If you want a holiday that offers adventure and an astonishing range of environmental and cultural attractions, I would place the 'Top End' in Australia’s Northern Territory very high up on the list.
I first visited in 1995. Cultural sensibilities were rather different from now. “Don’t miss Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as they now call it!” our travel agent advised. “And if you’re going to climb it, don’t wear flip-flops. In places the climb is near vertical!”
Of course we made Uluru our first port of call. It was indeed tough going, particularly as the wind got up, and you had to hold tight to the chain to pull yourself up. But I shall never forget that view from the summit, at the very heart of Australia’s Red Centre.
Nowadays, it’s best not to plan on climbing Uluru, however attractive the idea might seem. As the home of their ancestors, Uluru is a sacred site in the eyes of the aboriginal people, the Anangu, who live there; climbing the rock – although not banned – is therefore frowned upon.
From there, we headed on from Uluru to Alice Springs, a distance of around 483 kilometres. We visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and listened in to a short-wave radio conversation between duty doctor and a stockman calling in from the outback.
Of course, the RFDS doesn’t only deal with medical emergencies. It acts as a social lifeline too. Sometimes it provides the only contact remote communities may have with the outside world.
I returned to Alice Springs on my most recent visit to Northern Territory. Now, the RFDS has built a shiny new museum and visitor centre. You can even step inside a full-sized replica of a modern Pilatus PC-12, one of the 66 planes at its disposal.
The Alice Springs Telegraph Station (the other main attraction in the town) has, after a varied career, now been lovingly restored so that it looks today just as it looked at the beginning of the 20th century, when they first connected Adelaide to Darwin with a series of Morse code repeater stations.
You can still see holes in the back wall where a Sydney-to-London telegraph message would enter on wires, which ran down grooved wooden insulators to the instruments on the table.
If you are visiting Australia’s Top End, Darwin is the best jumping off spot imaginable. The Northern Territory’s multicultural capital is famed for its markets and festivals, Asian cuisine and beautiful natural harbour. I had a fabulous curry at Hanumans on Mitchell Street one evening. And the food at the Adina Waterfront Hotel was wonderful.
On that first trip 20 years ago, we took off from Darwin in a single-engined plane and flew over the amazing Kakadu National Park where the crocodiles are so big, you can see them lazing by the water’s edge from heights of more than 300 metres.
It's a must-see. Uluru: Forever A Native Sanctuary
Love getting out into the wild? Darwin’s Best Outdoor Adventures
This time I gave Kakadu a miss to head straight for Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge. I arrived at the airstrip after a 45-minute flight just in time to be ferried to the landing-deck at the northern end of the large billabong which lies at the base of the escarpment. The boat was waiting. As the sun set, we puttered off downstream.
It is a very special kind of wilderness in Arnhem Land. There are more than 30 aboriginal sites on the Davidson’s 700 square kilometres of land (leased from the aboriginal people who own it). The rock art you can see there ranges from 50,000 years to 50 years ago. Many of the sites are sacred and are regularly visited by the traditional owners.
There is no direct road from Davidson’s to the coast, so I return to Darwin to catch another plane 965 kilometres east to the Gove Peninsula where the Gulf of Carpentaria meets the Arafura Sea.
That first morning I drove from Gove airport, first on a dirt road, then on sandy tracks crossing beaches and dunes till we reached a small aboriginal camp by the water’s edge.
After lunch, my hosts – from the local Yolngu tribe – took me spearfishing. I didn’t catch any fish myself on that occasion – you don’t learn how to spearfish in a single session – but that evening we had a splendid barbecue on the beach.
It’s moments like this you remember when you visit Australia’s Northern Territory; it’s like nowhere else on Earth.
For the latest deals on travel, browse our great range of offers online, visit your local Escape Travel or call 1300 556 855.
This article was written by Stanley Johnson from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.