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Darwin to Adelaide is Australia’s best road trip

The drive from Darwin to Adelaide (or vice versa) is Australia’s best road trip ever.  Pack up your car, top up your petrol and hit the open road for the adventure of a lifetime.

Darwin to Adelaide road trip

The Stuart Highway is just over 3000 kilometres and each town has its own unique appeal. 

You will encounter some of our unique Australian wildlife on your travels but the most memorable parts of your journey, will be the people you meet along the way.

Don’t rush.  Take your time to experience absolutely everything on this amazing road trip!

Buckle up for the best road trip in Australia!

There’s a sense of excitement when embarking on a road trip into Australia’s Outback.

The drive from Darwin to Adelaide is an experience of a lifetime.  Long straight roads, wide expanses of nothingness between sparsely scattered fuel stops and quirky little towns.

Nothing says adventure better a road trip with miles of stark landscape, broken fences, isolated rocky outcrops and rich red sand dunes.

Enjoy your Northern Territory road trip

Hayes Creek - Darwin to Adelaide road trip

Be courteous on the roads.  Wave as you see other cars on the road, raise your finger in a ‘hi how are ya going’ kinda way.  Its a nice thing to do.

Don’t be surprised to see cars speed past you like there’s no tomorrow.  Road-trains will chug along at a competitive pace whilst grey-nomads head off in their caravans on their long awaited ‘trip of a lifetime’.  It often seems like everyone is on a mission to be somewhere, wherever that might be!

Northern Territory road conditions are generally very good with a top speed limit of 130 kilometres an hour on the open highway.  Our best advice is always “Drive at a speed you are comfortable with” and at all times, drive safely.

Read next: 10 Tips to Drive Safe on our Outback Roads.

Even the best road trips have rules

  • Rule 1:  Take plenty of music!  Note: The driver chooses the music!
  • Rule 2:  Never contemplate a road trip with children without a window for each child.
  • Rule 3: Take snacks (snakes, jelly babies, packets of chips) and plenty of water.

How to plan your Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip

As a marathon road trip, travelling between Darwin to Adelaide (it is over 3,000 kms in total) we advise you to take plenty of rest stops.  If you’re not in a hurry, stop for a few days along the way to get the most out of your adventure.  A road trip shouldn’t be rushed.

To help your planning, we’ve identified the major stops and how long it takes to drive between them.  In some areas we’ve recommended a longer stay to enjoy the experience.

When you’re driving, plan to take a break at least every 2 hours or so to prevent fatigue.  There is plenty to see and do along the journey, so take the opportunity to enhance your road trip.

Darwin City

Mindil Beach Sunset

Darwin has had a wild life!  Surprisingly, much of it remains untold so its worth visiting some of the spectacular interactive displays at the Darwin Military Museum, the Bombing of Darwin Display and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.  In World War II, Darwin endured more bombings than Pearl Harbour and then in 1984 it was flattened by tropical Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day.

Despite everything, Darwin is one of the friendliest and laid-back communities I’ve been and the weather (in the winter) is simply amazing.  There are plenty of things to do in Darwin.  Learn about the traditional Saltwater people through local Aboriginal Cultural Tours, visit the Territory Wildlife Park and catch one of the Top End’s famous sunsets at Mindil Beach Markets.

Take a day trip into Litchfield National Park, or head out to the Adelaide River for Jumping Crocodlile Cruise or chill out and laze the day away at the lagoon at the Waterfront.  Another fabulous tour is the Wetlands Cruises run from the Corroboree Billabong on the Mary River Wetlands.  This billabong is a photographer’s dream with Jabiru’s, Azure Kingfishers, Kites, Jacana’s and Herons and crocodiles lazing on the banks.

For great views over Darwin, book accommodation at Mindil Casino & Resort, the Vibe Hotel and the Oaks Elan Apartments.

Kick-start your day with a great coffee at Rays Patisserie and Cafe on Smith Street.  Enjoy lunch at Eva’s Botanical Garden’s Cafe and treat yourself to something special for dinner at Little Miss Korea in the city.

