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9 Northern Territory road trip itineraries for epic outback adventures
It’s time to take to the open road and discover everything that the Top End has to offer.
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Are you itching to see the Northern Territory? Are you in Darwin and have a few days to spare? Well, look no further because we've brought together all the must-do road trip itineraries for the picturesque Red Centre. We've got your destinations covered, so all you have to do is pick the playlist.
Alice Springs is the heart of the Northern Territory as well as the country. Your Red Centre adventure starts off driving from Darwin to Katherine, where you'll then spend the day exploring the incredible gorge. As your final destination is quite a drive from Darwin, Tennant Creek is where you'll spend your next night. From there, you'll hit Alice Springs where you can fly in a hot air balloon, tour Uluru and hike through the West MacDonnell Ranges.
- Distance: 2,998km, 30 hours round trip.
- Itinerary length: 7 days.
- Route: Darwin to Alice Springs via Katherine and Tennant Creek on National Highway 87.
- Highlights: Katherine Gorge, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.
- Best time to drive: September is the best time to visit the Red Centre as temperatures are mild. It's important to note that most tours are seasonal and run between April and October. It's best to avoid travelling from December to March as this is the flood season for the tropical end of the territory.
- Things to do: Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge Cruise, West MacDonnell Ranges, day trip to Ayers Rock, hot air ballooning, tour of Alice Springs and Alice Springs Desert Park.
- Stay at: Knotts Crossing Resort, Bluestone Motor Inn and DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs.
- Eat at: Barrel & Cruse Bistro in Katherine, Sporties Club or Memories Restaurant in Tennant Creek and Epilogue Lounge and Rooftop Bar or Barra on Todd Restaurant and Bar in Alice Springs.
Are you in Darwin and need a quick weekend away? Why not head to Berry Springs? Just over half an hour south of Darwin's city centre, it's conveniently close and jam-packed with outdoor activities.
We recommend picking a warmer weekend where you can spend the day immersed in the waters of the Berry Springs Waterhole. Best of all, with no long drive home, there's no rush to leave.
- Distance: 105km, 1 hour and 20 minutes round trip.
- Itinerary length: 2 days.
- Route: Darwin to Berry Springs via Tiger Brennan Drive.
- Highlights: Territory Wildlife Park and Berry Springs Waterhole.
- Best time to drive: March and April offer cooler temperatures so you can escape the heat, and it's also when native flowers bloom.
- Things to do: Territory Wildlife Park, Berry Springs Waterhole, Crazy Acres and Blackmore River Conservation Reserve.
- Stay at: AAOK Lake Resort and Caravan Park or Noonamah Tourist Park.
- Eat at: Berry Springs Tavern or Johnny's Dine-In Takeaway.
Situated just an hour south of Darwin's city centre, Litchfield National Park offers a close escape from the busyness of city life. From adrenaline-packed activities to the soft calm of a hike, this road trip is perfect for a few days off the grid.
Spend your first couple of days exploring the ins and outs of Batchelor and the picturesque Litchfield parklands, and stop for a break in Berry Springs on your way home. Cool off at the local watering hole before heading back home.
- Distance: 369km, 4.5 hours round trip.
- Itinerary length: 3 days.
- Route: Darwin to Litchfield via Batchelor and Berry Springs.
- Highlights: Litchfield National Park, Batchelor and Berry Springs.
- Best time to drive: From March to September is the recommended time to visit since this is when the humidity is at its lowest. Keep in mind that this is peak season.
- Things to do: Batchelor Butterfly Farm and Pet Garden, Nina's Ark Wildlife Sanctuary, NT Adventure Park, Buley Hole, Wangi Falls and Berry Springs Waterhole.
- Stay at: Litchfield Motel, Litchfield Tourist Park or Banyan Tree Batchelor.
- Eat at: Rum Jungle Tavern, Batchelor Butterfly Farm or Berry Springs Tavern.
Pack up the car and set the GPS for Kakadu and Nitmiluk. Just three hours south-east of Darwin, get ready to immerse yourself in the natural wonder of these national parks. You'll kick things off in Nitmiluk with a serene self-guided tour of the gorge then you'll head north-east to Kakadu.
The experiences here are endless, with Aboriginal cultural tours as well as a look into how things run in the outback. In Kakadu, you can also see the local waterfalls before slowly making your way back home to Darwin.
- Distance: 1,214 km, 13 hours round trip.
- Itinerary length: 5 days.
- Route: Darwin to Nitmiluk National Park and Kakadu via National Highway 1.
- Highlights: Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge, Kakadu National Park and Marrakai.
- Best time to drive: May to September is recommended as this is the dry season and the heat is low.
- Things to do: Top Didj Cultural Experience and Art Gallery and Nitmiluk Gorge canoe tour.
- Stay at: Nitmiluk Chalets, Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, Aurora Kakadu Lodge or the Cooinda Lodge Kakadu.
