Guide to the Northern Territory

      line 4 JPEGBudget Itinerary; three weeks from Darwin to Uluru

      THE NORTHERN TERRITORY

      I never knew that dirt could be so magical! But, in the “red centre” it is exactly that. Starkly juxtaposed next to the soft greens of the shrubs and gumtrees, this extremely isolated area of Australia is breathtakingly beautiful. We drove from Darwin to Uluru via Daly River and Litchfield, then over to Kakadu and through Katherine, stopping in at the Devils Marbles and Alice Springs and then across to Uluru. Northern Territory scenery is absolutely breathtaking and the weather was perfect (that was until the hail storm in Alice Springs, the first in a very long time).

      MapGuide to Northern Territory Map

      READ: My Guide to Darwin and Surrounds covers Darwin, Litchfield, Kakadu, Katherine and Elsey National Parks

      Daly River (1-2 days)

      Daly River is about 220 km South-East of Darwin, past Litchfield National Park. It’s a tiny river town and missionary with some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. There’s one pub which doubles up as a supermarket and that’s about it. It would be a great destination for people travelling in a van that want to see rural Northern Territory without having to go “off road”

      Daly River Northern Territory

      Things to do in Daly River

      There are gorgeous lookouts, a hill to climb at sunset, fishing and off-roading. The most beautiful lookout is very well hidden. To get there turn off Port Keats road onto Nanaar road, continue along for about 500 metres then turn right onto a partially hidden dirt track. This is where you can find the viewpoint that I have pictured. There is a nice rock flat at the top to park your car/van. In the late afternoon, walk to the top of the hill located between Daly River road and Nauiyu Access. It’s an easy walk and the 360° views are absolutely breathtaking.

      Where to stay in Daly River

      Hopefully you’ve brought along your van, as this is a really great place for just parking wherever to sleep the night. If you’re in need of some accom you can stay at the Daly River Roadside Inn.

      How to get to Daly River

      Just follow the highway around Litchfield (you can also go through the park if you want to), make sure you stay on the Stuart highway otherwise you’ll end up going off road.

      READ: For Darwin, Litchfield, Kakadu, Katherine and Elsey read this article

      Tennant Creek & Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) (1-2 days)

      If you’re driving from Darwin to Alice Springs (or the other way around) chances are you’ve already planned to drop in here. I highly recommend staying more than just one night, as I really loved it, and the campground is cheap! There are lots to explore; it’s like a natural playground! If you’re into your photography you’ll want to have time for the perfect shots too, especially for sunset when the rocks become illuminated in bright pink.

      Kalu Kalu Devils Marbles

      Where to stay at the Devils Marbles

      So Tennant Creek is actually 100 km from the marbles, but compared to how much you’ve already driven in the Northern Territory it’s really nothing. If you need a hotel, this is where you’re going to have to come. There is one resort next to the Marbles, the Devils Marbles Hotel, but it’s quite expensive. If you’re camping then you are very much in luck! The camp sites are nice with lots of places to sit and people all around, plus it’s only $3.30 per person (honour system).

      How to get to the Devils Marbles

      Luckily for anyone driving, it’s literally right there on the highway, 100 km from Tennant Creek. It’s really, really easy. But it does mean it gets a little crowded with lots of families stopping in.

      Alice Springs (2-3 days)

      We were driving into Alice late in the afternoon, just after some rain, and the scenery around Alice literally made me stop the vehicle so I could take it all in. It was some of the most beautiful, and simultaneously alien-like views I’ve ever seen. The earth bright red juxtaposed with pale, silvery olive green of the shrubbery. Gum trees as white as ghosts jutted out every now and then, stretching their wiry branches in all directions. Photos do no justice for the beauty that surrounds Alice Springs, and it is a place I felt instantly connected to, a place I know I will have to return to.

      Alice Springs Simpsons Gap scenery red rock

      Things to do in Alice Springs

      The town itself didn’t interest us too much. There are some markets, shopping centres, etc. It’s the surrounding areas of Alice that we were desperate to explore. Just 18 km outside of Alice is Simpsons Gap, a beautiful natural chasm with a stream flowing between it. There are walks around the area including the Ghost Gum Walk and the Cassia Hill Walk; around scrubland and up to a lookout. 

      READ: Budget Guide when planning to Trek the Larapinta Trail on the Cheap

      Where to stay in Alice Springs

      We stayed in a very relaxed camping ground out the back of the Gap View Hotel for $11 per night (total). With a scattering of BBQ’s, a pool, a huge toilet block with hot showers and a few sneaky places for us to plug our camper electricity into this was a great spot for us.

      How to get to Alice Springs

      Alice is somewhat of an epicentre, with people flying in and out, an array of buses and a train line from Adelaide to Darwin also passes through. You have quite a few choices here but most likely you’re driving since you want to see everything else nearby.

      MacDonnell Ranges (2-3 days)

      Definitely do this park, and definitely make sure you have a few days to do it if you can (still worth the day tip if you can’t). It’s gorge galore, lush river-full and boasts one of the top 20 hikes in the world – the Larapinta trail.

      MacDonnell Park Stanley Ormiston Gorge Chasm Redbank Gorge 2

      Things to do in MacDonnell Ranges

      If I’d had the time, you wouldn’t have been able to stop me from doing the two-week Larapinta trail; rain, hail or shine. The scenery in the area is beautiful, and the trail is very well supported, you can hop on or off at numerous checkpoints and stay in very well equipped campgrounds for free. Luckily for me most of the park is accessible by car so we were able to spend the day driving from one beautiful place to the next. My favourite spots were Stanley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge and Redbank Gorge (pictured). 

