Welcome to the Northern Territory

 

How can something so empty be so spellbinding? This is the question you’ll be asking yourself as you wonder through the Northern Territory. It may take a few days for mind expanding nothingness to mesmerise you, but there’s no question that its

gorgeous red earth, bizarre rock formations and lush rainforests will soon have you gaping like the canyons. There are over sixty national parks and reserves in NT, and the area is home to some of the most well known and spectacular sights in the country including Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kakadu National Park and Katherine Gorge.

 

Most of you probably know the Oasis song, What’s the story, morning glory? Popular theory says that the song is about a man waking up with a huge stiffy, but perhaps the Manchester rockers aren’t as crass as we give them credit for. Safari Pete thinks they’re actually talking about a rare and unexplained weather phenomenon that drifts over the Gulf of Carpentaria, a shallow body of water flanking the eastern side of the NT. The Morning Glory randomly appears in the sky at dawn. It is a gigantic tube of moving cloud 1-2km high and 1,000km wide. This tumbling tidal wave in the sky generates violent currents that spiral upwards, shooting off anything that drifts over the top of it at speeds in excess of 130km/hr.

 

Back on the ground, the NT has a plethora of sacred Aboriginal sites and is the best place in Australia to learn about Aboriginal culture. East of Darwin you’ll find the towering escarpments, wild coastline and lush wetlands of Arnhem Land, Australia’s largest Aboriginal reservation and home to many of Australia’s indigenous population. A good way to see these reserves and sacred sites is through organised tours. Independent travellers will require a permit to gain access.

 

NT General Info

 

Size: 1,347,525km2

 

Telephone Area Code: 08

 

Time Zone: GMT plus 9.5 hours. The Northern Territory operates on Central Standard Time (CST) and does not have daylight savings.

 

Population: 230,200

 

Climate: The climate in the ‘Top End’ consists of two seasons – wet and dry. The dry season is from May to November (when most travellers visit) while the wet season runs from December to April. Whatever season you arrive in, the temperature will most likely be between 30°C and 33°C.

 

Tourism NT:

Tel: 13 67 68

Web: en.travelnt.com or www.tourismnt.com

 

 

Safari Pete’s NT ‘Don't miss’ list

 

Snap into action and visit a croc by taking a cruise along the Mary River

(a sixty-minute drive from Darwin) which has the highest concentration of

salt-water crocs in the Southern Hemisphere. en.travelnt.com/explore/darwin/mary-river.aspx

 

You’re on holiday, sure, but getting up early and watching the sunrise over Uluru and all of the changing shades of light on this 600-million-year-old monolith will be one of those ‘shiver shake’ moments. en.travelnt.com or www.tourismnt.com

 

You can’t come to the NT and not learn about the Aboriginal heritage for which the area is so famous. See ancient rock art at sites dating back 20,000 years; Kakadu has over 5,000 Aboriginal art sites.

 

One of the most spectacular gorges in the country, Katherine Gorge winds for 12km with walls over seventy metres high. Cruise, walk or rock climb this ancient gorge that was carved out some twenty-three million years ago.

 

Darwin

 

If I lived in Darwin I’d probably be a bit nervous. You won’t find crocodiles taking a breezy harbour walk or packs of dingoes snarling on street corners, but you could say that this ever expanding, cosmopolitan city is the unluckiest in Australia. Darwin has been destroyed, utterly ravaged in fact, no less than four times. It’s enough to make evolutionist Charles Darwin, after whom the city was named, turn in his grave. Had he been buried here, then there’s a good chance his body would’ve been blown into the Timor Sea by now. Cyclones spun their way into town in 1897 and 1937. A few years later the Japanese attacked during WW2. After rebuilding yet again, in 1974, a cyclone named Tracey puckered up and gave

residents a Christmas Day present to forget, leaving only 400 out of 11,200 houses untouched. Her wind speeds were so fast that they were off the scale of measuring

instruments, although it’s estimated they whipped up to 280km/hr.

 

Darwin has picked up the pieces again and developers have “cyclone-proofed” their buildings by reinforcing them with steel and pinning the rooves down. During the wet season Darwin is the place to be for a spectacular storm. Grab a cold one, sit in a beer garden and watch the thunder clouds roll in. While you’re sitting around you may as well grab a rod and fish for barramundi in the harbour. You may want to swim as well, but be aware that for two-thirds of the year jellyfish populate the waters around the beach.

