Guide to Australia


Your Tour, Travel & Vacation Guide to Adventures in Australia!




NORTHERN TERRITORY

The Northern Territory -the Outback, Australia's last frontier. Even the official name has a wild, romantic ring to it. For a hundred years the Territory has attracted adventurers, incurable romantics and pioneers -tough cattlemen, rough-around-the-edges crocodile shooters, desperate gold hunters, and hardened businessmen wanting to take a gamble on the trucking game, running a store, or looking for diamonds, oil or gas.

 

For many the reality is not so far from the dream. While there are no buffaloor crocodile shooters travelling the Territory any more, there are still tall, whippet-like young men and women riding horses, cracking whips and wheeling cattle through the dust, and older, more weather-beaten souls behind the wheels of three-dog (trailers) semis, or sitting in the air-conditioned cabs of graders or dump trucks in a mine somewhere. But now in their spare time they sit down in air-conditioned houses to play computer games, watch videos, and drink a beer -you no longer have to be 'tough' to live in the Territory.

 

The Northern Territory takes up about one-sixth of Australia, covering over 1.4 million sq. km (540,400 sq. miles), but is home to fewer than 180,000 people. Half of those live in the Darwin metro region and a big percentage of the rest live in Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy and Yulara. A sprinkling of other towns and Aboriginal communities leaves the greater part of the state to very few people. Around 23 per cent of the total population is Aboriginal, and more than 50 per cent of the Territory is classed as Aboriginal land -reserve, community land, pastoral land or freehold.

 

The distances between habitations are extreme in the Territory. Even on the Stuart Highway, where a big percentage of the towns are situated, there are over 200 km between them. On the lesser bituminised roads, you may well travel twice that distance between dwellings. Once onto the dirt, 400 km between points of civilisation is not uncommon.

Uluru ( Ayers Rock ) at Australia Adventures

The road network is pretty good. The great ribbon of the Stuart Highway cuts right through the centre, from the Northern Territory/South Australia border all the way north to Darwin. Do not expect dual lanes, but it is a good road. The Barkly Highway comes in from Queensland, across the billiard table flatness and golden grasses of the Barkly Tablelands, meeting the Stuart at Three Ways, and the Victoria Highway heads west from Katherine, as part of Highway 1, into Western Australia. Add the Kakadu Highway, the Roper, the Tablelands, and the Lasseter Highway out to Uluru (Ayers Rock), and you have all the main bituminised roads. Even on these highways, the blacktop can be just one lane wide -you will need to drop a set of wheels into the dirt when passing another vehicle. If a road train is approaching, do not expect it to move off the bitumen.

 

Most of the rest of the blacktop goes out to tourist attractions -to Litchfield National Park, around the southern edge of the West MacDonnell Ranges and to Kings Canyon. The Territory prides itself in the fact that 90 per cent of the major tourist attractions are accessible by conventional vehicles.

 

Much of the road network and the blacktop is a result of the planned expansion and upgrading of the beef road network of the 1970s. Before then most of the roads, even the highways, were dirt; only the Stuart between Alice and Darwin was blacktop, a hangover from World War II. The Stuart Highway owes its existence to John McDouall Stuart, who in the early 1860s led a number of expeditions north from South Australia and finally crossed the continent in 1862. The Overland Telegraph line followed his route and a track sprang up beside this ribbon of wire, dotted with signs of civilisation in the form of repeater stations -Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Elliott, Katherine and others.

 

Until 1911 the Northern Territory was part of South Australia, then the federal government took over for a while. Between 1926 and 1931 the Territory was divided in two, with Northern Australia being looked after by Darwin, and Central Australia being administered from Alice. In 1931 the federal government took control again. It was not until 1978 that the Territory was finally granted self-government, although not full Statehood. Many decisions, much to most Territorians' grief, are still made in far-away Canberra.

 

Stretching from the arid interior north into the tropics, the Territory has extremes in climate and vegetation. Around Alice Springs the country is dry, with sand ridges and sand plains, cut here and there with low rocky ranges covered in arid landscape vegetation. The weather varies from hot, dry summers, with the occasional storm, to drier, cooler winters. In summer, temperatures of 45 degrees C are not uncommon, and winter day temperatures are a mild 15-23 degrees C. Rainfall varies, with September being the driest month (an average of 10 mm), and February the wettest (an average of  50 mm) of rain.

 

In The Top End the climate is tropical, with two distinct seasons, the Dry from May to November, and the Wet. Most of Darwin's 1500 mm of rain falls during the Wet, especially in the first three months of the year, with virtually no rainfall in June, July and August. The temperature range is rather static, with maximum temperatures in the low thirties nearly all the time, and minimums in the mid twenties. In the three driest months already mentioned, the minimum temperatures are around 20 degrees C. Some people find the Wet's high humidity almost unbearable -the month before the Wet is the worst.

 

It is no wonder that the Dry is the most popular time to visit the Centre and The Top End of the Northern Territory, but during the Dry you see a drier, tamer country than you would see in summer. With a good road network and air-conditioned cars and motels, it may pay to see the Territory when most other travellers are not there. Certainly the Wet shows a more verdant countryside, a landscape that is more subject to the vagaries of the weather; you will capture a wilder side of the Territory then -one that is closer to its reputation.

 

These fascinating spherical or egg-shaped granite boulders, often balanced precariously on top of one another, are the main feature along the Stuart

Devils Marbles at Australia Adventures

 Highway between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. The shape of these boulders was fashioned by weather as the boulders originally had joint fractures at right angles. Over the millennia the edges have been eroded and eventually weathered to rounded edges leaving this spectacular natural phenomenon.

The Devils Marbles are situated on either side of the road 122 km south of Tennant Creek along the sealed Stuart Highway. Bush camping facilities are provided which include shaded picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets. There is ample parking for caravans. A nominal camping fee applies.


An easy walking track with interpretive signs is situated on the western side on the access road. There are also many informal walking tracks where the visitor may wander through the boulders for a chance at that quintessential photograph. Clusters of fairy martin nests are found attached to the underside of the boulders. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to spot a spiny-tailed gecko or a sand goanna. Zebra and painted finches abound and clumps of spinifex have taken root in the crevices between the boulders.


The Devils Marbles is a registered Aboriginal sacred site and visitors are asked to respect the cultural heritage of the area. For more details, contact the Tennant Creek Regional Tourist Association, ph: (08) 8962 3388.