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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Northern Territory

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Uluru (Ayers Rock)
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49 Tours and Activities
Uluru - or Ayers Rock - is Australia's proud symbol, and site of spiritual significance for the Anangu people. Like an iceberg, it's believed that only a third of the big red rock lies above ground. What we can see measures 3.6 km (2.5 miles) long, 348 meters (1,141 feet) tall, so Uluru is an awfully big rock. Ayers Rock is known for its fabulous colors at dawn and sunset, when the pitted rock surface turns from ocher brown to a rich burnished orange. Walking tracks lead around the base of the rock, ranging from easy 45-minute strolls to the circumnavigation which can take up to four hours and passes caves, paintings and sacred sites. The Anangu people ask visitors not to climb their sacred rock, and it is a dangerously steep and windy ascent. Instead, taking a tour led by the Anangu is a very rewarding experience, as is visiting their cultural center to learn the Dreamtime stories and cultural significance of the site.
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Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge National Park)
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Nitmiluk (also called Katherine Gorge) is the deep path cut through the sandstone by the Katherine River, and the Nitmiluk Katherine Gorge National Park is where you can go to lap up the luscious experience of the Gorge, whether that be swimming in it (sometimes with harmless freshwater crocodiles), canoeing in it, hiking around it, gazing it from an observation deck, flying over it on a helicopter...or any combination of the above.

The park is run by the traditional owners, the Jawoyn, in conjunction with the Australian government. It's a well-appointed place with lots of visitor facilities (and lots of visitors, especially in the dry season). You can choose your level of activity, from lounging around at your campsite or the visitor center café to strenuous canoeing trips or hikes. But make sure you take at least one long hike, perhaps to see the Aboriginal rock art, or at least to get sticky enough to make cooling off in the river a delight.

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Simpsons Gap
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Simpsons Gap is one of the most prominent areas in the West MacDonnell Ranges, home to one of the most well-known waterholes of the Alice Springs region.

There are a few bush walks nearby, including the short Ghost Gum Walk and longer Cassia Hill Walk, which takes one hour each way. Longer walks around Simpsons Gap include the Woodland Trail, which connects Simpsons Gap with Bond Gap on an 11-mile (17-km) return track, and sections one and two of the Larapinta Trail. Visitors also have the opportunity to picnic at Simpsons Gap, with gas barbecues available for free use, or opt for a bicycle ride along a sealed track. The rare black-footed rock wallaby is often seen at Simpsons Gap, best seen in the early morning or late afternoon. The wallaby is one of several creatures unique to Australia’s Red Centre.

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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
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The 36 domed red rocks known as the Olgas - or Kata Tjuta - dotting the desert are of huge cultural and spiritual significance to the Anangu people. Meaning 'many heads,' the huge rocks are separated by steep-sided gorges and valleys. Walking tracks lead around the area to lookouts, waterholes and picnic areas. The main trail is the Valley of the Winds, a 7.5 km (4.5 mile) loop, while the sunset lookout is an easy stroll from the car park for striking views of this surreal landscape. The tallest rock, Mt Olga, is much higher than Ayers Rock (Uluru), soaring 546 meters (1,790 feet).
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Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre
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The drone of a didgeridoo, the chanting of the indigenous Anangu people, and the clapping sticks that drive their chanting and dancing can be heard as you approach the Tjukurpa Tunnel. This is your welcome to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

Tjukurpa is the story and the spiritual law of the Anangu people, and the Tjukurpa Tunnel is where you are encouraged to begin building your understanding of their way of life before your visit to Uluru or Kata Tjuta. Much of Tjukurpa is considered sacred and cannot be discussed publicly, so this is a fantastic opportunity to take in those parts which can be shared. Artefacts and informational plaques are displayed throughout the tunnel, and documentary DVD’s are screened on a loop, providing fascinating insights.

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Darwin Waterfront Precint
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The Darwin Wharf Precinct, a scenic waterfront area full of options for dining and play, exists thanks to an initiative by the city of Darwin that turned 61 acres of industrial wasteland into a thriving center for the city.

The area includes the Stokes Hill Wharf, a historical site that was constructed in the early 1800s by Darwin’s first European settlers and bore much damage from the 1942 air raid upon the city during World War II. These days, the wharf is home to a much livelier atmosphere. Award-winning dining, entertainment, shopping and outdoor attractions have helped transform the wharf precinct into one of the most celebrated parts of Darwin. The wharf is connected to Darwin’s Central Business District by a dedicated walkway lined with parks, tropical landscaping and, of course, the waterfront itself.

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Ubirr
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It’s hard to grasp exactly what you’re looking at when you see the rock drawings at Ubirr. Here, etched before you on ancient rock that springs from the red dirt Earth, are drawings placed here by Aborigines nearly 20,000 years ago. How the drawings have managed to survive for so long is a fascinating geologic story, but it's one that pales in comparison to the stories told by the drawings themselves.

