Red Dirt Road with cows crossing in Outback Australia

Roadtrip Central Australia – Darwin to Melbourne

The perfect Central Australia Roadtrip, from Darwin to Melbourne is one of the best road trips Australia has to offer! Have an authentic experience of the Australian Outback, visit some of the country’s best cities and cruise along the lush greenery and beaches of South Australia. See some of Australia’s biggest landmarks, such as Uluru and the Great Ocean Road.  This road trip has you passing through 3 different states with contrasting landscapes and experiences and is something you will never forget.  Here we will help guide you through the many amazing stop-offs along the way.   

Northern Territory

Darwin

Darwin is the place to be during the Australian winters if you want to still experience some lovely hot weather.  While the houses in Victoria are turning their heaters on, Darwin’s peak season is just getting started.  Between May – October is the best time to visit, with so much happening in the Northern Territories capital.  From numerous markets, beach events, street art festivals or pool parties, there’s something for everyone.  Darwin is also a great hub to visit other places from, such as the Tiwi Islands or Kakadu National Park. Check out our full guide on 12 free things to do around Darwin here.

Litchfield National Park

Around 1.5 hours south of Darwin is Litchfield National Park; one of our favourite places in Australia!  Something the Northern Territory does very well is provide fabulous waterholes to dip in and Litchfield is a testament to that.

Aside from the waterholes, there’s something else quite remarkable in this national park.  Probably not what you’re thinking but it’s termite mounds!  Not as you know them though, we’re talking 4-metre tall ones.  They’re insanely huge and definitely worth a quick stop off to look at!

The main port of call water holes and falls to see are Wangi Falls, Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls.  All are beautiful and different from each other.

If coming from Darwin, you will arrive at the destinations as follows:  Wangi Falls, Bluey Rockhole, Florence Falls and the Magnetic Termite Mounds.  From here you will be able to continue on and exit the park without having to retrace your steps and vice versa.  The road between the north entrance/exit and Wangi Falls is not Bitumen yet (June 2020) so you will have to take it slow if you don’t have a 4WD but don’t worry, we did it just fine in our 2WD campervan.

Top tip:

From Darwin, enter the destination in Maps as Rakula, rather than Litchfield National Park, otherwise, it will direct you to the wrong entrance and make your overall journey unnecessarily longer.

Litchfield National Park - Image overlooking cascading waterfall below

Adelaide River

There’s not much in Adelaide River but it’s a popular stop-off for visitors to the Adelaide River Inn.  This pub makes for a good rest stop but there’s a particular reason people want to come here.  Ever seen the movie, Crocodile Dundee?  Well, the actual buffalo from the film can be found right here in this pub!

Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk National Park is home to a huge 5-day hike enabling anyone brave enough to scale it with some really insane waterfalls - apparently. Subsequently, we opted out of scaling such a big trek and chose to visit Edith Falls via the paved road instead. Nevertheless,  if you have time, it is possible to kayak through the National Park or enjoy a scenic flight to cheat your way into seeing those awesome falls!

Edith Falls is the most popular and accessible falls in the park.  It is a huge lake with a beautiful cascading waterfall on the far side.  If you’ve got the energy, you can swim right next to the falls, although it’s not for the faint-hearted (or those without a noodle) as this swim is relatively challenging. We enjoyed our swim over and whilst we didn’t see much due to the visibility in the water, we were encouraged to take our snorkels out with us. Especially as there is known to be turtles and an abundance of fish in the lake to see!

Another popular sight within the park is Nitmuluk (Katherine) Gorge, which is a stunning gorge lined with rock art sites by the Jawoyn people.  You can take a boat cruise of the first few gorges; sunrise and sunset ones are best.

Katherine

Katherine is a built-up town for NT and by built-up we mean it has a McDonald's and a Target; two brands rarely seen after this! It’s a great stop if you need any supplies.

Supplies aside, Katherine is a great stop along this road trip due to its wonderful hot springs.  These ‘not-so-hot’ hot springs are much needed in the NT heat. Thankfully,  given the temperatures in the Northern Territory, these springs feel more like a heated swimming pool than a sweaty hot bath like those we experienced in Machu Picchu.  In addition to a great cool down, you can swim from the bottom of the pools to the top or vice versa. 

The Information Centre is also great if you would like to learn a bit more about the Aboriginal culture here.

