Disability awareness in the Northern Territory is pretty high and getting higher. New accommodation must meet accessibility standards and discrimination by tourism operators is illegal. Many key attractions provide access for those with limited mobility and sometimes for those with visual or aural impairments; contact attractions in advance.
Long-distance bus travel isn't viable for wheelchair users, but the Ghan train has accessible facilities (book ahead). Some car-rental companies (Avis, Hertz) offer rental cars with hand controls at no extra charge for pick-up at the major airports (advance notice required).
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Deafness Association of the Northern Territory is a potentially useful resource for hearing-impaired travellers.
Gentle haggling is fairly common in Darwin's markets and secondhand shops, but it's not the done thing in most Indigenous art centres, where prices are fixed. It's common practice to ask for a discount on expensive items when paying cash (not that you are guaranteed to get one). In most other instances you are expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
If you've heard anything about outback Australia, it's likely to be that it's teeming with dangerous animals such as sharks, snakes, spiders, jellyfish, crocodiles and stinging marine animals. While it's true that these creatures do inhabit the outback and surrounding oceans, your chances of being bitten, stung or eaten are very small if you take basic precautions and follow local advice. In fact, you're far more likely to crash into a kangaroo or cow while driving your car than be bitten by a snake. Petty crime is a minor issue in larger towns.
For four to six months of the year (at least) you'll have to cope with those two banes of the Australian outdoors, the fly and the mosquito (mozzie).
Flies emerge with the warmer spring weather (early September) and last until winter. Insect repellents such as Aerogard and Rid may help to deter them. Mozzies are a menace in summer, especially near wetlands (they can pretty much lift you off the ground in Kakadu), and some species are carriers of viral infections. Try to keep your arms and legs covered as soon as the sun sets and make liberal use of insect repellent.
Another serious hazard is animals straying onto the road, particularly kangaroos but also livestock. Vehicles travel fast on the main highways and kangaroos can and will hop from the side of the road in the blink of an eye. The worst time to travel is between dusk and dawn.
Other animals to look out for include sharks, snakes, spiders, jellyfish, crocodiles and stinging marine animals, although your chances of being bitten, stung or eaten are very small if you take basic precautions and follow local advice.
Bushfires are an annual event. In hot, dry and windy weather, be extremely careful with any naked flame – cigarette butts (and even glass) thrown out of car windows have started many a fire – and make sure your fire is out before you decamp. On total-fire-ban days it's forbidden even to use a camping stove in the open – penalties are harsh. Campfires are banned in conservation areas during the Fire Danger Period (FDP), which varies from region to region but is usually from 1 November to 31 March (30 April in some places).
Bushwalkers should seek local advice before setting out. When a total fire ban is in place, delay your trip until the weather improves. If you're out in the bush and you see smoke, even a long distance away, take it seriously – bushfires move quickly and change direction with the wind. Go to the nearest open space, downhill if possible. A forested ridge, on the other hand, is the most dangerous place to be.
The Northern Territory is a relatively safe place to visit but you should still take reasonable precautions. Lock hotel rooms and cars and don't leave your valuables unattended or visible through car windows. In Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine, petty crime can be a problem, particularly late at night. Avoid walking alone in unlit areas.
In response to several reports of drugged drinks in pubs and clubs, authorities are advising women to refuse drinks offered by strangers in bars and to drink bottled alcohol rather than from a glass.
On the Road
As a rule, central Australian drivers are a courteous bunch, but risks can be posed by rural revheads, inner-city speedsters and fatigue- or alcohol-affected drivers. Take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and be aware of animals, which can be a real hazard on country roads, particularly at dusk.
If you're keen to explore the outback, do some careful planning and preparation. Driving on dirt roads can be tricky if you're not used to them, and travellers regularly encounter difficulties in the harsh outback conditions. The golden rules are to always carry plenty of water and tell someone where you're going.
- Always assume that there are crocodiles in waterholes and rivers in the Top End – always seek local advice before jumping in.
- Popular beaches are patrolled by surf lifesavers; safe areas are marked by red-and-yellow flags.
- Undertows (or rips) at surf beaches are a problem. If you find yourself being carried out by a rip, don't panic or swim against the current – swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip then make your way back to the beach. Raise your arm (and yell!) if you need help.
