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What we didn't expect to discover on our girls trip to the Northern Territory.

Tourism NT
Thanks to our brand partner, Tourism NT

It’s 10pm and we have to be up early for a sunrise hike at Kings Canyon. 

We’re digging through our suitcases for sunscreen and water bottles and maybe doing the maths on the latest possible minute we can roll out of bed (5:12am). 

That's when mum, who is sitting on the front porch of our glamping tent yells for us to come join her.

"Look at that," she says, pointing at the sky.

In our entire lives, we had never seen stars like the ones blanketing the sky that night above Kings Canyon. The colours of the Milky Way make it look as though you're staring into a porthole to another galaxy, the universe suddenly far bigger than we could even try to imagine. 

We're silent for a while until we hear some rustling in a nearby tree, and decide it's definitely our friend we met a few hours earlier, a dingo named Geoff. We don't actually know if his name is Geoff as we didn't get close enough to ask him, but he's the first dingo we've ever seen in the wild, and we were struck by his sandy colouring and distinctive trot. 

It is moments like these that made our trip to the Red Centre so special and unforgettable. That's the thing about road trips through the outback; it's the serendipity of finding yourself in a particular place, at a particular time, that gives you an experience like nowhere else.

Here are four discoveries we made on our girl's trip through the Northern Territory that we absolutely didn't expect. 

Simpsons Gap

While we had heard a great deal about Alice Springs, we knew nothing about Simpsons Gap which is just 18 kilometres west from Alice. 

Located in the West MacDonnell Ranges and along the Larapinta Trail, Simpsons Gap would have to be one of the most picturesque locations we've ever visited. 

Towering cliffs sit on either side of a stunning waterhole, which is considered sacred to the Arrernte people. 

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What a picture cannot capture is the incredible silence and stillness of the gap. We met up with a woman named Rayleen Brown, the co-founder and owner of Kungka's Can Cook, who walked us through some of the trees and plants, and foraged some fresh figs to eat. 

Brown explained to us how the Arrernte people pick a handful of figs, but always leave at least half for the black-footed rock-wallabies who come to feast at sunrise and sunset. 

If you visit Simpsons Gap in the morning or evening, you're likely to spot these distinctive wallabies scaling the rocks, and drinking from the waterhole. 

We chatted to Rayleen for hours about bush tucker, and how Australia has native food we should be really proud of. 

It was meeting people like Rayleen that was absolutely the highlight of our trip to the Northern Territory. She shared so much about her own upbringing, the work she does, the stories of her ancestors, and the stories of the land that are passed down through generations. We were blown away by the generosity of the local Indigenous people who gave us an entirely new perspective on the land we were visiting. 

Swimming at Glen Helen Gorge

From Alice Springs we set off towards her final destination, Uluru. But every few hours there was a new place to explore.

About an hour and a half from Alice is Glen Helen Gorge, a stunning waterhole you're allowed to swim in. If you didn't know it was there, it's the type of spot you could easily just drive past.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a day of sweaty exploring and learned the very specific joy of diving into a cool gorge in the desert. We swam until the sun went down, watching birds fly through the gorge, and seeing the odd fish swim beneath us. 

Glen Helen Gorge. Image: Supplied.  

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Meeting a newborn brumby on our way to Kings Canyon

What we didn't expect were all the incredible things we saw looking out the window, as we drove from one destination to the next. 

On our way to Kings Canyon we spotted dozens of brumbies running through the outback. We couldn't believe how fast and strong they were, and when we stopped to watch (we kept our distance) they stared right back. 

At one point we stopped to watch a foal who must've only been a few days old, learning to walk and feeding off its mother. We could've watched this family all day, mesmerised by how they interacted with each other, and how curious the foal was by its surroundings. 

Watching the brumbies. Image supplied.  

Kata Tjuta (inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park)

We hadn't expected Uluru to be so much more than the iconic sandstone monolith.

Once we actually got to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, we decided to hike around the soaring rock domes of Kata Tjuta, which are also known as The Olgas. At sunrise and sunset, the rocks glow and change colour along with the desert landscape. There are 36 domes in total that make up the Kata Tjuta formation, and they are central to a number of sacred tales and Dreamtime stories. 

There are lots of opportunities for cultural tours where you can learn about the history and significance of the landscapes, which provides an entirely new appreciation for what you're experiencing. 

While there's a lot you can plan for when visiting the NT, like hiking Kings Canyon and visiting Uluru, it's worth remembering that your trip will also be full of unexpected surprises. 

That's the real joy of Australia's Red Centre.

All roads lead to the Northern Territory – a place to reconnect while exploring Australia's natural wonders. Start planning your Northern Territory road trip by downloading the NT Drive Guide.

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

Tourism NT
All roads lead to the Northern Territory – a place to reconnect while exploring Australia's natural wonders. Experience ancient culture first-hand, take your pick of adventure activities and watch the days roll from burning sunsets into clear starry nights. Plan your trip today.