Libby larsen reveals her local insights about the best bits of the NT for families.
Libby Larsen reveals her local insights into the best of the NT for families.
With breathtaking red rock canyons, crystalclear water holes and vast wetlands teeming with wildlife, the Northern Territory is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in Australia. Combined with the richness of Aboriginal culture, there’s no wonder it’s a bucket-list destination for families.
Delving into Darwin’s delights
Lazing beachside on the lawns at Café De la Plage, chilled tunes floating in the air while I watch my boys playing on the beach, I reflect on what a special place Darwin is for families, and how much I love this beautiful tropical city.
If you ask my boys what the best things to do in Darwin are, they’ll drag you straight to Crocosaurus Cove to get a picture with their friend Fluffy, the baby saltwater croc. There are some huge crocs at Crocosaurus Cove that you can learn about and watch being fed at the Big Croc Show, but it’s not all crocs. Don’t miss the interactive hands-on reptile talks. Next, my boys would insist you make a beeline to the Wave Pool at the Darwin Waterfront for some fun water action.
Dining by the water is the best way to eat out in Darwin. The Darwin Ski Club and Stokes Hill Wharf are brilliant for families, and Mindil Beach Sunset Market is a spectacle not to be missed. For accommodation, Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront is just a hop, skip and jump from the Wave Pool and restaurants.
A great half-day trip is the jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River, 50 minutes from Darwin. Watching the magnificent crocs launching themselves out of the water is truly a sight to behold. There are a range of tour operators, but we love Adelaide River Cruises.
Any trip to Darwin isn’t complete without a visit to Litchfield National Park, a 1.5-hour drive from Darwin. Basking in the gushing cascades at Buley Rockhole and plunging into the picturesque swimming hole at the bottom of Florence Falls is pure bliss.
Culture, cruising and crocs in Kakadu
We’ve had some amazing adventures in Kakadu National Park over the years. I like to think of Kakadu as the ultimate outdoor classroom. Aboriginal people have lived here for at least 65,000 years and are known locally in the region as Bininj or Mungguy.
Believe me, I’m not a morning person, but the sunrise Yellow Water Cruise is worth getting up for. Being surrounded by pink water lilies in the soft morning light, with jabirus, crocodiles, egrets, whistling ducks, magpie geese and kingfishers on the South Alligator River Wetlands is an awe-inspiring way to start the day.
Guluyambi Cultural Cruise on the East Alligator River offers a unique local Bininj cultural experience. Our guide, Hilton, demonstrated his knowledge of hunting techniques with masterful spear-throwing. He also showed us local bush foods and medicines and how to make ochre. Our boys found it fascinating.
One of the most breathtaking places in the NT is the infinity plunge pool at the top of Gunlom Falls. It’s a steep onekilometre hike uphill to get to the top pool, but worth the trek. The bottom swimming hole is also amazing and great for littlies.
World-class rock art can be found at Nourlangie and Ubirr. I highly recommend a little side trip to Injalak Arts in Arnhem Land to do the rock art tour.
Jabiru, the main town in Kakadu, is a three-hour drive from Darwin and has a range of places to stay. The most iconic is the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, which, as the name suggests, is shaped like a croc.
Paddling about in Katherine
The imposing cliffs of Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park are dramatic. The park is owned by the Jawoyn people. Nitmiluk Tours runs excellent boat trips through a staggering network of gorges, or you can opt to hire a canoe, a great way to spot the area’s diverse wildlife. After a day at the gorge, relax and revive at Cicada Lodge.
Stargazing and rocky ranges in Alice
Central Australia is a place that gets under your skin and makes you want to return again and again. Alice Springs sits in the middle of the stunning Macdonnell Ranges which are part of the Yeperenye or ‘caterpillar’ creation story for the Arrernte Aboriginal people.
Alice Springs Desert Park runs nocturnal tours where kids can spotlight endangered Central Australian species like the rufous hare-wallaby. At the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs, my boys experienced pure joy as they cradled and fed the baby joeys. It’s popular, so you need to book well in advance.
Take a drive out to the striking Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Standley Chasm for the kids to try to spot rock wallabies that hop along the narrow rock ledges.
Unbelievable Uluru and captivating Kata Tjuta
Having worked as a park ranger at Ulurukata Tjuta National Park, I was keen for the boys to experience this iconic Aboriginal-owned national park. Ulurukata Tjuta is a living cultural landscape imbued with unfathomable significance for Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people.
We headed straight to the park to watch the sun set over Uluru. The extraordinary tones of red and orange attest that there is no place on Earth like this.
We rode camels and biked around Uluru, and were humbled by the majestic Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta. The boys loved the Dot-painting Workshop at Maruku Arts, a notfor-profit art collective owned and operated by the Anangu, and learned how to tell their own stories in the style of local artists.
You can fly directly to Uluru or drive from Alice Springs, which takes around five hours. Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, just outside the park, has a range of accommodation from camping to glamping. We opted for Emu Walk Apartments; being selfcontained, it’s perfect for families.
05 01 Rock Art Tour with Injalak Arts © Rebecca Bartley 02 Camel at Uluru © Tourism NT 03 Guluyambi Cultural Cruise in Kakadu 04 Libby’s boys at Kata Tjuta 05 Thrills at Crocosaurus Cove 06 Uluru glows orange and red © Tourism NT. Images 03–04 © Libby Larsen