The Ultimate Guide: Road Tripping the Northern Territory


The Northern Territory is such a magical place, offering incredibly unique landscapes and outback experiences. From freshwater rock pools, countless hot springs, glowing red landscapes, and breathtaking sunsets. We absolutely loved our time exploring the Northern Territory, and highly recommend it to everyone. We road tripped the NT for 7 weeks, in a 4x4 Troop Carrier Landcruiser. We drove up through the centre from South Australia and left the NT heading to Western Australia. Even if you’re not doing a huge road trip like us, you can still visit these places by flying in and hiring a car. 

Important things to know before you go:

  • The best months to visit the Northern Territory are May- October in the dry season. The earlier in the season the better, because the waterfalls may still be flowing from the wet season rainfall. The later you go in the dry season, the more chance that the waterfalls won't be flowing.
  • Avoid the school holidays if you can, as it gets extremely busy, overcrowded and you need to start booking places in advance.
  • If you’re wanting to visit all these amazing spots, I recommend allowing at least a month or more to enjoy them all. If you’re flying in and renting a car, spend 2 weeks doing the centre (Uluru, Kings Canyon, West McDonald Ranges), then on another trip spend another 2-3 weeks doing the northern attractions.
  • A 4x4 is definitely recommended to explore the Northern Territory. The roads are rough, and a lot of places are off road and badly corrugated. There’s a handful of spots that are only accessible by 4x4, so don’t miss out! In saying this, our friends all had 2WDs, and still had an incredible time exploring the NT.
  • Download the ‘WikiCamps’ app to find camp spots, caravan park, attractions and more.
  • BE A RESPONSIBLE CAMPER – Pick up all rubbish after camping, and ladies put your toilet paper in the bin.
  • Be aware of sacred sites and areas where you need a permit.
  • Fuel prices are very expensive in the Red Centre. Budget these prices in because there are long distances between towns, and sometimes you can’t avoid paying $2.10 per litre for diesel!
  • Budget in places like Uluru and Kakadu, since they are more expensive than most places in the NT.
  • Beware of saltwater crocodiles! Read every sign before going swimming, and make sure it’s definitely a designated swimming spot. This is extremely important.
  • Flies will drive you crazy!! Make sure you have a fly net and some mosquito coils/bug spray.

Places in Order: Driving North ^

Red Centre
Uluru
Kings Canyon
Palm Valley
West MacDonnell Ranges:
Redbank Gorge
Glen Helen Gorge
Ormiston Gorge
Serpentine Gorge
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Stanley Chasm
Simpsons Gap
 -
Alice Springs
Devils Marbles
Daly Waters Pub
Mataranka Thermal Pools
Bitter Springs
Katherine Hot Springs
Katherine Gorge
Edith Falls
Umbrawarra Gorge
Pine Creek
Douglas Daly hot springs
Butterfly Gorge

Litchfield National Park:
Surprise Creek Falls
Tjaynera Falls/Sandy Creek
Tolmer Falls
Florence Falls
Buley Rockhole
Tjaetaba Falls
Wangi Falls
Walker Creek
 -
Robin Falls
Berry Springs
Darwin
Adelaide River Croc Jumping
Kakadu:
Ubirr art site,
Cahills Crossing
Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls
Maguk Plunge Pool
Gunlom Waterall

 

 

 

 

Map of the Northern Territory

 The Red Centre

red centre map, northern territory map, uluru map, west macdonnel map, red centre

uluru, ayres rock, uluru sunrise

Uluru/ Ayers Rock:

It’s hard to describe the feeling when witnessing Uluru for the first time. You don’t realize how gigantic it is until you drive up to the base and it towers over you. A moment you will remember forever is the red rock glowing Fluro orange when the sunsets over Uluru. To enter the National Park its $38 per person for a 3 day pass. There is no camping in the National Park, only in Yulara or further out of town. Yulara is a 25 minute drive from Uluru and has a supermarket, caravan parks, accommodation, a petrol station and water to refill. I recommend spending 2-5 days exploring the national park, and try to watch the sunset over Uluru more than once! The best spot for sunset is at the ‘sunset carpark’ on your way to the rock. I recommend getting the end park, and walking down a bit so you can enjoy it to yourself. The car park fills up pretty quickly, so get there an hour or so earlier and bring some snacks. The sunrise viewing point doesn’t show the side of the rock that glows, so we recommend driving to the east side of the rock, parking up, and walking towards the rock while it absolutely glows.

