A winter road trip guide from Adelaide to Darwin

Are you thinking of keeping things local this year with a road trip from Adelaide to Darwin? We share some of the best towns to stop along the way.

If you’re looking for an adventurous way to explore Australia during the cooler months, then the drive from Adelaide to Darwin is the route for you. This outback journey spans 3900km of terrain to cover, with a variety of remarkable sites to see along the way.

As the Australian outback is an enormous area, we’ve highlighted 5 of our favourite places to discover on your road trip through the middle of this magnificent country.

Adelaide

Let’s start off with Adelaide, South Australia’s cosmopolitan coastal capital. If you are wondering what to do here, the city is bursting with culture, flavours, events and entertainment. Luckily, the weather is mostly dry, making it easy to get out and explore. From spending your days at one of many picture-perfect beaches (yes even during winter!) and dining at world-famous restaurants, to enjoying some of Australia's finest wines, Adelaide is the perfect place to relax as you prepare for your outback adventure.

Highlights worth visiting in Adelaide:

  • Cycle the vineyards to sample local wine and food while meeting the people who produce it
  • Go houseboating on the Murray River Lunch Cruise
  • Take a day trip to the Barossa Valley to experience the region's best wine
  • Book the Adelaide Central Markets Tour to try delicious tastings that represent the best foods grown and produced in South Australia

Port Augusta

Port Augusta is a natural harbour that was established back in 1852. It is a roughly 3.5 hours drive north of Adelaide at the top of the Spencer Gulf. This is at the intersection of the main north-south route between Adelaide and Darwin, and the east-west route between Sydney and Perth. It’s a common place to stop along here because it is one of the few reasonably sized towns around. It is also home to one of the most popular tourist attractions of the area, the Wadlata Outback Centre.

Other highlights worth visiting in Port Augusta:

  • The Arid Lands Botanic Garden showcases the flora that grows in the driest of conditions
  • The Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout for beautiful views and natural attractions
  • Wadlata Outback Centre to learn about the history of the outback - the vast areas that makeup Australia’s interior and remote and unpopulated coasts.

Coober Pedy

Next up? We suggest visiting the Opal mining town, Coober Pedy. 540km from Port Augusta is Coober Pedy’, an English adaptation of the local Aboriginal (Dieri) words ‘kupa piti’, which means whiteman’s holes. The town is known for its underground houses and opal mines, making it truly one of the strangest and most alluring places to visit. As most of the world’s opal comes from this tiny outback town. Considering most of your time will be spent underground, visiting in winter is ideal in order to stay cool.

If opals are not your thing, there’s a lot more to see, including:

Kanku - Breakaways Conservation Park - this boasts a spectacular variety of nature's best colours and textures Serbian Orthodox Church which was carved in sandstone underground in 1993 Josephine's Gallery & Kangaroo Orphanage rescues and raises orphaned baby kangaroos

Uluru

756km (just under 8 hours of driving) from Coober Pedy is Uluru. Despite being one of the longest legs of your trip, it is an absolute must-see on your journey to Darwin. Uluru is a sandstone monolith in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the Northern Territory of Australia. Also known as the Red Centre, this region is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. While there, you can also visit Uluru’s companion, Kata Tjuta - a collection of 36 enormous rock formations.

This desert region is blessed with natural wonders, a range of wildlife and abundant opportunities for learning about Aboriginal culture.

When you get to Uluru, we suggest visiting the following:

  • Visit the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
  • Hike around the Uluru Base Walk
  • Explore the Field of Light art installation that comprises 50 000 solar-powered spheres that light an area the size of 7x football fields

Katherine

Katherine is a town in the Northern Territory of Australia, just 320 kilometres southeast of Darwin. It is named after the Katherine River, where it is situated. Katherine is a fascinating outback town to visit because this is where the outback meets the tropics. The jewel of this area is the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, which boasts 13 impressive gorges carved from ancient sandstone.

Other sites worth visiting include:

  • Explore Elsey National Park, famous for its thermal springs and heritage sites
  • Keep warm in the Katherine Hot Springs
  • Go underground at the Cutta Cutta Caves to see limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites

Darwin

The last stretch of your journey from Katherine to Darwin covers a distance of 316km. Once you reach Darwin, you’ll have made your way to the tropical capital of Australia's Northern Territory. The waterfront city is famous for its multicultural food, outdoor markets, waterside attractions and a warm holiday atmosphere - all year-round (yes, even winter!). There’s plenty to do for everyone, including those who love nature, food, sports as well as arts and culture.

We suggest:

  • Get up close with crocodiles and at the Crocosaurus Cove
  • Visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
  • Explore Litchfield National Park
  • Cruise Darwin Harbour at sunset

Remember that the distance from Adelaide to Darwin is vast, with over 3,000 kilometres of road to traverse. With this in mind, we recommend doing due diligence beforehand to learn how to best navigate unfamiliar terrain and routes and plan for a safe - and memorable - journey ahead.