Darwin is the gateway to Kakadu National Park showcasing some of the most stunning landscapes, amazing cultural experiences and wildlife experiences.  It’s the perfect time to extend your stay and explore the amazing Kakadu National Park while you’re nearby.

Darwin to Katherine

3.5 Hours drive time to Katherine

Litchfield Park
Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park

Just over an hour from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is jam-packed with waterfalls and waterholes for lazing around in.  It’s the place to go exploring by taking some of the bushwalks.  Even better if you have a 4WD to explore off-the-beaten-track sites such as Blythe Homestead, Rum Jungle Lake and Bamboo Creek Mine.

Many of the popular swimming sports are accessible in a standard vehicle so its a great place to go for a picnic. Check the crocodile warning signs, especially in the wet season.  If you want to stay longer check out the Litchfield Tourist Park or Pandanus on Litchfield.

Emerald Springs

Emerald Springs is much more than just a roadhouse.  The Bent Bull Bar and Grill is one of my favourite places to stop for breakfast!  Explore nearby Butterfly Gorge Nature Park (4×4 only) where you can spot butterflies, swim in the rock-pools or picnic at the base of the gorge.  Want to explore further?  Take the Northern Goldfields Loop via the heritage trail linking Pine Creek with Adelaide River.

Adelaide River

Adelaide River is a great place to stop for lunch so check into the Adelaide River Hotel for  the best ‘buffalo burgers’ in the Territory.  It’s also an opportunity to pay homage to ‘Charlie the buffalo’, co-star in the infamous movie “Crocodile Dundee” with Paul Hogan.  Charlie is stuffed and watches over the bar in the Adelaide River Pub.

While you’re at Adelaide River, visit the Adelaide River War Cemetery.  This well kept cemetery is a sobering reminder of just how many Australian soldiers and civilians were tragically killed during the Bombing of Darwin and surrounding regions.

Stop at least one night at Mount Bundy.   Mount Bundy is a working cattle station complete with cabins, a bar, a swimming pool and freshly made hot pizza’s. A great little piece of the Territory.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek is a great little slice of Australian gold mining history.  Small gold finds are still found in the area which makes it a popular stop for fossickers so consider staying a few nights and trying your luck.  Check out the historical museum to learn more about the Pine Creek’s gold rush days of the Northern Territory.

Edith Falls

Edith Falls (Leliyn) is one of the prettiest water falls and swimming holes in the area.  Make sure you stop off for a swim or if you have time, spend a few days and chill out and relax in this great little place.  There are plenty of bush-walking trails and make sure you visit the secluded Sweetwater Pool above the main swimming hole.  Camping facilities are available but if I’m just passing by I make a point to stop in at the shop and buy an icecream while I enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

Katherine

Katherine is just 3 hours drive south of Darwin.

If you have time, stay a few days as there is plenty to see.

Katherine is a great spot for bird watchers and the bush walks through the Gorge are magnificent.

Bitter Springs - Darwin to Adelaide road trip

There is plenty to see and do in the Katherine region and many reasons to stay longer.  Stunning natural attractions including Katherine’s Hot Springs, Katherine Low Level Nature Reserve and Nitmiluk Gorge (also known as Katherine Gorge) where you can paddle upstream or hike along the top of the Gorge.  See some of the local wildlife including cockatoos, lizards, eagles and wallabies.

Don’t forget to stop in at Nitmiluk Visitors Centre.   The Centre is a great source of history and information about the Katherine region and an opportunity to learn about the cultural history.

Relax in the clear water of Katherine Hot Springs along the banks of the Katherine River. Walk up the viewing platform where you can see the source of the spring water.  The waters are an average temperature of 32 degrees all year round.

Visit the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Cultural Centre for cultural performances and exhibitions celebrating the Yijard Rivers stories and Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker for a unique Aussie experience.

