A road trip from Adelaide to Darwin is an experience for the adventurous. Between South Australia and the Northern Territory, you have endless swathes of nothingness punctuated by dramatic features and landmarks that are made remarkable by their remote isolation.
The distance from Adelaide to Darwin is vast, with over 3,000 kilometers of road to traverse, and just a few communities to call in at along the way. This is real Outback Australia, where red dust coats everything, the shade is non-existent, and the sun is relentless. You’ll need at least 10 days to make the long road trip to the Top End of Australia, but despite the distance, it’s one of the most intriguing parts of the country to explore.
It’s far removed from the beaches and cities of the coast, and on your way north you can visit old mining towns, iconic Uluru, and once you reach Darwin, the tropical rainforests of the Northern Territory, another world away from the deserts of the red center.
Recommendation: If you are renting a car for this Adelaide to Perth road trip, make sure to check out Rentalcars.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their customer service is great as well.
Best Time to Road Trip From Adelaide to Darwin
A road trip from Adelaide to Darwin will take you not only through the staggering diversity of Australia but through the enormous variations in climate too. With its southern location, Adelaide enjoys four seasons and a fairly mild climate. Summers though can be scorching hot, and winters cold and rainy. You can visit Adelaide all year round, but you will want to consider the best time of year to depart the city when heading north.
Darwin experiences an extreme tropical climate, with heavy rainfall in the wet, summer season and plenty of cyclones. The dry, winter season is the best time to be in Darwin. It won’t be cold and you’ll miss the worst of the humidity. The wet season runs from November through to April, and traveling by road in the Top End can be dangerous and unpredictable this time of year, as rivers burst their banks and communities can become cut off for days on end.
Try to arrive in Darwin during the dry season, from May through to October, to avoid the rains and to enjoy the weather at its most pleasant. Leaving Adelaide at the end of summer would be ideal, as you head north towards the sun as the south gets colder.
Things to Know About Driving from Adelaide to Darwin
The drive from Adelaide to Darwin is one of the longest road trips that you can take in Australia. For the majority of the over 3000-kilometer drive, you’ll be on the same road, the seemingly endless Stuart Highway which was pioneered by the first European Explorers to venture through the empty middle of the country. For huge stretches of the highway, the scenery can seem to be unchanging, and monotonous, so take frequent rest stops where you can to avoid burnout.
This is the busiest road in this part of Australia, but for long periods of time, you may find yourself all alone out there. It’s paved the whole way, but ensure you have adequate roadside assistance and invest in a few jerry cans to bring along spare water and fuel. There are plenty of roadhouses and rest stops, but you want to be prepared anyway. If you get stuck or breakdown, someone will be along eventually, you just have to be patient.
The highway is used by the huge Australian road trains that transport freight between states, and at first, they can seem quite terrifying as they hurtle towards you. You’ll get used to them, but just be careful when overtaking them.
Watch out for wildlife too, as soon as the sun begins to set, the kangaroos will begin bouncing across the road. They can cause a lot of damage to vehicles and to the people inside, so avoid driving at night. Once you get into the Northern Territory, you’re in crocodile country, so be careful around water sources and don’t camp near the rivers.
Outside of Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin, there will be few accommodation options. If you have a good tent and other camping gear, camping is a good option, and there are plenty of great campsites along the route north. Roadhouses offer basic but generally overpriced accommodation on the highway and in small communities.
The Ultimate Adelaide to Darwin Road Trip Itinerary
Before we get to our itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get this Adelaide to Darwin itinerary on the road already (pun intended)!
Adelaide is kilometer zero on your journey to Darwin. After exploring the laid back capital of South Australia, visiting beaches and botanic gardens, and learning about the city’s unique colonial heritage, it’s time to get in the car and start heading north.
Stock up on supplies and any home comforts you can’t be without while you’re in Adelaide, because this is the last city you’ll be seeing for a long time.
The first part of your journey from Adelaide to Darwin will see you following the coastline north from the city along the Great Australian Bight, to your first stop in Port Augusta. It’s a 300-kilometer drive to kick things off and to ease into the road trip, a distance which will soon seem like nothing.
At Port Augusta, you’ll begin to leave the green south coast behind and enter a more arid and dry climate. Alongside the beautiful beaches, you can explore the rugged mountains of the Flinders Range, and stop in at the Wadltata Outback Centre to learn more about the desert you are about to enter. Port Augusta is where the Stuart Highway to the Northern Territory begins, a road that you are about to become well acquainted with.
