Once known as "The Track", the Stuart Highway was named after explorer John McDouall Stuart who discovered a route through Australia's inland on several excursions in the 1850s and 1860s.
Today the Stuart Highway begins in Port Augusta, 305 km north of Adelaide. The total distance to Darwin is 2711 km. This is a very long drive through the different climate zones of Australia.
The tourist route marketed as the Explorer's Way describes the entire journey from Adelaide to Darwin (3016 km).
Travellers have various choices to drive from Adelaide to Port Augusta, along Port Wakefield Road, through Clare Valley, even doing a detour through the lovely Flinders Ranges.
Whichever route you choose, the Explorers Way takes you from the southern farmlands through the central deserts to the tropical north and its magnificent wetlands. It is a journey of contrasts and natural beauty. Enjoy one of the best long distance drives in the world.
Let me take you on an epic journey to Australia's red centre, the first section of the famous Stuart Highway.
This is the summary of the entire route from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
Click on a link for a quick jump to the entry on this page, with info about accommodation and places of interest in this area. Fuel is available at all roadhouses & towns on the list.
Distances shown are from one place to the next, e.g. Glendambo - 113 km means Glendambo is 113 km from Pimba and 252 km lie ahead of you to reach Coober Pedy.
Port Wakefield Road is the quickest route from Adelaide to Port Augusta as it bypasses all the small country towns.
If you have a little extra time at hand, you can also use the Main North Road which is more scenic, and invites you to explore picturesque Clare and wineries in the Clare Valley, Gladstone, Melrose and Wilmington. You can even make a detour to the Flinders Ranges before you go on the long track northwards.
Although this is not the real Australian Outback, South Australia's Mid North region is a beautiful rural area with charming country towns. It's an area worth to stay a couple of days.
Port Augusta - population ~15,250 is on the edge of the South Australian Outback. It's here where the Stuart Highway begins its long journey up to Alice Springs and further north to Darwin, right across the red centre.
Port Augusta offers all major services, shopping facilities and accommodation. Actually, it has city status.
Eyre highway is another major Outback highway that starts in Port Augusta, leading across the Nullarbor plain into Western Australia.
But we're heading north now.
As you leave Port Augusta, enjoy the panorama of the Flinders Ranges to the east. It won't take long until the country becomes fairly flat with shimmering salt lakes on the horizon, or sometimes, close to the road.
Pimba is a small settlement on the junction to Woomera, Roxby Downs and Andamooka.
Established as a worker's camp for the Transcontinental Railway in the early 20th century, both the Indian Pacific and the Ghan stop on request in Pimba.
Facilities: The late Spud Murphy started Spud's Roadhouse in 1969. The roadhouse offers Outback atmosphere, fuel, take-away food, drinks and dinner daily. Accommodation (hotel, caravan park and backpackers) is available at Woomera which is only 7 km away.
Detours in the area: Leave the Stuart Highway and explore Andamooka, an unique opal mining town, about 110 km east of the highway. On the way you'll pass by Woomera and Roxby Downs.
From Roxby Downs, the Borefiled road connects with the famous Oodnadatta Track. You can drive a section on the track, and return to the highway at Coober Pedy or Marla.
These detours can be done with a sturdy car in dry conditions.
Back on the Stuart highway, don't miss the Lake Hart lookout and rest area about 50 km past Pimba. Lake Hart is one of these glistening salt lakes South Australia is famous for.
Glendambo came into existence when the main highway was realigned in 1982 which left Kingoonya 44 km off the main road.
Facilities: Hotel/motel with bar & bottleshop, 60 airconditioned motel units. Camping facilities, powered sites, bunkhouse. There is a BBQ area, and a laundry for guests. Check accommodation in Glendambo
The licensed Woolshed restaurant offers tasty food, it is a place I can recommend.
Fuel station and general store.
Detours in the area: A fairly good unsealed road leads to Kingoonya, 44 km west of Glendambo. Once a thriving railway town, Kingoonya became nearly a ghost town when the highway was relocated.
Check out the Kingoonya and Areas Progress Association website for more info about this unique place.
From Kingoonya a fairly good track goes south to the Mount Ive Station. It is a lonely but interesting drive, and a great shortcut if you come from the north and want to go to the Gawler Ranges or the Eyre Highway.
Back to the Stuart Hwy, from Glendambo to Coober Pedy you'll face the longest stretch without any facilities, 265 km. Don't forget to refuel bevor your leave.
Although the road is a bit boring, we enjoyed seeing lots of wedge-tailed eagles along the route.