- Eat at: Jatti Poolside Restaurant, Kumbidgee Restaurant, Savannah Bar & Restaurant, Barrel & Cruse Bistro in Katherine and Mimi Restaurant in Kakadu.
Cairns to Darwin
There really isn't a place quite like Australia's Top End. Get out onto the open road as you make your way from Cairns to the Northern Territory capital.
Enjoy pit stops in Queensland's outback towns, followed by the lush national parks of the Northern Territory including Nitmiluk and Litchfield. We recommend packing your swimmers for this one, the crystal clear waters of the parks are too good to resist.
- Distance: 2,483km, 27 hours.
- Route: Cairns to Darwin via Georgetown, Normanton, Burketown, Borroloola, Mataranka, Nitmiluk National Park and Litchfield National Park.
- Highlights: Mataranka, Nitmiluk National Park, Litchfield National Park and Darwin.
- Best time to drive: To avoid the wet season, which can see heavy rain, organise your trip between June and September.
- Things to do: Fitzroy Island Day Package, TerrEstrial Centre, Mutton Hole Wetlands Conservation Park, Krys the Crocodile, Morning Glory cloud formation, Yaliya's Stories stargazing tour, Elsey National Park, Mataranka Thermal Pools and Rainbow Springs, Bitter Springs, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) sunset cruise, Berry Springs Waterhole, Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, Florence Falls Waterhole, crocodile feeding and sunset sailing.
- Stay at: Pullman Cairns International, Latara Motel, Gulfland Motel, Burketown Caravan Park, Lorella Springs Wilderness Park, Territory Manor Motel and Caravan Park, Nitmiluk Chalets, Litchfield Tourist Park and Travelodge Resort Darwin.
- Eat at: Piato Cairns Restaurant, Wenaru Hotel and Bar in Georgetown, Morning Glory Licensed Restaurant in Burketown, Carpentaria Grill Restaurant in Borroloola, Barra Cafe on Riverview in Nitmiluk National Park and Hanuman in Darwin.
Adelaide to Darwin (Explorer's Highway)
It's the road trip dreams are made of. Set off to discover Australia top to bottom (literally), by driving from South Australia's capital to tropical Darwin. Enjoy the incredible destinations along the way, with stops in Coober Pedy, Yulara, Alice Springs, Mataranka, Katherine and Batchelor.
As you'll be going from the desert conditions of the Red Centre to the tropical north, make sure you organise this trip for the dry season.
- Distance: 3,546km, 36 hours.
- Route: Adelaide to Darwin via Port Augusta West, Coober Pedy, Yulara, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Mataranka, Katherine and Batchelor.
- Highlights: Coober Pedy, Uluru, Alice Springs, Mataranka, Nitmiluk National Park and Litchfield National Park.
- Best time to drive: Plan your trip between May and October as this is Darwin's dry season. You'll bypass the wet weather that summer brings and enjoy cooler temperatures as you head through the Red Centre.
- Things to do: Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden, Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, Breakaways, Church of Saint Elijah, Uluru Field of Light Sunrise Tour, Uluru and Kata Tjuta Experience, Alice Springs Desert Park Nocturnal Tour, West MacDonnell Ranges, hot air ballooning, Elsey National Park, Mataranka Thermal Pool and Rainbow Springs, Nitmiluk Gorge canoe tour, Buley Hole, Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park, sunset sail from Cullen Bay and enjoy a scenic flight over Darwin.
- Stay at: The Standpipe Golf Motor Inn, The Lookout Cave Underground, Sails in the Desert Hotel, Desert Palms Alice Springs, Safari Lodge Motel, Territory Manor Motel & Caravan Park, Shady Lane Tourist Park, Litchfield Motel and Ramada Suites Zen Quarter.
- Eat at: Standpipe Restaurant in Port Augusta West, Mediterranean Street Food Tavern in Coober Pedy, Ilkari Restaurant in Yulara, Epilogue Lounge & Rooftop Bar in Alice Springs, Sporties Club in Tennant Creek, Territory Manor in Mataranka, Jatti Poolside Restaurant in Nitmiluk, Rum Jungle Tavern in Batchelor and Wharf One Food & Wine in Darwin.
Pack your bags for an adventure across our Western state. Nestled on the north coast, Broome offers a plethora of natural wonders and picture-perfect beaches. Your road trip starts off with a night in Katherine, followed by an official border cross into Kununurra. Here, you'll discover national parks, lookouts and waterfalls before making the journey to the final pit stop, Fitzroy Crossing.
Your Broome itinerary will be filled with historical tours led by Indigenous people as well as with lazy days by the beach.
- Distance: 1,917km, 19 hours 45 minutes.
- Route: Darwin to Broome via Katherine, Kununurra and Fitzroy Crossing on National Highway 1.
- Highlights: Katherine, Kununurra, Broome and Eighty Mile Beach.
- Best time to drive: Plan to visit from April to November as this is the dry season.
