A driving route of great adventure, rugged landscapes, unique experiences, remarkable history, and jaw-dropping sights, Explorer's Way encapsulates the sheer beauty of Australia’s outback. It follows the path of famous Australian adventurer, John McDouall Stuart, departing from Adelaide before heading north to Alice Springs and on to Darwin at the top end of Australia.
This suggested route takes in classic Australian destinations, including the Flinders Ranges, Alice Springs, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (as a detour), and Darwin.
Highlights (main route only)
- Wadlata Outback Centre at Port Augusta
- The MacDonnell Ranges
- Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve
- Katherine Gorge at Nitmiluk National Park
- Litchfield National Park
The South Australian capital, Adelaide is elegant, stylish, and beautiful, superbly set beside the River Torrens between the Adelaide Hills and Gulf St Vincent.
It's a place to experience the buzz, culture, and convenience of a big city without the frustrations. Adelaide’s city centre, surrounded by parklands, is a charming blend of historical buildings, wide streets, cultural attractions, and buzzing restaurant precincts.
View more than 3000 artefacts showcasing Aboriginal Australian culture at the South Australian Museum, sample row after row of delicious produce at the lively Adelaide Central Market, and end the day with a high quality meal along Rundle Street.
While in the South Australian capital, take a short trip to Hahndorf for a taste of Germany mixed with the enchantment of the Adelaide Hills. This crowd-pulling town is the oldest-surviving German settlement in Australia. Today, Hahndorf’s German flavour lives on: many buildings have a distinct European look and abundant eateries feature menu items straight from Deutschland.
BIG4 Holiday Parks in Adelaide
Street : 323 Sturt Road, City : Bedford Park, PostCode : 5042
Street : Military Road, City : West Beach, PostCode : 5024
Adelaide to Port Augusta
310km (3hr 35min)
Begin your Explorer's Way journey by heading in a northerly direction through suburban Adelaide. By the time the Southern Flinders Ranges reveal themselves, city life will feel a world away.
A slight detour to Port Pirie is worth your while. The state’s first proclaimed provincial city offers an engaging point of difference – regular bus tours of the Nyrstar Port Pirie Smelter.
A further 45km north, Mount Remarkable National Park is a great place to picnic or stretch the legs: walking tracks reveal incredible gorges and sweeping views.
Port Augusta is regarded as the gateway to the outback. The city is situated at the head of Spencer Gulf and enjoys a backdrop of the spectacular Flinders Ranges.
The Wadlata Outback Centre is Port Augusta’s premier attraction. Wander through its Tunnel of Time, an inspiring experience that provides a thorough understanding and appreciation of the region and its past. The nearby Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden has an impressive collection of flora from the southern arid zone of Australia.
Port Augusta to Coober Pedy
540km (5hr 35min)
This leg of Explorer's Way is where you will first embrace the wonders of the outback. Mountain ranges give way to flat plains and a series of glistening salt lakes, as well as a couple of unusual towns.
A slight detour off the Stuart Highway near the small settlement of Pimba leads to Woomera. This once covert town was the sight of experimental rocket and missile testing – nowadays this past can be unveiled at attractions such as Missile Park.
Coober Pedy is the world’s opal capital, so called for its huge haul of this precious gem. To counter the harsh summer heat much of the town has been built underground, including restaurants and hotels. To experience the town’s heartbeat, take an underground mine tour or try noodling for opals yourself.
Photographers won’t want to miss The Breakaways Reserve, a collection of colourful and bewitching hills reached on a 70km round trip from Coober Pedy.
BIG4 Holiday Parks in Coober Pedy
Street : Cnr Hutchison Street & Stuart Highway, City : Coober Pedy, PostCode : 5723
Coober Pedy to Alice Springs
690km (7hr 40min)
If it’s not already blindingly obvious as to why Australia is regarded as a ‘wide brown land’, the eight-hour journey from Coober Pedy to Alice Springs should hammer home the point. Yet it’s far from a barren stretch; rather it is sprinkled with gold.
At Cadney Park, a detour east reveals the incredible colours of the Painted Desert, although it requires a three-hour side trip to uncover.
Soon enough you’ll be introduced to the Northern Territory. At Erldunda, a considerable detour along Lasseter Highway to World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – as well as Kings Canyon – is highly encouraged.
Uluru is one of Australia’s most famous landmarks and is a jaw-dropping sight, although Kata Tjuta is equally impressive. The national park is of great Aboriginal significance and history. Along the Lasseter Highway you’ll witness the sight of flat-topped Mt Conner: don’t mistake it for Uluru as many tourists have reportedly done.
Kings Canyon branches off Lasseter Highway in a northwest direction and taking the Rim Walk at this incredible formation is awe-inspiring.
Back on the main driving route, all roads lead to Alice Springs, a thriving outback town at the heart of the Red Centre. Alice Springs has myriad museums and other historical and cultural attractions – take the Flynn Trail to learn about a remarkable individual. Or soak up sweeping views atop Anzac Hill.
Alice Springs is perfectly situated to explore the immense treasure that’s scattered throughout the MacDonnell Ranges. The western section is most impressive, with easily accessible chasms, gorges, ochre pits, and other incredible sights.
