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7 Days ... from Adelaide to Darwin!

Mindil Beach Sunset, Darwin (pic by Pilchard)

Does it REALLY take 7 days to drive the ~3000 km from Adelaide to Darwin?

Only if you want to see a few sights along the way on a REAL adventure! Car hire is the best option to experience a cross-section of Australia's unique countryside from the dry south, through the Red Centre deserts to the lush tropical north!

AND come to terms with the vast distances that road-tripping in Australia demands!

So follow my rough guide from Adelaide to Darwin via Uluru – with LOADS of optional extras! BUT … be warned! It might just mean your epic trek takes a few extra days!!

Day 1: Adelaide to Woomera
Distance: 487 km 
Driving Time: 5½ - 6 hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)
Scenery: Varied. After leaving Adelaide, drive through the scenic Clare Valley wine region; then along the edge of the Flinders Ranges to Pt Augusta. At this point, you're still on the Adelaide Geosyncline (yes, I'm showing off!)(Dad, are you reading this??) landform.

Island Lagoon, via Woomera, South Australia
It's all Outback from Pt Augusta, and the drive along the Stuart Shelf, an extension of the Adelaide Geosyncline, is unremarkable but for some unexpectedly spectacular land formations.

Points of Interest:
  • Salt Lakes and Claypans, including Pernatty Lagoon and Lake Windabout
  • Island Lagoon Lookout and Nurrungar – now closed, this joint US/OZ facility was the site of several protests, most notably by current Senator Peter Garrett, one-time front man for Aussie rock band Midnight Oil
  • Woomera Heritage Centre & Missile Park within the western world's largest land-based missile and rocket range
Enter the Woomera Prohibited Area (well … it gave ME a thrill!) 7 km off the highway from Pimba. The outdoor missile park's unusual collection of relics from rocket range days is all the more bizarre for its location.
Outdoor Missile Park, Woomera, South Australia
The Heritage Centre's excellent displays show the fascinating heritage of this little town on the edge of nowhere that has variously included the Rocket Range, NASA Deep Space Tracking Station and a controversial Asylum Seeker detention centre.

  • Spend an extra day exploring Woomera and nearby Roxby Downs, built in 1988 to support Olympic Dam – Australia's largest underground silver and copper mine
  • Combine Days 1 & 2 and save Woomera for another visit

Day 2: Woomera to Coober Pedy

Distance: 365 km

Coober Pedy from Lookout, South Australia
Driving Time: 4 hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Scenery: Central Tablelands, with mesas, low hills and salt lakes before reaching the Stuart Range near Coober Pedy, where the landscape is dominated by mullock heaps.
Points of Interest:
  • Lake Hart – either a saltpan so white it'll hurt your eyes; or full of water!
  • Glendambo Roadhouse complex and service centre – only place for fuel and food this leg
  • Coober Pedy Mullock Heaps; Underground buildings and accommodation; and opal!
While passing Glendambo, spare a thought for Pilchard & I as we inched towards Glendambo after car trouble struck just over half way from Coober Pedy in 2004.

The most compelling argument I can think of for a) carrying water and b) having paid up Road Assistance membership, with a blown head-gasket, the car was, as the mechanic put it in technical terms, 'stuffed'.

Underground at Coober Pedy, South Australia
Road Assist paid for a) a motel unit; b) bus fares to Adelaide; c) trucking the car to Adelaide for repair; and d) general expenses. I still shudder to think how much we'd have been out of pocket – so DON'T leave home without it!

Staying in Coober Pedy's underground accommodation isn't for the claustrophobic – but IS something to experience at least once! And looking for Opal, either in the tourist 'noodling' area OR 'finding' it at the nearest opal showroom can be very rewarding!!

Options: Stay another night and tour the nearby Breakaways and Painted Desert; the underground churches; and a working opal mine. Then take a round of golf at the Coober Pedy Golf Course. It DOES offer reciprocal rights to world famous St Andrews in Scotland after all!!

