Driving from Alice Springs to Darwin
Driving from Alice Springs to Darwin is long, dry, and hot, but there are some great stopping points along the way! Break up the trek with these national parks, hot springs, and historic spots.
There is no free or cheap camping near Alice, unless you camp at one of the rest stops which are quite loud as they are right next to the road. The best free camping spot we found was Redbank Waterhole about an hour south of Alice, but the road in was quite rough. We were fine going in with our 4WD rig but our friends just managed it with 2 camper vans. We'd recommend G'Day Mate Tourist Park if you're in need of something in town.
We stopped in Alice Springs to stock up on groceries and cold drinks, and continued on to Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve. There are plenty of quirky roadhouses along the way. Our favourite was Wycliffe Well, which apparently is the U.F.O capital of Australia. Look, we found Elvis!!!
Our least favourite road house on this stretch? Ti-Tree with $1.95 per litre diesel fuel... Ouch.
Devils Marbles / Karlu Karlu
From Alice Springs: 4 hours
Camping here is $7.70 per person. There are drop toilets and a few shelters, but no other facilities. It's stunning at sunset, but very hot during the day with little shade available.
You can walk among the boulders on several trails and read a bit about the stories surrounding this place.
There are a few areas of this park you're not supposed to photograph, so please be respectful.
Tennant Creek (1 hour north) has plenty of fuel and an IGA for a restock if you're driving through to Daly Waters.
Daly Waters Historic Pub
From Devils Marbles: 5 hours
We stopped here at the recommendation of some fellow road trippers. Camping is $16 per person. While it was a cool pub, we were disappointed that they'd stopped doing live music just 2 weeks prior. There's live music here every night during the dry season, but we were just coming into the wet. Regardless, it's a very "Outback" place to stop for a night.
Check out all of the funny signage, old military helicopters and trucks, and best of all, the swimming pool out back. There's a bunch of merch here as well, where our Canadian friends loaded up on C.U. in the N.T. stubby holders.
Mataranka Thermal Pool
From Daly Waters: 2 hours
We'd heard rave reviews about this spot. It was so hot the day we visited that the water wasn't really refreshing, but it was crystal clear and a beautiful spot for a swim. There are bathrooms and a cafe here, and it's about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the pools.
Look, my ring matches!
We soaked for a bit and then headed back to our cars for some lunch.
A lot of reviews of this place complained about the bats. They were rather loud, but since we were there around midday, most of them were sleeping. Just wear a hat and you'll be fine!
From Mataranka Hot Springs: 10 minutes
I couldn't quite capture the beauty of this place, but the water was so clear and it was such a brilliant blue! There is a campground within walking distance of the springs, but we decided to push on to Katherine.
Bring an inflatable if you have one to float down the river, which has a mild current. There's a platform at the end, leading up to a pathway that takes you back to the beginning. The best part about this place is that (like all of the hot springs) entry is free, so you can stay as long as you like!
Katherine Hot Springs
From Bitter Springs: 1 hour
We camped at the Riverview Tourist Village in Katherine as our friends were having some mechanical issues with their van. It was a decent caravan park, although very close to the road.
It's about a 10 minute walk through the back of the park to the hot springs. We explored the upper pool first, which was gorgeous and not "hot" but lukewarm. There's a metal ladder to get down into the pool and a platform to observe from above.
The lower pools are more built-up, with stone walls and stairs and platforms to sit on.
What a lovely place! It wasn't too busy at the lower pools, so we had it mostly to ourselves.
Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk National Park
From Katherine: 25 minutes
The next morning we drove half an hour north of Katherine to visit Nitmiluk National Park and the beautiful Katherine Gorge. We'd recommend booking your boat tour ahead of time as they fill up. Because of COVID they were only offering the 9am and 11am tours, and a kayak tour that was far out of our price range.
We took a short hike between gorges and boarded a smaller boat for the second section of the tour.
If you want to see the gorge this is the only way, other than the more expensive kayak tour. The hiking trails were closed when we were here due to extreme heat. Everyone says this is the best thing to do in the area, but in our opinion $100 is way too much to sit in a boat for 2 hours. We got a little background history from our guide, but not enough to warrant that amount of money.
If you want to see something spectacular without paying through the nose, visit one of the NT's incredible hot springs or waterfalls for free.
Edith Falls, Nitmiluk National Park
From Katherine: 45 minutes
This was our favourite stop on this leg of the trip.
The lower pool is just 2 minutes from the parking lot and campground. Bring your floaties! You can swim up to the waterfall, but climbing isn't allowed as it's very slippery.
We camped at the Leliyn Campground, which is $12 per person and well worth it. There are showers and BBQs in lovely, quiet wooded campground. The bugs were pretty bad at night but we just hunkered down in the trailer to play some board games.
We got up early in the morning to hike to the upper pool, which we'd highly recommend. The hike itself was stunning and the upper pool was a great spot for a swim.
After climbing down to the lower pool for a dip, we headed north.
On to Darwin!
From Katherine you can head straight up to Darwin, or detour to some amazing national parks. We chose to visit a few national parks with our friends before they headed back to Canada!
We hope this gives you some ideas if you'll be driving from Alice Springs to Darwin. Subscribe below or follow us on social media to see photos of Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, coming soon!