There’s an event for all occasions in the Northern Territory
As we head into the back half of the year, it’s time to tick off some iconic Aussie bucket list events including Darwin Harbour’s Beer Can Regatta or the infamous Henley on Todd, Australia’s only land-based boat race, that are on offer in the NT. From thrill-seeking to sporting and outdoor events and everything in between, if you’re looking for a reason to head to the Top End or Red Centre, the Northern Territory has you covered.
Alice Springs Beanie Festival (Alice Springs, 29 June-2 July)
Beanie there, done that? We doubt it. Hats off to Alice Springs, the Beanie Capital of the World. And we have the festival to prove it. Now in its 21st year, this eclectic event brings together more than 6,500 handmade beanies from around the world, in the Weaving the Magic exhibition which encourages you to try and buy. But there’s more than just beanies. This wacky weekend includes art exhibitions, textile workshops, live entertainment, homemade food and local Aboriginal culture. Head to Beanie Central for cultural and creative workshops, or for some kangaroo tail roasted on the campfire.
Walking with Spirits (Katherine & surrounds, 1 July TBC)
Regarded as one of the country’s most spiritually spectacular Aboriginal cultural festivals, Walking with Spirits is a must-do for visitors looking to experience the heart and soul of the Northern Territory. Witness a traditional Corroboree, in partnership with the Australian Shakespeare Company, and share in ancient ceremonies and vibrant culture on a land where it is said that the shadows of song men flicker in the firelight. Family-friendly activities including didgeridoo and weaving workshops and local food and art stalls will be open for visitors to explore in the lead up to the event’s main concert.
Territory Day – 40 Years of Self Government (Territory-wide, 1 July)
Life begins at 40! The Northern Territory celebrates four decades of self-government on 1 July with a host of events from Darwin, to Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and beyond. And it has many reasons to celebrate. Measuring a massive 1,349,129 square kilometres, the Northern Territory accounts for 17.5 per cent of Australia’s total land mass and the ‘Top End’ boasts a coastline that extends more than 13,500 kilometres. Flock to Darwin on Territory Day and witness the colourful capital burst into light in a rainbow of rockets, bangers and Roman candles. Watch fireworks explode over the Timor Sea from Mindil Beach, home to the best beach markets in the country, and see what makes the Territory so damn fine.
Darwin Fringe Festival (Darwin and surrounds, 6-15 July)
It’s no secret – Territorians like to live on the fringe, just look at our geography. We’re home to the smallest Australian capital city which is closer on the world map to Bali than to Canberra. And we’re edgy and eclectic, not to mention culturally diverse, with more than 50 nationalities including the area’s traditional Aboriginal landowners making up Darwin’s population. Blend all this together and you get the Darwin Fringe Festival, a vibrant ten-day event which celebrates creativity and diversity of the capital’s artistic community. Expect music, theatre, dance, comedy and visual arts. Organisers say it celebrates every genre you can think of (and a few that might be made up) which makes this community arts festival the hottest on the calendar, in the middle of our deliciously dry winter weather.
Apex Camel Cup (Alice Springs, 14 July)
Discover all the dromedary delights of the Apex Camel Cup, which was first staged in 1970 along the dry Todd River bed as a bet between two mates. These days, it’s become so popular, it has its own home at the Noel Fullerton Camel Racing Arena at Blatherskite Park. You’ll encounter plenty of camels and characters at this one-day event, including cameleer Neil Waters, who first rode in the cup in 1978 and is still going strong 40 years later, winning numerous races along the way. Neil loves these ships of the desert so much, he now owns Camels Australia, a camel farm 90-kilometres south of Alice Springs which offers two, three and five-day safaris as well as half and full-day excursions. Just don’t be surprised if he makes you a cuppa and asks whether you take it with one hump or two.
Darwin Lions’ Beer Can Regatta (Darwin, 22 July)
Drink or sink. We love a brew or two up here, and are fond of a tinnie, both in the drinking and boating sense. Therefore, it would be remiss of us not to combine these passions to deliver one of Australia’s weirdest water events. Enter the Darwin Lion’s Beer Can Regatta, a flashy, splashy event where contestants float and flounder off Mindil Beach in boats made from beer cans, plastic bottles and even the odd carton. Launched in 1974, this regatta has swelled into a major event, with nautical but nice entries ranging from one metres to a massive 12 metres. First floated in a bid to clean up rubbish around Darwin, these days it raises money for a good cause, with more than $150,000 donated to the Combined Lions Clubs of Darwin.
