Destinations Rest Of The World

Driving ‘The Track’ From Alice Springs To Darwin, Australia

An Australian Road Trip

Slap bang in the red heart of Australia is the town of Alice Springs, our starting point. This road trip takes us through the Northern Territory, straight up the Stuart Highway on the section of the road known as ‘The Track’. The drive takes us from the dry desert plains of the red centre to the tropical north of Darwin.

Australian Road Trip Route

The route, driving “The Track’

At a distance of just over 1,000 miles, it’s not a trip you do in a rush unless you’re an outback trucker driving your 200-tonne road train.

An Australian Road Train

Watch out for the Australian road trains

I (Mr W) first did this trip by coach back in the early 1990’s. I actually did the whole length of the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Adelaide with a short stop in Alice Springs. I still remember how uncomfortable the trip was, cramped on a sweaty bus and not being able to stop when you wanted to, but I was young and uncomfortable travelling was just part of growing up.

As we both get older we’re far less tolerant of uncomfortable travel. Adventure travel and exploring ‘yes’, having to do it with a bunch of backpackers with very questionable hygiene, ‘no’. We need our own space and this trip is perfect to do in a campervan or if going off-road, with a camper trailer, read more. Hotels are very limited en route and a camper gives you the opportunity to explore at your own speed and stop exactly when and where you like.

The road itself used to be a dirt track but it’s now a flat sealed road with a speed limit of 80 mph. It’s suitable for all vehicles although you still need to a 4WD if you want to venture off the main road.

Outback Roads

Be careful about going off the sealed roads

The Start – Alice Springs
Alice Springs Australia

Alice Springs, halfway between Darwin and Adelaide

If you want to be adventurous and you have the time you could drive the 950 miles from Adelaide to Alice Springs (just like popping down to the shops!). However, it may be easier to fly to Alice Springs, there are flights from most major Australian cities.

While in Alice Springs take time to discover the Aboriginal art and find out more about the culture. Learn about the wildlife in the desert at the Desert Park or even take a ride on a camel. Read more about things to see and do in Alice Springs.

When I was there in the 90’s Alice Springs used to sell itself as a destination from where you can take a day trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock). In reality, it is nearly 300 miles away, to put that into perspective, it is a bit like staying in Newcastle upon Tyne in order to visit the Tower of London. So if you are driving, allow at least a couple of days or you could fly there and get some great views as you come into land.

Uluru - Ayers Rock

The spectacular Uluru

Alice Springs To Tennant Creek – 315 Miles

If you want to try something a bit bizarre then stop at Wycliffe Well “The UFO Capital of Australia” with its alien-themed holiday park. We’re not sure why aliens like to hang around in the desert and we still don’t know why their spaceships need so many lights but we think the aliens could be an offshoot of Wycliffe Well tourism.

Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles

Karlu Karlu – The Devils Marbles

Just south of Tennant Creek are the spectacular geological wonders of the Devils Marbles ‘Karlu Karlu’, it is a sacred site for Aboriginal people. Huge granite boulders, some as wide as 6m are scattered across the desert valley.

From the Devils Marbles, it is about a 60-mile drive to get to Tennant Creek, a green oasis in the desert.

Tennant Creek To Katherine – 420 Miles

Just north of Tennant Creek is the imaginatively named Threeways Roadhouse, this is the junction between the Barkly & Stuart Highways. If you turn right here, you’ll be heading towards the tropical Queensland coast and the Great Barrier Reef. It is a 1000-mile drive so we’d better leave that for another trip.

On this part of the highway just take your time and enjoy the expansive Australian desert vistas, especially at sunrise and sunset. You may want to stop at the Daly Waters pub, a historic outback pub first licenced in 1938. It is crammed full of memorabilia left by travellers over the years.

Further up the road are Mataranka hot springs where you can bathe in the crystal clear warm water. Nearby are Bitter Springs, a more natural less landscaped area where you can relax and drift downstream.

Just over 20 miles from Katherine is Cutta Cutta Caves, Nature Park. See the incredible limestone rock formations and the various species of bats and the odd snake or two (brown tree snakes which luckily, are harmless to humans). You can only enter the caves on one of the guided tours which run daily.

Nitmiluk National Park Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge – Nitmiluk National Park

Finally, we reach Katherine and you can now really tell you are in the tropics. There are some great trails of various difficulties and length in the area and of course, the beautiful Katherine Gorge. You can rent a canoe and paddle the gorge but if you have the chance take a helicopter ride. You’ll get to see the area and its natural beauty from a unique perspective.

Read more about things to see and do in Katherine.

Katherine To Kakadu – 190 Miles
Northern Territory Saltwater Crocodile

A saltwater crocodile, better look for somewhere else to swim!

It’s time to take a diversion off the Stuart Highway onto State Route 21 to Jabiru in the Kakadu National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, over 7,500 square miles of rugged landscapes, billabongs, waterfalls, tropical wetlands and lots of crocs.

It is definitely worth spending at least 3 to 4 full days in the Kakadu National Park before heading to Darwin. Just watch out for those saltwater crocodiles, they inhabit most areas of water and they are always on the looks out for a tasty little snack especially a fresh pom or two!

Yellow Water - Kakadu National Park

Yellow Water, Kakadu National Park

Kakadu To Darwin – 160 Miles

Finally, after a 1,000 miles, we reach Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory. Sitting on the Timor Sea it is actually closer to Bali than it is to Sydney. This location may be one of the reasons why Darwin is so cosmopolitan with many Asian influences.

Nightcliff Jetty Darwin

Nightcliff jetty at sunset, Darwin

After all that travelling the laid-back atmosphere of Darwin is a great place to unwind, enjoy the excellent food and watch the sun go down over the water.

