Escape to the Northern Territory for a dose of Australia’s unique culture and heritage. These are the NT festivals you need to go to.
Parrtjima – Alice Springs
“Tricky to say – impossible to forget” is the motto of the Parrtjima Festival in Alice Springs.
Parrtjima (pronounced Par-chee-ma) is a 10 day Indigenous festival of light set on Arrernte country against a backdrop of the stunning MacDonnell Ranges.
Each year the installations are different. Every year they are jaw-dropping. In 2018 Parrtjima featured a 2km long light show. Attendance at the festival grew 30 per cent last year, with many visitors coming back for another look.
At the “Grounded space” visitors can immerse themselves in the artwork. Grounded projects light from above onto the desert sands connecting visitors to the art and to country.
The Children’s Space is another interactive playground designed for kids to express themselves and have a lot of fun.
“Children can climb on the installation and explore,” Rhoda Roberts AO, Festival Creative Curator says. “Through the audio, music and voice recordings I expect they will become much more aware of the first peoples of Australia and how important it is for all of us to know and grow with the deeper knowledge of this nation.”
Alongside the incredible artworks, families can interact with the artists and local custodians of the land. They can ask questions, watch indigenous films and join in the discussion. If you have any interest in Australia’s indigenous culture – this is one festival you need to go to with the kids.
When: 5-14 April 2019
More information: https://www.parrtjimaaustralia.com.au
Beer Can Regatta – Darwin
Darwin’s Beer Can Regatta began in 1974. To win the beer can boat race a crew of four must master the rough seas in a boat built from beer cans. To win, you will need to work together. Kids can also enter the soft drink can race – a great event for school teams.
The main event is the Battle of Mindil. Anything goes in this race. Boats say around the course and attempt to find an object hidden underwater. Expect flour bombs, water sprays and sabotage. The winner is the team who gets the object back to the beach. Some will sink, some will be triumphant. All will have a lot of fun.
Entry to this super-fun event is by gold coin donation at the gate. On the beach kids can join in the sandcastle competition, running races, tug-of-war and thong-throwing competition.
If you built a boat that didn’t float – you can always enter the Henley on Mindil. To win, you just need to carry your boat in a straight line down the beach.
During the day the festival also has kayaking races, team events and a whole lot of fun.
When: 14 July 2019
More information: http://beercanregatta.org.au
Camel Cup – Uluru
Saddle up. This is one of the wildest festivals in the NT.
The Uluru Camel Cup is now in its 7th year. It starts with dinner at the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Bar on Friday night. Families can bid on a favourite camel as they dine on a country-style buffet.
The races begin on Saturday morning with qualifying races, progressing to the finals. You can watch the Dash for Cash, the Plate Race and the Uluru Camel Cup.
Off the track expect plenty of outback games, fashion on the field and even helicopter flights. Kids will love the reptile show and the country markets.
We highly recommend buying a ticket to the Gala Ball. Guests can frock up and dance on the red desert floor under the stunning outback sky.
When: 24 and 25 May 2019
More information: http://www.ulurucamelracingclub.com/
Beanie Festival – Alice Springs
Alice Springs may seem like a weird place to wear a beanie. But handmade beanies have long been valued in remote Central Australia as an art form and a way to enjoy the crisp winter nights. It does get pretty chilly in Alice in winter.
The Beanie Festival began in 1997 with a beanie party organise by Adi Dunlop. In the early years, a group of friends ran the festival each year as a way to sell beanie crocheted by Aboriginal women in remote communities. These days the festival is a huge regional event showcasing the best of Central Australian art and craft. Traditional designs are weaved into the beanies in the hope of winning a coveted trophy.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council demonstration of Indigenous methods of spinning and basketry.
When: 28 June to 1 July
More information: http://beaniefest.org/
Darwin Festival – Darwin
Darwin Festival is a colour celebration of multicultural Territory life held over 18 days in the dry season. Darwin’s population is made up up people from 60 nationalities and 70 different ethnic backgrounds.
The festival includes open-air concerts, workshops, theatre, comedy, film and visual arts. Expect everything from symphony orchestra performances to teddy bears picnics fantastic food stalls. The festival is spread across several different venues – check the link below for more details. This is the best time to visit Dawin as the city puts on an incredible show.
When: 8 – 25 August 2019
More information: https://www.darwinfestival.org.au
Henley on Todd – Alice Springs
Think you can only race boats on water? Think again.
This mad-cap event started in 1962. Reg Smith, a member of the local Rotary Club of Alice Springs, came up with the idea as a way to raise money for charity. The waterless regatta is held every year on the dry bed of the Todd River. Henley on Todd is the longest running event in the Northern Territory.
Boats are supplied for families to race. The one exception is the “BYO boat race” where competitors must design their own ship.
Kids can participate in rubber duckie races, egg and spoon races and three-legged races. Families will love the competitors’ parade where each crew gets to show off their boat.
When: 17 August 2019
More information: http://henleyontodd.com.au
Finke Desert Race – Alice Springs
If cars and bikes are more your style – check out the Finke Desert Race. This annual off-road race sees cars, bikes, buggie and quad bikes take on the desert country from Alice Springs to Aputula (Finke). It is one of the most difficult off-road races in the world.
The winners get the title – King of the Desert.
Finke has street stalls and night markets to keep the kids occupied off the track.
When: 7-10 June 2019
More information: https://finkedesertrace.com.au/
Red CentreNATS – Alice Springs
The Red CentreNATS Festival is one of the NT’s biggest car festivals. Classic cars, utes, buggies, muscle cars, supercars – you name it, it will be here.
The festival also hosts rock concerts which are included in the ticket price.
When: 30 August – 1 September 2019
More information: Red CentreNATS – Alice Springs
Barunga Festival – Katherine
The annual Barunga Festival celebrates Indigenous culture through song, sport and culture. Each year it has an outstanding line up of talent.
Musician John Butler said: “This is the kind of festival that changes the way you see the world forever”.
If you want your children to get a real sense of Australia’s history and culture – this is the place for you.
The Barunga festival was the inspiration for Yothu Yindi’s famous song Treaty. In 1988, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke signed the Barunga Statement which called for a treaty.
Highlights of the festival include damper cooking, didgeridoo making and bush medicine workshops. Musicians perform all day long. Sports include Aussie Rules, basketball and softball. At Burunga sport is a family affair – mothers, daughters and grandmothers often play in the same team.
When: 7-9 June 2019
More information: https://www.barungafestival.com.au/
Garma Festival – Arnhem Land
Garma is one of the most well-known NT festivals, thanks to the long string of politicians who visit every year. It is “the Indigenous equivalent of the World Economic Forum”, according to the organisers. This festival brings together 2500 political and business leaders from across the globe to discuss how to “improve the state of Indigenous disadvantage by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”.
If you go expect to see visual art, storytelling, dance and cultural traditions. Garma also has a youth forum. At this mini Garma, kids aged between 8 and 18 can attend workshops and discussions.
When: 2-5 August 2019
More information: www.yyf.com.au
Travel allows you to get outside your bubble. It makes you realise there are other ways to do things, and that’s OK. Plus, I am a huge fan of skiing and for the best powder – you need to head overseas.