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 road for the adventure of a lifetime.
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
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’.
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.
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 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 to Katherine
3.5 Hours drive time to Katherine
- Litchfield National Park – Just over an hour from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is jam-packed with waterfalls and waterholes for lazing about in. It’s the place to go exploring by taking some of the gorgeous bushwalks or head off the beaten path on a four-wheel drive track. Litchfield is an opportunity for a day trip and there are camping grounds if you want to stay longer.
- 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.
Take a lunch break at 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.
- Pine Creek the historical gold mining town is a great little town to visit. 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 (Leliyn) is one of the prettiest water falls and swimming holes in the area. Stop off for a swim or if you have time, its a great place to spend a few days and chill out. There are plenty of bush-walking trails and make sure you visit the secluded Sweetwater Pool.
If you have time, stay a few days as there is plenty to see.
Katherine is a great spot for bird watches.
Katherine is just 3 hours drive south of Darwin and there are so many reasons to stay longer. Start with the biggest attraction of all, Nitmiluk Gorge. Paddle or hike along the Gorge to get the most out of this part of the world.
There is plenty to see and do in the Katherine region.
- Explore Nitmiluk Gorge which is also known as Katherine Gorge and take some of the spectacular bush walks that offer amazing views down the Katherine valley. Take one of the cruises along the Katherine River or go canoeing in this amazing waterway. See some of the local wildlife including cockatoos, lizards, eagles and wallabies.
- Don’t forget to stop in at Nitmiluk Visitors Centre as it’s a great source of history and information about the Katherine region. Learn about this region’s cultural history.
- Relax in the clear water of Katherine Hot Springs on 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.
- 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. Just 30 kilometres south of Katherine, you will find one of Australia’s only tropical limestone cave systems. 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
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.
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 is the land of the ‘Never Never’ made famous by Elsie Gunn who endured ongoing hardship by settling this untamed country.
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, 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, it promises an interesting night..
The Daly Waters Hotel is one of the best Outback experiences on this long long road between Darwin and Adelaide. Daly Waters is the only place that I have ever seen kangaroos hopping up the main street! If you have time, stop overnight.
It’s a unique place stay with plenty of local characters to meet as you travel through. The pub is decked out with travel memorabilia including bank notes from around the world, underwear hanging from the ceiling and other souvenirs. If you’re visiting in winter, the fireplace will be lit and travellers hang out and share their stories.
The Daly Waters Historic Pub is a popular stop that offers backpacker, hotel or motel rooms, or a place to pitch a tent.
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 stop for a break. Call in whenever you’re passing through to support these local businesses in the middle of nowhere.
- 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 wish to take a break.
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. Grab a bite to eat and refresh yourself ready for the next leg to Alice Springs!
A town settled in the Territory gold rush days, Tennant Creek is a close knit community and where you turn onto the Barkley Highway to head east to Queensland.
Accommodation in Tennant Creek
There are a few hotels, motels and a caravan park in Tennant Creek. Check out our accommodation link here.
The Devils Marbles are another hour further down the Stuart Highway, with the Devils Marbles Hotel another 20 minutes beyond. Free WiFi 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 – 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.
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.
Devils Marbles Hotel
On the southern edge of the National Park is the Devils Marbles Hotel – another great fuel, food and accommodation stop.
Heading south along the Stuart Highway
- Wycliffe Well claims to be the ‘alien’ capital of the Northern Territory. 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 offers fuel and basic provisions for travellers between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. Ti Tree is an unlikely agricultural centre producing significant crops of fruits and vegetables due to the abundant sunshine and huge underground water resources. Fuel and food are available and it’s the last chance to stretch your legs before you head towards Alice Springs.
- Aileron is a roadhouse offering 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 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.
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.
Read more about the Red Centre of Australia
- 21 Great Things to do in Alice Springs
- Do the Red Centre Way – the real Australian Outback
- Parrtjima – the Festival in Light
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.
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.
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.
- Access to Chambers Pillar is via 4WD only. Camping is permitted but you must bring your own firewood. Guided Ranger talks are held May to September.
To visit Uluru – turn right at Erldunda
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 is a great place to explore. Stay longer and enjoy.
Coober 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!
Where to stay in Coober Pedy
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.
- The Flinders Ranges are an impressive sight following alongside the road. If you have time, you really must visit. Picturesque as they stretch along the Birdsville Track, the Oodnadatta Track and along the edge of the Simpson Desert, these are the historical journeys of Australia’s early pioneers. Climb the amazing rock formation at Wilpena Pound. Wildflowers are abundant in the spring and the colours of the ranges really will take your breath away. Great road trips to put on your Aussie bucket list.
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
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
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.
- Things to do in Adelaide
- McLaren Vale Wineries and Cellar Door experiences
- Best Australian Wines under $15 a bottle
Where to stay in Adelaide
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.