52 Weekends Away: Northern Territory's best weekend getaways for 2020

From the Red Centre's remarkable retreats to the Top End's extraordinary lifestyle and nature, the Territory combines the mesmerising and the memorable.

Tiwi Island Retreat

Port Hurd, Tiwi Islands; (08) 8983 4017; tiwiislandretreat.com.au 

THE LOCATION The Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres north of Darwin, are famous for the traditional lifestyle of the largely Indigenous population. This retreat is on Bathurst Island, one of the two main islands in the group.

THE PLACE Built 40 years ago, Barra Base was the first Tiwi accommodation for serious fisher-folk, who came for the legendary barramundi in the surrounding waters. After an incarnation as Bathurst Island Lodge and a recent refurb, it's now Tiwi Island Retreat, pairing the best fishing in the Territory with the creature comforts of a boutique resort. Eighteen airconditioned rooms overlook an expansive timber deck, waterfront pool and sun lounges. Amenities are clean and communal, the bar is well stocked and the evening menu includes your catch of the day. 

THE EXPERIENCE The serenity is palpable as you glide along remote mangrove-lined estuaries, searching for barra. Alternatively, there's ocean fishing in the nearby deep water aboard the retreat's catamaran. Afterwards, relax poolside, taking in the beach studded with coconut palms and calm waters beyond. Meals, activities and flight transfers from Darwin are included. 

DON'T MISS The people of the Tiwi Islands are renowned for their arts and crafts. Book an Indigenous culture tour with a local guide.

FROM $2350 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Chloe Moo

Surrounded by a mesmerising landscape of rust-red desert, Sails is the swankiest of the resort's seven accomodation offerings.

Surrounded by a mesmerising landscape of rust-red desert, Sails is the swankiest of the resort's seven accommodation offerings. Photo: Lisa Hatz Photography

Sails in the Desert 

163 Yulara Drive,Yulara; (08) 8957 7417; ayersrockresort.com.au


THE LOCATION Surrounded by a mesmerising landscape of rust-red desert, this hotel is part of Ayers Rock Resort, a sprawling complex 20 kilometres north of Uluru and a 10-minute drive from the airport.

THE PLACE Sails is the swankiest of the resort's seven accommodation offerings (Longitude 131° is a separate entity – see adjacent review). Named after its striking canopy of 99 white sails, the 228-room resort re-opened in August with swish new granite bathrooms and spruced-up communal areas. The bright, airy lobby features colourful Indigenous artworks and a raindrop-inspired lighting installation by British artist Bruce Munro, of Field of Light fame. Rooms are sleek and spacious, with either a balcony or terrace overlooking a verdant garden and outdoor pool. 

THE EXPERIENCE Uluru beckons on the horizon: jump on a camel and watch it flood with colour at sunrise, soar over it at sunset in a helicopter, or rumble around its perimeter on a Segway. Equally beguiling is Kata Tjuta, where the Valley of the Winds hike weaves through towering sandstone domes. After a dusty day of exploration, retire to the Walpa lobby bar for a lemon myrtle mojito and bush-tucker snacks.

DON'T MISS The resort offers free daily lessons in which you can learn how the local Anangu people fashioned weapons from mulga trees, made glue from spinifex and domesticated dingoes.

FROM $330 a night; minimum three-night stay. - Rob McFarland

At Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris it's all about up-close encounters and guided excursions into nature.

Set in subtropical savannah and croc-haunted wetlands, these safaris offer up-close encounters with nature – and explosive sunsets. Photo: Brian Johnston

Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris 

Mount Borradalie, Arnhem Land; (08) 8979 0413; arnhemland-safaris.com

THE LOCATION This family-run lodge in Arnhem Land's north-west sits in 700 square kilometres of subtropical savannah, rocky escarpments and croc-haunted wetlands. A charter flight from Darwin or Jabiru, or four hours in a four-wheel-drive from Darwin (dry season only) gets you there.

THE PLACE Lounge, bar, library and dining room make up the main lodge, where a large deck and small pool create a convivial story-swapping space each evening. The 20 cabins are scattered through surrounding wallaby-nibbled bushland and provide whirling fans, good showers and comfy beds in the wilderness.

THE EXPERIENCE Here, it's all about up-close encounters, and guided excursions get you out into the wetlands and paperbark forest for bird life, croc-spotting and explosive sunsets. Escarpments are replete with superb Indigenous rock art depicting animals, creation spirits, early European contact and stencilled palm prints. The tariff includes meals, tours, activities and Arnhem Land permits, while charter flights are extra.

DON'T MISS The Rainbow Serpent site, where a large white-and-ochre snake with fanged grin writhes across the rock face.

FROM $1175 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Brian Johnston

Hands down the Red Centre's most remarkable lodging, Longitude 131°'s tented camp ticks all the desert romance boxes.

The Red Centre's most remarkable lodging, Longitude 131's tented camp ticks all the desert-romance boxes. Photo: Supplied

HALL OF FAME: Longitude 131°

Yulara Drive, Yulara;  (02) 9918 4355; longitude131.com.au

THE LOCATION Open since mid-2002, part of the enduring mystique of Longitude 131° is its no-address, no-signposts location hidden among the desert dunes (the tariff includes airport transfers). And really, who needs to know the GPS co-ordinates? All that matters is that these five-star tents are perfectly positioned to allow guests to watch dawn break over Uluru from their king-sized beds.

THE PLACE Hands down the Red Centre's most remarkable lodging, this tented camp ticks all the desert romance boxes. If money is no object, opt for the premium Dune Pavilion with its two bedrooms, private plunge pool and views across Kata Tjuta as well as Uluru. 

THE EXPERIENCE Forget about sleeping in – there are too many compelling activities to sign up for, including an Uluru base walk at sunrise, visits to remote Indigenous art centres, even an alfresco degustation dinner out in the desert. Most signature activities are included in the tariff (along with all dining, open bar and in-tent bar) and happen in the early morning or the late afternoon; use the spare hours in the middle of the day to book a spa session or simply absorb the captivating surrounds.

DON'T MISS A sleep-out experience in a swag on your private deck, warmed by a fire and dazzled by the starlit sky, is simply unforgettable.

FROM $3400 a night; minimum two-night stay. - Ute Junker

Great reads to enjoy in the Top End.

Great reads to enjoy in the Top End.

To read while you are here:

Trent Dalton's All Our Shimmering Skies reads like a love letter to the NT. Molly sets out from Darwin on a quest to find the person who has placed a curse on her family. Together with two travelling companions, she journeys through the mystical Territory wilderness, described in glorious detail. In Darwin, anthropologist Tess Lea captures the essence of her home city as she considers how everything, from its abundant natural beauty to the fact that it's been razed to the ground four times, make it unique. - Nicole Abadee

​​Looking for escapes further afield? We have you covered: NSW/ACTVICQLDTASSAWA.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.