The Northern Territory is a treasure trove of natural wonders. There are 52 national parks, reserves and nature conservation areas across the Territory designed to protect a wide variety of ecosystems and the plants and animals that live in these diverse habitats.

The natural areas of the NT are the perfect place to see rare species of plants and animals in their natural habitats. Birdwatchers can check off a lengthy list of species around the hundreds of walking trails, camping areas and swimming holes.

The rivers and billabongs of the tropical Top End teem with the most famous of the Territory’s wild animals: the saltwater crocodile. These fearsome predators can be seen in the wild on numerous croc-spotting cruises, or viewed up close and personal at many wildlife parks and venues around Darwin that are devoted to the study of these iconic reptiles.

The savannahs and woodlands of the Katherine and Tennant creek regions offer an unrivalled diversity of ecosystems and landscapes, from majestic escarpments to lush forests to deep and mysterious river gorges sculpted by nature over millions of years.

The deserts of the Red Centre appear stark and unforgiving at first; until a bit of closer study reveals an amazing and complex web of tenacious life creating one of the most unique ecosystems anywhere on the planet.

The Northern Territory is unmatched in all of Australia for the variety of habitats, wildlife and spectacular landscapes. To help plan a nature holiday to the Northern Territory, consult the following list of just some of the parks, reserves and nature attractions from the tropical Top End down to the heart of the Red Centre.

Darwin Region

Visitors to the capital city of Darwin can experience the flavour of the entire region’s natural diversity right within the metro area. The Casuarina Coastal Reserve on the city’s north end protects nearly 1,500 hectares of coastal habitat and eight kilometres of pristine beach. Other parks and nature reserves of note in and around the city include: Charles Darwin National Park, Holmes Jungle Nature Park and Knuckey Lagoons Conservation Reserve.

Across the wider Darwin region there are 19 other parks, reserves and conservation areas that preserve and showcase the natural diversity of the tropical Top End, including renowned Kakadu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.

Other sites of note in the Darwin region:

Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve — Located about 35 kilometres east of Darwin, this reserve protects a large area of Eucalypt woodland and saline wetlands important for many species of waterbirds, including Saurus cranes, Jabiru, Brolgas and large populations of Magpie Geese and Whistling Ducks.

Litchfield National Park — Located about 100 kilometres south of Darwin, the park is accessible year-round via sealed roads from Batchelor. The park features stunning landscapes of waterfalls and woodlands dominated by Wollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata) and Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) trees as well as a variety of other woodland flora. Animal life common to the park include Wallaroos, Wallabies, Sugar Gliders, Black and Red Flying Foxes, a colony of very rare Orange Horseshoe Bats, hundreds of native bird species and, of course, the Dingo.

Litchfield offers camping, fishing, swimming, bushwalking trails and four-wheel drive tracks during the dry season. The park also offers an Environmental Education Campground programme for young people.

Butterfly Gorge Nature Park — Located about 200 kilometres south of Darwin, this site is famous for the millions of butterflies that nest in crevices in the sheer rock faces of the gorge.

Katherine Region

The Katherine region is characterised as an ecological transition zone between the tropical north and the arid centre. The best-known park in the region is Nitmiluk National Park just outside of the town of Katherine, which contains the world-famous Katherine Gorge.

Other sites of note in the Katherine region:

Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park — Located 30 kilometres south of Katherine, the park protects 1,500 hectares of rare Karst limestone formations. This landform type is chracterised by complex cave networks and tower-like masses of Tindal limestone supporting massive boulders. The caves provide a habitat for a variety of rare wildlife, including two species of extremely rare cave-dwelling bats: the Ghost Bat (Parisia unguis) and the Orange Horseshoe Bat (Parisia gracilis). Birdwatchers have recorded over 170 species in the park, including the hooded parrot (Psephotus dissimilis), and the highly endangered Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae).

