A roadtrip from Darwin to Adelaide is the ultimate travel experience!
Arguably, travelling from Darwin to Adelaide (or vice versa) is arguably the best Aussie road trip you will ever do.
The Stuart Highway south from the Northern Territory into South Australia is one of those quintessential travel experiences that everyone should have!
Each town along the Stuart Highway has its own appeal so it’s worth taking a little more time on the drive to see everything possible.
I love this drive!
The Stuart Highway is just over 3000 kilometres with some extraordinary scenery along the way. This is quite possibly one of the most memorable road trips you will make in your lifetime.
You will encounter some of our unique Australian wildlife along the track but most memorable of all, you will meet some of the friendliest people along the way. Enjoy the best Aussie road trip ever.
Be prepared to see it all
Long straight roads, wide expenses of nothingness in between sparsely scattered fuel stops and small towns. War memorabilia, roadside memorials, world heritage listed sites and old telegraph stations along the way – you really will see the extremes of the Australian outback.
There’s always a sense of excitement when travelling south despite miles and miles of desolate open landscape, stark scenery, broken fences, vivid red sand dunes and signs of the drought stricken outback everywhere.
Road trains chugging along at a competitive pace. Grey nomads towing caravans on their long awaited ‘trip of a lifetime’ heading north to escape the cold southern winter.
Northern Territory road conditions are generally very good with a top speed limit of 130 kilometres an hour on the open highway, however the 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.
Road trips have rules
- Rule 1: Take plenty of music! The driver chooses the music!
- Rule 2: Never contemplate a road trip with children unless there is a window for each child.
- Rule 3: Take snacks (snakes, jelly babies, packets of chips) and plenty of water.
Leave Darwin with a Plan
Plan your rest stops and make sure you take sufficient breaks along the way to prevent fatigue.
Between Darwin and Katherine there are several great opportunities to take a rest stop.
- Hayes Creek has great selection of snacks and fuel available – be sure to check out the Jack Daniels fuel pump!
- Emerald Springs is one of my favourite places to stop for breakfast! Bacon & Eggs to die for!
Looking for lunch?
Adelaide River is a great place to stop for lunch. The Adelaide River Hotel serves the best ‘buffalo burgers’ in the Territory and is well worth the visit. It’s an opportunity to pay homage to ‘Charlie the buffalo’ the co-star in the infamous movie “Crocodile Dundee” with Paul Hogan. Charlie is stuffed and the main attraction at the Adelaide River bar.
While you’re at Adelaide River, visit the only War Cemetery in Australia (others are war memorials). 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.
Further south, the historical gold mining town of Pine Creek 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.
Edith Falls (Leliyn) is one of the prettiest water falls and swimming holes in the area. Stop off for a swim if you have time. Its a great place to spend a few days to take in the walk up to secluded Sweetwater pool.
The town of Katherine
Katherine is well worth taking a few days break. Explore Nitmiluk Gorge (also known as Katherine Gorge) and take some of the spectacular bush walks that offer amazing views down the Katherine valley.
Katherine Gorge run a range of cruises along Katherine River through Nitmiluk National Park. Experience the varied and ever-changing landscapes, from dramatic cliffs and sandy beaches to pandanus-lined channels, and see some of the local wildlife, including cockatoos, 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.
Aproximately 30 kilometres south of Katherine, you will come across Cutta Cutta Caves. Formed millions of years ago the Cutta Cutta Caves system is home to a variety of native wildlife. Home to five species of bats, 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.
If you never never go, you’ll never never know!
About 100 kilometres south of Katherine is Bitter Springs and Mataranka Hot Springs. Refreshing natural hot springs are a popular rest stop for tired weary travelers. There’s plenty of Agile Wallabies lazing around nearby.
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 and her new life as she settled into the Northern Territory. It’s an incredible story of personal endurance based on a true story.
Overnight at the Daly Waters Hotel
Daly Waters is one of those places everyone should visit at some time in their lifetime!
The Daly Waters Hotel is one of the best experiences on this long long road. It’s a unique place stay, great steaks, cold beer, clean accommodation and good old fashioned friendly service with a touch of Territory quirkiness!
A number of roadhouses dot the highway south and always are good spots to stop for a break.
- 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 sleepy town and a good place to overnight, grab a bite to eat and refresh yourself ready for the next leg to Alice Springs (only approximately 5 more hours driving)! A town settled in the Territory gold rush days, Tennant Creek is a close knit community and the easterly crossroads to Queensland.
Passing the Devils Marbles is always a surprise for me. The Marbles appear with almost no warning and if you’re traveling early morning, the golden glow of the morning sun on the rocks is striking making it impossible not to turn left off the highway to take a walk through these amazing piles of granite rocks seemingly tossed together randomly.
A significant sacred Aboriginal site in the Northern Territory, the Karlu Karlu will take your breath away! On the southern edge of the National Park is the Devils Marbles Hotel – another great fuel, food and accommodation stop.
Read next: Creative Photography – Shoot the Golden Hour
No road trip is complete without Aliens
- Wycliffe Well claims to be the ‘alien’ capital of the Northern Territory. A truly weird place! Good for a fuel, food and a camping ground!
- Barrow Creek, the scenery is stark and it comes with it’s own unresolved mysteries. A roadhouse and store.
- Ti Tree is the last opportunity for a break before Alice Springs. Fuel and food are available and it’s a chance to stretch your legs before you drive this last leg.
- Aileron is about 135 km north of Alice Springs. A roadhouse offering food, accommodation, supplies and fuel.
