The best way to explore Australia is via a classic road trip and you can’t get a more iconic outback experience than from Darwin to Uluru. At 1,964 km, it would take you just under 21 hours to complete it in one go. But where is the fun in that?
There are so many incredible landscapes and outback experiences to have on the way from Darwin to Uluru, and our resident writer Amii is here to tell you all about it after she drove the entire way recently.
So, don’t book direct Darwin to Uluru flights, get in your hire car, put on your best music and cruise along the Stuart Highway to the Red Centre! It’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
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Hiring a car vs camper van
One of the hardest things to plan on an outback journey in the Northern Territory is the transport due to the remote region with fewer car hire companies. But, don’t fear, I have done it and it was an awesome experience!
You can drive from Darwin to Uluru in a car or camper van and you don’t need a 4WD as the main Stuart Highway is fully sealed. I, personally, prefer to complete a road trip in a camper van as there are more campground options and it always turns out cheaper when I compare prices. But, you can easily complete it in a car with a tent or book motels along the way.
However, I found that there are no camper van hire companies in Uluru so I was unable to do a one-way hire from Darwin to Ayers Rock Airport.
Instead, I hired a one-way camper from Darwin to Alice Springs from Apollo Campers. Then, I switched to a one-way car rental from Alice Springs to Uluru from Dollar Car Rental.
This actually turned out to be the best situation as I could finish my journey in a hotel at Ayers Rock Resort to finish on a luxury highlight.
Darwin to Uluru itinerary summary
I did my 1,964 km route from Darwin to Uluru in six days but I could have easily stayed longer in Katherine and Alice Springs. Here is the route I travelled, my recommended accommodation and must-see spots with distance and journey times:
Darwin to Litchfield National Park – 106 km – 1 hour 20
Litchfield to Katherine – 255 km – 2 hours 40. Stay overnight
Katherine to Bitter Springs – 110 km – hour 10
Bitter Springs to Larrimah Wayside Inn – 79 km – 53 minutes
Larrimah to Daly Waters Pub – 93 km – 1 hour. Stay overnight
Daly Waters to Tennant Creek – 407 km – 4 hours 15. Stay overnight
Tennant Creek to Karlu Karlu – 96 km – 1 hour
Karlu Karlu to Wycliffe Well UFO Capital – 37 km – 30 minutes
Wycliffe Well to Barrow Creek – 93 km – 1 hour
Barrow Creek to Alice Springs – 283 km – 3 hours. Stay overnight
Alice Springs to Uluru – 468 km – 5 hours
1. Litchfield National Park is an absolute must
If you are ever in Darwin or the Top End, Litchfield should be at the top of your list. The stunning waterfalls, swimming holes and monsoon forest attract more visitors than the world-heritage Kakadu National Park.
The best way to experience the park is with a tour company who have access to the best spots, local knowledge and history. Read about my experience with Ethical Adventures and make sure you check this beautiful place out!
Looking for more things to do in Darwin? Make sure you read my Crocosaurus Cove review and find out what it was like cage diving with crocodiles! You might like to find out what it’s like going on one of the legendary Darwin Sunset Cruises as well.
2. Stop for a kayak in Katherine Gorge
One of the best places I’ve ever kayaked, the Katherine Gorge is simply stunning. Hire through Nitmiluk Tours and spend a morning sunrise or afternoon exploring the all gorges via canoe. There are freshwater crocodiles here during the dry season, but don’t worry, they do not feed on humans so it is even safe to swim here…if you’re brave enough.
Prefer to do a day trip from Darwin to Katherine Gorge? Find out more about this popular Katherine Gorge Day Trip Tour which includes a two hour cruise through Nitmiluk National Park
I’d recommend staying at Gorge View Bush Retreat if you are in an RV or camping, it was the perfect start to our road trip. The customer service was excellent, they called us up and asked if we would like wood-fired pizzas on arrival which we ate on their deck watching the sun set over the Gorges, followed by a dip in the plunge pool under the stars. It’s experiences like this that make an outback holiday unbelievably worth it!
3. Swim in the Pristine Blue Bitter Springs
The water at Bitter Springs will surprise you, it is so pristine it sparkles! Situated in Elsey National park, the natural thermal pools are warm and relaxing all year round. A great way to start your morning before continuing the drive from Darwin to Uluru. Top tip: bring a pool float as the water is a little deep so you can truly relax.
4. See the Unique Pink Panther Roadhouse
You read that right, a pink panther roadhouse. Larrimah Hotel has been operating since the 1930’s and has become known as the pink panther roadhouse due to the big pink panther statues including 3 riding tandem bikes. The outback has so many bizarre and wonderful things and Larrimah is one of them.
You can stay here in their motel accommodation or campground or eat and have a drink in their bar.
5. Leave your mark at The Famous Daly Waters Pub
We hardly passed anyone for 100 km from Larrimah to Daly Waters so we were not expecting a big night at the pub. However, when we arrived we got the last spot in their large campsite and the hotel accommodation was full for the night (it was a Sunday).
The pub and terrace were packed, there was a live band and the place had a buzzing vibe that was so different from the empty outback roads.
