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How to plan a road trip from Alice Springs to Darwin

Want the best Northern Territory self-drive itineraries that take in Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin, Kakadu and Katherine? Then look no further, because our itineraries give you the time and flexibility to experience the red centre at your own pace. Join our most exciting driving routes and experience a world of ancient art and culture, pioneering history, local wildlife, and mind-blowing sunsets.

Here at First Light Travel HQ we have dreamt up the best Northern Territory self-drive itineraries to take the hassle out of planning your next trip. No matter the style of Northern Territory self-drive holiday you are after, we have the itinerary for you! Read on to find out more about the best destinations, day tours and hotels, and how we have included them to curate a range of amazing customisable self-drive itineraries for your next adventure.

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The Best Time to Visit the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory plays host to a handful of the country’s largest deserts, including the Great Sandy Desert, Tanami Desert, and the Simpson Desert, each contributing to an expansive landscape that is uniquely Australian. With terrain ranging from powerful rivers and expansive wetlands to barren deserts and sandstone escarpments, much of the Northern Territory has been shaped by a monsoonal climate that cultivates extremities, ensuring one of the most dynamic and exciting environments on earth.

The Red Centre (Uluru and Alice Springs)

Australia’s interior is an arid semi-desert with very little rain, high summer temperatures and occasionally freezing winter nights. The best time to visit Australia's Red Centre, Uluru and Kata Tjuta is between May and September when the maximum temperature during the day is usually between 20°C (68°F) and 30°C (86°F). The weather is cooler, making it easier and safer and much more pleasant to walk, and there is very little rain. Overnight temperatures can be very cold during winter, so be sure to bring some warm clothing with you.

August and September are usually the best months to see the park’s wildflowers in bloom. October to March can get extremely hot, with daytime temperatures regularly exceeding 35°C (95°F). However, the hot weather also brings storms and rain, which fill the waterholes and start Uluru’s waterfalls flowing – a truly spectacular sight! Weather in Uluru could be considered extreme. Summer temperatures can get very hot with temperatures soaring to 40°C (104°F) and 45°C (113°F) in the desert. On the contrary, during the winter, temperatures can drop to below 0°C (32°F).


Darwin, Kakadu, Arnhem Land, Katherine and surrounds

Known for its tropical weather, saltwater crocodiles, rich Indigenous culture, abundant fishing spots, National Parks and laid-back Australian lifestyle; the Top End is blessed with more than its fair share of world-class destinations and attractions. Monsoonal wet and dry seasons provide the region with one of Mother Nature’s most punishing environmental contrasts, shifting from dry heat and scorched earth to astonishing downpours and flooded plains on a half-yearly cycle.

Wet Season (November – April)

During the wet season, the Top End is subject to huge volumes of rainfall. Characterised by intense and often visually dramatic weather events, the average temperatures range from 25°C (77°F) to 33°C (91°F) and are amplified by a sharp rise in humidity (in excess of 80%). Visiting the Top End during the wet season provides travellers with some interesting dilemmas. The increased rainfall results in spectacular waterfalls pumping with life and lush green landscapes that engulf much of the region, including Kakadu and Litchfield National Park.

Dry Season (May – October)

During the dry season, the Top End boasts warm sunny days and crisp winter nights. Temperatures typically range from 21°C (70°F) to 32°C (90°F), with a drying heat throughout the day complemented by substantially lower levels of humidity (around 60 – 65%) providing arguably the most comfortable time of year to visit.

devils marbles

Where do I begin?

The most popular way to get to the Northern Territory is by air, where you can fly into the state capital of Darwin, or the Red Centre hotspots of Alice Springs or Uluru/Ayers Rock. Domestic and international flights are serviced from a range of destinations across Australia, Europe, the US and Asia. The other alternative is to drive, perhaps on an extended road trip up the Stuart Highway from South Australia, or from Western Australia or Queensland. Distances in the Northern Territory are vast, so plan ahead for rest stops. From either location we can help you plan the perfect itinerary, starting and ending at different ends of the state.

