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The Northern Territory, or NT, takes up a sizable slice of central and northern Australia. The territory is divided into two distinct climates, a tropical climate in the north (known as the Top End) and a desert climate in the southern part of Territory. It is a land of wide open spaces, dense rain forests and an indigenous history that dates backs over 40,000 years.
Although over 75% of the Northern Territory officialy lies within the tropics, most of the area resembles more of a desert or semi-desert. The Tropic of Capricorn lies just north of Alice Springs and only the area called the Top End is really tropical with hot and humid conditions yearround and a real rainy season. The north is more savanna like and there are some small patches of rainforest. Much of the area is quite flat, with the Barkly Tablelands and the Arnhem Land Plateau being somewhat higher. The Tanami Desert makes up most of the western and southwestern areas. Near Alice Springs, both to the east and west, are the McDonell Ranges, rocky hills and mountains with deep gorges. You will also find nice gorges at Nitmiluk and Litchfield NP, with great waterfalls in the latter as well.
The Explorer Highway is just one of many great road trips in Australia. The route follows the trail of legendary explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to cross Australia from south to north. Although the original route is not exactly the same anymore, parts of it still are. The route starts in Adelaide, or actually in Port Augusta, north of the city. From there you cross the deserts of South Australia and the Northern Territory before ending in tropical Darwin. Along the way are many points of interest, including Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Katherine. But don't forget to take bypasses to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for example, or to Kakadu National Park up in the north of the country. To enjoy this trip, take at least 3 to 4 weeks. In the last few years, it has also become possible to travel all the way from Adelaide to Darwin by train.
Kakadu National Park is a vast park the size of Israel in the Northern Territory, Australia, east of Darwin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kakadu supports a huge variety of flora and fauna, many species of which are rare or endemic. Historically, Kakadu was the home of Aboriginal people, and much of the current National Park is Aboriginal land. The area is also rich in Aboriginal rock art, with over 5,000 sites found.
Litchfield National Park, covering approximately 1,500 km2, is near the township of Batchelor, 100 kilometres southwest of Darwin. Each year the park attracts over 260,000 visitors. Proclaimed a national park in 1986, it is named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a Territory pioneer, who explored areas of the Northern Territory from Escape Cliffs on the Timor Sea to the Daly River in 1864.
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Nitmiluk National Park is in the Northern Territory of Australia, 244 kilometres southeast of Darwin, around a series of gorges on the Katherine River and Edith Falls. Previously named Katherine Gorge National Park, its northern edge borders Kakadu National Park. The gorges and the surrounding landscape have great ceremonial significance to the local Jawoyn people, who are custodians of Nitmiluk National Park. In Jawoyn, Nitmiluk means "place of the cicada dreaming".
Uluru (or Ayers Rock) is a large sandstone rock in the center of Australia and the country's most recognisable natural feature. Uluru is part of the larger Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is native for the Olga's, another remarkable feature in this park. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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The Northern Territory is one of the warmest parts of Australia on average. The Top End where places like Darwin and Katherine are located, has tropical conditions with hot and humid weather. Temperatures here are highest just before the wet season which starts in November. During October and November, temperatures rise to 40 °C, combined with very high humidity. The wet season lasts until April. Obviously, the months of May to September are the best to visit this area weatherwise.
More the south, the wet season becomes more and more severe until you reach the Red Centre around Alice Springs and Uluru, where hot summers (temperatures up to 45 °C) are combined with mild winters, when temperatures can drop below zero at night. Alice Springs doesn't have a wet season and some months go by withouth a single drop of rain. Spring (September-November) and autum (March-May) are good seasons to visit, but also the wintermonths, although relatively cool, are good.
Darwin International Airport is the only international airport in the Northern Territory. International destinations include Dili in East Timor, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore. Qantas, Virgin Blue and Air North are the main operators flying here, with connections to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Broome and Kununurra in Western Australia.
Alice Springs Airport and Yulara (Uluru) have interstate connections as well, mostly to Perth, Cairns and Sydney (both airports) and Brisbane and Melbourne (Alice only).
The Ghan connects Darwin and Alice Springs with Adelaide in South Australia.
Well maintained tarred roads lead into the Northern Territory from Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.
The first one enters Northern Territory just east of Kununnura. From South Australia the Great Explorer Highway enters at Kulgera, while from Queensland the road enters at the outback town of Camooweal, some 200 kilometers west of Mount Isa.
Of course, there are other routes to take, both those usually require a 4wd vehicle and some more planning as well.
Greyhound is the main bus company, providing services to a number of Northern Territory places (Darwin, Alice, Tennant Creek) from Adelaide, Perth, Broome, Cairns, Mount Isa and even Brisbane.
You will need your own boat if you want to arrive in the Norther Territory over water. There are also no connections to Darwin from Indonesia, as is sometimes believed.
Darwin, Alice and Yulara all have connections between them and smaller planes fly to some regional airfields as well, including some of the islands to the north of the NT.
The famous Ghan train stops in several towns and cities in the Northern Territory, including Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin.
Good tarmac roads connect Alice Springs with Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin. There are also good roads towards Uluru and the Litchfield, Katherine Gorge and Kakadu National Parks and into South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. Most other roads are dirt roads, which sometimes can be navigated by regular car, but mostly you will need a 4wd. There are plenty of companies you could choose to hire a car from, including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty. Car hire is often not available to drivers under 25, or if it is, it's more expensive for younger drivers.
Greyhound offers connections on the main north-south corridor and to Yulara. You can also hop off and on on the routes towards Queensland and Western Australia.
No public services go to the islands off the northern coast but between March and November there are tours to Bathurst Island (one of the Tiwi Islands) by catamaran.
Make sure you take in the culinary delights of multi-cultural Darwin while in the Northern Territory. There’s a great range of outdoor eateries, exotic local produce and a diversity of culinary choices on offer.
Great eating areas in Darwin include the local markets for something cheap made on the spot. Head to Parap for Chinese, Mexican or gourmet goodies, Cullen Bay has a barrage of seafood choices and expansive harbour views, or you could grab some picnic-style take away at Stokes Hill Wharf. The Fannie Bay area offers some great pub-style food or seafood, and Darwin CBD is brimming with restaurants, cafes and pubs – classy or casual but always relaxed.
In spite of its small size, Alice Springs has a good and varied restaurant scene. Heaps of little cafeteria style places serving everything from crepes to Chinese to sandwiches in the malls as well as the usual fast food outlets.
Katherine is a very small town, but there is a reasonable choice of places to eat there, think along the lines of home style dishes and traditional pub food.
Basic food is available at the sporadic rest stops and museums throughout Kakadu National Park. Being such a small town, there are only a couple of options to choose from in Tennant Creek, mostly pub food and home made.
The northern tropics of the Northern Territory are also famous for their Aboriginal bush tucker. The billabongs, woodlands, sandstone escarpments and coastal beaches provide a rich source of food and medicines used by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. What we know as "bush tucker" is a multitude of plants and animals that are used in a variety of ways to best extract their nutritional and medicinal values. The different environments of the tropical north feature plants endemic to each habitat, as well as some that thrive across the entire region.
The Northern Territory is famous for its legendary outback pubs. Every small town has somewhere you can drop by to chat with the local characters or learn some history. For some more sophisticated nightlife, head to the numerous clubs and bars in Darwin and check out some local music at Brown’s Mart.
Please note, within certain areas of the Northern Territory, there are restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in public places.
Major towns have plenty of options, so do popular parks like Kakadu. The further you venture into unpopulated areas, choices become few and far between. Sometimes there is just a room in a pub or a basic motel.
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