The journey from Alice Springs to Darwin was part two of my epic 10 day itinerary of the Northern Territory, Australia. This was a continuation of my trip made up of three tours with a tour company called Way Outback. The first part was a 3 day tour exploring the Red Centre of Australia (read my Red Centre post first) and the third part being a tour of Litchfield & Kakadu National Parks in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
So essentially this part of the trip was designed to get us from Alice Springs to Darwin without having to book an expensive flight or take a 24 hour non-stop bus journey. I didn’t think there would be much to see in between Alice Springs to Darwin considering there’s only one main road running through the middle of the desert connecting these two main regions. However, you’d be surprised at how many little stops we did along the way and all of the random interesting things we got to see as well as some pretty incredible natural wonders, spread out over 3 days on this 1,500km Alice Springs to Darwin roadie.
Some people skip this part of the tour and fly from Alice Springs to Darwin (or their next destination in Australia) instead because yes you do spend A LOT of time driving. But if you do have the time I highly recommend joining this tour and slowly making your way up North.
Note: I am not affiliated with the Way Outback tour company in any way, I just really really enjoyed this trip and highly recommend it.
In this post I will share what we got up to and all the places we stopped at on our road trip from Alice Springs to Darwin. I’ll also share my tips, and what you can expect if you end up choosing this tour…
Day 4: Alice Springs to Banka Banka Cattle Station
Day 4 of our 10 day itinerary had us starting in Haven Hostel in Alice Springs where we had spent the previous night after a few drinks at a pub with friends we met on the Red Centre Tour. We had a quick breakfast in the hostel and got picked up at 6.30am to start the next tour of the ‘Territory’ with a completely new group of travellers. It was going to be the start of a long day of driving.
After picking every one up from their accommodation, our first stop was the Tropic of Capricorn. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s an imaginary line that humans invented (line of latitude) that goes all the way around the Earth, and we happened to be crossing it. So naturally we had to get a photo.
Fact: 80% of the Northern Territory lays North of this point.
Two hours of driving later we stopped at Ti-Tree Station where we bought barista coffees to wake us up. On this break we had the opportunity to throw a boomerang (which is so much harder than it looks!) and have a go at cracking an Aussie whip.
An hour up the road we made it to the historical Barrow Creek Telegraph Station to take a look where the first ever real communication formed between Australia and England. The station was established in 1872 as part of the link to relay messages between Adelaide and Darwin, and later linking with an underwater submarine cable to Java, Indonesia, which essentially connected Australia to the rest of the world.
For more information on the history of the overland and under water connection read this really interesting article.
We had lunch at the pub there owned by an guy who has a collection of things from all across the world. Whatever country you’d throw at him, he’d have something interesting to tell or show you about that place.
Another hour up the road we got to Wycliffe Well, the 5th most famous alien sightings place in the world. This tiny holiday park is a popular stop on the Alice Springs to Darwin route to grab some fuel and a good meal. The building is like an alien themed museum filled with newspaper articles and UFO sighting information.
My theory is that when aliens come to Earth they hang around here as there are less humans around to notice them 😉
On the next stop we visited Karlu Karlu (which in the indigenous language here means ‘many marbles’) or otherwise known as Devils Marbles, and one of the main must-see stops on this route.
The first European settlers decided to call this area Devils Country because all of their sheep would die whenever they’d came past here, hence the name Devils Marbles. They later found out that their sheep were actually dying because of poisonous bushes that they liked to eat here.
The granite boulders or ‘marbles’ have little cracks in them so after years of rainwater getting inside and weathering, they eventually can crack in half.
After walking around the Devil’s Marbles we set off to our camp site Banka Banka Cattle Station, which had electricity as well as good showers and toilets. At camp we watched the sun set and had pasta for dinner. The stars at night were unbelievable here and since it wasn’t freezing, like how it gets in the Red Centre at night, sleeping in swags under the stars was super cosy (read my post on the Red Centre to learn about swags). I had the best sleep out of the whole trip!
Day 5: Banka Banka Cattle Station to Katherine
In the morning we had breakfast, packed up camp and started driving for a couple of hours. The first stop was Elliot, a tiny remote town (population of approx. 350 people) with not much there besides a petrol station. And in my experience the ‘rudest town in Australia.’ *laughs*
Honestly, don’t ask any questions or favours (and whatever you do, don’t ask if they have wifi even if you see the signal come up on your phone!) The woman that works at this petrol station is the rudest person I think I’ve ever crossed paths with in Australia. We had a good giggle about it with some truck drivers that come past this town regularly and they reassured us that unfortunately the staff here are rude to everyone. Check out this page if you need a good coverage when you are travelling abroad, as their high tech systems are designed to boost cell signal for all carriers.
