Driving from Sydney to Darwin is no weekend road trip – this route crosses through NSW, SA, and NT, taking in the majesty of Australia’s vastness as it goes. Buckle up, you’re in for a long drive.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which this adventure takes place who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Taking in so much of Australia!
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
- Northern Territory swimming holes
- Life on the open road
Moving to Darwin
On a mission to relocate to the NT, I rallied my two best mates to join my Holden Cruze wagon and I on a 6,200km journey from Sydney, across NSW, into SA, and straight up the guts of Australia, to the Top End.
We negotiated our time off around the Easter long weekend, squished ourselves and most of my worldly possessions into the car and scooted off, with a mission to see as many Big Things as possible along the way (and record them all at our newly founded Instagram account @thenextbigthing.au)
Day 1 – Sydney/Moss Vale to Marulan
Time spent driving: 40 mins
Big things: 0
The first day of the trip saw the three of us converge at my mate Dakota’s place just outside of Marulan, NSW – Ange travelling by train from Sydney and I driving my extremely chockers car from my family home in Moss Vale.
Day 2 – Marulan to Bourke
Time spent driving: 8 hours 10 mins
Big things: 6
The first official day of the road trip and our excitement was spilling out of us in uncontrollable bouts of laughter.
From Marulan, we had eight hours of driving to smash out in time for a house-warming party at a mate’s place in Bourke that night. But that didn’t stop us from taking the scenic route, winding between country towns and snapping pics with every Big Thing we could find – six in total, on day one!
- Big Merino – Goulburn
- Big Cherries – Young
- Big Pick and Pan – Grenfell
- Big Rabbit Trap – Albert
- Big Beer Can – Albert
- Big Bogan – Nyngan
The familiar countryside of western NSW was a nice way to begin a trip that’d see us crossing borders we’d never passed before. We watched the sun set on the western horizon as the skyline opened up and we emerged onto the Bourke plains.
Day 3 – Bourke to Broken Hill
Time spent driving: 6 hours 20 mins
Big things: 1
After a morning spent meandering around Bourke, we hit the road around midday to tackle the next leg of the drive to NSW’s westernmost town – Broken Hill.
After a few hours of flat, straight roads with vast plains filled with not much other than wild goats, we knew we were in for landscapes we’d only ever heard about before.
We stopped in at Cobar to snap a pic with another Big Beer Can before venturing on through Wilcannia.
As we approached Broken Hill towards the end of the day, we headed straight for Mundi Mundi lookout to watch the sunset across the vast, mind-boggling flat plains.
Read more: Darling River Run
Absolutely spent from another huge day, we tucked into a pub meal, located our home for the night – the Broken Hill Tourist Park – wrangled the tent in the dark and drifted off to sleep.
Day 4 – Broken Hill to Port Pirie
Time spent driving: 4 hours 20 mins
Big things: 4
With lots to check out in Broken Hill, and almost five hours of driving to do, we were up early to get to the Big Bench and Big Ant, before driving out to the iconic township of Silverton.
This place is not to be missed. We wandered up and down the dusty main street, chatting to locals, checking out the Mad Max 2 Museum, and enjoying a schooey at the local pub.
On the drive back into Broken Hill we stopped in at the botanic gardens, admired the Living Desert and Sculptures display, and gave way to a mob of emus crossing our path.
Our final stop in town was at the Palace Hotel, made famous by ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ where we simply had to get a snap with the Big High Heel.
Hitting the road at 3pm, it wasn’t long before we were crossing the border into South Australia and stopping off at the most random Big Thing of the trip – the Big Dice.
We watched the sunset over the hills as we wound through lush farmland – a stark change from the flat and desolate plains we’d become used to.
After a quick late night shop at Port Pirie, we scooted down the road to our campground in Mount Remarkable National Park, pitching our tent once again in the dark.
Day 5 – Port Pirie to Coober Pedy
Time spent driving: 6 hours 20 mins
Big things: 1
We woke to the tweeting of Ringneck parrots and wandered out of our tent, marvelling at the beautiful surrounds we found ourselves in.
It wasn’t long until we were on the Stuart Highway, beginning our journey directly north, through the heart of Australia.
The land flattened again and we passed massive, blindingly-white salt lakes, which we couldn’t resist a taste of.
We drove half way through South Australia that day, finishing up at the famous mining town of Coober Pedy – first stop, the Big Winch which sits at the top of town.
Most of Coober Pedy’s buildings have been built into the hillsides or underground in an effort to keep residences cool during the heat of summer, so we treated ourselves to the full experience with an underground motel room for the night.
Day 6 – Coober Pedy to Uluru
Time spent driving: 7 hours 15 mins
Big things: 2
We started the day with a pre-emptive tyre change from our slow leak tyre, an opal mine tour, quick stop off at the Big Miner, and even got to witness some Sturt Desert Peas in bloom – bucket list item, checked!
We were on the road by midday and took a quick detour to The Breakaways, one of the only mountain ranges in the top end of the state.
Around 150km from the SA/NT border, we realised the spare tyre we’d changed just that morning had bulged and was too dangerous to drive on.
Another change back to the original slow-leak tyre, literally almost in the middle of the country, and we were back on the road, all fingers crossed the next petrol station could offer us a working spare.
We crossed the border into the NT with much excitement before pulling up at Kulgera petrol station.