Day 3: Coober Pedy to Uluru

Distance: 750 km

Driving Time: 8 – 8½ hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Road Train at Cadney Park Roadhouse, South Australia

Scenery: Varied. Once past the mullock heaps, red sandy soil and vegetation cover low hills, then the Indulkana range past Marla. Across the border, granite outcrops before entering the Amadeus basin, a former seabed.

Points of Interest:
  • The Dog Fence – longest man-made structure in the world!
  • Cadney Park and Marla Roadhouses
  • South Australia/Northern Territory Border
  • Sturt's Desert Peas, depending on time of year
  • Kulgera Roadhouse
  • Erldunda Roadhouse – a giant, caged echidna near the car park was once a prop for Expo
  • Mt Connor
  • Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Start early for a long day because – trust me on this – you DON'T want to drive at night! There'll be enough opportunities to hit stray wildlife during the day, when at least you can (mostly) see it coming!

Do I really have to tell you what THIS is?
Turn off to Uluru at the Erldunda Roadhouse. Mt Connor, at Curtin Springs station, is often mistaken for Uluru and is a tourist attraction in its own right. But there's no mistaking the vast bulk of the world's biggest monolith as it glows in the setting sun.

  • Stay an extra night to explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta more thoroughly.
  • Alternatively, take a detour to the remarkable Kings Canyon, and relive one of the more memorable scenes from cult Australian movie 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'!

Day 4: Uluru to Stuarts Well

Distance: 375 km

Driving Time: 4 - 4½ hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Scenery: Central Desert and ranges.

Points of Interest: 
  • Uluru and Kata Tjuta
  • Henbury Meterorite Craters
  • Dinky the singing, piano playing dingo
Spend the morning exploring the amazing Uluru and Kata Tjuta formations before returning to Erldunda and heading north to the Stuarts Well Roadhouse for a bizarre, uniquely Australian experience!

Dinky, the singing, piano playing Dingo, Stuarts Well, Northern Territory

Doesn't EVERYONE want to see a singing, piano playing Dingo?

Rainbow Valley, Central Australia (pic by Pilchard)

  • Stay an extra night and take a camel tour to nearby Rainbow Valley!
  • Skip Stuarts Well altogether and stay in Alice Springs (an extra 90 km/1 hour north)

Day 5: Stuarts Well to Tennant Creek

Distance: 600 km

Driving Time: 6½ hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Elvis Campsite, Wycliffe Well, Northern Territory
Scenery: Spectacular ranges around Alice Springs, which flatten out into the grassy plains and rocky outcrops of the Barkly Tablelands.

Points of Interest:
  • Aileron Roadhouse
  • Wycliffe Well Roadhouse complex, once proclaimed Australia's UFO capital
  • Wauchope Hotel
  • Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles)

Wycliffe Well Roadhouse's unusual murals, strange otherworldly figurines and Elvis campsite are worth a look. Just up the road past the Wauchope Hotel are the Devils Marbles. While they're at their best at sunrise or sunset, they're worth stopping for any time!

Then it's another hour or so up the road to gold mining town Tennant Creek.

Devils Marbles at Sunset, Northern Territory
READ: More about Wycliffe Well; More about Devils Marbles; More about Tennant Creek

  • Stop in Alice Springs for the night before continuing with this itinerary. Leave Stuarts Well early, and you'll have the whole day to explore the many delights of Alice Springs and surrounds, as near as dammit to the Centre of Australia
  • Stay overnight at Wauchope for sunset/sunrise shots of the Devils Marbles. Tennant Creek is 106 km north.

Day 6: Tennant Creek to Katherine

Distance: 673 km

Driving Time: 7 – 7½ hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Bitter Springs, via Mataranka, Northern Territory
Scenery: Barkly Tablelands grasslands and cattle station country continue to Newcastle Waters. Tropical vegetation hides many relics from World War II, before the lush tropics of Mataranka and its thermal pools.

Points of Interest:
  • Kunjarra (The Pebbles), a smaller version of the Devils Marbles
  • Cattle Stations, Roadhouses and small towns including Banka Banka, Renner Springs, Elliott, Dunmarra, Larrimah
  • Daly Waters Pub – a popular traveller stopover with meals and entertainment
  • World War 2 Memorabilia and outposts
  • Mataranka and Bitter Springs Thermal Pools - once part of Elsey Station, where the events of Mrs Aeneas Gunn's classic Australian memoir 'We of the Never Never' took place.
Busy Katherine, on the edge of Nitmiluk National Park (also known as Katherine Gorge), is a crossroads and stocking-up point for travellers heading west to Kununurra or east to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The thermal pools just out of town are a popular gathering point at the end of a long day on the road.

Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory

Options: Stay 100 km south of Katherine at Bitter Springs, and soak in its famous thermal pools. Who could resist seeing the world's biggest man-made termite mound in Mataranka's main street? It even TALKS!

Day 7: Katherine to Darwin

Distance: 316 km

Driving Time: 3½ - 4 hours (allow extra time for rest, food and sightseeing stops)

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory (pic by Pilchard)
Scenery: Tropical

Points of Interest:
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge)
  • Historic Pine Creek
  • Adelaide River's Historic Railway and War Cemetery
  • Batchelor – Gateway to Litchfield National Park

Take a morning tour to Katherine Gorge or nearby Cutta Cutta Caves before completing the drive to Darwin. Although there's lots to tempt the inquisitive along the way!

  • Stay an extra day to explore the Katherine Region more thoroughly, including a trip to the marvellous Edith Falls just north of Katherine, for swimming and bushwalking.
  • Take the scenic route through Kakadu National Park to, with its distinctive landmarks, walks, tours and scenic attractions to Jabiru, then via Mary River and Humpty Doo to Darwin.
  • Stay an extra day in Batchelor and explore the natural wonders of Litchfield National Park!

Red in Darwin Botanic Gardens, Northern Territory (pic by Pilchard)

Darwin is an adventure in itself – you might want to consider an open-ended car rental arrangement – but it all depends on how much time you've got. It'd be easy to spend a further week exploring this Top End wonderland – but that's a whole new blog post!

Now all you've got to do is fly or drive somewhere else!


  1. amazing territory you covered; I especially like Katherine Gorge and Litchfield. Wow, and those road-trains - you must've wondered how far back you had to walk to fit it in!

  2. For once I won't be flippant and I suggest this is quite a good road guide for the trip.

  3. I love doing that... getting in the car, driving and stopping at sites along the way. Loads of fun.

    You went some pretty cool places. I would love to see the Dino play the piano... looks like he is singing too!

  4. Okay, you've talked me into it. What time will you be picking me up?

  5. Ah yes, Dinky - we've met him too -

  6. Such a Bizarre fantasy land you live in. I'm pretty sure if I drove 3,000 miles I would wind up in California and lots of amazing photos as well. Of course you are talking kilometers so I might only make it to Vegas. Either way, I want to be just like you so I'm saving for gas (or is it petrol) money starting right now.

  7. It sounds like a fantastic adventure.

  8. May be I will plan some day. Great info.

  9. You guys travel the way we do (or used to) on long roadtrips...a couple of hundred miles a day and stopping whenever there's something beautiful or interesting (I'd definitely stop for that dingo ;>)). So yeah, I believe you would need 7 days to make this trip. Actually it'll probably take me almost that long (wtih re-visits) to read everything in this great post and follow the links. I just skimmed the beautiful pix today...

  10. There's nothing like a roadtrip through vast swaths of land! It's sad our country is so built up, though you can still just about get away with seeing a lot of nature and little civilization for days. This is a beautiful adventure (and love the singing Dingo!)

  11. Crikey!
    Would you be my guide?

    What a fascinating continent Oz is. There’s no place on earth that comes anywhere near.

  12. @Carole - It's an epic trek with SO much variety! But that's only a little road-train ...
    @Andrew - Go on! Be flippant!! That's what I like about you!!!
    @MJWC - Haha, I tried to upload a video of the dingo, but it didn't work ... I'll keep trying!
    @FruitCake - Hang on, I hadn't planned for a detour via Melbourne! But it might be better all round to wait for winter ...
    @Kath - HAha, yes I remember reading about YOUR Dinky experience! Ours was in 2008 - but you'll be thrilled to hear that when we dropped in to the roadhouse for a sanga in 2012, he was still alive!!! Ah, the fun never stops ...
    @SFlaGuy - Miles? Gas?? I think it's YOU living in a bizarre world, my friend! Just for you, 3000 km = 1864 miles. But I can't help you with how far that takes you up there ...

