Adelaide to Darwin Road Trip: Exploring the Wild Outback

Australia is one of the most biologically unique places on earth. Most Australian animals do not occur anywhere else. It is also a huge country and the best way to explore Australian nature is on a road trip, like the epic Adelaide to Darwin road trip my friend and I recently took.

I spent weeks researching the best places to see wildlife and diverse habitats in Australia and in the end, came up with an action-packed itinerary for a three-week Adelaide to Darwin Road Trip with stops at all major natural and wildlife attractions along the way.

So if you are looking for ideas for an epic Australian drive, this Adelaide to Darwin road trip itinerary will take you across the entire continent through deserts and wetlands, ancient mountain ranges and secret gorges. Plus, you are guaranteed to see an incredible array of Australian animals on this road trip.

Old Andado is part of Adelaide to Darwin road trip

READ MORE: 50 Outstanding Safari Holidays Destinations Outside of Africa

Logistical Considerations for Adelaide to Darwin Road Trip

The Car

This road trip takes you to some pretty remote areas with variable road conditions, so a 4w4 vehicle with high clearance is a must. If you don’t have your own 4×4, you can rent one in Adelaide. You could even drop it off in Darwin if you want to make a one-way trip.

The best way to find a good deal on a rental car is to use an online rental car booking company like DiscoverCars.com to compare prices and availability from many different rental agencies. Rental 4x4s can be hard to come by, but on Discover cars you always find a few options to choose from.

It would also be a good idea to get an extra car battery and rig up a charging station in the car, especially if you are bringing cameras and laptops.

Accommodation

We chose to camp on our trip, and it worked out very well, as some of the places we visited didn’t have any accommodation available on site. But if you prefer to sleep in the comfort of a proper bedroom, I will provide suggestions for the best accommodation options for each destination.

If you do decide to camp, I’d highly recommend bringing a walk-in tent, like a Shiftpod. Another way, of course, would be to make this journey in a camper van, which you could pick up second-hand on a site like Gumtree.

Australia is not the cheapest country, but a road trip is a relatively inexpensive way of travelling around, perfect if you would like to explore Australia on a budget

So, if you are curious about what are some of the best places to see unique Australian wildlife on Adelaide to Darwin road trip, read on and explore Australia’s wild places and creatures.

Adelaide – Kangaroo Island

Australian sea lion
Australian sea lion on Kangaroo Island

The drive across Australia is an iconic Australian road trip, so we decided to follow the convention and start our Australian wildlife road trip in Adelaide. Because of its position on the coast, Adelaide is the perfect base for exploring South Australia’s wildlife attractions.

Kangaroo Island with its sea lions & koalas is within easy reach. Victor Harbour – a whale-watching hotspot, is even closer. Or you can take a dolphin-watching cruise straight from Adelaide.

We have explored the area on earlier trips, and this time we headed straight for Flinders Ranges National Park – home of the adorable Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby.

Flinders Ranges National Park

One thing you appreciate on a road trip across Australia is just how huge the country is. Especially when driving through the interior of the country, where most places of interest are at least 500 km apart. As we left Adelaide, our GPS happily announced that we had 468 km to go until our destination in Flinders Ranges National Park.

Flinders Ranges is the largest mountain range in South Australia that is millions of years old. You reach it about 200km north of Adelaide, and it makes for a very scenic drive. 

We spent the first night of our Australian safari camping at Wilpena Pound, and our wildlife adventures started right at the campsite the following morning. Western grey kangaroos snoozed in the shade, bright-coloured Mallee Ringneck parrots hopped on the ground between the tents and Apostlebirds perched in the low-hanging branches.

As the first order of business, we drove to the spectacular Brachina Gorge, and sure enough, we spotted some Yellow-footed rock wallabies sunning themselves in the early morning sun. I personally think that they are the most good-looking macropods in Australia.

As we drove around the park, we spotted plenty more iconic Australian animals: Common Wallaroo, also known as Euro, Red kangaroos, Emus – Australia’s largest birds and a Brown Falcon perched right by the road on a hilltop. For more details check out this post about the wildlife of Flinders Ranges National Park

Where to stay at Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound Resort is a lovely, wildlife-friendly resort near Wilpena Pound. It has a number of accommodation options ranging from camping to air-conditioned safari tents to resort-style accommodation.

Coober Pedy & the Breakaways Conservation Park

At 712 km, the drive from Flinders Ranges to Coober Pedy is epic even by Australian road trip standards. It is of course, possible to break the journey in Port Augusta, but I’ve already been there twice that year, and it is not an interesting enough town to keep revisiting. So, we pushed on all the way to Coober Pedy.

We arrived after dark and straight away checked in at the Underground Motel – the town’s specialty. It was not obvious at night, but we knew that Coober Pedy is a ridiculously hot place. In the middle of the day, the ground temperatures here may reach 60 degrees centigrade. To avoid the scorching heat, most of the town’s service buildings are located underground. There are underground apartments, underground shops and hotels, an underground church and even an underground caravan park!

The town is a fun place to explore and you can even try your hand at digging opals in Coober Pedy! The most spectacular natural formation near Coober Pedy is the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, 33 km out of town.