 

This laidback tropical city is the ideal base for many Outback adventures. From here you can access the cascading waterfalls in Litchfield National Park, the sacred Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve and the World Heritage–listed Kakadu National Park.

 

Which way Cobber ?

 

The main mode of transport around Darwin is bus. Operated by the NT government, regular bus services run from Harry Chan Ave interchange which is near the city mall. There are other major interchanges at Casuarina Sq and Palmerston. There are services seven days a week. Log onto www.darwin.nt.gov.au for timetables, or else get yourself a pushbike and cycle on city’s extensive network of bicycle tracks.

Where to crash in Darwin

 

Melaleuca on Mitchell – 52 Mitchell St; Ph 1300 723 437

This hostel is centrally located, adjacent to pubs, clubs and restaurants. It has a swimming pool, a spa and bar, and offers free city tours.  www.momdarwin.com

 

Value Inn – 50 Mitchell St .Ph 08 8981 4733

This property is in the heart of Darwin’s tourist precinct. Pubs, clubs, leisure deck, self catering kitchen, 3 pools, waterfall spa, outdoor pool table, licensed bar and a 4 metre big screen . All rooms have a queen size bed, a single bed, ensuite and air

conditioning. www.valueinn.com.au

 

Darwin YHA Backpacker Resort – 97 Mitchell St; Ph 08 8981 5385

Centrally located in the tourist hub of Darwin, these guys have a pool, a restaurant and a bar that throws music nights. All dorms are air conditioned and there is parking available. You can also hire out bikes. Non-YHA members pay a little bit extra per night. www.yha.com.au

 

Dingo Moon Lodge - 88 Mitchell St Ph:  08 8941 3444    This smaller sized hostel offers a scrumptious free breaky and free tea, coffee and hot

chocolate!  With sunlounges, poolside seating and linen included. www.dingomoonlodge.com

 

Frogshollow Lodge & Backpackers – 27 Lindsay St; Ph 08 8941 2600 - 1800 06 86 86

Located opposite the historic Frogshollow Park, this place has air-conditioned and fan-cooled rooms, a free light breakfast, free coffee and tea all day, a BBQ. www.dingomoonlodge.com

 

Youth Shack Hostel – 69 Mitchell St; Ph 08 8923 9790

Located in the centre of town, this hostel has a pool, sundeck, pool table and outside kitchen area and fantastic new pool bar. All rooms are air conditioned. www.youthshack.com.au

 

 

Chilli's Backpackers – 69a Mitchell St; Ph 08 8980 5800

This hostel offers refunds on the Darwin Airport Shuttle arrival (when staying for

3 or more nights), has a sundeck, a spa, a balcony and air-conditioned rooms.

www.chillis.com.au

 

 

Top Tucker

 

In recent years a variety of well priced eateries have sprung up around the city, particularly in the Mitchell St area.  Backpackers can often receive discount prices for pub meals; Globe Trotters Lodge (97 Mitchell St) and the Top End Hotel (corner Mitchell and Daly sts) are popular. For a good old pub meal head to Kitty O’Shea’s (39 Mitchell St). The Gourmet Deli (Smith St) has a great selection of cheap sandwiches.

For Chinese head to Dragon Court (Sky City, Gilruth Ave); for Indian rock along to Garam Masala (21 Knuckey St); Italian lovers get your pizza fix at Cafe Uno (Shop 4, 69 Mitchell St). If you’re in the mood for Japanese food, shuffle down to Go Sushi Train (Shop 5, 28 Mitchell St). Hanuman (93 Mitchell St) is one of Darwin’s most popular eateries and serves a mixture of Thai, Nonya and Indian food. Also with a variety of spices and infusions is Nirvana (6 Dashwood Cr – enter via Smith St) which serves up Malaysian, Thai and Indian treats.

 

For a taste of the Outback head down to Outback Jack’s Bar and Grill (Shop 1, 28 Mitchell St) for kangaroo and crocodile, as well as seafood. The Moorish Cafe (37 Knuckey St) serves up Mediterranean, North African and Spanish food – if you’re in a group of six or more it may be worth checking out the $33 banquet. Arguably Darwin’s most popular cafe is Roma Bar (9-11 Cavenagh St) which has a strong local following and serves up modern Australian fare. The Mindil Beach Market sets up food stalls from May to October on Thursday and Sunday nights, and the Parap Market does likewise on Saturday mornings at the Parap shopping village. Yum yum!