Aileron is also home to the giant figure of the ‘Anmatjere Man’. In December 2005, this impressive 17 metre sculpture was placed to overlooks Aileron and the surrounding region. In 2008 ‘Anmatjere Man’ was joined by ‘Anmatjere Woman and Child’. Created by talented sculptor, Mark Egan.
Alice Springs – the Centre of the outback
Alice Springs always reminds me of an oasis in the middle of the desert. It’s far more ‘green’ and lush than I had ever imagined. You will be amazed by the vibrant and contrasting colours of the beautiful scenery the amazing wildlife. Be sure to see it all.
Complete with caravan parks, hotels, restaurants and even a casino affectionately tagged ‘the white house’, Alice is a lively art community with much to see and do. Stay a while and enjoy the red centre.
Be warned: It is rumored that those who see the Todd flow 3 times will never leave.
The infamous Todd River flows right through the middle of town and for most of the year it is a dry river bed. When it does rain though, it turns into a major attraction for locals to ‘watch the Todd come down’.
Head to South Australia
Heading south from Alice Springs it will take another 3 hours until you pass the border into South Australia but as you head down the Stuart Highway there are a number of spectacular landmarks that you really ‘must’ include on your trip.
Base yourself at Stuart Well while you visit Rainbow Valley, the Henbury Craters and Chambers Pillar. There’s food, accommodation and fuel available. The Roadhouse boasts the best coffee along the highway!
One of the most striking places I’ve ever been to is 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.
The impressive sandstone rock structure changes from ochre red to orange and deep purples. If you’re lucky enough to visit when it rains you will be rewarded by the extraordinary colours and stunning reflections in the claypans at the base. Rainbow Valley is best accessed with a four-wheel drive vehicle and is a great place to camp overnight.
Henbury Meteorite Craters
Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve contains 12 craters which were formed when a meteor hit the earth’s surface 4,700 years ago. The Henbury Meteor, weighing several tonnes and accelerating to over 40,000 km per hour, disintegrated before impact and the fragments formed the craters.
The craters are fascinating and providing natural, cultural and scientific value and well worth visiting. Two-wheel drive access is available.
About 160 kilometres from Alice Springs on the road through to the Simpsons Desert plains, Chambers Pillar stands tall as a spectacular sandstone column towering some 50 metres above ground.
The local Aboriginal people believe that the pillar is the Gecko ancestor Itirkawara. Banished for taking a wife from the wrong skin group, he retreated into the desert. When they stop to rest they turned into prominent rocky formations – Itirkawara into the Pillar, and the woman into Castle Rock 500m to the north-east.
Turn right at Erldunda to head to Uluru
Erldunda Roadhouse marks the intersection to turn off onto Lassiters Highway — the road to Uluru (Ayres Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), Kings Canyon and Mount Conner. Make sure these destinations are on your Aussie road trip bucket list.
Take a break, stay the night or have a meal along the way. Fuel is available at these roadhouses.
- Erldunda Roadhouse
- Kulgara Roadhouse – the last pub (or first) in the Northern Territory
- Marla Travellers Rest – the first (or last) pub in South Australia
Coober Pedy is a quirky town with a population of 3,500 where more than half the town’s families live underground. Known as the Opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy is quite possibly the most unique town in Australia!
There’s lots to see and do in Coober Pedy. For something different, try your hand at ‘noodling’! ‘Noodling’ is the name for fossicking for opals! Play a round of night golf (its too hot to play during the daytime) on the only ‘grassless’ course in Australia.
Take a local tour and see a real ‘dugout’ home (some are more like mansions), underground churches, 4 star hotels and art galleries and there are self-guided tours through the historic Old Timers Mine, hand dug in 1916.
Coober Pedy is where we stay overnight when heading south. For the ultimate underground experience check in at one of the ‘underground’ hotels. You’ll be surprised how soundly you sleep!
Are we there yet?
Glendambo is always our ‘breakfast’ stop when driving south, great roadhouse style breakfasts and friendly service.
The Stuart highway passes along the edge of Lake Hart around 700 kilometres north of Adelaide. In the dry season, vast deposits of salt are exposed as the lake waters dry up. It is an extraordinary reminder of the harsh South Australian outback and has a catchment area stretching into South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
WHEN THE LAKE FLOODS,
IT CREATES A STUNNING VISION.
Huge numbers of waterbirds flock to the lake and the usually stark landscape comes alive with the rich colours of native wildflowers, indigenous to the area. As the lake dries up and the water evaporates, its salinity increases and it often appears to turn pink. When empty, the lake becomes a giant salt pan, with white crystals reflecting the sunlight.
The Flinders Ranges
Climb the amazing rock formation at Wilpena Pound. Wildflowers are abundant in the spring and the colours of the ranges will take your breath away.
A sleepy little town 3 hours north of Adelaide and the crossroad to Western Australia.
TURN LEFT TO ADELAIDE OR RIGHT TO HEAD TO THE WEST
The perfect opportunity to take a break and a chance to refuel, refresh and relax with plenty of accommodation options and great pub meals.
The home of renewable energy sources for South Australia feeding into the National Grid, Port Augusta has replaced coal power generation with solar and wind farms which you will see on the skyline as you pass through.
Heading south from Port Augusta, turn off at Horricks Pass across the iconic Flinders Ranges to take the scenic route 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 is known as the city of churches! It enjoys a great art scene and a melting-pot of cultures forged from European migrants from the ‘great depression’ era.
Adelaide has an wonderful array of cuisine styles, an abundance of fresh seafood and I’m always amazed at the depth of knowledge the restaurant waiters are able to share when it comes to food & wine matching!
A short drive will take you to the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra wine regions for some of the best wines in Australia. Have you read our post on our favourite Australian wines under $30 a bottle?
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