6 amazing hikes in Australia’s Northern Territory

The Northern Territory’s spectacular landscapes make the region a dream for hikers. Lace up your boots and take your pick from these six spectacular trails

Team Wanderlust
01 January 2023
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Discover Northern Territory

1. Larapinta Trail

Larapinta Trail (Tourism NT/Tourism Australia)

The West MacDonnell Ranges have a habit of wowing first-time visitors to the Northern Territory, who may not even have heard of them. They sprawl handsomely across the desert south of Alice Springs, their rugged peaks and permanent waterholes serving up scenic drama for fun. Seeing them on a road trip is impressive enough, but by embarking on the 223km Jarapinta Trail, which snakes along their full length, you’ll be enjoying one of the best bushwalks in the country.

It’s split into 12 main sections – all of which are mighty rewarding but some of which are seriously testing, so preparation and planning are essential – and traverses the ridgelines of the belt’s main peaks, dropping down to allow you to enjoy the cooling waterholes that intersperse the range. As a trail it was only pioneered in the 1990s, but countless happy long-distance hikers can swear to its charms. Campsites dot its length.

2. Jatbula Trail

Hiking Jatbula (Tourism NT/Peter Eve)

Nitmiluk Gorge is another of the Northern Territory’s show-stopping natural attractions, its tall cliffs and rocky rapids carved into an ancient plateau and stretching for some 12km. Tackling its waters by canoe is a memorable adventure, but the gorge is also the starting point of another unforgettable undertaking – the 62km, one-way Jatbula Trail, which takes you along the western edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment.

Over six days, you’ll walk in the footsteps of the area’s traditional landowners, the Jawoyn people, travelling slowly through woodlands, along riverbanks and deep into monsoon forests. For experienced hikers it’s a joy, with each night’s campsite located near a cascade or falls. You’ll need to pre-book, as only limited numbers are allowed to walk the trail, but you’ll often feel as though you have it to yourself. The natural swimming pools of Edith Falls, known as Leliyn in the local language, mark the end point.

3. Mala Walk

Mala Walk (Tourism NT/Tourism Australia)

World-class hikes don’t have to be multi-day epics. Sometimes the surroundings are everything, as evidenced by the various walks to and around the base of Uluru. Simply seeing the immutable bulk of the Rock in front of you, witnessing the tangible aura that it gives off, is enough to ensure that any walk here is one that will stay with you.

The Mala Walk is a relatively basic 2km walk leading to Kantju Gorge, a lush enclave at the foot of Uluru, and in the company of a guide you’ll learn about the area’s flora, fauna and rock art, as well as the deep importance of this most spiritual of regions. For a longer walk, meanwhile, it’s possible to make a full 10km hike around the base of Uluru – arguably the best way to get a sense of its power and scale. It’s also possible to Segway and cycle around the base.

4. Valley of the Winds

Valley of the Winds (Tourism NT/Sean Scott)

Across the plains from Uluru you’ll find the extraordinary sight of Kata Tjuta, where dozens of vast sandstone domes fill the horizon. Just getting up close to its walls and chasms is an experience, but by making the 7.5km loop walk known as the Valley of the Winds, you’ll get a true sense of why Kata Tjuta – just like its more renowned near-neighbour – is seen as a sacred spot.

The full circuit takes around three hours, beginning with a two-hour climb to the stunning Karu Lookout then winding through the maze-like dome formations that are so emblematic of the site. It’s rated as a Grade 4 walk, which means it can be testing in places, but the rewards are well worth the effort. As ever, pack wisely, with suncream, sunhat and enough fluid being essential – although be aware that drinking water is available midway around the trail.

5. Ubirr

Ubirr (Tourism NT/Helen Orr)

The magic of Kakadu is as much about small details as grand vistas, and on this manageable walk to one of the national park’s most famous rock art sites, you’ll witness plenty of both. It takes roughly an hour to make this circular walk from the nearest car park – although this time depends on how long you linger along the way – with a further half hour to climb the escarpment to reach a lookout.

The views across the floodplains are sensational, but what really makes the walk special are the five rock art galleries that Ubirr is so renowned for. You’ll see ancient etchings of lizards, marsupials, fish and even the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger, as well as depictions of creation ancestors. To cast your mind back tens of thousands of years to the era when they were painted, as the sun dips low over the land, is no everyday experience.

6. Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Kings Canyon Rim Walk (Tourism NT)

In the Northern Territory, an early wake-up call is generally a sign that you have a special morning ahead of you. So it proves with the 6km Rim Walk around Kings Canyon, which takes between three and four hours to complete and has become one of the most celebrated half-day trails in the country. The route begins with a tough climb of some 500 steps to reach the lip of the canyon – one of the reasons it makes sense to start in the cool of dawn – but the remainder of the hike is less strenuous.

And what a hike it is. With deep desert panoramas to enjoy, you’ll make a clockwise loop around the canyon itself, initially leading through a labyrinth of rocky domes known as the Lost City, then later descending to reach the verdant oasis of the Garden of Eden. From here, the views of the south wall, lit by the morning sun, are spectacular.

Book now with Trailfinders: The No.1 tour operator to Australia

It pays to book with the experts. With extensive experience of the Northern Territory’s many highlights and with a knowledgeable and friendly team on-hand to find your perfect holiday, Trailfinders will help you to uncover the very best of this part of Australia. To book call 020 7795 4551 or visit trailfinders.com

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