Nature & wildlife
View rare species of flora, native wildlife and birds around the many established walking trails, swimming holes and camping areas in the Northern Territory.
There are hundreds of species of birds, fish, marsupials, reptiles, mammals and native plants found throughout the Top End and Red Centre regions of the Northern Territory.
There are plenty of national parks including two World Heritage-listed sites, conservation reserves and wildlife sanctuaries where you can see the unique plants and animals of the NT in their natural habitat.
On the outskirts of Darwin, pockets of bushland and coastal mangroves thrive within the city limits. The Alice Springs Desert Park is a must visit to learn about the flora and fauna of the desert region and the iconic locations of Kakadu National Park and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are known internationally for both their natural and cultural significance.
You can travel as far and as wide as you like to get in touch with nature in the NT – on a road trip, over the water or by air.
The best nature and wildlife spots in the Territory
So with all these incredible places to spend time in nature, where do you go first? We've got the answers!
The natural world surrounding Alice Springs
Naturally, the best places to see a lot of animals and plants is in the wild and there are plenty of places to do that in or close to Alice Springs. Reaching more than 150 kilometres either side of Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Tjoritja National Park and East MacDonnell Ranges are the home to dozens of unique animal and plant species. Dotted with waterholes and sacred sites, you could spend days exploring.
Further out of Alice Springs, Finke Gorge National Park, Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are all great spots for seeing the natural world without the interruption of lots of people. There are great hiking tracks, walking trails, mountain biking trails and lookouts where you can see the vast land of the desert country at its most vibrant.
Olive Pink Botanic Garden is just outside the Alice Springs CBD and is dedicated to the arid region flora of Central Australia. Named after the woman who created it, Olive Pink Botanic Garden gives you a peek into the incredible flora and fauna of the desert. You’ll see dozens of species of birds, rock wallabies and lots of lizards. Plant-wise, you’ll see a range of grasses, millet, native palms, wattle, mulga, gums and desert roses. There’s also plenty of bush tucker and medicine to be found. The gardens includes Tharrarltneme – Annie Meyer Hill – an Arrernte sacred site.
For an up close and personal experience with all the animals of Central Australia, try the Alice Springs Desert Park, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and the Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs. These three conservation-focused attractions showcase the incredible animals of Central Australia through education programs. Alice Springs Desert Park is also home to an incredible range of native plants across its distinct sand country, woodland and desert rivers zones. It’s home to the Alice Springs branch of the NT Herbarium, housing more than 270,000 preserved plant specimens.
Flora and fauna in Tennant Creek
As you drive through desert country to Tennant Creek, you’ll pass the Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles. While it’s not normally known for its wildlife, rangers regularly hold campfire talks throughout June and July sharing their knowledge about the region, their role in rescue and conservation and where to get a glimpse of the local wildlife.
Outside of the Tennant Creek township, there are millions of square kilometres of land that serves as home to thousands of desert species. The Davenport Ranges has a network of permanent waterholes that attract a range of marsupials and waterbirds. Camp here to see the natural world come alive at sunrise and sunset.
Connells Lagoon Conservation Reserve on the Barkly Tablelands is a haven for native wildlife originally established to conserve the grassland areas of the region and the surprisingly high number of plant species. In the reserve you’ll spot endangered and rare birds including finches, quails and bustards. Kangaroos, planigales and native rodents including a number of rat and mouse species also call the area home and are best seen after lots of rain when the clay pans are swampy and grassy.
Exploring nature in Katherine
There are few places in the Territory more spectacular than Nitmiluk National Park. With 13 sandstone gorges, permanent and semi-permanent waterholes and feeding into the Katherine River, Nitmiluk Gorge is teeming with wildlife and plants.
As well as the resident freshwater crocodiles – and occasional lost saltwater crocodile (always be croc wise) – there are plenty of species of wallabies, wallaroos and flying foxes as well as water birds and birds of prey feeding into the gorges. You can hike along the designated walking tracks, hire a canoe or cruise along in a boat to see the incredible natural world.
In Judbarra/Gregory National Park there are a heap of great walking trails including the Escarpment Walk which gives panoramic views of the Victoria River Valley. This is the perfect vantage point to spot some of the creatures living around the escarpment and to spot some of the local birds with your binoculars.
If you’re a keen fisher or just an avid nature lover then setting yourself up in the Katherine region is a great plan. With the Daly River, the Roper River running through Elsey National Park and the Limmen River in the Limmen National Park you're sure to spot a number of marine animals including fish and turtles as well as the birds and marsupials living on and near the river banks. While you’re exploring these areas, it’s important to keep an eye out for saltwater crocodiles and be crocwise.
