The Clare Valley is a lush and lovely wine district famous for its Rieslings. Parts of it are reminiscent of Ireland (for which it was named), other parts feel distinctly Tuscan.
As well as some 30 tasting rooms, the region is rich in settler history: don’t miss Sevenhill Cellars (set up by Jesuit Priests in 1851), the ridiculously pretty village of Mintaro (home to Martindale Hall, an impressive late-Victorian country seat that was featured in Peter Weir’s haunting 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock), and have a drop of sparkling Riesling at Skillogalee with a delicious meal under the sprawling olive tree. Pikes is also worth a visit: a winery, brewery, art gallery and restaurant, it ticks all the culinary boxes. The Clare’s loveliness is an almost ominous precursor for the harsh outback landscapes that await. It’s well worth exploring on two wheels so before you confront the outback, hire a bike and ride the scenic Riesling Trail tasting wines and wonderful Clare produce along the way.
As you head north out of Clare, the country soon gets wide and dry, but it’s not short of interesting stories in classic Aussie towns such as Burra, Peterborough, Quorn and Hawker.
After Hawker, the landscape begins to buckle and uplift into spectacular and very ancient ranges, named for the explorer Matthew Flinders. Most prominent is Wilpena Pound, an extraordinary 52-square-mile crater-like formation. The Pound can be easily seen from trails of varying duration and difficulty (taking from an hour to a whole day) as well as by scenic flight.
Other local highlights include Arkaroo Rock with its Aboriginal cave paintings, the ruins of Wilpena Station and the surprisingly rich populations of kangaroo, emu and wallaby seen at dusk.
Take your time here and spend a night or two; there are plenty of accommodation options, from caravan and camping to high-end glamping at Rawnsley Park or Wilpena Pound Resort.
You’re going deeper into the Flinders Ranges. North of Wilpena is the historic mining town of Blinman, which has a great pub and an interesting underground tour of a copper mine.
On the drive through Parachilna Gorge, you’ll encounter Aboriginal history (Flinders ochre pits were critical to Aboriginal trading routes) and wildlife (look for rare yellow-footed rock wallabies) before finding yourself in the wide-open spaces near the famous Prairie Hotel of Parachilna. This is an absolute must-do for its evocative front bar, ‘Feral Platters’ of goat, camel and kangaroo, and general outpost bonhomie.
From here you have a choice: Keep heading north deeper into the outback to take on the Oodnadatta Track or return to Port Augusta to take the sealed Stuart Highway. The Oodnadatta Track will take you through the towns of Marree and William Creek and across the world’s largest cattle station. Caution is advised on this route as it is an unsealed road and drivers must be prepared for the conditions.
Port Augusta sits at the head of the Spencer Gulf: it’s your last chance to see some sea for a long time. The crossroads town is home to The Wadlata Outback Centre, a savvy and engaging exhibition that helps you get under the skin of outback, and the lovely Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden.
Lots to see on this stretch of the Stuart Highway.
Stop some 12 miles south of Woomera for amazing views over Island Lagoon, a salt lake with a distinctive shark’s-tooth of rock. Next stop is Woomera Heritage Centre and Interactive Rocket Range Museum for an unusual chapter in contemporary British and Australian history stories.
Coober Pedy barely needs an introduction but is certainly worthy of your time. Marvel at the bizarre opal fields with their cones of excavated dirt; take a mine tour at The Old Timer’s Mine Museum and Umoona Opal Mine; explore underground shops, chapel, gallery and homes (basically, chambers left by mining operations and perfectly useful for staying cool); and look out for the bizarre movie props which have been used to transform local landscapes into alien planets. Play a round of golf on the Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club which has reciprocal playing rights with St Andrews in Scotland, but not a blade of grass. Sunset at The Breakaways is a magical experience of swirling desert colours.
Crossing the border into the Northern Territory takes you into the Red Centre – the spiritual heart of Australia.
Turn off the Stuart Highway onto the Lasseter Highway heading towards Yulara, the gateway to World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The great monolith of Uluru is estimated to be approximately 500 million years old. Geological evidence suggests the mighty domes of its neighbouring site, Kata Tjuta, formed during the same time period.
The Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people are the traditional landowners and recognise both Uluru and Kata Tjuta as important sacred sites. Exploring inside the Park, choose from one of the designated bushwalks (varying in distance and difficulty); take in the beauty of the desert landscape from atop a camel or hire a bicycle to go at your own pace. Try an art class led by an Aboriginal artist, go on a ranger-guided walk and savour the flavours of bush tucker infused cuisine in a world-class setting. There’s plenty of accommodation options; ranging from desert luxury rooms, to lodges and camp grounds – all located within Ayers Rock Resort.
Enjoy the morning at Uluru, perhaps with a sunrise tour, then take the Lasseter Highway back to the Luritja Highway, turning off towards Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
King Canyon is an impressive form of ancient geology with marine fossils embedded into the tops of the escarpment. Watarrka has been home to the Luritja people for more than 20,000 years. Kings Canyon Resort and Kings Creek Station are popular bases to stay overnight and explore the Park. From here, you can organise to jump on a scenic helicopter flight over the canyon; go on a quad bike adventure or take part in an Aboriginal cultural experience.
Rise early for the best time to take the six-kilometre Kings Canyon Rim Walk.
The top opens out to impressive views into the canyon with the path trailing through the weathered sandstone domes of the ‘Lost City’. Follow the steps into the gorge and look for signs leading to the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by 400-year-old cycads, and a great place to take a shaded break. Then continue the circuit around with incredible views across the Park. Shorter bushwalking options are available to cater for different fitness levels and high seasonal temperatures.
Head to the Northern Territory’s second largest city, Alice Springs. If travelling by four-wheel drive, you have the option to take the unsealed Mereenie Loop, or go back via the sealed Luritja and Lasseter highways, before turning north onto the Stuart Highway.
Alice Springs is the unofficial capital of Australia’s Red Centre.
Within town, stroll down Todd Mall to browse a few of the art galleries or stop in at Olive Pink Botanic Garden for a scenic lunch spot. Meet the region’s native wildlife at the Desert Wildlife Park and Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Visit the Telegraph Station to learn more about the historic development along the Explorers Way.
After exploring Alice Springs, hit the road heading towards Tennant Creek ensuring you have time to explore the peculiar site of Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles. Next stop, the township of Tennant Creek is where the last gold rush of Australia took place in the 1930’s. Join an underground tour at the Battery Hill Mining Centre and visit the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre to learn more about the Warumungu people, traditional landowners in parts of the Barkly.
Continue north on the Stuart Highway to Daly Waters – home to the iconic Daly Waters Historic Pub – a popular place to stop overnight that offers camping, cabins and motel accommodation.
The establishment has been a haven for travellers to the Outback since 1930. If only the walls could talk, with a bra laden bar and an eclectic collection of memorabilia like you’ve never seen before.
Making your way to Katherine, you have the option to stop and go for a dip in the palm-fringed pools of Elsey National Park.
Mataranka Thermal Pool and Bitter Springs sit on a massive bed of limestone, giving the pristine waters a deep emerald colour. Arriving in the township, continue waterhole hopping with a visit to the Katherine Hot Springs. Katherine is well-serviced with hotels, caravan parks and camping options available for an overnight stay. It’s the gateway to the jewel of the Northern Territory, Nitmiluk National Park.
This morning, choose a cruise or canoe down the mighty Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, looking out for rock art and local wildlife as you learn about the stories of the Jawoyn people: the traditional owners of Nitmiluk National Park.
The 13-gorge ancient river system is framed by escarpment towering more than 70 metres in height. About 40 kilometres north of Katherine is Leliyn Falls (Edith Falls) – a gorgeous place for a cooling swim and picnic on your way to Darwin.
Continue your journey to Australia’s northernmost capital city where you can dine at waterfront restaurants, take a harbour cruise and enjoy the slow-burn of a golden sunset in one of the coastal reserves. The Mindil Beach Sunset Market offers a long strip of tantalizing food stalls and lively entertainment during the dry season (April – September) or head to the local weekend markets in Parap, Nightcliff and Rapid Creek year-round. From Darwin, you can venture further with a trip to World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park; witness ancient traditions in East Arnhem Land or take a ferry to the cultural hub of the Tiwi Islands. This brings you to the last stop along the Explorers Way.
Prepare for an epic Australian road trip through the heart of the outback on the explorers way.Explore the map