Northern Territory FlagAustralia’s Northern Territory is rich in history and is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Visitors to the Northern Territory can choose from five regions that make up this state, which is sparsely populated but filled with natural wonders. Each destination provides guests with an opportunity to partake in a number of adventures or some well-deserved relaxation. The outback is located in the Northern Territory, so any holiday here proves to be a uniquely Australian experience.

Northern Territory Facts

The capital city of the Northern Territory is Darwin, which is home more than half of the state’s 229,675 residents. The territory was first established in 1825, and it has a total area of 1.42 million km2. The state flower is Sturt’s desert rose, and the state animal is the red kangaroo.

The climate of the Northern Territory ranges from desert to tropical. The Red Centre is comprised of the most notable desert, but it is also home to the oldest river system on the planet. The area surrounding Darwin is tropical, and the Barkly Tablelands provides a middle ground of breezy savannah.

Travelling to the Northern Territory is extremely simple. Many visitors enter the state through Darwin, but Alice Springs is in a central location that is only a short flight from most of Australia’s major cities.

Northern Territory History

With evidence of settlements dating back 50,000 years, the Northern Territory is home to the oldest living culture in the world. The Yolngu culture originated in the Arnhem Land, and the Yolngu people still live a very traditional lifestyle. A wide range of indigenous cultures continues to exist in the Northern territory, and over 80 aboriginal languages are still in use. Nearly half of the Northern Territory is considered aboriginal land. The prominent aboriginal groups, other than the Yolngu of the Arnhem Land, are the Arrernet, Warlpiri and Pitjantatjara in the Red Centre.

The indigenous people of the Northern Territory were artists and hunters who had established thriving trade routes with the people of Indonesia. These Indonesian cultures included the Makassan trepangers, who were known as expert harvesters of sea cucumbers, also known as trepang. The aboriginal goods supplied to the Makassan eventually reached the markets of Southern China. These trade routes became very influential in the development of the native Australians, and interbreeding became very common. When the British first settled Australia in 1788, the Australian Aborigines numbered about 300,000, and they spoke nearly 250 languages.

Of the first four attempts by the British to establish settlements in the Northern Territory, only one was successful. The other three ended in starvation due to the harsh conditions and distance from civilisation. Darwin was founded in 1869 by Captain John Lort Stokes. He named the harbor and the settlement after Charles Darwin, a former shipmate of Stokes. Two years later, Alice Springs was founded in the southern portion of the state.

Eventually, the British formed several settlements in the Northern Territory and were able to set up telegraph lines by 1872. Rail service was added in 1889. Mining and cattle ranching became the mainstays of the economy, and over 513,000 head of cattle were being raised in 1911.

During World War II, the upper region of the Northern Territory was an important strategic location, and the state came under military rule. Darwin is the only location in Australia to have been a battle site during the war. Many WWII historians visit such sites in Darwin as the oil storage tunnels, the Aviation Heritage Centre, and the Darwin Military museum.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the oppressed indigenous people of the Northern Territory fought desperately for equal rights. In response, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1976. Two years later, the commonwealth government of the state was replaced by a responsible government, consisting of the Legislative Assembly and Chief Minister.

Northern Territory Geography

The Northern Territory is a land rich in geographic features. Over 20 national parks are located in the state, and each park has its own unique set of characteristics. Most of the cities and towns of the Northern Territory lie on a north/south course along one of the only paved highways leading out from Darwin. The highway is officially known as Stuart Highway, but locals refer to it as “the track.”

The northern part of the state is known as Top End. It includes Darwin and the land comprising the northern quarter of the state. Arnhem Land is a smaller region comprised of the area just to the east of Darwin. The Katherine Region lies to the south of Top End and spans the width of the Northern Territory. South of Katherine is the Barkly Tableland, and the southernmost region is known as the Red Centre, the Simpson Desert or Alice Springs.

Several amazing geographic areas are located in the Northern Territory. Some of the spectacular geographic features of the state are as follows:

  • Rivers – The oldest river system in the world, the Finke River, is located in the Northern Territory. Other river systems in the state include the Adelaide River, Alligator River, Daly River, McArthur River, Roper River and Victoria River.
  • Desert – The Simpson Desert is about the size of Europe. It is located near the centre of Australia and extends into the southern region of the Northern Territory. The desert is a spiritual area for the aboriginal people, and they have stories about its various features.
  • Mountains – The Harts Range, MacDonnell Range and Petermann Range are the major mountain ranges of the Northern Territory. The highest peak in the state is Mount Zeal. Its elevation is 1,531 meters and is located in the western part of the MacDonnell Range.
  • Rock Formations – The Northern Territory is home to the world’s largest exposed rock, the Uluru/Ayers Rock. Other famous rock formations are the Kata Tjuta and the Olgas, which are both 500 million years old and consist of a total of 36 separate domes.
  • Escarpments – The Northern Territory is known for its breathtaking escarpments that line the floodplains of Arnhem Land. Waterfalls run through many of the escarpments at Kakadu National Park, and all are accompanied by spectacular landscapes.
  • Islands – Three of the largest islands in Australia are located just off the northern coast of the state: Bathurst Island, Groote Island and Melville Island. Together, Bathurst Island and Melville Island form the Tiwi Islands, which are travelled for their unique cultural offerings.

Northern Territory Climate

The Northern Territory has two separate climate zones: the tropical north and dry, Central Australia. Both climates can produce harsh living conditions, and care must be taken when travelling outdoors. Visitors are often encouraged to make sure they have enough water and to hydrate often.

The tropical north consists of the regions of Top End, Arnhem Land and parts of Katherine. The average yearly temperature is 32° C, but humidity varies by season. The summer, which lasts from December to March, is considered to be the most agreeable and pleasant season, although it is a time of heavy rain and monsoons. However, the rains work to bring out the natural flora, enriching and bringing new life to the land. The dry season lasts from May to October. During this time, the days are warm and sunny, while nights are cool. Humidity finally begins to rise in November and December to 70 percent during the build-up to each new summer. Because weather is always warm, lightweight clothing is the standard throughout the year, but long-sleeved shirts, long trousers and heavy shoes are often required for excursions.

Central Australia includes parts of the Katherine region, the Barkly Tablelands and Alice Springs. Unlike the tropics to the north, Central Australia is semi-arid. In addition, instead of two seasonal changes, Central Australia experiences all four. From December to February, the summer days are hot and dry, but the winter nights from June to August can be very cold. Summer temperatures average from 20° C to 35° C, and winter temperatures average from 3° C to 20° C. In the spring and autumn, the days are generally warm, and it cools down at night. Because the temperature can change dramatically from day to night, warm clothing is highly recommended.

Northern Territory Attractions

The Northern Territory has attractions to suit the tastes of any traveller. Although most attractions are centred on nature, the cities also have much to offer. Following are some of the popular attractions for tourists to the Northern Territory:

  • Darwin – Darwin is the most popular destination for visitors to the Northern Territory. The weather is tropical, and the city is host to over 60 cultures. This makes for a variety of foods, markets and festivals that can be experienced in the city. The city is also rich in history, especially naval history and World War II history. Popular activities in the areas surrounding Darwin include sailing through the harbor, boating next to crocodiles on the Adelaide River and bushwhacking in Mary River National Park. To the south of Darwin is Litchfield National Park, which is a popular camping destination.
  • Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land – Kakadu National Park is an official World Heritage site. The park is located east of Darwin to the west end of Arnhem Land. It includes several waterfalls, rich wetlands and beautiful escarpments. It is also home to one of the largest collections of aboriginal rock art. Arnhem Land is known for its wild coast and excellent fishing. Marlin and Sailfish can both be found off the coast of this region. The area also includes rivers, rainforests, woodlands and escarpments.
  • Katherine – Katherine is an historic pioneering town of the Northern Territory. Just outside of town is Nitmiluk National Park, which is the location of Katherine Gorge. The hot springs along the Daly River and the Mataranka thermal pool are very popular attractions. The Jatbula Trail is a challenging hiking destination, and the Cutta Cutta Caves house amazing natural stalactite formations. Other attractions include Gregory National Park, the Victoria River and the Gulf of Carptentaria. Activities popular with visitors are canoeing, camping and four-wheel driving.
  • Tennant Creek – Tennant Creek is the primary town of the Barkly Tablelands. At the Battery Hill Mining Centre, visitors can explore the underground shafts and pan for gold in the streams. Just to the south is the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, which consists of huge, granite boulders balanced atop sandstone formations.
  • Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is another World Heritage site of the Northern Territory. It is located in the southwest corner of the state and is named for the Uluru/Ayers Rock. Uluru/Ayers Rock is the largest sandstone monolith in the world. It is a sacred site of the Anangu Aborigines.
  • Alice Springs – Alice Springs is the primary city of the southernmost region of the Northern Territory. It is located just 200 km from the geographic centre of Australia. Located nearby are the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert. Also located near to Alice Springs is the MacDonnell Mountain Range. Popular mountain attractions include Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and Simpsons Gap.