There are a few different ways to explore Ayres Rock, including walking, cycling, or doing a segway tour. It’s 10.6km around the base of the rock, so we decided to hire a bike for $50 each (not cheap) but we loved it. Please be respectful while exploring Uluru, by obeying the signs and not climbing it. The red center is a very busy place in holiday season, and more expensive than most places in Australia. If you’re looking for a free camp, about 12 mins out of Yulara there are dirt patches on the side of the road where we camped some nights. If you look on google earth you may be able to find them. Also, be mindful that alcohol is very expensive in the Red Centre, and there are a lot of rules on how much and what you can buy,  so buy some before you head there. We stayed at the Ayres Rock Campground a couple of nights, with prices starting at $37 a night depending on what deals they have going on.

uluru, uluru sunset, ayres rock, ayres rock sunset, red centre,

Olgas

The Olgas are located in the National Park and take 30 minutes to get to once you have entered the park. There are a couple different hikes to do there, including the Walpa Gorge Walk (2.7km), and the Valley of the Winds (7.4km circuit). We saw a wild camel on one of our hikes. The Olgas is also a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise or sunset.

olgas, uluru, ayres rock,

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is located on the way to the West MacDonnell Ranges, and is a must see!  There is no free camping near Kings Canyon, so I recommend visiting the Canyon early, then continuing on north. Otherwise, there is a caravan park close to Kings Canyon. The main hike is a 6km circuit and takes around 3 hours in the full sun, so start early. Make sure you bring good shoes, a fly net, hat, and plenty of water. Don’t forget to visit the Garden of Eden, and be careful when walking along the rim as it’s a long fall to the bottom!

 kings canyon, uluru, red centre

 Palm Valley

To get to Palm Valley, we took the Larapinta road from Kings Canyon. The road is 4x4 recommended, but our friends did it in a 2wd van to get to the West MacDonnell Ranges. Palm Valley is strictly 4x4 only, as the road is very rocky, high clearance, and sandy in some areas. There isn’t a whole lot to see in Palm Valley, but it’s amazing coming across hundreds of palm trees in the middle of the desert. There is bush camping there for $6.60 a night each, but you will have to drive further to reach the hiking spot/palm trees. We did the 5km long hike which takes around 2 hours.

 palm valley, landcruiser, troop carrier, troopy fitout, camper

West MacDonnell Ranges:

The West MacDonnell Ranges are simply beautiful, filled with refreshing waterholes, hikes, camp spots, and wildlife. It can take 2-5 days to enjoy every spot, so make sure you have enough food and water packed. Keep in mind there is no phone reception, and the next big town is Alice Springs. The most popular spots to visit are Redbank Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, Serpentine Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Stanley Chasm, and Simpsons Gap. Depending on what time of year you go, some waterholes may be very shallow and dry, but the ones listed below were the best.

Entering from the west side, Redbank is the first of many gorges to explore. Just a short hike from the car park, you will arrive at a beautiful waterhole with towering red walls on either side. In the morning the water will be shadowed, but around lunch time the sun shines down. The Redbank Gorge campsite is one of our favorites, overlooking the ranges with our own fire pit. You can’t pre-book campsites, so you have to get in early or hope to get lucky. Camping is paid via an honesty box, so bring cash.