BIG4 Holiday Parks in Alice Springs
Street : Palm Place, City : Alice Springs, PostCode : 0870
Alice Springs to Katherine
1180km (14hr 40min)
Please note: there is a long stretch between BIG4 Holiday Parks on this leg of the touring route. Ensure you take sufficient breaks and never drive when fatigued.
Roughly 30km north of Alice Springs is the first of many photo opportunities – a selfie at the Tropic Of Capricorn marker.
South of the town of Ti Tree is a refreshing find. The Red Centre Farm produces various mango products, including wine and ice cream.
Continue on to Barrow Creek and view its historical telegraph station. Arrange ahead with the publican at the Barrow Creek Hotel if you wish to take a look inside the building, or just stop here to quench a thirst.
Further ahead is the quirky town of Wycliffe Well. It regards itself as the UFO capital of Australia owing to the many eerie sightings that have been reported in the area.
If you haven’t managed to capture strange lights through your lens, you should have more luck snapping away at the irresistible formation within Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, 35km north of Wycliffe Well. These giant boulders are breathtaking yet peculiar, precariously placed one on top of the other (keen photographers should note that sunrise and sunset are optimum times to shoot away).
Next up is Tennant Creek, the site of Australia's last major gold rush in the 1930s. Explore this link at the action-packed Battery Hill Mining Centre, be inspired at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre, or wander around the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. Cool off with a swim at nearby Lake Mary Ann.
Further along the driving route, view the Flynn Memorial at Three Ways Roadhouse and the nearby Attack Creek Memorial and then witness the unusual Churchill's Head rock formation, just south of Banka Banka Station.
North of Renner Springs is idyllic Lake Woods, which attracts abundant bird species and makes a lovely picnic spot.
While it’s now a ghost town, Newcastle Waters has a rich history. Preserved historical structures are tangible reminders of its past. Daly Waters has fascinating heritage as well, while its somewhat offbeat pub is a brilliant spot for a refreshing drink.
Mataranka is home to gem-packed Elsey National Park. Take a dip in the soothing Mataranka Hot Springs and the impressive Mataranka Falls.
Guided tours at Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, 30km south of Katherine, showcase these incredible formations.
Katherine is a welcome find at the end of a long drive and demands extended time to fully appreciate – largely owing to its proximity to Nitmiluk National Park. Nitmiluk is home to spectacular Katherine Gorge, waterfalls, swimming holes, and Aboriginal rock art. Opportunities for exploration are plentiful.
Back in town, Katherine’s engrossing history can be unearthed at the Katherine Museum and at Springvale Homestead, built from sandstone by explorer and pastoralist Alfred Giles in 1878. Or admire the works of talented artists at various galleries in Katherine.
Katherine to Darwin
315km (3hr 45min)
Prepare for the final stretch of this epic driving route as it steers towards Darwin.
There is more history to soak up at Pine Creek, best uncovered at the Pine Creek Railway Precinct and the National Trust museum. Or picnic at the pleasant Pine Creek Water Gardens.
Located half way between Katherine and Darwin, Hayes Creek is the ideal spot to embrace nature. Nestled in a valley next to a natural spring and creek, it is a gem. Try bird watching, rock climbing, bushwalking, and more.
History shines at Adelaide River. The Adelaide River War Cemetery highlights the devastation caused during World War II and the town’s railway station also retraces the past.
Not far from here is a turn-off to Batchelor, which holds strong appeal as a base for exploring magnificent Litchfied National Park. Litchfield’s bounty is astounding: enticing swimming holes, captivating termite mounds, variable landscapes, and rainforest all feature. Breathtaking waterfalls will dazzle and include Florence, Tjayner, Tolmer, and Wangi Falls.
Further along, a short detour off the Stuart Highway leads to Berry Springs Nature Park, an enticing swimming spot. While at Berry Springs, visit the brilliant Territory Wildlife Park.
Back on the main path, another key diversion deserves strong consideration – one that leads to World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. It includes rugged escarpments, lush wetlands, plunging gorges and waterfalls, and the highest concentrated areas of accessible Aboriginal rock art sites in the world.
Only 30 minutes from Darwin, Howard Springs Nature Park is another sensational area for a relaxing dip (an only minutes from BIG4 Howard Springs Holiday Park).
Even if you’ve avoided the temptation to divert, the arrival into the Northern Territory capital signals a journey of almost 3000km. And the end point exudes the relaxing vibe.
Darwin is a modern, tropical city set on a massive harbour. Attractions abound: unearth Darwin’s engrossing past at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and immerse yourself in Darwin’s World War II story at the Defence of Darwin Experience.
Or be captivated by the locals at Crocosaurus Cove and enjoy even more nature-based activity along the Explorer's Way at Charles Darwin National Park.
Satisfying a hunger is easy – visit lively markets, dine at a magnetising Waterfront Precinct restaurant, or join a sunset dinner cruise.
BIG4 Holiday Parks in Darwin
Street : 170 Whitewood Road, City : Darwin, PostCode : 0835