Ever wondered what it would be like to drive across the country from Adelaide to Darwin? We’ve mapped it out for you, and just in case 3000km wasn’t long enough, we’ve shortlisted the top 3 short drives from Darwin so you’ll know where to go when you get there.
The best short drives from Darwin
1. Darwin To Litchfield National Park
The beautiful Surprise Falls, Litchfield National Park. (photo: Sarah Mackie).
Even though it’s only 91km southwest of Darwin, Litchfield is in a world of its own and includes marvels like the Lost City (ornate blocks of weathered sandstone pillars), the cooling swimming holes at Wangi Falls (which are also conveniently wheelchair accessible), and the breathtaking views from popular Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole.
There are few things better than setting up camp and falling asleep under the stars, all just two hours from the NT capital.
Along the way
Leave your worries at home as you float in the serene waters of Berry Springs while surrounded by lush woodlands.
Drive through Rum Jungle (which became prominent after uranium was found there) before reaching the town of Batchelor, the stepping-off point for Litchfield.
Before heading into the national park, the quirky Butterfly Farm in Batchelor is well worth a look for its wildly different colourful species.
There’s also a terrific feed (and no doubt some interesting local characters) to be found at the newly refurbed Rum Jungle Tavern.
Did you know?
There’s some speculation as to how Rum Jungle got its name. Some claim its because a local hotelier ran out of all liquor apart from rum, others cite a group that passed through drinking 80 gallons of it. Either way, the town was named after an incident involving excessive rum drinking. Very Australian.
2. Darwin to Jabiru
Enjoying the sunset from Injalak Hill towards Ubirr.
Jabiru, in the northeast corner of world famous Kakadu, is a tiny town known for mining, for its access to the national park, and for its absurdly wonderful crocodile-shaped hotel.
Be sure to stop by its Bowali Visitor Centre to grab info on Kakadu’s distinct habitats before travelling to one of the country’s oldest Aboriginal quarry, cave and art sites 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.
The panoramic views of Kakadu from atop Ubirr are also incredibly special, especially in the late afternoon light.
Along the way
Follow a nature trail through the parklands of the Howard Springs Nature Park to get yourself to the picnic area for a BBQ.
Watch local Aboriginal artists at work making didgeridoos and weaving baskets and dillybags at The Didgeridoo Hut and Art Gallery.
Get out your camera for spectacular pictures at Windows on the Wetlands at nearby Beatrice Hill or at the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve.
Take a cruise with Aboriginal tour guides along the East Alligator River, and for something a little closer, sunset cruises are also offered at Yellow Water Billabong, giving you a chance to get up close to the natural wildlife.
Stay nearby at the Cooinda Lodge before considering a drive further northeast towards Arnhem Land, a region famous for its strength and depth of Aboriginal culture.
Did you know?
According to Aboriginal Dreamtime, two creation ancestors who took the form of short-eared rock wallabies created Nourlangie Rock when they moved past it, cutting two gaps in the rock. These gaps remain visible today and rock wallabies are often seen in the area.
Alice Springs to Darwin – The Explorers Way
Follow the path of John McDouall Sturt, the first explorer to traverse the continent in 1862.
Adelaide to Coober Pedy (688km)
The heaps formed by mining for opals pock the landscape at Coober Pedy. Outback South Australia
Set off through SA’s winegrowing regions to Coober Pedy, just south of the NT border. Once you’re there, head underground out of the heat and fossick about at the Umoona Opal Mine. Stay underground at the Comfort Inn.
Coober Pedy to Alice Springs (690km)
View from Anzac Hill in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Over the NT border, take a detour to the east at Cadney Park and see the Painted Desert (allow at least three hours). Consider also detouring to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and/or Kings Canyon via the Red Centre Way tourist drive. Stay the night at Crowne Plaza Alice Springs.
Alice Springs to Wycliffe Well (375km)
Luckily we got the okay at the UFO capital at Wycliffe, NT.
Visit Alice Springs School of the Air and hear a distance-education school lesson broadcast to students in remote areas, then stop off at Ti Tree and sample sparkling mango wine produced in The Outback.
Along the way to Wycliffe Well, keep an eye on the sky as well as the road, as it’s said to be Australia’s UFO capital. Spend the night at BIG4 Wycliffe Well Holiday Park, which offers accommodation ranging from campsites to cabins.
Wycliffe Well to Tennant Creek (130km)
Camp at Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve and watch the boulders change colours with the sunset.
Visit Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu), which are balanced piles of huge round boulders believed by Aboriginal people to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent (explained at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre).
Explore Tennant Creek, the site of Australia’s last major gold rush in the 1930s, then cool off with a dip in nearby Mary Ann Dam. Stay at Desert Sands Motel.
Tennant Creek to Daly Waters (400km)
Daly Waters Pub, an Outback oasis to the thirsty traveller. (photo: Tourism NT)
Explore the scenic Elliott and Newcastle Waters Discovery Trail, a network of roads (some are 4WD only) branching off the main highway to huge cattle stations, outback pubs and landmarks of World War II.
Spend the night at the historic Daly Waters pub, adorned with all kinds of memorabilia from football jerseys to bras, and offering a range of budget accommodation.
Daly Waters to Mataranka (165km)
Mataranka Thermal Pool in NT
Visit the Larrimah Museum for a peek at the area’s World War II heritage, then cool off with a drink at the historic Larrimah Wayside Inn.
Continue to Mataranka for a dip in the thermal springs, before setting up camp in Elsey National Park.
Mataranka to Katherine (105km)
Floating across the serene waters of the Katherine River. Image by Tourism NT
Stop off for a canoe or boat cruise down Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park.
Katherine to Lake Bennett (260km)
Branch off the Explorer’s Way at Pine Creek to Nature’s Way Tourist Drive into Kakadu National Park.
There you can explore the historic World War II township of Adelaide River.
Litchfield to Darwin (130km)
Magnetic termite mounds, Litchfield NP, NT.
Visit Litchfield National Park and see stunning waterfalls and great termite mounds – and swim safely (ie, not in fear of saltwater crocs) in clear swimming holes.
Continue following the Explorer’s Way right into the heart of Darwin and see the first glimpse of the Timor Sea.