It is worth to stop for a night and explore Australia's opal capital.
Facilities: Coober Pedy has a wide range of accommodation, both underground and above ground. Shopping facilities include a supermarket, opal shops, cafes and restaurants.
Check Cobber Pedy's unique accommodation
Detours in the area: The Breakaways north of Coober Pedy are a beautiful area of arid hills and mesas. Follow the highway 20 km north of town. A lookout is 10 km off the highway, accessible by conventional cars.
If you have enough of the bitumen, you can escape to the Oodnadatta Track from Coober Pedy also. There's road to William Creek, and another dirt road to Oodnadatta, crossing the desolate moon plain.
The Stuart Highway continues through flat landscapes with little vegetation. Every now and then you'll see low ranges on the horizon.
Cadney Homestead is a small roadhouse with typical Outback flair. Walk around the complex, see the Central Australia Railway line, breathe pur Outback air.
Facilities: 6 modern motel rooms, budget cabins, caravan and camping facilities. The roadhouse has all types of fuel and offers puncture repairs. A small general store has basic groceries. Enjoy a hearty meal in the fully licensed restaurant, or drop in for a drink at the happy hour.
Detours in the area: A day-tour to the painted desert, also known as Arckaringa Hills, is very worthwile. Stay until late afternoon for the best views. The colours of the hills are marvellous then.
You can also reach the Oodnadatta Track from Cadney via the painted desert.
Marla is a small town with a huge roadhouse, Marla Travellers Rest, right on the junction of Stuart Hwy and the Oodnadatta Track. It is usually a busy place, especially with trucks. A good place if you want to take a photo of the famous Australian road-trains.
Facilities: Motel and camping facilities, drive-thru caravan sites. The complex has a restaurant, take-away food, post office and banking facilities, fuel and repair services, and a supermarket.
Detours in the area: Mintabie is a small opal town about 40 km west of Marla. The township is on Aboriginal lands, so you need a permit from the police station at Marla if you want to visit.
As you travel further north, you'll notice a change of colour in the landscape. Yes, you're approaching the beautiful red centre!
There is not much to see on the border, apart from a small "Welcome to the Northern Territory" sign. If you're driving southwards from Alice Springs or Yulara, the South Australian welcome sign is by far bigger.
However, I think crossing the border is a reason to get off your car and stretch your legs. :) There are tables, water, toilets and an info bay.
Kulgera is a small town only 19 km north of the border. The roadhouse is the most visible feature in town.
The pub at the roadhouse is the centre most pub in Australia. That's a reason to stop for a drink, isn't it?
Facilities: Motel accommodation, camping, restaurant, fuel, small shop, public toilets, rest area.
Detours in the area: If you have a 4WD you can drive to Finke/Apatula, 148 km east of Kulgera, and then continue on the track along the old Ghan railway line north to Alice Springs.
On this route you'll also have access to Chambers Pillar, one of the well-known landmarks in the Northern Territory. John McDouall Stuart was the first European who saw this landmark in 1860.
Erldunda is a great spot to stay for a night. Situated on the corner of Stuart Highway & Lasseter Highway, it is a great place to relax from your long trip.
I camped twice at Erldunda, and I have font memories of a great place surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes.
Facilities: 47 motel rooms, backpacker accommodation, swimming pool, dining room, shop and fuel.
The camping and caravan area has trees for shade, and a BBQ area. I enjoyed the bird life during the day, but not the quarrel a few Galahs had in the tree next to our camp at 1 am.
Check out the Desert Oaks Resort in Erldunda
Detours in the area: Erldunda is the place where you have to make decisions! Continuing on the Stuart Highway, you'll reach Alice Springs in two hours / 200 km.
The alternative? Turn west and follow the Lasseter Highway to Yulara, the village on the edge of Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park.
Although you have nearly reached Alice Springs now, it is worth to stop at the Stuarts Well Roadhouse to enjoy some real Australian Outback atmosphere.
Also known as "Jim's place" to the locals, Jim Coterill has many stories to tell. Don't miss Dinky, the singing dingo, although his performance might sound a bit strange for your ears. :)
Facilities: Wide range of budget accommodation, from cabins to bunkhouse and caravan/camping facilities.
Detours in the area: 14 km north of Stuarts Well leads a dirt road to the Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve. The 24 km track can be managed with a conventional car in dry weather.
The main attraction are stunning red sandstone cliffs with rainbow-like bands of coloured rocks. The rocks are especially attractive in the early morning and late afternoon light. But even at noon it is worth to do the detour.
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