- 1 Quick Facts:
- 2 Safety Advice – Ignore at Your Own Peril
- 3 How to Prepare For this Journey
- 4 Adelaide to Port Augusta
- 5 Port Augusta to Pimba
- 6 Pimba to Glendambo
- 7 Glendambo to Coober Pedy
- 8 Coober Pedy to Cadney Park
- 9 Cadney Park to Marla
- 10 Marla to Kulgera
- 11 Kulgera to Erldunda
- 12 Erldunda to Alice Springs
- 13 Please Read This
We’ve been asked many times would we write a guide to driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
This is probably Australia’s most iconic roadtrip – especially if you add in a side trip to Uluru-Kata Tjuta.
It’s everything you imagine: freedom, a sense of isolation, intense personal reflection, wildlife, vast horizons and blue sky, quirky outback towns, roadhouses and characters.
Given that we’ve travelled this road dozens of times, we really had no excuse for not writing this guide.
So, here it is, our: Ultimate Guide to Driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
Total distance: 1503km
Recommended Driving Time: 16 hours – at least ONE overnight stop is recommended
Estimated Fuel Cost: $367 calculated at 11 litres per 100km, and a cost of $2.20 per litre for fuel.
Fuel, food, accommodation: Port Augusta, Pimba, Glendambo, Coober Pedy, Cadney, Marla, Kulgera, Erldunda, Stuart’s Well
Longest Stretch without fuel: 254km between Glendambo & Coober Pedy
Mobile Phone coverage: Partial Telstra only coverage – see detailed itinerary below.
Suitable for caravans/camper trailers: Yes
Safety Advice – Ignore at Your Own Peril
Whilst you’ll be driving on the Stuart Highway – an excellent and mainly straight road, you’re driving in the Australian outback for most of this journey, you’ll need to do a few simple things to stay safe:
- Rest Frequently. Stop and get out of your car every 2 hours. Rest for at least 15 minutes before you start driving again. Take some photos. Have a loo break. Find a geocache
- Beware of animals on the road – kangaroos, camels, emus and cattle. You will see them on this drive. Take note: the most common cause of tourist fatalities after heat exhaustion in the outback is hitting large animals.
- Be VERY cautious when over taking roadtrains. These guys are sometimes 55 metres long. You will need a lot of room to overtake safely.
- Water. Carry a minimum of 10 litres per person per day.
- Do not drive at night. EVER. There are too many animals on these roads.
If you’re worried about breaking down, please read MY experience of breaking down on this road as a solo woman traveller.
How to Prepare For this Journey
Driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs is a long way. This can be a very tiring drive – especially if you drive too far in one day.
Having done this trip both together and solo, we have the following recommendations:
- Make sure your car and your tyres are in good condition. Have your car serviced before you go
- Carry basic tools & spare parts (fanbelts, spare tyres, radiator hoses, fuses) with you. They can save your life!
- Learn how to change a tyre. Yes, ladies this means YOU, too
- Make sure you understand the nature of this drive: VERY long stretches of road with no facilities and sometimes, not much to look at except endless horizon
- Ward off fatigue and boredom by Geocaching, listening to an audiobook (Audible has a free trial), or stopping to take photographs along the way.
How to do this road trip :
Ideally, this trip is done at a leisurely pace, over 3 or 4 days.
Slow travel -with an emphasis on experience and enjoyment- is our travel philosophy.
We say this to you: SLOW DOWN. You will TRULY experience the outback deeply and more authentically than if you rush.
Yes, you can do this trip overnight, or even in ONE long and very exhausting day.
But ask yourself this: will you enjoy it?
As experienced travellers of this road, we can tell you that those times when we’ve driven slowly and taken in all the sights and sounds of this iconic roadtrip are far more memorable than those times we’ve had to rush through this drive.
If you’re likely to only make this road trip once in your lifetime, then SLOW DOWN and enjoy the experience.