 

Watering Holes

 

Mitchell St is the place to go for pubs, bars and live music in Darwin Kitty O’Sheas (39 Mitchell St) is a good Irish pub and the Globe Trotters Bar (97 Mitchell St) is popular with backpackers and has a chilled-out lounge and a party section. Live bands and DJs play at The Vic Hotel (27 The Mall) seven days a week. The Top End Hotel (corner Mitchell and Daly sts) has a tropical beer garden and a sports bar.

 

The Tap on Mitchell (58 Mitchell St)

has a large beer garden and the Wisdom Bar and Cafe (48 Mitchell St) is good for people watching. Get lost inside the indoor rainforest or try crab racing (in the dry season) at the Jabiru Bar (the Esplanade).

 

Deck Bar (22 Mitchell St)

 is one of Darwin’s most popular nightclubs. Throb (64 Smith St) is a gay and lesbian friendly venue with theme nights. Head to Discovery (89 Mitchell St) for some serious doof-doof music. The Sandbar (Gilruth Ave) at SkyCity Casino is the place if you want to glam it up for the night. They do primo cocktails and there’s a good view over Little Mindil. Once Darwin’s original cinema building,

 

Monsoons (46 Mitchell St)

is now a refurbished bar and restaurant. It’s home to Darwin’s longest bar and has a large outdoor area. There’s live entertainment seven days a week. For a full list of bars, pubs and clubs, head to www.yourbars.com.au.

 

The Your Weekend lift-out in Friday’s edition of the Northern Territory News lists all live music and entertainment in Darwin.

 

Pete’s Primo Darwin Pastimes

 

Ever wanted to kiss a crocodile? At Crocosaurus Cove (58 Mitchell St) you can go mouth to mouth with these deadly reptiles when you plunge into the Cage of Death. While a sheet  of sturdy acrylic glass will prevent you from having a proper pash and smelling its awful breath, you’ll be totally safe and will leave the croc enclosure with all limbs intact. The cage is lowered from an overhead monorail into any one of three separate enclosures. You can also swim with crocs, fish for crocs and meet Harry the Psychic Croc who correctly guessed the winner of the World Cup, the Australian Election and the AFL grand final. www.croccove.com; 08 8981 7522.

 

Incoming! During WW2 old oil storage tunnels were etched into the cliff face in the Wharf Precinct area of Darwin. You can visit these as well as the Indo Pacific Marine (www.indopacificmarine.com.au) and go on a diving trip. The wharf is a top fishing spot where you can catch barramundi, snapper and tuna.

 

With over a thousand crocodiles Crocodylus Park (815 McMillans Rd) also has

monkeys, turtles, iguanas, birdlife and a variety of other animals on display. There’s also a crocodile museum. www.crocodyluspark.com.au; 08 8922 4500.

 

Although Fannie Bay may sound like a meat market, what you’ll find there is stimulation for the eyes in a different way. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (Conacher St, Fannie Bay) features exhibitions and events based on the region’s art, history and culture. The museum also includes other venues in Darwin including the Fannie Bay Gaol, Lyons Cottage and the Australian Pearling Exhibition. www.magnt.nt.gov.au; 08 8999 8264.

 

The sights, sounds and aromas of multicultural Darwin come alive as the Mindil Beach Sunset Market hits the Mindil Beach waterfront. Held every Thursday (5-10pm) and Sunday (4-9pm) from May to October, watch the sun set as you wander between arts and crafts stalls. There are over 1,200 choices for dinner ranging from five continents. There are also live bands, street performers, cultural dance, acrobatics and fire shows www.mindil.com.au; 08 8981 3454.

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Territory Regions

 

Kakadu

 

Aborigines have been living here for 40,000 years making it the world’s longest continuous surviving culture. World Heritage–listed Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park filled with tumbling waterfalls, rugged gorges, wetlands and massive crocs. It also contains one of the highest concentrations areas of ancient Aboriginal rock art sites. Located a three-hour drive from Darwin, unless you have your own 4WD the best way to explore Kakadu is by taking a guided tour. You can camp, trek, cruise, 4WD, fish, spot wildlife or take a scenic flight. www.travelnt.com

 

Litchfield National Park

 

If tropical waterfalls cascading from sandstone plateaus sound like your thing, then you’ll love the swimming holes around the Tabletop Range. Inside the park you’ll also find monsoon forests and magnetic termite mounds, which are like nature’s gravestones. Some are four metres high which makes them the tallest non-human constructions on earth. Inside there are arches, tunnels, chimneys, insulation and nursery chambers. The little peckers build their palaces so they’re aligned from north to south in order to minimise contact with the sun. Also in the park are 4WD tracks and various bushwalks. Litchfield NP is 130km southwest of Darwin. www.litchfieldnationalpark.com

 

En route you can visit the Territory Wildlife Park (Cox Peninsula Rd, Berry Springs). Located 60km from Darwin, it’s nothing like a traditional zoo and is set upon 400 hectares which contain 6km of walking tracks as well as treetop aviaries and a natural lagoon. www.territorywildlifepark.com.au; 08 8988 7200.

