The Northern Territory is the country's least settled state or territory (the territory has a population of roughly 220,000 - that's an average of about 0.15 people per square kilometre). The Territory can be divided into two distinct regions - the "Red Centre" and the "Top End", split between vast uninhabited areas of both desert and tropical woodland, although the region has been inhabited and traversed by Aboriginal people for literally thousands of years.
Spectacular and remote, the Northern Territory is still regarded by many Aussies as a "wild frontier", harsh and untamed, yet somehow seductive and attractive. And not just with it's landscapes - the "Territory" is well known for some pretty rugged outback characters as well!
The southern half of Northern Territory is known as the "Red Centre" - which is probably a very apt description. Geographically located in the heart of Australia, the region is known for its breathtaking ancient landscapes, deep red soils, vast desert tracts, and extreme remoteness. And it is well worth the visit! Most famous for "The Rock" (Uluru), "The Olgas" (Kata Tjuta) and Alice Springs, the area is steeped in Aboriginal history, as well as some pretty spectacular natural landscapes.
Whilst most visitors to the Red Centre are drawn to Uluru and Kata Tjuta (warning: Uluru is more than a day trip from Alice Springs - it is about a 6 hour drive each way!), the region boasts many other equally spectacular and unique landscapes including the West MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon, the Simpson Desert, Palm Valley, Simpsons Gap, and many other impressive waterholes, gorges, remnant rainforests as well as some remarkable Aboriginal history and culture. There is an awesome majesty and some would even say unique spiritual atmosphere about the region. It is certainly a unique experience, and an area that is worth exploring for more than a few days.
As you make your way from the Red Centre up through the heart of the Northern Territory to the Top End (Alice Springs to Darwin is roughly a journey of 1,500km, so if you are considering driving - be well prepared as the desert has some extreme temperatures, and there is not a huge amount of infrastructure out there!), you will find many interesting and remote towns to explore along the way. Famous outback towns such as Ti Tree, Barrow Creek, Wauchope and Tennant Creek are dotted along the Stuart Highway, but there are vast expanses where it is just you behind the wheel with not much else but the desert. If you do decide to drive, it is well worth the experience. Of course, it is much easier and quicker to fly, or the other alternative is the option of The Ghan train, which makes it's way twice a week between Adelaide in South Australia through to Alice Springs and onto Darwin (and vice versa).
As you begin to cross from the Red Centre to the Top End, there is a distinct change in vegetation and climate as you head into the tropical areas of the North. Famous for landscapes such as Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, Jabiru, Arnhem Land and Darwin itself, the Top End has two distinct seasons. To locals it's either "Bloody Hot", or "Bloody Humid", but more technically known as the "Dry" season (April / May - September / October) and the "Wet" (October / November - March / April). For many, the worst time if year is early in the wet season, where the build up of humidity before the monsoon actually breaks is almost unbearable.
Being a tropical area, the "wet" season is typically monsoonal rains, often flooding the plains with heavy tropical downpours day after day. So much so, that many remote towns and regions are often cut off by floodwaters (often bringing in Salt Water Crocodiles from the rivers and estuaries), with many of the region's tours and sightseeing options simply not available during the season. Most famously, the city of Darwin was almost wiped out one wet season by tropical Cyclone "Tracy" which devastated the area on Christmas Day in 1974.
If you are thinking of travelling to the Top End, the best time to get there is definitely the dry season. Many actually prefer to tour the region early on in the dry season as you can still catch many of the spectacular waterfalls, wildlife and landscapes in all their glory before the land dries out later in the season. Personally, Darwin is a great base for exploring the region, and I would certainly recommend checking out places like Litchfield National Park, Kakadu, and Katherine at the very least. Many tour operators do run quite comprehensive tours throughout the area, but if you plan on doing it on your own, I would advise you do your research beforehand!