Our 10 Day Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip Through the Outback
This is the ultimate outback road trip and one not many backpackers take on in their self converted campers. Something we heard a lot was ‘but there’s nothing to see between Darwin and Adelaide’, we’re here to tell you that’s absolutely wrong.
In this Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary we want to show you there’s still so much to be explored on this long (so very very long) straight road in the middle of nowhere. There’s history, wildlife, culture and some unbelievable scenery that when combined they make a truly unforgettable Darwin to Adelaide drive!
How long does it take to do a Darwin to Adelaide road trip?
The Darwin to Adelaide drive is not for the fainthearted. It’s an extremely long stretch of road where you might not see another person or car for hours.
The road from Darwin to Adelaide is called the Stewart Highway, it’s 3000km long and would take 30 hours to complete the Darwin to Adelaide drive without stopping.
Nobody in their right mind would do this Darwin to Adelaide road trip without at least one overnight stop. With this in mind, we recommend you take at least 7 days, but ideally, 10-14 days to really experience the vastness of this amazing stretch of Australia.
When is the best time to do a Darwin to Adelaide road trip?
This Darwin to Adelaide road trip will not only take you through varying landscapes as you drive through the Australian wilderness, but it will have you driving through different climates too.
The weather differs greatly between the North and South of Australia and as you travel through the outback you’ll be able to witness and experience the changes for yourself.
We, some would say stupidly, decided to do our Darwin to Adelaide road trip in December, which just so happens to be Summer. The weather we experienced during this time was borderline unbearable in a car that had no aircon – yep, we travelled the outback, in the summer, in a car without aircon.
The temperatures didn’t dip below high 30’s and mid 40’s, with it hitting 50’c in Coober Pedy. We relied heavily on each fuel station having ice so we could restock our esky every few hours to keep our drinks cold, but we’ll talk more about that later.
You have to remember that Darwin is a tropical city which only really experiences two seasons; wet and dry. So no matter what time of year you visit, it’s going to be warm. However, during the summer it sees a huge increase in rainfall and there’s a much greater risk of tropical cyclones. Winter is certainly a more comfortable time of year in the Far North
That’s why we ended up driving through the outback in the middle of summer – we didn’t want to hang around on the coast of the Northern Territory during cyclone season.
Due to its southern location, Adelaide has a very mild climate that experiences all four seasons, similar to Melbourne. It’s warm in the summer and wet/cold in the winter. Every time we’ve visited Adelaide it’s rained, but summer is definitely a nicer time of year down there.
To get the best from both ends of the country, we recommend doing this Darwin to Adelaide road trip slightly earlier than we did.
The end of spring/beginning of summer would be a nice time because it means the heat in the Northern Territory would be bearable still and not too wet, while you’ll be arriving in Adelaide just as summer is starting to heat up.
If you’re doing this trip in reverse, driving from Adelaide to Darwin, you’ll want to be leaving Adelaide at the end of summer/beginning of winter, to ensure you’re arriving in Darwin at the right time. You’ll, of course, be leaving Adelaide just as the weather is starting to turn cold, and arriving in Darwin when things are starting to dry in the North.
Summer: December to February.
Autumn: March to May.
Winter: June to August.
Spring: September to November.
*Remember the colder seasons are the busiest time to be travelling the outback due to how comfortable the weather is. If you want to experience places like Uluru and the Devils Marbles without the crowds – going in December like we did seemed to be perfect, just very very warm.
Important things to know before driving from Darwin to Adelaide
This is a road trip that isn’t to be underestimated. You definitely shouldn’t drive it with a ‘wing it and see’ mentality.
If you aren’t fully prepared for this Darwin to Adelaide road trip, be prepared to find yourself in some not-so-pleasant situations.
We, of course, want to avoid any messy situations so here are some of our best tips for driving through the outback, taken from our own experiences!
Take Plenty of rests
Even in the winter when the Stewart Highway is at its busiest, there will be hours where you won’t see another soul on the road. Literally no one. Not even a (living) cow or a camel.