Australian Outback Marathon (Uluru & surrounds, 28 July)
We reckon it’s Australia’s most scenic marathon and when you consider runners are treated to incredible views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, it’s pretty hard to argue. Staged smack bang in the middle of the cool, dry season, there’s several courses including the full and half marathon, plus an 11-kilometre and 6-kilometre fun run. Apart from the stunning scenery, one of the race highlights is that the course is relatively flat, with only a couple of small dunes and plenty of that rich, red Outback soil for which this region is renowned. Spectators are invited to line the course and cheer on the runners (when not taking selfies with two of the Territory’s prettiest icons) and there may even be a wine or two at the end. Visitors to Uluru may be surprised to learn that almost everyone walks around our famous rock anti-clockwise and no one knows why.
Desert Harmony Festival (Tennant Creek & surrounds, 3-7 August)
If you’ve ever dreamed of “going walkabout”, this is the event for you. Arguably Australia’s most remote festival, head to Tennant Creek for five fab days of red dirt, blankets of stars, and divine desert culture. Hosted by Barkly Regional Arts and held on the lands of the Warumungu people, this year’s 29th festival focuses on a “Place and Belonging” and attracts visitors from interstate as well as Aboriginal people who’ve travelled across this amazingly arid landscape. It invites them to immerse in music, dance, art, film, food, theatre, workshops, adventure tours, sports and cultural activities. Visitors can also apply to “Go Walkabout” and volunteer their time in return for an experience of a lifetime.
Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (Darwin, 6 August)
Cheer until you’re hoarse with 20,000 other racing fans as your horse nears the finish on the enduring dirt track of Darwin’s Fannie Bay Racecourse. The pinnacle of Top End racing, the Carlton Mid Darwin Cup, takes a little over two minutes to run and a dedicated team a year to plan what is the crescendo of a stunning eight-day Carnival. The iconic Cup is truly the largest sporting and social event in the Northern Territory, broadcast to over 40 nations and hosting a crowd of 20,000 revellers at Fannie Bay for a day of fashion, entertainment, and unsurpassed hospitality. Billed as the ‘Carnival of Colour’, this year’s event will see Darwin City awash in vivid bright tones when Carnival fever grips.
Darwin Festival (Darwin & surrounds, 9-26 August)
The caravan is called Tracy and it’s plonked in the centre of the Darwin CBD weeks leading up to the Darwin Festival in order to sell tickets. Need proof we can laugh at ourselves up here? Tracy was one of the original caravans used to house residents after Cyclone Tracy struck the city on Christmas morning in 1974. Enter the Darwin Festival, an 18-day celebration of music, theatre, visual art, dance, cabaret. Flock to the Festival Lounge or encounter bamboo food stalls and pop-up bars around our truly tropical city. Feast with locals and visitors along long communal tables in Festival Park, indulging in Asian cuisine at one of the many outdoor events.
The 12th Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (Darwin, 10-12 August)
From the territory which gave the world Australia’s most acclaimed Aboriginal artists such as Albert Namatjira, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, the 12th Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair provides a rare opportunity for visitors to purchase art directly from more than 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned and incorporated Art Centres. The Darwin Convention Centre hosts this fair which collectively represents more than 2,000 emerging and established artists in what is believed to be the biggest event of its kind in Australia. Visitors are presented with the chance to ethically purchase art including paintings on canvas and bark, works on paper including limited-edition prints, sculptures, didgeridoos, fibre art and other cultural regalia. Traditional dance and free artist workshops add the final flourishes to this fair.
National Indigenous Music Awards (Darwin, 11 August)
These awards are deadly. Head to Darwin’s historic Amphitheatre for a nefarious night celebrating the stars, under the stars. Part of the Darwin Festival, the National Indigenous Music Awards are lauded as one of one of Australia’s most prominent awards which recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musical talent. And they boast a long line of previous winners including Yothu Yindi, Gurrumul, The Tableland Drivers, Warren H Williams and Arnhem Land rock stars Saltwater Band. With a new wave of Aboriginal singers including Jessica Mauboy and Kasey Chambers sweeping the charts, expect this event to explode at this amazing outdoor venue.
Run Larapinta Stage Race 2018 (Alice Springs & surrounds, 17-20 August)
Why walk when you can run along one of the country’s best and most popular tracks? The Larapinta Trail, which snakes for 223 kilometres along the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, arguably serves up the best of Australian outback scenery. Run Larapinta snatches the highlights and funnels them into a four-day, four-stage race, serving up boundless beauty and breathless exuberance along the way. There’s two options from which to choose, The Malbunka (long course), in which runners complete between 20 and 45 kilometres each day; or The Namatjira (short course), whose daily stages are slightly smaller at between 10 and 30 kilometres. (Just quietly, we know which one we’ll be doing). Regardless of distance, all competitors will be treated to stunning sights including Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, and Glen Helen.