Glen Helen Gorge is the second spot to visit, and also has a pub and caravan park close by with facilities. The water is FREEZING cold here, but so refreshing. If you have time, I recommend bringing an umbrella, a Salty Aura rug ;) , and snacks to really enjoy it. If you need, a limited amount of Wi-Fi is available to purchase at Glen Helen Lodge.

Ormiston Gorge is one of the nicest spots to visit, only a short walk from the car park and campsites. I recommend staying at these campsites and spending the day at Ormiston gorge. The gorge is stunning in the middle of the day, as the sun glistens down on the turquoise green water. There is also a nice hike to the top of the gorge that’s only around 2km long.

ormiston gorge, west mcdonald ranges

Image featuring the Leila Rug 


Ellery Creek Big Hole is probably the best spot in the National Park. There are also campgrounds there for $5 each a night, only a short walk to the gorge. Once again it looks best in the middle of the day, and the water is freezing! If you’re up for it, swim through the gap and explore what’s further down the gorge.

 ellery creek big hole, ellery creek, west mcdonald ranges

Alice Springs

After being in the desert for so long its nice to get back to civilization! We stayed here for a few nights to stock up on supplies. If you need to buy any big things like camping gear etc, Alice Springs is the last big town before you reach Darwin.

Devils Marbles

After driving for so long, it’s worth pulling over and checking out the Devils Marbles. Its strange seeing boulders of all shapes and sizes randomly scattered in the desert, so don’t forget to read the info boards explaining how they were formed. There are also campsites there for $3.30 each with an honesty box.

devils marbles, milky way 

Daly Waters Pub

To get the true Australian Experience, you need to visit some classic Australian Pubs. After a long drive, it’s worth stopping into Daly Waters for a nice cold drink and a feed. The Pub has so much character, with money, thongs, clothing, underwear, and other random things all stuck to the walls. Don’t be afraid to add your own memorabilia to the wall. Daly Waters has a caravan park next to the pub, with facilities and a pool. If you look on Wikicamps there is also a free camp only a short walk from the pub.

 Image: @Justinschryverdaly waters pub, daly waters

Exploring the Northern Attractions

northern territory map, road trip map, northern territory road trip, map of australia

Mataranka Thermal Pools

Mataranka thermal pools are the first of many hot springs you will visit in the NT. The pool is located in the Mataranka homestead grounds, but visitors are allowed to walk in and check out the pools for free. I recommend staying a night, so you can go for an early morning or sunset swim. You can only swim in the main pool, which is surrounded by hundreds of stunning tall palm trees. The pool itself feels quite manmade now, with barriers and steps leading into the water. You can also call ahead to see when Nathan Whippy Griggs is performing at the homestead. He is the best whip cracker in Australia, and will definitely impress you with his performance and character. Try to avoid school holidays here, as the pool gets extremely busy and doesn’t feel the same.  If you’re looking for a free camp, there is one on Wikicamps (Elsey Gravel Pit) located about 13 minutes from the hot springs.

mataranka, mataranka thermal pool 

mataranka homestead, mataranka

Image captured by @justinschryver featuring the Xavier rug

Bitter Springs

Bitter Springs is one of the best hot springs in the Northern Territory. Hidden amongst thousands of palm trees, this thermal spring is a natural paradise. Unlike Mataranka, bitter springs has been kept in its natural state, with only a few built-in stairs and a bridge at the end.  The crystal clear water is a comforting 34 degrees but somehow always feels warmer in the early morning.

bitter springs, northern territory, hot springs, mataranka hot springs

The spring is very narrow, but flows 100m long. Make sure you bring a floatie, so you can float from one end of the spring to the other. The spring is a short walk from the car park, and is the perfect spot to spend the day. There is also a caravan park within walking distance of the springs too, but you will need to book early in advance.

