The Top End tops many a bucket a list, and for good reason. Desert meets wetland, and the vast, remote distances are made welcoming by a strong community spirit. The Northern Territory boasts astonishing natural marvels and rich, ongoing First Nations cultures. From our own road trips and adventures, here are our favourite accessible accommodation and attractions in the Northern Territory. If you’re travelling to the Northern Territory with a wheelchair, some planning and research will ensure you have a wonderful trip.
ULURU AND KATA TJUTA – ACCESSIBLE PLACES TO PLAY & STAY
Australia’s beating heart, the Red Centre exerts an almost magnetic pull on visitors and is certainly a destination we have returned to again and again. There are a variety of ways to experience Uluru. It’s important to ensure you have a National Park permit and book tours well in advance.
The Uluru Base Walk is 10 kilometres in total and circles the base of the rock with compacted paths, concrete paths and bridges. Make sure you watch the rock change colour from the accessible sunrise viewing platform, which is accessed via gradual slope from the accessible parking area.
A lovely variety of tours are offered so visitors can soak up every aspect of the heart of Australia. BJ loved the Trike Tour, which required transfers. AJ and I also tested the Camel Tour, which requires some mobility. The Field of Light is a magical light installation that must not be missed while staying at Yulara. Combine the Field of Light with a Sounds of Silence dinner and it’s an experience not to be missed. You can read about our experiences at Uluru in our guide. One of the most spectacular and photogenic ways to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta is from the air with a helicopter tour.
People come from all over to stay at Yulara, all with the objective of visiting Uluru. It is worth staying at least four nights to truly enjoy what is on offer without the need to rush.
The Ayers Rock Resort offers accommodation to suit a range of budgets. There is an IGA Supermarket within the resort and a medical centre at Yulara. Not all resort accommodation options are fully accessible, but we found the staff very willing to explain the facilities available so we knew what to expect.
Desert Gardens Hotel and Sails Resort both have fully accessible and spacious rooms with sunny terraces and level paths throughout. You can read our review of Desert Gardens Hotel here. We recommend a dinner at Arnguli Grill. Emu Walk apartments suited our preference for self-contained accommodation but is accessed by stairs so not suitable for wheelchair users with no mobility. BJ can manage some stairs with assistance so we bumped the wheelchair up the stairs to our apartment.
ALICE SPRINGS – ACCESSIBLE PLACES TO PLAY & STAY
A visit to the Royal Flying Doctors Service Museum and Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre filled us in on the history of the two importance organisations servicing remote Central Australia. Both have easy access throughout. We only had a quick look at Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the site of first European settlement in Alice Springs, but it also has great ramp access and sealed pathways.
Our favourite Alice Springs attraction is the Kangaroo Sanctuary. After watching the show Kangaroo Dundee, we were thrilled to meet founder Brolga and his mob of rescued roos. The sand was compact and easy enough to navigate with off-road tyres.
Only 10 minutes from town, Alice Springs Desert Park shows off the birds, plants and wildlife of three desert habitats. It is wheelchair accessible, but you’ll need to cover large distances to see everything in the park.
Make Alice your HQ for exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges on a spectacularly scenic day out. When we visited, National Parks listed Ormiston Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole as wheelchair accessible but we also managed Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm.
We’ve put together a round-up of our favourite wheelchair attractions in Alice Springs here.
We have tested out the two-bedroom apartment at Quest Alice Springs, which had a full-sized kitchen, a king zipper bed with transfer room and a well-equipped accessible bathroom. There is the option for an interconnecting apartment. Read our review of the Quest Alice Springs for more information.
For something totally different, we tried out the Alice Springs YHA Hostel. A short trip from the shops and restaurants of Todd Street Mall, the hostel offers shared rooms, private rooms and family rooms. Unlike the Sydney Harbour YHA, which was fully accessible, the Alice Springs YHA is not suitable for everyone. Bathroom access in particular might be tricky.
DARWIN – ACCESSIBLE PLACES TO PLAY & STAY
We’ve travelled to Darwin twice and enjoyed our stay on both adventures. On our first trip BJ was seven years old and able to be carried on Hubby’s back in a back carrier. This was the last trip for the back carrier but it did allow us to explore Kakadu in a way we couldn’t do once a wheelchair became an essential part of our lives. Hubby climbed to the top of Gunlom Falls to the natural pool with BJ on his back. It’s one of the most memorable Northern Territory travel memories for me because it was such a spectacular location and I felt so lucky to have done it while BJ was young.
We stayed in a non-accessible apartment which suited our needs while in Darwin however we have heard the rooms at Ramada Suites Zen Quarter are tailored to different mobility requirements, including three fully compliant wheelchair accessible rooms. The hotel is step-free, with lift access and all doorways suited to wheelchairs. The 28-metre swimming pool has ramp access to the deck and a hoist for getting in and out of the water. The friendly hotel staff are happy to help you use it. You can read more on the Ramada Suites Zen Quarter website.
Darwin has a wonderful range of accessible activities and sights to explore and plenty of day trip options too.
