Travel type Roadtrip
Features National parks, wildlife, desert, adventure, walking
HERE’S THE PLAN
Set your sights on the extraordinary, pack the essentials and a sense of adventure and let us guide you on a 3000km road trip through the heart of Australia along the Explorers Way.
ADELAIDE to CLARE VALLEY
Drive time – 2 hours (141km)
Ready for an epic journey? Already picturing yourself cruising the Explorers Way, winding through Australia's breathtaking landscapes and discovering its hidden gems. Fasten your seatbelt and curate your ultimate road trip playlist for this unforgettable adventure.
Adelaide is the perfect launch pad for the journey. The Festival City has beautiful beaches, Mediterranean weather and is rich in culture, innovative food and world-famous wines.
It’s fitting that the Explorers Way leads to South Australia’s Clare Valley wine region. It’s famous for riesling and has more than 40 cellar doors to explore. Soak up the European settlement history surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, taste wine and sample exquisite local produce. You can even do it while working off the calories on a Riesling Trail bike ride.
Clare Valley offers a great transition to the Aussie Bush. And the Outback is not far away.
Explorer Tip: Make a pit stop at the Adelaide Central Markets, grab a fresh barista coffee, meet the locals, and pick up some delectable local produce for the ultimate road trip snacks.
CLARE VALLEY to IKARA-FLINDERS RANGES
Drive time – 3.5 hours (297km)
Golden canola fields and pastures give way to Australia’s infamous “red rugged outback” plus an impressive backdrop of ancient mountain ranges named after explorer Matthew Flinders.
Through the crossroads city of Port Augusta and Outback towns like Quorn and Hawker, the Flinders Ranges are next.
They are immense and so very old. Picture ochre-coloured cliffs, deep gorges and sharp ridges pushed up through the Earth by unimaginable forces millions of years ago.
Spend time with the local Adnyamathanha people learning their stories to immerse yourself in the real Australia. Hike the base of Wilpena Pound- a huge natural amphitheatre, or to really appreciate its size take to the skies and enjoy a scenic flight.
For the ultimate Flinders Ranges experience, go heli-camping with Rawnsley Park Station. Take a helicopter flight past Rawnsley Bluff and over Wilpena Pound before landing on Chace Range. Watch the sun set over spectacular views and enjoy a campfire prepared meal before settling down for the night in your swag under a star-filled Outback sky.
EXPLORE FLINDERS RANGES
SEALED HIGHWAY via Parachilna to Woomera
Drive time – 4 hours (375km)
We’re going deeper into the Flinders Ranges and deeper into history – 550 million years according to the Ediacaran fossils found here – remnants of the earliest known multi-cellular life on Earth.
Enjoy watching the abundance of wildlife you'll find along the way including kangaroos, emus, yellow-footed rock wallabies and huge birds of prey.
Stop at Blinman for an underground copper mine tour and drive through Parachilna Gorge to Prairie Hotel for an Aussie pub experience and the famous Feral Feast – platters of goat, camel and kangaroo.
Searching for a deeper cultural immersion, visit Wadna Cultural Tours and experience more hidden, lesser-known cultural sites.
Going off-road or sticking to the highway
From Parachilna you have a choice:
If you’re in a 2WD, take the sealed highway via Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf, then north to Woomera - home to SA’s rocket range.
Explorer Tip: Check out the Woomera Heritage Centre and Interactive Rocket Range Museum.
EXPLORE FLINDERS RANGES
OFF-GRID via Parachilna to William Creek
Drive time – 4.5 hours (388km)
If you have the right off-road equipment, head north to Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary which has some of Australia’s best skies for star gazing. Truly unique, Arkaroola’s world-famous ridgetop tour takes you across razor-back ridges and peaks of Flinders Ranges most rugged mountains, making it a must do experience. If you’d prefer to drift off to sleep under the canopy of stars, the Ridgetop Sleepout Tour is perfect for you. Take the Oodnadatta Track from Marree known for having a Yacht Club in the middle of the desert and the infamous Camel Cup. Continue to venture onward across Anna Creek – the world’s largest cattle station - to William Creek. Make sure to stop in at the local pub in the smallest town in Australia with a current population of only 6 people.
Explorer Tip: Book a flight over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre – particularly at its most magnificent when filled with water when flooded by desert rain every few years.
NEXT STOP: COOBER PEDY
OFF GRID via Parachilna to William Creek
Driving time – 4 hours (374km from Woomera) OR 2 hours (166km from William Creek)
About 40km out of Coober Pedy, the “moonscape” begins – thousands of opal mine shafts dominate the landscape.
Once you've arrived in this authentic outback town, check out the quirky move props (you might recognise Mad Max or Priscilla Queen of the Desert), then dig a little to discover the real gems. All the action is underground – hotels, homes, a church, bookstore and attractions like the Old Timer’s Mining Museum and Umoona Opal Mine, that show how Coober Pedy became Australia’s opal capital.
Go noodling for opals and tee off at Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club which has reciprocal playing rights with St Andrews in Scotland … but not a blade of grass.
COOBER PEDY TO ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK
Driving time – 7.5 hours (734km)
On our way to Australia’s Rock Star – Uluru.
Expect a sea of spinifex grass and vast stretches of vibrant red desert, you’ll watch weather patterns rolling across the horizon. It’s mesmerising.
Roadhouses like Oodnadatta and Marla are conveniently located for fuel stops and to break the drive.
