1. Uluru National Park
A rocky beacon of ancient culture meets modern day tourism magnet. The pitted, weathered face of this grand old stone monolith has seen countless generations of humans come and go and still, stands strong and true where it has stood for millennia.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Uluru really up close. Even in the semi-dark twilight of the early morning, the sheer presence of the great slab of timeless stone seemed to gently loom out of the low light. It wasn’t until we had all stepped off the bus and stood less than a few hundred metres from its base that the full enormity of Uluru truly strikes you.
It’s not just the height of the thing (at 863m it’s not particularly tall, certainly not if you’re from somewhere European and mountainous) that is impressive, there’s an indescribably feeling of weight in the air, invisible yet tangible all the same.
While you can just go out to Uluru of your own accord and wander around the base of the stone to your heart’s content, we’d recommend that yourself a guided tour. That way you might actually, you know, learn something.
For one thing you will learn that the area is highly sacred to the local Anangu people, who have a rich and detailed history of the place. Almost every mark in the rock face, every waterhole, spring and cave has a certain meaning and sacred history to the Anangu.
Also if you go with a guide, you won’t make an absolute dill of yourself and take photographs at places or of things that you’re not supposed to.
Although, to be fair, even if you’re not in a group there’s big signs saying ‘NO CAMERAS ALLOWED’ at areas with particular religious significance to the Anangu, so there’s no excuse really.
There’s also a beautifully appointed and highly informative visitors centre near to where the 10km base walk finishes. It tells the story of the struggles of the local people to have their rights and that of Uluru respected.
2. Kata Tjuta/Mt Olga
36 giant sandstone domes, rising proudly out of the semi-arid, desert landscape of the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park makes this spot one of the must-see sights in the NT. Kata Tjuta, in its entirety spreads over an area of over 20 square kilometers, making the site truly vast in scale and size. At its centre, the biggest of the domes – Mt Olga – rises to a height of over 1,000 metres.
While there are a number of hiking and walking trails available for bushwalkers and tour groups, one of the most gentle (and beautiful) is the Valley of the Winds walk. This seven kilometre hike, takes people up through the centre of the formation and includes a number of incredible look out points and photo opportunities.
Kata Tjuta isn’t perhaps as famous or well visited as nearby Uluru, it’s an absolutely incredible experience to visit and if you’re going to be in the area anyway then you’d be silly to miss it!
3. Kings Canyon
Another spectacular collection of naturally occurring rock formations will delight bush walkers here. The strange, bubbly rock formations jutting like abandoned minarets out of the rocky gorge faces, the ghost gums and fossilised remains of ancient creatures jutting out of the living rock all make Kings Canyon one of the best nature walking spots anywhere in the country. There’s also a beautiful oasis halfway through your walk.
4. Devils Marbles
Karlu Karlu, as they’re known by the local Aboriginal custodians of the region, are giant, freestanding sandstone boulders. If you’ve never been to the Devils Marbles, then it’s quite hard to explain just how amazing they are to look at with your own eyes. Clusters of giant boulders, some in the most alien and seemingly precarious positions, sprawl across the desert. It’s also one of the oldest religious sites in the world.
5. Alice Springs
The capital of the Red Centre and one of the Territory’s biggest townships is Alice Springs and its come of age. Good food and loose nightspots abound. If you’re going on a tour out to the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park, chances are you’ll wind up spending a night or two in Alice Springs. Sure, the town has its issues, but there’re plenty of good pubs and restaurants around if you know where to look.
6. Mount Connor
This lone, flat mountain jutting out of the desert has fooled hundreds of tourists in its time due to its resemblance to a slightly more famous nearby rock formation. Yes, they don’t call Mt Connor ‘Fooluru’ for no reason. This flat topped, horse-shoe shaped mesa lying between Lake Amadeus and Alice Springs may look like Uluru from a distance but up close it has a solemn beauty and majesty all of its own.
7. MacDonnell Ranges
The sparse, unforgiving majesty of the MacDonnell Ranges have to be seen to be believed. These elaborate sprawl of rocky gorges, walking trails and rocky formations include some of the highest mountains in the Northern Territory, as well as the infamously demanding Larapinta Trail: a 223km trek. Less intrepid walkers can organise short tours into the ranges from nearby Alice Springs.
8. Finke Gorge
This national parkland is an absolute delight for bushwalkers, botanists or just about anyone with a sense of adventure. The highlight of this sprawling, 458 square kilometer park is the beautiful desert oasis known as Palm Valley which is home to tens of unique species of plant – including the Red Cabbage Palm which lives only in this one location. Strap on a pair of hiking boots and get amongst it all!
9. Tennant Creek
At first glance this little township on the Stuart Highway may appear to be in the middle of nowhere. Yet, it’s the perfect home base. Not only is Tennant Creek extremely close well-known attractions including the Devils Marbles, Mary Ann Dam and the Battery Hill Mining Centre but it also has its own unique outback flavour. Go out and make friends with a few locals and you’ll understand.
10. Davenport Ranges NP
The site of an ancient asteroid strike within the Davenport Ranges have morphed into a watery oasis in the middle of central Australia. Located nearby to Tennant Creek, the Davenport Ranges National Park is host to numerous species of water birds as well as unique species of fish who have adapted to living in the permanent waterholes that litter the parkland. Hire a 4WD from Tennant Creek, pack a tent and enjoy!