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Heading to the NT? Here are 9 events you won’t want to miss

Feb 15, 2021
Parrtjima takes over Alice Springs with ten nights of light installations from a number of Indigenous artists set against the majestic MacDonnell Ranges. Credit: Tourism NT/The Ebb & Flow of Sky & Country

Red dirt, endless blue skies and desert plains – this is what springs to mind for many when they think of the Northern Territory. But there’s much more to this fascinating part of Australia. Put simply, it’s an immersive cultural experience that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else on the globe.

Starts at 60 has chosen nine major experiences and events that we think you absolutely should add to your NT bucket list in 2021. They reach right from the Red Centre to the Top End – and you could even tick off a few during one month.

Uluru, of course, must remain on your itinerary. Standing at 348 metres high, it’s one of the world’s largest monoliths and at some 550 million years old, one of the most culturally significant places in Australia – particularly for the local Indigenous Australians the Anangu. You can learn all about its importance from traditional owners on a walk around Uluru or take a ride on a camel to see it from a different vantage point.

Or for a truly magical experience ,you can view the monolith at night when the Field of Light comes to life. This spectacular art installation – also known as Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku by the local community – was created by acclaimed artist Bruce Munro and its traditional name means “looking at lots of beautiful lights”. While the photos of the installation are incredible – and would make a great piece of art in your living room – seeing it in person is a whole different experience.

It’s not just cultural experiences that make Uluru popular, though. For the past eight years locals and tourists have gathered for a fun-filled weekend of activities in true Aussie outback style for the Uluru Camel Cup. There’s live entertainment, camel races, outback games such as whip cracking and a Fashions on the Field event. This year it takes place on May 29, with a true-blue Frock Up & Rock Up Gala Ball set under the sparkling night sky ending the festivities.

But make sure not to waste all your energy because just 40 kilometres west of Uluru lies Kata Tjuta – another incredible natural wonder and cultural landmark. The best way to experience its mesmerising beauty is on a hike. The Valley of the Winds Walk is the longest at 7.4km and while it surely will get the heart pumping, the views will be worth it. There are also much easier short walks if you’d prefer.

The spectacular Field of Light always puts visitors in a good light. Credit: Tourism NT/James Fisher
The spectacular Field of Light always puts visitors in a good light. Credit: Tourism NT/James Fisher

The closest city to this magical part of Australia is Alice Springs (five hours drive north-east). Here you can meet talented Aboriginal artists, get the heart racing on a four-wheel-drive adventure, or take things to the next level and float into the air on a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise. Plus, if you’re there at the right time of the year there are three main events Alice Springs is famous for.

From March 12-14 this year the city will transform into a kaleidoscope of colour for the FABalice Festival – or rainbow festival, as it’s known, that celebrates the LGBT community. There’ll be drag and cabaret performances, a pageant, a pool party and an outdoor cinema to entertain the “kings, queens and everything in between”.

Still in Alice Springs, from April 9-18 the annual Parrtjima event takes over. It’s the only authentic Aboriginal light festival of its kind, set against the majestic MacDonnell Ranges. You can also enjoy live talks, workshops and music by local and national artists over the 10-day festival.

Parrtjima transforms the outback landscape of Alice Springs Desert Park into a living, breathing canvas. This includes the lighting of two kilometres of the MacDonnell Ranges, and a selection of larger-than-life light installations that share ancient stories.

The Henley on Todd Regatta attracts big crowds and also provides plenty of action. Credit: Tourism NT/Imparja Creative
The Henley on Todd Regatta attracts big crowds and also provides plenty of action. Credit: Tourism NT/Imparja Creative

Fast forward to August 21 and get ready for the Rotary Henley on Todd Regatta boat racing festival in downtown Alice Springs. It’s the only dry-river boating regatta in the world with participants racing Flintstone’s-style by holding a metal-frame boat and frantically running to the finish line. Then as the grand-finale of the day there’s a battle with flour bombs and water cannons – yes, different is a key word. The NT offers unreal events in surreal settings.

Heading north in the NT

That’s the south of the Territory covered, but what about the north? Well, if you’ve done some research about the NT you would have heard about the town of Katherine. It’s where the outback meets the tropics, with thermal springs to soak in, ancient cultures to discover, and of course, the well-known Katherine Gorge where you can join a cruise, paddle a canoe or even hop in a helicopter and see it from above.

From June 11-13 this year there’s the Barunga Festival Katherine in an Aboriginal community called Barunga. This festival celebrates the best of remote indigenous Australia. The three-day event includes an array of music (including a didgeridoo competition), sport, traditional arts and cultural activities such as a story-telling circle. The most important part of this festival is how it supports indigenous communities. Thousands of people attend the festival each year, with many choosing to camp in the region for a true outback experience.

Most visitors also incorporate a trip further north to Darwin, which is about a three-hour drive from Katherine. This is a chance to leave the outback behind and explore the tropical north, whether it’s venturing into the nearby Litchfield National Park with its magnificent waterfalls, waterholes and walks, or experiencing the attractions in the city, which include the popular Mindil Beach Sunset Markets where you can browse through more than 200 stalls filled with local arts, crafts, food, tarot readers and more.

In August the city plays host to the Darwin Festival. This year the event is scheduled from August 5 – 22 with exciting performances and delicious food on offer.

You can enjoy a packed program of events that capture the spirit and energy of Darwin. This fully curated event helps promote the full cultural and artistic diversity of Darwin. The 2020 Festival featured 396 artists performing at 253 free and ticketed events.

Around the same time (August 6-8) the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary fine art and high-end fashion – takes place. There are talks from local indigenous artists, cultural performances, concerts and the opportunity to learn new craft skills such as weaving and watercolour painting. For the arty types, this is an event you don’t want to miss.

Walking through the Mindil Beach Markets as the sun sets. Credit: Tourism Australia/Nicholas Kavo
Walking through the Mindil Beach Markets as the sun sets. Credit: Tourism Australia/Nicholas Kavo

Continuing on the art front, the Darwin Street Art Festival runs from May 20 until September 30. Some of the Northern Territory’s most talented artists will join artists from around the world to create 20 stunning street murals. The artists will complete one mural every fortnight in and around Darwin’s CBD, Waterfront area and Cullen Bay.

These are just some of the many experiences in the Northern Territory you can enjoy – and you can rest assured you won’t see much of this anywhere else. Remember, entertainment is done a bit differently in the NT, so enjoy!

If you seek different … then this is the holiday for you

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