Located in what’s known as the East Alligator Region of Kakadu National Park, Ubirr is a UNESCO World Heritage site that borders on desert magic. In addition to collections of ancient rock art, the site offers sweeping, panoramic views of the surrounding flood plains and fields, and includes a sacred “Rainbow Serpent” painting in one of the three different galleries. According to local Aboriginal legend, the serpent was involved in the very creation of Earth surrounding the site, and is regarded as one of the world’s oldest figures of early creation.

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Cullen Bay
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Cullen Bay is about 10 minutes outside of Darwin. Its drawcard is a big sleek marina packed with yachts. In an uncertain tropical climate like Darwin's, this marina offers yachting traffic the security of a man-made environment with a locked waterway and sea walls that close. This means it's accessible in the low Spring tides and a registered cyclone haven - hence its popularity.

For the landlubber, Cullen Bay is an equally sleek oasis of shops, restaurants, bars and day spas. It's a popular place for visitors to stay, as its serviced apartments are so close to all these amenities - and water views. It's also close to the ferry terminal, so you can take off on trips to Mandorah and Tiwi islands.

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More Things to Do in Northern Territory

Defence of Darwin Experience

Defence of Darwin Experience

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Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

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The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has a fine collection, but what is its most popular attraction by far? That's right - a preserved saltwater crocodile called 'Sweetheart.'

Sweetheart, a 50 year-old male, was menacing boats on the Finnis River, so he was captured by rangers. They intended to give him to a croc farm for breeding. Sadly, during the capture, the drugged crocodile drowned and could not be resuscitated. His body was given to the museum. If you can drag yourself away from Sweetheart, there's a fine natural history collection and plenty of indigenous art. You'll also get a good grounding in the Territory's history, including Cyclone Tracy (there's a room that simulates the cyclone) and visits by Indonesian sailors back in the day. The museum looks beyond the mainland to focus on Southeast Asian and Pacific culture.

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George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

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Australia’s Top End is home to one-of-a-kind landscapes and ecosystems, and nowhere is it easier to witness this splendor than at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. The gardens were designed around a huge collection of flora native to the region, from the lush Arnhem Land to the Tiwi Islands, and visitors can feast their eyes on replicas of displays of various local habitats – monsoon forests, coastal fore-dunes, wetlands, mangroves and woodlands. More than 450 plant species can be found here, at one of the only botanical gardens in the world that successfully hosts natural displays of both marine and estuary plants.

Other plants of note include the stunning Desert Rose tree, bromeliads and orchids. There’s also a rainforest gully that contains many of the gardens’ palm and cycad species alongside ponds and a waterfall. In addition to showcasing the local ecosystems, the gardens also allow visitors to gain insight into the area’s Aboriginal culture.

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Mala Walk

Mala Walk

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Walk alongside the imposing form of Uluru to the Kantju Gorge and waterhole, on land held sacred by the Anangu indigenous people. The Anangu have walked this land for thousands of years, and once held religious ceremonies here. They believe that the shape and physical features on this section of the monolith represent the activities of the Mala (or rufous hare wallaby), which they see as one of their ancestral beings, during the time of the Tjukurpa (creation time).

The sheer cliffs of Uluru look amazingly different from every angle, and scroll through a vast array of colours as the sun moves across the desert sky. You will never tire of looking at this incredible figure, as it is always changing. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during heavy rain you will see quite a show, since small streams and waterfalls cover Uluru, transforming it into a completely different natural wonder.

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Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve

Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve

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One of the twelve stops along the overland telegraph route the Alice Spring Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is a great place for a picnic. The reserve has walking tracks, swimming holes, a cycle path and shady spots to rest. There are also free electric barbeques. Several colonies of rock wallabies share the reserve with plenty of other native wildlife and some pet camels.

Many of the buildings in the old Telegraph station have been restored and offer a look at how messages were sent across Australia in the days when the trip took weeks by horse. In the Post and Telegraph Room you can still post a letter and send a telegram (email) to a friend. In the cooler months (May - Oct) the wood-fired oven is lit and damper ('outback bread') and scones are served.

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Charles Darwin National Park

Charles Darwin National Park

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Protecting some of Darwin’s most cultural and historically significant wetlands, Charles Darwin National Park is the home of mangroves and wildlife visible by walking, cycling, or simply sitting at one of the park’s many overlooks. A complex system of bays, waterways, and small islands, 31 of the 50 or so species of mangrove of the Northern Territory can be found here. Historically the Larrakia people called this area home with evidence suggesting the Aboriginals had inhabited here for thousands of years. Now it’s a wonderful place to take in views of Darwin city, the harbor, and the surrounding landscape.

The park is also home to concrete bunkers and shelters from World War II, which tell the story of Australia’s soldiers and are open to visitors. There is an impressive display of war memorabilia here, where ammunition was once stored and military tests were run. The park’s many paths can be used for both walking and cycling to take it all in.

