Your Ultimate Guide To Driving The Stuart Highway from Darwin To Adelaide

by Meri Gasem

Many times referred to as The Track, Stuart Highway connects the north to the south and vice versa. It got the name after John McDouall Stuart, the first European who crossed the centre of Australia south to north and back. Today Stuart Highway takes you through some marvellous sights, like Alice Springs, the Red Centre, while a slight detour will leave you at the base of Uluru. Although the unchanging landscape might seem endless, it takes you to some of the best sites in the Outback.

The Darwin to Adelaide road trip is a genuine Australian Outback experience filled with hidden gems, oasis and wildlife. And what better time to do it than on your Big Lap!

Important Travel Tips

  • Basic Road Info: This stretch of the Stuart Highway is over 3,030km long and sealed since 1987. It served as an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service for a long time, and there are still some signs left. Many kangaroos go out at dusk and dawn, so avoid driving during the night, get a kangaroo bumper and a whistle. Be careful when camping near rivers, the Northern Territory is crocodile galore!
  • Best Travel Time: The Top End has a tropical climate, resulting in cyclones, heavy rainfall and floodings from November to April. It’s best to avoid this time since it can be dangerous. The winter season, May to October, is the best time, it’s not cold, and you’ll experience dry, pleasant weather.
  • Estimated Travel Time: If you were about to drive the route non-stop, it would take you approximately 40 hours. However, why would anyone do that? Take at least 10 days to explore everything the road has to offer. There are remarkable detours that are worth the extra effort.
  • What To Bring: In spite of the highway being sealed, you’ll need a 4WD for most detours. There are long distances between service stations, and they’re more expensive in the Outback, so bring extra fuel, oil and coolant. Carry excess water – dehydration and heat exhaustion is very common in the desert. Good walking shoes, bug repellent, spare tyres and sunscreen are a must. Entertainment for the kids is essential since they can find the ride boresome.





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Darwin To Katherine

Taking off from Darwin, you’ll reach Katherine in 317km. A detour to the Kakadu National Park for a day can be the highlight of your road trip. You can walk to Ubirr and climb the top of the rock to see some ancient artwork as well as the stunning horizon. Gunlom Waterfall Creek is the perfect picnic spot, and Maguk Gorge is a fabulous swimming spot. If you’re willing to chase waterfalls visit Jim Jim Falls too.

Continue to Katherine, stop for a swim at the Katherine or Mataranka Hot Springs, Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls. If you’re feeling more adventurous, skip the swim and explore Nitmiluk National Park and Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park.

Places To Stay

Paid: Shady Lane Tourist Park or Cooinda Lodge Kakadu

Free: Two Mile Hole Campsite or Edith Bush Camp





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Katherine To Daly Waters

The small, sleepy town of Daly Waters is 276km from Katherine and offers you insight into the region’s aviation history. The Daly Waters WWII Historic Airstrip served as a resting point for planes in World War II. Many USAAF and RAAF planes even crashed nearby during training. It was an important stop in the air race from London to Sydney and a refuel station for Qantas planes to Singapore up until 1965. The Daly Waters Pub is the place to chill out in the evening; you can examine the number of memorabilia left by travellers!

Places To Stay

Paid: Daly Waters Hi-Way Inn Caravan Park or Larrimah Pink Panther Hotel Caravan Park

Free: Alexander Forrest Rest Area or WWII Gorrie Airstrip

Read Next: Every Free Camp You Need To Know About In Northern Territory





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Daly Waters To Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek is 400km down south and the former centre of the gold rush age. Battery Hill Mining Centre tells a wonderful story of this exceptional part of the past. An unmissable stop is the Devils Marbles, the perfect spheric stones, a sacred Aboriginal place. You can learn more about the name and the legend behind them at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre.

For a good walk and lunch in nature, visit lake Mary Ann. It’s a great spot for kids to meet local birds and equally pleasant for adults. Enjoy some of the best sunsets on your road trip and stay an extra day. The following day visit the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station. There are several telegraph stations along your route; tour this one so you can compare them!

Places To Stay

Paid: Tennant Creek Caravan Park or Spinifex Ridge Farm Stay

Free: Warrego Gold Fossicking or Churchill Head





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Tennant Creek To Barrow Creek

Barrow Creek is a small town located 200km north with a population of only 11 people. Visit the pub and find out about the mysterious crime that happened 20 years ago. The local practice is that you leave something behind at the pub, a card, drawing, banknote, whatever! It’s what makes this pub unique and full of stories.