 bitter springs, bitter springs, hot spring

Katherine Hot Springs

The Katherine Hot Springs are the perfect place to relax and spend your time while in Katherine. They are located on the edge of town, so only a short drive from the town centre. The hot spring has been very built up over the years, but it’s still surrounded by beautiful palms and trees. I recommend packing a picnic and enjoying the day floating in each section of the spring.

 katherine hot springs, katherine

Nitmiluk National Park- Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge is a stunning spot to explore, especially if you’re a keen hiker. There are a range of different hikes, some being very long and challenging. Make sure you visit the visitors centre there to get a brochure explaining the different trails and maps. Leave early in the morning, because there is little shade on all the hikes. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and a camera. Another option to enjoy the national park is hiring a canoe to explore Katherine Gorge. Full day hire is $65 for a double canoe, and you can explore beyond the second gorge this way. If you’re wanting to stay the night, there is a campground at the entrance with powered and unpowered sites, starting at $17 per person.

Katherine gorge

Image captured by @saltythebus

Edith Falls

Edith Falls is the perfect place to cool off and enjoy the lush surroundings. If you’re wanting to explore further, the Leilyn Trail leads you to some beautiful secluded rock pools. The trail is 2.6km long, taking around an hour and a half. There are also camp grounds and a café at Edith falls.

Edith falls

Image captured by @saltythebus

Umbrawarra gorge

Umbrawarra Gorge is a beautiful and very peaceful spot, located just out of Pine Creek. The road to get there can be accessed by 2wd but it’s very corrugated and bumpy. Usually very tranquil, it’s a nice spot for a hike to try and find all the deep waterholes along the gorge. If you continue walking as far as you can off the beaten track, the waterholes get slightly bigger and deeper. There is a campsite located near the gorge, but bring cash for the honesty box.

 

umbrawarra gorge

Pine Creek

If you're heading north, This is where you decide if you want to visit Litchfield or Kakadu National Park first. We stayed at the caravan park there, which had grassy sites (rare after being in the desert for so long) and a pool. It was the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the facilities before we tackle another off road adventure. We chose to head to Litchfield first, so continued along the Stuart Highway.

pine creek

Douglas Daly Hot Springs

These are by far the hottest springs in the NT. They are very shallow, but once you find a deeper spot it feels like you’re lying in a bath. There are large campgrounds located next to the spring, so bring $6.60 cash each for the honesty box. Please check beforehand if the campground is open though because it has been closed due to the poor wet season, and lack of water to run the amenities. Instead there is a caravan park located not far from the hot springs. 

 douglas daly hot springs

Butterfly Gorge

If you continue driving past the hot spring, you will arrive at Butterfly Gorge. The track there is strictly 4x4, and can get really sandy. The gorge is a nice spot for a swim, but be mindful that there are freshwater crocodiles in there. Make sure you read the sign to see how to reach the sandy bay at the gorge. If you swim across the big pool, there’s an opening where you can climb up the rocks and explore the rock pools on the other side. We had so much fun doing this, because we finally had the place to ourselves (we had been stuck in the school holiday season the past few weeks).

 butterfly gorge

butterfly gorge

Image featuring the Arizona Rug 

Robin Falls

If you’re taking the Highway past Adelaide river, stop into Robin Falls on the way. Robin Falls has beautiful campsites that back right onto the creek, so plan to stay there for a night if you can. The Falls themselves aren’t that great, but if you climb to the top of the falls, you can sit in the pool above overlooking a beautiful view. There is also no phone reception here.