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Parliament House

Parliament House

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Australia’s newest parliament house was built in Darwin in 1994, and has been the seat of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly since then. It was designed in a postmodern style and built to suit the tropical climate of Darwin. The entrance features a Northern Territory coat of arms placed at the top of its ceremonial doors.

The building overlooks Darwin Harbor, sitting on the site of the former Post Office and Telegraph Station which were bombed during a raid in 1942. There is a state library, portrait gallery, and a massive Main Hall indoors, and the Speakers Green outdoor. The areas function both as parliamentary and government receptions and public exhibitions. Unique tributes to the symbols of the Northern Territory, such as a desert rose in the reception foyer, are present throughout.

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Darwin Aviation Museum

Darwin Aviation Museum

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Boasting dozens of aircrafts, engines and plane crash remnants, the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre is the best place in Darwin for anyone with their head in the clouds. The enormous museum prides itself on its coverage of the fateful bombing of Darwin in 1942 and many other air battles of World War II. Its North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber is especially notable, as it is one of the last in the world and only one of two on display outside of the United States. Other exhibits include an Auster biplane, a Japanese Zero fighter, shot from the sky in 1942, a Tiger Moth, the remains of a crash-landed RAAF Mirage jet, a Spitfire replica and even a few of the first attack helicopters

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Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park

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Kakadu National Park has a feeling and a beauty unlike anywhere else on earth. With its sandstone escarpments looming up from the plain, its secret waterholes and lily-strewn waterways, its teeming birdlife and ancient rock art, it's a place that will get a hold on something old in your soul.

It's Australia's largest national park, clocking in at a mindboggling 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres). In that vast space shelters a staggering multiplicity of fauna, including dingos, wallabies and saltwater crocodiles. There's plants and animals here that are found nowhere else in the world, and a number of endangered species.

Make sure to take a cruise along one of the numerous park rivers - cruising along the Alligator River will allow to discover amazing birds and see crocs up close safely. Yellow Water near Cooina is a good starting point for sunrise cruises, usually the best time of the day for wildlife viewing.

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Anzac Hill

Anzac Hill

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Anzac Hill is a lookout and war memorial with views over the entire township.

The Anzac Hill Monument has graced the top of Anzac Hill since 1934, when it was unveiled during Anzac Day events on the 25th April. The monument was designed by Reverend Harry Griffiths, who was president of the Returned Soldiers League at the time, as a commemoration of the lives of soldiers who gave their lives for Australia.

Anzac Hill offers some of the best views of Alice Springs. The hill is just off the Stuart Highway, to the north of the main township. It’s a popular spot for visitors wishing to watch the sun rise or set.

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Royal Flying Doctor Service Alice Springs Tourist Facility (RFDS Museum)

Royal Flying Doctor Service Alice Springs Tourist Facility (RFDS Museum)

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The Royal Flying Doctors Service is the largest air medical response team in the world. The doctors fly an average of 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) a day attending to sick people in the remote outback of Australia. They have 53 aircraft operating out of 21 bases with 964 staff and attend to around 750 patients a day.

Alice Springs houses the Central Operations of the service and at the visitors center you can learn all about the incredible history of the RFDS and how it has shaped life in the outback. There is an interactive museum where you can find out what it is like inside the planes, you can even fly one in the flight simulator. Experience life in the early days of the service and try your hand at the Traegar pedal-powered radio which was the primary means of communication for many years.

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Bicentennial Park

Bicentennial Park

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This expansive park runs the length of Darwin’s waterfront, looking down onto the Darwin Harbor and Lameroo Beach. It stretches south from the Northern Territory Parliament House down to the Doctor’s Gully area. It is a large outdoor space popular for holding local festivals, including May Day and the Darwin Festival, as well as many weddings. It is a great place to simply take a stroll and enjoy the scenery in Darwin, with paths often shaded by tall tropical trees.

The park is also home to several war memorials, including the Cenotaph War Memorial, the Civilian Memorial, and the The USS Peary Memorial (which sunk in the Darwin Harbor.) Memorial plaques commemorate the stories of those who have served their country, both Australians who lost their lives in the Bombing of Darwin and Aboriginal men and women who helped defend the Northern Territory coastline.

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Finke Gorge National Park

Finke Gorge National Park

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Covering 177 square miles (46,000 hectares) and including a very surprising palm population. Finke Gorge National Park is not to be missed. The park is noted for its Aboriginal cultural sites and its ancient palms, which sit in an impressive desert oasis known as Palm Valley. The only site where the Central Australian cabbage palm can be found growing wild, Palm Valley is known for its rare and unique plants. The area is reminiscent of the ancient rainforests that once covered Australia.

Also of note within the park are the stunning and strange sandstone formations found in the Amphitheatre, a natural formation well worth a visit. A number of walking tracks can be found in the area, from the easy 45-minute return track to Kalaranga Lookout to the Mpaara and Mpulungkinya walks, each covering about three miles (5 km) and take about 2 hours to complete.

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Warradjan Cultural Centre

Warradjan Cultural Centre

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