There isn’t much wildlife above ground in the Breakaways, not during the day. But the landscape of the park is certainly worth a look. It looks like something straight out of a sci-fi film. In fact, it is. The first film in the Chronicles of Riddick, Pitch Black, was filmed here. 

The stark landscape of the Breakaways is made up of a series of multi-coloured eroded mounds rising over the desolate rocky plane. The plane, known as the stony gibber desert in Australia, looks remarkably similar to the images from the surface of Mars.

Before leaving the Breakaways, we checked out the Dingo fence – a 5,614 km construction built in the late 1800s to exclude dingos from the sheep country in southeastern Australia. North of the fence, where we were heading, sheep are replaced by cattle that are not as vulnerable to dingo predation. For more details, check out my guide to The Breakaways, Coober Pedy & the Dingo Fence.

Where to stay in Coober Pedy

If you are looking for peace and comfort, Dug out B&B apartments. the most highly-rated accommodation option in Coober Pedy should be your first choice. Located a 5-minute drive from the central part of town it is quiet and peaceful and offers stunning sunrise views. The apartments are modern, well-stocked and feature very comfortable beds.

For a more budget-friendly option, consider  Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience with its spacious rooms and common areas.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

This was another epic day on the road. Uluru is almost 690km from Coober Pedy. Thankfully about halfway along, we crossed the South Australia / Northern Territory border, and the speed limit increased to 130 km/h.

When we arrived at Yulara, the service village for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, we were thrilled to discover a very inviting swimming pool at the Ayers Rock Resort’s campground.

Uluru, also known as the Ayers Rock, needs no introduction. It is by far the most recognizable Australian landmark and a popular destination for any Central Australian road trip. The nearby Kata Tjuta is another interesting geological feature made up of boulders and cobbles of different sizes and rock types.

We spent three days exploring the park and checking out the local Uluru wildlife, walking in the early hours to avoid the heat of the day and driving around in the middle of the day.

We spotted plenty of desert-dwelling birds during our walks, the most memorable being the brightly-painted Zebra finches, Mistletoebird and Spinifex pigeons. But most of the wildlife spotting took place after the sunset.

Uluru lookout gets quite crowded just before sunset, with visitors lining up for those iconic views of the Rock changing colour under the setting sun. But as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, ALL visitors leave and miss seeing a little wildlife spectacle.

Even before the last cars drove off, we could see some movement in the grass. Minutes later, the car park became the hive of activity once again as Spinifex hopping mice emerged to browse on the crumbs left after the day of tourist activities.

The hopping mice are rodents, not marsupials, but very have long and powerful back legs that allow them to hop like the tiny little kangaroos. Among the hoppies, there were some Sandy inland mice and some feral House mice. We also had all three species at the campsite, particularly on the dunes near the kitchen.

There is a short walking trail at the entrance to the campsite that leads to the top of a dune, where you can find an abandoned corrugated iron shack. We found some Broad-nosed bats roosting in it.

For more details on the walking tracks around the base of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and on the wildlife of the region, check out my guide to Uluru animals – Weird and wonderful creatures you can spot at Uluru.

Where to stay at Uluru

The spacious and well-equipped Emu Walk Apartments are just a short walk from Ayers Rock Resort Centre. Each apartment has its own balcony or a veranda.

Kings Canyon – Watarrka National Park

From Uluru, we headed to the Kings Canyon – another stunning geological feature of Australia’s Red Centre.

We camped at the Kings Canyon Resort, and this is where I saw my first ever Dingo. First thing in the morning, I unzipped the tent door, and there it was, standing just a couple of meters in front of me, sniffing something in the grass.

After the exciting dingo encounter, we spent the morning hiking the Grand Canyon Rim trail. With the day temperatures reaching mid-40s Centigrade, this walk is best done before the sun gets too high in the sky.

We didn’t spot much wildlife on the walk, apart from a very well camouflaged Ringtail dragon, but the scenery of this monumental landscape easily compensated for the lack of wildlife activity.

The car park, however, was teaming with life. Hooded robins, Spinifex pigeons, Diamond dove, Crested pigeon, Grey honeyeater and even a Rock ctenotus were all happy to escape the heat of the day under cover of trees and bushes.

The following day we spotted one of the most unusual Australian animals – the Thorny Devil. Apart from a menacing array of conical spikes, this desert lizard is endowed with a false head! Just to confuse the predators (and some tourists).

Where to stay at Kings Canyon

Kings Creek Station provides accommodations with an outdoor pool, a restaurant and a bar. The accommodation options include bush tents, luxury glamping tents and more traditional hotel-style rooms.

Alternatively, Kings Canyon Resort offers a range of traditional rooms and budget-friendly options.

West MacDonnell Ranges

Our last destination before reaching Darwin was Fogg Dam. The dam was created to flood the surrounding countryside & and turn it into rice paddies. And if a dam does not immediately sound like a winning wildlife destination, here is an interesting fact about Fogg Dam – it supports the highest biomass of any place on earth.