Katherine Spring - Person swimming through natural springs

Mataranka

Hot springs make for such a great reason to get out and stretch your legs and luckily, they don’t stop in Katherine.  Mataranka got its place on the map for the lovely springs it has to offer.  Lay back and look up at the towering trees above; such beautiful settings!  You may also spot some kangaroos around here! Take a stroll towards the Rainbow Spring from the thermal pool and be awed by the number of bats up in the trees!

Mataranka Bitter Springs - Image of natural swimming pool surrounded by tall trees

Daly Waters

Daly Waters is home to one of the best pubs we’ve ever seen!  A pub probably doesn’t sound that exciting but how many pubs have you seen with numerous bras hanging from the ceiling and the walls completely covered in postcards, business cards and even passports?!  So worth a visit, even if you don’t stop for a drink or a bite to eat.  There are funky trinkets all around Daly Waters, including the most remote red light!

By this point, you would have already got to know the Stuart Highway very well, with so much more time to get to know each other better too.  Well, just as you enter Daly Waters, you will find the Stuart Tree.  The explorer, John McDouall Stuart, which the road is named after is presumed to have carved an ‘S’ into this tree back in 1862.  Today, you have to look very carefully but you can make out the vague ‘S’ on the eastern side of the tree.

There’s a good campsite here too, connected to the pub.  Good price and has a pool!

Daly Waters Pub - Two girls sitting on bar stools in a characterful pub

Banka Banka Station

There’s not much on these long stretches of road and Banka Banka makes for a fab break away from the countless bushes and termite mounds.  Banka Banka was our favourite campsite along this entire route!  This campsite gives a true Australian country welcome and feels complete with roasted marshmallows by the fire, a lookout point to watch the sunset from and animals to feed.  We even had some damper bread (Australian soda bread) made for us by the fire; delish!  The friendliest family own the site and are willing to do so much to ensure your stay is great in this rustic abode.

Tennant Creek

This is the first place you would have seen for a while that is good to stock up on any needed supplies.    

Banka Banka Station - Sarah stroking a baby calf

Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu)

1 hour from Tennant Creek, you will find the mysterious Devil’s Marbles.  These are believed by the Warmungu people to be the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.  The Devils Marbles are a collection of huge boulders scattered around a valley, which formed over millions of years.  Take a self-guided walk around them with signs depicting information of nature and aboriginal connections.   Some of the boulders appear to be teetering on the edge and it is quite puzzling as to how they are not rolling around the valley!

Devils Marbles - Image of large boulders in outback Australia

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well is a peculiar place.  Must be all the alien activity! This town turns out to be the UFO capital of Australia, with its brochure stating that ‘UFO sightings are so common, that if you stayed up all night looking, you would be considered unlucky not to see anything, rather than lucky to see something! 

As a result of this, there is now a roadhouse with a cluster of alien paraphernalia around it.  Inside the roadhouse, you can find a room with newspaper clippings of many of the mysterious alien accounts, plus lots of alien-related souvenirs.  It’s super cheesy but in a fun way and definitely provides something a bit different!

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Wycliffe Well - Image of alien themed street art

Tropic of Capricorn

Here you can find a small statue to commemorate the Tropic of Capricorn line, which is nice for a quick photo op.  There’s also a free campsite here for somewhere to rest for the night.

Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the most built-up place along the route since Katherine.  Here you will find your first Kmart since Darwin and other shops perfect to stock up with.  Get what you can here, including fuel for your trip to Uluru, as it will be much cheaper.

Alice Springs also has a few sights worth checking out.  Here are our must-sees:

Anzac Hill -  Head to Anzac Hill for views over Alice Springs, across to the MacDonnell Ranges.

Alice Springs Desert Park - get face-to-face with emus, kangaroos and birds of prey and have the chance to visit the biggest nocturnal house in the Southern Hemisphere.

The School of Air – the world’s largest classroom.  This is how children in the remote parts of the Northern Territory go the school! Take a tour to see just how they do it.

Bean Tree Café – really tasty food options and delicious, fresh juices but the major highlight of this café is that there is the chance that you’ll be visited by a rock wallaby whilst you dine!

