Your guide to the best drive experiences in the NT

Territorians have one of the best backyards in the world. Stretching between Australia’s Red Centre heart to the azure Timor Sea, you’ll find world-class wonders, breathtaking natural landscapes and experiences that leave you wanting more.

Whether you’re looking for adventure or just a quick getaway to recharge your batteries, the Northern Territory has the drive for you – start with the best-known regions along sealed roads or pack up the 4WD to explore further.

The NT offers ways to tick off the sites along easy-breezy sealed roads where you can discover the ancient history, art and nature in all its pristine wonder.

Darwin to Litchfield National Park

With its refreshing swimming spots, picturesque waterfalls and leisurely walks, Litchfield National Park is a popular getaway for a day or weekend. A 90-minute drive from Darwin, check out Berry Springs, another beautiful swimming hole and Batchelor, the gateway to Litchfield, along the way. At Wangi Falls there are spacious lawns, barbecues and a cafe. NT Air operates helicopter flights over the region from here. Also, splash around in Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole, and be dwarfed by the huge cathedral and magnetic termite mounds inside the park.

Dundee Beach and Crab Claw Island

Further along Cox Peninsular Road, on the other side of Darwin’s expansive harbour, discover Crab Claw Island, Dundee Beach and quiet rivers, perfect for catching that prized barramundi. These local hotspot havens offer peaceful sea views, camping, cabins, bars and restaurants perfect for relaxing tropical beachside getaways and fishing weekends.

Read: A day in the life at Uluru

Darwin to Kakadu National Park

World-heritage listed Kakadu National Park is high on everyone’s list and not a place to be rushed. A straight three-hour drive on the Arnhem Highway, tours offer day trips but when you’re driving it’s the ideal three or four-day getaway with much to see and do.

Stop at Humpty Doo Pub, Fogg Dam, Window on the Wetlands, take an Adelaide River Jumping Croc or Corroboree Billabong cruise on the way to Jabiru. Learn about Arnhem Land Aboriginal culture, walk on their land and eyeball many a crocodile on a Guluyambi Cultural Cruise on East Alligator River. Walk around Ubirr rock art site, view the vast Nabad flood plain and stay overnight, either camping or accommodation at Jabiru.

Stroll through the rock shelters and extensive rock art site at Burrungkuy/Nourlangie. Chill in the hidden waterholes at Maguk, Gunlom (where Paul and Linda frolicked in the Crocodile Dundee movie) or Jim Jim Falls. Birdwatch at Murrill Billabong and immerse yourself in the culture of Kakadu’s traditional owners, the Bininj and Mungguy people at Warradjan Cultural Centre. Stay at Cooinda Lodge Kakadu after enjoying a sunset cruise with wine and canapes on Yellow Water Billabong.

If you have more time, continue to Katherine on Nature’s Way loop. Visit Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. Cruise or canoe these peaceful waters between towering orange cliffs. Along the Stuart Highway back to Darwin, check out the old gold-mining town of Pine Creek, Adelaide River and its war cemetery and relax in refreshing waterways at Litchfield National Park or Berry Springs.

Read: Top 10 things to do in the Northern Territory

Darwin to Katherine

The NT’s fourth largest town, Katherine, is an easy three-hour drive from Darwin on the Stuart Highway and another ideal three to four-day break.

Katherine’s spirit will capture your soul. There’s something adventurous or relaxing around every corner. Swim at Katherine Hot Springs, Low Level Nature Park, and Leliyn (Edith Falls), venture underground at Cutta Cutta and Kintore Caves, and canoe, cruise or walk the trails at Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorge. An hour further south, spend time at idyllic thermal springs in Elsey National Park.

Cultural experiences around town include Top Didj, with hands-on Rarrk painting, fire-lighting and spear throwing, or learn about station life and pat some animals at Katherine Outback Experience.

The food doesn’t disappoint either. Must-tries are the massive fresh toasted sandwich at Black Russian Caravan, Pop Rocket Café’s famous salmon stack, a fine dining dinner on the Nabilil Dreaming sunset cruise along Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, or a traditional camp oven meal under the stars at Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp.

Make time to stop at Pine Creek and Adelaide River on the way down or back and discover their respective gold mining and WWII history.

Katherine to Keep River National Park – five days

This stunning five-day road trip is part of the Savannah Way – an epic and exciting journey across Australia from Cairns in Queensland to Broome in Western Australia.

One of the Northern Territory’s best-kept secrets, this section rewards self-sufficient travellers with rugged red escarpments and rivers set amongst tropical savannah forests of Gregory and Keep River National Parks. It’s the ideal way to see and feel what Australia is made of and a haven for fishers, hikers and photographers.

Stop at quirky Victoria River Roadhouse and Timber Creek along the way. Enjoy escarpment walks, the surrounding WWII history, fishing, abundant bird and wildlife. Keep River is rich in ancient rock art sites and spectacular rock formations. Some tracks are unsealed and 4WD access only in Judbarra/Gregory, Flora River Nature Park and Keep River.

Read: Five best Northern Territory Airbnbs

Alice Springs to Uluru – Red Centre Way

This 1750km five-day sealed road loop ticks off iconic Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Watarrka/Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges.

The Red Centre Way route includes Simpson’s Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Glen Helen, Ormiston and Redbank Gorges. At Kings Canyon, walk the rim and marvel at the awe-inspiring canyon floor views or take to the air in a helicopter.

Along Lasseter’s Highway to Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park pass Mt Conner, often mistaken for Uluru, and the salt plains of Lake Amadeus. Take a walk or partake in a paper-making workshop nearby.

Ayers Rock Resort, a town centre close to the park, has a variety of accommodation and dining options from one to five stars and even a campground where you can set up under the million-star sky.

The Field of Light at sunrise and sunset is a must. The colours change with the seasons and time of day – it’s sensory overload. There are walks around the base, or hire a bicycle or jump on a Segway. Camel rides just outside the park allow you to experience the outback with Uluru in the background.

On the way back to Alice Springs, stop at Curtin Springs Wayside Inn – a working cattle station with accommodation and onsite cafe.

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