Adelaide – Darwin
11 days drive
Trace the trail of pioneer John McDouall Stuart as you travel from Adelaide to Darwin on the Explorers Highway. Explore the cellar doors and vine-lined chateaus of the Barossa Valley and rugged Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound. Stay underground in the opal capital of Cooper Pedy and the outback town of Alice Springs. Walk around Uluṟu with an Aboriginal guide and to the rim of Kings Canyon. See ancient Aboriginal rock art in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and swim in the crystal-clear pools of Litchfield National Park. Your adventure continues in the parklands, outdoor markets and festivals and historical attractions of tropical Darwin.
You only have to drive an hour from Adelaide to reach the Barossa Valley, famous for its premium wines and fine local cuisine. Experience a few of the 60 cellar doors on a food and wine trail and visit historic, vine-lined chateaus. Buy local art and handicrafts from the many galleries or learn cellar secrets in a wine masterclass. Taste a Barossa Shiraz or Eden Valley Riesling before heading to Port Augusta, the gateway to the rugged Flinders Ranges and South Australian outback. Stay overnight and watch the sun sink behind the hills that once marked the territory of the Nakuma Aboriginal tribe.
Flinders Ranges National Park, SA
Take a detour to Flinders Ranges National Park, where you’ll find mountain ranges, gorges, gum-lined creeks, abundant wildlife and spectacular Wilpena Pound. Walk to its rim or soar over it on a scenic flight. See Aboriginal rock art sites and old copper mine. Marvel at ancient fossils and spot a rare yellow-footed rock wallaby. Continue on to the quirky opal mining town of Coober Pedy, where locals from across the world live and play underground to escape the searing heat. Visit the underground homes, churches, shops and hotels. Above ground, you can see a grassless golf course, an opal mine, opal fields and an opal cutting demonstration. Don’t miss the moonscape landscapes of Moon Plain, Dog Fence and the Breakaways where Mad Max III was filmed.
Take a detour to the Painted Desert, an area of spectacular colourful hills formed through 80 million years of erosion. You’ll be spellbound by the colours - ochre yellow, oxide red, and deep, rich brown – which are particularly vivid in bright sunlight. From here, the journey continues north through grasslands, granite country and over the Finke River to the famed outback town of Alice Springs.
Watch the rising sun light Uluṟu on a dawn camel trek, then contemplate its majesty over a breakfast of billy tea and freshly baked beer bread. Walk around Uluṟu with an Aboriginal guide and learn how Dreamtime ancestors forged this huge sandstone icon. Afterwards take in the steep, rounded, russet domes of nearby Kata Tjuṯa with a sunset barbecue. In the evening, feast on bush tucker under a desert sky filled with stars. You can stay overnight in accommodation ranging from campsites to luxury resorts.
Travel on to Kings Canyon, the crowning feature of rugged Watarrka National Park. Climb to the canyon’s rim for sweeping views of the sheer sandstone cliffs, palm-filled crevices, valley floor and desert. Swim in the tropical pools of the Garden of Eden and explore the weathered rock domes of the Lost City. Decide for yourself whether they look more like the surface of the moon or the ruins of an ancient civilisation. See sunset at Carmichael Crag, take the Kathleen Springs Walk to a pretty waterhole or do a 22 kilometre overnight trek on the Giles Track. If camping doesn’t appeal, spend the night in a resort or wilderness lodge. You can also soar over this natural masterpiece on a scenic flight.
Back in Alice Springs, check out the world's largest open air classroom and the outback medical service of flying doctors. Climb to the top of Anzac Hill for expansive views over the town. Then explore the plants, animals and habitats of the Central Australian Desert in the Alice Springs Desert Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, race through red dunes on a quad bike or on the back of a Harley. Learn about Aboriginal art in one of the many galleries and art centres. Relax with a round of golf or take a punt at the casino or racetrack. A great way to end the day in Alice is with an Aussie bush feast, where the menu includes emu, crocodile, camel, barramundi, beef and kangaroo.
Heading north from Alice Springs, stop off at Ti Tree and sample the fine table grapes and sparkling mango wine produced by visionary outback farmers. Soak up the rich desert colours travelling into Wycliffe, a town famous for its documented UFO sightings. The road to Tennant Creek takes you past the Devils Marbles. According to Aboriginal mythology, these huge, finely balanced boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Hear the story in more detail at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre in Tenant Creek. Then explore the town’s gold rush history at heritage sites and fossicking and panning for gold.
North of Tennant Creek you’ll find the Elliott and Newcastle Waters Discovery Trail. This scenic network of roads - some four-wheel-drive only - branch off the main highway to huge cattle stations, outback pubs filled with characters and World War II landmarks. Spend the night at a wayside inn at the junction of the Stuart and Carpentaria highways or continue on to Daly Waters, a tiny hamlet built around the Territory's oldest pub.
Stop at Mataranka for a dip in the warm thermal springs of Daly River before arriving in the historic pioneering township Katherine. Visit Nitmiluk National Park, home to the spectacular Katherine Gorge and other dramatic escarpment and waterfall landscapes. You can explore the gorge walls and white sandy beaches by foot, canoe, boat cruise or on a scenic helicopter flight. For insights into Katherine’s pastoral history, stop at Springvale Homestead, built from sandstone by explorer Alfred Giles in 1878 for a Devonshire tea.
You can detour to the vast World Heritage-listed wilderness of Kakadu National Park, which branches off the Stuart Highway at Pine Creek. Go bushwalking, barramundi fishing or spot salt water crocodiles on a cruise through the wetlands. See the crevices Dreamtime ancestors cut into Nourlangie Rock and some of the world’s finest examples of X-ray art at Ubirr Rock in Kakadu’s north-east. Camp at Koolpin Gorge or at the base of Arnhem Land escarpment. Or continue on to the World War II township of Adelaide River and stay in a wayside inn. The nearby war cemetery holds the graves of service people who died in the 1942 - 43 air raids.
Stop off at nearby Litchfield National Park, a tarzan landscape where you can swim safely in crystal-clear swimming holes, see stunning waterfalls and get up close to thousands of tall termite mounds. Walk through monsoonal forest to the deep pool beneath Florence Falls, picnic next to roosting fruit bats at Wangi Falls and see sweeping valley views at Tolmer Falls. Enjoy your first glimpse of the Timor Sea as you follow the Stuart Highway into the heart of Darwin. Soak up the balmy weather and melting pot of food and cultures in the city’s many outdoor festivals and markets. Then explore the region’s dramatic history – from World Way II air raids to Cyclone Tracey – in the museums and galleries.