Alice Springs - Rock Wallaby searching for food on a picnic table

Erldunda Roadhouse – Centre of Australia

Just before the turning towards Uluru, the Erldunda Roadhouse on the corner.  This is a good place to top up if you’re low on fuel, as even though it's still quite expensive here, it only gets worse towards Uluru! Aside from this, the roadhouse has an area around the side where you can go check out some emu’s and there is also a landmark here depicting the centre of Australia!  Pretty cool to say you’ve genuinely been to the Red Centre!

Erldunda Roadhouse - Sarah standing in the middle of Australia statue

West Macdonnell Ranges

We, unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit this National Park but it is a popular stop-off for many along the way.  There are numerous waterholes to escape the hot NT sun in; the larger ones include Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge and Helen Gorge.  There are also a number of walking trails throughout and the opportunity to stay the night in a camp too.

Kings Canyon

King’s Canyon is a beautiful place to check out either on the way to or from Uluru.  The canyon offers many different hiking trails but the most popular is the trail around the rim of the canyon.  We went for this and would highly recommend it for the full experience of King’s Canyon.  The trail feels like you’re on another planet and the views of the canyon below are beautiful.  The hike starts with quite a difficult incline of stairs but there are rest points and you’re welcome to just stop by the side of the steps to catch your breath.  After this initial start, the rest is pretty easy.  We had no problems with this 6-hour hike and we are not big hikers at all.  Promise the time just flies by!

Kings Canyon - Image of canyon from the rim

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru was everything we thought it’d be… and more!  So many people had told us about the amazingness of Uluru and it got us excited but we were also slightly apprehensive… after all, it's just a rock, right? Wrong.  It’s so much more than that! Uluru is basically like a town, with classrooms carved into the rock and burial grounds inside.  You are able to circle around the bottom, in various ways, such as with a base walk or on a bicycle.  We opted to take one of the free tours, which has a ranger take you partway along the bottom, explaining some of the history and customs surrounding Uluru.  Very interesting and highly recommended!

Something else that is out of this world is the amazing sunrise and sunset over Uluru.  Truly stunning! There are official lookout points, which get packed but if you head a bit further along, you can find your own little spot to enjoy the views from.

Uluru - Two wine glasses clinking with Uluru in the background

Kata Tjuta/Mount Olga

Uluru isn’t the only attraction inside the National Park; there is another rock formation 50km away, which goes by the name of Kata Tjuta.  Kata Tjuta looks completely different to Uluru, with a series of gigantic rocks towering above you.  There is a popular hike to do here called the Valley of the Winds, which allows you immerse yourself amongst all the tall dome peaks.  This hike is a favourite amongst many travellers.  If you, unfortunately, don’t have the time or ability to do the Valley of the Winds hike, there is another option; Walpa Gorge.  Walpa Gorge is a short walk to a get a quick glimpse of the marvel up close; still great but not as satisfying as the full hike.

We would highly recommend at least 2 nights visiting the National Park to be able to see everything comfortably; anything less than this would feel rushed.  If you would like to save some money, there is a free campsite located roughly an hour outside the park.  We would recommend staying here the night before your visit, heading in to see either Uluru or Kata Tjuca the next day.  Staying closer for the following night is better to experience the sunset and sunrise.  Ayers Rock Campground is best on a budget. The following day you will be able to see the remaining sight, before heading back to the free campsite.

Top tip: for King’s Canyon and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, bring a fly net because the flies show no mercy!

Kata Tjuta/The Olgas - Image of Kata Tjuta with blue skies and white clouds in the background

NT/South Australia Border

Along the way to the next destination is where you will leave the Northern Territory and enter South Australia.  There is a huge ‘welcome to NT/SA’ sign that makes for a good photo opportunity.  There’s also a free campsite here if you are need of a rest.

South Australia

Two girls siting in front of large 'Welcome to South Australia' sign

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is such an interesting place and there’s definitely not much like it across the globe.  The town is the Opal capital of Australia and is, therefore, sprawling with opal mines and shops.  Coober Pedy is also a very hot place and with many of the mines no longer in use, it only makes sense that the town is now basically all underground to get some shade!  Yes, that’s right… underground shops, bars, houses and even a church!

Must-sees:

Faye’s Underground – an opportunity to take a tour around one of the underground homes and boy, is it an impressive one! This house will have you wishing that you had an underground home too! It has a fabulous history too.

Crocodile Harry’s – so apparently the actual person that Crocodile Dundee is based on lived here.  This house is bizarre and hilarious and has to be seen with your own eyes.  You’ll be telling everyone about this place!

