Northern Territory national parks Litchfield and Nitmiluk to charge fees for tourists

Interstate and international visitors to the Northern Territory will have to come with deeper pockets from 2022, as the NT Government confirms its plan to expand national park entry fees.

Some of the Territory’s most popular spots, like Litchfield National Park near Darwin and Nitmiluk National Park outside of Katherine, are slated to be among those soon requiring a paid entry permit.

An NT Government spokeswoman said park fees in the Territory had not increased for the past 20 years.

“Fees provide funds for improvements to our parks and reserves,” she said.

Previously, all NT Government-run national parks have had free entry for all visitors. However, the Territory’s two biggest federally-run tourism drawcards, Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks, already have paid permit systems in place.

A spokeswoman for Parks Minister Selena Uibo said NT locals would be exempt from having to pay for short trips to the parks.

The NT Government flagged the possibility of fees for national park entry in 2019, amid a raft of measures being discussed to help repair its debt-ravaged budget.

Mixed reaction from industry

The head of the Top End’s tourism peak body said he feared new national park fees could further burden the region’s fragile industry, which is already struggling to adjust to day-by-day changes to hot spots and border closures.

Tourism officials want any entry fee revenue to be dedicated to park upkeep.(AAP: Doug Conway)

Tourism Top End chief executive Glen Hingley said the fees would be “yet another impediment that’s put on businesses that makes their business unviable in these uncertain times”.

Mr Hingley said there had been no consultation so far, and no information from government on the proposed fees or when they could be introduced.

Tourism operator Rob Wood, who runs Ethical Adventures, a tour guide company in Litchfield, said he wasn’t concerned about losing business as long as the fees were kept reasonable.

“In principle, I definitely agree with user-paid price entry and anything they can do to add funds to managing national parks,” Mr Wood said.

He said it could even enhance the park if the funds were dedicated to conservation and management.

Interstate tourists say they’ll pay

Victorian tourist Jack Collins and a group of his friends were enjoying Buley Waterhole in Litchfield National Park on Saturday, and he said he’d be happy to pay to return to the park

“I’d 100 per cent come here, tell my family about it, happy to pay to come here,” Mr Collins said.

Terrina Fernando, who has moved to the Territory from Sydney, felt the same way.

“I’m from Sydney and all our national parks have parking fees and that sort of park-use fees, so its not something that’s unusual for me,” she said.

Rob Wood
Tourism operator Rob Wood said asking non-locals to pay to visit parks wouldn’t negatively impact his businesses.(ABC News: Sowaibah Hanifie)

But Territory man Jesse James said he was worried a fee to access previously open parks would restrict those who couldn’t afford to pay.

“[My friends] wouldn’t come as much, no way, they don’t have jobs, they couldn’t afford,” Mr James said.

The spokeswoman for Ms Uibo said changes to park passes wouldn’t happen this year, but flagged that they would be included in the 2021 budget, due around November.

She said the government was also considering an online booking system, while price changes to camping and multi-day walking trips are also being reviewed.

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Relaxed coronavirus restrictions see NT parks open up; Kakadu, Uluru, Nitmiluk remain shut

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.

Jump to:

What’s open in the Top End?

The NT’s Litchfield National Park will be open from noon Friday for swimming and camping.(Supplied: NT Government)

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.

Due to water crossings remaining too deep after an albeit poor wet season (again), Litchfield’s four-wheel-drive tracks will remain closed.

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.

Central Australia

Mark Anderson, Susie Pendle and Nathan Coates walking into Simpsons Gap
The Simpsons Gap area west Alice Springs is one of the few spots open near town.(Nathan Coates)

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:

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?

Looking down from the top of Gunlom Falls in the Northern Territory.
Kakadu, which is managed by Parks Australia, will remain closed to visitors.(Supplied: Heath Whiley)

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?

A woman in swimsuit sitting on a rock watching the waterfall at Edith Falls at sunrise
Edith Falls in Nitmiluk remains closed until at least June 19.(Supplied: Tourism NT)

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:

Who will be enforcing the rules?

Tourists at Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park, NT.
Visitors will be able to visit Wangi Falls, but not swim.(Supplied: NT Parks)

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?

A wide shot of a large amount of sand and water, with many people on it.
Images of massive crowds at Bondi went viral around the world.(AAP: John Fotiadis)

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.”

The Virus: We could be in for an ‘early mark’ on physical distancing measures

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