Few trips bisect Australia quite like the Explorer’s Way. Starting in tropical Darwin, this classic 3000 km route takes you through the red heart of Australia and ends in the more temperate Adelaide. It’s a journey that makes Australia the unique land it is. Stunning tropical reefs give way to epic red canyons and quirky mining towns.
To get the most out of your trip across the country, we’ve put together a 14-day itinerary that absorbs a mix of world-famous landmarks and secret hidden gems. This campervan journey from the Northern Territory to South Australia is a must for any wannabe explorer.
This epic journey's first part takes in the best highlights of the Top End around Darwin and Kakadu National Park. To get a preview for your next few days, visit Crocosaurus Cove to learn more about the native residents. You can also explore the lively Darwin Waterfront to take in some paradise-like beaches before leaving civilization.
As you leave Darwin, check out some thriving wetland estuaries to the east. Mary River National Park is a wildlife haven set upon a range of wetlands and billabongs near the mouth of the Mary River. Also, the Djukbinj National Park showcases eco-tourism at its finest as it engulfs the Adelaide River. From here, it is only a short trip to Kakadu National Park.
Stretching nearly 20,000 sq. km, Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s finest natural wonders to explore. This famous World Heritage Site combines natural canyons and plateaus with ancient tribal relics to take your breath away at almost every corner. The first port of call is exploring the northern section around Jabiru. Here, you’ll find sites that showcase the livelihoods of Aboriginal tribes stretching back 20,000 years.
Getting the chance to explore places such as Nourlangie and Ubirr will get the mind racing in an instant. You can also go off the beaten track to discover epic waterfalls and canyons. Areas such as Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls Gorge are majestic landmarks that show why Kakadu is so revered worldwide.
After spending the night in Kakadu, it is time to head south towards the town of Katherine. On your way through the southern end of Kakadu, check out Cooinda to see sprawling wetlands teeming with thousands of animals to keep an eye on.
As you approach Katherine, you will discover the wondrous reaches of Nitmiluk National Park, which dominates the surrounding area. Take a dip at Edith Falls, where the lagoons are enveloped by picturesque scenery. On the other side of the park, Katherine Gorge provides a stunning network of canyons and gorges to explore.
At the start of this journey, you will get the chance to experience and enjoy some of the best natural hot springs anywhere in Australia. Katherine Hot Springs in the town itself is a network of pools that are set beside the scenic Katherine River. Further down the road, the springs in Elsey National Park near Mataranka stay warm at 34°C all year round.
Near the halfway point of the journey, the town of Daly Waters is home to the quirky Daly Waters Pub, which has bizarre memorabilia on every wall and corner. Upon reaching Tennant Creek itself, swing by the Battery Hill Mining Centre and see how the town thrived as a mining city throughout the 1930s.
Upon leaving Tennant Creek, it is time to dive deep into the heart of Australia itself. On the way out of Tennant Creek, check out the stunning rock formations in Davenport National Park to get an impression of the savage landscapes of the area.
You can also get the chance to scan for extra-terrestrial life in Wycliffe Wells which claims to be the UFO capital of Australia. As you get closer to Alice Springs, don’t forget to stop at The Devil’s Marbles in Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve where these rock towers shine in all shades of red and orange.
At the geographical heart of Australia, Alice Springs thrives as a unique place all to itself. Explore the town’s fascinating history as places like The Alice Springs Telegraph Station and Hermannsburg tell of life in the great Red Centre. You can also experience cultural highlights such as the Alice Springs Desert Park and Rainbow Valley and delve deep into ancient Indigenous relics throughout the town.
The town is surrounded by stunning natural landmarks that are within easy reach too. The East MacDonnell Ranges house dramatic gorges among dry riverbeds and you can even take to camel riding nearby dunes to discover nearby bushland faster.
The road from Alice Springs to Watarrka National Park is lined with some dramatic natural landscapes that are often overlooked by tourists. The West MacDonnell Ranges you the chance to take a deep in stunning gorges whilst swimming in beautifully clear lagoons.
Following that, Finke Gorge National Park gives you the chance to explore ancient ranges that date back over 350 million years. It’s from here where it is just a short trip to the region’s more famous residents and stunning natural landmarks.
Nothing can prepare you for the spectacular sights that sit within Watarrka National Park. The most spectacular location is the iconic Kings Canyon whose cavern-like formation gleams dramatic red and oranges when the sunlight hits the walls. It’s a dramatic feat to wonder at any time of day.
It’s not the only thing to revel in though. Areas such as the Garden of Eden lagoon showcase stunning waterfalls and lagoons that cascade off sandstone escarpments and the Kathleen Springs area also shows how the area was inhabited thousands of years ago.
Home to the famous Uluru rock formation, Kata Tjuta National Park is a must when venturing down Explorers Way. Even though you can’t touch or access Uluru directly anymore, seeing this world-famous marvel is still worth it no matter what angle you look at it.
There’s more to discover in this famous park though. A trek into the Valley of the Winds makes you feel like you are on a different planet due to its red craters. Alongside that, you can discover ancient rock art on the Kuniya Walk that dates back over 20,000 years.
Nothing showcases the vast emptiness of the Outback quite like this leg. On this 750km leg, swing by the Erldunda Roadhouse in Ghan to refresh on basic supplies before careering through the desert surroundings. It’s here where you cross the border into South Australia and truly hit the second leg of the journey.
You can choose to stop off at the old mining town of Marla and explore the opal mines that dominate the local economy. Heading to the other town of Wintinna, you’ll discover cattle stations thriving in an otherwise inhospitable environment. After this, it’s time to power on Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy is a truly unique town in Australian culture. With many of the houses underground due to the heat, explore how these residential homes were built in a unique architectural wonder. Aside from these strange dwellings, the highlights of the town are based on its opal mining heritage.
You will find several working opal mines that you can explore with the Umoona Opal Mine and the Old Timers’ Mine & Museum being just several sites you can explore. Not far from the town, Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park allows you to explore an ancient reef bed that was once underwater and rises above the surrounding desert.
As you head further into South Australia, the outback starts to give way to more temperate settings. Before that, pull over and check out the stunning salt lakes near Pimba before refuelling at Glendambo Homestead for more supplies.
It’s also worth stopping by the fascinating Woomera Missile Park near Lake Torrens. This monument to the aerospace industry is loaded with vintage aircraft, rockets and other unique specimens that show how the space and flight industries have evolved over the years. After these insights, it’s time to head south to the coastal town of Port Augusta.
A major crossroads in Port Augusta, this town is a bustling hub on the edge of the Great Bight. The town itself is home to the stunning Red Cliff Lookout and culture fans will get a kick out of the Wadlata Outback Centre.
After leaving Port Augusta, the trip along the Augusta Highway provides a view of rolling hillsides and a much more temperate setting. Stop for some stunning shots of the red Bumbunga Lake as you pass the town of Lochiel and stop at Federation Corner which provides access to the stunning Yorke Peninsula. After this, it is only a short drive to Adelaide.
The capital of South Australia, Adelaide has a reputation as one of the country’s cultural capitals. It only takes a quick look at the colourful Adelaide Central Market or a venture into Leigh Street to see why it has gained this reputation.
You can also venture out into the rolling hills around the outskirts of the city which are teeming with famous vineyards. The Barossa Valley is not far away giving access to one of the best wine regions in the world. It is a great way to end a huge and stunning drive across Explorer’s Way.