Guest Author - Michelle R. Mangio
The Northern Territory is perhaps most famous for being the heart of the Outback, and two of its icons - Alice Springs and Ayers Rock (Uluru) - are the most known among tourists. But the capital city, Darwin, stands as the gateway to the Tropical North with its lush yet rugged landscapes, even as Alice Springs is the gateway to the Outback.
The region is easily reached from other areas of Australia, with daily regional flights to Darwin, Alice Springs, Kathering, and Ayers Rock. The Ghan, part of Australia's fantastic continental rail service, runs from Adelaide (in South Australia) to Darwn, and provides a very scenic and relaxed way to visit the region. Coach buses, including guided tours from many operators, also service the region.
Darwin is a modern multi-cultural city, sitting picturesquely on a harbour. Year round warm weather and a very active outdoor lifestyle makes this city the perfect place to enjoy cruising, sailing, open-air dining, and craft markets. (Don't miss the craft markets; Darwin boasts some of the best in Australia.) History and movie buffs alike will love it, both for its role in World War II (and its bombing) and in the Baz Luhrman film, Australia.
Kakadu National Park, about 160 miles east of Darwin, is a region of great biodiversity and amazing landscapes, as well as Aboriginal rock art and paintings. This region has been home to the Aboriginal people for 40,000 and contains numerous cultural sites, ancient and modern. Of particular note are the Nourlangie Rock and Ubirr Rock Art Galleries. Also not to be missed: Yellow Waters Billabong and the thundering Jim Jim and Twin waterfalls.
Heading off the east of Darwin lies the Litchfield National Park, a picturesque region of untouched rainforest, spectacular waterfalls, and fascinating magnetic termite mounds.
Continuing to the south is Katherine, 192 miles from Darwin, sitting on the edge of one of the most pristine and spectacular wilderness regions in the territory. Not to be missed are the Katherine Gorge and Nitmiluk National Park, a single region of 13 gorges.
The thriving outback town of Alice Springs is a major tourist destination, though it has a population of only 25,000. Home to attractions such as Aboriginal art galleries and heritage museums, it also offers an insight into Outback life (both then and now) with the Royal Flying Doctor Service adn the School of the Air.
The surrounding MacDonnell Ranges offer easy hiking and day trips to the many gorges. To the west lies King Canyon, an impressive canyon of pastel colored rock that seems to go on forever. It doesn't, of course, but does boast a length of 1.25 miles, and reaches a height of 200 meters.
Uluru - also known as Ayers Rock - lies at the true center of Australia, and at the center of the Dreamtime, the rich mythology of the Aboriginal people. An amazing and impressive monolith, it was long believed to be the single largest rock in the world (it's not; Mount Augustus in western Australia has since taken that honor), though most of it lies beneath the surface. Regardless, though, it is a truly astounding sight, made all the more so by the fact that most of the region around it is flat, truly emphasizing its stature. Be certain to view Uluru at dawn and sunset, as the first and last rays of the sun turn it to molten gold and blazing copper.
Surrounding Uluru are several sacred sites and walking trails, as well as a nearby Aboriginal Cultural Center. Guided walks are offered from a variety of tour companies, including ones offered by the native Aboriginal people of the region. These offer insight into the places, but also the cultural and way of life of the people of the region.
Nearby are the Olgas (Kata Tjuta), amazing rock formations that also contain sacred sites to the Aboriginal people.
For those who wish to explore the region in-depth, the nearby Ayers Rock Resort offers a variety of accommodations, from camping and log cabins to a four-star hotel, all in one complex.
As you can see, the Northern Territory offers a lot for visitors, from the red Outback to the lush tropical North.