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Ultimate guide to driving in the Northern Territory

A trip to the Northern Territory is on most people’s bucket lists.

Home to the infamous Kakadu National Park and Uluru, the spectacular Litchfield National Park, and lesser known gems like Mataranka and Kings Canyon, you could easily spend a month driving around the Territory—and still not see it all.

Whether you get to all the famous sites or not, driving in the Territory is an incredible experience. Apart from the fact that you’re allowed to drive at 130km/h on their open roads, you’ll soon get a real sense of what epitomises the phrase ‘Australian outback’. Out here, it’s red dust, incredible sunsets, intense heat and hidden surprises.

Below, we suggest two driving holidays in the Northern Territory—one starting at the top, the other at the bottom.

From Darwin: exploring the top of the Northern Territory

If you start in Darwin, you can take in some stunning landscapes on your Northern Territory driving holiday. First place to tick off your list is the world-heritage Kakadu National Park, where you can discover ancient rock art and enjoy spectacular sunsets at Ubirr, count crocs on the East Alligator River, spot birds at Yellow Water Billabong, plunge into deliciously cool water beneath towering falls at Maguk … the list goes on.

Take the southern route out of Kakadu, stopping at Edith Falls on your way to Katherine. There, make sure you visit Nitmiluk Gorge. If you need a restful break from all this adventuring, head down to Mataranka and loll in the famous hot springs for a day or two.

Finally, on your way back to Darwin, stop in at Litchfield National Park. You’ll need a couple of days here to explore the many gorges and waterfalls that this park is famous for.

From Alice Springs: exploring the bottom of the Northern Territory

The bottom half of the Territory is a feast of natural wonders, and you’ll want plenty of time to explore them. If your starting point is Alice Springs, then give yourself a day to head west to Uluru—it’s about 500kms away.

Once at Uluru, there are plenty of things to do. Walk its perimeter, visit the Kantju Gorge, and stay at the renowned Ayers Rock Resort. Nearby, Kata Tjuta is also well worth a visit—these rock domes are over 500 million years old! A little further up the track—three hours by car—is Kings Canyon, a natural wonder with red rock cliffs that are stunning to see at sunset and sunrise.

Back in Alice Springs, it’s worth taking a day trip (or more!) to the West Macdonnell National Park, where there are beautiful waterholes, rock formations and more to discover.

Get more ideas for driving in the Territory.

Checklist for driving in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory can feel pretty remote when you’re out on the open road, and you need to be prepared if you’re planning to tackle some of its bigger distances. Here are some tips for driving holidays in the Northern Territory:

  • Watch your speed. Yes, the Territory has a 130km/h speed limit in some places. Be careful if you’re not used to these speeds—encountering a road train at full pace can be pretty full-on.
  • Plenty of planning. Unless you plan to get from Darwin to Alice in a few days, most highlights in the Northern Territory are easier than you’d think to reach. But keep an eye on your fuel gauge and make sure you top up when you pass through towns as there can be nothing for a few hundred kilometres.
  • Driver reviver. Stop every two hours to give the driver a break.
  • Carry a current road map.
  • Check your car before setting off. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip ahead—check tyres, water, oil and fuel. If you can, get your car serviced before you go.
  • Carry all the right gear if you’re heading off to remote areas, including spare tyres, plenty of water and camping equipment. Conditions can be very harsh on some of the remote roads up north. If you’re not sure what you need, ask an expert.
  • Carry a satellite phone or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) when you’re travelling through the Territory. You’ll find that your mobile phone won’t work between towns or in many of the national parks—and you’ll want emergency back-up just in case.
  • Check the road conditions. If you’re heading into the outback or you’re travelling soon after heavy rains or bushfires, roads can be closed. Ask ahead—local townsfolk are generally happy to help.    
  • Make sure your car insurance is up-to-date. Before you set off on a Northern Territory road trip, check your insurance policy. If you’re towing a caravan, you’ll want to make sure it’s insured too.

Heading off to discover the Territory by road is an amazing experience. We hope you enjoy it!