  13. @Dina - It IS a fantastic adventure! Don't let the distances, fuel availability, road trains or remoteness put you off in the slightest!!
    @Indrani - So much space, so few people - what's NOT to love?
    @Sallie - HAha, when we did the whole trip it took us 18 days to get to Darwin - and that didn't include the Uluru detour!!! 200 miles = 322 km so that'd be half a day on the longer legs - we don't often do that much in one day because there's too much to see. Unless we're in the middle of nowhere, in which case we just keep going ...
    @LONDONLULU - I'm sure I'd experience severe culture shock if I visited you! Although many parts of the East Coast are very built up too ... but we've never had any trouble finding the out-of-the-way spots even there!
    @Friko - I'm planning a few more virtual road trips this year (along with a couple of actual ones) so stick around!! The more the merrier!

  14. Great post giving a real sense of the variety of landscapes (and fancy named landforms) you'll see traversing Oz from the bottom to the top -

    I agree though that 7 days wouldn't really do the sightseeing justice, so was pleased to read in a comment it really took you 18 days + time to visit the Uluru region - That sounds far more pleasant -
    About a year ago I did Uluru to Cairns in 10 days and that was pretty manic.

  15. Wow -- what an adventure! So much to see - so beautiful!

  16. Adelaide to Darwin is a trip I'd love to make one day, but I'd probably go by bus or train, so I'd miss the extra stops and sights. but I've seen plenty here to satisfy me for now.

  17. That is some drive! I doubt we would enjoy driving those long stretches. However, somehow we have managed to see many of the places you have mentioned by using aeroplanes and 4 wheel drive tours. It is amazing how many wonderful places there are to see on such a trip. You are good at travel blogging. I loved King's Canyon, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield NP best.

  18. This is a great guide for driving up through the Red Centre, Red. We are coming over to SAust via Uluru in Sept, but we are taking the long route along the Oonadatta Track - hope there will be lots of water in THE lake!
    The top half will have to wait for another trip - I will need to bookmark this post for later!

  19. I honestly don't know of any other venue that shows off the Australian outback in all its splendour like you do Red. Each post is a gem, although.....there's noooooo way in hell that you'd get me to stayin an underground hotel room, I get breathless just thinking about it.

  20. What a marvelous adventure. The variety of landscapes you encountered is amazing, and each had its own special beauty. I look forward to seeing your next adventure.

  21. Awww, the Mindil Beaches. Now I´m hungry! For great food, the warmth and the beauty of the place!
    Yes, Womera was quite a bummer. To imagine the first guys lived in simplest huts, phew!
    The painted desert truly is beautiful. As (kinda) is the moon desert. Thanks to the people from the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta we found all of that for a change. Road Trains really are amazing. If I wasn´t that shy I maybe might´ve seen one from the inside back then.
    Priscilla, oh, yes :-) And, btw, Alice has - I think - the best Jerky in the world! We visited the factory and bought heaps!
    Awwww, Mataranka! We stayed way over a week! Never, never go without H2O!
    Thanks for bringing back so many memories! This time I don´t feel like a "looser", either, we were able to find most you mentioned ;-)
    Still will have to come back one day!

  22. I totally agree with Grace, there is no other site that presents Australia in all her glory like you do Red. And that's fair dinkum. I also appreciate the work that goes into these posts.
    I spent ages reading through this post and ogling the pics.

    Talk about armchair travel at its very best!

    (As I type, my "common" honey-eater is singing away!)

  23. Pretty freaking diverse little country you got there. I pointed out to the Brit that all of the UK was the same size as Arizona, such a tiny teeny country.

