The ultimate adventure-lover’s state offers up a dizzying array of national parks, waterholes, Aboriginal culture, and unforgettable moments. Here, find the best road trips in the Northern Territory to take you on a life-changing journey through it all.
The Kakadu self-drive road trip
There are two ways you can do Kakadu: on the bitumen or in the dirt. Most people come from Darwin, as it’s the closest airport, via the Arnhem Highway. The highway is sealed, open all year, and in fairly good condition, although you do need to keep an eye out for wandering cattle, buffalo and kangaroos. Once you’re in the park, a sealed all-weather road runs right through the centre of the wilderness.
All of the must–see attractions, such as Ubirr and Nourlangie with their magnificent rock art galleries, tour hub Cooinda and the wildlife-filled Yellow Water Billabong are easily accessible from this main road, as are the popular accommodation options and most of the parks that cater for caravans.
The jaw-dropping cliff-top plunge pool at the top of Gunlom Falls is on a gravel road, and is a non-negotiable stop for road-trippers.
The stunning view from Gunlom Falls Top Pool.
READ MORE: How to road trip Kakadu
It’s a drive that goes right through our country’s heart – and one that everyone should do, says journalist Georgia Rickard. Not as scenic as driving the country’s coastline, Georgia describes the drive up Stuart Highway from Alice Springs, which barrels straight up the middle of the continent, as the place where Australians learn to wholly love this place.
It takes only six hours to drive between the Alice and Tennant Creek, but there is so much more to this road than the drive. You must stop at the UFO capital, Wycliffe Well and take part in horse trail rides at Tennant Creek.
The Devils Marbles are huge granite boulders scattered across a wide, shallow valley, 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
READ MORE: Alice Springs to Darwin road trip itinerary
Darwin to Jabiru, NT
Found in the northeast corner of Kakadu, Jabiru is a quirky NT town well worth a visit. Known for mining, Jabiru also has access to the national park – and an absurdly wonderful crocodile-shaped hotel; the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel.
It’s well worth travelling to one of the country’s oldest Aboriginal quarry, cave and art sites nearby at Nourlangie Rock. The Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Centre is also good to visit before heading to Ubirr, which is considered one of world’s best showcases of ancient x-ray art.
Those who have done the trip before will tell you that the panoramic views of Kakadu from atop Ubirr are once in a lifetime.
A sunset shot from the top of Kakadu’s Ubirr rock art site is a must.
Darwin to Litchfield National Park
Described as ‘a world of its own’, Litchfield National Park holds some incredible sightseeing options for tourists, including the Lost City, comprised of ornate blocks of weathered sandstone pillars, and incredible swimming holes at Wangi Falls. Not to mention breath-taking views from the popular Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. In fact, it’s the ultimate place to set up camp and fall asleep under the stars – and the best part is – it’s only two hours out of Darwin.
Make sure you stop by Darwin’s Crocodylus Park en route, as its home to over 1000 crocs, as well as big cats, primates, birds and other reptiles. It’s also worth stopping by the quirky Butterfly Farm in Batchelor, the town just before Litchfield National Park, to take a gander at the wildly different colourful species.
Baby crocs are there for the handling at Crocodylus Park. (Image: Xavier Jefferson)
READ MORE: Things to do in and around Darwin
Alice Springs to Uluru, The Red Centre Way
Starting and finishing in Alice Springs, the journey on the Red Centre Way covers around 1140km and runs through the very heart of the Australian outback, linking the MacDonnell Ranges and Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) with Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) in one big loop.
A classic stop along the way to Uluru is Rainbow Valley, just east of the Stuart Highway, not far from Alice. Here, sandstone bluffs and cliffs put on a colourful rainbow-like show in the early mornings and late afternoons when the sun highlights the iron-rich/iron-poor bands of the sandstone.
It’s also worth making a pit-stop at Mt Sonder, 40 kilometres northwest of Glen Helen, as it’s a great place to test your physique and admire the uninterrupted view from 1380m up.
A classic stop along the way to Uluru is Rainbow Valley.
READ MORE: Alice Springs to Uluru road trip itinerary