Australia's Northern Territory

Exploring The Top End

Internationally renowned travel journalist and photographer, Lisa Young, tells us why the Top End of Australia's Outback Northern Territory is so special.

If you need more headspace, the biggest tip I can give you is to visit the Northern Territory. Split into two areas, the Red Centre and the Top End, my trip focused on the lush, green Top End which is made up of the regions of Darwin, Kakadu and Arnhem Land, and Katherine. This is one of the world’s last frontiers; genuine outback, it overflows with a diverse mix of culture and adventure. After only a few days, I put my camera away – not wanting to miss a minute of the incredible sights. No lens could ever capture the beauty and sheer power that lies in the dramatic outback settings, breathtaking wetlands, stunning rock formations, spectacular national parks and exotic beaches.

When to visit the Top End
The heat adds an ethereal shimmer to such a magnificent landscape. The Top End is one of the warmest places in Australia, with tropical weather conditions. The dry season, April to October, is the best time to visit Darwin. The wet season, November to March, brings unpredictable weather but it is generally hot and steamy with occasional storms. If you don’t mind the rain, the wildlife is most active during the wet season, making it an ideal time for animal spotting. Darwin is also one of the world’s lightening capitals and has some of the most dramatic storm skylines ever photographed.

I was surprised at how fresh and vibrant Darwin was; the youngest city in Australia has plenty to offer. It’s not only the gateway to the tropical Northern Territory and Kakadu National Park, but an exciting destination in its own right. The buzzing multi-cultured city is an eclectic, cosmopolitan centre that has survived three cyclones as well as 64 bombing raids during the Second World War. It’s resilient with a friendly atmosphere - think outdoor activities and al fresco dining. Visit Stokes Hill Wharf, rent a bike and ride along the coast to Fanny Bay, charter a boat and fish off the picturesque coast line, or drop into the Darwin Sailing Club for cocktails at dusk before heading to Mindil Beach Sunset Market for a bite to eat.

Aboriginal culture - Kakadu National Park
The Top End is home to the largest Aboriginal population in Australia. Through various cultural programmes that benefit local Aboriginal communities, to the Territory are rewarded with an insight to their history and cultural traditions. Tourists to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kakadu National Park can discover 50,000 year old rock art. The sites of Ubirr and Nourlangie are some of the oldest and most extensive paintings in Australia.

Aboriginal guides encourage visitors to learn about their culture and traditions, which include basket weaving, spear fishing, dot painting and bush tucker walks. Kakadu National Park boasts an abundance of native wildlife, 60 species of mammals, 289 types of birds and some 132 reptiles, 25 types of frogs and 55 species of freshwater fish, plus 10,000 varieties of insects.

Cowboys (and girls) Down Under
The Northern Territory is also big cattle country. Its vast stations cover thousands of acres. Driving across country along deserted open roads that stretch for hundreds of kilometers, I have never felt further away from my life or been in the middle of so much space. Here in the real outback, the men are tough and the women are even tougher - enabling them to cope with the hot, hard days the outback throws at them. Try your hand at becoming a Jackeroo or Jillaroo (Australian cowboy or cowgirl) on a working cattle station or fish for huge barramundi in croc-inhabited rivers! The Top End is the real thing. It is hard to imagine and it is hard to describe which makes it all the more worthy of a visit.
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Jon Connell]
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