From Darwin to Uluru: the best Northern Territory road trip in 3 weeks
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The ultimate outback experience in Australia is without a doubt a road trip in the Northern Territory from Darwin to Uluru. This amazing trip is so diverse and has a lot of awesome adventures, from Aboriginal cultures to the most spectacular views in the outback of Australia.
In this 3-week Northern Territory road trip, I will take you with me to the most beautiful street art in Darwin, into the Crystal clear springs in Elys National Park or better known as The Bitter Springs, and around the most famous tourist attraction in Australia, Ayers Rock or Uluru in Kata Tjuta National Park.
And whether you are planning to drive from Darwin to Uluru or Uluru to Darwin, this road trip itinerary is perfect to adapt to your trip.
In 2020, I drove from Darwin to Uluru and explored this beautiful part of Australia, while in 2021 I did another road trip from Adelaide to Darwin and discovered more places in the Red Centre that I added to this Northern Territory road trip itinerary.
READ ALSO: 16 amazing Things to do in Adelaide
How to get to the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is located (as you can guess) in the Northern part of Australia with the biggest city, Darwin. There are many international and domestic flights to Darwin, which makes it a great place to start your adventure, and prices for domestic flights are often on sale!
If you are traveling overland from other states like Western Australia then just follow the Victoria Hwy till you reach the Stuart Hwy and continue north towards Darwin City.
From Queensland follow the Barkly Hwy till you reach the Stuart Hwy and continue North.
My road trip in the Northern Territory started from Darwin to Uluru but you can also do this itinerary in the opposite direction.
How to get from Darwin to Uluru
The best way to get from Darwin to Uluru is by car or 4×4 and I highly recommend renting a 4×4 for this itinerary as there are many off-road tracks in the Red Center and National Park around Darwin.
In Darwin are many rental companies but also in Alice Springs. However, my advice is to book your vehicle in advance as it can be very busy during the peak season and prices will go up.
Prices for a rental are between AU$75 -125 per day depending on the time of the year.
Although, if you are planning to visit the highlights of the Northern Territory, it is also possible to rent a campervan to visit most places in this itinerary.,
Best time to visit the Northern Territory
The best time to visit the Northern Territory and make a road trip from Darwin to Uluru is between May and October as these are the driest months of the year with pleasant temperatures.
During the dry season, you’ll have clear skies and temperatures between 20-30 degrees Celsius which makes it more comfortable to travel and explore the beautiful National Parks in the Northern Territory.
The wet season brings tropical rains from November to April with very humid and warm temperatures. Some National Parks will be closed and roads could be flooded, so make sure you do some research before you plan your Northern Territory road trip.
The weather is always an unpredictable factor when you travel and even in the dry season, you can expect rain. I traveled through the Northern Territory in July and September (the dry season) and even then I had some very hot days with temperatures up to 38 degrees, 85% humidity, and heavy rain showers.
TIP: I bought a USB-fan in K-mart to have a breeze at night in my car.
Map of the Northern Territory – From Darwin to Uluru
The road trip van Darwin is one of the most adventurous road trips in Australia and with the map below you can visualize better where all the highlights are of my Northern Territory road trip.
3-week Northern Territory road trip
Accommodation: Darwin City Hotel A$ 150 per night
This Northern Territory road trip itinerary starts from Darwin but can you use this itinerary also if you plan to make a road trip in the opposite direction. I made a road trip from Darwin to Uluru in 2020 and another road trip from Adelaide to Darwin in 2021.
Darwin is the most northern city in Australia and the gateway to Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park. Due to general service and maintenance on my car, I was not able to camp with my 4×4 around Darwin so I choose to stay in a comfortable hotel with air-conditioning.
I didn’t regret it as it was extremely hot with temperatures up to 38 degrees.
During my stay in Darwin, I wandered around the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, Had dinner at the Nightcliff Jetty with the sunset, and explored the city’s amazing street art before heading to the next stop, Kakadu National Park.
Litchfield National Park
Travel distance from Darwin: 135 km – 1h 30min
After a visit to Darwin, I drove to Litchfield National Park, which belongs to my list of the most beautiful National Parks in Australia. I spend there only 1 day but if you have more time I recommend staying 1 night in the National Park.
The first stop along the way into the National Park is the unique Magnetic Termite Mounds that stand over 2m high. Can you believe that these small ants make this?
Litchfield National Park also has some beautiful waterfalls you definitely need to visit, such as the Wangi Falls and the Tolmer Falls. However, my favourite is Florence Falls where you can swim and jump into the pool.
I recommend to visit the Florence Falls very early or on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Kakadu National Park
Travel distance: 320 km – 3h 30min.
Accommodation: Cooinda Lodge Kakadu A$30 per night for camping
Another place in Australia that was on my bucket list for a long time was Kakadu National Park. This is the largest National Park in Australia and definitely a highlight in the Northern Territory with incredible landscapes, hidden gorges, stunning waterfalls, and amazing wildlife.
