Get closer to nature without compromising on comfort with these extraordinary Outback experiences
Any trip to Arnhem Land – the vast tract of permit-only wilderness east of Kakadu – is a special one, but a visit with Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safaris elevates the experience even further.
Bawaka Cultural Experiences (Tourism NT)
Centred on a comfortable eco-lodge in the sacred Mount Borradaile area, the operator’s small-group cultural tours incorporate everything from rock art galleries and birdwatching to billabong cruises and barramundi fishing. They’ve won close to a dozen awards over the years, including recognition from Gourmet Traveller Magazine. It’s possible to arrange private air charters from either Darwin or Kakadu.
Kings Canyon is rightly seen as one of the highlights of a trip to the Red Centre, and if you’ve exerted yourself during the day by completing the panoramic walk around the canyon rim, there’s an obvious way of rewarding yourself.
Kings Canyon Resort (Tourism NT)
Kings Canyon Resort runs the aptly named Under A Desert Moon dining experience, setting up tables for two under the southern night sky and serving a four-course dinner with sparkling wine and canapes. It takes place on selected nights only – dates are advertised on the resort website and advance bookings are essential.
The escarpments and ochre plains of the outback look stirring enough from ground level, but when you’re looking down on the land from a hot air balloon at sunrise, it’s fair to say there’s an extra layer of drama involved.
Hot-air ballooning at sunrise (Tourism NT)
Based out of Alice Springs, Outback Ballooning offers 30- and 60-minute early morning flights year-round (weather permitting – although the desert weather means it can boast one of the lowest cancellation rates in the world). Sparkling wine and refreshments are included on each flight, and the balloons themselves can accommodate as many as 20 people. Private charters are also available.
Uluru draws travellers of all budgets, a fact reflected by the myriad different levels of accommodation at Ayers Rock Resort. If it’s the lap of luxury you’re after, however, there’s one clear choice: the Longitude 131° wilderness camp.
Longitude 131° (Tourism NT)
Commanding superb views of Uluru itself, the camp comprises fifteen luxury tents – each with king-size bed, rain shower, viewing balcony and complimentary bar – as well as a spa, an outdoor pool, a contemporary restaurant and a library. Prince William and Kate Middleton stayed in the property during their trip to Australia in 2014.
Offering a variety of one-day, multi-day and private charter tours out of Darwin, high-end operator Northern Territory Indigenous Tours combines Aboriginal-guided itineraries with a splash of Top End luxury. Small group sizes in modern 4WD vehicles are the norm, and the tours make a point of steering clear of the main tourist spots.
Helicopter tour (Tourism NT)
You can also expect to sample wild-caught barramundi and fresh game meats such as crocodile and kangaroo. Tour options include day-trips to little-visited parts of Litchfield National Park, helicopter flights over the wider region and longer visits taking in both Kakadu and Litchfield.
Located on the sweeping Mary River floodplain close to Kakadu, Bamurru Plains is one of the most exclusive accommodation options in the Northern Territory. Made up of nine handsome safari bungalows (as well as the even more opulent Kingfisher Suite), the secluded lodge is also somewhere with good eco-credentials – 75% of its power is solar-generated.
Bamurru Plains (Tourism NT)
And what to do when you’re here? Take your pick from airboat tours, 4WD safaris, river cruises, wildlife viewing and more. You’re likely to see both wallabies and crocodiles, as well as copious birdlife. Fishing trips and guided excursions to Kakadu can also be arranged.
Darwin company Outback Floatplane Adventures bill their signature half-day experience as “The Territory’s Ultimate Tour”, which may not be far off the truth.
Outback Floatplane Adventures
Making use of an airboat, a helicopter, a floatplane and a cruise vessel, it takes guests from Darwin out into the wilds of the Top End and includes a floatplane landing on the glorious but hard-to-reach Sweets Lagoon. High-quality local food and abundant wildlife are further selling points. The company was set up by Matt Wright, star of the National Geographic series Outback Wrangler, and custom tours hosted by Matt himself can be organised.
There are a number of memorable dining options for those looking to add a lavish touch to their Uluru visit, the most famous of which is probably the long-established Sounds of Silence, a four-hour package that includes chilled sparkling wine, star-gazing and an upmarket “bush tucker” buffet.
Sounds of Silence (Tourism NT)
Raising the bar even further, however, is the newer Tali Wiru, an open-air fine dining experience on a remote dune-top overlooking The Rock. Premium Australian wines are complemented by the likes of Darling Downs wagyu fillet and Glacier 51 toothfish. The dinner is only available for a maximum of 20 people each evening, and runs from April to mid-October.
Too posh to paddle? Fear not – you’re still able to enjoy the cinematic beauty of Nitmiluk Gorge. It’s best known as a canoeing spot, but if you join the Nabilil Dreaming Sunset Dinner Cruise, you can sit back while sailing the first two gorges and hear about the customs and practices of the local Jawoyn people.
Nabilil Dreaming Sunset Dinner Cruise (Tourism NT)
It’s a three-and-a-half hour cruise, and as well as being treated to the steep-cliffed scenery of the gorges themselves, you’ll also enjoy a glass of bubbly and a three-course dinner prepared on board. It’s available from May through to the end of October.
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