Litchfield National Park:

litchfield national park, litchfield, wangi falls

Litchfield is such a beautiful national park, with so much to see. Everything is so close together, with campsites at most locations. Litchfield is free to enter, and most campsites are around $6.60 each a night (bring cash). If you have a 4x4 you can get to Litchfield from Douglas Daly via the ‘4wd Litchfield Daly Railway Rd’. Otherwise, you will need to go back to the highway past Adelaide River. If you have a 4x4, the first couple spots to visit are Surprise Creek Falls and Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek Falls). Both are less crowded and have campsites within walking distance.  Tolmer Falls is next, just a super short walk from the car park. You can only view the falls from afar on top of a viewing platform. Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole are two of the best falls to take a dip in. There is a campsite at Florence Falls, but make sure you get there early (maybe before 10am) to secure a spot. We went to both waterfalls at sunrise to experience them to ourselves which was beautiful. However, we also went back to Buley Rockhole during the day to lay in one of the many rock pools in the sun. 

florence falls, buley rockpools, litchfield national park, litchfield

Tjaetaba falls is another great spot to explore. The hike up to the top of the falls is around 5km/40 minute walk, and make sure you wear your bathers to cool down at the top. I recommend going very early in the morning, as it can get crowded in such a small area. Once you reach the top, you can swim in the pool on top of the waterfall, overlooking Litchfield. Wangi Falls is the most popular spot in Litchfield, and its fair enough why. This is the biggest waterhole in the National Park, with a beautiful flowing waterfall. Surrounded by lush greenery, and plenty of spots to set up a picnic. There is also a 1.6km hike that takes you through the palm trees full of bats, up to the top of the falls, and back down. I recommend bringing your floatie and relaxing in the cool water for a while, just be aware that there are fresh water crocodiles in there too! There is a camp ground located at Wangi Falls, but once again you need to get there early to possibly secure a spot. I recommend going for a sunrise swim as the place is so magical and peaceful when you have it to yourself.  Wangi Falls is the only spot in Litchfield with phone service, but only for Optus. Walker Creek is another great spot to check out if you have time. You can either hike along the creek and check out the waterfall at the end. Or you can treat yourself to some bush camping. At the start of the walk there is a whiteboard that you will need to write your name on to book the campsite. Get there early in the morning to write your name down before other people do, as there are limited spots. If people have only booked one night before you, they should be coming back at 10 am so put your name down after theirs. The best site is site 6 with the waterfall or 3 and 4 with a nice waterhole.

 litchfield national park, litchfield, wangi falls

florence falls, buley rockpools, litchfield national park, litchfield

Image above captured by @saltythebus

Berry Springs

Berry Springs is a beautiful spot to spend the day, so make sure you have a rug and some food packed for the day. There are a few different pools to swim in, so make sure you check them all out and sit under the waterfall located in the first pool. The water is a nice temperature, unlike the freezing cold waters in Litchfield.  There are always families relaxing around the park, and there is a stall where you can buy ice creams and locally grown mango shakes. Be mindful that the park doesn’t open until 8 am.

berry springs, northern territory Photo captured by @justinschryver

Darwin:

Darwin is a very relaxed city and the smallest in Australia. This makes driving through the city a breeze, with hardly any traffic or confusion. The only downside to Darwin is that it’s so hot but you can’t cool down in the ocean! Saltwater crocodiles are life threatening, so you need to be very careful when exploring waterways.

The best free things to do in Darwin include watching the sunset over the ocean, visiting the Mindil Markets, enjoying the waterparks, and exploring the museum. There are also a few other amazing markets located around Darwin, including the Nightcliff and Parap Village market. The Mindil Markets are on every Thursday (April- October), and are filled with delicious food stalls and other goodies. The Wave pool is another great place to spend the day for just $7 each.

mindil markets

It’s very hard to free camp in Darwin, and the only option is to back street (stealth) camp or stay in a caravan park. It’s nice to spend a few nights in Darwin to enjoy what it has to offer, and watch as many beautiful sunsets as you can. The Sailing Club is another great place to have a drink while watching the sun go down.

