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Alice Springs to Darwin

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Explorer's Way

As one of the great Australian road trips, and a great introduction to 4WDing, Explorers Way allows you to journey through the heart of the Australian outback, taking you 1,500km from Alice Springs to Darwin. Following the trail blazed for the Overland Telegraph Line back in the 1860s, the route allows you to see the best of this magnificent part of Australia, travelling through red desert to uncover awe-inspiring national parks, breathtaking waterfalls and beautiful swimming holes.

Travel

6 - 10 days


Route

Alice Springs to Darwin

1575km


Best Time of the Year

May to November

Highlights

  • West MacDonnell Ranges
  • Newcastle Waters
  • Mataranka Thermal Pool
  • Katherine Gorge
  • Litchfield NP
  • Tennant Creek

The Journey

Days

1 2 3 4 5 6

Day 1
Alice Springs

Whether you travelled up from Adelaide driving the first stretch of Explorers Way, or you arrived by plane to start your journey here, set today aside to explore Alice Springs and its surrounds. As Australia’s most famous outback town, Alice Springs itself offers plenty to see and do. Be sure to check out the Royal Flying Doctor Base, which supports more than 7 million square kilometres, to then learn more about local history at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Take in some Aboriginal art the many local art galleries, and then visit Australia’s only arid zone botanic garden. 

If you want to get out of town, the West MacDonnell Ranges are a must-see. As an easy day trip from Alice Springs, you can drive out to Simpsons Gap, one of the most prominent gaps in the West MacDonnell Ranges. With its own permanent waterhole, Simpsons Gap is a great place to spot black-footed rock wallabies at dawn and dusk, with some easy trails to check out. If you’re looking for some relief from the heat, head to the swimming holes at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge or Glen Helen Gorge.

To see more of the region, consider hiring a 4WD and taking a few extra days to immerse yourself in this spectacular section of the outback. Located in the remote West MacDonnell Ranges, Serpentine Chalet Dam is part of the ruins of an early tourism venture. Accessible by 4WD only, it is a refuge to rare and protected plants and wildlife, and is one of the few sites where the Common Brushtail Possum is found in Central Australia. A bush camp is available for overnight stays.

Redbank Gorge is another decent drive from Alice Springs, located at the base of Mount Sonder, in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Providing refuge to a variety of threatened plant and animal species, Redbank Gorge features an impressive gorge and chasm, which can be explored on the 1.5-hour return walk along the creek bed to the gorge, to then swim in the near-permanent waterhole. Access to the Gorge is 4WD only, but it does allow for overnight stays, with a choice of two basic campgrounds.

Day 2
Alice Springs to Tennant Creek

With your campervan fully stocked, it’s now time to head north. Watching the landscape change as you drive, you will arrive at your first stop after five or so hours. The Devils Marbles are iconic in the region, and are a sacred site to the Warumungu people. Known as Karlu Karlu, these massive ancient boulders are believed to be the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent, standing up to 6m tall and formed over millions of years. You can find out more about the Aboriginal mythology surrounding these ancient rocks on a short self-guided walk around the reserve.

Consider camping at the reserve overnight to enjoy stunning views over the marbles as they change colour at sunset and sunrise, or drive on to Tennant Creek, the main town in the region. Taking part in Australia’s last gold rush in 1930s, Tennant Creek has a fascinating history, which can be explored by checking out various sights around town, such as the Battery Hill Mining Centre. Here, you can take an underground mine tour and see the historic Stamp Battery, to then visit the Tennant Creek Visitor Information Centre, which is also onsite.

Looking for some adventure? Take an extra day to uncover the picturesque tranquility of Davenport Range National Park, east of Tennant Creek. After loading up your 4WD, you can head out into the ranges to discover life in the outback as you take in some of the best 4WD tracks in the Territory. Perfectly secluded, the ranges offer an awesome opportunity to unwind and recharge as you explore bush tracks, swim in waterholes, and camp under the stars.