We hope to go back to Australia very soon and this time, revisit somewhere else I haven’t been to since the 1990’s. Western Australia and its wine country.

Have you been on an epic road trip? Let us know your recommendations, it doesn’t have to be Australia.

Read more about our other road trips:

A direct contrast to the heat of the Northern Territory is Our 7 Day Iceland Road Trip Itinerary.

A bit of Miami Vice in Florida The Complete Guide to Fly Drive Florida.

Driving the 'Track' from Alice Springs To Darwin, Australia

Driving ‘The Track’ From Alice Springs To Darwin – Pin For Later

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Kimberly Erin
    August 19, 2018 at 2:06 am

    I love a road trip! its really quite sweet that it goes from dry desert to tropical….I always thought that the desert is the most beautiful place in the world….and while I ams till in the uncomfortable is ok end of travel..I will admit, having the opportunity to stop at the site of anything cool when ever you want is a huge bonus.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      August 19, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      The change from the desert to the tropics is over quite a few miles. Stopping whenever you want to is pretty good as well.

  • Reply
    Vicky and Buddy
    August 19, 2018 at 4:42 am

    What an epic road trip! To be able to see the landscape change so drastically must have been pretty cool. And great tip about the helicopter ride. Is it very expensive?

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      August 19, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      Helicopter rides don’t come cheap but it’s the experience and view you can’t miss.

  • Reply
    Wendy Elliott
    August 19, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Wow you drove from Alice Springs to Darwin! I considered that and decided against it since we had had limited time. Happy to see it through your eyes! Like you, as we age, we are less tolerant of uncomfortable travel, which is why we flew. A camper van is a nice alternative if you have the time. We have an RV here in the US, and traveled through desert country.

    When in Alice Springs last year, we did all the things you suggest – discovering Aboriginal art, found out more about the culture, learned about the wildlife in the desert at the Desert Park, and took a ride on a camel. Happy that we did all of those things – they made Alice Springs worth the stop.

    We missed ‘Devil Marbles,’ hot springs, Cutta Cutta Caves, Kakadu (still mostly closed), and Katherine. We did go to Darwin and Litchfield National Park (we enjoyed our trip to and in Litchfield). If we get back there, the 1 thing we’ll do is go to Kakadu for a few days. Darwin is an interesting city with lots of history that I did not see mentioned – like WW11 history, and the it’s connection to the allies and the US.

    We have also done an EPIC road trip to Florida, to the American Southwest, all of New Zealand, and 2 months in Australia.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      August 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm

      The first time we went there was heavy rain and on the way back from Alice Springs we had to spend a day at Erldunda Roadhouse because the road was closed. We have also down Townsville to Cairns which is a bit of a trek as well.
      We would love to try a few more US road trips and like you try an RV some time. We are actually going back to the US next month and visiting New York State for the first time.

  • Reply
    Samir
    August 19, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Damn, I really wnat to visit Australia. Everything is so beautiful (except crocodiles). Maybe if in near future tickets from Europe become bit cheaper i will visit Australia.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      August 19, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Crocodiles are beautiful but from a very safe distance or from behind a good fence.

  • Reply
    Jenn and Ed Coleman
    August 20, 2018 at 1:48 am

    I feel you for wanting a camper and better hygiene on your road trips. We did an epic road trip down Hwy 1 in Baja California. There were a couple of dramatic transitions. First off, as we were crossing the desert, we saw plants like boojums, that need the dry days and moist nights to proper. Crossing from the cold, gray Pacific side to the azure blue and warm Gulf of California side. We love road trips and the track to Alice Springs seems epic.

  • Reply
    Indrani
    August 20, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Wow I love these kind of road trips! So full of thrill. The alien-themed holiday park will be a sure hit with my kids.
    And you are right, best to admire crocodiles from behind a fence.

  • Reply
    Jose R Harvey
    August 20, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    This journey looks like it was epic! Wow! It’s such a different world down under, isn’t it? My favorite thing during this journey would likely be Jabiru in the Kakadu National Park because I am all about some UNESCO World Heritage sites. Gosh, I think I’m going to have to do this. I’ve been on a few epic road trips myself. I’ve took 23 days to drive across the United States when I was younger and I’ve road tripped from The furthest Northern reaches of Scotland all the way down to London. I’ve also road tripped through Romania and Ireland…..it’s always an interesting experience as you know.

  • Reply
    Linda
    August 21, 2018 at 1:57 am

    Wow! We always wondered what it would be like to travel in the centre of Australia. The dirt road looked like a rough path for such a long route, so it is a good thing that it has been upgraded. I would certainly want a camper van so that it was easy to take breaks. It would be great to see Ayers Rock. The limestone cliffs at Cutta Cutta Caves look stunning. We considered doing a side trip to Kadadu National Park when we were in Cairns but ran out of time. I certainly would not be swimming with the crocs!

  • Reply
    sherianne
    August 21, 2018 at 6:17 am

    “Adventure travel and exploring ‘yes’, having to do it with a bunch of backpackers with very questionable hygiene, ‘no’ “– I agree. And I’m still laughing. That red dirt road is gorgeous! I’m shocked the speed limit is 80 when it appears to be a free range area. Haven’t heard of Wycliffe Well, would love to alien hunt for a minute or two . But the balancing rocks and of course Uluru is a bucket list item

  • Reply
    Jas
    August 22, 2018 at 4:48 am

    The alien theme park looks so fun!!! And ok, Katherine Gorge is just STUNNING! I’m definitely keeping a note to myself to rent a canoe or maybe even save up for a helicopter flight. Australia’s actually super high up on my list and I love a good road trip so thanks for introducing me to these beautiful spots 🙂

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