The Travel Dreamer
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  • July 29, 2021

Northern Territory will take your breath away

Home to the world’s oldest living culture, the Northern Territory’s history is a rich tapestry of interwoven traditions and lives, all played out against an ancient landscape of rock formations, monsoonal forests and desert sands. 


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The Territory covers about one sixth of the Australian mainland, and encompasses a wide variety of climatic zones and geographic features. About 80% of the Territory is within the tropics, with the more than 6,000km of coastline mainly flat and characterised by mangroves, swamps and mudflats. The ancient land has been worn almost flat by millions of years of erosion. The highest 'mountains', the Macdonnell Ranges, are simply a ridge of east-west hills not much more than 600m high. The Arnhem Land plateau rises abruptly but reaches a height of no more than 450m on its way to the coast on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Uluru (Ayers Rock) rises to 348m from its surrounding plain in the south-west of the Territory.


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Aboriginal History

Home to the world’s oldest living culture, the Northern Territory’s history is a rich tapestry of interwoven traditions and lives, all played out against an ancient landscape of rock formations, monsoonal forests and desert sands. Aboriginal society has the longest continuous cultural history in the world. Settlement in Arnhem Land dates back more than 50,000 years and the region’s Yolngu people still live semi-traditional lives. At the time of British settlement in 1788 at least 300,000 Aboriginal people, speaking approximately 250 languages, inhabited Australia.

More than 80 indigenous language groups live in the Northern Territory, with approximately 40 indigenous languages still spoken today. The largest language groups include the Red Centre’s Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara and Warlpiri and east Arnhem Land’s Yolngu. Approximately 50 percent of the Northern Territory is Aboriginal land.


Darwin is the only Australian location to have been a major WWII battlefield. More bombs were dropped there than at Pearl Harbour. On February 19, 1942, it endured the first and worst of 64 Japanese air raids that took place over two years and resulted in 243 deaths, including many civilians. The city was bombed to near devastation. To this day, Darwin maintains a major military presence.

Significant WWII historical sites in Darwin include the Wharf Precinct, the WWII oil storage tunnels, Bicentennial Park, the Darwin Military Museum at East Point, the Aviation Heritage Centre and Burnett House at Myilly Point. War history can also be revisited at the Tiwi Islands, Adelaide River, Katherine and Alice Springs.

European Exploration and Settlement

The first European contact with the people of northern Australia was between the Dutch and the Tiwis in 1705. In 1824, the British established the first European settlement in the Northern Territory at Fort Dundas on Melville Island, one of the Tiwi Islands, but abandoned it five years later.

Darwin Harbour was discovered in 1839 by John Lort Stokes, Captain of the Beagle, who named it after former shipmate Charles Darwin. Darwin was founded in 1869. In 1871, Alice Springs was established as a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin. The line, completed in 1872, connected Australia to the world and opened up settlement in the NT as never before.

Makassan Trade

Makassan trepangers from Sulawesi in Indonesia visited the coast of northern Australia for centuries to fish for trepang, commonly known as sea cucumbers. Trepang was used for its healing properties in pharmaceuticals and was believed to be an aphrodisiac.

For centuries Makassans traded with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, including the Yolngu of Arnhem Land, to supply the markets of Southern China. This was the first recorded trade between inhabitants of mainland Australia and nearby Asia. This trade has influenced the language, art, economy and genetics of the people of Northern Australia.


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Nature is the one of Northern Territory’s greatest assets and the region is home to some of Australia's most extraordinary plants and wildlife.

The Northern Territory has a diverse climate, ranging from tropical monsoon to desert, which supports an intriguing range of more than 4000 native plant species. There are the grasslands and shrubs of the deserts, and the eucalypts of the north. Woodlands and scrublands dominated by Acacia species (including mulga, gidgee and lancewood) are found across the NT. Among these vast landscapes, there are smaller areas of rainforest, mangroves, heathlands, swamps and paperbark forests. In Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park there are more than 416 species of native plants. An intimate knowledge of the diverse range of flora and fauna is vital to support life in the remote areas and Aboriginal people have sourced food and medicines from the landscape for more than 30.000 years.


The Northern Territory supports a wide diversity of native animals including birds, insects, reptiles, marsupials and mammals. Six out of the seven species of marine turtles found in the world are found in Territory waters. They are the Green, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Flat Back and Loggerhead turtles and all six are listed as threatened. But crocodiles are undoubtedly the most fascinating animal in the Northern Territory. There is almost a one to one ratio of crocs to humans in the north, so you’re sure to come across them in Territory waterways.

In addition to the native animals, the region supports a large number of exotic animals, including horses, donkeys and camels, as well as aquatic and marine animals. Cobourg Marine Park, on the Cobourg Peninsula in Arnhem Land, has 250 recorded fish species alone.