We spent over a year in the Northern Territory; not out of choice but out of obligation. We had to work in Darwin for nearly a year to replenish the bank account and we got stuck in Alice Springs for three months with Troopy troubles. In that time, we have learnt a lot about the culture of the Territory and have even grown fond of it. Despite the unbearable humidity of the Top End during the summer months, the relaxed and almost negligent attitude towards hospitality and business, and the worst television advertisements we have seen since we left Melbourne, the NT has its perks.
It was great to be surrounded by so much wildlife and aboriginal culture, and the locals are always up for a drink… or seven! In Darwin, the lightning shows during the Wet Season are incredible, and it was wonderful to feel cold during the winter months in Alice Springs. On top of all that, we made a bunch of great friends who we’ll miss until we get to see again.
There is a big contrast between the Top End and Centralia. The weather in Darwin and the Top End is hot and moist most of the time, while it is dry and dusty in Alice Springs. While Alice is a quiet town, placid and laid back, Darwin is a little more promiscuous and is a backpacker haven. Alice was also considerably cheaper than Darwin in terms of beer and meals when out on the town.
Trying to put together a list of only five things that are great about the Northern Territory was tough, but we did it and we think this list is pretty good.
As Melbournians, it was unfamiliar to us to have so much aboriginal culture around us. Whether it’s the colourful bags and wallets in the souvenir shops, the aboriginal art galleries that are probably more common than McDonald’s restaurants, or the groups that wander around the city almost aimlessly, waiting for the bottle shop to open, you can’t ignore the indigenous presence.
Our most enriching experiences were down near Alice Springs. We learnt a little about the local language and their creation stories, but what really stood out was having to ask an elder for permission to stay on the side of the road overnight when our radiator split.
Learning about the Anangu culture when we were at Uluru was also eye-opening, and it makes us sad that European settlers interfered with that magical lifestyle with their trampling cattle and introduction of foreign plants, animals and diseases, amongst other things.
The Top End has pockets of paradise everywhere. Hot springs, waterfalls, pools lined with lush vegetation – places that are easy to get lost in. We found a few of these pockets all over the Top End
Lorella Springs Wilderness Park near Borroloola is definitely one of our favourites. With beautiful waterfalls, cool pools and balmy springs, it was very difficult to pull ourselves away. The Douglas Hot Springs was another location with a hot spring that fed into a creek, and with a campground nearby, it’s the perfect place for a week-long getaway.
If you’re keen on rock formations, you can’t go past the NT Trifecta – Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. It will take approximately three days to explore all three, and if you can catch a sunrise or sunset, then you’re in for a treat.
Other rock formations to check out in the Northern Territory are Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve just south of Alice Springs, Chambers Pillar along the Old Ghan Railway Heritage Trail, and the various Lost Cities dotted around the state.
As we headed north along the western coast, the first warnings we received about crocodiles was in Derby. We didn’t believe it at first, but after seeing heaps of freshwater crocodiles in the Kimberley and even witnessed a suspicious splash at the Fitzroy River crossing, by the time we got to Darwin, we were well aware of the presence of these prehistoric predators.
Darwin uses the croc craze to promote tourism, with great attractions like Crocosaurus Cove and the Adelaide River Jumping Croc Cruises, where you can see dangerous saltwater crocodiles snap for a piece of meat within metres of the boat.
Don’t take crocodiles for granted. While some businesses use crocodiles to give tourists a unique experience, it’s certainly not all just for show. Crocodiles are frequently spotted surfing waves at the beach and crocodile attacks happen frequently, to pets and lifestock, as well as to tourists and even locals (who have no excuse to not know better).
The NT is market central, and we took advantage of ever market we could find!
In Darwin, there are so many dry season markets you’re spoilt for choice. Our favourites were Mindil Beach Night Market, Palmerston Market, and the Nightcliff and Rapid Creek Markets, both of which run through the wet season as well. These markets are the go to places for a great atmosphere, energetic performances, cool shopping and delicious food at fantastic prices.
Goodbye NT! It’s been fun; it’s been swell, but after more than 15 months, the swelling has gone down and it’s time to move forward.