Restrictions on outdoor activities, including hiking and camping, have been lifted just in time for the start of the dry season in the Top End.
But in Central Australia and up the Stuart Highway, many of the Territory’s most beautiful landmarks remain shut.
The NT Government announced it would be opening some parks this weekend as the Territory approaches four weeks without a new recorded case of coronavirus.
The wind-backs are the first in a series of measures the NT Government has labelled the “transition to a “new normal'” — a plan it says will see Territorians get back to “enjoying the Territory lifestyle” while the NT’s borders stay secured.
Here’s where you can and can’t go this weekend across the Territory, and what the Government plans on doing to safely manage Territorians’ rush to get out and relax.
What’s open in the Top End?
The Government has released a list of areas across the Northern Territory that will no longer be subject to outdoor restrictions from midday on Friday, May 1.
Not all sites, however, are guaranteed to open, with access to some areas contingent on environmental factors and safety checks — primarily to ensure no-one breaches social distancing rules with a crocodile.
In the Top End, the headline opening is Litchfield National Park, with Buley Rockhole, Florence Falls, Upper Cascades and Walker Creek open for swimming, pending safety checks.
Florence, Wangi and Walker Creek are also open for camping.
Territory Wildlife Park, Charles Darwin National Park, Howard Springs Nature Park, sites within the Mary River National Park, and Berry Springs (no swimming) are also now open to the public.
Currently, most of the Territory’s landmass is classed as off-limits under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act, and Alice Springs is encircled by a number of Designated Biosecurity Areas.
It means that popular day trips within the popular Tjoritja (West MacDonnell) National Park to sites like Ormistion Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole are not allowed.
There is one exception in the park: you can visit the Simpsons Gap area.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park remains closed.
Here are the spots you can head to this weekend in Central Australia:
- Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
- Central Mount Stuart Reserve
- Corroboree Rock Reserve
- Heavitree Gap Police Station Reserve
- John Flynn’s Grave Reserve
- Native Gap Conservation Reserve
- Ryan Well Historical Reserve
- Tjoritja National Park (Simpsons Gap area only)
Those living within the relevant biosecurity zone west of Alice Springs can visit Arltunga Reserve, Trephina Gorge, Emily and Jessie Gap and N’Dhala Gorge.
What’s happening with Kakadu and Uluru?
While the NT Government has decided to undo the restrictions placed on some Territory parks, both Kakadu and Uluru are managed federally by Parks Australia.
Parks Australia currently has a different timeline for opening up these major destinations, announcing earlier this month they would remain closed at least until 11:59pm on June 18, when the status of the parks can be re-evaluated.
June 18 is also the date at which restrictions on access to Designated Biosecurity Areas, which are designed to protect remote communities and overlap into both Kakadu and Uluru, could potentially be lifted.
If restrictions and controls around Designated Biosecurity Areas were to be extended under the Biosecurity Act, restrictions on access into both Kakadu and Uluru would likely be similarly extended.
Biosecurity zones, put in place to ring-fence remote Indigenous communities, have been closed for over a month to all non-essential travel due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
Nitmiluk is an NT park. Why is it shut?
While Nitmiluk does not fall under the management of Parks Australia and is run jointly by Parks NT and Jawoyn Traditional Owners, the park resides in a Designated Biosecurity Area, which also makes it inaccessible until June 18.
Parks NT would not say if Nitmiluk would open come June 18, while Jawoyn Association chief executive John Berto said he was keen to see the park open when biosecurity controls were lifted, providing access could be “managed safely”.
Nitmiluk’s ongoing closure restricts access to some of the Territory’s most visited destinations like Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge, while all permits to walk the park’s Jatbula Trail remain suspended.
While Nitmiluk remains shut Katherine residents can visit Judbarra/Gregory National Park, Joe Creek, Nawulbinbin Walk, Escarpment Walk and Gregory’s Tree — but no camping or swimming is permitted at these spots.
Tennant Creek and the Barkly
There are a few spots you can now visit in the the Barkly Region, but no camping or swimming is yet permitted. These are:
- Attack Creek Historical Reserve
- Barrow Creek Telegraph Station
- John Flynn Historical Reserve
- Karlu Karlu/Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve
- Tennant Creek Telegraph Station
Who will be enforcing the rules?
While respecting another’s personal space might seem like tough ask with hundreds of people sweating it up at Litchfield’s Buley Rockhole, Parks NT says rangers and police will be monitoring crowds to “ensure people stay safe, maintain social distancing, and are respectful of others”.
“While restrictions are being adjusted, it is expected that Territorians will continue to adhere to the current hygiene and physical distancing rules to ensure everyone can stay safe,” Parks NT said.
“This includes regular hand washing, covering a sneeze or cough with your elbow or a tissue, and maintaining 1.5m distance from people other than those from the same household.”
Monitoring will include counting and limiting the number of people entering sites like Litchfield to ensure people can swim and relax safely.
Cars will also be turned around if and when carparks fill up, the Government said.
What happens if Territorians stuff this up?
If you visit a park this long weekend and don’t follow social distancing rules, the Government says you can expect park rangers will report your behaviour to the police.
But if any freshly accessible area was to become a tropical Bondi, the Government has warned the fun could be over for everyone, with restrictions potentially clamped straight back down.
“While the gradual adjustment of restrictions is great news for all of us, it also increases the responsibility on all of us,” Parks NT said.
“We all have to do the right thing to keep ourselves safe and keep others safe, so we don’t have to go back to tougher restrictions.
“This gradual transition will be closely monitored to ensure it is being done safely.”