Rotary Henley on Todd Regatta (Alice Springs, 18 August)
It’s kinda like a pub with no beer, but this is a boat regatta without water. Want the wackiest of races? Alice Springs is home to the world’s only land regatta and Australia’s oldest regatta, staging the Henley on Todd since 1962. Think of it like a medley of land-based boat races, attracting everything from homemade dinghys to pirate ships, as they compete along the bone-dry Todd River bed. But the fun doesn’t end in the, err, water. On the banks of the river expect Budgie-Smuggler Races; Anchor the Boat Tug-of-Wars; and of course, The Battle of the Boats. Makes you thirsty just thinking about it. If you do happen to be looking for a beach, Alice Springs is actually the closest Australian town to every single beach in Australia. The only problem, the nearest one away is in Darwin, a mere 1,500 kilometres away. Better grab your boat.
Lasseters Classic Outback Trial (Alice Springs & surrounds, 18-25 August)
Australia’s only week-long special stage rally, this car race attracts competitors from all over the country and takes them through some of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular sights with the Tjoritja / MacDonnell Ranges as its backdrop. Picture the golden era of motorsports with the likes of Ford Escorts and Datsuns competing in the Classic Outback Trial for historic and classic cars dating to 1988 and before. The Classic Outback Modern is aimed at modern rally cars from 1986 and upwards; while the Classic Outback Tagalong Tour invites four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and SUV drivers. While each competition awards its own winner, there is no overall victor, with the Northern Territory Outback the real champion here.
The Redback (Alice Springs & surrounds, 23-26 August)
Turns out it’s not just a poisonous Australian spider that can kill you, but a mountain bike race which will probably not kill you, but may hurt a little. The Redback is a four-day, six-stage race through the Red Centre starting at Alice Springs which boasts kilometres of hand-built single tracks designed specifically for mountain bikers. Framed by the magnificent Tjoritja / MacDonnell Ranges, Stage One is the Desert Technologies 39-kilometre Cross Country Race. Stage Two is the Rapid Ascent 300 metre Anzac Hill Climb; Stage Three the Schwalbe 22-kilometre Individual Time Trial; Stage Four the Tourism NT 22-kilometre Night Race; Stage Five the Lasseters Hotel 50-kilometre Cross Country Race; and Stage Six the Mercure Alice Springs Resort 45-kilometre Cross Country Race. Sounds like the kind of stuff superheroes are made of.
Freedom Day Festival (Katherine, 24-26 August)
This is not just a festival, but a significant step back into Aboriginal history. Fifty-two years ago, the Gurindji elders staged a walk off from Lord Vestey’s Wave Hill cattle station in a move which would spark the Aboriginal land rights movement. Known as the Wave Hill Walk-off, elders wandered into the unknown without ever looking back. In 2016, the Wave Hill Walk Off track was revitalised and is now a Heritage-listed site with interpretative signing and rest areas. In 2017, the Australian Institute of Architects awarded three bough shelters along the track for their innovative design. Each year, the Daguragu and Kalkaringi community leaders invite visitors to commemorate this significant action at the Freedom Day Festival, a three-day event which starts with a Freedom Day March and includes art, sport, music and guided walks of the track.
Red CentreNATS (Alice Springs, 31 August-2 September)
Love your wheels? You’ll adore this festival. Hailed as one of Australia’s most-loved automotive lifestyle festivals, car enthusiasts from around the country travel to Alice Springs for this revved-up program and on and off-track competitions. And there’s something special for street cruisers with a special temporary permit granted to drive your beast on the open roads of Alice Springs, making this festival the only place in Australia where this can be done. Indulge in street machines, elite show cars and hobby vehicles and witness three days of colourful competition with drag racing and show ‘n shine. Plenty of diesel, plenty of dust, just how we like it.
Jabiru Mahbilil Festival (Kakadu, 1 September TBC)
The annual Mahbilil Festival, a family-friendly event, celebrates Kakadu’s traditional and contemporary culture. Crammed with activities, workshops for kids, displays, Indigenous art exhibitions and demonstrations of weaving, painting and other crafts, there is truly something for everyone. Culture enthusiasts will enjoy art from across Arnhem Land and performances from local traditional dance groups including the Jabiru Bininj Gunborrk dancers, as well as an evening program of projections, light-shows, music till late. Food lovers can experience a raft of bushfood tastings, with large earth ovens cooking buffalo, barramundi and the speciality of the region, magpie goose. Join in the fun with spear throwing, and activities and entertainment aimed at young kids, youth and the older folks.