      Where to camp in MacDonnell Ranges

      A lot of the campgrounds in the Northern Territory are free, but to check download the app Wikicamps which will give you most of the information you’ll need. My favourites were Redbank Gorge (beautiful sunset view) and Ellery Creek.

      How to get around MacDonnell Ranges

      Hopefully you’ve got a vehicle for all of this but if you don’t you can do day tours from Alice Springs. For people who have a bit more freedom it’s 100 km from Alice in total, with the first gorge being only 18 km out of Alice at Simpsons Gap. Zip along the main park road, dropping in at Stanley Chasm, Ellery Creek, the Ochre pits, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen and Redbank Gorge. You can even go further if you have more time.

      Kings Canyon (1 day)

      I’ve already described so many places in the Northern Territory as breathtaking so I feel like I need a new word. Awe-inspiring? Otherworldly? Epic? All of these cover Kings Canyon which is a huge system of canyons and rock walls that you can climb to the top of and then walk along for 6 kms. In the beginning it’s a very tough vertical trek, then once on top you can just chill out and take in the spectacular views.

      Kings Canyon Northern Territory

      Where to stay in Kings Canyon

      There are a few good campsites just outside the park that are free. We stayed in Salt Creek RA, which had a resident dingo and beautiful red soft sand.

      How to get to Kings Canyon

      Unfortunately it’s quite a ways off the road to Uluru, but still worth the effort. You can also get to Kings Canyon from MacDonnell Park if you have a 4WD. It’s half the distance but could take the same amount of time due to the severity of the off-roading. If you have a van it’s an easy turn off on the way from Alice Springs from the Lesseter hwy 4 on to Luritja road 3. 

      Ayres Rock (Uluru) (2-3 days)

      One of the most famous landmarks in the world… and with good reason. This rock put the Northern Territory on the map. Pictures really don’t capture how epic this rock is. Bright red and huge, it takes 20 minutes just to drive around it!

      uluru_timelapse 10MBThe changing colours of Uluru Ayres Rock Northern Territory 2

      Things to do in Uluru

      Aside for everything rock-related there is also another very impressive place in the park; Kata Tjuta. Ensure you do both a sunset and sunrise here as the rock lights up into a bright, impressive red from different angles.

      Where to stay in Uluru

      The small town of Yulara just outside of the park comes equipped with everything from campgrounds to 5 star hotels. Or you can try your hand at sleeping in your van on the side of the road, though the rangers might wake you up and tell you to move on. Last cheapo option is to drive 100 km back to Curtin Springs Roadhouse where they offer FREE campsites (and showers, omg!). 

      How to get to Uluru

      Ayres rock has it’s own airport with several flights in and out per day. It would be quite simple to fly in and get a hold of a hire car right away.

      READ: More on the Uluru rock climb for information about wether or not to climb this sacred rock

      GETTING AROUND THE NORTHERN TERRITORY

      Van Hire

      This is where your online detective skills are going to come in handy. I found that hiring the van through an online booking agency was cheaper than booking through the actual company’s site. When booking, Motorhome Republic gave me a 25% off deal for a Britz Highball Van. Look out for these and compare lots of prices. 

      4WD hire

      Advance Car Rentals hire 4WD cars for about $135 per day or Wicked Campers were the cheapest I found at $99 per day. Some places may charge extra for going off road, which sucks. My advice? If you’re serious about 4WDing, buy your own then sell it at the end of the trip.

      Car Hire

      There’s one big problem with hiring a car for your Northern Territory trip. Most of the car hire companies have a very strict 100 km per day limit on their hire cars. They tell me this is because they can’t then sell the car off when its miles are up too high. In my opinion that’s pretty unfair, but thems the rules. But I did manage to find one car hire place in Darwin that gave us unlimited kms to get to Daly River and back. They are Advance Car Rentals and they hire for as little as $35 a day! Be sure to check them out if you’re really set on a hire car for the trip.

      Bus

      If you can’t drive or otherwise can’t get a hold of a car, the buses are a good option. The Greyhound bus will let you choose where you want to stop along the way and the price is pretty fair at $180 for the trip between Alice and Darwin. Plus you get to just sleep between stops, which is rejuvenating.

      Train

      The very famous ‘Ghan’ train is very expensive, and although it would be an epic train ride, it would have to be something I did when I have a bit more dosh. But it does stop in at all the major Northern territory landmarks along the way, and have first class service.

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      Budget Guide to Northern Territory - Castaway with Crystal

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      Location Info

      Place: Northern Territory
      Country: Australia
      Language: English
      Currency: Australian Dollars
      $1 USD = $1.30
      I was there: June 2016

      Note: Thank you to Tourism NT for sponsoring part of my stay in the Top End and to Advance Car Rental for helping me out hiring a car. Opinions are always my own and not influenced by my sponsors.

      Crystal Name Small

      What is your dream adventure holiday? Tell me about it in the comments!
      Categories: Adventure & off the Grid, Australia, Guides
      Crystal Egan

      Passionate baby goat cuddler and part-time adventurer, Crystal can often be found doing headstands on the edges of cliffs, taking photos of abandoned buildings or sleeping on deserted islands with dangerous criminals. She has too many awesome stories and helpful tips to keep them all to herself so follow along and in return she will bring you inspiring pictures, travel videos and a whole load of fun!

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