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Northern Territory Hot Spots

One of Uluru's Steep Sides
One of Uluru

Darwin

The capital of Northern Territory, Darwin is the toughest town in Australia, having survived both a bombing raid in WWII and Cyclone Tracy in 1974. This city is the perfect base for visiting incredible natural attractions such as Kakadu and Litchfield National Park. The city itself has a whole range of various attractions for the visitor, ranging from the cultural to sporting, and from family friendly to extremely adventurous pastimes, like hand-feeding crocodiles. The Darwin Wharf Precinct, the Charles Darwin National Park, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and Mindil Beach Sunset Market are just a small taste of the fun you can have in Darwin.

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Kakadu National Park

Kakadu has a well-deserved reputation as a world-class national park and tourist destination. The cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park were recognised internationally when the park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With an abundance of wildlife, including crocodiles, you will need a week to enjoy all this region has to offer: the stunning wetlands, Aboriginal art sites and magnificent scenery of the Escarpment. You shouldn't miss the stunning Jim Jim Falls and the Twin Falls. There are a wide variety of designated camping sites throughout the park. Jabiru, Cooinda and South Alligator all have commercial camping areas and are in close proximity to most of the important natural attractions in these areas.

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Katherine

Katherine is the biggest town between Darwin and Alice Springs, which makes it a great place for a pit stop for you and your campervan. Katherine is the gateway to the attractions of the nearby Nitmiluk National Park, particularly Katherine Gorge and its many ancient rock paintings. Katherine Gorge has swimming holes, walking tracks and waterfalls. Canoeing is safe as there are no crocodiles and is one of the best ways to see the Gorge at its best. Nearer to town, along Riverbank Drive on the Katherine River, Katherine Hot Springs provide swimming, shaded picnic tables and barbecue facilities set amongst monsoon forest and tall paperbark trees. For the history buffs, Springvale Homestead, built in 1879, is the oldest original homestead in the Northern Territory and is now open to visitors.

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Alice Springs

Alice Springs is a true Aussie Original. The town is famous for the Henlen-on-Todd Regatta, which is a boat race without water, where teams' race "boats" are made from metal and raced along a dry river bed. Colloquially known as the Alice, this isolated town is a stone's throw from the stunning East and West MacDonnell ranges and many natural attractions. The Alice Springs Desert Park is a must-see, as is the Museum of Central Australia. It is the perfect base for campervan hire, sitting as it does in the centre of the country.

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East MacDonnell Ranges

The MacDonnell Ranges are parallel ranges running to the east and west of Alice Springs. These mountain ranges contain many spectacular gaps and gorges as well as areas of aboriginal significance. The East MacDonnell Ranges, while not as well-known as the West MacDonnell Ranges, do provide beautiful scenery for bush walking, camping and four-wheel-driving. Visit the Arltunga Historical Reserve, a ghost town that was the site of a gold rush in the 1930's. The spectacular natural beauty like Trephina Gorge makes a trip to the East MacDonnell Ranges more than worthwhile. The Ross River Homestead is where you can rest in comfort, based around the original 1890's Loves Creek Homestead; this resort facility offers a variety of accommodation options.

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West MacDonnell Ranges

West from Alice Springs are the amazing West MacDonnell Ranges. You could spend weeks here and still not see everything. The highest peaks are Mount Zeil, Mount Liebig, and Mount Sonder and these three peaks are the highest mountains in the Northern Territory. The ranges are composed of many rock types, but are most famous for their red quartzite peaks and gorges. Some of the valleys of the range contain fossil evidence of the inland sea that once covered central Australia. Travelling from Alice Springs, the Desert Wildlife Park is one of the first attractions you will come across, followed by Simpsons Gap and the Standley Chasm.