Animals and plants of Kakadu
Within the 20,000 kilometres of World Heritage protected land at Kakadu National Park lives a huge number of animals and plant species. There are more than 2,000 plant species in Kakadu with many species used for food, medicine, craft materials and as calendars by the traditional owners. Keep an eye out for Kakadu plum, red bush apple, pandanus, stringybark and Turkey bush.
In the grassy scrub found throughout the park, you’ll spot agile wallabies and wallaroos, the bright orange Leichhardt’s grasshopper, snakes, flying foxes sleeping in the trees or even a bandicoot or quoll at night. Within the waterways, it’s common to see turtles and many species of fish as well as river sharks and crocodiles.
For an uninterrupted view of the flora and fauna, a Yellow Water Cruise is a must. Cruising slowly through the landlocked billabong, you’ll get an incredible view of large saltwater crocodiles amongst the waterlilies as well as turtles, water birds and maybe even a buffalo on the bank. Thousands of water lillies line the billabong making for great photos. The best cruises are at sunrise or sunset but a day cruise will also be a great adventure.
Kakadu has a range of natural attractions to see with many accessible by walking tracks or 4WD tracks and a number of campsites available for seasonal camping.
Darwin: a capital city built in nature
Darwin is a lush tropical city with plenty of bushland, reserves and unspoilt coastal areas to see plants and animals. Take a trip out to Casuarina Beach, Lee Point or the Esplanade to see the beautiful beaches on the city’s edge.
Within the city itself, East Point Reserve and the George Brown Botanic Gardens are two of the best places to experience nature. East Point is coastal and is home to incredible birdlife as well as plenty of wallabies who come out at sunrise and sunset to get food before sleeping during the heat of the day. A steel boardwalk takes you through mangroves at all times and tides with a small monsoon forest walk nearby that makes you feel like you’re miles away from the city.
The Botanic Gardens is lush tropical forest brimming with incredible plants, birds, frogs and small reptiles. Over 42 hectares, you can stroll through a rainforest, relax on the lawn, sit next to the lily pond or take a break in the shade garden. It’s an easy spot for amateur birdwatchers to see a range of beautiful birds within the city and butterflies are plentiful. Orchids, boabs, frangipanis, cycads and desert roses are all around and make for a relaxing oasis in the city.
While you’re in Darwin, get out on the harbour for a cruise. As well as incredible fish and birds, turtles, dolphins, dugongs and even the occasional crocodile are visitors to the safe waters of the harbour. To go further afield, board the Turtle Tracks tour boat and sail out to Bare Sand Island, a nesting place for flatback and Olive Ridley turtles. Depending on when you go, you can see the egg laying or the hatchlings heading out to sea.
Crocodylus Park and Zoo is just a short drive from the CBD and is home to dozens of crocodiles as well as a range of other animals including birds like emus, cassowaries and jabiru, snakes and iguanas, water buffalo, dingoes, wallabies, kangaroos, meerkats, servals, monkeys and lions. There are chances to meet some of the animals including meerkat and monkey meeting experiences, a dingo play date, and a chance to feed the lions.
A 45-minute drive from Darwin is the Territory Wildlife Park, home to a range of different Top End habitats and specialised exhibits. Check out the nocturnal house, woodland walk, billabong, monsoon forest walk, the walk-through aviary, aquarium, sandbar, goose lagoon, rocky ridge, buffalo trail and the dingo enclosure to see the wide variety of animals that the Top End is home to. There are presentations and shows throughout the day with the Flight Deck birds of prey show being a highlight.
Right next door to the Territory Wildlife Park is the Berry Springs Nature Park. This is a great place to swim, have a picnic and recharge in nature. There's a looped walking track so you can explore at your own pace. March and April are the best time to see the native plants in flower and the grasslands green and lush after the monsoonal rains.
Howard Springs Nature Park is another wildlife reserve full of diverse habitats. You can swim here, walk into the rainforest or spot fish from the wall of the weir. Look out for turtles, birds and a few sneaky wallabies who come out in the late afternoon.
Drive a bit further down the Stuart Highway and you’ll be at Litchfield National Park. This is the spot where you’ll find the most accessible natural attractions. Check out the termite mounds that all point magnetic north and measure up to 2 metres tall. There are walking trails, hiking tracks, 4WD tracks and easily accessible swimming holes and waterfalls in all corners of the park with Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls most accessible. The park is full of stunning bushland where you can relax and listen to the soothing sound of the natural waterholes and waterfalls.