Coober Pedy Sign – Coober Pedy has a sign similar to the famous Hollywood Sign.  Head up there to see views far afield.

Old Timer’s Mine – step back in time to 1916 in this original opal mine, which now houses a museum and underground home.

Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage – a lovely art gallery to browse around but also has something special up its sleeve; a kangaroo orphanage round the back!  At certain times of the day, they allow visitors to see and feed them.  Pop in enquire about the varying times.  Adorable!

Coober Pedy - Danger Sign warning of unmarked holes

Glendambo

There isn’t much in Glendambo at all.  In fact, it’s basically just a roadhouse.  However, there is a sign located outside the roadhouse, which states the population and makes for a funny photo!

Glendambo welcome sign stating 2,000,000 flies and 30 humans live in Glendambo

Port Augusta

Welcome back to civilisation! From this point, the scenery of the trip differs drastically.  Gone are the days of pure desert and soon you will be surrounded by the lush, rolling hills of South Australia.  Port Augusta provides great access to Flinders Ranges but also has some great sights of its own.

Must-sees:

Time Tunnel Travel at Wadlata – walk into the jaws of a giant lizard and be transported to the prehistoric time of life before man on Gondwanaland.  A really interesting interactive display, which takes you through time to the present day in Port Augusta.

Matthew Flinders Lookout – especially great at sunset, head here for the amazing views of the Spencer Gulf against the stunning backdrop of the Flinders Ranges.

Water Tower Lookout – placed in a now disused water tower, you can climb up the 90 steps to the top and enjoy 360-degree views over Port Augusta, Spencer Gulf, all the way to the Flinders Ranges.

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Of course, there is the main attraction too; the Flinders Ranges

Port Augusta is an easy day trip from some of the Flinders Ranges hot spots.  Near Quorn, you can find the Dutchman’s Stern, Devils Peak and Warren Gorge.  A little further afield is where Death Rock and Kanyaka Historic Site.  Many days can be spent exploring the Flinders Ranges more extensively but a day trip from Port Augusta makes for a great taster.

Bumbunga Lake

Bumbunga Lake is your opportunity to see a pink lake during this journey.  Some days it’s pinker than others but if you catch it on a good day, it’s a spectacular sight!

Adelaide

The capital of South Australia and the first major city since Darwin! This is the end of the infamous trail between Darwin and Adelaide along the Stuart Highway!  Adelaide is one of Australia’s major cities but it’s not overbearing.  We would recommend at least a couple of days here to soak in the main sights.  

Must-sees:

Adelaide Central Market – immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of this fabulous market.  There are so many different food options to choose from in what is the largest undercover market in the Southern Hemisphere!

South Australian Museum – home to the world’s largest collection of Australian Aboriginal cultural material!

Glenelg – Glenelg has something for everyone, whether you fancy relaxing on a gorgeous beach, visiting boutique shops, mincing around cool galleries and cafes or immersing yourself in the city’s rich heritage.  Check out the sunset from the Glenelg jetty too!

Adelaide Central Market - Image of large indoor market

The Big Lobster

Australia loves a monument to their foods, such as the Big Prawn, Big Spud, Big Cod etc and just south of Adelaide is where you will find the Big Lobster.  If you’re in Australia for a while, see how many you can spot!

To get you started, you can find the Big Prawn along the East Coast during this perfect 2-week itinerary.

The Big Lobster - Image of giant lobster model

Robe

South Australia is home to some awesome little beach towns and Robe is one of the most popular ones.  Here you can find an array of quaint shops with beautiful clothes, jewellery, homewares etc.  There are also lots of lovely places to get a bite to eat and of course, the beaches do not disappoint either. Robe has such a welcoming vibe and definitely worth having a little stroll around.   

Mount Gambier

Mount Gambier was one of our favourite stops during this road trip as it is quite a unique place.  One of the main sights here is Blue Lake, which is rightly named so as it is very blue! It’s a beautiful lake and something you should check out whilst in Mount Gambier.  However, the main attraction here is the numerous sinkholes; there is said to be over 50 in the area!  The most visited sinkhole is Umpherston, which a wonderful sight.  The hole has now been turned into an amazing sunken garden!  You can head down inside to gaze at all the greenery and waterfalls and you may also spot some possums in the caves!  Such a great idea! If you’re around in the evening, a light show is also held here.