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Finke Gorge National Park

The Finke Gorge National Park is located about two hours' drive west of Alice Springs, and south of the West MacDonnell Ranges. The Finke River is claimed to be one of the oldest catchments in the world, with areas dating back 350 million years. The star attraction of the park is Palm Valley, named for the Central Australian Cabbage Palm. This species of palm is found only in Australia, with more than 3,000 cabbage palms living in Palm Valley, many of which are several hundred years old. They form a lush oasis among the rugged rocks and gorges. The other must-see in the park is the Amphitheatre, with the strange rock formations a favourite subject for visiting artists.

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Simpson Desert

Although vast, remote and mostly inaccessible, the fringes of the mighty Simpson can still be reached from the Alice as a day trip. There is some spectacular scenery, including Rainbow Valley in the James Ranges and Chambers Pillar known for its Aboriginal carvings. For the adventurous, there are tours available to venture further into the desert to visit desert communities. There are bushwalking and camel treks, as well as 4WD treks available.

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Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek is approximately 1000km south of the territory capital, Darwin, and 500km north of Alice Springs. The town is named after a nearby watercourse of the same name. An ex-gold mining town, there is a lot of history and opportunities to do some fossicking. Visit the historic Tuxworth Fullwood House in Tennant Creek for a fascinating glimpse into the outback of the early twentieth century. Pop in to the Battery Hill Mining Centre showing working examples of some of the machinery used in the early years of the mining industry, as well as life during the 1930s gold rush. There are plenty of attractions outside of town too. The Barkley Tablelands also surround the town, with cattle stations dominating the landscape, and plenty of beautiful scenery in every direction.

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Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve

Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve is 105km south from Tennant Creek. The Devils Marbles are large granitic boulders that are formed by the exposure of the top layer of a granite formation. The slow forces of erosion have sculpted the various shapes of the boulders. Some of the boulders are precariously balanced atop one another or on larger rock formations, while others have split cleanly down the middle. The rocks vary in size, from 50cm up to 6m across, and they are strewn across a large area. This is a highly recommended attraction for a campervan holiday in the Northern Territory.

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Barkly Tableland

If you are looking for big skies and far horizons you will find them here. The Barkly Tableland is a rolling plain of grassland which runs from the eastern part of the Northern Territory into western Queensland, used mainly as grazing pasture. The Barkly Tableland does not have many facilities for tourists. It is almost all cattle stations and long stretches of uninhabited land, but the remoteness of this area still draws many travellers to experience its remoteness, sunsets and rugged beauty. The only main tourist stop is the Barkly Homestead, which also offers camping facilities and is a great place to get to know the locals.

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Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park is near the township of Batchelor, 100 km south-west of Darwin. This is the day trip with a difference, and is certainly one of the Territory's hidden treasures. Everything you would expect to see at the Top End seems to be compacted into one area, with waterfalls, plunge pools, 'magnetic' termite mounds, sandstone escarpments and thick rainforests. In the confines of the park is the ruins of the Blyth Homestead, which was also the location of an old tin mine. The homestead has recently been restored, and an interpretive display presents the trials and tragedies of this remote site. While in the area, the Butterfly Farm and Tea House is a great place to visit at Batchelor.

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Mataranka

The main attraction in the Mataranka region is the Elsey National Park which contains Roper River and two thermal pools: Bitter Springs and Rainbow Springs. In Elsey National Park there are many great walking trails. An easy drive south from Katherine, Mataranka is one of the most idyllic environments you could ever encounter, with palms and trees lining the pools and softening the sun's rays. This area is the setting for Jeannie Gunn's autobiographical novel, 'We of the Never Never'. The Gunn homestead has been reconstructed near to the hot springs.

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Adelaide River

Adelaide River starts in Litchfield National Park and flows generally northwards to Clarence Strait, being crossed by both the Stuart Highway, at the township of Adelaide River, and the Arnhem Highway near Humpty Doo. The Adelaide River is infamous for its high concentration of saltwater crocodiles. Most people are familiar with the images of crocodiles leaping into the air to grab a piece of meat, and this is where it happens. There are a number of cruises to choose from, and there is so much to see beside crocodiles. There is plenty of birdlife and stunning scenery along the Adelaide River which stretches for miles.