Day 3
Tennant Creek to Daly Waters

Distance 400km - Driving Time 5 hours

Back in your 4WD campervan, there are a few stops to break up your journey to Daly Waters today. Where the Barkly Highway meets the Stuart Highway, you will find Threeways, where you can stop to stretch your legs and look at the memorial to the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Flying Doctor Service. A few hours on the road will take you to Newcastle Waters, a ghost town that was once a vibrant hub that provided a gathering place for drivers to rest and restock their provisions. Today, a walk through the town offers insight into the challenges of life in a remote outback cattle town.

From here, your overnight stop in Daly Waters is less than two hours away. In town, the main attraction has to be the multi-award winning Daly Waters Historic Pub, which offers backpacker, hotel and motel rooms, or a place to pitch a tent. As the quintessential outback Australian pub, it provides a unique outback experience backed by genuine hospitality – and of course a great pub feed. Of an evening, you can take in the banter of the resident entertainer, as you sip an ice cold beer and check out the extensive memorabilia left by guests passing through over the decades.

Day 4
Daly Waters to Katherine

Distance 270km - Driving Time 3 hours 20 mins

Back on the road, you will reach the small township of Mataranka in about two hours. Made famous by the 1908 novel We Of The Never Never, the town offers insight into what life was like living on a station at the turn of the century, just as Jeanie Gunn described it. Also worth a visit is the Mataranka Thermal Pool, where you can enjoy a rejuvenating dip in naturally occurring 34 degree waters, surrounded by lush palm forest.

If you can, take time out to visit Bitter Springs in nearby Elsey National Park, providing another spot for a dip in spring-fed thermal pools surrounded by palms and tropical woodlands. The park itself offers some excellent walking tracks, or if you fancy getting out onto the river, try your hand at barramundi fishing on the Roper River. Further north, towards Katherine is Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, home to a variety of native wildlife and an extensive karst limestone landscape, found in only a few locations in northern Australia.

Travelling on from there, you will reach Nitmiluk National Park and the majestic Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. Covering a vast area, the park features not one, but 13 impressive gorges, which you can explore on foot, by canoe, by boat or in a helicopter. From dramatic waterfalls and secluded swimming holes, to ancient Aboriginal rock art and inquisitive wildlife, there is so much to explore as you soak in these magnificent surroundings.

Day 5
Katherine to Litchfield National Park

Distance 265km - Driving Time 3 hours

If you missed seeing Edith Falls (Leliyn Falls) on your trip to Nitmiluk National Park yesterday, consider starting your day with a dip in this huge natural pool, fringed with paperbark and pandanus. This area is great for bushwalking, with the 2.6km Leliyn Trail offering a challenging loop, which can be broken up with a refreshing dip in the upper pool of Edith/Leliyn Falls. The longer 9km return walk to Sweetwater Pool offers another alternative for an early morning hike. 

Back in the campervan, Litchfield National Park is your ultimate destination today. Given its proximity to Darwin, the park is a popular destination with heaps to explore. With some gorgeous waterfalls to choose from, Florence Falls and Wangi Falls are firm favourites. Both offer the opportunity for swimming and a picnic, with scenic walks providing unforgettable views over the cascading falls and the surrounding valley.

While there is 2WD access to most of the park’s highlights, there are some amazing 4WD trails to challenge yourself on throughout Litchfield National Park, such as Reynolds River Track. If you’re keen to venture further afield, try the three-day Tabletop Track bushwalk, a 39km circuit suitable for experienced bushwalkers, or indulge in world-class fishing from Dundee Beach or Crab Claw Island. Overnight, you can park up at any of the marked sites throughout the park, such as Wangi and Florence Falls.

Day 6
Litchfield National Park to Darwin

Distance 130km - Driving Time 2 hours

With Darwin only two hours away, you have the option to drive straight there to return your campervan, or take some time to enjoy the journey with a stop at Berry Springs Nature Park or Territory Wildlife Park. Offering a scenic spot to cool off in shady pools, Berry Springs Nature Park also provides some pretty bushwalks and the chance to see plenty of native plant life. Alternatively, Territory Wildlife Park is a favourite for kids, letting them get up close and personal with some of the Top End’s most exciting wildlife. Keep an eye out for the fantastic educational workshops and interactive programs offered during school holidays.

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