Australia’s remote outback region, the Northern Territory, isn’t one for bustle. And that’s the point of exploring its unsettled terrains, with beaches that swim with crocodiles, desert horizons clipped by gargantuan rocks and cellphone reception that’s often cut entirely. Here, connect with Australia’s wildest side.
On the outback
A network of parks and reserves, many of which are partly owned and operated by Australia’s various Aboriginal peoples, form an outback-style road trip. Luckily, the Northern Territory boasts the continent’s highest and thrilling speed limits — more than 80 mph on certain routes. Just below Asia on the northern coast, Australia’s northernmost city, Darwin, serves as the gateway to the uppermost terrains referred to as the “Top End.” The adventure-filled outback lies beyond the sedate city’s sandy beaches, but local operators like Outback Floatplanes (outbackfloatplanes.com.au) start the journey straight from Darwin, whisking travelers on day trips to outlying billabongs aboard high-speed airboats and helicopters.
Beyond Darwin, Litchfield National Park is a sensible first stop, brimming with natural springs and towering waterfalls. For a double dose, two separate cascades fall over the cliffs at Wangi Falls to create one massive plunge pool. According to Aboriginal myth, it’s a women’s sanctuary, and spirits within the waters will sanction and drown men who attempt a forbidden swim.
Onward, a series of destination sunrises should direct your course. Stay overnight in the adjacent Katherine region’s Nitmiluk National Park to catch the day’s first boat departure through Katherine Gorge, where looming sandstone cliffs are mirrored in the early morning’s still water (nitmiluktours.com.au). The nearby Kakadu National Park is another highlight at dawn. Departing before daybreak, a Yellow Water Cruise (kakadutourism.com) charters through protected wetlands as an orange and violet sunrise illuminates floodplains; like an Australian safari, birds swarm in the sky, buffalo stand in the distance, and crocodiles stalk every crook in the billabong.
Most travelers go out of their way to see Uluru (visitor pass $25; parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru), a massive sandstone rock formation that’s a 41⁄2-hour drive from Alice Springs, the closest notable town. The million-year-old monolith is surrounded only by a panorama of desert and scrubland. When light hits Uluru, it reflects opalescent colors that change throughout the day from ruddy afternoon browns to sunsets that glow from orange to rouge. From camel to helicopter rides, there’s no shortage of ways to see the spectacle in its natural state. And through March 31, 2017, “Field of Light” by artist Bruce Munro extends the show past nightfall. The temporary installation features 50,000 solar-powered bulbs planted at the foot of Uluru that pulse with color. For a second metamorphic experience equal to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, a group of massive domed rock formations that huddle together like orange gumdrops, is in the same national park.