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Berry Springs

Berry Springs was named after a Mr Edwin Berry, and not after any actual berries. Just a short drive from Darwin, Berry Springs has cascading rock pools and crystal clear springs. A low weir keeps the swimming pools full, while below the weir is crocodile country and swimming is definitely not recommended! During WWII, Berry Springs was part of a Rest and Recreation Camp set up by the armed forces for the personnel based in the area. A number of huts and the weir were built, and you can still see the evidence around the main pool. The park has a long history of being a great place for recreation.

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Territory Wildlife Park

The Territory Wildlife Park is a 45min drive from Darwin to Berry Springs. If you are driving yourself, head south from Darwin on the Stuart Highway. The park is large and there is a small train to take people around to the many aviaries, aquariums and enclosures. The park covers a wetland habitat, a monsoonal vine forest habitat, and a woodland habitat. Many Australian animals are active only at night, and you can view some of these animals in the park's Nocturnal House. Some of the Top End's birds of prey can be seen in a free flight display at the Flight Deck. This attraction should be a must-see for animal lovers and families.

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Arnhem Land

This is the real Top End. Bordered by Kakadu National Park, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arnhem Land is a vast unspoiled wilderness. You will need to get a permit to get through to the Cobourg Marine Park and Gurig National Park, but if you have the time to visit this untouched, unique region of Australia it will be well worth it. Some areas of deep cultural significance to the indigenous inhabitants are off-limits even to those with permission to travel across Arnhem Land.

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Simpson Desert

The Simpson Desert is a vast expanse of rolling dunes, broad horizons, endless skies, and vivid red sand. A visit to the desert offers an opportunity to see the wildflowers, rare pine trees and unique wildlife that thrives in this harsh environment. This vast desert covers the southeast corner of the Northern Territory, and extends over the South Australia and Queensland borders. Many attractions located on its fringes can be accessed on a day trip from Alice Springs. A four-wheel drive vehicle is required to navigate the sandy terrain. If you don't have a vehicle or the confidence to head off-road there are organised tours into the Simpson Desert from Alice Springs. The most recognisable landmark in the desert is the Rainbow Valley, an easy daytrip from Alice Springs. Rainbow Valley is at its most spectacular in the early morning light or late afternoon sun when the rocks' colours change dramatically in the varying light conditions.

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Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock

Uluru is the worldwide symbol of the Northern Territory and Australia's Red Centre. The area around the formation is home to springs, waterholes, rock caves, and ancient paintings. Uluru is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors should plan on an overnight visit to Uluru, simply to spend a day watching the light changing over the rock, particularly during sunset and sunrise. Climbing the rock is discouraged for reasons of both safety and cultural consideration for the original owners, but there are plenty of trails for exploring the area.

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Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas

The Kaja Tjura are a group of large domed rock formations located 365km southwest of Alice Springs, and 25km west from Uluru. Not many people realise this, but these rocks are part of a continuous band of stone with Uluru at the other end. Many visitors can see the resemblance when comparing the beauty of the Kata Tjura to Uluru. Walks are available through the gorges and outcrops, and it is well worth taking the opportunity to visit the Valley of the Winds. The bright orange-red hue is due to a patina over the base feldspar which is coated in iron oxide. This region is a photographer's paradise, and all the information you need can be found at the cultural centre at Ayers Rock.

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Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is the star of the Watarrka National Park, located midway between Alice Springs and Uluru. Kings Canyon has the deepest gorge in the Red Centre. The walk around the canyon can take a couple of hours, but is worth it as you will visit the Garden of Eden pools, and the intriguing rock formations known as the Lost City. There are three walks. The 2km walk traces the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above. The 6km loop Kings Canyon Rim Walk follows the top of the canyon. The 22km Giles Track connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs, and is a popular trek with the more adventurous hikers.

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