The Daly Waters Pub is famous as, since the ’80s, patrons were encouraged to leave their mark on the wall. Every single surface is now covered in pictures, messages, hats, flags, t-shirts and even bras. I didn’t leave my bra, but I did get a polaroid picture taken and stamped it to a tiny space I could find on the wall.
The food here is great with an all-you-can-eat beef and barramundi BBQ and damper bread or classic pub feeds. The atmosphere with the large stage and live bands was really cool and I loved it so much, I got a t-shirt from the gift shop. I went one step further in the ‘tourist stereotype and sent my parents a postcard from the bar, it arrived in the UK a week later!
6. Learn about Tennant Creek History
Tennant Creek is the site of the last gold rush in Australia during the 1930s and you can visit the Battery Hill mine museum. But, what is sad but also important to learn is the impact this European settlement has on the Aboriginal culture.
The Warumungu people have lived in the area for over 40,000 years and when the land was divided and stocked with cattle, their hunting practices came to an abrupt end. They were then banned from living in Tennant Creek altogether up until the 1960s but were permitted to work in the gold mine for rations.
Since the gold mine was closed, Aboriginal people slowly made it back to the area and today make up 70% of the population in the area.
As with any travel, it’s always important to learn all sides of history and culture. Stop overnight in one of the motels or campgrounds.
7. Marvel at the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu)
Within the Tennant Creek area is Karlu Karlu, known as the Devils Marbles. Huge perfectly formed round boulders and are an iconic outback landmark. If you can get here for sunrise, the sun hits through and off the boulders and makes them shine red. You can camp here, but it is very remote with only a drop toilet and BBQ facilities.
Karlu Karlu is a sacred Aboriginal sight and so some areas are not able to be photographed and you cannot climb the rock. The rights to the land were given back to the Aboriginal community in 2008 and many ceremonies are held here. You can sense how magical the area is and why it would be of significance in their history.
It’s a beautiful area to see and you can complete many walking trails from easy loops to a full 4 km hike. Stretch out those legs on the huge road trip from Darwin to Uluru.
8. See a sighting in Australia’s UFO Capital
One of the most bizarre places to come by from Darwin to Uluru is Wycliffe Well Holiday Park, the hub of Australia’s UFO Capital. Since World War 2, there have been countless sightings and unexplainable happenings in the area, which…
…even attracted the Royal Australian Air Force to investigate.
You can stay over at the campsite, eat in the restaurant or just stop in the roadhouse, and check out the alien and UFO statues, newspaper clippings and souvenirs. It’s a novelty to come here and a part of your Darwin to Uluru trip which will certainly stay with you forever!
9. Stop for a roadie at Barrow Creek Hotel
Another famous outback hotel along the Stuart Highway is Barrow Creek Hotel, the first hotel to be constructed between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
A lot of its original features remain from the tin roof to the bar and is another pub you can leave your mark in or just marvel at the world memorabilia left here over many years.
Grab a roadie or stay on their campsite or accommodation and chat to the locals which can range between 4 and 11 people.
10. Extend your stay in Alice Springs
If you have time on your Darwin to Uluru itinerary, you could stay three days in Alice Springs and really explore the area. Famous for mountain biking, incredible landscapes, swimming holes and a vibrant city centre. We camped at Macdonnell Range Discovery Parks and felt close to everything in the city centre which was just five minutes away.
Start your day with one of the best Alice Springs attractions by going on a Sunrise Hot Air Balloon ride where you’ll get to see the perspective of the outback city from above. This is a super popular bucket list experience you won’t want to miss out on.
One of the best things to do in Alice Springs is the Kangaroo Sanctuary tour which you must book in advance because it’s so popular! You are unable to drive there, the tour group picks you up in the evening and you can tour the sanctuary where they nurse kangaroos and Joeys back to health, super cute!
For hiking, swimming spots, Aboriginal rock art and incredible views go on a Macdonnell Ranges Day Trip tour or Kings Canyon. The weather is extremely hot in the Northern Territory in summer between October and March so sunrise or sunset would be the best times to go.
After almost 2,000km from Darwin to Uluru, you will be happy to arrive in the beautiful Red Centre! I’d recommend staying here for at least three days or a weekend to really discover the area and soak up the rich culture.
There are many accommodation options Uluru at the Ayers Rock Resort, including camping, but book early if you have restrictions on your budget. We highly recommend staying at Sails in The Desert which is just a stones throw from the big rock itself.
From visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta National park, the Field of Light, a sunset BBQ, Aboriginal workshops and even segway tours. Read all about my amazing stay in my Things To Do In Uluru guide.
Ayers Rock airport is a short drive from Uluru main centre and I was able to drop my hire car off and just on my flight back to Sydney.
This article is written by Amii Freeman, our resident writer at Londoner In Sydney.
Hi I’m Amii! I’m from Darlington in the North East of England. I moved from London to Sydney in 2019 for a slower pace and to be by the coast, without having to give up my love of cities. My passion is in film and TV, I screen-write and act as much as I can. In my spare time I love trying new food, exploring new places, kayaking, hiking and cycling.Follow me on Instagram @amiifreeman!