With some serious hours behind the wheel, twice as much determination and tenfold the patience – Driving to Uluru is fairly easy if you’re following the standard routes. But honestly, that’s no less of a grind than whatever work you left your cubicle for.
Anyone can jump into Grandma’s old hatch and gun it for the Red Centre, following Google Maps from servo to servo. Let’s kick things up a notch and start things off in Adelaide. From there we head for dust and dirt, travelling north for the Red Centre.
South Australia. Already known for one particularly long and desolate road through the aptly named Nullarbor, there’s much more to the place than that singularly soul-crushing stretch of bitumen. In fact, draw a straight line from Adelaide to Darwin, and you basically have yourself the Stuart Highway. A straightforward sealed road that runs top to bottom. Expect road trains, Wedge-tailed Eagles, and a very numb bum.
Here’s an alternative that will truly satiate that desire for a fair dinkum true blue bloody outback adventure.
The Explorer’s Way
‘The Explorer’s Way’ (Tourism SA/NT named the route, but needless to say, we’re totally on board with it!) is a route from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and then on to Darwin, that follows a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads as an alternative to the Stuart Highway. The route is very flexible and can easily be chopped and changed to account for different itineraries.
Before undertaking any part of this trip however, you need to account for the differences between taking this route and the Stuart. Though they both run the obvious route from Adelaide to Alice Springs (from where you can decide where to go next), parts of the track place you in some of the most remote areas in Australia and you’re often hundreds of kilometers away from fuel – and help. The rewards are incredible, but there are some necessary precautions to take into account. These include but are not limited to:
Unless you’re accustomed to doing your own vehicle recoveries and repairs in the wild or are an expert at dodging wildlife, a 4WD will make things safer, and a whole lot more comfortable.
A Satellite Phone
Regular GSM mobile coverage is non-existent in many parts of the outback. 000 won’t help, nor will 112, if there’s no phone coverage.
Be Ready To Rough It
We’re talking bush camping. Until you hit Alice Springs, you’re cooking meals on an open fire, digging holes after your morning coffee, and turning heads (noses) when you finally make it into a civilised town. Earn the right to camp!
Read: The Outback Way Road Trip Survival Guide to get prepared!
Pro Tip: There are apps out there that can make life on the road a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. This trip will definitely need WikiCamps and FuelMap. Check out this list for some other favourites.
Ready to hit the road? Grab a week of food and water, a jerry can of fuel, a map and for the love of all that is good, don’t forget the aux cord. Oh, and put in plenty of leave at work, because everything in the outback is really far apart.
Adelaide To The Flinders Ranges
Adelaide is the perfect launchpad to stock up and ship out. Hire your vehicle of choice, grab a case of tinnies and keep your eyes on the horizon for The Flinders Ranges. Home to the Adnyamathanha people, South Australia’s largest mountain range stretches across 430km of stunning geological artistry. It’s an absolute marvel that’s worth taking the time to explore.
For a fancier start to the trip, you could head through the Clare Valley to stock up on some Riesling!
For a scenic entry into the Ranges, and to get off the beaten track asap, spend the night just before Port Augusta, then head off nice and early through Wilmington toward Quorn. Be sure to grab the best breakfast you’ve ever had at Flinders Food Co. in Hawker, before turning off and diving headfirst into the Flinders Ranges. Save a large part of the day to explore Wilpena Pound – a breathtakingly large natural amphitheatre with plenty of walks to get some blood back into those legs.
The stretch between Blinman and Parachilna offers several secluded campsites along the winding dirt road that snakes its way between peaks. Pick a site nice and early, crank up the fire and sit back. If you’re brave (or crazy), try to find a way up a ridge to watch the sunrise over the seemingly infinite ranges, before continuing on past the Underground Bakery at the ghost town of Farina, then on to Marree.
The Oodnadatta Track
Marree marks the southern end of the Oodnadatta Track, so make sure to stock up on any supplies you may need as the Oodnadatta will take you into some of the most remote areas this country has, with often over 200km between towns (and fuel).
The Oodnadatta Track is 620km of epic outback adventure. It’s an ideal introduction to outback dirt roads, there’s natural springs, waterholes and abandoned train lines, bridges and platforms as you follow the old Ghan railway, so be sure to pull over and explore as often as you can! The absolute highlight of the track however, is the opportunity to stop by Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre.
Though rarely full, it’s Australia’s largest lake (salt pan), and at 15m below sea level – Australia’s lowest point. There’s a lookout over Lake Eyre South not far from Marree, or if you have a spare day, head right to the edge via a turn-off just before William Creek. Be sure to fill up, stock up and grab a feed at William Creek Hotel – Australia’s only fly-in-fly-out heritage-listed pub and bottleshop, before heading onward to Oodnadatta.
The Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta is somewhere you simply have to stop at. Well honestly if you miss it you probably shouldn’t be driving.
From here, at the northern end of the Oodnadatta Track, head west toward Marla to fuel up before heading north along the Stuart Highway. Alternatively, with a capable 4WD and recovery kit, continue north another day and go for a dip at Dalhousie Springs – an incredible natural hot spring!
Rejoining the Stuart Highway
The drive north along the Stuart highway will be a stark difference to your solitary and dusty adventure along the Oodnadatta. Instead of feeling like you’re on Mars, you’ll notice the scenery unexpectedly becoming greener and greener as you enter the Northern Territory. You’ll have plenty of road trains and backpacker vans to dodge – but at the end of the day, you can rest assured that those glampers in their nice clean campervans are looking at your beat up and dirtied 4WD with green eyes.
From the Stuart Highway, if you have the supplies and baby wipes to last, you could go straight to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. My suggestion however would be to continue on to Alice Springs. Chances are, the car needs sorting, food needs buying and you sure as hell need a shower. Treat yourself to a real bed and a pub feed. Cheers a pint and share stories of where you’ve been – and excite yourself for what’s to come.
Keep in mind, Yulara (the only place to stay near Uluru) is still a good five hours from Alice Springs. My suggestion? Go the long way! Head along the Red Centre Way through the West MacDonnell Ranges. Explore places such as Simpson’s Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and Roma Gorge to name a few. Feel the power of Tnorala/Gosse’s Bluff. Stand in awe of King’s Canyon.
The Return Journey
Heading back to Adelaide, you could do it all again, or you could use the Stuart Highway as your return route. Along the way you’ll still be able to check out the drive-in cinema and stay a night underground in Coober Pedy, as well as explore The Breakaways along the way, even passing by the world’s longest fence (a measly 5,614km) – The Dingo Fence.
Red, red dirt