Go Wild With The Kids In Australia's Top End

11 February 2015

Kids and the Northern Territory have a lot in common. They can be wild and untamed one minute then turn blissfully quiet, too much adventure is never enough and just like the Northern Territory, they never cease to amaze you – often when you least expect it.

Perhaps it is the heat or the Top End’s rugged appeal, but the NT encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, something that is a great confidence builder for kids.

On any given day your family could be holding frill-necked lizards, sitting in the cockpit of a B-52, riding camels at Uluru, tiptoeing through WWII oil storage tunnels, watching the sunrise with crocodiles for company or swimming in a rockhole with no one else around.

Here are some of the best spots to go wild with your kids in the Top End.

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Get In Touch With History

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 At the controls of a B52

Australia’s northernmost capital is filled with stories of courage, adventure and lucky escapes along with plenty of hands-on historical attractions.

Head just out of town to the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre which holds one of Australia’s most impressive plane collections including an F-111 and a mighty B-52 bomber which visitors can sit in on open cockpit days.

There is no need to tell the kids ‘don’t touch!’ at this museum. Visitors are encouraged to handle the exhibits and ‘feel’ their history. You won’t find any fancy interactive displays here, just enthusiastic volunteers with fascinating tales to tell about the aircraft and artefacts.

You don’t need to go far in Darwin to meet some of the largest saltwater crocodiles on the planet.  Crocosaurus Cove is located in the CBD and offers plenty to see and do.

Start off easy with a tour of the reptile house before heading outside to watch a brave (and slightly terrified) tourist feed Burt, the croc who starred alongside Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee.

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Take On Waves At The Lagoon

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Burt’s antics might be entertaining but our family preferred the fun of the much smaller juvenile crocs. Armed with a fishing rod each we dangled meat over the safety glass and watched the little salties jump and rumble with each other in the water. They reminded me of siblings fighting over the last piece of cake.

Darwin has a reputation for expensive accommodation but there are bargains to be found, especially over the weekend when rates drop by up to 50 per cent.

Try the Novotel Darwin Atrium which offers free accommodation for up to two children under 16 staying in their parents' room and a 5pm late check-out on Sundays subject to availability.

For something self-contained there is Elan Soho Suites, one of the newest hotels in town. It is located near the Darwin Waterfront Precinct where there is plenty to keep you entertained.

 Explore the World War II tunnels

Along with restaurants and bars, there is a Wave Lagoon where older children (and their parents) can take on waves ranging up to 1.7 metres while youngsters paddle in the shallows. Admission only costs a few dollars but you can swim for free at the nearby recreation area.


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Across the road from the lagoon you can explore World War II oil storage tunnels which were built to protect fuel and oil from aerial bombardment after the 1942 bombing.

Tunnels 5 and 6 are open to the public and travel 120 metres beneath the city. The tunnels began leaking almost immediately and were never completed but they are fascinating to explore.

If you can squeeze in a day trip, head 100km south-west of Darwin to Litchfield National Park where shady waterholes, towering termite mounds and wildlife beckon. This national park is accessible throughout the year and has some spectacular (croc free) swimming spots.

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Tall Tales Around The Campfire

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Kakadu is worth a look for its Aboriginal rock art, wonderful wildlife and a cruise on Yellow Water Billabong but Katherine is the crowd pleaser when you are travelling with kids. As the locals say, “Katherine in a day? No way!”

 Nitmiluk Gorge

With so much to see and do you should allow at least three days to explore Katherine and the surrounding area. Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is accessible throughout the year but park rangers remove the crocodiles in the dry season so it is safe to go swimming.  Hire a kayak, go fishing for barramundi or take a cruise up the gorge with a refreshing dip at a ‘secret waterhole’ on the way back.

You can also take a helicopter flight for a bird’s eye view of the gorge or hike alongside it on one of the many walking trails. Bring a hat, plenty of water and a sense of adventure.

Families will enjoy listening to tall tales around the campfire at Marksie’s Stockman Camp Tucker Night. Katherine is also the ideal spot to learn about indigenous history and culture with a hands-on cultural experience.

Accommodation ranges from campgrounds to the luxury of Cicada Lodge, a five star accommodation option located inside Nitmiluk National Park. Cicada is less than three minutes walk from the gorge and reflects the spirit and culture of the local Jawoyn people. Families will appreciate the laid-back luxury and are welcomed with open arms.

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Come Back With A Boomerang

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 There's special spears for kids

Uluru is another spot which offers plenty of hands-on cultural experiences along with a whole lot of fun.

If your kids are early risers head to Uluru to watch the sunrise; those travelling with older children might prefer to visit this iconic destination at sunset as getting a sleepy teen out of bed at 5am is easier said than done.

Giving your kids the opportunity to capture the light changing the rock will keep them occupied while you take in the beauty of the surroundings. If they don’t have their own camera, a phone or iPad should do the trick.

Don’t miss the Cultural Centre where you can join in activities such as watching local Mutitjulu women making traditional tools or learn how to throw a spear. Spear throwing is considered ‘men’s business’ but watching the action is perhaps even more fun.

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Sunset Ride On Well-Mannered Camels

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 Swimming in the wild

Our guide gets a huge laugh when she confides they are using ‘training spears’ which are traditionally meant for children. Fine for the kids but not so cool for Dad.

Tours provide an excellent way to learn about Uluru but there is also plenty of free fun to be had.

Visitors can gather at the Town Square’s Circle of Sand at Yulara to hear indigenous story tellers or join a guided garden walk and learn about native bush foods.

 Feeding the salties - from a safe distance

Other complimentary activities include boomerang throwing lessons and daily performances by the Wakagetti Cultural Dancers whose talent and cheeky humour ensure every show is packed.

Most visitors spend between two to three nights at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Our final evening is spent on a sunset ride atop vocal yet well mannered camels.

Our camel train crests a dune and Uluru appears in front of us, looking just like the picture on nanna’s souvenir tea towel.

Whether you choose to join a tour, travel by camel, explore on foot or hire a car, it is impossible not to be touched by the ancient beauty and spiritual significance of this special place.

Tiana Templeman

Tiana Templeman is a Brisbane-based freelance food and travel journalist who is often out-of-town but always on-line. She writes travel blogs, presents a weekly travel segment on Radio 4BC and contributes to numerous Australian and international media outlets. Find Tiana on Google+, Twitter (@TianaTempleman), Facebook, and Instagram (tianatempleman).