Known around the world, the Australian Outback immediately brings to mind visions of flaming red desert sands and spectacular rock formations. But did you know you this stunning landscape also includes underground towns, unique plant life and spectacular gemstones?
Starting in the fertile wine regions of Adelaide, the Aussie Overlander road trip takes you north via Port Augusta and Coober Pedy to the heart of Australia in Alice Springs. And with so much to see and do along the way, why not plan a self-drive holiday with a Britz campervan? This way you can travel and sleep in comfort for the whole seven-day journey, and be satisfied knowing that you're making the absolute most of your time.
Also, the road between Adelaide and Alice Springs is now one of the easiest in the country, making the journey perfect for road trippers and a pleasant change from the dirt road that marked sections of the route right up until the 1980s. However, make sure you combat driver fatigue by resting for 15 minutes every 2 hours, or sharing the driving with someone else.
Adelaide to Alice Springs
Best Time of the Year
May to October
- Adelaide Oval
- Spud's Road House
- Old Timers Mine
- Ayers Rocks Resort
- Alice Springs branch
Adelaide to Port Augusta
Distance 346km - Driving Time 4hrs 30min
Known as Australia's wine capital, Adelaide is the gateway to renowned wine regions such as the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, and the Clare Valley. But Adelaide has much, much more to offer as well. After you pick up your Britz campervan in Brooklyn Park, check out Adelaide's city centre, which is surrounded by parklands and dotted with beautifully preserved historic buildings. A highlight is North Terrace, where grand colonial stone buildings house boutique shops, galleries and museums. If you have time, a great way to acquaint yourself with Adelaide is on foot, so stroll over the River Torrens via leafy King William Road and up to the famous Adelaide Oval and St. Peter's Cathedral.
If you're feeling peckish, stop in for a spot of fine dining at the award-winning Jolleys Boathouse Restaurant before you hit the road. Heading north, sample a lovely Riesling in the Clare Valley, which has been making wine since the first grapes were planted in 1851. Further on is the heritage town of Burra, once known for copper mining and now one of the most beautifully preserved towns in South Australia. Continue on towards Port Pirie, where there are some lovely spots for a cup of tea and a break along the shores of the Port Pirie River. Once you've recharged the batteries, press on for another hour or so, skirting the northern reaches of the Spencer Gulf until you arrive in Port Augusta, the first stopover on your journey. A good place to stay the night is Shoreline Caravan Park, which offers a beach frontage location.
Port Augusta to Coober Pedy
Distance 540km - Driving Time 4hrs 30min
Before you depart Port Augusta, a must-see is the Wadlata Outback Centre, where a journey through the 'Tunnel of Time' will introduce you to the nearby Flinders Ranges and the Australian Outback. Also, pay a visit to the Arid Lands Botanic Garden, where you'll see the unique flora that survives in Australia's arid interior. Taking the Stuart Highway north from Port Augusta, the landscape will start to change fairly dramatically with the approach of the true Outback. With sparse vegetation and vast red plains, this 5.3 million square kilometre area has been given the nicknames 'The Red Centre' and 'The Dead Heart', and for good reason.
As such, it's worth taking a quick stop at Spud's Road House in Pimba, where you can fill the petrol tank and stock up on food and water for the trip further north. While you're at Pimba, you might also consider taking a short trip up the road to Woomera, where the Woomera Interactive Rocket Range Museum has historical displays relating to the Woomera Range and the now-closed Joint Defence Facility at Nurrungar. Continue on to Coober Pedy and look for the BIG4 Stuart Range Outback Resort, where you can spend the night.
Today, spend your day exploring Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. These multi-coloured gemstones are abundant in this remote town, making it a world-famous destination for treasure hunters and fortune seekers. Visitors can try their luck at "noodling" (fossicking) for opals at various spots around town – just check you don't need a permit, as some sites are zoned for true miners. Also consider taking a tour of Old Timers Mine for an insight into the fascinating history of opal mining in Coober Pedy. Once you've had your fill of opals, take the time to inspect Coober Pedy's unique underground 'dugout' homes, with half the population living beneath the earth to escape high temperatures during summer, when it can reach 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit).