- Leave Adelaide mid-to-late morning and plan to get to Port Augusta (300km)
- Stay overnight in Port Augusta
- Drive to Coober Pedy (537km) the next day
- Stay 2 nights in Coober Pedy – there’s A LOT to see & do there
- Drive to Alice Springs (684km) or Uluru (680km approx) the following day
There are a number of detours and side trips which we talk about in the itinerary below. Don’t be afraid to mix this journey up a bit – to go off and see Andamooka, Woomera or hang out at the bar in Kulgera Roadhouse.
Adelaide to Port Augusta
Fuel Available: Everywhere in Adelaide, then a number of places along the Port Wakefield Road/Princes Highway.
Travel time: 3.5 hours (allow more if the traffic getting out of Adelaide is bad)
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra reception is available all the way
This is probably going to be the slowest and the most frustrating part of the journey. There are times when I’ve left Adelaide city, and it seemed to take me hours just to get out of the city and suburbs.
To leave Adelaide, you’re looking to head north on Port Wakefield Road. This is also a national highway, the Princes Highway – also called ‘Highway 1’ in Australia.
The route is well signposted if you’re heading north out of the city centre. Just look for Port Wakefield Road and then stick to it.
Be careful when you get to the big intersection at a place called Gepp’s Cross, where the Port Wakefield Road intersects with Grand Junction Road. Go STRAIGHT ahead through this intersection, otherwise you’ll find yourself on the way to the Barossa Valley.
You now don’t need to turn off this road until you reach Port Augusta.
Heading north, you’ll come to a number of small towns, such as:
- Port Wakefield itself (has a REALLY good bakery)
- Lochiel (check the big, dry lake for the Loch Ness Monster)
- Warnertown (slow down here – the police like to catch people speeding)
You’ll pass the turnoffs for the Yorke Peninsula (Kadina/Wallaroo), Port Pirie and the Flinders Ranges along the way as well.
Once you see the massive power plant in distance (not to be confused with the one at Port Pirie), you know that Port Augusta isn’t far away.
There are LOTS of places to stay in Port Augusta. I usually stay at the Shoreline Caravan Park in a cabin. However there’s a number of free camping places here as well.
Port Augusta to Pimba
Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes (approx.)
Fuel available: Port Augusta & Pimba
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra reception is available all the way.
Free roadside campsites: North Tent Hill, Range View, Monalena Lagoon, Island Lagoon – find MORE free campsites here
This is where you really arrive in the outback. Drive through Port Augusta and look for the signs to Alice Springs and Darwin (go across the big bridge, and up a slight hill).
Turn right onto the Stuart Highway and say goodbye to traffic lights and bends. The next set of traffic lights you’ll see are at the intersection of the Stuart Highway and Larapinta Drive – 1200km away in Alice Springs!
The first part of the drive is through low, undulating hills, with lots of scrub around you. If you look over to your right, the hills you’ll see in the eastern distance are the Flinders Ranges.
For one last look at Spencer Gulf and the Flinders Ranges, stop at the Range View rest stop (61km km from Port Augusta). There’s also a toilet, water, tables & chairs, some good information signs and a geocache.
If you’re lucky, you should see quite a few emus on this part of the trip. Keep an eye out for them in spring especially, when you’ll see daddy emus with their chicks (the mums only lay the eggs, the dads care for the young.
Not long before you reach Pimba –and if you’re observant- look out to the left (west) and you might spot the remains of Nurrungar – a joint US-Australian ‘spy’ base. It looks like a few white golf balls in the distance.
The base closed in 1999 and is empty now, and there is a track going out to it and a lookout. I’ve never been out there, so I can’t say what the road is like.
A little further on you arrive at Pimba and Spud’s Roadhouse.
Pimba itself is pretty ugly to look at – a ramshackle collection of dilapidated houses with scarcely a tree in sight. However, you can get a meal and you can stay here.
However, a more interesting (and attractive) place to visit and stay is located 6km up the road at Woomera. Turn right off the Stuart Highway and head past Spud’s Roadhouse/Pimba.
