Looking to break free of the mundane? Here’s your exclusive guide to an epic adventure right up the guts of Australia.
Australia is truly the land of adventure, but most of us limit ourselves to overcrowded highways and grid-locked suburban streets for the same crowded camps. Now's the time to ditch the mundane holiday routine and tackle a truly exciting journey, one that could seriously revolutionise the way you think of your own country by heading straight up the centre of Australia, through the guts of the Northern Territory.
ARRIVING IN ALICE
The true heart of the outback beats around the city of the desert – Alice Springs. One of the most iconic travelling destinations in the country, it’s got all the right ingredients to be absolutely epic! While you’re in town, the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park has plenty for the kids. When it’s time to explore, naturally a trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a must. But don’t forget to visit the majestic MacDonnell Ranges – the striking red desert rocks, picturesque gorges and lush watering holes will dead-set steal your heart. There's much to do and see here but activities can be a few hundred of kilometres apart, so allow plenty of time. Visit www.macrange.com.au for more
South of Tennant Creek you’ll find the Karlu Karlu, aka Devils Marbles, backdrop to arguably one of the best free camps in Oz. The majestic round boulders of ancient granite seem to emerge out of nowhere having been carefully eroded over millions of years. Weave through tracks allows you to get up close and personal with them too. If you’ve got the time, make sure you spend the night – the Devils Marbles look utterly spectacular at sunset!
DALY WATERS PUB
This is a truly historic outback pub. It's had a checkered history with cattle stampeding through town and the odd drunken brawl between ringers. A good chunk of it is literally written on the walls too, with a few decades worth of visitors leaving mementos behind!
It;'s an extremely popular and friendly spot to stop in and visit though rumours of a ghost named Sarah still haunt staff after dark. But I reckon she’s just trying to get her mittens on the famous Crocodile Slider. Yep, if you’ve ever wanted to taste a bit of croc, Daly Waters Pub is good place to start.
MATARANKA HOMESTEAD AND THERMAL POOLS
Just two hours up the road and you’ll find yourself in the quaint little town of Mataranka, one of the finest natural thermal pools in the country. Yep, a quick stroll down a rustic wooden boardwalk from camp leads to the edge of a crystal clear, spring fed swimming hole. If the shimmer of filtered light through palm tree canopy doesn’t paint the perfect picture, the water temperature sitting at a luxurious 34°C degrees should get the job done. Child-friendly with concrete edges, it has a shallower section down the bottom and a few man-made steps to make access a little easier too.
A few minutes north of Mataranka and you better prepare to have your heart stolen all over again. It’s a hidden oasis of natural magnificence within Elsey National Park that just begs to be adored by the weary traveller. It boasts the same inviting water temperatures as Mataranka Thermal Pools, but is a 100 per cent natural setting save a few wooden step. Mother Nature at her finest! Oh, and remember the foam noodle, you'll be floating downstream for a few minutes of pure bliss. But heed the latest safety advice before you go!
NITMILUK (KATHERINE GORGE)
Nitmiluk Gorge, previously known as Katherine Gorge, is nothing short of mind blowing. Either paddle upstream with a kayak tour or grab an early morning river cruise and learn the stories of the traditioal owners of the land. Like the traditional method they used to poison fish, which made catching them easier when times were tough – pretty smart, huh?
Naturally, this place is a real haven for wildlife too. Freshwater crocs can be spotted during the Dry season, and the area is closed for swimming in the Wet; so always heed the latest advice!
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Just a few clicks south of Darwin city you’ve just got to check out Litchfield National Park. An easy day trip but preferably an overnight escape, this is what the NT is all about. It’s the home of the iconic magnetic termite mound, and world-renowned for its towering waterfalls, cascades and serene swimming holes. Wangi Falls and Florence Falls are at the top of the list for a relaxing dip and if you’ve got a 4WD it's time to lock it in low-range and explore the weathered sandstone pillars of the Lost City.
Plan your fuel stops out on the road. There are many fuel stations available, but there's a lot of blacktop between them too. Consider your fuel range too, if you’re towing a caravan or battling a head wind. Also, EFTPOS is generally available, but carry enough cash to cover the bill in case it’s out of action.
Carry plenty of water on board while you’re travelling to keep the heat at bay especially if you’re travelling remote.
And last of all, respect the distance. Two dots on the map might not look far apart, but do the maths and work out the kilometres properly before you take off for the day. Oh, and take maps as back-up takes the sting out of the GPS technical glitch!
WHEN TO GO
The best time for the average Aussie to experience the NT is during the Dry, roughly between May and October depending on the year. The Top End enjoys warm sunny days and fairly crisp winter nights. Accessibility is at its best during these months, and there are typically waterholes full of the mighty barramundi left from the floods.
As beautiful as the Northern Territory is it's not without dangers.
Salt water crocodile encounters are a risk so keep an eye out and only swim at designated swimming signs.
Wear enclosed footwear, watch where you walk and checking your shoes before you put them on in the morning for spiders too.
The famous Kakadu NP is nothing short of gob-smacking and Gunlom Falls was the highlight for me. The dirt road in is rough, though. So expect a bumpy ride! You’re blessed with a massive flat campsite, wildlife galore and my personal favourite – a gorgeous swimming hole fed by utterly spectacular waterfall! Take the walk up to the top and you’re treated to arguably the best infinity pools in the country with mind-blowing views over the park.
Back at camp, you’re likely to hear haunting howls of wild dingoes in the distance, too. It’s Australia at its finest.