Mount Gambier - Large sinkhole made into public gardens

Victoria

Warrnambool

Welcome to Victoria! This is the 3rd and last Australian state during this journey and it starts with the wonderful town of Warrnambool.  Your final stop before you embark on the infamous Great Ocean Road! Before you head off though, Warrnambool has a few sights worth looking at and some whales to spot!

Must-sees:

Whale Watching – Between June – September, whales head to the warmer waters of Southern Australia and can be spotted from Warrnambool.  The best place to spot them is from the viewing platform at Logans Beach.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village and Museum – a reconstructed outdoor village, which gives you a taste of like in Australia for the early settlers,  complete with cobbled streets.  There are more than 40 buildings, including a blacksmith’s, dressmaker’s, fire station and a school. Delve into some scones on the cute tea rooms!

Fletcher Jones Market & Gardens – Fletcher Jones was an iconic Australian clothing brand and the company was known for its progressive approach to employer/employee relations.  The factory was a major employer in Warrnambool and these gardens were built by David Fletcher Jones as part of a program to look after the welfare of his workers.  Still to be enjoyed by the public are the beautiful gardens and the factory has now been transformed into a huge vintage market, where you can find a heap of unique items!

Allansford Cheese World – ran by the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory, enjoy free tastings and browse the wide selection of cheese and wines.  Head to the café to try one of their famous milkshakes and browse the gift shop some really cool finds.

Warrnambool historic township museum - Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village and Museum

Great Ocean Road

The infamous Great Ocean Road; something we’re sure you’ve been looking forward to since you stepped foot in Oz!  For good reason too, as it really is stunning.  You’ll find an array of beautiful beaches, rock formations, great seaside towns and even a National Park along the way! This road really is special and you really feel it once you get to the other side and wonder why you no longer feel like you’re driving along in a movie scene.

Twelve apostles on the Great Ocean Road

Torquay

Torquay is your final feel of the Great Ocean Road before you start to head towards the big city of Melbourne.  This town has an interesting history as it is the home of the iconic brand Rip Curl. As you can imagine, there is now a huge surfing culture here.  Head to Torquay Surf Beach and watch all the surfers in action or even get a surfing lesson yourself!

Geelong

Geelong will start to introduce to the metropolitan life before you get fully immersed in Melbourne.  There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to enjoy in Geelong, plus it has all the major shops if there’s anything you’re needing.  Explore Geelong’s waterfront or if you want something a bit more exhilarating, you can head to Victoria’s largest water park, Adventure Park! Also, be sure to check out all the fab street art.

Melbourne

Hello Melbourne!  The home of fabulous coffee and 84749274748 amazing places to dine.  Melbourne is famous for its food and coffee scene but there’s also plenty to see & do in this funky city.  From the numerous fab street art murals to the historic trams; a great art scene or even penguins! You’ll never feel further away from the outback living you had not so long ago and even though that side of Australia is amazing, it is also great to experience the metropolitan side too.

Melbourne CBD - Image of skyscrapers with river in the forefront

Wilson’s Prom/Phillip Island/Mornington Peninsula

Head a bit further afield to experience more of what Victoria has to offer with a trip to Wilson’s Prom, Phillip Island or Mornington Peninsula. Only located between 1.5 – 3 hours outside of Melbourne and all offer a chance to see some of Australia’s amazing wildlife.

We took a boat trip to see the humpback whales up close and it was one of the best things we’ve ever done.  There were even sightings of penguins, sea lions and awesome birds too!  Wildlife Coast Cruises is who we went with and we would highly recommend this!  Enjoy an overnight lighthouse stay, visit the world’s southernmost mangroves or take a noisy walk along the actual Squeaky Beach!

Phillip Island is famous for its penguin viewings but if you’re on a backpacker budget like us or just simply don’t have enough time to head to Phillip Island, you can see them in St. Kilda for free.

Mornington Peninsula – take the opportunity to enjoy some time in the Peninsula Hot Springs; Australia’s first geothermal springs! The Enchanted Adventure Garden also provides lots of fun, with mazes, tube slides, a 3D Spooky Maze, sculpture garden and canopy walks.

Whale breaching

 

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Darwin to Melbourne travel guide
Darwin to Melbourne travel guide

 

2 thoughts on “Roadtrip Central Australia – Darwin to Melbourne”

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