Starting in the country’s tropical Top End, this epic 2416-kilometre Darwin to Broome road trip cuts through the vast wilderness of the Kimberley along the legendary Gibb River Road and ends in a pearling town where the desert meets the sea.
Here, a 10-day Darwin to Broome road trip itinerary covering the where, what and how.
Darwin to Nitmiluk National Park – 383 kilometres; about 4 hours via Edith Falls
After leaving the tropical city of Darwin, head south along the Stuart Highway towards Katherine, stopping at the pandanus-fringed Edith Falls – located on the west side of Nitmiluk National Park – for a dip along the way.
Refreshed, continue another 40 kilometres south to Katherine and onto Nitmiluk National Park, which has powered sites, cabins, permanent tents and the luxurious Cicada Lodge.
Nitmiluk National Park
Spend the day exploring Nitmiluk National Park, home to 13 dramatic gorges that rise up from Katherine River. Join a scenic cruise, swim at rock pools and waterfalls, hire a canoe to paddle the gorges, take a helicopter flight to see the landscape from above, or join a local Indigenous guide for a presentation on Jawoyn culture. Make the drive to Katherine before the day’s out and spend the night at true-blue outback Daly Waters Historic Pub, which has powered and unpowered sites, cabins and budget motel rooms.
Katherine to Purnululu National Park, WA – 848 kilometres; about 10 hours via Timber Creek and Kununurra
The drive into Western Australia will take most of the day via the Victoria Highway so get an early start and make sure you’re well-prepared for the drive with plenty of petrol and water. Stop at Timber Creek (two hours before the border crossing) for lunch and stretch your legs on the town’s two-kilometre Heritage Trail.
Strict quarantine laws mean you can’t carry any fresh food with you over the border, so stop at Kununurra, the first major town in Western Australia, to stock up on any supplies. Continue on to Purnululu National Park, home to the fascinating Bungle Bungle Ranges, a maze of orange and black-striped sandstone domes. Accommodation options include Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge or Bungle Bungle Caravan Park.
If you’d prefer to break up this journey, you can stay at Keep River National Park (about 492 kilometres west of Katherine, just before the border), which is great for bird-watching, and admiring Aboriginal rock art and geological formations.
Purnululu National Park
Take a break from driving and explore the UNESCO Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park: hike through the Bungle Bungles or take a scenic flight over them; marvel at the acoustics of Cathedral Gorge; and wander through the narrow red walls of Echidna Chasm.
Purnululu National Park to El Questro Station – 303 kilometres; about 4 hours
Head north to El Questro Station this morning, a 283,000-hectare property that was a former cattle station in the heart of the Kimberley, located on the legendary Gibb River Rd. Accommodation ranges from camping to hotel-style rooms to the ultra-luxe El Questro Homestead, which is perched on a clifftop overlooking the Chamberlain River.
El Questro Station
This sprawling landscape is a natural wonderland of deep gorges, soaring mountains, hot springs, mud and salt flats, lush rainforests and waterfalls. There is a multitude of activities to join, including a cruise to Chamberlain Gorge, relaxing in the thermal pools of Zebedee Springs, a guided trek to Emma Gorge, horse riding along rugged tracks, or even taking a dip in remote waterholes only accessible by helicopter.
El Questro to Manning Gorge – 338 kilometres; about 5.5 hours via Ellenbrae Station
Top up on petrol and supplies before leaving El Questro and head west along the Gibb River Road, stopping at the Cockburn Ranges Lookout for a spectacular view of the 600-metre-high sandstone escarpment. Stop in at Ellenbrae Station, a 404-hectare station for a dip in the swimming holes or to try one of their famous scones. Continue west along the rugged Gibb River Road towards Mount Barnett Roadhouse, the entrance point for Manning Gorge and a great spot for supplies and petrol.
Take the three-kilometre trail from the campsite to Manning Gorge. The trail includes a swim across the Manning River (or you can take the rope-guided dinghy if you’d prefer to stay dry) and has views out to the ranges and savannah woodland. The gorge has several waterfall-fed pools, which are perfect for swimming and rock hopping.
Manning Gorge to Windjana Gorge – 213 kilometres; about 3.5 hours
Rise early and fuel up for the drive to Windjana Gorge, where you’ll stay the night at the campground. Spend the afternoon exploring the 3.5-kilometre gorge, which was once the bottom of a tropical sea. Fossilised remnants are visible in its limestone walls. At its centre, the Lennard River is home to a huge concentration of freshwater crocodiles, so stay safe and don’t go in the water.
Windjana Gorge to Broome – 358 kilometres; about 5.5 hours via Derby
You’re on the final stretch! The Gibb River Road ends in the small town of Derby today, located on the edge of King Sound, its streets lined with boab trees. For those wanting to see the famous Horizontal Falls, stay overnight in Derby and join a day tour to this natural wonder.
After a break in Derby, continue along the Great Northern Highway to Broome. This small multicultural pearling town is where the desert meets the sea and your final destination on this epic outback road trip.
Distances on this Darwin to Broome road trip are approximate and will vary due to changing road conditions.
The best time to travel is in the dry season, from May to October. Check seasonal information before travelling.
Many sections of this Darwin to Broome road trip are suitable for 4WDs only – don’t attempt it in a 2WD.
Be sure to fuel up your car regularly as petrol stations are few and far between, particularly on the Gibb River Road. Carry a couple of jerry cans with you just in case.
Always carry ample water; around five litres per traveller is recommended.
While you should have phone reception in most major towns, other areas of this road trip will have sketchy connections. A satellite phone is recommended.
Consider hiring a campervan if you’d prefer to be more flexible with your itinerary.