In between the iconic locations, the scenery will seem like it stays unchanged for hours at a time and you’ll probably begin to wonder why on earth you started this Darwin to Adelaide road trip in the first place.
When you start to feel like this, stop.
There is plenty of rest stops along this road, all of which double up as free campsites. So when you start to feel your mind wander, take a rest and appreciate the vast emptiness around you.
It’s like nothing else you’ll experience in Australia and you really should stop and appreciate it as often as you can.
You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel after a quick half-hour rest. We always kept stocked with snacks and ice-cold drinks so every stop we made, we had a quick bite to eat too to top up the sugar levels and cool down.
Cross the old bridge at Elliot during the Darwin to Adelaide drive
‘But Stewart Highway is just one long road’ I hear you say.
Well yes, but do you know where the fuel stations are? Do you know where you’ll camp on night 1,2,3 etc? Do you know where you can refill your water or buy food?
These are all questions you need to have answers to before you leave the city and begin your Darwin to Adelaide road trip. You won’t have a phone signal for a huge portion of this trip, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to have everything planned before you start.
We used apps like Fuel App and Wiki Camps to cross-reference where the camps are in relation to the locations we’ll talk about in a minute. We were able to see exactly where the fuel stations were and map out where we would need to refuel.
We carried 20ltr of water inside our van plus an additional 15ltr on the roof. For fuel we carried our extra inside a 20ltr metal jerry can, strapped to the roof.
These extras are ‘just in case’ but as we found out, you might need them for the most random reasons – like when a fuel station doesn’t have any fuel left and it’s 3 hours until the next one.
Having extra onboard means you’re covered if anything bizarre happens.
I’ll add on to this to also learn a bit of basic car maintenance if you don’t know any already. How to fix a flat/swap a tire etc. Again, all ‘just in case’.
Northern Territory Sign spotted before doing the Darwin to Adelaide drive
Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary
Now you’re fully prepared for your Darwin to Adelaide road trip, I guess it’s time to find out about everything you can see between these two amazing cities. Travelling from Adelaide by road is a trip of a lifetime and this itinerary will help to make this trip even more special.
If you’ve already travelled from Cairns to Darwin, there’s a good chance you might have already seen the first few of these stops. If you have, you can skip past those. Be prepared for a lot of driving in one day on your Darwin to Adelaide road trip, or allow time for a lot more overnight stops.
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Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary Day 1
Litchfield National Park
1 hour 45 minutes from Darwin – 30 hours from Adelaide
Your first stop on this Darwin to Adelaide road trip is Litchfield National Park. This is a little slice of paradise just as the landscape starts to dry out. Here you’ll find lush green rainforests, history, waterfalls and some pretty amazing wildlife.
The main attraction of Litchfield National Park is their amazing magnetic termite mounds. These can only be seen in Australia and are worth visiting. They can be found on the Northern Side of Litchfield and are signposted.
During the dryer months, Litchfield National Park can be done with any vehicle, although the roads are corrugated in sections so if you’re precious about your car you might want to avoid it. During the rainy season, some of these roads flood and become only accessible with a 4×4.
If you’ve already visited Litchfield NP on your way toDarwin from Cairns, you could do an alternative route to Kakadu National Park. It will take longer but it’s somewhere we regret not visiting!
Desert waterfalls on this Darwin to Adelaide road trip
Adelaide River Hotel
1 hour from Darwin – 29 hours to Adelaide
If you’ve spent a whole day at Litchfield National Park and have time to hang around, here would be a good place to camp – either pay to stay at the hotel/campsite or stop at the free camp just up the road.
Either way, make sure you go inside the hotel and say hello to its resident film star.
Have you seen Crocodile Dundee? Of course, you have. Well, resting in peace at the Adelaide River is Charlie the water buffalo, made famous by his starring role in one of Australia’s most famous films.