By some dumb luck, this place not only had a mechanic shed out that back that could fix our leaking tyre and sell us a spare, they also had a pub where we could enjoy a beer while we waited. There was even another big Beer Can for us to add to our Big Things tally!
Kulgera Pub – the first and last pub in the NT and a place where miracles happen.
We set off into the sunset with a three hour drive left to get to the campground at Yulara, gateway to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Another 10pm tent set up, but we were just stoked to have made it.
Day 7 – Uluru
Time spent driving: 2 hours 20mins
Big things: Does the biggest rock in the country count?
This day was all about enjoying the majesty of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Despite our late night arrival, we hustled in the morning to watch the sunrise over Uluru.
We packed coffee and breakfast supplies and enjoyed cooking up a storm on the BBQs by the Visitors Centre, in the shadow of the rock.
Then we got up close and personal, taking on the 10km loop around the base of Uluru where we were able to take in the magic of the rock from all sides.
That afternoon we headed to Kata Tjuta to tackle the Valley of the Winds hike, which delivered views more spectacular than we could’ve imagined. We watched the sunset on Kata Tjuta as we swatted away flies for as long as we could bear.
Day 8 – Uluru to Alice Springs
Time spent driving: 4 hours 25 mins
Big things: 1
To have had another day at Uluru-Kata Tjuta would’ve been bliss, but we had driving to do!
The first half of the drive saw us heading back the way we came, to the Stuart Highway, passing through the bright red (and now green) desert we’d missed on our late-night arrival.
A quick pit-stop at the Erldunda Roadhouse, before booking it a few hours up the highway to Alice Springs.
We arrived with time to snap a pic at the Big Hand, and set up at the local tourist park before meeting a long lost mate for sunset beers and dinner.
Day 9 – Alice Springs
Time spent driving: 2 hours 15 mins
Big things: 1
A whole day in Alice Springs isn’t nearly enough, but we tried!
We enjoyed an early morning coffee and wander round the Botanic Gardens, and a quick stop off at the Big Books, before jumping in the car and heading to the swimming holes of the West Macdonnell Ranges.
First stop – Ellery Creek Big Hole where a chilly creek cuts through a huge gorge to create the perfect little swim spot.
We swam through the high-walled gap in the gorge, marvelling at the mysteries of nature. We thought this would be our highlight of the day, but next we headed to Ormiston Gorge.
You couldn’t even make this place up in your dreams. Bright ochre gorge walls give way to a still and supreme watering hole, with gums towering over a sandy bank, creating the dream destination for lazing away the day.
We could hardly pull ourselves away, but had a booking with a paddle of beers at the Alice Springs Brewing Co. to get to that night.
Day 10 – Alice Springs to Daly Waters
Time spent driving: 9 hours
Big things: 1
In terms of hours driving on the map, this was our longest day of the trip. We’d been told to skip Tennant Creek and keep on keeping on to Daly Waters instead.
With a few pit stops to check out Karlu Karlu and Australia’s alien capital, Wycliffe Well, the drive was long but never arduous.
When we pulled up at Daly Waters Pub at 8pm, we knew we’d made the right choice. The pub was pumping with locals and travellers alike. We ordered ourselves enormous well-deserved dinners (plus a coupla schooies of course) and took in the atmosphere in the beer garden, as a charming couple, stage name Jen and Tonic, played covers of country hits.
Before long the whole pub was up and hip-swinging to ‘Bad to the Bone’.
Day 11 – Daly Waters to Katherine
Time spent driving: 2 hours 50 mins
Big things: 1
A short and sweet drive this day meant we had plenty of time for exploring. After a cruisey breaky to end our time at the Daly Waters Pub, we cruised up the Stuart Highway, making a stop at ANOTHER Big Beer (this time with an added Pink Panther).
We washed away our impurities at Mataranka thermal pools and scared ourselves silly on the lookout for crocs as we drifted through Bitter Springs.
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
We picked up supplies in Katherine before heading out to Nitmiluk Gorge for our final night of camping.
A sunset bev was in order so we hiked to the top of the Gorge to take in the fleeting sunlight over the ever-impressive view.
Day 12 – Katherine to Darwin
Time spent driving: 3 hours 5 mins
Big things: 1
The final day of our trip was certainly bittersweet. We spent the morning hiking to the Southern Rockhole at Nitmiluk Gorge and splashing around in the cool, emerald water.
Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather
Hot tip! In the warmer months there’s a boat that returns hikers from the Southern Rockhole through the Gorge, back to the Tourist Centre twice a day for $15 per person. If you’re hiking in the heat of the day, you’ll certainly be grateful to be able to return via boat, we definitely were!
45 minutes up the road from Katherine, our final stop was Edith Falls and it was PUMPING.
We spent a few hours slipping and sliding through the natural waterslides that the sheer volume and force of the falls created across the rocky water hole. Nature’s own water theme park!
- A car!
- A working spare tyre
- A tent if you want to camp (otherwise extra cash for hotels)
- A few mates
- Hiking shoes
- Extra water for the car and you
- State border declarations for crossing into SA and NT (at least for now)
- Portable phone charger
- Downloaded music and podcasts – no reception to stream out here folks!
Distance Covered / Time Spent Driving / Days
app. 6,200km (inclusive of drives around towns etc) / 60+ hours / 12 days