Adelaide River Croc Jumping:

You 100% need to do this if you’re visiting the NT. For only $45, your guide will take you out on a small (safe) shaded boat for an hour, and find the biggest crocodiles in the River. The tours operate 4 times a day over the dry season, and they have deliberately kept a low impact approach to the cruise site, to respect the pristine area and animals that inhabit it. On our tour, within a couple of minutes, a gigantic dinosaur like crocodile snuck up behind the boat to check us out. The guide attracted the crocodile with meat, dangling it meters high out of the water so the crocodile could jump out. We ended up seeing all 4 local gigantic crocodiles, along with some very agile younger ones. We also saw a few tiny baby crocodiles scattered along the river bank.


Image taken by @curlycally  


Gunn Point:

Gunn Point was a great place to spend a couple nights free camping on the beach. The only catch is that you can’t swim in the ocean! We stayed here for 2 nights with a great group of friends, and enjoyed cooking around the fire and playing plenty of card games. Keep in mind that its a very popular spot for locals to visit on long weekends, bringing their quad bikes along with them! We actually camped on the beach between the trees at ‘Gunn point Beach South’ on Wikicamps. Located just above Tree Point Conservation Area. Be sure to bring plenty of water and supplies as you will be very secluded.

gunn point, darwin, free camping, darwin free camp Image featuring the Leila Rug & Xavier Rug 

Kakadu:

Kakadu is the largest national park in Australia, full of rich history and culture. It's more expensive to visit compared to other national parks in Australia, so budget it into your trip. To enter the park it's $40 per person, and most camp grounds are $15 a night each. You will also need a 4x4 to explore the park properly, but there are still stunning places to visit with a 2wd.

You can either do the full drive from Humpty Doo to Jabiru (216km), then Jabiru to Pine Creek  (212km), or a day trip in from Pine Creek. If you don’t want to spend too much money, I recommend doing a 1-2 day trip entering from Pine Creek. This is because the best spots are located in southern Kakadu. Jabiru is a small town located in Kakadu, with grocery shops and fuel. When we visited Kakadu it was very dry, so places like Jim Jim Falls weren’t flowing. Ubirr Art Site was beautiful, and had a stunning lookout so try and watch the sunset there. If you want to see a wild crocodile, Cahills Crossing is the perfect spot. Watch on as cars drive across the croc infested river when the tide is low. The best spots in Kakadu are Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls, Maguk Plunge Pool, and Gunlom Waterfall. There are campsites at all these spots, but the one at Gunlom is within walking distance to the Falls. You need a 4x4 to get to Jim Jim and Twin Falls, and its best to check that the waterfalls aren’t closed before heading there. Maguk Plunge Pool Walk was a highlight for us, because you can climb to the top of the waterfall and explore the rock pools. The large bottom pool is another great spot to float around and relax. Gunlom Waterfall is picture perfect at sunset, but expect a large crowd. You will need to hike to the top of the waterfall to reach the pools, but they have just built new stairs to make it easier. We stayed in Kakadu for 5 nights at Merl, Burdulba, Maguk, and Gunlom Campground.  If you’re only staying for 2 nights, I recommend heading to Jim Jim Falls at sunrise, spending the day there and then staying the night at Maguk. Then exploring Maguk all morning, staying the night at Gunlom, and watching the sunset at the top of Gunlom Falls.  

kakadu, kakadu sunset, gunlom falls, gunlom plunge pool, gunlom falls sunset

 kakadu, jim jim falls, jim jim falls dry season, kakadu national park

All images were taken by @jade_elise_collins and @jake.applebee unless stated otherwise. To support our travels we would love it if you shared this post, and checked out our website Salty Aura. Thank you so much for reading!

Watch Our Video Exploring the Northern Territory

For some inspiration and to get you excited, watch our road trip video from South Australia to the Northern Territory! 

 

 

 


3 comments


  • clara

    wow!! this is incredible! thank you so much fot this post! I am saving it for when I go back to aus


  • Jackson Groves

    Epic guide. Will be a bible for many travelers!


  • Lily Hannaford

    Guys this is awesomeeeeee!!!
    Going to be so useful when I go up North.
    🤍🤍🤍


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