I drove from Litchfield National Park to the Adelaide River to join the Spectacular Croc Jumping Tour. A hovercraft took us along the river where I saw beautiful birds and encountered the biggest crocodiles I’ve ever seen.
I explored so many amazing and unique places in Kakadu National Park such as the Uber Rock and Cahills Crossing that I will write another article with my itinerary for Kakadu National Park.
TIP: Keep in mind that you need to buy an entrance ticket to enter Kakadu National Park.
Travel distance: 200-300 km – 2h30 – 3-30h
Campsite: Riverview Tourist Village A$42 per night
On the way from Darwin or Kakadu National Park to Katherine, I stopped at the Edith Falls, which are located in the Nitmiluk National Park. After a refreshing swim and a short hike to the top of the waterfalls, it was time to continue to Katherine.
Katherine is a great place to break your trip and relax at the Katherine Hotsprings or a visit to the Nimiluk National Park. The main entrance of the National Park is just 30 km from Katherine and it is an amazing place for hiking, kayaking, or joining a river cruise.
TIP: Stay at the Riverview Tourist Village as it is located at the entrance of the Hotsprings
Travel distance: 110 km – 1h30
Accommodation: Find all the accommodations in Mataranka with reviews on Tripadvisor
The next stop on the road trip to Uluru is Mataranka, which is about an hour from Katherine and the most popular attraction are the Bitter Springs and the Mataranka Thermal Pools in the Elsey National Park.
At the Bitter Springs, you can just drift along the creek with the current, while the Thermal Pool is a more relaxing place to immerse yourself in the beautiful nature.
I visited Mataranka during the day and continued the trip to Daly Waters, however, you can stay in Mataranka for a night as there is a great resort/campground next to the Mataranka Thermal Pools.
Travel distance: 170km – 1h50
Accommodation: Find all the accommodations in Daly Waters with reviews on Tripadvisor
It was quite hard to leave the beautiful Thermal Pools in Mataranka but there are more great things to do on this road trip from Darwin to Uluru. Another fun stop along the way to stretch your legs is the Pink Panther Pub, where you can have a drink and take some photos with the iconic Pink Panther.
In the afternoon, I arrived at Daly Waters, a very small outback town (I don’t even know if it is a town or not), that actually became famous because of the Daly Waters Pub.
The story goes that a bus driver and some female passengers made a bet that they could not drink that amount of beers, otherwise they would leave their bras. I guess they lost the bet.
On weekends and during special occasions they have live bands and shows, so make sure you visit the website of the Facebook page before you visit Daly Waters.
Travel distance: 500 km – 5h20
Campsite: Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve A$6,5 per person/night
Probably the longest drive of this road trip from Darwin to Uluru but I decided to hit the road for 5 hours straight, although some travelers make an extra stop in Tennant Creek.
Devils Marbles is a beautiful Nature Reserve and a hidden gem on the road trip from Darwin to Uluru. It is the perfect stop to stay for a night and break the long drive as the campground costs only AU$7,5 per vehicle.
Hike up the boulders and watch the amazing sunset or wake up with sunrise setting in the outback of the Northern Territory. This campground is definitely on the list of the most beautiful places to stay in Australia.
West MacDonnell Ranges
Travel distance: 83 km – 1h
Campsite: Ormiston Gorge Campground A$6,5 per person/night
Between Devils Marbles and the West Macdonnell Ranges, I stopped in Alice Springs to do some groceries, bought some extra camping stuff, and got cheaper fuel before heading into the remote areas! You can choose to stay in Alice Springs to explore the town but I didn’t like the atmosphere.
The West MacDonnell Ranges, also known as Tjorita is a popular National Park located to the west of Alice Springs. Extending for more than 160kms, this stunning area features a series of incredible chasms and gorges. Its landscape sculpted by the climatic changes taking place over time offer picturesque walks, spectacular swimming holes, and great campgrounds.
It is an hour’s drive from Alice Springs to the chasms and gorges but the scenery along the way is breathtaking. My favorite places in the West MacDonnell Ranges are Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, and Redbank Gorge.
These are not just spectacularly amazing but also ideal places for a swim as their waters are cold and provide refreshing relief after experiencing the heat of the day.
Another epic sight is the Gosses Bluff Crater, which is one of the largest meteor craters in Australia.
BOOK: If you want to have the ultimate outback experience, book a scenic flight over Kings Canyon & Gossus Bluff
Travel distance: 153 km – 1h 40m
Campsite: Kings Canyon Resort A$48 per night
From the West MacDonnell Ranges, you can drive along the Larapinta Drive, which is a 150km dirt road to Kings Canyon, so keep in mind to have a spare tire and it will take more time.
Kings Canyon is another remarkable landmark destination in Australia which is located within the Watarrka National Park. Only a three-hour drive from Uluru and around 350 km southwest of Alice Springs, the mighty Kings Canyon is a majestic destination comprising of sandstone walls that are almost 300 m high and palm-filled crevices.