Local tours of underground homes can be booked through the Coober Pedy Visitor Information Centre. There are also underground museums, potteries, opal shops, an art gallery and a catacomb church to explore. Local operators also offer day tours of the spectacular Painted Desert and Lake Eyre, or the colourful Breakaways Reserve, a series of low hills which have broken away from the Stuart Range. Another must-see is Josephine's Gallery & Kangaroo Orphanage, where orphaned kangaroos are raised and visitors have the opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close.
Coober Pedy to Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Distance 750km - Driving Time 9hrs
Day four sees you undertake the longest leg of the trip, but if you're an early riser, it might be worth catching the desert sunrise in Coober Pedy before you head off. Once you get underway, 15 kilometers up the road you'll reach The Moon Plain, a vast expanse of rocky plains resembling a lunar landscape. The setting for Hollywood blockbusters such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Pitch Black, the terrain will truly make you feel like you're walking on the moon.
As you travel north, you'll approach the Northern Territory border, but before you cross, stop into the last town before the border, Marla. The Marla Travellers Rest service station, which includes a supermarket, pub, and petrol station, is the perfect place to restock on food, water and petrol before you travel the remaining distance to Uluru. Alternatively, just over the border is Kulgera, where the town's roadhouse offers similar facilities. Once you arrive in Erldunda, you'll turn off the Stuart Highway and onto the Lasseter Highway to travel the remaining 268km to Uluru. Head for the Ayers Rocks Resort at Yulara where you'll spend the night.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
One of Australia's best-known natural landmarks and the largest monolith in the world, Uluru dominates the landscape, standing 348m above the ground. An ancient Aboriginal sacred site, the rock measures 3.6kms in length and 1.9kms in width, while the climb to the top is 1.6kms. Amazingly, some 2.5kms of the bulk of Uluru is underground. One of the best times to see Uluru is at sunset, so to fill in the day, visit the massive domes of Kata Tjuta, otherwise known as The Olgas.
Located 35 kilometers drive from the resort, Kata Tjuta means 'many heads', and the park's 36 sandstone domes are believed to be around 500 million years old. Choose from a number of walking trails to wander among the mesmerising ochre-coloured domes. You can easily spend the day here before returning for the spectacular orange, pink and red sunset at Uluru. To extend your Uluru experience even further, consider finishing your day with a Sounds of Silence dinner. Sitting in the shadow of Uluru, you'll dine under the stars in a tranquil desert setting, while your very own storyteller shares ancient tales.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) to Alice Springs
Distance 468km - Driving Time 5hrs 45min
As you bid farewell to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, return back along the Lasseter Highway to Erldunda. Along the way you'll pass the Curtin Springs Roadhouse before reaching Mt Conner lookout. The lookout has great views of this striking flat-topped mesa, which stands about 859m (2821ft) high and is often mistaken for Uluru by unsuspecting drivers – stop here and stretch your legs. You'll also pass the Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse before you reach the junction at Erldunda.
Turn north for Alice Springs, and 70km later you'll arrive at the Finke River rest area, a popular stop right next to the Finke River (which only flows a couple of times each year). Around 40km further on you'll reach the Stuarts Well Roadhouse, next door to which is a camel farm where you can take a short camel ride. Shortly afterwards you'll pass the turnoff for Rainbow Valley, where some interesting walks lead you through fabulous rock formations. Push on to Alice Springs and head for the Wintersun Caravan Park or the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park for your night's stay.
Despite the fact it's in the middle of nowhere, Alice Springs (or "The Alice", as it's known to locals) has a lot going for it. While you're in town, be sure to explore the picturesque West MacDonnell Ranges, and in particular Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm. In both of these locations, you can walk through a deep red cleft in the Range, with craggy slopes rising up to 80 metres above you. If you're pushed for time, Simpsons Gap is closer to town, and it also has a pretty waterhole at the end of the trail.
Back in town, check out The Alice Springs Reptile Centre, where you can keep a wary eye on the world's most venomous snakes, not to mention huge goannas, frilled-neck lizards, and desert-dwelling thorny devils, plus the resident saltwater crocodile. Finally, aviation nuts should visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility. Every year the Royal Flying Doctor Service helps more than 270,000 patients across the most remote parts of Australia, flying more than 26 million kilometers in the process. At the Tourist Facility, you'll find a museum with historic radios, medical equipment, model airplanes and a full-scale replica fuselage you can enter. At the end of your day, return your Britz campervan to the Alice Springs branch.