Once in a while, I really get to reminiscing about my first backpacking trip. In 2013, after spending a year teaching English and saving money in South Korea, Tim and I flew first to Southeast Asia before heading towards Australia and New Zealand.
As a bit of background, when I was in university, I had a slight obsession with the idea of moving to Darwin in Australia’s Top End. That image of the rugged sun-scorched landscape really appealed to me. As much as I wanted it to happen, my savings account and general fear of the world did a great job of holding me back.
When I finally made it to Darwin, and the Northern Territory in general, this amazing thing happened — it completely blew my expectations away. This is one region of the world where I really let my daydreams loose, and somehow that didn’t negatively impact my real-life experience in the slightest. Those memories are still some of my favourite, and most adventurous, times to look back on — even now four years later.
For now, I’ll let the rambling nostalgia end and get on with this post — some of my highlights from Australia’s Northern Territory.
Ubirr Rock Art and Landscapes, Kakadu National Park
Dating to 40,000 BCE, the sequences of Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr and other sites in Arnhem Land stand as being the longest-continuing series of artistic expression in the world. The galleries are in sheltered areas, protected from the sunshine and rain by overhanging rock. They depict animals, as well as tell stories of the Aboriginal Dreamtime.
Of course, the stories and history of the rock art in this area are enough to make it a highlight in its own right, but climbing Ubirr and taking in the surrounding landscape can be a spiritual experience in itself.
Wildlife and Waterfalls
In an effort to keep this post brief, I’ll lump together the wallabies near waterfalls, saltwater crocs in billabongs, and the many impressive avian species (we saw a Jabiru, Darter Heron, Comb-Crested Jacana, Whistling Kite, White-Bellied Sea Eagles, Wandering Whistling-Ducks, and more within the span of a one-hour tour of the Corroboree Billabong).
This trip also comprised itself of some of the most impressive swimming locations I’ve seen in real life — including Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole in Litchfield National Park, as well as Jim Jim Falls and Barramundi Gorge in Kakadu National Park).
From Bangkok to Darwin — as my first stop in Australia, Darwin holds a special place in my travel memories (if I didn’t make that obvious in the intro). Sunset lounging in the Bicentennial Park, the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, Mindil Beach Markets, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and biking to Charles Darwin National Park were highlights of my time in the city. Read more here.
Alice Springs is more than a jumping-off point to get to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park — it’s completely worth hanging around for a couple of extra days.
The aboriginal culture is everywhere here (The Arrernte Aboriginal people have called Alice Springs and the surrounding area home for 30,000 years, and have many original stories to describe the area’s landscape). as well as the deep sense of desert living. This is a true outback town, despite the tourists on their way into the park. Check out the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Kangaroo Sanctuary, Todd Mall Market, buy some authentic aboriginal art, and take in the West MacDonnell Ranges before heading west.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
This is why many come to Australia in the first place — to get up close and personal with that 600-million-plus-year-old monolith we know as Uluru (well, some of us better know as Ayers Rock — but we say Uluru here).
This is perhaps one of the most touristy places you can find in the whole country, but that doesn’t diminish the awe that is standing beneath it or taking in the sunset views with sparkling wine in hand.
As much as Uluru is impressive, next door is the equally awe-inducing Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). The Valley of the Winds Walk through Kata Tjuta following a brisk sunrise is something special.
Camping in the Outback
I’ve got to add a separate point for this, because gathering firewood, cooking bread in pots by the fire, taking in the starry skies, sleeping on the ground in a swag, and waking to the brutal cold at 4 AM to hike up “Heart Attack Hill” and catch the sunrise over Kings Canyon is something else.