Where should I visit?


Uluru (Ayers Rock) is Australia's most recognisable natural icon. Standing 348 metres (1140 feet) high, the monolith has a great cultural significance for the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Anangu people. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park encompasses both Uluru and the 36 orange-hued domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), both dating back hundreds of millions of years. When exploring the base of Uluru, there are a number of excellent interpretative walks, including the Uluru Base Walk and the Kuniya Walk. The Valley of the Winds Walk winds through the domes of Kata Tjuta and includes spectacular lookout points. These walks can be done independently or as part of a tour. Why not drive out and watch the sunset over Australia’s most renowned natural landmark. Witness the phenomenon of the changing colours on the massive sandstone monolith before returning to the comfort of your hotel for the night.

For more information on Uluru, head to our blog Visiting Uluru to read up on do’s and don’ts, the best time to visit, and the cultural significance of the area to the traditional Aboriginal land owners.

From Uluru it’s a 5 hour drive to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs

As your plane descends over the vast red outback, you know you have arrived somewhere special where adventure awaits. Situated in Australia's geographic centre, Alice Springs is surrounded by gorges and stark desert plains. At 1,500 km (930 miles) from the nearest city, it's certainly remote. But Alice Springs brims with local colour you can't find anywhere else. If you think "The Alice" is hot, flat and dusty then you had better think again, because there are stunning ranges, spectacular gum trees, refreshing waterholes, beautiful palm trees, awesome colours, amazing wildlife, and a lush green golf course.

From Alice Springs it’s a 4 hour drive to the Devils Marbles.


Devils Marbles

The Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve is located 110 km (68 miles) south of Tennant Creek, in central Northern Territory. The Devils Marbles are a collection of massive granite boulders strewn across a valley. Standing at up to 6 metres (20 feet) high and formed over millions of years, they continue to crack and change. The marbles are believed by the Warmungu Aboriginal people to be the fossilized eggs of the Rainbow Serpent - an important dreamtime figure within Aboriginal mythology.

From the Devils Marbles it’s an 8-9 hour drive to Katherine. (We recommend breaking up the journey with an overnight stay at Daly Waters.)

Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park

Katherine is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory, located three hours' drive south of Darwin on the banks of the Katherine River. A Katherine holiday combines some of the Territory's best nature and culture experiences with pioneering history and heritage. Once established, the town became a popular base for pioneers whose legacy continues to live on at the many historic sites.

A trip to the Northern Territory is not complete without visiting the spectacular Nitmiluk Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. The Gorge winds along 12km (7 miles) of sheer rock extending more than 70m (230 feet) high. Consisting of 13 separate gorges, Nitmiluk Gorge is a maze of waterways sculpted from the sandstone over countless millennia by the Katherine River. Join a specialist canoe or helicopter adventure that allows you to immerse yourself in the history, rugged beauty and culture of this majestic region. By helicopter you will discover one of the most remote and beautiful waterfall swim sites in Australia - enjoy a swim at this pristine wilderness rock pool, which is yours exclusively.

From Katherine it’s a 3.5 hour drive to Kakadu (Jabiru).

litchfield National Park

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites - Aboriginal people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40,000 years. It covers an area of nearly 20,000 square kilometres (7000 square miles) which is the size of Israel or nearly half the size of Switzerland! People aren’t exaggerating when they refer to Kakadu as a world-class destination – only a few dozen sites around the globe appear on the World Heritage List for both their natural and cultural significance (and only four places in Australia). The park is a living cultural landscape. Its archaeological sites record the skills and way of life of Aboriginal people over tens of thousands of years. Kakadu’s rock art documents Indigenous creation stories and makes up one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world.

From Kakadu (Jabiru) it’s a 3.5 hour drive to Litchfield Park.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park is a true little gem and possibly the Northern Territory’s best kept secret. It is situated less than two hours drive from Darwin and is definitely more along the lines of gentle than the rugged nature of Kakadu. Open eucalyptus woodland, dense tropical rainforest and magnetic termite mounds are found in Litchfield National Park. In the dry season you can easily get to most of the waterfalls that plunge from the rocky escarpment of the Table Top Range into refreshing crystal clear crocodile-free pools - all of which offer a cool respite on warm summer days.