Another strange stop in the area is the UFO capital of Australia, Wycliffe Well Roadhouse. This roadhouse is packed with articles about UFO spotting in the area, pictures, and you can get some weird souvenirs!

Places To Stay

Paid: Barrow Creek Hotel or Ti Tree Roadhouse

Free: Matt’s Quarry or Barrow Creek WW2 Site





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Barrow Creek To Alice Springs

In 300km, you’ll arrive at Alice Springs. One of the most popular stops on the Stuart Highway is full of attractions and activities. Visit Alice Springs Desert Park to find out the area’s secrets, climb Anzac Hill or Mount Gillen. Learn more about the road’s former purpose at the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum. For animal lovers, there is the Kangaroo Sanctuary where you can hold a baby kangaroo and Reptile Centre, where you can hold a 10kg Python!

Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is well-preserved and offers excellent insights into communication in the past. Just 130km from Alice Springs, you’ll find Finke Gorge National Park. It’s best known for the Red Cabbage palms which grom in the Palm Valley. You can put your 4WD to the test at the nearby tracks or have a relaxed picnic at the end of the day.

Places To Stay

Paid: Alice Springs Tourist Park (Stuart Caravan Park) or G’Day Mate Tourist Park

Free: Tropic of Capricorn Rest Area or Hemmi’s Camp





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Alice Springs To Kulgera

There’s one special detour on your way from Alice Springs to Kulgera, and that’s Uluru at Kata Tjuta National Park. This is your best chance to visit Uluru – driving or flying in, especially for this attraction, is expensive and time-consuming! Even though climbing is banned, seeing the 550 million-year-old rock is still a one-of-a-kind experience. You can feel the deep cultural and spiritual history and get to stay at free camps near the rock. There’s so much to explore that you’ll need to stay here for about three days.

Continuing down the road, you’ll see the longest fence in the world, the Dingo Fence. It was essentially constructed to keep Dingos at bay but now represents a border between the Northern Territory and South Australia. Have a drink at Kulgera Roadhouse and relax before the next stretch.

Places To Stay

Paid: Ayers Rock Campground or Kulgera Roadhouse & Caravan Park

Free: Uluru Roadside Rest Area or NT-SA Border Rest Area





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Kulgera To Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is 430km down north and known as the “opal capital of the world”. This small town is home to the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum, as well as Old Timers Mine and Tom’s Working Mine. In order to avoid the harsh weather conditions outside, including extreme heat, the locals built everything you can imagine underground. Museums, churches and even accommodation! At the end of the day, drive to Breakaways to catch a glimpse of the magnificent sunset. At Coober Pedy, you can visit the Moon Plain, the shooting location for Star Wars and Mad Max!

Places To Stay

Paid: Coober Pedy Views Outback Camping or Oasis Tourist Park

Free: Old Timers Mine or The Commons Cobber Pedy





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Coober Pedy To Port Augusta

In the middle of your drive from Coober Pedy to Port Augusta, stop to visit Lake Hart, a large, dried salty lake.

Port Augusta brings you back to civilization as being the first big town out of the outback. It’s not beaming with popular tourist attractions, but it’s an excellent base for visiting Flinders Ranges. You also shouldn’t miss the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens and Wadlata Outback Centre. The Port Augusta Train Park is a fun activity for the young ones, and for some superb panoramic views, climb the Water Tower Lookout.

Places To Stay

Paid: Discovery Parks Port Augusta or Port Augusta Sports Club Motorhome Park

Free: Chinaman Creek (Winninowie Conservation Park) or Hancocks Lookout

Read Next: Every Free Camp You Need To Know About in South Australia





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Port Augusta To Adelaide

Technically the Stuart Highway ends at Port Augusta, but if you decide to finish the top to bottom road trip, continue 300km to Adelaide.

You’re officially back into civilization, so make use of it! Hit the Adelaide Central Market for some tasty fruits and veggies, take the Glenelg Tram and stroll around the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Visit the zoo, Himeji Garden or the Gully waterfall. There are so many things you can do, so don’t hesitate to linger a while longer.

The best ending of your road trip? A tour of the Barossa Valley wineries, of course!

Places To Stay

Paid: Brighton Caravan Park or Wndsor Gardens Caravan Park.

Free: Parham Campground or Lower Light Hotel.

Read Next: Top 16 Cultural Experiences To Have In South Australia





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