For 1 day tours  of  Litchfield  National Park contact www.ethicaladventures.com  or call Rob on 04 8844 2269

 

Mary River

 

Renowned for its wetlands, this area is home to millions of birds, saltwater crocs and barramundi. Dangle your tackle in the water and see what you get. Once you’ve done that, you can go on a guided birdwatching tour, or else embark on an independent 4WD and camping adventure.

 

Howard Springs

 

They’ll be no jumping around here – it’s a place where you come to cool down what with the humid climate. Remember to check signs for swimming restrictions as crocodiles, box jellyfish and stingers all like to soak in Howard Springs as well. Located 30 minutes from Darwin.

 

Pine Creek and Umbrawarra Gorge

 

Digging yourself into a hole is generally not considered to be a good idea, but in 1871 when workers were constructing the Overland Telegraph Line (which spans 3,200km from Darwin to Port Augusta in South Australia) they found gold in the soil. Cue another gold rush and an influx of pick-wielding prospectors. Cue the birth of Pine Creek, a small town 248km south of Darwin.

A town full of swingers is enough to pique anyone’s curiosity, but although picks swung and sweat dripped, most prospectors left with blistered, empty hands.

 

Nowadays the National Trust Museum is the place to check out some of the artifacts excavated by the miners. These include rock displays, shrimp fossils and a piece of yellow cake – not a product of the town’s old Chinese bakery, but a long-ago excavated chunk of rock. In June the town hosts the Goldrush Festival where prospectors pan like crazy in the Northern Territory Gold Panning Championships; there’s also a didgeridoo jam. For rushing of a different kind, head to the Pussycat Race Flats in May for the Pine Creek Races, an annual horse racing bush meet. For more information on other primo pastimes, log onto www.visitkatherine.com.au/pages/pine-creek/

 

A short drive from Pine Creek is Umbrawarra Gorge, an isolated place of beauty with steep red walls, sandy beaches and secluded swimming holes. It is best to visit in the dry season (May-September) when river levels have dropped and the gorge is accessible. A creek meanders through the gorge in the early to mid-dry season, and walkers can follow it on an adjacent track which leads to a large pool with a small sandy beach. The rest of the gorge can only be reached by wading, swimming and rock hopping. Adventure junkies can rock climb or abseil, although you must obtain a permit from the Batchelor or Palmerston Parks and Wildlife Service offices before you arrive. If you have a tent then there is a campsite at which to bunk down for the night. www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/umbrawarragorge.html

 

Tiwi Islands

 

Just 35 minutes by air or two hours on the ferry from Darwin is a place of dense rainforest, sandy beaches, secluded waterfalls and rock pools. The Tiwi Islands

comprise of two small land masses, Melville and Bathurst, and are populated by

indigenous Australian people who are culturally and linguistically distinct from

those in Arnhem Land. The Tiwi number around 2,500.

 

Tours run from Darwin and are a great opportunity to learn about Tiwi culture, watch a smoking and traditional dancing ceremony, and go on a bush-tucker walk. There are also authentic Aboriginal art galleries featuring Tiwi art, pottery, sculptures and wooden carvings. Ladies, it’s possible that you may return to mainland Australia with a new outfit of batik and silkscreened clothing and woven bangles. Bathurst Island is the place to learn about some of the complex rituals associated with the Pukamani burial poles. There is a museum here featuring depictions of Tiwi Dreamtime stories and the Early Mission Precinct with its unique Tiwi-style Catholic Church.

