Go north and explore Australia’s amazing Top End. Here are six ideas to get you started.
- Important: Australia’s post-coronavirus travel regulations vary by state. See up-to-date details here
1. Explore island art
Board a 15-metre luxury Sail Darwin catamaran and take a three-day trip to the art haven of the Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres north of the NT capital.
Dubbed the ‘smiling islands’, the Tiwis are home to many Aboriginal artists, including painters who use ochre paints over acrylics; sculptors specialising in ironwood carvings of totem animals; and screen printers who make brightly coloured fabrics in a host of whimsical designs. Stroll around the islands’ three art centres to absorb the whole gamut, and pick up a Tiwi creation for keeps.
Back on the catamaran, fish for mud crabs or lounge inside the vessel’s ‘floor hammocks’ that offers windows onto the ocean life teeming below. One of your boat’s affable hosts – Darwin-born Cathryn Doney – is a repository of local yarns, so ask after her surviving-Cyclone-Tracy story, among other tales.
From $1485 per person, saildarwin.com.au
2. Float above the outback
Soar over Alice Springs on an early morning balloon ride. This one-hour flight, run by Outback Ballooning, begins 15 kilometres south of Alice at Owen Springs Cattle Station. It’s surprisingly silent, allowing an almost meditative opportunity from which to view the vast, painterly landscapes below.
Try to spot passing flocks of bright-feathered budgerigars, or red kangaroos leaping through spinifex and mulga scrub.
Your journey ends with a glass of champagne served upon landing – a tradition among early French balloonists who carried bubbles to placate farmers who awoke to uninvited balloonists drifting towards their properties.
One-hour flight, $395, outbackballooning.com.au
3. Lounge in a natural infinity pool
Float away an afternoon at Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park, where a series of sublime infinity pools drops 170 metres to a plunge pool fringed by paperbarks.
Find a spot at the Gunlom campsite and trek the steep one-kilometre return trail to the upper falls. From here, views stretch to the verdant valleys below, and just before sunset, surrounding cliffs morph into shades of deep orange and blush pink.
The next morning, head to nearby waterfall Maguk, where another series of infinity pools rests behind a much larger (but equally majestic) plunge pool.
Kakadu National Park entry fee, $25 per person, more information here
4. Bed down on a buffalo farm
Just shy of Kakadu National Park, three hours’ drive from Darwin, lies Bamurru Plains safari lodge. It’s on a working buffalo station, and a huge one at that – about 70,000 hectares.
While many guests opt to arrive on a chartered plane, driving in allows you to take in the property’s abundance of wildlife (think blue-winged kookaburras, forest kingfishers, corellas, brumbies, and magpie geese).
Meals are served in an open-air lodge, and activities include barramundi fishing, airboat safaris, and wetland wanders through this peaceful pocket of private land – one that allows guests to sync with the bush, rather than their inbox.
As night falls, step into your cabin, crafted from a mix of corrugated iron, wood, and mesh. The latter creates a transparent wall, so it’ll feel as if there’s nothing separating you from the floodplains beyond.
From $1140 per person, per night, bamarruplains.com
5. Walk a waterfall trail
Camp at a different waterhole each night on the five-day Jatbula Trail, a jaw-droppingly beautiful Top End bushwalk named after Jawowyn Aboriginal elder Peter Jatbula who successfully fought to have the Katherine region’s Nitmiluk National Park returned to traditional owners.
The trail follows an old stock route and winds through stone country walked by the Jawowyn people for thousands of years. The Jatbula path also takes in the Arnhem Land escarpment line and includes woodlands, monsoon forest, sandstone plateau scrub, and riverine landscapes.
Each campsite is beguiling and peaceful. Considering the daily walking distances are far from demanding, you’ll find plenty of time to bask inside each site’s accompanying billabong, stream, or rock hole (so pack a book!).
Camping fees, $3.30 per night, jatbulatrail.com.au
6. Glamp in desert luxury
Bed down under a blanket of Red Centre stars at glamping destination Longitude 131. This stay – with its 15 elegant ‘tents’, raised huts with roofs made from white sails – is tucked into a private patch of desert, 27 kilometres from Uluru (and was the choice of accommodation for Prince William and wife Kate Middleton on their last NT visit).
Views from each tent, as well as the main dining area, unfold to the Rock, and included meals feature bush tucker ingredients such as lime fingers, desert quandong, and wattleseed.
Tailor your stay to include activities such as ancestral cultural talks at the base of Uluru, scenic flights over Kata Tjuta, and dinner at Table 131 – a culinary experience set among the sand dunes where food is paired with wines and the night is lantern-lit.
Packages from $1700 per person per night (two-night minimum), longtitude131.com.au