The next stop was Dunmara, 100km further North. Our tour guide Janner tells everyone that this place has the best pies in Australia. It’s not official but with his enthusiasm we just had to try one, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Up next was a historic stop at Daly Waters Airport, the oldest airport is Australia, which was used in World War II and now remains a museum.
By this point we were starting to notice a big difference between the red landscape from the centre of Australia and the greenery that was popping up more and more the further North we got into a more tropical climate. This meant that although it was hot during the day in the Red Centre, it was becoming hotter and a lot more humid up this end of the Northern Territory, so wanting to cool down was becoming more essential.
Therefore we stopped at the Daly Waters Pub for a BBQ lunch and dip in their swimming pool. It was very refreshing, especially knowing that there wouldn’t be a swimming pool in sight for hundreds of kilometres. And the pub was also a really cool place to visit since the walls inside are lined with all sorts of treasures from people that have wanted to leave a part of themselves here over the years…you’ll see what I mean when you visit. It’s also a great place for a cold drink, a bit of history and what could be described as a ‘fair dinkum outback experience.’
After lunch it was time to jump on the bus for another 2 and half hour drive up to a town called Mataranka. Although technically not part of the Way Outback Tour, it was here that we had the opportunity to meet Nathan Griggs, Australia’s number one whip cracking entertainer. He’s a five time whip cracking Guinness World Record holder; four times for fastest records with both one and two hands and for cracking the longest whip in the world at over 100m long! He actually did a private show for us and it was unbelievable, watch a snippet on my Instagram account below…
Mataranka is also famous for the Mataranka Hot Springs, also known as Bitter Springs. This place is magical, a lush oasis where after drying off on the bus we were all ready to jump in to the crystal clean warm waters of the natural pool here.
Tip: If you’ve got a mask and snorkel definitely bring it here with you. The waters are so clear and you will see lots of fish and even turtles if you’re lucky!
An hour up the road we stopped in Katherine, which is the fourth largest town in the Northern Territory. It was a quick stop for anyone needing to pick anything up from the supermarket and enjoy a few minutes of phone reception. From here we made it to our nearby campsite where we slept in tents. Sleeping in swags was not an option anymore as there are a lot more bugs in this tropical region as well as dingos in the area, which we heard howling at night.
Day 6: Katherine to Darwin
Day 6 had us up at 6:30am for breakfast and to prepare wraps to have later for lunch. After packing up camp we drove to the Nitmiluk Cultural Centre to learn a bit about Jawoyn Aboriginal people from this region and grab a good barista made coffee.
From here we hiked for hours through Nitmiluk National Park to get to a look out with stunning views of the deep and picturesque Katherine Gorge, probably the best sight to see on this tour.
Out tour guide taught us a lot about the wildlife that inhabit this area. We saw many flying foxes (bats) hanging upside down in the trees and realised that surprisingly they make a lot of noise. And did you know that cockatoos live to around 100 years old? We also learned about bush medicine that Aboriginal tribes would use here. For example, if you need pain killers such as Panadol just lick the butt of one of the green ants that live here and you’ll get the same effect, only a lot more natural (I’m not joking!)
Tip: Here you also have the opportunity to do a 2 hour cruise along the Katherine River to see crocodiles for an additional $89, however if you plan to do a tour of Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks you’ll see crocodiles on a river cruise that’s included in that trip so you may as well wait.
Though not usually a part of the itinerary on this tour, we happened to have enough time to fit in a nice swim at Edith Falls nearby. It was a 150m swim against the current to the actual waterfall but very worth it (I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not a strong swimmer though).
We ate our wraps and started the 3 hour drive to our final destination stopping for a couple of quick toilet breaks along the way. The first at Pine Creek, a town well-known for it’s ice-cream (which I had and didn’t think it was as good as it’s made out to be) and there was also a small Snake Sanctuary there for those wanting to see real Australian snakes. The second being a stop at a town called Adelaide River, where you can meet ‘Charlie the Buffalo,’ the actual buffalo from the famous Crocodile Dundee films.
And finally we made it to Darwin where we checked in to our hostel, YHA – Melaleuca On Mitchell, and went out for dinner drinks and to party at Monsoons Bar. Our tour guide Janner gave us really good discount cards which we could a few times during our stay in Darwin.
I hope this article gave you an insight into all the places you could see between Alice Springs to Darwin with Way Outback and how choosing a road trip over flying is definitely worth it!
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