Stuart Highway will take you through the red center of Australia, from the southern farmlands through the central deserts to the tropical north and its magnificent wetlands. It’s called the Explorer’s Way and it begins in Port Augusta and with its length of 2711km it ends up in Darwin.
We have wanted to visit the Red Centre and Uluru since we last visited Australia, and we thought: why not drive all the way and through the country? When we had decided to drive this road we knew we didn’t want to use too much time on it, and we were prepared for long days on the road, and some of them became crazy-long with over 1000km a day.
We started the day leaving Port Willing just south of Adelaide, so we didn’t reach Port Augusta, the gateway to the outback, until 4 hours later…
Port Augusta is a small city, which offers all major services, shopping facilities and accommodation. We had a rest here before moving on. We headed north and after a while we could see several salt lakes in the horizon, some of them was close to the road too. We then arrived Pimba, a small settlement on the junction to Woomera, Roxby Downs and Andamooka. Here you can find a roadhouse where you can grab something to eat and fuel up your car. You have to leave Stuart Hw and drive to Woomera 7km away if you want accommodation at this point of the journey. We didn’t want an extra detour and crossed our fingers for another opportunity not too far away.
After driving 286 km from Port Augusta we arrived Glendambo, a small town, if you can call it that – it’s a roadhouse with petrol station, restaurant and a caravan park. It was getting late and we decided to stay the night at Glendambo.
We first fueled up the van so we were ready to hit the road early the next morning, we then checked in at the caravan park; it was just an open area where we could park wherever we wanted, with only three other cars/vans around. The facilities wasn’t the best, it was the kind where you almost felt more dirty after taking a shower, and several of the toilet stalls was covered in spider web. But we only paid 27AU$ for a powered site at this place.
The next morning we hit the road right after an early breakfast, and after a few minutes from Glendambo we lost the signals on our phones (we used Telstra). We arrived Coober Pedy quite early – we probably should spent the night here to explore more of ‘the opal capital of the world’, but we had a quick look at the place, visited a shop and had a long talk with a local old man which told us a bit about the history, opals and the aboriginal people. We were so eager to visit Uluru, so after a long break from the road we headed on.
Coober Pedy, a place so hot many of the residents have built their homes underground.
We passed Cadney Homestead, a small roadhouse, then Marla, another small town, before arriving Erlunda; situated on the corner of Stuart Highway & Lasseter Highway (the road that leads to Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park). We took a moment to decide whether or not if we should stay the night or continue. After a break we decided to continue…
Interested to read more about that part of the journey visiting Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park?
The next day we got back to Stuart Highway again and drove towards Alice Springs, the city in the heart of central Australia. We decided it was about time for a break from the road, and found MacDonnell Range Holiday Park, with all facilities. It was clean and they had a nice pool area (perfect for us to cool down as it was HOT) and 1h free wifi. We stayed there for two nights (37AU$ p.night), ordered pizza, which was delivered at the campground. We also exploited that we had access to many shops and larger supermarkets and filled up our van with food and drinks.
In this area you can find many things to do such as Alice Springs Desert Park, Royal Flying Doctor Service, Alice Springs general cemetery, The Old Telegraph Station and there are also plenty of shops and galleries with Aboriginal art.
Leaving Alice Springs behind we drove up to Tennant Creek, which actual is the fifth largest town in the Northern Territory. We stayed at Outback Caravan Park for 38AU$ a night, a simple camp. The lady in the reception was really kind and gave us a tip about a hot spring we should stop by on our way further north. We had the hell of a thunderstorm that evening…
Not sure if you’re a fan of the Departures TV-show, but we are (!!!),
and if you are too you might recognize this place.
We had to make a stop at the U.F.O capital of Australia just because of Justin and Scott.
12 minutes drive away you’ll find the amazing natural attraction «The Devils Marble’s
We knew our next stop, but as the lady at the caravan park recommended we took a break at Mataranka Thermal Pool. It’s a great place to unwind, and the warm, crystal clear waters of the natural pool is said to have the power to soothe aches and pains after a long day on the road. We also had a snack before we moved on.
Later that day we arrived Katherine and the Big 4 Holiday Park where we stayed for two nights (32AU$ night) to explore the area. We LOVED this campground; it was huge and we were almost alone, and they had this big pool where we could bath as long as we wanted in the evenings, and the staff was the best and really nice to us.
After 2406 km we were so close to the end… But first we had to visit Litchfield National Park. We stayed the whole day there before we drove up to Darwin. It got a bit late this evening but we called the Big 4 Howard Springs campsite before we got there. They had already closed, but we agreed to meet the owners later that evening so we could check in. We waited and waited but they never showed up! We called them back and they were so rude, laughing and said that no one would wait that long (oh yeah, we’re that stupid… keeping our part of the agreement), and then they got angry. But the lady came down to the reception to meet us. She wasn’t happy, and we should have just walked away, but it was too late to look for another place at this point.
We’ve stayed at so many campsites in Australia and never had a problem; if we’ve showed up after opening hours we could just drive in, find a site and then pay the next morning. We’ve never felt so unwanted, and we had to pay 37AU$ for that!!! But after reading reviews online we know we aren’t alone of feeling that. We wrote about the experience on our Facebook page, and a day later we received an email from the lady where she apologized and said she was sorry and she also wanted to give us a free night. We had just left the area after seeing the city and took a detour to join a Jumping Crocodile Cruise on Adelaide River before we had to drive back down a bit before heading east. And we should have been PAID for spending one more night there!
We loved the experience of driving Stuart Highway; it’s deserted and we’ve seen a totally different part of Australia than the coast roads. When driving we meet many friendly people and almost everyone greet when passing each other on the road. We spent a week driving Stuart Highway from south to north with all our stops. We could easily spent more time, but we felt we got to see the most important places on our list, and we had so many other places we wanted to visit on our four week long road trip, in a Britz Campervan, through Australia. We were there in February and it was really hot all day long (and night), and the weather was really unstable (only in the evenings/night time) with some serious thunderstorms and heavy rain. We knew that the weather could thwart us at that time of the year, but we didn’t want that to stop us, and as always we had a really good time.
It’s a journey of contrasts and natural beauty, and we felt totally alone at some point, but we kind of wanted that experience in Australia.
A few more pictures:
The last two photos is of termite mounds which people have dressed up, they can be found all along the highway from Alice Springs to Darwin. Why do they do it? Probably for fun! And who? Some says it’s the locals and other says it’s the tourist, but we’re guessing it’s both!