The amazing Rim Walk is an adventurous hike along the edge of the canyon that offers spectacular views stretching across the outback. Its unique rock formation and gorges make it another exciting destination for hikers.
I liked this hike and its stunning views so much that I did the Rim Walk 2 times. The hike takes about 3 hours to complete and I recommend reading the informationpanel at the start of the hike before you go. On hot days it is not allowed to start the hike after 9 am.
Uluru-Katja Tjuta National Park
Travel distance: 341 km – 3h 45m
Accommodation: The Lost Camel A$350 per night
The drive from Kings Canyon to Uluru is a bit boring as there is not much to see or do along the way. However, if you have some time you can visit the Henbury Meteorite Craters.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park lies in the Red Centre of Australia. Famous for its ancient wonders, the most widely popular feature of this national park is its majestic monoliths, Uluru and Kata Tjuta. These red sandstone formations are just at a distance of 50 km from each other and can be visited during a day trip to the national park.
To enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, You’ll need to purchase a National Park Entrance Ticket, which is possible at the gate or online. The price for a 3-day ticket was AU$ 38 and not much different than an Annual Pass that costs AU$ 50, so I bought an Annual Pass 🙂
I ended up staying 5 days to explore as much as I could in the National Park, from sunset and sunrise at Uluru and Kata Tjuta to the amazing experience of “The Field of Light”.
Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve
Travel distance: 330 km – 3h 20m
After 5 days of exploring the beauty of Uluru, I drove back to Alice Springs but decided to visit the Henry Meteorites Conservation as it is easier to access from the Stuart HWY than from the Kings Canyon Rd.
This reserve is home to the 12 craters that were formed by the Henbury Meteor. The craters can be viewed during a self-guided walk on the track around the craters which range in size from 180 m to 6 m.
Sunset or sunrise are the best times to get some great pictures of the craters, although I think it must be beautiful when you visit them during the new moon for stargazing.
Travel distance: 95 km – 1h
Campsite: Rainbow Valley Campground A$6,5 per person/night
On the way back to Alice Springs, I saw a sign on the road ‘The Rainbow Valley Conservation Area’ and the name sounded just so inviting.
I had no connection to search online about this place but it is a lesser-known of visited place in the Red Center as it is only accessible by 4-wheel drive.
A 22km corrugated road will bring you at a 40km/h speed to this stunning location!
I was the only person who stayed at the campground, so you will probably have the place for yourself. Make sure you add this place to your road trip in Australia as the sunset and sunrise are beyond imagination, so if you have a 4×4 for your road trip in the Northern Territory, make a small detour to the Rainbow Valley.
TIP: Deflate your tires to have a more comfortable drive on the corrugated road
East McDonell Ranges
Travel distance: 272 km – 2h 45m
Campsite: John Hayes Rockhole Campground A$6,5 per person/night
Although not as widely popular as the West MacDonnell Ranges, The East MacDonnell Ranges stretch for around 150 km on the east of Alice Springs. Often considered the ‘hidden gems’ of Central Australia, these ranges feature beautiful scenery for bushwalking, picnicking, camping, and four-wheel-driving.
Filled with history and culture, these ranges offer a variety of spectacular landmarks to be explored. The local aboriginal Arrernte people believe that the ranges have actually emerged from giant caterpillars called the Yeperenye who entered the world through the gaps in the escarpments of the region.
My favorite spots in The East MacDonnell Ranges are the Emily Gap, Jessie Gap, and the John Hayes Rockhole, which are sacred sites for the aboriginals and feature rock art, red ochre, and white lime paintings.
The John Hayes Rockhole is located in the Trephina Gorge and is probably one of the best bush camping sites in Central Australia. It is a very rough 4×4 ride to get there but I slept under the stars with an amazing campfire.
My road trip from Darwin to Uluru couldn’t be more epic! Finally, I can thick off exploring Uluru from my bucket list and I discovered even more epic places in the northern territory!
Well, If you use any tips from my blog post, let me know your experience, which places in the NT are your favorite, and what you liked the most about this trip!
READ ALSO: 9 Awesome Things To Do In Coober Pedy
Plan your trip from Darwin to Uluru with my favorite travel apps
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PICTURES AND EDITING
All the pictures on this page are made and owned by me. If you are interested in some pictures to use for your magazine, website, blog, or any other purpose, just send me an email and we’ll figure it out.
Do you like the edits? My Presets will be online soon so you can edit your pictures in just one click!
The camera gear I used for this trip
I never go out without my camera and many people ask me which gear I use. So to make it quite easy, I listed all the gear I used for this trip below.
Most of the time, I travel with the Sony A7III and the Sony 24-105mm/f4 as my primary lens but depending on the location, I change to another setup. However, I love the Tamron 17-28 to shoot in the big cities.