Tell me! What comes to mind when I say Northern Territory? Aboriginal people, perhaps? Crocodiles? Red sand? Uluru? Wide open roads? My Instagram posts? Just kidding (or am I).
I first looked into exploring this particular part of Australia at the beginning of the year. I remember reading Aboriginal stories and browsing through images from the red centre [as Australians call it]. I felt strangely emotional. Intrigued, and quickly convinced to plot it on my travel map. A lot of the photos and especially the Northern Territory's rich cultural history gave me goosebumps. If you've read my blogs and captions for some time, you might remember me talking about my favourite Portuguese word a couple of years ago - Saudade; the feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia. The presence of absence, you could say.
And so the year went on. There were adventures to be had in Scotland, Europe, China and New Zealand. And just as I was recovering from a rather unpleasant return of Mr Malaria, the email arrives. A photo job in the Nothern Territory with two other photographers - Melissa Findley and Anne Carolien Koehler.
So off I went. It's a 10-hour journey from Wellington through Brisbane to Darwin. Darwin is indeed named after the mighty Charles Darwin, although rumours have he never actually visited the area. The capital of the Northern Territory marks the beginning of the road we were about to embark on. Literally. It goes by the name of Stuart Highway and led us 1500km down south to our final destination, Alice Springs. Just in case you were wondering, from there it is another 470km to Uluru.
The girls and I immediately clicked [much to everyone's relief, I'm sure], and once we moved into our new Britz motorhome, lovingly named Willy Wilbert, we were ready for nice sunfilled days, and, so we hoped, lots of kangaroos. Spoiler, you must go to the kangaroo sanctuary in Alice Springs; it's heaven.
Overall, the landscapes of the Northern Territory are drenched deep in indigenous meaning. Every place we visited was an honour to witness and share with its ancestors and my beautiful adventure comrades. It inspired me to dive deep and study more on Australia's history and its marvellous megafauna (yes, I continue to be obsessed with marsupial lions). This journey also sparked a newly strengthened recognition of the undeniable bond between us walking monkeys and the natural world. The way Aboriginal people live a life in tune with Mother Nature is one we can all learn from.
Now, instead of talking you through every single day, I thought I'd share a list of my favourite locations from north to south alongside with notes on best photo spots, most memorable experiences, and such. Enjoy!
1. Litchfield National Park: Home to a myriad of waterfalls and natural pools. My favourite falls were Florence Falls. Come early! The Park covers approximately 1500 sq km, so I recommend you stay overnight in one of the park campgrounds to make the most of it. Other accommodations and dining facilities are also nearby, but not right within the park. As with all sorts of inviting waters in the Northern Territory, remember to swim only in designated areas. Wild crocs are a thing. Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls (also very beautiful!), Walker Creek, Cascades, Tjaynera Falls and Surprise Creek Falls are designated swimming areas.
2. Leliyn/Edith Falls: 2.5h south of Litchfield, I recommend following the path up the hill for both better views and better swimming. Please note the area may be closed to swimming at times between November through to April. The ideal time to visit the Northern Territory is during early winter (fewer crowds, fewer mosquitos, comfortable temperatures and no rain). Leliyn / Edith Falls is the finishing point of the 62 kilometre Jatbula Trail walking track, which begins at our next destination; Nitmiluk Gorge.
3. Nitmiluk National Park/Katherine Gorge: Sheer perfection at golden hour. The Jawoyn, one of more than 250 individual nations of Australia's Aboriginal People, first arrived here more than 50,000 years ago. It holds tremendous cultural meaning, which you can learn more about during one of the cruises down the gorge. If you're feeling a little fancy, you can feast and enjoy the views all at the same time during the sunset dinner cruise. For the early birds, the sunrise cruise will not disappoint. The lookout up to the right of the visitor's centre is beautiful during sunset. It's a simple, albeit a little steep, 15-20 minutes walk. Maybe bring a picnic? The best time to visit is between May and September. Canoeing through the second gorge is another beautiful way of experiencing Nitmiluk National Park. To canoe past the 5th gorge, it is recommended that you camp overnight (permits for which you can arrange at the Visitor's Centre).
4. Katherine Springs: A lesser known alternative to Bitter Springs. Equally relaxing and picturesque. It is important to note that these springs are closed from November to April due to excess water. Similarly to every other landmark in the region, entry is free and your best bet for maximal serenity is in the early hours.
5. Bitter Springs / Mataranka Thermal Pool: Naturally heated thermal pools that quickly transport you into an enchanted parallel universe. Here is also where I took my first underwater photos, one of which got shared by Instagram itself. Come early and take your time, these magical waters are not meant to be rushed. Afterwards, there is a short loop walk you can complete before heading back on the road.
6. Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve: Again, of great historical importance and absolute delight at sunset. Karlu Karlu is the local Aboriginal term for both the rock features and the surrounding area. The origin of the English name stems from a quote by John Ross during the 1870 Australian Overland Telegraph Line expedition. He said, This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place! Several parts of the reserve are fenced off to visitors due to their great cultural meaning. Droning or, in some parts, touching the rocks is not allowed. A number of traditional Dreaming stories that are passed on from generation to generation of Traditional Owners have Karlu Karlu as their setting, hence its great importance as a sacred site. Only a handful of stories are considered suitable to tell to uninitiated visitors. In case you are unfamiliar with the term Dreaming Story, in Aboriginal culture a Dreaming is considered a sacred artwork. A tribe can, in fact, own a Dreaming story to explain the creation of life, people and animals.
7. Rainbow Valley: South of Alice Springs; you'll need a 4WD for the last bit of the road. During golden hour, you can watch the rock go from ochre red to orange and purple. It's a spectacle, don't miss it. We stayed until after dusk and the milky way shone brightly in all its glory. Next time, I'd camp here.
8. Alice Springs Kangaroo Sanctuary: Did you know kangaroos are nocturnal? This sanctuary allows one group of visitors a day just before the sun goes down. An incredibly informative and cuddly (baby kangaroos!!!) experience I wouldn't mind repeating every other week. You might recognise Brolga (the owner and caregiver) or Roger, a resident kangaroo from their BBC UK and Nat Geo USA documentaries. It is Brolga's mission to educate and encourage people to rescue and care for kangaroos and other wildlife and animals.
9. Outback Ballooning: It's not every day you get to float across the sky at sunrise, is it? Bonus for the warmth of the fire that keeps the balloon in the air and everyone in it nice and toasty. My favourite part was spotting the kangaroos from above. You will land in the middle of bushland, but don't worry, return transfers to Alice Springs are included.
From there, you could continue to Uluru or possibly all the way to Southern Australia. The road is open, and it's yours! I recognise the long distances we are to travel to reach Australia's outback, but I can promise you that you will experience places like nowhere else you have ever been. The surprising diversity in its natural landscapes mixed with that precious sense of honour of stepping onto indigenous land is one I hope you all get to feel one day. Happy travels, my friends!