- A number of people are paralysed every year by diving into waterholes or waves in shallow water and hitting the bottom – look before you leap.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/)
Emergency & Important Numbers
Regular Australian phone numbers have a two-digit area code followed by an eight-digit number. Drop the initial 0 if calling from abroad.
|NT area code||08|
|International access code||0011|
|Emergency (ambulance, fire, police)||000|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- All visitors to Australia need a visa − only New Zealand nationals are exempt and even they sheepishly receive a 'special category' visa on arrival.
- There are several different visas available, depending on your nationality and what kind of visit you're contemplating.
- See the website of the Department of Immigration & Citizenship (www.homeaffairs.gov.au) for info and application forms (also available from Australian diplomatic missions overseas and travel agents), plus details on visa extensions, Working Holiday Visas (417) and Work & Holiday Visas (462).
- Greetings Usually a simple 'G'day' or 'Howzitgoin?' suffices. Shake hands with men or women when meeting for the first time. Most Australians expect a firm handshake with eye contact. However, when visiting an Aboriginal community this can be seen as overbearing. Here, a soft clasp with little arm movement and virtually no eye contact can be expected. The best advice is to take it as it comes and respond in like manner.
- Shout Australians like to take it in turn to buy (shout) a round of drinks for the group and everyone is expected to take part.
- Alcohol Check whether alcohol rules apply when visiting a community. You may be breaking the law even with unopened bottles in your vehicle.
A good travel insurance policy covering theft, loss and medical problems is essential. Some policies specifically exclude designated 'dangerous activities' such as scuba diving, motorcycling and even bushwalking. Make sure the policy you choose fully covers you for your activities of choice.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than requiring you to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later make sure you keep all documentation. Check that the policy covers ambulances and emergency medical evacuations by air.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
In the Territory you'll find active gay and lesbian communities in Darwin and Alice Springs, although homophobic attitudes do exist, especially beyond the main towns.
For general information, check out Gay & Lesbian Tourism Australia (www.galta.com.au), which has information on gay-friendly businesses, places to stay and nightlife. See also www.gaystayaustralia.com for a small handful of Darwin accommodation options.
Most travellers will have no contact with Australia's police or legal system; if you do, it's most likely to be while driving.
There's a significant police presence on central Australian roads; police have the power to stop your car, see your licence (you're required to carry it), check your vehicle for roadworthiness and insist that you take a breath test for alcohol (and sometimes illicit drugs).
First-time offenders caught with small amounts of illegal drugs are likely to receive a fine rather than go to jail, but the recording of a conviction against you may affect your visa status.
If you remain in Australia beyond the life of your visa, you'll officially be an 'overstayer' and could face detention and expulsion, then be prevented from returning to Australia for three years or more.
It's your right to telephone a friend, lawyer or relative before questioning begins. Legal aid is available only in serious cases; for Legal Aid office info see www.ntlac.nt.gov.au. However, many solicitors do not charge for an initial consultation.
Hema Maps (www.hemamaps.com) publishes some of the best maps for desert tracks and regions, from their Great Desert Tracks road atlas (which has high-level overview text for the major tracks) to their three-sheet HEMA Great Desert Tracks fold-out map series – Western Sheet, Central Sheet and Eastern Sheet (all 1:1,250,000). Hema also publishes useful maps, including the following:
- Red Centre: Alice Springs to Uluru (1:750,000)
- Top End and Gulf (1:1,650,000)
- Top End National Parks: Litchfield, Katherine, Kakadu (1:350,000)
- Northern Territory (1:1,800,000)
Hema maps are available online and from some bookshops in the NT.
Touring and 4WD maps are also available from the Automobile Association of the Northern Territory.
Geoscience Australia (www.ga.gov.au) publishes large-scale topographic sheet maps for bushwalking and 4WD explorations.
You can also hire a GPS from the major car-hire companies (subject to availability).
Australia's currency is the Australian dollar, comprising 100 cents. There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2 coins and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Unless otherwise stated, prices listed are in Australian dollars.