Accommodation in Katherine is varied so you may like to book into Knotts Crossing Resort or the Ibis Styles Katherine.  Both have a range of accommodation options and restaurants on the premises.  For somewhere special, a luxury eco-resort is available at Cicada Lodge Nitmiluk National Park.   The Lodge is well-known for its fine dining so is somewhere to treat yourself.  For great coffee and something delicious in Katherine, head to the Black Russian Caravan Bar.

Cutta Cutta Caves

Just 30 kilometres south of Katherine, you will find one of Australia’s only tropical limestone cave systems.

Cutta Cutta Caves was formed millions of years ago and is home to a variety of native wildlife including the rare Ghost and Horseshoe bats.  About 170 species of birds have been recorded within the park, including the Hooded Parrot and the endangered Gouldian Finch.  Guided one-hour tours run daily during the dry season.

Bitter Springs & Mataranka Hot Springs

About 100 klms south of Katherine are thermal springs.  Bitter Springs and Mataranka Hot Springs are refreshing natural hot springs are a popular rest stop for weary travellers.  Soak in the warm turquoise water of the thermal pools surrounded by pandanus, paperbarks and palm forest.  You will see plenty of Agile Wallabies lazing around nearby.  Cabins and camping grounds are available if you wish to stay a few extra days.

Agile Wallaby
Agile Wallaby

Elsey National Park

Elsey National Park is an hour’s drive south of Katherine and best known as the location of the Australian novel ‘We of the Never Never.’   Mataranka was made famous by Elsie Gunn, author of the much-loved outback romance novel “We of the Never Never” who lived on Elsey Station nearby.

Watch the “We of the Never Never” YouTube movie trailer to understand this strong woman as she settled into the challenges of the Northern Territory.   It’s an incredible story of personal endurance and, is based on a true story.

Katherine to Daly Waters

Approximately 3 hours drive

Be aware of cattle crossing the road during this stretch

If you have time, stay overnight, Daly Waters promises an interesting night..

Daly Waters - Darwin to AdelaideThe tiny township of Daly Waters has a colourful connection with aviation.  In 1926 it was an important stop in the London to Sydney air race and a refueling station for Qantas flights to Singapore until 1965.  The Daly Waters WWII Historic Airstrip was a resting point for fighter planes flown to Darin via Cloncurry in World War II.

The Daly Waters Pub is one of the best Outback experiences on this long long road between Darwin and Adelaide.  A true blue outback pub – the Daly Waters Pub is a colourful pub, clad in corrugated iron, draped with bougainvilleas and crammed with decades of memorabilia.  It’s a unique place stay with plenty of local characters to meet as you travel through.  If you’re visiting in winter, the fireplace will be lit and travellers hang out and share their stories.  It’s a great experience!

Daly Waters is the only place that I have ever seen kangaroos hopping up the main street!

Great steaks, cold beer, clean accommodation and good old fashioned friendly service with a touch of Territory quirkiness!  Don’t miss it!

Daly Waters to Tennant Creek

It is approximately 5 hours drive to Tennant Creek – the middle of the Northern Territory.

Heading south you will find a number of roadhouses along the highway which are always good spots to break your journey.  All have accommodation available if you want to break for the night and you will likely find a good meal everywhere you stop.  Support these local businesses in the middle of nowhere, whenever you can.

  • Dunmarra Wayside Inn is about 300 kilometres south of Katherine.  A roadhouse, caravan park and motel accommodation.
  • Elliott is the halfway point between Darwin and Alice Springs, 250 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.  On the outskirts of Newcastle Waters Station, Elliott has fuel and food available for travellers.
  • Renner Springs is one of my favourites.  Fresh home baked bread is not what you expect at this very remote little roadhouse!  Fuel, food and accommodation is available if you decide to take a break.
  • The Three Ways Roadhouse and Tourist Park is at the intersection of the Barkley and Stuart Highways.  A convenient stop for travellers heading North, South or East.  A great place to stay, fuel up and enjoy a meal along the way.

Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek is the most central town in the Northern Territory.

The Queensland border is a 4 hour drive to the east.

Tennant Creek is approximately 8 hours drive south from Katherine and 5 hours north of Alice Springs.

A quirky little town in the middle of the Northern Territory, Tennant Creek is a good place to overnight.  The Queensland border is about 4 hours to the east and Alice Springs only 5 hours to the south.

In the late 1800’s Tennant Creek became a small outpost on the Overland Telegraph line from Melbourne to London before the discovery of gold in the 1930’s and the start of the Northern Territory gold rush.  Visit the Battery Hill Mining Centre and the Tuxworth-Fullwood Museum to see how mining methods have evolved.

The Tennant Creek region is home to a number of natural attractions including Mary Ann Dam, the Devils MarblesNyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre.

Legends of the Warumungu people tell the story of the spiky tailed goanna called Nyinkka who called this land his. Nearby Kunjarra (the Pebbles) is a sacred site for women amid stunning granite rock formations just 40 minutes from the town centre.  The Devils Marbles are an hour further down the Stuart Highway, with the Devils Marbles Hotel another 20 minutes beyond.

There are a number of hotels, motels and a caravan park in Tennant Creek.  Book into the Bluestone Motor Inn for an overnight stay complete with restaurant and swimming pool or check out alternate accommodation options here.   Free WiFi and overnight camping is provided at the Devils Marbles.

Read more:  All roads lead to Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek to Alice Springs

Only 5 hours drive to Alice Springs but plenty to see along the way including the Devils Marbles.

Karlu Karlu Devils Marbles

Davenport Range National Park

The Davenport Ranges are worth stopping a day or two extra for an off-the-beaten-track adventure.   Kurundi Station, a family owned cattle station just south of Tennant Creek offers tours or Do It Yourself (DIY) if you have your own 4WD.   This national park is full of waterbirds, black-footed rock wallaby and bush turkeys.  Old Police Station Waterhole and Whistleduck Creek are popular camp sites.  The Davenport Ranges are just one of the adventures you won’t want to miss!

Karlu Karlu – the Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles is one of my favourite Australian places.  Located right on the highway, the Marbles appear with almost no warning.  If you’re travelling early morning, or late in the day, the golden glow of the sun on the rocks makes them an amazing vision.  I find it impossible not to stop and take a walk through these amazing piles of granite rocks every time I pass through.

Legend has it that Karlu Karlu are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent from the dreamtime. The Devils Marbles are at their most spectacular at sunrise or sunset.  This significant sacred Aboriginal site in the Northern Territory, Karlu Karlu will take your breath away! 

If you’re looking for camping grounds with a difference, camp at the Devils Marbles, or alternatively head 20 minutes further south to the Devils Marbles Hotel.

Read next:  The Devils Marbles – the eggs of the Mythical Rainbow Serpent

Devils Marbles Hotel

Devils Marbles Hotel

On the southern edge of the National Park is the Devils Marbles Hotel, a great fuel, food and accommodation stop and just 15 minutes from the Devils Marbles.

Continuing south along the Stuart Highway

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well, located 130 kilometres south of Tennant Creek is famous for its extraterrestrial visitors. UFO sightings have been part of Wycliffe Well’s folklore since World War II as has the town’s reputation for the unexplained.  A truly weird place however, it’s good for a fuel, food and a camping ground!

Barrow Creek

The scenery is stark and it comes with it’s own unresolved mysteries.  It is a roadside stop along highway offering fuel, kiosk, bar and accommodation.  Built in the 1930’s, the Barrow Creek Hotel is of architectural and historical value and remains the earliest Hotel built between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

Ti Tree Roadhouse

The Ti Tree Roadhouse offers fuel, food and provisions for travellers north of Alice Springs. Ti Tree is an unlikely agricultural centre producing significant crops of fruits and vegetables due to abundant sunshine and huge underground water resources.  It’s one of the last chances to stretch your legs before you head into Alice Springs.

