Northern Territory: Darwin to Alice Springs in 7 days

For many people, when they think of the ‘Australian Outback’ the first thing that comes to mind is the red centre of the Northern Territory… but it’s much more than that! 

This April, it was our first time travelling to the Northern Territory. We did a 7 day trip starting from Darwin to Alice Springs and what we discovered was rich indigenous history, jaw-dropping gorges, beautiful wildlife and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. 

Keep reading to get a breakdown of our 1-week itinerary and a review of the activities that we did during our trip.

Day 1 – Darwin Sailing Club

Our first day in Darwin was very laid back. After checking in to our hotel at Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront, we spent some time settling into our rooms before heading to Darwin Sailing Club.

Vegetarian Grazing Platter at Darwin Sailing Club

This was the perfect location for a waterfront view table at the DSC to enjoy our first Northern Territory sunset. Even though we had an unusually cloudy day, our sunset was subdued but was still so beautiful! Just make sure you don’t get too carried away and stay close to the shoreline… or the crocs might get you 😅

Overall, the DSC clubhouse is known for its award-winning food (it’s also #15 of 255 restaurants in Darwin according to TripAdvisor Reviews) so if you’re looking for an amazing seafood platter with a view, add this to your itinerary.

Day 2 – Top End Safari Camp Day Tour

Top End Safari Camp can be booked as an amazing day trip or multi-day glamping experience near the Finnis River. 

Our day trip with the Top End team which included a helicopter, airboat and cruise boat ride along the unique landscapes of the Litchfield region…. Talk about a full-on day!   

We were conveniently picked up from our hotel in the morning for a drive to our helicopter base where we split into groups of 2 or 3 for our scenic flight over the floodplains.

We landed on a floating pontoon named ‘Cyclone Creek’ where we had refreshments and the opportunity to lap on the sunscreen before we hopped on an airboat in search of some wild saltwater crocs 🐊

Top End Safari Camp Airboat

The airboat ride was surprisingly smooth and quite relaxing, that is, until you realise crocs are lurking all around 🤣

It was truly unbelievable just how close the crocs get to the airboat. Even in the comfort and safety of the airboat, the adrenaline you feel when you’re face to face with a wild crocodile is something you won’t forget. 

We then visited Matt Wright’s rescue crocodile facility where we met their local rescue crocs and watched as they chomped through their live feeding. If you’re lucky, you can even get a photo opp with one of the well fed fellas too.

After watching the croc feeding, we returned to Cyclone Creek for our very own delicious feast. We were lucky enough to have delicious seafood and burgers cooked on-board as we went for a serene sail by the croc nests. Before we knew it, it was time to helicopter it back to our base and head home for the day. 

  • Duration: 4 hours (approx)
  • Cost: From $395.00 pp

Day 3 – The Ghan & Nitmiluk

The Ghan

Morning check-in with The Ghan

The next day we had an early morning wake up call to check-in to The Ghan, a luxurious all-inclusive overnight train that would soon take us from Darwin to Alice Springs.

Will and I shared a Gold Twin cabin which includes: 

  • Three-seat lounger that converts to an upper and lower bed for 2 people 
  • Power outlets in cabin
  • All-inclusive dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant
  • All-inclusive wines, beers, base spirits and non-alcoholic beverages
  • All-inclusive Off Train Excursions and Short Stops
  • Luggage allowance of 60kg per guest
  • Complimentary Shuttle bus transfers available in Darwin to selected hotels in the city centre

The cabin was a cosy fit for two people. We kept our luggage stored away in a cupboard for most of the time so that there was more room to move around, but the bathroom is definitely only big enough for 1 person at a time so it’s just a matter of taking turns. 

However, we spent most of our time here in the lounge, with plenty of space to stretch your legs and relax with a cup of coffee (or two… or three.. Did I mention it was all-inclusive? 🤣)

Inside the lounge area of The Ghan

And we really loved the dining options on board. Imagine having a three course selection for breakfast, lunch and dinner waiting for you every day!

  • Duration: 2 days and 1 night
  • Cost: From $1,235 pp

Nitmiluk

A few hours after having lunch and settling in The Ghan, we soon arrived at our stopover in Katherine for the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise.