ATMs & Eftpos
There are 24-hour ATMs in most substantial towns in the NT (including Yulara at Uluru and Jabiru and Cooinda in Kakadu National Park). All accept cards from other Australian banks and most are linked to international networks. Most Stuart Hwy roadhouses also have ATMs.
Most service stations and supermarkets have Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (Eftpos) facilities allowing you to make purchases and even draw out cash with your credit or debit card.
Credit & Debit Cards
Credit cards (especially Visa and MasterCard) are widely accepted throughout central Australia. A credit card is essential if you want to hire a car and can also be used for cash advances at banks and from ATMs (depending on the card). Diners and AmEx cards are not widely accepted.
A debit card allows you to draw money directly from your home bank account using ATMs, banks or Eftpos machines. Any card connected to the international banking network – Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and Eurocard – should work with your PIN (Personal Identification Number). Expect substantial fees.
Companies such as Travelex offer debit cards (Travelex calls them 'Cash Passport' cards) with set withdrawal fees and a balance you can top-up from your personal bank account while on the road.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is far from ingrained in Australian society and most people in the outback don't bother. The only place where tipping is considered normal is restaurants, where 10% of the bill is reasonable for good service. Taxi drivers also appreciate you rounding up the fare.
Banks 9.30am–4pm Monday to Thursday, until 5pm Friday.
Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday, some 9am–noon on Saturday.
Pubs Usually serving food noon–2pm and 6–8pm. Pubs and bars often open for drinking at lunchtime and continue well into the evening, particularly from Thursday to Saturday.
Restaurants noon–2pm and 6–8pm. Darwin eateries keep longer hours.
Shops & businesses 9am–5pm or 6pm Monday to Friday, until either noon or 5pm on Saturday. In Darwin on Friday, doors stay open until 9pm.
Cafes All-day affairs opening from around 7am until around 5pm or continuing their business into the night.
Petrol stations & roadhouses Usually 8am–10pm. Some urban service stations open 24 hours, and some outback roadhouses open as early as 6am.
Supermarkets Generally open from 7am until at least 8pm; some open 24 hours. Delis (general stores) also open late.
Australia's postal services are reasonably cheap and efficient. Post offices are open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and you can also buy stamps at some newsagencies.
National and statewide public holidays observed in NT:
New Year's Day 1 January
Australia Day 26 January
Easter Good Friday to Easter Monday, inclusive March/April
Anzac Day 25 April
May Day 1st Monday in May
Queen's Birthday 2nd Monday in June
Picnic Day 1st Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
- Smoking Banned on public transport and in pubs, bars and eateries.
Australia’s main telecommunications companies (although Telstra has by far the largest network in the NT):
Telstra (www.telstra.com.au) The main player − landline and mobile phone services.
Optus (www.optus.com.au) Mobile network covers Darwin, Jabiru, Nhulunbuy Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, Yulara and a few spots along the Stuart Hwy.
Vodafone (www.vodafone.com.au) Coverage only in Darwin, Jabiru, Katherine, Alice Springs and Yulara.
European phones work on Australia's network, but not most American or Japanese phones. Use global roaming or a local SIM card and prepay account.
Numbers Australian mobile-phone numbers have the prefix 04xx.
Reception Australia's mobile networks service more than 90% of the population but leave vast tracts of the country uncovered. Darwin and most of the NT's settled areas get good reception, but as the towns thin out, so does the service. Don't rely on coverage in outback areas, except in Yulara.
Networks Australia's digital network is compatible with GSM 900 and 1800 (used in Europe), but isn't compatible with the systems used in the USA or Japan.
Providers It's easy and cheap to get connected short term – the main service providers all have prepaid mobile systems.
Phonecards & Phone boxes
A range of phonecards ($10, $20, $30 etc) is available from newsagencies and post offices. Phonecards can be used with any public or private phone by dialling a toll-free access number and then the PIN on the card. Rates vary from company to company – shop around.
The only phone boxes you're likely to see are in remote towns and roadhouses where there's no mobile coverage.
Information & Toll-Free Numbers
- Numbers starting with 190 are usually recorded information services, costing anything from 35c to $5 or more per minute (more from mobiles and payphones).
- Many businesses have either a toll-free 1800 number, dialled from anywhere within Australia for free, or a 13 or 1300 number, charged at a local call rate. None of these numbers can be dialled from outside Australia.
