Festival Fun in the Dry Season

Traditional Indigenous Dance, Darwin Festival, NT. © Tourism NT

Festival fun in the dry season

For most of the world, winter means layering up and heading indoors. Not in Australia’s Northern Territory, when the dry season from May to October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate.  Rock out under the stars at Darwin’s Bass in the Grass music festival. Cheer for your favourite camel at the riotous Imparja Camel Cup in Alice Springs. Discover the ancient rhythms of Aboriginal culture at Arnhem Land’s world-renown Garma Festival .  The Territory’s warm winter days and cool nights host a whirlwind of celebrations, from the quirky to the sacred.

Rock out to powerhouse bands at Bass in the Grass, the Territory’s biggest music festival, held in the Darwin Amphitheatre in late May.  Or embrace Darwin's creative culture at the fortnight-long Fringe Festival in July. The eclectic lineup includes seminars, aerial acts, Aboriginal films, a poetry cup, musical street jams, burlesque and art exhibitions. In August, the Darwin Festival hits town for18 days of music, dance, theatre, comedy, cabaret, film and visual art. Artists from all corners of the world converge in and around George Brown Botanic Gardens, offering a heady dose of Top End culture beneath the lantern-lit trees. 

Join the locals with a crate and a plate of sizzling satay at Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Markets from May to October. Or watch them build boats out of beer or soft drink cans at the Darwin Beer Can Regatta in July.  This mock-serious sporting event began as a creative way to clean up litter left by the workers rebuilding Darwin after Cyclone Tracey. Today the boats are as long as 12 metres and carry some serious artillery, including flour bombs and water pistols. Hundreds of locals cheer for events that range from a no-holds-barred boat race called Battle of Mindil and tug-of-war competitions on the beach.

They love nothing more than laughing at themselves in the Northern Territory. This explains the Henley-on-Todd – an annual sailing and rowing regatta held in August on a dry river bed in Alice Springs. Or the Imparja Camel Cup in July, where riders race temperamental camels around the dusty outback tracks. Belly dancers, rickshaw races, rides, Mr. and Miss Camel Cup challenges, food stalls and bars add to the carnival atmosphere.  

Winter in the Northern Territory is also the time to embrace the colour, tradition and spectacle of an Aboriginal festival. Don’t miss the Garma Festival in August - a vibrant five-day celebration of Yolngu culture at Gulkula in north-east Arnhem Land. Local clan and neighbouring Aboriginal groups gather for traditional Yolngu song, ceremonial dancing, clan designs, spear making and hunting. The festival takes place in stringybark forest with views to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and each practice tells the ancient Yolngu story of this sacred place.

Learn about the Kunwinjku speaking people of western Arnhem Land at the Stone Country Festival in August, where activities include a football carnival, scenic flights and didjeridu demonstrations. Then connect to the cultural traditions of the Aboriginal people of Kakadu at the Mahbilil Festival in Lake Jabiru each September. The day’s celebrations include traditional dancing, market stalls, bush foods and the unique Magpie Goose cooking competition.

Every second May, sporting fans can get into the friendly competitive spirit of the Arafura Games, where emerging champions from around the Asia-Pacific to gain experience and showcase their skills. In a neat reverse of the racing calendar in most parts of the world, the Northern Territory’s racing season starts in winter. You’ll need your stamina for July’s Darwin Cup Carnival - an elegant, exuberant series of races, cocktail parties and gala balls.  It culminates on Darwin Cup Day, where around 19,000 people press against the rails and fascinators and fabulous hats float through the crowds. 

Forget hibernation. This winter, get out and embrace the rich culture and quirky humour of this unique part of Australia.

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