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Discover AFL Star Daniel Rioli’s Essential Guide to the Northern Territory

In Partnership with Tourism NT

Just as there’s nowhere in the world quite like Australia, there’s nowhere in Australia quite like the Northern Territory. Unmatched for its breathtaking natural beauty, unique experiences, and extraordinary cultural heritage, the NT is a place that we can confidently say, from our own time there, has to be experienced to be believed. 

From the immaculate water of its secluded natural swimming holes to the rich cultural significance of its indigenous art and culture, there’s so much to discover. Plus, with an incredible range of culinary offerings – from multicultural food markets to the pinnacle of outback fine dining—a visit to the NT is the kind that nourishes both body and soul. Nowhere else comes close. 

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

AFL superstar Daniel Rioli knows this better than most. Having grown up on the Tiwi Islands, located off the coast of Darwin in the Top End, Richmond FC’s three-time premiership player has a deep understanding of what makes the NT so remarkable. This makes him perfectly suited to his new role as Tourism NT’s latest ambassador, so we sat down with Rioli to better understand the magic of the NT and get the inside scoop on some of his favourite spots, from Kakadu’s stunning wildlife to Darwin’s vibrant nightlife, and the place he so proudly calls home – the Tiwi Islands.

Rioli’s enthusiasm for the NT is infectious. As a proud local, he’s keen to share his personal insights and favourite places to visit, starting with his number one spot for a dip. 

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

“When I go back home, I have to go to a local swimming hole that’s out in the bush. It’s so pristine, it’s so clear,” he enthuses. “There’s a lot of freshwater fish and it’s a place where you can just have a swim and then kick back by the firepit while you cook your tucker up. It’s called Kulupini Swimming Hole; a really special place.” 

‘Special’ is a word Rioli returns to during our chat about the NT and, as we explore his list of favourite places to visit, you’ll start to understand why no other word will do. 

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Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

The animals that populate the NT’s landscape are as fascinating as the landscape itself, and this 188-acre wildlife haven in Alice Springs is the perfect place to get up close and personal with them. Right at the gateway to the iconic Red Centre, the Kangaroo Sanctuary is a place that makes adults feel like kids, and kids feel like they’re in heaven, while educating and encouraging them to rescue and care for kangaroos and other wildlife. 

“This was an unbelievable experience,” raves Rioli. “There’s so many kangaroos and joeys just hopping around and I got to pat them for the first time. We have wallabies on the Tiwi Islands, which are much smaller, but this was my first time interacting with actual roos. It was pretty incredible.”

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

There are a number of ways to experience everything the Kangaroo Sanctuary has to offer, but Rioli recommends the guided sunset tour: “The place had a real effect on me. We went there during the evening, the sun was coming down, and it was really impactful to see the big red kangaroos roaming around in front of the Red Centre sunset. I’d definitely want to head back with my family one day when I have kids. I’d want to take them there so they can explore and learn about these amazing animals.”

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Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Sunrise Outback Ballooning, Alice Springs

Even if you’re not a morning person, the experience of floating over Alice Springs as the sky bursts into colour is a strong incentive to set your alarm. In addition to the painted horizon, Rioli reveals you’ll have the opportunity to observe wildlife moving through the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges landscape from the best vantage point possible. 

“I’m not an early person myself, but watching the sun as it rose above the Red Centre was definitely worth it,” he says. “Before we took off, it was pretty impressive watching the enormous air balloon inflate and take shape, and then once we were in the air, we could see a lot of cattle and kangaroos roaming around as the sun was rising. The colours of red and orange were so rich, it was like we were on another planet. It made me think of Mars, but it was beautiful.”

There’s also no better place to capture spectacular photos (and selfies) to share across social media. As Rioli explains, “I took a lot of photos on my phone and I still look back on them when I think about our trip. With the colours and that view, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

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Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Outback Beach Hopping, Alice Springs

If you’re looking for a swimming experience like no other, the NT is the place for you. With the countless swimming holes peppered throughout the West MacDonnell Ranges ready and waiting to provide relief from the heat of the outback sun, you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice if you’re looking for a dip to remember. Having tried numerous swimming spots on his last visit to Alice Springs, Rioli calls out Ormiston Gorge as a particular highlight. 

“That was a very special place; surprisingly cool and so refreshing,” he reveals. “You get out feeling so relieved. The surrounding scenery with the red rocks and just the general landscape is spectacular, too. It’s amazing!”

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Scenic Helicopter Flight and Yibekka Rock Art Tour, Kakadu

Here’s your opportunity to see sides of Kakadu and Arnhem Land that many visitors miss, by taking part in a tour of incredible ancient rock art that can only be accessed via helicopter. With a local guide sharing their Country with you, you’ll discover over 65,000 years of Bininj (local Aboriginal) cultural history within a collection of world heritage rock art shelters. 

“From the helicopter ride over the Kakadu and Arnhem landscapes to seeing the rock art that’s been there for thousands of years, this was an unforgettable experience,” Rioli explains. “The locals were telling us how they retouch the paintings, but only the elders are allowed, because you can’t have young kids doing it — they don’t have that sort of knowledge yet. They retouch it so the storyline continues and it’s there for the next generation.”

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Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

What’s more, guests who take Yibekka Kakadu Tours are directly contributing to the protection of the world’s oldest continuing culture, helping to fund the recording and registration of sacred sites with the Aboriginal Area Protection Authority.