Meet an Icon on the Darwin to Adelaide drive
Mataranka Thermal Pools
4 hours from Darwin – 26 hours from Adelaide
Next up is the Mataranka Thermal Pools, this is a great safe place to stop off for a swim – something that’s hard to come by in the Northern Territory!!
The thermal pools are located behind the holiday park but they are free to visit, simply park up outside the campsite and follow the signs. Take notice of any and all signs around the area as they advise you where it is safe to swim and where it isn’t!
From the thermal pools, you can take a 30-minute walk to the river – this isn’t safe to swim in and I’d probably say don’t go near the water edge either as crocs are often seen here. However, the walk through the bush is really pretty and you might get to see kangaroos/wallabies.
The perfect place to relax on your Darwin to Adelaide road trip
Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary Day 2
5 hours from Darwin – 24 hours from Adelaide
Something you’ll find to be prominent along this Darwin to Adelaide road trip is the amount of history on this road.
Daly Waters will be your example of this.
It’s well known for having one of Australia’s great outback pubs that has a unique collection of decorations that have been left behind by travellers, but it’s also home to Australia’s first international airport, some of which lies untouched and acts as a museum for the history that started here.
Pin this post for later;
7 hours 30 minutes from Darwin – 23 hours from Adelaide
This very small stop on your Darwin to Adelaide road trip is one that you might otherwise have skipped, but we think it makes a great place to stretch your legs and pay your respects to the soldiers who are remembered here.
Elliot was used as a staging camp for soldiers during world war II, parts of which can still be seen near the memorial statue.
Unless you have an interest in history and the world wars, It’s an unremarkable town otherwise, with no strong ‘tourist’ attractions but there are a small store and fuel station here that is a great place to stock up on snacks!
This is a great place to grab a shower, stretch your legs, refuel and see the resident donkey.
Grab a selfie with the huge wall art too and know that you’re now ¼ of your way down Stuart Highway.
11 hours from Darwin – 19 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide
Bet you weren’t expecting it to take almost 12 hours into your Darwin to Adelaide road trip before you see your first iconic piece of the Australian outback, eh?
The Devils Marbles in an absolute must when you’re travelling between Adelaide to Darwin by road. There’s even a cheap campsite, right below the boulders, that makes it the perfect place to stop for the night.
There are no official walks here but there are plenty of well-worn tracks that you can explore. Just remember not to climb on the boulders (as requested by the Aboriginal landowners) and take all your rubbish with you.
11 hours 20 minutes from Darwin – 19 hours from Adelaide
This will be the craziest, most random, stop on this entire Darwin to Adelaide road trip. It’s another one that we didn’t expect – at all.
In fact, it wasn’t until we were driving past the shop that Dec slammed on the brakes and decided we were stopping here. Why?
We’re big lovers of the supernatural and anything extraterrestrial so this place was fascinating to us! Wycliffe Well, like many of the stops along Steward Highway, started off as a simple place for the pioneers and telegraph line workers to stop for the night.
It’s since become the UFO sighting capital of Australia. Some even argue UFO capital of the world!
Have you ever seen the film, Paul? The Wycliffe Well Road House will remind you of the American souvenirs shops seen in the film. It has every alien-themed item you could imagine plus newspaper clippings covering all four walls. Don’t forget to take your photos with the resident aliens too!
It’s whacky and amazing. If you’re feeling brave, spend the night camping here. It’s said if you stay up all night you’re unlucky if you don’t see something unusual, rather than lucky if you do!
Ready to meet Aliens on this Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
13 hours 40 minutes from Darwin – 17 hours from Adelaide
When you see the giant man on the hill, that’s when you know you’ve arrived at Aileron.
You’ve probably guessed by now that the Australian Outback is scattered with quirky towns, Aileron is no different.
Here you will find a 17meter tall metal sculpture standing proud on the Aileron Hills. This sculpture is called the Anmatjere Man and he watches over the area. Him and his wife and child, who stand watch from the car park, were build to bring in tourists off the highway. I think it worked!
I believe there is a walk up to the Hollywood style sign and the Anmatjere Man, but it was closed when we visited.
