Northern Australia

Know this: A Jackaroo is not an animal or strange hopping posture, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle made by Holden.

The Northern Territory is a federal territory of Australia, which means that the Australian Federal government has more say over internal affairs than the full states. In 1998 a referendum was held proposing full statehood, but this failed, which was a surprise polls showed Territorians generally supported statehood.

The Northern Territory is home to Uluru (Ayers Rock), which is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Australia, perhaps second only to the Sydney Opera House.

Aboriginals make up about 25% of the Northern Territory’s population, which is high compared to the other states. In the 1960s, the natives fought for land rights and equal payment for work and made significant progress after years of abuse.


It may be best to start at the top of the Northern Territory and work down. Darwin is the territorial capital and most populated city in the Northern Territory. Darwin is tropical and is watches the weather closely, particularly tropical storms and cyclones. For example, Cyclone Tracy (1974) caused massive damage: 70% of the city was demolished.

What may prove a surprise to North Americans, is the fact Darwin was subject to 63 air attacks during World War II. On February 19 1942, 242 Japanese planes attacked Darwin in two waves; this was same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbour. A greater number of bombs were deployed over Darwin than Pearl Harbour.

The harbour that would later become Darwin’s was first sighted in 1839 by the HMS Beagle. Captain John Clements Wickham named the port after Charles Darwin, who had sailed with him on an earlier expedition.

Examples of Darwin’s museums are:

Australian Pearling Exhibition
– Displays the history of northern Australian pearling from early years to modern day pearling

East Point Military Museum
– Learn more about Darwin’s WWII history

Fannie Bay Gaol
– The 1882 Fannie Bay Gaol Museum houses the old gallows used for the last execution in the Northern Territory in 1952. The gaol became a Museum in 1982.

Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
– Covers the region’s art, natural sciences, history and culture

Australian Aviation Heritage Centre
– Displays of civil and military aircraft pertaining to the Northern Territory’s aviation history.

Outdoor Darwin

If you plan to swim in the ocean, please consult with the locals. Box jellyfish sting really effectively and can kill you. Crocodiles are another incentive to stay out of the water. Salties, as the saltwater crocs are known, can grow to 7 m (21 ft.) and will eat people. The freshies do not get as large and will only injure you if you are stupid and annoy them.

There are quite a few National Parks in and around Darwin:

  • Berry Springs Nature Park
  • Casuarina Coastal Reserve
  • Charles Darwin National Park
  • Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park
  • Elsey National Park
  • Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve
  • George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
  • Holmes Jungle Nature Park
  • Howard Springs Nature Park
  • Kakadu National Park
  • Keep River National Park
  • Leliyn (Edith Falls) National Park
  • Litchfield National Park
  • Manton Dam Recreation Area
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
  • Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park
  • Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park

If you can only see one park, exploring Kakadu is recommended due to its natural and cultural importance – and size – 20,000 sq. km (7,700 sq. mi.) Over one-third of the Top End’s (another name for Darwin and area) plant life inhabits the area.

The Stuart Highway, a.k.a. “Down the Track”

When cyclones hit Darwin, the residents head to safety “down the track.” It is also the road to Alice Springs, 1500 km (932 mi.) south.

Katherine is the only town of any real size before Alice Springs. The Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park) is 30 km (18.6 mi.) from town and is known for its beauty. Nearer to town is the is the Katherine Low Level Nature Park, which is good for family picnics.

Alice Springs

First thing to understand about Alice Springs is that it is not actually near Uluru (Ayers Rock). The Rock is 450 km (270 mi.) from Alice Springs and is about a 4-hour drive.

Before you leave Alice Springs for more adventures, check out these sights:

The Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
– Historic buildings showing the history of the overland telegraph line

Adelaide House – Originally an outback (1926) hospital and now an exhibition centre of local history

The Old Stuart Town Gaol
– This is the oldest (1909) building in Alice Springs and is near the Old Courthouse (1928) and has a photographic exhibition of the region’s pioneering women.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service
– An active medical service to the outback with exhibits

The School of the Air
– Broadcasts education to children around the Northern Territory; visitors can watch lessons broadcast live

The Museum of Central Australia
– Aboriginal relics, meteorites and natural history and meteorites

Alice Springs Desert Park
– Rare indigenous reptiles, mammals and desert plants

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

This park is the home of what many people know as Ayers Rock. The park is owned by the Anangu indigenous people and administered by Parks Australia. Climbing Uluru is a common activity, but here’s what the Anagu ask of you: “The Uluru climb is the traditional route taken by ancestral Mala men upon their arrival to Uluru. Anangu do not climb Uluru because of its great spiritual significance.”

Visit the Cultural Centre, which introduces you to the area’s aboriginal law, knowledge, religion, and philosophy. This will prepare you to better enjoy both the guided and self-guided walks around the park.

Before leaving Alice Springs, make sure to have accommodations booked. All accommodations are outside the park boundaries. It is not recommended to try to do 8 hours of driving in one day. Furthermore, if you don’t stay over, you will miss the magnificent sunset and/or sunrise over Uluru.

Don’t let the hype of Uluru make you miss Kata-Tjuta (a.k.a. The Olgas). They are about 30 km (18.6 mi.) to the west of Uluru.

Speaking of hype, the Northern Territory is full of wild stories. One example is Lasseter’s Lost Reef. In 1897 Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter became lost in central Australia. He, apparently, discovered a fabulously rich reef of gold and was unable to mark the location. He was rescued by an Afghan camelier holding a bagful of rich gold specimens. Three years later Lasseter made an expedition to rediscover the lost reef of gold. He and his partner claimed to be successful, but also claimed their bearings were off due to slow watches. Obsessed, Lasseter tried three more times to find the reef and early 1931, he died in the attempt. Bob Buck, the famous bushman, Bob Buck, recovered Lasseter’s diary, letters and personal effects. So … is the gold still out there? Or was Lasseter a loony?

Make sure to explore Australia’s Northern Territory and find out for yourself – but do it safely!