mid-June to mid-August marks cold weather reaching 17° C-32° C.
  • Gurrung – Hot dry weather lasts from mid-August to mid-October with temperatures ranging from 23°C to 37°C.
  • Gunumeleng – The pre-monsoon storm season runs from mid-October to late December with temperatures ranging from 24°F to 37°F.

We also learned another fascinating Dreamtime story about Mother Nature, Kunapipi, who adorned her hair with seeds. When she shook her head, these seeds transformed into men, women and animals; she is believed by many to be responsible for the creation of everything, while walking rivers followed her wherever she went!

The day flew by and before we knew it it was time to say goodbye to Kakadu. Our next destination was Darwin, but not without a quick stop at some impressive cathedrals and magnetic termite mounds. These towering structures can reach up to seven meters high! The Aboriginal people were incredibly resourceful in their use of nature – they even used termites for both food and medicine.

Standing next to one of the largest termite mounds in the Australian Outback.
Standing next to one of the largest termite mounds in the Australian Outback.

Litchfield National Park

We made our way to Litchfield National Park, a stunning protected area that was established as a national park in 1986. Covering approximately 1,500 km² of land mass, this place is truly breathtaking! Our first stop was the magnificent Florence Falls, where we all took an invigorating swim to cool off from the scorching Northern Australian heat.

Some of us tried to climb up one of the rocks for some amazing photo opportunities, but it turned out to be harder than expected – most couldn’t make it up there! However, just looking at the falls from above provided a picturesque view that was simply unforgettable!

After swimming and cooling off under the misty spray of the waterfall, we sat down by its side and enjoyed delicious wraps while drying off quickly thanks to nature’s air conditioning system. We then continued our journey through Charles Darwin National Park.

ULTIMATE AUSTRALIA – ‘The Big Walkabout’

Experience the amazing blend of scenery and adventures that sets Australia apart. Begin your journey in Sydney and explore the East Coast, soaking up some sun on Bondi Beach, Byron Bay or Whitsundays before heading to Northern Territory for breathtaking landscapes & iconic destinations – including an unforgettable 3-night stay at Uluru.

One moment you’re sipping kaffir lime cocktails in a bustling cityscape; next thing you know, you’ll be stargazing under vast outback skies!
You’ll feel like a genuine Aussie local in no time…

Find out more and book your trip at the Contiki website.

Overall, my trip from Uluru to Kakadu was a memorable journey filled with breathtaking sights and unforgettable experiences. From the stunning landscapes to the rich cultural heritage, I was constantly amazed by the beauty and diversity of Australia’s Northern Territory.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, I highly recommend exploring this incredible region and discovering all it has to offer.

So pack your bags, hit the road and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

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