Australians discuss “The Territory” in terms of the Red Centre and the Top End. Both offer distinct bushwalking Northern Territory experiences.
The “red” in the former is a heads up to the colour of the sand, ancient mountain ranges and the iconic, mythic monolith, Uluru, that rises from Australia’s arid central plains. But the colour card of reds also includes the desert sunsets that flame the sky and the look-at-me Sturt’s desert peas that erupt from the ground after rain.
Up in the Top End, however, you’ll find a contrasting multitude of greens: darker cascades and billabongs, vibrant, verdant palms fronds and water lily leaves. Many of the plants here appear to grow inches overnight after an atmospheric pressure-easing summer deluge.
Neither “half” of the Northern Territory has a climate suited to summer hiking. The Top End can be so humid just sweating is exhausting and Red Centre temperatures rob your body of moisture and energy. But you can make memorable journeys on foot across the rest of the year.
Start with an easy circuit around Uluru, discovering some of the cultural and geological secrets tucked into the landmark’s folds and crevices. Head next to Kings Canyon to walk on the edge of toe-curling sandstone cliffs.
From there, a scenic drive around the Mereenie Loop (permit required) brings you to the ancient West MacDonnell Ranges, through which snakes the long-distance Larapinta Trail. My pick of Larapinta legs goes through and over the range, from Jay Creek to Standley Chasm. And the Ormiston Pound loop, in the West Macs, is one of the best short walks in Australia.
In the East MacDonnell Ranges, where fewer visitors go, tread the Trephina Ridge Top trail, traversing country so thick with spinifex that from above it looks like an Aboriginal dot painting.
It’s 1,200km from Alice Springs, the Red Centre capital, to Katherine, in the Top End. You can drive it, for an extraordinary experience of Territory people and country, or ride the Ghan, a famous train named for the Afghan cameleers whose animal teams helped open up Australia to settlement.
You’ve come north to walk the six-day Jatbula Trail (bookings required). Shadowing the footsteps of the Jawoyn Aboriginal people, this walk traverses the Arnhem Land escarpment from refreshing river to waterfall to lagoon. Jatbula is the perfect way to wind up your bushwalking Northern Territory journey but if you’re doing the Big Lap (driving around the country) then the Territory has one more pedestrian pleasure for you.
Walking through beehive domes and boab trees in Keep River National Park, just short of the Western Australia border, is a fabulous alternative finale.
Check out my other state-by-state itineraries which include lots of specific walks:
For a general introduction to bushwalking Down Under, please see my ‘Bushwalking in Australia: everything you need to know.’