Woomera was established in 1947, for the Anglo-Australian Joint Project. This was a ‘cold-war’ project between the British and Australian governments, which developed and tested long-range weapons systems (read: they fired rockets into the middle of nowhere… lots of rockets).
Ironically, many Aboriginal people I’ve worked with in the west of the Northern Territory and into Western Australia remember being moved out of their traditional lands in the 1950s, 60s and even the early 70s, as rockets tested here at Woomera were fired into what were then considered ‘unpopulated’ areas of Australia.
These displaced Aboriginal people often spent decades trying to move back to their lands – some, like many Pintupi people, ended up dying at places like Papunya, or walked out to create new settlements at Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu) and Kintore (Walungurru), never returning to their traditional lands.
If you’re interested in learning more about this, please watch the DVD ‘Benny and the Dreamers’. It will make you cry with bittersweet tears.
Woomera town reminds me of a 1950s Canberra suburb, picked up and dropped in the middle of nowhere. It’s worth a visit to see some of the rockets and for the fascinating visitor’s centre, which has detailed displays on the weapons testing programs there.
An interesting side trip is to Roxby Downs and Andamooka – however, we recommend doing this as an overnight trip.
There’s enough to see around Roxby, Andamooka and Woomera to keep you busy for a day or so.
You could also go from Roxby Downs along the Borefield Track and then join the Oodnadatta Track and head up to Alice Springs that way.
Pimba to Glendambo
Travelling Time: 45-50min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Pimba & Glendambo
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is available all the way
Free roadside campsites: Use Wikicamps to find ALL of the free campsites
From Pimba, you’re travelling through some interesting country, dotted with salt lakes and the occasional lookout stop that just begs a photo.
There’s a few Geocaches scattered along this section which make the trip more interesting, too.
As you travel north, you’re going to pass by some stunning salt lakes. My tip is to take a break and grab some photos at Lake Hart (you can camp here, too).
This is also one section of the trip where emus are quite commonly seen – so be on the lookout for them.
After not quite an hour, you’ll reach Glendambo, a tiny little settlement just off the Stuart Highway.
I’ve stayed at Glendambo quite a few times over the years (most recently in January 2014).
There’s a couple of accommodation choices here, and there are actually two roadhouses here –not just the big BP one.
There are cheaper backpacker’s rooms near the smaller roadhouse (southern end of town). You can also camp here.
I can recommend the basic, but clean motel rooms and the burgers in the big roadhouse.
Make sure you get a picture of Glendambo’s famous sign, too.
Glendambo to Coober Pedy
Travel Time: 2 hrs 30min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Glendambo & Coober Pedy
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G for approximately 30km either side of Glendambo and then again coming into Coober Pedy.
Free roadside campsites: Check them out on Wikicamps
This is the longest stretch on the entire journey. You may wish to fill up your car at Glendambo if you have a small tank.
For me, this is always the most boring part of the journey.
It might be that I’ve just done this trip too many times – but I am really glad when I finally reach Coober Pedy. I feel like I’m almost home (ok – you’ve still got over 600km until Alice Springs, but you get what I mean).
On this part of the trip, you get a sense of complete and utter isolation –some would say ‘desolation’. There are very few trees – the vegetation is predominately bluebush and saltbush- and until you start to see the ‘mullock heaps’ coming into Coober Pedy, very little to look at.
Please do NOT think this is what the entire outback is like. It’s not.
As you’ll see soon, most of central Australia is FULL of mountain ranges!
In between Glendambo and Coober Pedy, there are no other roadhouses. There are no towns.
The turn off to the Prominent Hill mine (not open to the public), the Adelaide to Darwin railway overpass and the little piles of mining rubble from opal mines (called ‘mullock heaps’) as you start to get closer to Coober Pedy are the only real things to look at.
We really recommend breaking your journey at Coober Pedy and stopping here overnight (or longer). We have a whole section on this amazing, friendly little outback town, so check out these pages:
You could easily spend 2 or 3 days at Coober Pedy, visiting underground mines, houses and shops, taking a sunset trip to the Breakways and the Moon Plain (where Mad Max 2 & 3 were made).
