Travel

18 of the Best Nature and Wildlife Experiences in the Northern Territory

Get up and close to crocodiles and giant whiprays.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Jewels Lynch

Home to 24 national parks, including dual World Heritage-listed Uluru and Kakadu, and scores of nature reserves, the Northern Territory offers some of the country’s most spectacular and unspoilt sights.

From lush floodplains, monsoonal forests and crystal-clear waterfalls of the Top End to the towering red sandstone walls and remote wonders of the Red Centre, the Territory has no shortage of experiences guaranteed to help travellers relax, recharge and reconnect with nature. 

Top End

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Photo: Tourism NT/Chris Tangey

Flock to Kakadu Bird Week

25 September – 2 October 2021
Home to more than a third of Australia’s bird species, including brolgas, plumed whistling-ducks and the rare Red Goshawk, Kakadu is the ultimate birdwatcher’s paradise. During Kakadu Bird Week, nature enthusiasts are treated to wetland cruises, bird-watching expeditions, lectures, and Aboriginal bird experiences.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Aude Mayans

Witness turtle hatchlings on Sea Darwin’s Turtle Tracks tour

For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, board a cruise from Darwin and arrive at the remote Bare Sand Island, a key nesting site for Flatback and Olive Ridley Turtles. Along the way, the guides will share stories of the island’s unique war history and indigenous Larrakia people, across the backdrop of a famous Top End sunset.

Crocosaurus Cove
Photo: Tourism NT/Helen Orr

Get up-close with crocodiles and giant whiprays at Crocosaurus Cove

Bring your bathers and try the Cage of Death, where you’ll spend 15 minutes in an underwater pen with an adult crocodile. Or for something less bold, hand-feed two-metre, friendly whiprays in an intimate tour.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Backyard Bandits

Spot diverse wildlife on board a Yellow Water Cruise

Discover the distinct ecosystems and rich wildlife of Kakadu’s Yellow Water Billabong, including crocodiles in their nature surroundings and buffalos on the floodplains. Sunrise or sunset cruises are recommended.

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Photo: Tourism NT

Be immersed in ‘wild bush luxury’ at Bamurru Plains

This is an eco-friendly safari lodge, devoid of TV, phone and Wi-Fi, that offer its guests exclusive access to 300 km² of floodplains and savanna woodland in Kakadu’s Mary River. Spend the night in their free-standing bungalows and during the day, explore the vast scenery on a guided wilderness airboat or 4WD safari.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Taylah Nilsson

Go hiking and waterfall hopping at Litchfield National Park

An hour’s drive south of Darwin awaits a plethora of idyllic waterfalls and waterholes, like Florence Falls or Buley Rockhole, giant magnetic termite mounds, picnic spots and walking trails.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Helen Orr

Canoe or kayak through the majestic gorges of Nitmiluk National Park

Paddle along the world-famous park to see dramatic escarpment country, waterfalls and ancient Aboriginal rock art and wildlife, including birds and fish.

Bathe in natural thermal waters of Bitter Springs and Katherine Hot Springs

Surrounded by native vegetation and with average water temperature ranging in the thirties, these spring-fed thermal pools are the ideal place to unwind after a day of exploring Katherine.  

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Photo: Tourism NT/Rachel Stewart

Enjoy the serenity and untouched beauty of Arnhem Land

One of Australia’s last remaining rugged wildernesses and only accessible via a permit, Arnhem Land is home to tropical islands, secluded beaches, paperbark forest and billabongs, perfect for birdwatching and fishing.  

Red Centre

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Photo: Tourism NT/Yuri Kardashyan

Go birdwatching at Red Centre Bird Festival

2-5 September 2021
Central Australia offers a unique suite of birdlife, including species such as Spinifex Pigeon, Dusky Grasswren, Bourke’s Parrot and Mulga Parrot. Take part in photography tours, field trips, hear from specialists and enjoy a colourful array of bird art.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught

Feed baby kangaroos at Kangaroo Sanctuary

Head on a sunset tour to this 188-acre wildlife sanctuary, home to the orphaned bay and adult kangaroos, and learn more about wildlife preservation in one of Australia’s driest landscapes.

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Photo: Tourism NT

Go outback stargazing at Earth Sanctuary

A short drive from Alice Springs,  this desert observatory is one of the best places for astrology and sustainability tours. Visitors can also stay the night and sleep under the stars at Australia’s only space camp – a set of six intergalactic-style domes, available in glamping or swag style.

Learn about nocturnal wildlife at Alice Springs Desert Park

See the desert come alive with the birds and animals of the Australian outback, with the park running interactive events, educational talks on endangered species, feeding sessions and free-flying bird presentations.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Helen Orr

Embark on the iconic Kings Canyon Rim Walk

The six-kilometre circuit in  Watarrka National Park offers panoramic views of the desert dunes, weathered domes of ‘The Lost City and Garden of Eden rock hole, surrounded by rare plants.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Daniel Tran

Go wild swimming at West MacDonnell Ranges

Take a cool dip and bask inside the soaring red walls of Ellery Big HoleRedbank Gorge and Ormiston Gorge, with camping sites available close by.

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Photo: Tourism NT/Bronte Stephens

Catch an iconic sunset at Uluru

There’s nothing quite like seeing the spiritual heart of Australia in person! Head on the 7.4-kilometre Valley of the Winds walk, offering unparalleled views of the rugged desert landscape, and watch the colours change at one of the five sunset viewing platforms at Uluru.  

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Photo: Tourism NT/Helen Orr

Discover the geological marvel of Karlu Karlu/Devil’s Marbles

Discover this sacred site – a set of ancient granite boulders that seem to have dropped from the wide blue skies of the Barkly Tablelands and seemingly withstood eroding forces of wind and rain.

Spot native fauna and flora on a drive through Connells Lagoon Conservation Reserve

Situated in the heart of Barkley Tablelands, the landscape may seem uninspiring at first glance but is actually rich with animal and plant diversity. Bring the binoculars and look out for the Red Kangaroo, native rodents and rare birds, like Australian Bustard.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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