Aileron

The Aileron Roadhouse offers food, accommodation, supplies and fuel.  Just over an hour north of Alice Springs, Aileron is home to the giant figure of the ‘Anmatjere Man’  (pronounced Am-mudge-a-rah).  In December 2005, this impressive 17 metre sculpture was placed to overlook Aileron and the surrounding hills.  In 2008 ‘Anmatjere Man’ was joined by ‘Anmatjere Woman and Child’.  Created by talented sculptor, Mark Egan

Alice Springs

Alice Springs is midway between Darwin and Adelaide – approximately 1500 kilometres to go!

There is plenty to see and do in Alice Springs so stay a while.

The West MacDonnell Ranges

Alice Springs is about half way to Adelaide and a great place to take a break.  It’s a surprisingly beautiful place to visit.

Alice Springs always reminds me of an oasis in the middle of the desert.  It’s far more ‘green’ than I had imagined.  Enjoy the contrasting colours of the beautiful landscape and the amazing desert wildlife.

Be warned:  It is rumoured that those who see the Todd River flow 3 times will never leave.

The infamous Todd River flows right through the middle of town, but for most of the year it is a dry river bed.  When it does rain though, it turns into a major attraction for everyone to ‘watch the Todd come down’.

Where to stay in Alice Springs

Alice Springs has a good selection of hotels and restaurants so stay a while and get to know the Red Centre.

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Read more about the Red Centre of Australia  

Head towards the border of South Australia

Alice Springs to Coober Pedy

It’s approximately 7 hours drive to Coober Pedy from Alice Springs.

3 hours to the Border, and a further 4 hours to Coober Pedy.

Rainbow Valley - Darwin to Adelaide

As you continue south from Alice Springs, there are a number of spectacular sights that you really ‘must’ see so be prepared to add extra days to your itinerary to cover them all.

Stuarts Well is the ideal place to stop while you explore Rainbow Valley, the Henbury Craters and Chambers Pillar.  There’s food, accommodation and fuel available and the Roadhouse boasts the best coffee along the highway!

  • Rainbow Valley, just 75 kilometres south of Alice Springs.  It is most spectacular in the early morning or late afternoon light – the golden hour!  Millions of years of wind and rain erosion have sculpted this bluff which is a significant and sacred site for the Arrernte clan of Central Australia.  4WD access only.
  • Henbury Meteorite Craters contains 12 craters which were formed when a meteor hit the earth’s surface 4,700 years ago. The craters are fascinating and provide natural, cultural and scientific value and well worth visiting.  Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve – 2WD access available.
  • Chambers Pillar is off the Darwin to Adelaide highway.  Chambers Pillar stands tall as a spectacular sandstone column towering some 50 metres above ground. It is about 160 kilometres from Alice Springs on the road to Simpsons Desert.

Chambers Pillar

The local Aboriginal people believe that the pillar is the Gecko ancestor Itirkawara. Banished for taking a wife from the wrong skin group, they retreated into the desert. When they stopped to rest they turned into rocky formations – Itirkawara into the Pillar, and the woman into Castle Rock nearby.

To visit Uluru – turn right at Erldunda

Uluru Northern Territory

If you’re planning to visit Uluru (Ayres Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)Kings Canyon and Mount Conner, turn right onto Lassiters Highway at Erldunda.

  • Erldunda Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway is the intersection to Lassiters Highway and the turnoff if you’re travelling to Uluru.  Continue straight on the Stuart Highway to head towards Adelaide.   Fuel, food and accommodation are available.
  • Kulgara Roadhouse is on the Stuart Highway and the last pub (or first) in the Northern Territory.   Fuel, food and accommodation are available.

Cross the border into South Australia and remember to take plenty of breaks along the way by stopping whenever you can.  Stay alert.

  • Marla Travellers Rest – the first (or last) pub in South Australia.

Coober Pedy

 Coober Pedy is a great place to explore.  Stay longer and enjoy.

Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip - Coober PedyCoober Pedy is another quirky Outback town with a population of 3,500 where more than half the town lives underground.  Known as the Opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy is quite possibly the most unique town in Australia!

Coober Pedy is where we overnight when heading south.

There’s lots to see and do in Coober Pedy.

  • Try your hand at ‘noodling’ for opals.
  • Play a round of night golf.   Its too hot to play during the day on Australia’s only ‘grass free’ golf course.
  • Do a ‘dugout’ tour and see inside an underground home home (some are more like mansions), underground churches, 4 star hotels and art galleries.
  • Take a self-guided tour through the historic Old Timers Mine which was hand dug in 1916.
  • For the ultimate underground experience check in at one of the ‘underground’ hotels.  You will sleep like a baby!

Coober Pedy opal mines - Darwin to Adelaide road trip

Where to stay in Coober Pedy


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Coober Pedy to Port Augusta

Approximately 5.5 hours drive to Port Augusta

  • Glendambo Roadhouse is our ‘go to’ breakfast stop after leaving Coober Pedy.  The coffee is terrible, but the breakfast is great!  It a good time to fuel up and stretch your legs before continuing south on your journey.
  • Lake Hart is around 700 kilometres north of Adelaide with a catchment area stretching across South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.  It is a stark reminder of the harsh Australian outback as the lake waters evaporate, vast deposits of salt are exposed.  When in flood, the lake is stunning with huge numbers of waterbirds flocking to the lake.  The usually stark landscape comes to life with the rich colours of native wildflowers.  This is a place were sunset photography can be magnificent.
  • Pimba‘s claim to fame is Spud’s Roadhouse.  Pimba is the gateway to Roxby Downs & Woomera (best remembered for it’s nuclear tests in the 1940’s).  Stop in at the information centre to have a look at this pretty little outback town.

Port Augusta

Just 3 hours north of Adelaide, and the crossroads to Western Australia.

Turn left to Adelaide or right to head to the West.

Port Augusta is a good place to take a break, refuel, refresh and relax with plenty of accommodation options and great pub meals.  Breathe easy now that your road trip is nearly over.

The home of renewable energy sources for South Australia,  Port Augusta has replaced coal power generation with solar and wind farms which you will see on the skyline as you head towards Adelaide.

Where to stay in Port Augusta


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Port Augusta to Adelaide

Approximately 3.5 hours drive to Adelaide city.

Choose the scenic route through the Clare Valley, or go straight ahead on the highway towards Adelaide.

Adelaide is only 3.5 hours drive down the highway.  With wind farms along the hills and food and produce farms along the way, it’s a pleasant drive towards the city.

If you’re looking for a change in scenery, turn off at Horricks Pass across the iconic Flinders Ranges to take the scenic route into Adelaide through the Clare Valley wine region.  It’s a great opportunity to get off the main highway and explore some lovely boutique wineries, bed and breakfasts and exceptional restaurants.

Adelaide – South Australia’s capital

Rundle Mall Adelaide

Yea you’ve arrived!  Its a long drive from Darwin to Adelaide but you’ve covered some of the most spectacular country that the Australian Outback can offer.

Bursting with culture, entertainment and festivals and events, Adelaide has some of Australia’s best restaurants in the heart of the city.  The gateway to some of Australia’s best wine country, Adelaide is loaded with historic buildings, lush parklands and stunning botanic gardens.

There’s so much more to see and do in Adelaide.

Where to stay in Adelaide


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Read more:

Are you inspired to do a road trip from Darwin to Adelaide?  Pin this for later.

 

Take the the time to drive from Darwin to Adelaide.   It really is the Best Road Trip in Australia through some of the most stunning scenery and quirky little towns.

Read more:  Darwin to Kakadu – 6 days in the Top End

Enjoy this unique road trip between Darwin and Adelaide.  It’s unique and a great opportunity to see the outback.   I’d love to know where was your most memorable stop along the way … why not drop us a note?