Crossing the border from SA into the Northern Territory takes you into the Red Centre – the spiritual heart of Australia.
At Erldunda, turn left (west) towards Yulara, the town gateway to dual World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Take a few days to explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta, both thought to be about 600 million years old. There are over 100 experiences available including free ranger-guided walks, self-guided hikes and drives, segway, bus and bike tours and scenic flights. Your itinerary should also include dining under the stars, Field of Light and Wintjiri Wiru light shows and the chance to learn about the region from its traditional owners – the Anangu people.
If you don’t want to drive all the way in one day, there is accommodation at Erldunda and Curtin Springs.
Don’t miss Uluru at sunrise and sunset. Shuttle buses can drop you at viewing platforms or you can do a tour.
ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK TO KINGS CANYON
Driving time – 3 hours (300km)
Yet another ancient geological wonder – this one with marine fossils embedded on top of the escarpment proving the centre of Australia was once an inland sea.
The most spectacular is the 6km Kings Canyon Rim Walk at sunrise.
After some relatively steep steps, the path crosses 300m-high sandstone walls with views into the canyon. Take a well-deserved break at the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole with 400-year-old cycads, before finishing the circuit along a layered rock face – nature’s perfect staircase. If you are short of time the Kings Canyon Creek Walk is a beautiful alternative to the Rim Walk, taking you through the centre of the canyon with incredible views from down below.
Explorer Tip: Discovery Kings Canyon and Kings Creek Station are popular bases. While you’re here, book a helicopter flight, a quad bike adventure and an Aboriginal cultural experience.
KINGS CANYON TO ALICE SPRINGS
OFF GRID via 4WD Mereenie Loop
Driving time – 4.5 hours (332km)
SEALED HIGHWAY via Erldunda
Driving time – 5 hours (473km)
Next stop is Alice Springs – the unofficial capital of The Red Centre.
From Kings Canyon you have a choice of direction:
Going off-grid or sticking to the highway
In a 4WD, buy a ($7) permit and tackle the unsealed Mereenie Loop to Glen Helen Gorge in West MacDonnell Ranges National Park (Tjoritja). Hundreds of wild horses add to the stunning scenery. Hermannsburg, Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Serpentine Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap are “must stops”.
In a 2WD, go via the sealed Stuart Highway and stop at Erldunda and Stuart’s Well - both have food, fuel, caravan parks … and comical emus.
You can visit the West (and East) MacDonnell Ranges on day trips from Alice Springs.
Hermannsburg is a must if you like Aboriginal art. As well as detailing the fascinating history of the Western Arrarnta people, this former Lutheran mission is the home of Aboriginal watercolour artist Albert Namatjira and has a gallery of paintings for sale at good prices.
ALICE SPRINGS TO TENNANT CREEK
Driving time – 5 hours (510km)
Alice Springs is popping with things to do: Art galleries in Todd Mall with Aboriginal paintings ready to send home, Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Desert Wildlife Park, Reptile Centre, Anzac Hill, Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum plus some incredibly unique festivals and events throughout the year.
Visit the Telegraph Station to learn how this historic development along the Explorers Way opened lines of communication across the country.
After exploring Alice Springs, drive to Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) to see the precariously perched granite spheres.
Next stop is Tennant Creek, the site of Australia’s last gold rush in the 1930s. Join an underground tour at the Battery Hill Mining Centre and visit the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre to learn about the Warumungu people.
TENNANT CREEK TO DALY WATERS
Driving time – 4 hours (407km)
Along our drive north stop at Threeways – where the road leads to the east coast; Banka Banka West Station campground; Renner Springs where the bar is lined with caps, and Elliot – one of many WWII staging camps on the highway.
Daly Waters has been a haven for Outback travellers since 1930.
The historic pub is “quirky” - like much of the Outback - with a bra-laden bar and an eclectic collection of dusty memorabilia like you’ve never seen before.
Explorer Tip: If you see an Outback pub or roadhouse, stop for a drink (non-alcoholic if you’re driving) and a chat with the locals.
DALY WATERS TO KATHERINE
Driving time – 3 hours (270km)
Quick stop at Larrimah’s Pink Panther Pub then we hit the “hot springs highway”.
Soak in 32C “healing” water at Mataranka Thermal Pools or, if you prefer a more natural setting, float along the palm-fringed stream at Bitter Springs in Elsey National Park.
The warm soaks continue at Katherine Hot Springs.
Katherine is heaven for nature lovers – especially the 13-gorge river system in Nitmiluk National Park. Take a cruise along Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, flanked by 70m cliffs and look for rock art and wildlife as you learn about the stories of the Jawoyn people - the traditional owners of the surrounding land.
KATHERINE TO DARWIN
Driving time – 3.5 hours (316km)
Leliyn (Edith Falls) is a gorgeous place for a picnic, hike and dip on the way to Darwin.
And Litchfield National Park is a mandatory detour to swim in waterholes and waterfalls and to get close to enormous termite mounds that seem to get bigger the further north we go.
Darwin is our final stop – Australia’s northernmost capital city with tropical weather and a laid-back atmosphere that’s easy to lap up. Enjoy waterfront dining, sunset cruises, beach-side markets and the chance to see (and eat) and even swim with crocodiles.
It's a long way to the top of Australia but we’ve made it.
What an adventure!
Explorer Tip: Want to tackle more in the Top End? Take a trip to dual World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park; witness ancient indigenous traditions in East Arnhem Land or take a ferry to the Tiwi Islands.