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13-day road trip from Darwin to Adelaide

13-day road trip from Darwin to Adelaide

The Stuart Highway takes visitors on a massive journey from Darwin in the tropical north to the southern city of Adelaide. The highway passes through the Red Centre, and a few short detours leads to iconic sights like Uluru and Kings Canyon. You’ll also be able to visit plenty of interesting and remote towns as you make your way through the outback. Start your road trip in Darwin, and take your time as you traverse the country from north to south.


Hire a car in Darwin

Darwin to Adelaide Itinerary:

Travel time and distance: 45 hours / 3,950km

  • Day 1: Darwin
  • Day 2 & 3: Darwin to Kakadu National Park
  • Day 4: Kakadu National Park to Katherine Gorge
  • Day 5: Katherine Gorge to Elsey Homestead
  • Day 6: Elsey Homestead to Wycliffe Well
  • Day 7: Wycliffe Well to Macdonell Ranges
  • Day 8: Macdonell Ranges to Kings Canyon
  • Day 9 & 10: Kings Canyon to Uluru
  • Day 11: Uluru to Coober Pedy
  • Day 12: Coober Pedy to Port Augusta
  • Day 13: Port Augusta to Adelaide

Day 1: Watch amazing sunsets in Darwin, visit Bicentennial Park and see Crocosaurus Cove

Catamarans at anchor for sunset in Darwin.
Catamarans at anchor for sunset in Darwin.

Darwin highlights

  • Before you start your Stuart Highway road trip, take some time to explore the largest city in the Northern Territory. Darwin has a fascinating history, which you can discover on a walking tour.
  • Visit Bicentennial Park, the Darwin waterfront, and explore the streets of the city centre. You’ll learn about the 1942 bombing of Darwin, and the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
  • Introduce yourself to some of the Territory’s famous residents at Crocosaurus Cove, where visitors can even go cage swimming with the massive saltwater crocodiles. If you’re in town on a Thursday or Sunday, make sure you finish your day with a visit to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, where you’ll find art, craft, and delicious food.

Day 2 & 3: Learn about Aboriginal Culture at Kakadu National Park

The Nadab floodplains from Ubirr rock, Kakadu.
The Nadab floodplains from Ubirr rock, Kakadu.

Kakadu National Park highlights

  • With a rental car, you’ll have the freedom to take a day trip to the massive Kakadu National Park. There are far too many sights in the park to see them all in a day — but you can focus on some of the highlights.
  • If you want to see saltwater crocodiles in the wild, one of the best places in the country to spot them is the Mary River. There you can take a cruise and witness the huge creatures up close.
  • Continue through Kakadu, and stop at the Mamukala Wetlands to watch the hundreds of birds that inhabit the area. From Jabiru, head north toward the Ubirr rock art site. You’ll also be able to see the famous Cahills Crossing, which leads into Arnhem Land, and enjoy a fantastic view from the Nadab Lookout.

Day 4: Take a cruise along the picturesque Nitmiluk Gorge

A panoramic view over Nitmiluk Gorge.
A panoramic view over Nitmiluk Gorge.

Nitmiluk Gorge highlights

  • Head south toward another iconic sight of the Northern Territory. En route to Nitmiluk (previously Katherine) Gorge, make sure you stop at the photogenic Edith Falls. This is another popular swimming spot, and a short hike will take you to the Upper Pools and a great viewing area. From the falls, it’s just a short drive to Katherine and the nearby Nitmiluk National Park.
  • The best way to experience the gorge is by taking a scenic cruise. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way, and see if you can spot any Aboriginal rock art in the area.
  • If you’d prefer to explore the gorge on foot, you can follow a number of walking trails that lead up through the rocks to provide great views.

Day 5: Visit the famous blue waters of Elsey Homestead that are hidden in the tropical forest

The Bitter Springs near Mataranka.
The Bitter Springs near Mataranka.

Elsey Homestead highlights

  • Most Australians will be familiar with the Jeannie Gunn novel “We of the Never Never.” The stunning Elsey National Park was the inspiration for the book, and visitors can see a replica of the homestead, and follow walking trails within the inspiring park.
  • The springs and thermal pools are the highlight of the area — be sure to relax in the Mataranka Thermal Pool before visiting nearby Bitter Springs.
  • The springs are hidden away in the tropical forest, and visitors can float along and try and spot some of the native wildlife in the forest.

Day 6: Spot UFOs at Wycliffe Well, visit the Devils Marbles and see the famous Savannah Way

Indeed the Devils Marbles are quite marble-like.
Indeed the Devils Marbles are quite marble-like.