The cruise took us to the idyllic Nitmiluk Gorge, an incredible stretch of sandstone that changes from orange to red depending on the light. If these pictures don’t blow you away, I don’t know what will 😍

After exploring the gorge, we returned to The Ghan for some afternoon tea and cheeseboard before winding down for the day and ending it with a three course dinner.

Day 4 – Alice Springs

The next morning we were greeted by golden light and the amazing red centre of Alice Springs!

After breakfast on board, we hopped straight over to Alice Springs Desert Park to greet the gorgeous red earth and meet some of the local wildlife.
Alice Springs Desert Park

It was a wonderful introduction to the flora and fauna that the outback town of Alice Springs has to offer.

Day 5 – Hot Air Balloon & Parrtjima

Outback Ballooning

The next morning was a special one! Outback Ballooning picked us up from the hotel before the sun was up, so that we could get on with our hot air ballooning adventure during golden hour…. And gosh it was special!
Outback Ballooning view from above at sunrise

While Will hopped in the balloon and floated across the MacDonnell Ranges, I chased the balloons via 4WD through the bushlands and both experiences left us speechless.

The balloon rides operate every day (if the weather permits… and it almost always does thanks to the desert climate) and there are a range of balloons for different sized groups starting from 2 to up to 24 people. 

When we landed we even had a celebratory champagne and breakfast box to celebrate the safe landing of the balloons. It may have been an extremely early morning for all of us, but truly worth it.

  • Price: $305 – 385

Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm during golden hour

The Standley Chasm, also known as the Angkerle Atwatye, is a sacred 80 metre high sandstone gorge and a cultural phenomenon. The walk to get here is 1.2km along a well paved path and the best time to arrive is around midday, when the sunlight hits both walls of the gorge.

We also had a tour with a local Arrernte guide and she taught us about the lush ferns and wildflowers as well as a dot painting class where we got to decorate our very own boomerangs. This is one of my favourite keepsakes from the trip ❤️

  • Entry fee: From $10 
  • Cultural tours: From $90

Day 6 – West MacDonnell Ranges – Gorges, Gaps and waterholes

Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge at sunrise

We decided to do the 15min hike over the gravel and sand to Glen Helen Gorge for the sunrise and through the high grass was an incredible view of where the West MacDonnell Ranges part ways around the Finke River. Due to the recent rainy days, the water level was higher than usual making it the perfect cool-down swimming spot.

About a 200m walk away from the Gorge is Glen Helen Resort (with restaurant and bar) and a campground with toilet and shower blocks just in case you plan to stay for more than a day.

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge is one of the most visited and photographed locations in the red centre… and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is this a perfect picnic and swimming location, there are also several walks of varying intensity available around the gorge.

If you’re thinking of adding at least one gorge to your list, this is definitely the one that we would recommend. There are also camping, BBQs, toilet and a kiosk on the grounds to last you all day.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ellery Creek Big Hole

From one popular swimming location to the other, the next stop was Ellery Creek Big Hole. This sacred site has been carved out by thousands of years of massive floods and is now a go-to camping spot for locals and visitors. 

Compared to Ormiston Gorge, the area has a bit more shade but can also get a bit muddy so bring a picnic blanket if you want to chill by the waterhole.

Parrtjima – A Festival in Light

Now for the main event that brought us to Alice Springs, Parrtjima! 

Parrtjima is a free lights festival, originally inspired by Vivid Lights Festival in Sydney, that is now lighting up the MacDonnell Ranges in the most unique and spectacular way. 

Every year, Parrtjima brings the desert to life with light shows, performances, interactive workshops, music, films and light installations from aboriginal artists.

Parrtjima Honey Ants Installation

This year Parrtjima was held between the 8 -17 April in the middle of Alice Springs Desert Park and it left us in awe.

This is the only lights festival in the world that is an Aboriginal dedicated event that celebrates the world’s oldest living culture with modern technology. It’s a must-see if you’re in Alice Springs during April and we highlyyyyy recommend queuing up for the light show from the main stage!

Day 7 – MacDonnell Ranges

Driving around the West MacDonnell Ranges

On the last day of our trip, we decided to leave our itinerary free and drive around the MacDonnell Ranges. Sometimes the best way to end a trip is to go wherever the road takes you before you have to fly home ☺️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s