Relaxing and watching a movie under the bright Darwin skies on a balmy night is the way to go! The independent Deckchair Cinema is located on Darwin Harbour and provides good access and a unique Top End experience.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets are another lovely way to spend a Thursday or Sunday evening from May to October. Arrive with a good appetite because the variety of food from the food trucks enticeew visitors to work through the market like it’s a progressive dinner.
Another favourite dining spot for us was Frying Nemo for fresh seafood and water views. It’s casual but feels just right for Darwin.
A unique cafe and gallery experience can be found at the Aboriginal Bush Traders. Delicious food is served with a modern bush tucker twist. We highly recommend the avocado on toast with saltbush dukkah and fetta and the bush damper with bush jam.
Make sure you save time to take a walk through the Aboriginal Bush Traders shop where you can purchase art, homewares, bush food, textiles and books.
After a visit to the Aboriginal Bush Traders cafe you can walk off any indulgences nearby on The Esplanade. A lovey level pathway winds its way through Bicentennial Park and offers views of the water.
If you want to turn up the adrenaline instead, come face to face with Australia’s most notorious saltwater reptile at Crocosaurus Cove. The venue has a huge array of reptiles native to the Northern Territory, with low and wide viewing windows. You can partake in croc feeding, or a Cage of Death croc swim if you dare, access to both these attractions requires some mobility.
Spot a crocodile in the wild instead on a Corroboree Billabong Wetlands Cruise, 90 minutes from Darwin.
Using Darwin as our base meant we didn’t need to pack up and move but it did result in many big driving days. It was good to break up our itinerary with some days exploring the local attractions around the city and just chilling. On one of those days we went swimming in the saltwater Recreation Lagoon located in the Waterfront Precinct.
Even in winter the warm temperatures of the Top End call for a swim, but make sure it’s a safe one, somewhere the crocs don’t roam.
Berry Springs is approximately a 40 minute drive from Darwin and is an idyllic spot to enjoy swimming in one of the natural shady pools. Access won’t suit many due to the lack of a ramp into the pools.
I’m including it in the list though as we managed with BJ and had a lovely afternoon at Berry Springs. Access to the natural pools was easy with BJ’s wheelchair with his off-road tyres, but access to the water is via a pool-style ladder or sliding in from the edge. We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon here but access is limited to those who can transfer.
We finished our visit to the area with a stop at Crazy Acres Mango Farm for afternoon tea. The cafe is currently closed but check online to see if the kiosk is open. If not, make sure you keep an eye out around Darwin for Crazy Acres ice cream. It’s delicious! If the cafe opens again, make sure you try the scones but everything on the menu is good.
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
We visited Litchfield National Park as a day trip from Darwin. It’s a two hour drive to the National Park and makes for a long day of driving but we prefer to have a base rather than moving accommodation regularly when we travel.
Litchfield National Park has some accessible facilities making it possible for wheelchair users to enjoy including ramp access to some attractions, accessible parking and bathrooms. We started our day at the famous magnetic termite mounds. A ramp platform allows easy viewing of a fine example of one of the many termite mounds. Some stand at 2 metres high with all aligned north-south to keep the inside of the mound cool against the heat of the sun.
We enjoyed a quick stop to view Florence Falls. An accessible lookout provides easy wheelchair accessible viewing of the stunning twin falls. Accessible parking is available.
The travel information on the Lost City says, “Experienced four-wheel drivers will have their skills tested on the 10 kilometre track into The Lost City.” Hubby happily took on this challenge and thoroughly enjoyed it. He’s driven four-wheel drives many times before and BJ thought it was a great adventure. I’d say the girls in the car were less enthusiastic about the journey and I’d hasten to say, don’t do it with a full bladder or while trying to drink anything!
Once you arrive at the Lost City it’s spectacular. The natural structures were formed from thousands of years of wind and rain erosion and consist of walls, narrow passages and domes. The structures are said to be spread over an area the size of a small town and look like the ruins of a city. We were pleased to have BJ’s off-road tyres on for this area because although level, sticks and debris cover the pathways.
The highlight of Litchfield National Park for us was Wangi Falls. I’m not going to lie, it was chilly and the kids were a little unsure about the dip. I wasn’t going to miss swimming in this spectacular location and channelled positive vibes into believing it was a hot summer day instead of a warm winter day. There are two access points for the natural swimming pool, either stairs with a railing or via a ramp. Be warned, these can be slippery.
There’s also a wheelchair accessible viewing platform which is the perfect place to capture a lovely photo with the falls in the background.
Wangi Falls has wheelchair accessible picnic facilities including barbecues.
HWWT TIP – If you are not a really strong swimmer, grab some pool noodles or boogie boards to stay safe when swimming in the various swimming locations in and around the Northern Territory. They are cheap to buy and can always be donated for someone else to enjoy when you’ve finished with them. You can pick up reasonably priced swimming aids from Big W or similar stores.
The Northern Territory is sure to weave a special magic and secure a special spot in your heart. Distances are vast so allow plenty of time to truly soak up the sights, sounds and culture of the region. And don’t miss the gorgeous sunsets the territory offers.