As you follow the Stuart Highway north on your journey from Adelaide to Darwin by car, you’ll soon be entering the deserts of South Australia. 500 kilometers north of Port Augusta is the town of Coober Pedy, where you can gain insight into the harsh conditions which the locals here live in.
Coober Pedy sees some of the highest temperatures in Australia, but the town was settled by Europeans who were looking to cash in on the valuable opal that was found in the ground. To cope with the extraordinary heat, the residents began building their homes underground, in the relatively cooler rock. Spend the night at Coober Pedy, as many of the motels and hotels are built underground, making this a unique overnight stay.
Now the seriously long distances begin, and the next real stop on your itinerary from Adelaide to Darwin is the iconic rock of Uluru. To reach this sacred Aboriginal area, you’ll leave the highway and head west, further into the Outback to the vast and magnificent Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, one of the most popular national parks in Australia.
If you have time, you will want to spend a few nights here. Take a break from the driving and enjoy the surreal desert landscapes. Watch the sunrise or sunset over Uluru, learn about the local legends and history of the rock, and visit Kata Tjuta, for more supreme, rocky views.
Although Alice Springs is often cited as the gateway to Uluru, it’s still 500 kilometers away. You’re now in the Northern Territory, almost exactly in the center of the continent. With a population of just over 20,000 residents, Alice Springs can claim to be the third largest town in the territory, and in comparison to the small communities and roadhouses you’ll have passed on the way here, it will seem like a bustling metropolis.
Stock up on supplies, but hang around to explore the quirky nature of remote, Outback Australia. Visit the local museum and join trips into the desert to learn more about the unique heritage of the local Aboriginals that have called this land home for thousands of years.
Another 500 kilometers north along the Stuart Highway brings you to Tennant Creek, where cattle ranches are the size of the United Kingdom and the landscapes are vast. Visit the old telegraph station, built here to connect Adelaide with Darwin, and then on to the rest of the British Empire.
You can also stop off at the Devil’s Marbles, a sacred Aboriginal site consisting of almost perfectly spherical boulders.
Best Places to Stay in Tennant Creek:
Goldfields Hotel Motel
5 Essential Packing Items for Australia
#1 Good Camera – Chances are you will be snapping pictures pretty much non-stop in Australia, so you really need a good camera to do its beauty justice. We highly recommend the Sony RX100 III. It’s super lightweight, compact, and the image quality is amazing.
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking around in Australia, so a good pair of shoes is really essential. Our go to shoes are Nike Free 5.0. They are comfortable, lightweight and sturdy. We pretty wear them all the time. We even hiked up multiple mountains/volcanoes with them.
#3 Good Guidebook – Lonely Planet guidebooks are still our favorites and their Australia edition is very thorough and a must for anybody traveling around Australia.
#4 Good Water Bottle – The sun can be brutal in Australia, so make sure to always carry a refillable water bottle with you. After all, tap water is drinkable in Australia, plus it’s free. Our favorite is the Klean Kanteen Classic Stainless Steel Water Bottle.
#5 Good Reef-Safe Sunscreen – Conventional sunscreen damages the reefs, so please make sure to get a good reef-safe sunscreen instead. The Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen works just as well as a regular sunscreen but without all the harmful chemicals.
Daly Waters is less a town and more of a roadhouse with a maximum resident population of just 9 people. It’s 400 kilometers north of Tennant Creek, but the iconic Daly Waters Pub makes for the perfect place to rest over before carrying on the final stretch to Darwin.
Sit back in this remote pub and enjoy a cold drink or two, while admiring the unusual memorabilia decorating the tavern which has been left behind over the decades by travelers passing through.
Just a short 250 kilometer hop up the road is Katherine, where the desert recedes and the tropical north begins. Katherine makes for a great base to explore the nearby Katherine Gorge, a spectacular water filled canyon, and the enormous Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu is one of the highlights of the Northern Territory, a magnificent area of tropical rainforests and wetlands, where you can find crocodiles, waterfalls, and more.
The final 300-kilometer drive along Stuart Highway will bring you to your end destination, the capital of the Northern Territory, tropical Darwin. The small city is full of great museums which will give you an insight into life in the Top End. While in the harbor, you might see the odd crocodile swimming around.
Enjoy the vestiges of modern life, visit the restaurants, cruise the coastline, and swim in the safe lagoon. From Darwin, you can head on a day trip to the Aboriginal-owned Tiwi Islands, or you can drive out to the nearby Litchfield National Park, where you can find epic waterfalls, croc-free swimming holes and dense rainforest.
And there you have it – the ultimate road trip itinerary. It’s a beautiful drive from Adelaide to Darwin by car and we are confident you’ll love it as much as we did.