It is home to a huge population of Dusky rats and the equally impressive numbers of Water pythons and Olive pythons, that prey on the rats. Apart from the rats and the pythons, we spotted a few Barking owls, Nankeen night herons, Large-tailed nightjars and Tawny frogmouths. Oh, and the Saltwater crocodiles, of course!

One word of warning for Fogg Dam – bring plenty of insect repellent and keep your car windows rolled up when you can. The amount of bugs in the air is staggering.

By day, Fogg Dam is the domain of waterbirds. They congregate here in the hundreds, and in April, many species spot their striking breeding plumage.

Darwin

We finally reached the final destination of our epic Adelaide to Darwin road trip. In three weeks, we crossed the continent from coast to coast over 3,000 kilometres and technically, this was only our halfway point since we had to go back to western NSW. But first, we had to check out Darwin’s wildlife watching opportunities.

Darwin Botanic gardens

Botanic gardens are always a good place to see urban wildlife and Darwin’s gardens were not an exception. We spotted our first Blue-winged kookaburra, as well as some Double-barred and Crimson finches, not to mention the more common species of Darwin wildlife that we have already encountered on our trip.

Lee Point

Darwin’s Lee Point is the perfect illustration of what an Australian beach looks like when it’s not overrun by people. Since swimming is not on the cards in the Top End (thanks to the crocs and the deadly jellyfish), the beaches are not of much interest to the sunbathers. Instead, they were occupied by all kinds of birds.

A weary Beach stone curlew foraged in the sand, dozens of Black kites perched on the branches of dead trees and dozens more circled overhead, while Red-capped plovers darted along the beach.

The rock shelves were overtaken by the breeding colonies of Crested terns, Little terns, Caspian terns and Silver gulls. Slightly further along the rock shelf a mixed group of Great knots and Red knots whiled away the afternoon. It is amazing how many different species we, humans, displace when we take over an area. 

Mandorah island

We took a ferry to Mandorah island on a friend’s advice, who told us about a bat colony roosting underneath Mandorah jetty. We found the bats between the boards of the jetty walkway and they were very hard to see through the small crack. We left them be and spent an hour watching White-bellied sea eagles and Brahmins kites circling above the beach

Arnhem Highway

At night, we drove back to Fogg Dam, simply because it was the best wildlife-watching spot around. Apart from the usual suspects, we spotted a Dingo, a slaty-grey snake, a Northern brush-tail possum, a Barn owl and sadly, a dead Northern Brown Bandicoot on the road. 

But the most interesting creature we came across was the Northern death adder. Australia is famous for being home to most of the world’s poisonous snakes. Out of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, 21 live in Australia, and the Death adder is one of the top 10 most venomous Australian snakes.

I did get out of the car to photograph the silent killer as it was crossing the road, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with a healthy sense of self-preservation. Check out this guide to spotting wildlife in Darwin for more details

The journey back

The drive back may seem like a daunting task – you have to retrace your steps for over 3,000 kilometres. But the beauty of it is – that it gives you the chance to re-visit the greatest hits of your Adelaide to Darwin road trip. And if you planned the trip wisely, you’ve left a few destinations up your sleeve to check out on the way back. That’s plenty of excitement to keep you motivated.

I hope our trip inspires you to add an epic road trip to your Australia bucket list. Just make sure you are familiar with Australian road trip essentials and prepared for driving across vast and unforgiving landscapes.

Colours of Australian Outback

The colours of the Australian Outback are rich and vivid, somewhat unexpected in the harsh environment of the arid landscape. Rolling dunes of orange sand set against the background of clear blue sky, peppered with splashes of green vegetation. And when the rain does come to the desert it usually does so in spectacular summer storms.

Adelaide to Darwin road trip is only one option for exploring Australian wildlife and habitats, of course. Here are some ideas for wildlife hotspots in Queensland.

More Northern Territory nature adventures


6 thoughts on “Adelaide to Darwin Road Trip: Exploring the Wild Outback”

  1. Woah, what an amazing trip! My husband and I just booked our flights to Australia for the holidays. We’re starting to plan where we’re going to visit so this is super helpful!

    Reply
  2. Wow all of these animals look so cool! I’m stunned that you managed to capture this many on camera (I am absolutely terrible at taking pictures of animals lol).

    Reply
    • Thank you, Sarah. Yes, some of them are a little bit harder than others, but a lot of the animals are quite happy to sit still for a minute or two while you plonk yourself on the ground to take some shots :)

      Reply
  3. This has been such a joy to read! I’ve heard of Wallabys and Kangaroos but I wasn’t aware there’s a median between them! When I worked at Banff, we had a lot of Australians on Work Holiday Visas and most of them were terrified of bears, meanwhile us Canucks are deathly afraid of your spiders! I really wish I could visit Australia someday- but right now it just feels so far away (and expensive, really, everything there costs a ton of money)

    Reply
    • Thank you, Lauren! I would love to have bears as neighbours :)! We do have a few poisonous spiders, but you don’t really come across them too often unless you go sticking your hands into leaf litter or leave your shoes outside your tent when camping :). Venomous snakes are a bit more common.

      Reply

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