Huge sunny skies, some of Australia’s greatest natural wonders and a luminous art scene make the Northern Territory the perfect playground for families, as Aleney de Winter discovers.
pre-dawn start means we’re all
half asleep, and not nearly
caffeinated enough to be
conscious, when we set off in the
inky blackness to a designated
viewing area inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National
Park. But as the sun rises over Australia’s most
famous rock star, the punch-in-the-gut impact
of Uluru as she emerges from the shadows,
turning from grey to ochre-brown to orange in a
matter of moments, has me wide awake.
Science tells us that Uluru thrust itself out of
the earth around 600 million years ago (give or
take a birthday candle or two) but this morning
I prefer the elaborate creation stories of the
local Anangu people. They believe Uluru was
created by a group of 10 ancestral spirits
(including Kuniya the python woman and Liru
the venomous snake men) who emerged from
the void during the period of Tjukurpa: The
Happily there is ample opportunity to hear
this and other fascinating tales of local lore as
we enjoy a guided Desert Awakenings Tour of
the base of Uluru, marvelling at the shapes,
shadows and sheer enormity of the beautiful
monolith along the way.
Rocking the Resort
We return to Voyages Ayers Rock Resort in
the township of Yulara a little more enlightened
and utterly wowed by our morning adventures.
While the resort offers a range of
accommodation for all budgets, from camping
to five-star, we’re staying at Sails in the
Desert, the resort’s premium offering which
provides a modern sanctuary with local design
elements woven in to highlight the mystery,
colour and wisdom of the thriving local
The resort also boasts an enormous pool
and a day spa to reinvigorate weary travellers.
Another highlight of a stay at Sails in the Desert
is the free activities programme, which includes
fantastic guided cultural walks, a Bush Tucker
Experience, Indigenous storytelling that
enchants the kids and the chance to get up
close with some unique creatures at the Red
Desert Reptiles Show.
Of course, there are other ways to get to
know Uluru. An enlightening dot painting
workshop with Maruku Arts, a not-for-profit art
collective owned and operated by the Anangu,
is a must for visitors who wish to learn more
about the ancient symbols used in their art and
teachings. But perhaps the most fun way to
explore it is as the early pioneers did: on the
back of a camel. If you prefer your transport
with wheels, and a little less on the smelly side,
we suggest renting bicycles to explore The
Rock’s 9.4-kilometre circumference.
If you’d prefer not to go it alone, AAT Kings’
Uluru Family Shindig offers some truly epic
guided experinces with a four-day Alice
Springs highlights tour incorporating Kata
Tjuta, Uluru, camel riding and more. It also has
Top End Tours for those trekking further north.
After Uluru performs its spectacular sunset
dance of many colours, the outback sky takes
centre stage as billions of stars paint the sky.
The resort offers spellbound kids the chance to
join its resident astronomer on a Family Astro
Tour, to hear how ancient cultures used the
night sky for orientation and as the basis for
their mythology. But those blazing stars aren’t
the only thing lighting up the Uluru night.
As darkness falls over Australia’s spiritual
heartland, Field of Light, or Tili Wiru Tjuta
Nyakutjaku, illuminates the desert at the base
of Australia’s most iconic monolith. In local
Pitjantjatjara it means “looking at lots of
beautiful lights” and, with more than 50,000
slender stems crowned with radiant glass
spheres over an area the size of seven football
fields, that is exactly what visitors will be doing,
with unbridled awe, as they are drawn into
Bruce Munro’s enchanting installation.
The Alice Illuminates
Uluru doesn’t have the monopoly on light, with
Alice Springs, some 450 kilometres away, also
set to glow with Parrtjima – A Festival in
Light, from 22 September to 1 October 2017.
“After sunset, the outback sky takes centre stage as billions of stars paint the sky.”
The jaw-dropping free public event is the first
authentic Indigenous light festival of its kind
and showcases the oldest continuous culture,
using the MacDonnell Ranges as a backdrop.
Alice Springs or, as locals simply refer to it,
‘the Alice’, is just as inspiring by day. Alice
Springs Desert Park, around 10 minutes from
the city, is a great place for kids to learn about
Central Australia’s diversity of life. A visit to
“The World’s Largest Classroom”, The Alice
Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre, is
another must. Kids can see how radios and
internet help overcome the odds of educating
children across an enormous area. Then there
is Earth Sanctuary, around 15 minutes south
of Alice Springs, an innovative eco-tourism
attraction offering both day and night tours of
the outback for families. Its brilliant Earth’s Cool
tour has been especially designed for kids,
focusing on the sustainability of the Earth’s
resources and teaching them how to reduce
their impact on the planet.
We head further north to Katherine, gateway to
Nitmiluk National Park, where Katherine Gorge
and its staggering network of gorges leave us
wonderstruck. We wind our way along the
Katherine River through ancient sandstone
walls by canoe, spotting the area's diverse
wildlife along the way. At the end of the day we
join Nitmiluk Tours on a dinner cruise to
discover the stories and ways of the area's
traditional owners, the Jawoyn, as the
magnificent Nitmiluk Gorge changes colour
with the setting sun.
A place where the outback meets the
tropics, visitors to Katherine can swim in
refreshing waterholes or soak in the spring-fed
Katherine Hot Spring. Kids will enjoy learning
about local Indigenous culture, how to make
fire with sticks, and throw boomerangs and
spears with Top Didj, or a camp dinner under
starlight with bush games and stories around
The Call of Kakadu
No visit to the Top End is complete without a
visit to Kakadu National Park, around an
hour-and-a-half from Darwin by coach or car.
Australia's largest national park on dry land, it
is a natural wonderland for kids, bursting with
stunning rocky ridges, flood plains, billabongs
and estuaries teeming with animal and bird life.
Kakadu has been home to Aboriginal people
continuously for over 50,000 years, something
that is evident throughout the park with many
sacred sites and awe-inspiring ancient
Aboriginal rock drawings. We explore Ubirr,
one of Kakadu National Park's most famous
Aboriginal rock art galleries, which can be
reached along an easy circular walking track.
On the gentle Bardedjilidji walking track we
view sandstone rock formations beside the
East Alligator River, spot more incredible
Aboriginal stone art and spy local wildlife. We
see first-hand the land of Dreamtime
ancestors, the Namarrgarn Sisters and the
magnificent Rainbow Serpent, depicted in the
About one-third of Australia's bird species
live in biodiverse Kakadu National Park, as well
as a croc or 10,000. We head out on a cruise of
Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu's most famous
wetland where, along with the squawking cries
of thousands of birds, we hear how the local
Bininj people use the river to support their way
of life. We also spot plenty of the famously
toothy locals, lurking on the water surface.
Later as we cool off at Gunlom Falls, nature's
own infinity pool, I'm visualising those beady
eyes protruding from the surface. Part of
Waterfall Creek, this is a popular swim spot
with locals and visitors to Kakadu, and though
it is considered safe, you swim at your own
risk. If you are worried about crocs just head 85
metres up to the smaller swimming holes at the
top of the falls like I did, because crocs aren't
known for their pole-vaulting skills.
The only croc I want to end up in the belly of
is the Indigenous-owned Mercure Kakadu
Crocodile Hotel, which, while shaped like a
croc, proves to be a cool, inviting haven for us
after a day of Top End family fun.
Flights to and from Darwin, Alice Springs and Uluru are available from most capital cities.
This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.