|Port Augusta - Darwin|
Traversing the ‘Red Centre’ from Port Augusta to Darwin, the 2700 km-long Stuart Highway provides one of the world’s great drives. You’ll cross an ancient rugged landscape and see some truly remarkable sights!
Drive from Adelaide to Port Augusta, then continue north on the Stuart Highway into South Australia’s Outback. The road initially follows the route of the legendary Ghan railway, leading you into increasingly arid terrain.
Supplies are available at Pimba, from where there’s a short detour to Woomera, established in 1947 as a rocket launching site but now the home of a deep space tracking station. If you wish to venture further off the highway, continue to the modern town of Roxby Downs, built to house workers at the giant Olympic Dam Mine, and the nearby opal mining centre of Andamooka.
Back on the highway, stock up with fuel at Glendambo before travelling through rugged country to Coober Pedy. Opals were discovered here in 1915 and the town is surrounded by a lunar landscape of shafts and dumps. Coober Pedy is famous for its underground dugout homes, churches and shops, which the residents have constructed to escape the heat. You can, naturally, buy fine opals here and also visit a couple of mining museums.
Call in at Marla, created as a service centre in the 1970s, before crossing the Northern Territory border - 170 km away - and reaching Kulgera. Drive from here to Erldunda and the start of the 244 km journey along the Lasseter Highway to Ayers Rock Resort, the gateway to world-famous Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). From this highway you can travel to magnificent Kings Canyon and on to Alice Springs, via the partly unsealed Meerenie Loop. On the Stuart Highway, however, stop off to see the Henbury Meteorite Craters, formed by a meteorite plunging to earth.
The lively Red Centre township of Alice Springs, home to around 25,000 people, will seem like a vast metropolis after the highway’s tiny roadhouse settlements. ‘The Alice’ and its surrounds offer a host of things to see - the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base, Museum of Central Australia, Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre, the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station, and a good variety of museums. Other attractions include Lasseters Casino and some great restaurants, a winery, hot air ballooning, scenic flights, and the Frontier Camel Farm. Don’t miss the Alice Springs Desert Park and a tour into West MacDonnell National Park, where wildlife, deep-red rock formations, gorges and waterholes are the drawcards.
North of Alice Springs, call in at historic Barrow Creek then stop off to view the strange ‘Devils Marbles’ before reaching the old goldrush town of Tennant Creek, where you can visit the 1874 Overland Telegraph Station and the Mining Hall of Fame museum. A few kilometres to the north, the Barkly Highway heads east to Queensland and the city of Mount Isa.
Mataranka is the location of Elsey National Park, where the Roper River, a thermal pool and lush rainforest provide welcome resting spots, then your next destination is the major town of Katherine - famous for its Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. Attractions here include the Katherine Museum and a School of the Air, but most visitors come to see the dramatic gorges of the national park.
Beyond Katherine, you’ll pass through the 1870s gold mining town of Pine Creek before arriving in Darwin, the vibrant Northern Territory capital.
DRIVING IN THE OUTBACK
Special precautions must be taken while driving in this very rugged and remote region - contact your local motoring organisation for advice. Although the Stuart Highway is entirely sealed (as is the Lasseter Highway from Erldunda to Ayers Rock Resort) a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential for any off-highway excursions.
Where to Stay
Time Required: At least 7 days, and add another week to fully explore this region.