You won’t see others like it on your Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary Day 3-4
15 hours from Darwin – 15 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide
Ahh now it’s starting to sound like a true outback road trip, isn’t it!
Alice Springs deserves at least a couple of days out of your time for this Darwin to Adelaide road trip as there’s a lot to see her that relates to its history and culture.
Anzac Hill should be the first place you hit up when you arrive at Alice Springs. Navigate your way through town and drive to the top of Anzac Hill, then appreciate the views while once again thanking the soldiers who are remembered from here.
Other things to do here include walking the botanical gardens, checking out the aboriginal cultural arts centre, visiting the Kangaroo sanctuary that was once home to the infamous Roger and star gazing – being out in the middle of the outback means there’s almost 0 light pollution, making the stargazing here pretty epic!
West Macdonnell Ranges
15 hours from Darwin – 15 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide (to the start of the ranges)
This can be done as a day trip from Alice Springs, or as an additional stop to your Darwin to Adelaide road trip. Either way, don’t continue driving down the Stewart Highway without detouring here!
We did this as a quick trip from Alice Springs, going in and out the same way. However, you can do a big loop of the Macdonnell Ranges if you have time to spare and a sturdy vehicle to do it in – after a certain point, the road becomes unsealed. This meant we missed off Kings Canyon, which is said to be the best bit!
Some of the highlights from the West Macdonnell Ranges include Serpentine Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole (awesome swimming spot!) and Simpsons Gap.
West Macdonell Ranges are an epic detour for this Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
19 hours from Darwin – 15 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide
Chances are you’ve never heard of Mount Conner but every-single-person who drives to Uluru from Alice Springs will have seen it, and I’ll put money on those people almost believing it to be Uluru at first!
‘It can’t be’ ‘it’s too small’ ‘it’s too flat’ ‘It’s closer than I expected’ are all things that most travellers say when they first see Mount Conner, mistaking it for Uluru.
It’s hard to believe there’s something so similar to Uluru along the same road, yet it’s hardly ever spoken about!
Mount Conner is shorter than Uluru but wider and can be seen from a roadside stop that’s well sign posted. You cannot drive close to Mount Conner due to it being on private land, but you can get a 4×4 tour to it which I imagine would be one of those hidden gem activities that not many tourists realise they can do.
Spend your first day at Uluru. Do the Uluru base walk (do not climb it) and spend some time in the Aboriginal Art Shop where all the money goes back into the community. Have a walk around the museum than at sunset, head to one of the many lookouts to sit and watch the sun go down over Uluru – top tip, get there early to get a good spot, especially during winter
The entrance fee into Uluru National Park is $25. This covers you for 3 consecutive days so make the most of them! Check the prices and opening times here, you can camp at the resort but there are no overnight options within the park.
Get your feet dirty on this Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
Kata Tjuta / The Olgas
20 hours from Darwin – 16 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide
Can you believe we had never seen/heard of these before? Maybe you haven’t either?
Kata Tjuta is a huge cluster of rock formations not too far further inland from Uluru that actually holds a bigger sacred meaning to the local aboriginals than Uluru. The stories that surround Kata Tjuta are only to be told within the Aboriginal Tribes, so there’s very little in the way of stories and information boards around here.
The Valley of the Winds Walk is a good way to see the whole of the area. It’s a nice walk that’s manageable for anyone with an average level of fitness. We walked both this and the Uluru base walk barefoot, to give you an idea of how challenging it is.
If you’re visiting during summer and want to do the Valley of the Winds Walk, make sure you check the weather as it closes at 11 am if the weather is forecast to hit 30’c. As there’s very little shade or water available on the track.
A Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip isn’t complete without seeing Kata Tjuta
18 hours from Darwin – 12 hours 20 minutes from Adelaide
Who doesn’t love a good border sign photo?
This is where your road trip through the Northern Territory comes to an end and you cross into the Southern Territory.