 

If you’re around in March then get along to Nguiu, the main settlement on Bathurst Island, for the Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and art sale. This is the biggest event of the year for the football-loving Tiwi people, many of whom play barefoot. An art sale is held in the morning before festivities kick off on the football field around noon. Those who want to stay overnight can check into Munupi Wilderness Lodge on Melville Island. www.munupiwildernesslodge.com. For more information about tours, log onto www.tourismtopend.com.au

 

Arnhem Land

 

There’s no place in Australia quite like the 91,000km2 wilderness sprawl of Arnhem Land. Sandwiched between Kakadu National Park, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Arafura Sea, it is a place of wild coastlines; deserted islands; rivers teeming with fish; rainforests moist with monsoonal downpours; soaring escarpments and savannah woodland. Crocodiles, dugong, nesting turtles and migratory birds inhabit the area along with a predominantly Aboriginal population whose traditional culture remains largely intact. It is also the birthplace of the didgeridoo. Special permits are required to visit so it’s often easier to go with a tour operator.

 

The northern coastal town of Maningrida is famous for its indigenous art. Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) is an Aboriginal community where indigenous artists gather at the Injalak Art and Craft Centre. Each July there is an open day here where tourists can experience local culture without having to obtain a permit.

 

History buffs will enjoy wandering around the ruins of an early European colony at Victoria Settlement in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park located on the secluded Cobourg Peninsula. Also on the peninsula, safari tours to Mount Borradaile take in galleries of ancient rock art that depict indigenous history and Dreamtime stories. Cobourg Peninsula is recognised as one of Australia’s premier fishing locations. There is also a host of other wildlife including buffalo, Timor ponies and wild boars. It is only accessible by 4WD from Oenpelli (in the dry season), or else you can charter a 30-minute flight from Darwin.

 

The Gove Peninsula is where the Gulf of Carpentaria meets the Arafura Sea. Temperatures here are a pleasant 28-30°C with plenty of cool breezes – perfect for lazing on the peninsula’s many long, white beaches. One of my favourites is the sheltered cove at Turtle Beach. Again, a visitor’s permit is required.

The town of Nhulunbuy is approximately 600km east of Darwin and is a major service centre, a great base from which to explore the peninsula.

Other primo places in this area include Nanydjaka (Cape Arnhem) which has rolling dunes that fade into the horizon, and Gayngaru – an area of lagoon wetlands stretching 7km parallel to the beachfront. It is home to around 200 bird species. Traditional art can be found at one of Australia's most renowned community-based traditional Aboriginal art museums at Yirrkala.

 

Travelling along the Central Arnhem Road (4WD only) requires crossing many

clan lands and a free permit from the Northern Land Council

(ph: (08) 8987 2602) is required. Before setting off anywhere it’s a good idea to find out if you need a permit. The Parks and Wildlife Commission restrict the number of vehicles travelling through Arnhem Land so apply well in advance.

 

For more on tours, places to stay and any other general information, log onto

www.tourismtopend.com.au

 

Darwin to Alice Springs

 

Katherine

I’m not telling you to visit my sister, cobbers, although, if you find her, Katherine will stock you up with enough tucker to fill the state, the town of the same name is a good place to fill your bags with supplies. It’s also a primo base from which to explore the famous Katherine Gorge. Located in the Nitmiluk National Park, the gorge is full of freshwater crocs, Aboriginal art and rocky terrain. The Katherine River is also a beauty and Edith Falls has a series of waterfalls and pools which are stunning in the wet season.

 

Tennant Creek

Surrounded by the Barkly Tablelands, this area encompasses a huge expanse of land with some of Australia’s premier Outback cattle stations on it. There’s a rich gold mining history here; it was the epicentre of Australia’s last gold rush back in the 1930s. Although Safari Pete lays a golden nugget every morning, there isn’t much to be had nowadays. In town you’ll find a telegraph station – a stone building that was erected in 1875 to support a 3,600km overland telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin.

 

Nearby is Kelly’s Ranch (5 Fazaldeen Rd) where Jerry Kelly trains indigenous kids to work as jackeroos on Outback stations. They offer trail rides varying from one-hour lessons to multi-hour trips through the wilderness. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never spread your legs on a saddle before, because they cater for all levels of experience. They also run bush tucker tours and are interested in providing visitors with an insight into a stockman’s life in the bush. www.kellysranch.com.au; 08 8962 2045.

 

South of Tennant Creek you’ll find the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu), a collection of huge granite boulders which look as though they’ve been laid by a giant, satanic chicken. Scattered through a valley, these precariously positioned rocks turn from gold to ruby red at sunset. The nearest settlement is at Wauchope, 9km to the south.