From Litchfield Park it’s a 2 hour drive to Darwin.


Darwin is nearer to Singapore than it is to Sydney, which gives you an idea of the sheer size of Australia. This multicultural, fast-developing city has a chilled-out feel and a beautiful climate. Between cyclones and bombing by the Japanese in World War II, Darwin has been rebuilt several times in its history. While the architecture is modern and stylish, it's still very much a "frontier town" with a small-town feel. Darwin is green and lush with palms and the perfume of frangipani flowers. Settle in and unwind with a stroll along the esplanade and sample local cuisine in one of the fabulous restaurants at the Waterfront. Relax and see a movie at the outdoor Deckchair Cinema, catch sunset over the Timor Sea, seek out vibrant street art, or try street food at the Mindil Beach Markets. You'll feel like a laid-back local in no time!

boabab tree

Suggested itineraries for a road trip from Alice Springs/Uluru to Darwin

One week self-drive holiday

Unique attractions await you on our epic 8 Day Alice Springs to Darwin Road Trip: Red Centre deserts, outback towns, Aboriginal rock art and natural wonders galore. Spot desert wildlife at Alice Springs, dine among Nitmiluk's towering gorges, sleep in an outback pub and cool off in Litchfield's shady swimming holes. Your journey ends in tropical Darwin, where you will drop off your rental vehicle and meet your onward flight.

Two week self-drive holiday

Experience the quintessential Northern Territory landscapes on a thrilling 13 Day Uluru to Darwin Self Drive Tour. The grandeur of Uluru is unforgettable, and the opportunity to learn about the traditions of the local Indigenous people adds depth to your encounter. Travelling the Stuart Highway, you’ll witness the transition from desert reds to the rocky escarpments and lush greens of the tropical north. Featured highlights include an Uluru sunrise tour, Kings Canyon, a guided tour into the West MacDonnell Ranges, a cruise through the Nitmiluk Gorge, Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks and a night in vibrant Darwin.


Romantic honeymoon self-drive holiday

Follow the footsteps of the explorers on an unforgettable Outback Honeymoon safari on our 12 Day Outback Australia Honeymoon Package - Adelaide to Darwin. This epic adventure transports you from coastal Adelaide in South Australia to tropical Darwin via the jaw-dropping landscapes of Australia's Red Centre. Visit curious Coober Pedy, meet desert wildlife in Alice Springs, sleep at an authentic Outback roadhouse in Daly Waters, and marvel at the gorges of Nitmiluk and Litchfield National Park. Our well-planned itineraries are fully customizable, and your dedicated Travel Specialist will fine-tune the details according to your wishes. We'll work with you to make your Great Australian Honeymoon a truly memorable experience.

Luxurious fly/drive holiday with all the trimmings

Tropical Darwin, Kakadu floodplains, ancient Uluru and Kangaroo Island wilderness: this 11 Day Off the Beaten Track Luxury fly/drive tour immerses you in Australia's wildest locations without skimping on creature comforts. Stay in safari-style lodges, luxury bungalows, and remote resorts, waking up each day to unforgettable views across outback plains, vast red deserts, and rugged coastlines. Gourmet dining is included at remote lodge locations, allowing you to expand your palate, try native outback ingredients, and discover tantalizing new flavours you just can't find anywhere else.

Ready to find out more? Whether you have 7 days, 10 days or even longer, you will find a way to spend your time in the Northern Territory filled with activities, national park visits and a wonderful cultural experience. At First Light Travel we specialise in customised self-drive holidays, and we are the experts at producing boutique itineraries. Get in touch with the First Light Travel team and we will help you plan your next Top End adventure!

kelly Hughs
Submitted by
Kelly Hughes
: 11 Apr 2021 (Last updated: 12 Apr 2021)

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