Every Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip needs to include a sign photo opportunity
22 hours from Darwin – 8 hours 30 minutes from Adelaide
As this Darwin to Adelaide road trip draws to an end, Coober Pedy is the first of the South Australia iconic locations.
This underground town is bizarre and came about during the opal rush. The extreme temperatures here drove the residents to build their houses underground in order to keep cool.
These days you can stay in an underground hotel, camp underground and visit an underground church.
Not everything inside Coober Pedy is underground but many of their tourist attractions are. If your visit is around the same time as ours, in summer, except for a lot of these things to be closed or have restricted opening times because of the summer heat.
Coober Pedy is the perfect addition to any Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
24 hours from Darwin – 6 hours from Adelaide
Another photo opportunity on this Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary.
Glendambo isn’t very well known but many have seen the sign. Pull in, take your photo and maybe pop into the local store for your final load of outback snacks.
Snap your Glendambo Pic on your Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
25 hours from Darwin – 5 hours from Adelaide
South Australia and South Eastern Victoria are well known for their salt lakes and salt flats. If you want to see some bizarre alien landscape, Lake Hart is a must.
The lake bed of Lake Hart is mostly made up of salt which gives it an odd colour during the summer. Some even look more like pink lakes than the grey-white often affiliated with salt lakes and salt flats.
Keep your eyes peeled on this stretch of road as one of the salt lakes has had a loch-ness monster placed on it that makes another great photo opportunity.
Nessy the monster can be seen towards the end of the Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip
27 hours from Darwin – 3 hours 15 minutes from Adelaide
You’ve finally made it to civilization after 10 days of travelling from Darwin to Adelaide by road!
Port Augusta is considered to be the gateway to the outback and it’s close enough to Adelaide to be considered worthy of a day trip from the Southern City.
Once you get to Port Augusta, make sure you have a walk through their Aird Botanical Gardens, visit the Outback Centre and walk to the top of the water tower lookout for some epic views.
Outback driving safety;
The most important thing to know about doing this Darwin to Adelaide road trip is how to be safe. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been driving, these roads are different to normal roads, they come with different hazards deserve extra attention. Here are a few things you need to be cautious off when driving from Darwin to Adelaide;
Cows, Camels and Kangaroos
All of these, believe it or not, can come out of nowhere. The wild camels and outback cows might be hefty animals but they’ll still pop up when you least expect it. So remember this when you’re on those straight roads and tempted to go a little faster.
We saw a big motorhome messed up on the side of the road that appeared as though it had hit a cow head on. From the look of the car I would be surprised if anyone came out ok.
Don’t drive at night
Mostly for all the reasons above, but also because you’re more likely to feel tired and fed up on these monotonous roads.
Find a good camp before it gets dark, build a safe campfire and enjoy the silence of the outback at night. Don’t forget to look up,
Be careful who/what you pull over for
Maybe I spent too long listening to true crime podcasts, but we were really cautious about who we pulled over for in the middle of the outback, but this also came from the advice of locals in Cairns.
We were told stories of backpackers pulling over to help people who had seemingly broken down or had an accident on these outback roads, only to end up being mugged and having their car stolen.
The advice we were given was to carry on driving, make note of where you are and call for help for them as soon as you either have a signal or come to a town/fuel station. It seemed harsh, but when you see the vastness of the outback it actually made sense.
Important things to know about travelling between Adelaide and Darwin by road;
Take your time. Stop and rest whenever you feel you have to
Pullover for road trains
Watch out for the cows! Cows and camels can, and will, pop out of nowhere!
Don’t drive at night – far too many kangaroos hang out on these roads at night.
Pack extra fuel and water
So there you go. Your complete 10 days Darwin to Adelaide road trip itinerary. Did we show you anything new? I hope so! We loved our time in the outback a
nd hope to one day make it back to drive West from Uluru, how amazing would that be! If you want to read more about the places we’ve been during this road trip, just click the links in the post. Don’t forget to let us know about your experience in the outback! We love hearing your stories.
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