Adelaide to Darwin on the Explorers Way 17 day drive itinerary
One of the great Australian road trips without a doubt is from Adelaide to Darwin, along the Explorers Way. You’ll take in some of Australia’s favourite natural icons, including Uluru, Kings Canyon, the MacDonnell Ranges, the Devils Marbles, Nitmiluk National Park and Litchfield National Park.
The journey follows the one made by famous explorer, John McDouall Stuart, who was the first European to successfully cross Australia south to north and establish a route to the coastal region of the Northern Territory.
Days 1–5: Travelling from South Australia
Spend the first five days travelling through outback South Australia, stopping in at some of the small coastal towns. Take in the southern and central Flinders Ranges and make sure you stay overnight at Coober Pedy.
Days 6 & 7: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Once you drive across the NT border, make a beeline for Australia’s ultimate icons. Discover the beauty of Uluru and Kata Tjuta – this desert region is blessed with natural wonders, world-class dining experiences and ancient Aboriginal culture.
There’s an abundance of things to see and do within the Park. Stop in at the Cultural Centre to learn about the significance of the area to the local Anangu people – the traditional custodians of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to admire the incredible scenes of the Outback. Remember to take some chairs and ‘sunset refreshments’ so you can really make the most of this special moment on your Explorers Way journey.
Take a walk or ride around Uluru, follow the Walpa Gorge Walk (2.6km return) to admire the shapes of the domes of Kata Tjuta, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in the desert.
Day 8: Uluru to Kings Canyon
Leave Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and drive 300km back along the Lasseter Highway and Luritja Highway to reach Watarrka National Park/Kings Canyon. This majestic destination features 100 metre-high sandstone walls, walking trails and views that will leave you speechless.
Day 9: Kings Canyon/Watarrka National Park
For an unforgettable view of Kings Canyon, rise before dawn and follow the 6km trail along the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. There are other smaller walks on offer so make the most of your time here and explore as much as possible.
Day 10: Kings Canyon to Alice Springs
Once you get back on the road, head to the NT’s second largest town, Alice Springs. If travelling by four-wheel drive, take the Mereenie Loop, or travel along the sealed Luritja and Lasseter Highways, before turning north onto the Stuart Highway towards Alice Springs.
Day 11: West MacDonnell Ranges and Glen Helen
The West MacDonnell Ranges are an easy day trip from Alice Springs along a sealed road. There are many stops along the way to enjoy. Walk along the trail at Simpsons Gap or stand between the sheer walls of Standley Chasm. To cool off, why not enjoy a swim at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge or Redbank Gorge.
Day 12: Alice Springs to Tennant Creek
On your journey from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek, take the time to stop at Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), a sacred site to the Warumungu people. These massive ancient granite boulders are strewn across a wide shallow valley, and continue to crack and change.
Day 13: Tennant Creek to Daly Waters
As you travel further north, you will notice how the environment around you is changing. The Daly Waters Historic Pub is a popular place to stay overnight that offers backpacker, hotel or cabin rooms. The pub and grounds are crammed with memorabilia that reveal the pub’s colourful history and who has passed through its doors. Set up camp for the night and make the most of this notoriously characteristic pub.
Day 14: Daly Waters to Katherine
As you make your way towards Katherine, take a break from driving and enjoy a rejuvenating swim in the Mataranka Thermal Pool. Fed by spring water in the Daly and Georgina basins, it’s surrounded by a palm forest and its waters are a constant 34 degrees celsius.
Katherine is the NT’s fourth largest town, and a perfect base to check out the nearby gorge country. Why not explore the vast Nitmiluk National Park’s thirteen gorges via a helicopter joy flight, canoe or join a guided boat cruise. For more information about what to do around this area see the Kakadu and Katherine Nature’s Way itinerary.
Day 15: Katherine and surrounds
Spend the day in Katherine and take in the beautiful surroundings of Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge with plenty of activities on offer; visit the hot springs within the township of Katherine and take the option of squeezing in a visit to Leliyn Falls (Edith Falls).
Day 16: Katherine to Litchfield
Litchfield National Park is only a 90-minute drive from Darwin. Its unspoilt beauty makes the natural water playground a popular spot with day trippers who come from the city for a dip at Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls.
Walking tracks, camping facilities and 2WD and 4WD accessible tracks means there’s an adventure to suit everyone. For more information check out the Litchfield itinerary.
Day 17: Litchfield to Darwin
You’ve made it! You’re officially an ‘explorer’. Take your first glimpse of the Timor Sea as you come into Darwin, Australia’s northernmost capital city. You’ll find yourself in a contemporary multicultural metropolis of open-air markets, festivals, Asian influenced cuisine, and an outdoor lifestyle.
Optional add-on: Extra nights
To really make the most of this drive, we highly recommend adding on extra nights in Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, Uluru, Tennant Creek and Katherine. You’ll be able to make the most of this iconic road trip and your ‘driving arm’ will thank you.
Park passes are required for both Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks. You can purchase your park passes online here.