The fascinating cost of living in the most expensive part of Australia; the Northern Territory.
A comprehensive guide to the living costs of the Northern Territory and how much things cost when you move to NT.
Recently, I mentioned that I’ve lived in the Northern Territory for 10 years – 3 and a bit years in Alice Springs and the rest here in Darwin. It’s a place of great mystery if you’ve never been – you’d probably know about Uluru, Kakadu, crocodiles and the fantastic, bordering on offensive, NT News headlines. But there’s so much more than that!
It’s a great base if you’re into camping and fishing and getting outdoors. It is just a few hours from Asia for a quick getaway to Bali or Singapore. It never ever gets cold; if it gets below 22 degrees in the dry season, you’ll see us all wearing ugg boots and beanies. It’s always beer o’clock and the sunsets are to die for. You will rarely drive more than 20 minutes to get anywhere. It is full of great, welcoming people.
But there’s a bit of a dark side to that freedom and adventure and always being toasty warm. This place is SO expensive. Part of it is the isolation and lack of choice, and the other side is the sizeable military contingent based here and the huge influx of workers into Darwin to work in mining and off-shore gas projects.
The Inpex project is a $30 billion project. That’s what the infrastructure and the pipeline will cost to build, all in. Imagine how much money is going to be made when you spend $30 billion building a pipeline and a processing centre.
Now that kind of project is a big deal for an economy. Think of all those people needing places to live and food to eat and things to do during their time off. Imagine the rivers of gold. Just think of the pressure that puts on a little economy.
Housing & rent in the Northern Territory
When you’ve got high prices already, tight supply and then an influx of workers hit town, rents go up. Way up. I love my little place – but it’s a $400 a week, 1 bedroom unit. There’s no pool or tennis court. It’s just a simple little place and it is a hell of a lot nicer than a lot of other places I saw for less money when I was looking. When I came to put an application in for this place, there was a couple and 2 little kids looking at it to live in. It’s about 48 square metres of floor space total. That’s how crazy it is up here.
Anyway, there’s been a mild correction in the rental market as several thousands of the Inpex workers have been sent elsewhere during the wet season. Some rents have gone down but not by much. When the workers and their families all come back, things will be as they were.
But it’s not just rents that are sky high. Building or buying a house here is crazy expensive. In the new suburbs on the very outskirts of town (30 minutes to the CBD) a house and land package will set you back a minimum of $550,000. That doesn’t include your moving costs and your usual fees.
The flow on effect of needing to house thousands of workers with not enough units or houses, is that there are literally thousands of workers living in hotels. Thousands. There are people employed to drive a bus to pick them all up from their hotels, drive them to work and then return them at night. So with all the hotel rooms gone, where do the tourists stay? And how much do they pay for a hotel room? About $400 a night at the height of tourist season for an average hotel room – nothing special. It’s not very attractive and it makes it hard to get people to come and visit you during the nice part of the year. When there’s a big event on, it’s even worse and let’s be honest, nobody wants to come here during the build up when it’s 3000 degrees and 4 billion percent humidity.
Petrol costs more in the NT
Recently the price of petrol has gone down a little here in Darwin after a fuel summit convened by Government and interest from the ACCC in an investigation into petrol prices. The average price today for unleaded 91 is $1.36. After paying up to and above $1.60 a litre for years, I almost died of shock when I filled my car for under $60. I have a 4 cylinder small car with a 45 litre tank…it shouldn’t cost that much?? Katherine and Alice Springs are currently about the same price with poor Tennant Creek up at $1.59. If you ever take a road trip through the Territory, you will soon learn what expensive petrol is. There are some remote stations that are above $2 a litre.
Coffee: how much does coffee cost in the Northern Territory? Is it more expensive?
This is an issue close to my heart. Let’s take my local coffee shop (Duck’s Nuts) which is the average price for Darwin. A small takeaway flat white (nothing special) is $4.50, a medium flat white is $5.20 and a large flat white is $6. If you want soy or an extra shot, that’ll be a dollar extra EACH thank you very much.