 

Alice Springs

 

Once a lonely outpost with nothing in it but a dusty old cattle station, today Alice Springs is the main town in central Australia. There were only a few hundred folks in Alice in the 1950s and the bars were as rough as a cowboy’s chin. Nowadays things are far more relaxed and there are heaps of things to do in town – all within walking distance of each other. There’s Desert Park, a showcase for the plants, animals, reptiles and landscapes of Australia’s deserts. You can also pay a visit to the Royal Flying Doctors and learn how these airborne healers have saved the lives of those living in remote areas of Australia. Gain an insight into the innovative techniques which makes it possible for children living in remote central Australia to participate in school classes at the School of the Air and Telegraph Station. And the Sunday markets at Todd St Mall are worth a look where you’ll hear the shouts and clanging bell of a town crier as you browse souvenir stands, check out local arts and crafts and munch on some tasty produce.

 

Where to crash in Alice Springs

 

Alice's Secret Travellers Inn – 6 Khalick St; Ph 1800 783 633

This small hostel is tucked away on a quiet street opposite the Botanic Gardens. It’s a five-minute walk from the town centre and offers free breakfast, off-street parking, as well as bike hire. They also have a swimming pool and BBQ. www.asecret.com.au

 

Alice Lodge Backpackers – 4 Mueller St; Ph 1800 351 925

A five-minute walk from Alice Springs town centre, this hostel has a free pick-up service, free continental breakfast and free Internet (including Wi-Fi). All dorms are air conditioned and have fridges. There is a swimming pool, a BBQ, a bar, bike rental and hammocks. www.alicelodge.com.au

 

Alice Springs Pioneer YHA Hostel – Corner of Parsons St and Leichhardt Tce;

Ph 08 8952 8855

This hostel is close to shops, cafes and pubs and is built within the walls of a heritage-classified outdoor movie theatre. It has an outdoor recreational area, a games room, a BBQ and hires out bikes. Rooms are air conditioned and non-YHA members pay a little bit extra per night. www.yha.com.au

 

Haven Backpacker Resort - 3 Larapinta Drive Ph:  1800 79 4663

These guys have a swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms, free breaky & airport transfers.  The also have brand new beds with lockable backpack storage.

www.alicehaven.com.au

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

Central Australian Aboriginal Experiences is a hub which acts as the booking agent for all indigenous tour operators. Trips include safaris and visiting a variety of Aboriginal communities in remote locations across central Australia where you can listen to Dreamtime stories and see indigenous art and wildlife. While you’re at it, you may as well scoff down some bush tucker. They can also arrange 4WD and remote bush camping adventures where you sleep under the stars, as well as trips to dance and cultural festivals. And if that isn’t enough, then perhaps you fancy going on a bike or horse ride, or else tackling a walk. www.caent.com.au; 1800 011 144.

 

One of Safari Pete’s favourite walking spots is in the East and West MacDonnell Ranges. The East MacDonnell Range stretches for 100km east of Alice Springs. Come here if you like scenic gorges. There are several nature parks here, including Trephina Gorge, Emily Gap – where you’ll find rock art – and N’Dhala Gorge. Probably the wildest and least visited area is Ruby Gap Nature Park where you can also camp. There are no shops out this way so stock up before you leave Alice.

 

The West MacDonnell Range is less visited and is a bushwalker’s paradise. Home to Oromiston Gorge and the renowned Larapinta Trail, a mammoth trek split into twelve stages and spanning 242km, this part of the MacDonnell range will immerse you in chasms and gorges. No public transport runs to this area, but there are operators in Alice Springs who can ferry you in and out. Simpsons Gap is a place where you can get on your bike and enjoy a three- to four-hour cycle. It’s also a nice place for a picnic.

 

Other primo places to visit include Palm Valley, in Finke Gorge National Park (138km west of Alice Springs), which is home to a diverse range of plant species. Head to Gosse Bluff and Ewaninga to see some of the world’s largest meteorite craters.

 

South of Alice Springs

 

Ayers Rock (Uluru)

 

Formed about 600 million years ago, the ‘rock’ is a true blue Aussie icon. It is 3.6km in length with a circumference of 9.4km and a height of 348 metres off the desert plain; it is believed that Uluru extends for 5km below the surface. Traditional owners ask visitors not to climb the rock (climbers are often referred to as ‘mingers’ – the Aboriginal word for ants). The walk around the base at sunrise is amazing with the changing light; the rock turns purple after a thunderstorm.  There are free guided walks, often with Aboriginal guides, and a new cultural centre has opened near the base of Uluru.