Giwining/Flora River Nature Park — Located 122 kilometres southwest of Katherine, the park preserves a 25 kilometre stretch of the Flora River with adjacent floodplain and woodland areas. The ecological characteristics of the area typify the transition zone between the wet tropics and the drier interior, with open savannah woodlands in the upland areas contrasting with the thicker riverine forests that line the riverbank.

Judbarra/Gregory National Park — Located about 200 kilometres southwest of Katherine and encompassing over 13,000 square kilometres of transition zone, this park features spectacular landscapes of ranges, gorges and river woodlands. Like many parks in the Northern Territory, Judbarra offers free Ranger Guided activities through the Parks Alive Programme to help visitors learn about the plants, animals and cultural traditions of the local area.

Caranbirini Conservation Reserve and Barranyi National Park — These two parks are located in the remote Gulf of Carpenteria area about 450 kilometres southeast of Katherine near Borroloola. Caranbirini is a small reserve preserving the region’s unique flora and fauna. Barranyi is an island in the Sir Edward Pellew group about 30 kilometres from the mouth of the McArthur River. Barranyi is accessible only by boat and is an important refuge for waterbirds and sea turtles.

Tennant Creek/Barkly Region

The ecology of the Tennant Creek/Barkly region completes the transition from the wet northern tropics to the arid Red Centre of central Australia. The environment is characterised by the Barkly tablelands, a huge expanse of scrub and grasslands that support some of the largest cattle stations in the world. The region is known for its rich legacy of historic sites.

Sites of interest in the Tennant Creek region:

Connells Lagoon Conservation Reserve — This reserve is located in the heart of the Barkly tablelands about 600 kilometres northeast of Tennant creek. The preserve was established to protect the interlocking flora and fauna of the native Mitchell Grassland ecology. A surprisingly rich diversity of 189 plant species, nine mammal, 19 reptile and 53 birds species are recorded within the reserve.

Iytwelepenty/Davenport Ranges National Park — The Davenport Ranges are the nubs of extremely ancient mountains and hold a serene and quiet beauty that make the area an attractive destination for travellers. The park encompasses 1,120 square kilometres of the heart of the Davenport Range country and is an ecologically important refuge for native fauna.

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve — Located about 220 kilometres south of Tennant Creek, Devils Marbles is a place of breathtaking beauty and so-named for the huge piles of granite boulders that dot the landscape. The formations are known as Karlu Karlu in all four of the local Aboriginal languages. The reserve covers 1,800 hectares and is easily accessible from the Stuart Highway.

Alice Springs Region

Though it looks like a big empty place on the map, the Alice Springs region at the heart of Australia’s Red Centre is packed full of nature attractions. There are 24 national parks, nature reserves, conservation areas and historical sites dotted across this vast area, from the iconic Uluru/Ayers Rock in Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park in the west to the Mac Clark Acacia Peuce Conservation Reserve in the east, where the rarest species of tree in Australia is protected and studied.

Sites of Interest in the Alice Springs region:

Alice Springs Desert Park — Located in Alice Springs, this park allows visitors to examine a wide array of the flora and fauna of the vast desert lands of central Australia and learn about the complex ecology of the region. The park features displays, presentations and recreated desert habitats showcasing rare and endangered animals. The park also offers a fascinating cinematic presentation outlining the four-and-a-half billion year geological evolution of the Red Centre.

West MacDonnell National Park — Located to the west of Alice Springs, the park comprises a vast section of the MacDonnell Ranges. The landscape is an amazing example of landform evolution over geological time, consisting of scenic escarpments, hidden gorges and waterholes harbouring relict populations of plants and animals that have survived from a time when central Australia was covered in tropical forests.

Finke Gorge National Park — Located about 138 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs, Finke Gorge covers an area of 46,000 hectares of Red Centre bushlands. The park preserves a diverse range of rare plant species unique to the central Australian deserts, including the Red Cabbage Palm for which the Palm Valley site within the park is named. This species of palm is found only here, and the park protects a population of nearly 3,000 of these extremely rare plants. The park is accessible year round, and popular for walking trails, camping and four-wheel tracks. The Parks Alive Programme offers free Ranger guided activities from May through September.