The one thing I love the most about going interstate, is descending into a shrieking mess when I get charged $3.50 for a coffee. It is literally my greatest joy.
The cost of groceries in the Northern Territory: are they more costly in NT?
Based on the pure cost of transport, our groceries are more expensive. There are some items that are nationally advertised (eg home brand bread and milk) that are the same price everywhere but generally, most things are a little more costly. There’s also the fun of train derailments that mean the “fresh” food doesn’t actually get to us for many days. Sometimes you can go to a supermarket and the fruit and veg section is virtually empty thanks to a delay in transport. I think this probably has a lot to do with why a bag of spinach is liquid within 2-3 days. Your best bet is seasonal veg from the markets!
One of the smaller costs, but nonetheless a cost, is shopping bags. The Northern Territory Government passed a law a few years back to help protect the environment by banning most retailers from giving away plastic bags at the point of sale. Wherever you get a bag, you are charged for it. If you forget your re-usable bags, you have to buy more. We’re all pretty used to it up here and it is good for the environment but it’s just another cost. Judging by the number of those plastic Woolies bags I had in my kitchen, I haven’t learnt to take them back with me yet and save some cash. (I used the plastic Woolies bags as garbage bags for 3 weeks before I ran out…)
General goods and their respective cost in the NT
There’s a reason that hardly any of the websites for major retailers up here have prices listed or they have separate websites based on your postcode. There are significant differences between here and everywhere else when we’re talking about furniture, appliances and just general stuff (remember the $800 difference in my lounge suite!). And the smaller the retailer, or more specialised the store, the more you will pay. Big chains like Big W and Kmart and Target can absorb the cost of transport within their massive networks, but the smaller retailers can’t so it hits in the hip pocket.
Many of the more specialised stores have come and gone over the years. They start well and then they can’t get staff or their overheads are just too high or they lose business because people are buying online. (Oops, sorry.)
As a tourism hub, we also have really extensive trading hours. Shops are open everyday (closed only on Good Friday and Christmas) and the major retailers are open from 7 or 8am to 10pm most days. So not only does your business cost more to run but you have to consider being able to compete with a big retailer, open pretty much all the time.
It’s a huge shame too because there is so much willingness to buy locally but I and a lot of people I know are not in a position where we can absorb big differences in costs. We have to make our money go further.
Services and their cost in Northern Territory
This is probably the biggest hidden cost around – the cost of people doing things for you. Whether that’s a physiotherapist, or a plumber or babysitter, the prices here are above average. It’s no surprise why though. When you look at the high costs of everything else we’ve already talked about – housing, petrol, goods – it’s going to cost more to run a business and there’s only so much you can cut your prices to compete.
Now, to be fair, I do have to tell you about some of the stuff that is technically cheaper here in the Territory.
Electricity costs in the Northern Territory
There’s a pretty good chance that most Territorians reading this right now will be pretty upset with me saying this, but looking at the average daily price of electricity everywhere else, we’re about in the middle. We have no competition here AT ALL and we have had quite a few price rises but we still manage to do pretty well on cost. The kicker is how much energy we actually use. Considering it’s so hot here, particularly during the build up, there’s a reason our power bills are huge – everything is air-conditioned – but it’s not the actual cost of electricity that’s the problem.
How much does parking cost in the Northern Territory?
We do not have big parking problems here nor do we have huge traffic issues anywhere in the Territory. We think we do but anyone who has ever been to any capital city during peak hour knows our problems have got nothing on everywhere else. A premium undercover car park in Darwin city for the whole day will set you back about $9. There are plenty of cheaper options if you don’t mind leaving your car out in the sun or you are happy to walk where you are going in torrential rain. That price will likely go up but compared to some of the prices in other places, that is nothing!
OK so there’s not much that’s cheaper but a win is a win, right?
I feel bad for having painted such a negative picture but in reality, all of us who live here make a choice to do so because the lifestyle and the opportunity and the beauty of the outback is absolutely worth it. I love my 3 minute commute to work and having a beer in front of one of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see. I love that you can drive for an hour and literally be in the middle of nowhere. Mostly, I love the Territorians – they’re a good bunch, and worth the extra spend.