Outdoors in Australia’s Northern Territory Outback and Alice Springs

Outdoor adventures abound in the Northern Territory’s national parks and outback. Photo: Jill K. Robinson

HALF MOON BAY, Calif., December 19, 2012 — Australia’s Northern Territory is no place to stay indoors. With beautiful beaches, waterfalls and swimming holes, deep gorges, and an endless red desert, the region has a wealth of options for an adventurous traveler. Here are just a few places I visited on my recent trip there, while traveling on The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide, in Southern Australia. 

Litchfield National Park

While not as vast as its larger neighbor, Kakadu National Park, there’s still plenty of room to explore Litchfield National Park. It’s close enough to be a day trip from Darwin, which is a convenient first home base when visiting the area.

Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. (Photo: Jill K. Robinson)

Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. (Photo: Jill K. Robinson)

Hikers will be most at home in Litchfield, where there are short bushwalks as well as longer, overnight hikes. It’s also possible to mix your itinerary up and drive some trails in a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The best way to cool off from a hike or ride is with a swimming break in pools near Florence Falls and Wangai Falls. All swimming holes are marked with signs informing visitors whether the waterways are safely clear of saltwater crocodiles, so make sure you check before you dive in.

Nitmiluk National Park

Where tropics meet the outback, Nitmiluk National Park’s 13 gorges are carved deep into the sandstone. The area is also known as Katherine Gorge, and it’s easy to get a closer look on foot, boat, kayak, or helicopter tour.

The most intrepid adventurers can hike the 36-mile Jatbula trail, which winds through a variety of ecosystems, from monsoon rain forest to stone country. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy some of the area’s Aboriginal rock art along the way. Another way to get an eyeful of the park’s amazing landscape is on a boat tour of the gorges, which is what I did. Natural swimming holes abound here, so make sure you save enough time to enjoy some downtime before you pack up. 

Alice Springs

Shift your base camp to Alice Springs for an in-depth look at the outback. The quirky town has a rich history and is known for quality Aboriginal art and culture. But venture just outside of town and there’s plenty for outdoor fans.

The Ghan makes a stop in Alice Springs. (Photo: Jill K. Robinson)

The Ghan makes a stop in Alice Springs. (Photo: Jill K. Robinson)

The Alice Springs Desert Park is an ideal way to get a look at the flora and fauna of the different desert habitats, from woodland to sand country to desert rivers.

Hikers can head out on a section of the 139-mile Larapinta Trail in the MacDonnell Ranges for a view of gorges, cliffs, waterfalls, and mountains.

Where to Stay

Get the best of Darwin’s vistas by staying at Skycity. Right on Mindil Beach, the swanky boutique hotel seems to have it all: beachfront, tropical gardens, lagoon swimming pool, day spa, five restaurants and bars, and a 24-hour casino. My room had a private balcony and a view of the lagoon, and at sunset, flocks of parrots chattered in the trees right outside. Rates start at $186 US, and vary depending on time of year and type of room.

Try a room with a changing view when you board The Ghan in Darwin. The three-day journey takes you all the way to Adelaide, with stops in Katherine and Alice Springs. It’s the only train trip that crosses a continent vertically. Gold and Platinum Service gets you your own cabin with sleeping berths, meals in the Queen Adelaide restaurant car, and a chill-out zone in the lounge car.

I can’t count the number of people I talked with on the voyage who said it was on their life list. Rates are quite varied, depending on the class of service (Red Service gets you a seat, but not your own cabin), route you choose, and how far in advance you book. Advance purchase fares for the entire all-inclusive journey start at $1,070 per person for Platinum or Gold Service.

For more information on the Northern Territory, plus savings on flights within the region, visit www.goway.com.

Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill is an avid kayaker and owner of Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.


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Jill K. Robinson

An award-winning journalist and adventure seeker, Jill K. Robinson has been a columnist with The Washington Times, Communities section since 2011.

Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, American Way, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Robb Report, Westways, Journey, Let's Go with Ryanair, World Hum, Gadling, Lonely Planet and more. She lives in a small California beach town near the big wave surf spot, Mavericks, and divides her time between writing about travel, running a kayak business and trying to wring awe-inspiring adventure out of every day.

Always eager to take a leap into the unknown and experience new things, Jill shares adventure sport and travel highlights—even when the adventure isn’t adrenaline pumping or bone crushing. Adventure is sometimes only a state of mind.

Find Jill on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr 

Contact Jill K. Robinson

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