Wycliffe Well highlights

  • Experience the long, open roads of the Northern Territory as you make your way south toward the small community of Daly Waters. The town marks the intersection of the Stuart Highway with the famous Savannah Way. You can’t go past without enjoying a meal at the iconic Daly Waters pub.
  • Continue south toward Wycliffe Well. This small outback town has come to be known as one of the best places to see UFOs in Australia.
  • Even if you don’t see a UFO during your stay, the town is a great place to rest for the night, and visit the nearby Devils Marbles.

Day 7: Explore Alice Springs and stop over at Ti Tree and Macdonnell Range

Meet the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges.
Meet the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges.

Alice Springs highlights

  • It will take you just over four hours to reach Alice Springs and if you need a break along the way, stop in for a meal at the small town of Ti Tree before continuing south.
  • When you arrive at Alice Springs, admire the view of the magnificent Macdonnell Ranges, or even take a quick drive toward the mountains for a better view.
  • In Alice Springs itself, visit the numerous Aboriginal art galleries and learn more about the cultural history of the area. For the best view in town, head to the top of Anzac Hill, where you’ll be able to see Alice Springs and the Macdonnell Ranges in all their glory. This is also a great spot for sunset.

Day 8: Detour to Kings Canyon and see the best outback scenery

Kings Canyon will take your breath away.
Kings Canyon will take your breath away.

Kings Canyon highlights

  • Although you will have to detour from the Stuart Highway, you can’t pass this close to Kings Canyon without visiting.
  • Located in Watarrka National Park, you’ll discover some of the best outback scenery here. This is the Red Centre at its best — and there is also a resort conveniently located at the canyon.
  • Explore the canyon on foot along one of the popular hiking trails. While there are less-challenging options, a lot of visitors prefer the six kilometre Kings Canyon Rim Walk — where the views are unsurpassable.

Day 9 & 10: Watch a magical sunset over Uluru and see the Kata Tjuta rock formations

Uluru is too big to hop over.
Uluru is too big to hop over.

Uluru highlights

  • Drive from Kings Canyon to Australia’s best-known landmark— Uluru. The best way to see Uluru is on the base walk, and while the full loop is over ten kilometres long, you can park in a selection of car parks and explore separate sections of the base walk rather than completing the full circuit.
  • Before you watch the magical sunset over Uluru, take a drive to nearby Kata Tjuta. These giant rock formations are said to be 500 million years old.
  • Follow the hiking trails around Kata Tjuta, and learn more about the local Anangu people and their connection to the area.

Day 11: Stay underground and fossick in Australia’s opal mining town

The Breakaway can be visited from Coober Pedy.
The Breakaway can be visited from Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy highlights

  • Settle in for a long drive as the Northern Territory turns into South Australia. Your final destination for the day is Coober Pedy, a truly isolated and unique outback town. Many of the houses and cafes are built underground, in order to combat the powerful outback heat. The accommodation options here are definitely memorable.
  • Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the World, and you can choose to fossick for one of your own. Alternatively, you can purchase the stones in the numerous gift shops throughout town.
  • If you want to extend your stay in Coober Pedy, you can also take a scenic flight to Australia's largest lake — Lake Eyre.

Day 12: Break up your trip with a stay in Port Augusta and see the Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Outback ocean mangroves, Port Augusta.
Outback ocean mangroves, Port Augusta.

Port Augusta highlights

  • Follow the Stuart Highway through the endless plains of South Australia until you each Port Augusta. Located at the top of Spencer Gulf, you’ll only have a short journey from here to Adelaide.
  • Anyone interested in learning more about the vegetation of the outback should visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden.
  • You can also visit the Wadlata Outback Centre to find out more about the history of the region.

Day 13: Say goodbye to the outback and hello to Adelaide

Adelaide welcomes in the New Year.
Adelaide welcomes in the New Year.

Adelaide highlights

  • The outback will feel many miles away by the time you reach the big city of Adelaide. You’ll find plenty of exciting attractions here, including the Art Gallery of South Australia, which hosts an impressive collection. It’s also worth visiting the Adelaide Central Market near Victoria Square, where you will find a range of locally-sourced foods.
  • Having spent so much time travelling through the outback, it is worth a visit to the beautiful coastline of South Australia. Visit Glenelg, just a short distance from the city centre and enjoy a swim at one of Adelaide’s most popular beaches.
Hire a car in Darwin

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