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Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Maguk Waterfall and Plunge Pool, Kakadu

Despite being an attraction that can sometimes fly under the radar, Rioli insists this swimming spot is absolutely unmissable. With a pristine waterfall that feeds into an inviting plunge pool at the base of steep gorge walls, the short walk is more than worth your while. Plus, it makes the cooling water all the more welcoming. 

“It’s a nice little stroll and so worth it. You’re in the bush and the birds are chirping and it just has this calming effect,” Rioli tells us. “Once you get there, it’s just so stunning and you can’t jump in fast enough. Just like the Kangaroo Sanctuary, when I have kids, I’m definitely taking them to Kakadu and Maguk Waterfall.”

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Yellow Water Billabong Fishing and Crocodile-Spotting Tour, Kakadu

While we’ve covered some must-swim locations in the NT, the Yellow Water Billabong is definitely not one of them. The water might look tempting, but it houses an ecosystem made up of some of the region’s most fascinating (and dangerous) wildlife. Saying that, for those itching to drop a fishing line, you won’t find a better spot.

As a keen fisherman himself, Rioli explains how excited he was to try his luck landing an iconic Top End Barramundi, despite the local crocs’ determination to snatch his prize: “I love my fishing, but this was something else. You’re on a big boat and you’re just gliding through this beautiful water. There’s obviously crocodiles. There’s heaps of crocodiles, and it’s a bit unnerving, but in the best way. I mean, they’re prehistoric, they’re dinosaurs, really, and you see them up close and personal. You can also see the Barra swimming past, and I caught one, despite the crocs’ best efforts!”

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Marrawuddi Arts & Culture, Kakadu 

After a day spent soaking in the extraordinary natural beauty of Kakadu, there’s no better way to unwind than to explore some of the incredible artwork that very same beauty has inspired. Marrawuddi Arts & Culture is a vibrant Aboriginal art centre and gallery that’s owned and governed by the Mirarr people, the traditional owners of the land that makes up Kakadu National Park. There, you can learn about Mirarr art and purchase works created across a range of disciplines, including painting, screen-printing, weaving, photography, and sculpture. 

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

“That was special, that place,” Rioli says. “There’s so much storytelling in their paintings, which they’ve been using to tell their story for thousands of years. They do a lot of painting of their totem, their spiritual totem, their dances, and we were able to witness that, which was really interesting. It’s probably their therapy. I find that when I go back home, I sit down with locals and I try to do dot paintings. I’m not very good, but when you start to paint it’s so peaceful and relaxing.”

Engaging over 500 artists, Marrawuddi Arts & Culture provides an invaluable glimpse into a culture that has served as the custodian of Kakadu for millennia. 

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Street Art, Darwin

For a change of pace, the streets of Darwin provide a window into a less traditional corner of the NT’s creative community, via an incredibly varied street art offering just begging to be explored. As Rioli explains, “I go to Darwin a lot and there’s so much street art, from huge buildings to small, hidden alleyways. There’s art spread all throughout the city, so you just want to explore. There’s even an augmented reality app you can bring up on your phone and when you point it in the direction of the art pieces they come to life. You just download the app, and when you stumble across a certain kind of art, you bring your camera up and it starts to move. It’s like magic.“

To discover Darwin’s remarkable street art scene, you can either visit during the Darwin Street Art Festival (18 May – 8 June), book a tour in advance, or download the aforementioned app, which provides an interactive map with over 60 mural locations, 13 augmented reality murals, artist descriptions for 45 murals, and the ability to screen record your favourite augmented works.

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Mindil Beach Casino Resort, Darwin

Sometimes you just want to relax poolside with a cocktail in hand and the NT offers no better place for that kind of indulgence than Mindil Beach Casino Resort. Set amongst tropical beachside gardens that overlook Fannie Bay, this paradisiacal location will see you living the high life like never before. 

“That was one of my partner and I’s favourite stops on our NT tour,” Rioli tells us. “It’s amazing, because the room you stay in is right off the water, so you can literally open the back door to your suite and jump into the pool. Plus, there’s a swim-up bar right next to it, so if it’s a hot day, you can jump in the water, cool off, and then get yourself a nice, refreshing cocktail.”

What’s more, Mindil Beach Casino Resort offers three must-try restaurants. These include The Vue, which offers stunning ocean views and a bright, open-plan design that’s perfect for enjoying elevated pub fare, including burgers, steaks, and an irresistible parmi; il Piatto, where you can enjoy some of the best Italian food and wine in Darwin; and Dragon Court, which offers the incredibly vibrant flavours and aromas of East Asia.

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Sail Darwin Champagne Sunset Cruise, Darwin

There’s nothing quite like a world-class Top End sunset with a glass of champagne in hand; the place just has an undeniable (and unfair) advantage when it comes to the way light moves across the sky. 

According to Rioli, the Sail Darwin Champagne Sunset Cruise is everything you imagine it could be, but with a sunset that surpasses all others: “Sunsets are just so much better in the Northern Territory. So if you’re on a sunset cruise in Darwin and the champagne is flowing, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Image: Photography Helen Orr courtesy Tourism NT

Whether you’re there to appreciate the sheer natural beauty of the landscape, the incomparably rich Indigenous culture, or you’re just looking for the best place in the world to watch the sun go down — flute of champagne in hand, of course — the Northern Territory is the place for a holiday that is truly different. When we asked Rioli to sum up the territory he grew up in, he didn’t hesitate, simply saying, “Beautiful, pristine, and unforgettable.” That says it all. 

To learn more about the Northern Territory, hit the link below, or to access incredible NT sales and packages – available now – head to Webjet