- Things to do: Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Hot Springs, Katherine Outback Experience, Mirima National Park, Ivanhoe Crossing, Black Rock, Kelly's Knob, Geikie Gorge National Park, Mimbi Caves, Eighty Mile Beach, Cable Beach, Gantheaume Point, Roebuck Bay and Dampier Peninsula.
- Stay at: Riverview Tourist Village, Ibis Styles Kununurra, Fitzroy River Lodge and Moonlight Bay Suites.
- Eat at: Savannah Bar & Restaurant in Katherine, Kimberley Cafe in Kununurra, the Crossing Inn at Fitzroy Crossing and Runway Bar & Restaurant or the Land of Pharaohs in Broome.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with an exploration of Australia's northern end. Explore everything the Litchfield, Nitmiluk and Kakadu regions have to offer with the Nature's Way Drive.
This road trip features plenty of opportunity for dipping into natural swimming holes, so be sure to pack a few towels and plenty of sunscreen.
- Distance: 1,057km, 11 hours 15 minutes.
- Route: Nature's Way Drive via Darwin, Litchfield National Park, Nitmiluk National Park and Kakadu.
- Highlights: Litchfield National Park, Tjuwaliyn/Douglas Hot Springs Park, Nitmiluk National Park, Kakadu National Park and Darwin.
- Best time to drive: You want to drive in the dry season, which is between June and early September. The wet season sees heavy rain that often floods outback roads.
- Things to do: Wangi Falls, Tjuwaliyn/Douglas Hot Springs Park, kayak on Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, Jabiru scenic flight, Footprints of Kakadu 4WD Tour, Darwin scenic flight, cruise to Crab Claw Island and Tiwi Islands.
- Stay at: Litchfield Tourist Park, Nitmiluk Chalets, Aurora Kakadu Lodge and Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront.
- Eat at: Rum Jungle Tavern near Litchfield National Park, Kumbidgee Restaurant in Nitmiluk, Fat Sam's in Jabiru and Wharf One Food and Wine in Darwin.
Make your way from the South Australian border right up to Timber Creek with Binns Track. Originally established to bring tourists to outback Australia, the track offers sights such as Alice Springs, Ruby Gap and Devils Marbles.
Keep in mind that Binns Track requires a 4WD, so we recommend renting one to ensure you can travel through the entire itinerary. Also, as you will be staying in a couple of campgrounds, we suggest stocking up on easy-to-prepare foods.
- Distance: 2,548km, 34 hours.
- Route: Mount Dare to Timber Creek via Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Dunmarra.
- Highlights: Mac Clark (Acacia peuce) Conservation Reserve, West MacDonnell Ranges, Ruby's Gap, Gemtree, Devil's Marbles, Dunmarra and Timber Creek.
- Best time to drive: Driving is best between June and early September as this is the dry season. Undertaking this itinerary during the wet season can lead to flooded back roads.
- Things to do: Mac Clark (Acacia peuce) Conservation Reserve, Ruby Gap National Park, West MacDonnell Ranges Day Trip, hot air ballooning in Alice Springs, Devil's Marbles, Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre, Judbarra/Gregory National Park, Nackeroo Lookout and the Timber Creek Police Station.
- Stay at: Old Andado Station, Mercure Alice Springs Resort, Ruby Gap Nature Park campground, Gemtree Caravan Park, Goldfields Hotel Motel in Tennant Creek, Dunmarra Wayside Inn and the Timber Creek Hotel.
- Eat at: Epilogue Lounge & Rooftop Bar or Bella Alice in Alice Springs, Gemtree Caravan Park in Gemtree, Sporties Club or Woks Up in Tennant Creek and the Timber Creek Cafe.
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Frequently asked questions
What kind of car do I need?
To play it safe, you'll want to take a 4WD. Road tripping across the Northern Territory may require you to take unsealed, dirt roads or possibly take a route through national parks. In these instances, you'll want a vehicle that can take on the conditions.
If you're hiring a car, make sure the company allows you to take the rented vehicle down unsealed roads. Many companies don't as a standard, and if anything happens to your vehicle on unsealed roads, you may be liable for any repair costs, even if you do have insurance. Some companies do let you pay a premium that will cover you on unsealed roads.
What are the best campsites in the Northern Territory?
Some of our favourite campgrounds include the following:
- Wangi Falls Camping Area, Litchfield National Park
- Gunlom Campground, Kakadu National Park
- Jatbula Trail, Katherine
- Palm Valley Campground, Namatjira
- Lorella Springs Wilderness Park, Limmen National Park
- Walker Creek, Litchfield National Park
- Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park, Douglas-Daly
- Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, near Davenport Ranges National Park
When is the best time to visit the Northern Territory?
The Northern Territory is split into two climates. The northern end of the territory, which includes Darwin and Kakadu, is a tropical climate. In this case, you'll want to travel between June and September to avoid high heat and humidity.
The southern portion of the Northern Territory, where you'll find Alice Springs and Uluru, has a desert climate. This means that the days are hot and the nights can reach 0 degrees. The best time to visit Alice Springs is in September when the temperatures are the most comfortable.
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