 

Kings Canyon (Watarrka)

 

About 330km from Alice Springs towards Uluru, you’ll find the dramatic Watarrka (Kings Canyon).  The rim walk is rather steep but the views are amazing with 200m of rock walls and Aboriginal art sites.  As you walk through the stunning canyon, you’ll see the Garden of Eden, maybe even a snake and hopefully no naked men called Adam. Also look out for the huge beehive shaped formations called the Lost City.

 

Mt Olga (Kata Tjuta)

 

Located 30km west of Uluru, it looks as though a giant has lost his marbles. Several spherical monoliths are scattered over 28km2, the tallest one being some 200 metres taller than Uluru – Mt Olga, 460 metres. There is a 7.5km trail, the Valley of the Winds – not named because Safari Pete was in the area having just eaten a curry, but because strong winds whip around the boulders and through the gorges. Meaning ‘many heads’, Kata Tjuta was formed over 600 million years ago. The Olgas consist of thirty-six rock domes of various sizes. There are walking tracks around them; many Uluru tours also include a visit to the Olgas. The Kata Tjuta National Park is Aboriginal land and has high spiritual significance; you can’t stay overnight in the park. A convenient (and fun) option is to go on a budget tour with a backpacker tour company.

The most fun you'll have on dry land

- the Henley on Todd Regatta

 

In the dusty bowels of what was once a flowing river, each year in August hundreds of people congregate for a boat race. On sand. Yes cobbers, it seems that the sun may have got to some people’s heads in Alice Springs, but the

Henley-on-Todd Regatta is no mirage – it’s actually heaps of fun.

 

The regatta is heaps of fun! Why not make your own boat out of beer cans, plastic drums or whatever rubbish you can find and head down to race with the locals. If running around in dried-up riverbeds isn’t your thing, then find a shady spot underneath a tree and watch others as they sweat and sprint through the sand wearing their boats and a broad smile.

 

While you’re there sipping a beer or scoffing a snag you’ll also see people

trying to traverse the riverbed in groups of four on homemade water skis. Other events include sand shovelling and you’ll need a good scrubbing down if you dare miss the bath tub derby. www.henleyontodd.com.au.

Three-day Loop:

Around the Alice Block

 

This route takes you into the depths of Australia’s red centre, to Alice Springs and the mystical monolith of Uluru, as well as the Olgas. There’s something uniquely Australian about this experience: it’s hot, spiritual and lots of fun

 

Day One

 

A four-hour drive southwest of Alice sees you in the thick of Watarrka National Park, home to the spectacular Kings Canyon. There are four great walks here that take in the north and south walls, after which you can cool off at the waterhole at the Garden of Eden. You can’t stay overnight in the national park, but there are campsites and bunkhouses at the Kings Canyon Resort (Luritja Rd;

www.kingscanyonresort.com.au; 1300 233 432) and the Kings Creek Station

(www.kingscreekstation.com.au; 08 8956 7474). Book ahead for these. Alternatively, if you have a swag you could sleep under the stars, but don’t forget the desert can get ridiculously cold at night.

 

Day Two

 

Make an early break for Kata Tjuta National Park. This drive takes you southwest for around four hours, then it’s another fifty minutes between Uluru and the Olgas. There is a $25 fee to enter the national park. There are five great walks here, including the 10km, three- to four-hour walk around the circumference of Uluru. There are campsites at the Ayers Rock Resort (www.ayersrockresort.com.au; 1300 134 044) – bookings essential. Again there is no camping within the national park. However, there are two great roadhouses on the Lasseter Hwy: the Curtin Springs Roadhouse (www.curtinsprings.com; 08 8956 2906) which is 85km from Uluru, and the

Mt Ebenzer Roadhouse, 200km from the magical monolith.

Both offer free camping (without electricity, but there are powered sites) and generally always have room for latecomers.

 

Day Three

 

Make your way back to Alice Springs. If you’d like a little more adventure, then take a short drive west of Alice to the gorgeous Simpsons Gap, a wonderful, but often dry, waterhole in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Otherwise spend the afternoon and evening, which often turns into the wee hours of the morning, enjoying Alice’s festivities. It is a lot of driving, so if you prefer an organised Tour check out www.therocktour.com.au 1800 246 345 and www.adventuretours.com.au 1800 099 533. and www.mulgas.com.au free  call -1800359089