- To make a reverse-charge (collect) call from a public or private phone, dial 1800 738 3773 or 12 550
- Toilets in central Australia are sit-down Western style (…though you mightn't find this prospect too appealing in some remote outback pit stops).
- See https://toiletmap.gov.au/for public toilet locations.
Almost every decent-sized NT town and the larger national parks (including Kakadu, Nitmiluk and Uluru) has a visitor information centre of some description, with a proliferation of brochures and maps and professional staff. In smaller towns or tourist centres, they're usually staffed by volunteers.
Tourism Australia (www.australia.com) The main government tourism site with visitor info.
Tourism NT (https://northernterritory.com) Bountiful info on the NT. Also produces The Essential NT Drive Guide, a great booklet with driving distances, national parks, and outback info and advice for 2WD and 4WD travellers.
Tourism Central Australia Covers Alice Springs and the Red Centre.
Tourism Top End Based in Darwin with info on Darwin, Kakadu, Arnhem Land and as far south as Katherine.
Travel with Children
Travelling with children in central Australia can be joyous – camping, bushwalks, stargazing, swimming, wildlife spotting… Only extreme temperatures, humidity and distances conspire to spoil the party. But if you can beat the heat, this isn't a place where you'll encounter much urban menace, pollution or tedious queuing.
At the Hotel
When you're knee-high to a grasshopper, staying at a hotel is an adventure. Kids aren't fussed about interior design, fluffy bathrobes, Italian tapware or the dated tropical-flower print on the bed linen. The key requirements are facilities-based: swimming pools, playgrounds, games rooms, in-house movies, children's menus and the presence of other kids top the list of priorities. If it means your kids will be happier, try to suspend any ingrained hotel snobberies and stay somewhere where the little ones will be well catered for.
On the Road
As anyone with kids knows, getting from A to B is the biggest threat to having a good time. Both A and B are fine once you get there, but the long road-tripping hours in between can be hell on wheels.
For babies and toddlers, time your drives with established sleep times: once they're asleep the hypnotic lull of tyres on asphalt can keep them that way for hours. For older kids, there's something to be said for technological distractions in the back seat: portable DVD players or Play Station–type games (with headphones!) can help pass the kilometres, and books-on-CD (available at ABC shops) are suited to long drives. Factor in regular pit stops and bring plenty of snacks, colouring books and crayons, sticker albums, drink bottles… And a good game of 'I Spy With My Little Eye' never goes astray.
Have a read of Lonely Planet's Travel With Children for some more ideas.
- You'll find public toilets with family rooms where you can go to feed babies or change nappies in most shopping centres. As anywhere, children should be accompanied in all public toilets, including at shopping centres.
- Many motels and some caravan parks have playgrounds and swimming pools, and can supply cots and baby baths. Top-end hotels and some (but not all) midrange hotels often accommodate children for free, but B&Bs are often child-free zones.
- For babysitting, ask at your hotel, although you're unlikely to get far outside of Darwin.
- Child prices (and family rates) apply for most tours, sights admission fees and air, bus and train transport, with some discounts as high as 50% off. However, the definition of 'child' can vary from under 12 to under 18 years.
- Heat is a problem while travelling in central Australia, especially in summer, with relentless desert sun and high humidity in the Top End. Time your visit for winter (which is high season!) or make sure the kids are enshrouded in big floppy hats, SPF 30+ sunscreen and sunglasses. Always carry plenty of water and drink regularly.
- Medical services here are of a high standard, with items such as baby-food formula and nappies widely available from pharmacies and supermarkets (plan ahead if heading to remote regions).
- Major hire-car companies can supply booster seats, for which you'll be charged around $25 for up to three days' use, with an additional daily fee for longer periods.
The majority of working-holiday opportunities in the NT for backpackers are in fruit picking, pastoral station work, labouring and hospitality.
Most work is picking mangoes and melons on plantations between Darwin and Katherine. Mango harvesting employs up to 2000 workers each season (late September to November). Station-work wannabes are generally required to have some skills (ie a trade or some experience), as with labouring and hospitality. Employers usually ask workers to commit for at least a month (sometimes three months).