I’d recommend trying the underground backpackers or budget accommodation at Radeka’s.
Martin, who runs Radeka’s, is a real sweetie. He helped me out immensely when I broke down in the outback ALONE!
Coober Pedy to Cadney Park
Travelling Time: 1 hr 30min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Coober Pedy & Cadney Park
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 30km north of Coober Pedy, then there is NOTHING
Free roadside campsites: Free campsites and reviews on Wikicamps
From Coober Pedy, you head north once more, passing lots of mullock heaps, and traversing some low, barren hills.
About 50km north of Coober Pedy, you’ll find the famous Dingo Fence. It sneaks up on you quickly and is quite unassuming –meaning it’s not particularly well signposted, so I recommend that you be ready to stop and take a photo.
After the dog fence, you travel through some very large cattle stations, so keep an eye out for wandering cows.
The terrain also begins to change. You start to see many more acacia shrubs and eventually our beloved outback Mulga trees (very good firewood when it’s dry). There’s also a few more hills.
When you get to Cadney Park Roadhouse, you’ll be near the turnoff to the Painted Desert. This is worth a visit – but be warned: it’s a 4WD only track and you’ll need several hours to drive out it.
Cadney Park itself is neat, tidy little roadhouse. It’s actually our favourite place to stay and we will stay here on average 4 times each year.
There are 6 motel rooms (I think we’ve stayed in every single one of them), a large area for caravans and camper trailers with powered and unpowered sites at the rear, and nice grassy lawn for camping. There are also budget style ‘donga’ rooms, showers and a large camp kitchen area.
The roadhouse’s food is generally good –get the Cadney Burger- and there’s a Happy Hour from 6pm every night. The shop has basic grocery items – again, they are expensive.
Cadney Park to Marla
Travelling Time: 45min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Cadney Park & Marla
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is available for approx. 20km radius around Marla.
Free roadside campsites: Find free campsites using this very inexpensive app
This is a fairly short stretch of the journey, with the prize of mobile phone coverage and a small supermarket at Marla.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this section is the amount of roadkill you see.
For some reason there seems to be more on this section than others. Roadtrains travelling at night and around dawn and dusk, collide with kangaroos and as you might expect, poor Skippy doesn’t stand a chance.
The only good thing about this is that you’ll see a lot of Wedge-Tailed Eagles feeding off the poor kangaroos who’ve been killed.
Along this section of highway, the terrain continues to soften, with more and more Mulga scrub, and a few dry creeks with Bloodwood trees lining them. Unless there’s been reasonable rainfall, these creeks will always have no water in them.
Marla is actually a small village, with a couple of dusty streets, a police station and a mechanical repairs workshop (they only do very basic repairs, however).
The Roadhouse has a very large motel-style accommodation area, and a camping/caravan ground at the rear. The rooms are spacious and comfortable – we’ve stayed here several times in the past few years.
There are powered and unpowered sites. The camping area is dirt but it is quiet and away from the highway. The facilities are clean and well cared for.
The Roadhouse has meals and a large bar area. As mentioned above, there is a supermarket that is a lot larger than all of the other roadhouses on the Stuart Highway.
Marla to Kulgera
Travelling Time: 2 hrs 10min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Marla and Kulgera.
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 20km north of Marla, then there is NOTHING until Erldunda.
Free roadside campsites: Wikicamps shows you EVERY free & secret campsite
Here the terrain begins to become more like what I think of as central Australian: you’ll see Witchetty Bushes, Mulga, Ironwoods, Corkwoods, low ranges and little dry creek beds.
There’s a couple of interesting things to see along the way.
If you’re travelling through the week (Monday-Friday), you can take the 8km trip into Iwantja Art Centre at the Aboriginal Community of Indulkana. It’s about 50km north of Marla, and the road into Indulkana is very good.
As I love visiting Aboriginal art galleries on communities (in fact I ONLY ever buy Aboriginal art from these places or from the artists themselves), I’ll recommend that you check out galleries on communities whenever you get the chance.