  24. Nice itinerary. Will try it out when I get to visit Australia sometime.
    You do have some fabulous photos there.

  25. I hope I get to go to Australia one day:) It's a dream place for me and all of those places look amazing. Thanks for educating me and giving me ideas. I can only imagine the wildlife found in all the places you've gone on that itinerary....and I'm intrigued:)

  26. I'd say that was seven days well-spent. Your photos are wonderful. Did you miss anything :-). Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  27. @JJ Linda - I am a devotee of SLOOOOOOOOW travel!! But I realise others are on a tighter schedule, so this just shows what you could do if you had a week off & didn't want to spend it indoors watching TV! I read about yr Uluru -> Cairns thing - it's a route we haven't done but will take one day ...
    @ladyfi - It's ALL just one big adventure downunder!!
    @River - I'm betting you'd see the good bits on a tour ... just not at your own pace! But at least you'd see them ...
    @diane b - Long haul driving isn't for everyone ... but it IS an adventure, especially the first time!! I'm with you on the faves ... and thanx for your kind words!
    @Jill - You'll be one up on me when you've done the Oodnadatta Track! We'd have to have a completely different rig for that!! But one day, one day ...
    @PDP - Haha, thank you! Feel free to share that thought with the OZ Tourism Board whenever you're ready ... the only thing keeping me in the underground room was that it was a B&B in the side of the hill - more like a hobbit house! So even though no windows, the door was always visible!!!

  28. @George - That's one of the great things about doing OZ bottom to top - the scenery along the way changes dramatically and that's almost as much fun as the sightseeing & detours!
    @Iris - So glad my post gave you happy memories! There are so many great places along this drive, but you're the 2nd person who's mentioned Oodnadatta, and that is still a place we haven't seen!! Happy saving!!!
    @Rose - Well, the honeyeater is not common to you :) And we could be wrong about it!!! Thank you so much for your kind words - I love what I do, but it IS time consuming!! So nice to know it's not in vain ...
    @Mrs Tuna - HAhaha, and the UK + Arizona would nicely fit into one of Australia's smaller states ... that's why it's so diverse, because there's a complete & utter climate change between top & bottom!!
    @Ramakant Pradan - I do hope you get to see it for yourself! And just between us - it's EASY to take good photos in Australia because the scenery is so AWESOME!

  29. @Rohrerbot - It should be no surprise to you to find that this whole trip is full of amazing birds!! Because it's such a long way, the habitats are very diverse - start saving NOW!
    @Jim - I've got Pilchard to thank for several of them!
    @Mary - You haven't seen the half of it!! I struggled to limit the number of pix (the post was already a bit long) so actually yes - I DID leave a few things out, and there WERE a couple of things we've left for next time!! Always leave a place wanting more, I've found!

  30. That's a long trip....we are still trying to mentally prepare ourselves for Adelaide to Alice Springs (unfortunately no dates yet to actually do it due to that pesky thing called work).

    Between CP and Uluru, is there anywhere else to break the trip? Or just make the commitment to spend 8 hours in the car and go for it?


  31. What a great place to visit, I would love to take this road trip. Thanks for sharing the info and the photos are great. Maybe someday, Australia is on my bucketlist!

  32. @Go Camping - We have stayed at Cadney Homestead and Marla (on different trips) - both are roadhouse complexes with caravan/ camping/ accomodation/ meals. Across the border is Kulgera Roadhouse - haven't stayed there, but looked fine last time we drove through (2012). Can also stay at Erldunda (at the Uluru turnoff), or Curtin Springs Station (approx 70 km from Uluru). Just depends where u want 2 spend most time!
    @eileeninmd - It's an EXCELLENT road trip! Just think of all the birds ...

    1. Thanks Red - its good to hear from others who have done the trip. I was just thinking that 8 hrs could be too much for a restless daughter in the backseat, so we should try to break the trip into more manageable bites.

      Rgds, Annie

  33. I would love to do this trip but it won't be this year.

  34. It seems like quite a few town names are first names--Katherine, Darwin, etc. That would certainly make the trip interesting, at least for me! Zane was very interested in the Road Train, by the way. He loves all kinds of trains.

  35. My husband, daughter and myself did almost the same trip (from Melbourne to Darwin)years ago in a campervan. We took two weeks. It was a blast! Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  36. We have done this trip about 15 times over the last 10 - 12 years AND will be retracing our steps this July 2014 ... seriously can't wait.... LOVE LOVE LOVE IT


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