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The Northern Territory (NT) occupies the north central part of the continent of Australia. The southern part of the Territory (Central Australia) is extremely arid.
Much of the Territory is relatively flat. There are some disconnected ranges, including the sandstone plateau of western Arnhem Land. Long mountain ranges are more a feature of Central Australia, including the MacDonnell Ranges, the Petermann Ranges, and Harts Range.
The Northern Territory also has the natural rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which are sacred to the local Aboriginal people.
The Northern Territory has the two largest deserts in Australia, the Tanami Desert in the northern part of the Territory, and the Simpson Desert of Central Australia.
The Northern Territory is often not considered for bushwalking because of the heat. The south has deserts which are very different from the lush, tropical forests near the northern coast. Winter is the best time to walk in any area of the territory. Permits are needed for areas where aboriginal ownership has been recognised.
The Northern Territory has two distinctive climate zones. The northern end, including Darwin, has a tropical climate with high humidity and two seasons, the wet (October to April) and dry season (May to September).
During the dry season nearly every day is warm and sunny, and afternoon humidity averages around 30%. There is very little rainfall.
The wet season is associated with tropical cyclones and monsoon rains. The majority of rainfall occurs between December and March (the southern hemisphere summer), when thunderstorms are common and afternoon relative humidity averages over 70% during the wettest months.
See Northern Territory (Wikipedia) for more information.
Tropical cyclones may occur in the NT from November to April and can be potentially destructive, bringing heavy rain and storm surges.
West MacDonnell National Park (Tjoritja). Home to the Larapinta Trail, the range also has many good day and overnight walks. Roads access the range at various points including Ormiston Gorge, Standley Chasm, Simpsons Gap and Ellery Creek Big Hole and Redbank Gorge for Mount Sonder.
Larapinta Trail: Starting in Alice Springs at the old Telegraph Station, the Larapinta Trail heads out along the rugged West MacDonnell Range. This 223 km trail leads through an arid desert environment taking 18-20 days to complete. Highlights include Simpsons Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen and Mount Sonder, the highest peak on the trail.
Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon). This park also provides some good walking. The Rim Walk, a 6 km loop, provides views of the canyon, however an overnight walk along the 22km Giles Track from Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs is also worthwhile.
Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas (Kata Tjuta). Good one-day walks can be undertaken here, but overnight bush camping is not permitted. An excellent day walk is the Valley of the Winds walk which winds its way between the domes for a 7.4 km circuit.
Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge). The park covers a vast area of escarpment country and the main gorge provides some good one and two-day walks. Off-track walking is officially discouraged, but the Jatbula Trail and the tracks on the southern rim provide multi-day walking.
Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park is a five-day, 58 km one-way walk. The trail passes waterfalls, monsoon rainforest, stone country and Aboriginal rock art. Permits are required and should be booked well in advance.
Kakadu National Park. A large park with some recognised one-day walks to the major features. Longer walks are all off-track and a wide variety of routes is possible. The route from Koolpin Creek to Jim Jim Falls is one well known seven-day walk. Applications for permits for overnight walks have to be made months in advance. Winter is the best period here as summer is the wet season and access roads are often flooded.
Litchfield National Park is home to several stunning waterfalls and large, clear pools. The plateau also supports a range of woodland and forest flora and many native bird species. Several well signposted, short walks cover a variety of landscapes and habitats that are typical of this area. The 39km Tabletop Track is a circuit walk through woodlands and lush rainforest, follows pandanus-lined creeks and visits scenic waterfalls and rock pools enabling bushwalkers to experience the remote wilderness of the Top End. It is suitable for experienced, fit and self-sufficient bushwalkers only as there are minimal facilities along the track. Allow three to five days and camp in the designated campgrounds.
See Bushwalking and hiking for more information.
Most snakes in the Northern Territory are poisonous although snakebites are rare. Take care to avoid stepping on them when they are warming up in the morning sun. Carry a pressure bandage. See Management of snake bite for more information.
Water is often not available in desert regions, check the status of water sources before you go.
Crocodiles are present in coastal regions and river estuaries. Only swim in signed areas.
Heat illnesses are a major concern. Be aware of the different weather conditions at different times of the year. Extreme cold can be just as dangerous as extreme heat so check local weather conditions.
Wear appropriate clothing, hat and shoes and apply sunscreen.
A ‘drink to thirst’ strategy is the best approach to fluid consumption during exercise.
Dingoes may be present in outback locations.
Marine stingers season runs from October 1 to May 31 when box jellyfish are more likely to be in the water. Box jellyfish has quick acting venom in its tentacles that can kill a person in less than five minutes. Irukandji jellyfish may also be encountered.
Stings are possible at any time of the year. Wear protective clothing when swimming in coastal areas.
NT emergency service information
Dial 000 and ask for Police to report a bushwalking emergency.
NT Police is responsible for land search and rescue, assisted by organisations including:
Interstate visitors should check reciprocal arrangements with their state or territory ambulance organisation.
International visitors should confirm they have travel insurance that covers rescue operations.