If you’re not keen on Aboriginal art, then keep going north for another about 130km and you’ll come to the somewhat monolithic border crossing between the Northern Territory (NT) and South Australia. This is definitely worth stopping at for a photo or two.
From here, you’re in the NT and you can legally travel at 130km/h.
About 1km over the border is the Victory Downs/Mulga Park Road. This is also the BACK WAY to Uluru – the way you go if you’d like an adventure and want some dirt. Unless you’ve got a 4WD, stick to the Stuart Highway.
You’ve got an easy 20km trip until you come to Kulgera Roadhouse, which bills itself as the ‘first and last pub in the Territory’.
At Kulgera, you’ll find reasonable meals, a bar, a grassed campground, motel, cabin and backpacker’s accommodation here. There’s also a police station and a few historic station (Americans: read ‘ranch’) buildings.
Kulgera is also the turnoff to the Lambert Centre, Finke (Apatula), Mt Dare, Dalhousie Springs, Old Andado, and the Old Ghan Track (an alternative rough dirt road to Alice Springs).
Kulgera to Erldunda
Travelling Time: 45 min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Kulgera & Erldunda
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available for approx. 20km radius around Erldunda.
Now you’re really in the Northern Territory and on a great stretch of road. There’s a few interesting sandstone rock formations near the roads along the way, and a few dry creeks.
As this is a very short stretch, there’s not a lot to stop and see – just keep going until Erldunda where you’ll have mobile phone reception again.
Erldunda is the turnoff to Uluru – Ayers Rock, so if you’re heading that way along the Lasseter Highway, please read THIS ITINERARY for another detailed trip description.
Erldunda Desert Oaks is a big roadhouse with a lot of accommodation and camping options. We’ve tried them all – the motel rooms are basic and comfortable, but a little overpriced.
The backpacker’s rooms, which are in dongas, may be a little dingy for some – but they are cheap and warm. There’s also powered and unpowered caravan and campsites.
Be warned: if you’re planning on staying at Erldunda in June through to September, I STRONGLY suggest that you book your accommodation as it gets very busy here!
There are several good free camping options not too far away – one in a gravel pit just a few kilometres along the Lasseter Highway, and a stunning campsite at a roadside stop set amongst sand dunes and desert oaks, about 30km north of Erldunda along the Stuart Highway.
Erldunda to Alice Springs
Travelling Time: 2 hrs 10min (approx.)
Fuel & food available: Erldunda, Stuart’s Well, Alice Springs
Free campsites: Check out Wikicamps for all free campsites
Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 20km north of Erldunda, then there is NOTHING until about 40km south of Alice Springs
Now you are on what we think of as the ‘home straight’.
In around two hours, you’ll be knocking back an ale or a cider in Alice – our home town!
Along the way, you’re going to pass through increasingly mountainous terrain: you’ll pass the Palmer Ranges, drive through the James Range, past the Waterhouse Ranges and finally, you’ll see the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges – where Alice Springs is nestled.
There is a roadhouse, Stuart’s Well, which is roughly halfway along this stretch of the Stuart Highway, and the Outback Camel Farm is located next door.
You’ll pass a number of possible side trips or overnight camps:
- The Ernest Giles Road, which is the 4WD-recommended road to Kings Canyon. Read our Kings Canyon Ultimate Guide
- The Hugh River Stock Route, which leads to Oak Valley Campground, Titjikala, the Old Ghan Track and Chambers Pillar
- The turnoff to Rainbow Valley (highly recommended for an overnight camp). Read our Rainbow Valley Ultimate Guide
- The FABULOUS ‘secret’ national park – Owen Springs. Read our exclusive guide to Owen Springs
Finally, you’ll reach Alice Springs – and yes, as it’s our home town we’ve created a huge array of resources and advice:
- Alice Springs planning guide
- Accommodation guide
- Alice Springs FAQs
- Alice Springs Weather
- What to See & Do
Please Read This
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