When asked if I have ever been to Australia, my answer is “no, but I always wanted to go to Darwin”. Which does get many bemused looks, given it doesn’t really live up to the glamour and excitement of the bigger cities. Such as Sydney, Perth or Melbourne. But logistically it is the perfect city for me, found at the nearest tip of Australia’s Northern Territory, where it makes the ideal starting point for a road trip in Australia’s Northern Territory. It’s also relatively simple to source a cheap camper van and car insurer and the rest writes itself.
A Long Overdue Adventure
The reason I am writing this is that I have been house sitting for the past 3 months, in the U.K, meaning I haven’t been able to travel. So when I cannot travel, I find myself planning travel, even if it is for journeys that I may never take (is that weird). But this road trip has come up on so many occasions, where I first considered it near 15 years ago, and we keep going back to it. Only I always find myself distracted by my food-obsessed travels in Asia. But we will get there eventually.
So much of my interest in Australia is from nostalgia, like Crocodile Dundee, and just awesome stuff I watched as a kid back in the 1980’s. And instead of Australia’s cities, my desire has always been to go walkabout in the outback, with swag bags and didgeridoos. Just all of them good old Ozzy clichés. And most of these scenes would be found in the Northern Territory of Australia. So I always dreamed to just drop in one day, maybe buy a scrappy old camper van from Gumtree, and then just disappear into the remote and desolate landscapes of the outback.
The 2 Week Road Trip
However, as with all our road trips, we will have to set a limit to our time, given we just have far too many responsibilities (cats) these days to go walkabout. So instead we will see what we could cover in 2-3 weeks, when starting out from Darwin, which is in the very north of Australia’s Northern Territory. From here the best way to look at the road trip is with a loop, arriving to Darwin, and travelling down to and through the dusty Red Centre of Australia, before turning back up towards the coastal route along the Gold Coast. And if I have an extra week, I would maybe cover some of the nearby North West region as well (Western Australia).
The Top End
As you may have guessed, the Top End region is found at the top end of Australia’s Northern Territory, where Darwin is the capital, and there are of course many attractions to explore nearby when travelling south. And while I would love to cover all of them, we do only have 2-3 weeks. However I would probably start with one of the nearer crocodile farms (or maybe check out Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin) to get my initial excitement for crocodiles out-of-the-way. So I don’t go running to them in the wild. Then the first port of call would have to Katherine, for the awesome Nitmiluk National Park, and the Katherine Hot Springs.
The Stuart Highway
Australia’s Northern Territory is just rather massive (1.421 million km²), and there will be huge gaps in this road trip, which will likely be my favourite parts of the journey. I like the idea of empty roads, for hours after hours, stopping for vegemite picnics or to chase wild kangaroo, and then drinking Victoria Bitter at outback pubs, while playing knifey-spoony with the locals. But there are occasional landmarks along the Stuart Highway, including the Devil’s Marbles (Karlu Karlu) in Warumungu, and it seems almost everywhere in Australia sounds awesome. So this journey would take around 16 hours of driving, and then it would be a further 5 hours to reach Alice Springs.
The Red Centre
We are now in the Red Centre of Australia, which is probably the most visually iconic area, and it is a must for any road trip. And Alice Springs would be the main station in this central part of Australia, found in the middle of nowhere. But there is no doubt a lot to explore nearby, where I would spend a few days at least in this region, not forgetting to call in at the massive sandstone monolith that is Uluru (Ayers Rock). Which is said to be the heart of the Red Centre. And while this exact same route can be covered from Darwin to Alice Springs on the majestic Ghan railway (another dream of mine) it doesn’t give quite the same flexibility.
The Return Journey
So this would be the first half of the journey, and while it could be covered it in a week, there is always the getting back. It is of course possible to jump on a flight elsewhere, or to continue south to Adelaide, which is a similar distance south. But my own interests would take me to loop back up to Darwin following the Gold Coast (which will come as a separate post). Or to share some of the main spots along the way, there is the city of Cairns, loads of coastal towns and tourism, and of course the Great Barrier Reef. Not to mention all the remote drives and scenery in between.