Mayali Mulil Festival – Kakadu on Country (Kakadu, 7-9 September)
Kakadu National Park is home to the Mayali Mulil Festival, a three-day event which offers a genuine cultural experience with traditional song and dance, set against Mother Nature. Staged on Murumburr Umbukarla Country, and hosted by Kakadu Billabong Safari Camp, it connects and celebrates the diversity of Aboriginal cultures and supports and promotes local and regional Aboriginal enterprises. Visitors are treated to a true-blue welcome to country with more than 10 cultural activities and workshops; bushwalks and talks; spear throwing competitions; kids activities; water games; and string making. With concerts, food and drink stalls, camping and safari accommodation, this is classic Kakadu, at its finest.
Desert Song Festival (Alice Springs and surrounds, 7-16 September)
The ancient Aboriginal songlines run deep through the heart of the Red Centre making Alice Springs the ideal destination in which to stage the Desert Song Festival. And this year’s event, themed “What a Wonderful World! – celebrating global heritage”, pushes the boundaries even further, marrying musical traditions from India, Africa, the Americas and Central Australia for the first time. And that’s not the only first, with film also being added to the festival program with the screening of the documentary “The Song Keepers”, a story about the Central Aboriginal Women’s Choir. Visitors will be treated to concerts, workshops, masterclasses, choirs, vocal ensembles, musicians and solo performers, aimed at celebrating cultural diversity and showcasing Central Australia. With the launch and finish events being staged in the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges, this is one festival to sing about.
Desert Mob (Alice Springs, 8 September)
Desert Mob is one of the most anticipated and important Aboriginal art and cultural events in the nation, bringing together Desart-member art centres from across vast regions of the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. The event is a unique annual gathering of artists, artworks and audiences in the heart of Central Australia. Desert Mob continues to be a bold and exhilarating statement of Aboriginal art and its dynamism, and over its 27-year history has remained the most immediate interface between Aboriginal art-making in remote desert communities and the wider world. Desert Mob 2018 will include an exhibition, symposium and marketplace presenting the latest developments in contemporary Aboriginal art, and invites visitors to meet the artists, listen to their stories, and share their culture in the heart of the country.
Darwin International Film Festival (Darwin, 13-23 September)
Film buffs looking for the best flicks in the Asia-Pacific are cordially invited to Darwin to walk the red carpet in September when the International Film Festival graces the big screens. And if sitting outside under the tropical stars in canvas chair while watching a movie is more your thing, we have the Deckchair Cinema, one of the world’s most retro outdoor cinemas too. This 10-day program not only highlights the best of Northern Australia and Northern Territory film, showcasing Indigenous stories and film makers, but draws on the close geographical and cultural connection with south-east Asia. Flock to this film festival to witness almost 40 films from around the world or attend a workshop or exhibition. There’s plenty of stars up here, and they’re not all in our night sky.
Parrtjima – A Festival in Light (Alice Springs & surrounds, 23 September-7 October)
This fab festival shines the spotlight on the MacDonnell Ranges with Australia’s biggest light show installation which pans over 2.5 kilometres. Hailed as the first authentic Aboriginal festival of its kind, Parrtjima – a Festival in Light – is a 10-day event which uses cutting-edge technology to showcase the oldest continuous culture on earth.
Aboriginal artists are invited to participate in this event which involves music, live painting, workshops, talks and stories. The local Arrernte elders selected the festival name, which comes from a group of languages, and means shedding both light and understanding on a subject. We’re confident you’ll leave with a gorgeous glow.
Million Dollar Fish (Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine, Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land, (Oct 2018-Feb 2019)
The NT is the world’s best play, stay and fishing destination, and with season four of Million Dollar Fish – the Territory’s largest fishing competition – running from October until late February next year, there’s no better time to plan a trip to the Top End. Fishos from across the country will head to Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine, the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land for the chance to reel in a prized barramundi. You could be lucky enough to catch one of 101 tagged barramundi, bagging yourself a $10,000 cash prize or the ultimate $1 million jackpot! So, grab your mates and plan your trip up north. What better time to escape the East Coast winter and head on up to the tropical Top End?
Jump onto northernterritory.com and plan an NT getaway, with a side order of events and festivals, today.