Cover the rugged terrain and sweeping desert landscape of the Australian Outback on this epic self-drive excursion through Victoria, South Australia, and Northern Territory. Begin your 18-day tour in trendy Melbourne and fly to arty Adelaide where you'll pick up your rental car and drive on your schedule to Darwin on the opposite coast. You'll explore four major national parks, spot endemic wildlife in their natural habitat, visit rural towns, and discover ancient Aboriginal art.

Highlights

  • Traipse through alleyways and arcades in Melbourne's eclectic neighborhoods
  • Go underground in Coober Pedy's unique dugout buildings
  • Catch a sunrise over Uluru (Ayers Rock)
  • Hike in Kings Canyon National Park to the Garden of Eden
  • Swim in Mataranka's sandy-bottom thermal pool

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Melbourne Melbourne
Day 2 Lanes and Arcades walking tour Melbourne
Day 3 Free Day Melbourne
Day 4 Fly to Adelaide Adelaide
Day 5 Pick up rental car; Drive to Port Augusta Port Augusta
Day 6 Drive to Coober Pedy Coober Pedy
Day 7 Drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock) Uluru
Day 8 Explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Uluru
Day 9 Drive to Kings Canyon; Hike the Rim Walk Kings Canyon
Day 10 Drive to Alice Springs Alice Springs
Day 11 Explore Alice Springs Alice Springs
Day 12 Drive to Tennant Creek Tennant Creek
Day 13 Drive to Katherine Katherine
Day 14 Explore Nitmiluk National Park; Drive to Kakadu National Park Kakadu National Park
Day 15 Explore Kakadu National Park Kakadu National Park
Day 16 Drive to Darwin; Sunset cruise Darwin
Day 17 Explore Darwin Darwin
Day 18 Depart Darwin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Explore Melbourne

Welcome to Australia! Your adventure begins in Melbourne with a shuttle transfer from the airport to your hotel and an evening to yourself to rest and wander this vibrant city. Stroll the many pathways of the Victorian-era Fitzroy Gardens—one of Melbourne’s most historic and beautiful. Points of interest include the floral displays in the Spanish mission style Conservatory, Cooks Cottage, the Fairies’ Tree, and a model Tudor village.

Day 2: Lanes and Arcades walking tour

Australia - Melbourne - Hardware lane
Choose a restaurant for lunch on Hardware Lane 

Meet your guide this morning for your half-day walking tour of Melbourne’s back streets, scoping out the street-art-filled alleyways, urban coffee culture, and tucked away architecture gems. You'll have the rest of the afternoon to relax and get in some souvenir and gift shopping. 

Day 3: Free Day

Australia - Melbourne - Flinders Railway Station
Find your way to Flinders Street Railway station, an iconic landmark

After breakfast at your hotel, head out to explore Melbourne at your own pace. Start at Federation Square, the heart and soul of Melbourne, taking in the cultural attractions of the modern piazza. Next, visit Australia's oldest train station, the iconic Flinders Street Railway Station, before working your way to Queen Victoria Market for a bite to eat. Roam the stalls offering delicious eats as well as discover unique hand-made products—an excellent place for a little souvenir shopping. Cap off the day with a rest in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Day 4: Fly to Adelaide

Australia - Adelaide - Adelaide city centre viewed from the north side of Torrens river in Elder Park
Adelaide city center viewed from the north side of Torrens river in Elder Park

Transfer to the Melbourne domestic airport for your morning flight to Adelaide (1.5 hours) and onward to your accommodation. South Australia's coastal capital, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the renowned museums and art galleries along the River Torrens, including the Art Gallery of South Australia for an extensive collection of indigenous art and the South Australian Museum devoted to natural history.

Day 5: Pick up rental car - Drive to Port Augusta

Port Augusta
Admire the view of Port Augusta's Spencer Gulf

Pick up your rental car this morning and begin the driving portion of your Australian adventure. Drive north to Port Augusta, breaking up the trip with a stop at the bubblegum-pink shores of Lake Bumbunga in Lochiel. Snap your pictures before heading northeast to the famed Clare Valley wine region where you can quench your thirst with a glass (or two) of rosé. 

Arrive in Port Augusta in the mid-afternoon. Often referred to as the "Crossroads of Australia," it sits on the edge of the desert and offers views of the Flinders Ranges. Find your way to the Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout for striking vistas of the area or climb the steps of the 1882 water tower for views over the Spencer Gulf and town. Learn about life in the outback at the Wadlata Outback Center with their interactive exhibits; be sure to check out the Tunnel of Time.

Driving duration: 4.5 hours
Driving distance: 230 miles (370 km)

Day 6: Drive to Coober Pedy

Australia - Coober Pedy - Serbian Othodox Church
Explore the underground Serbian Orthodox Church

Plow on to Coober Pedy, one of the more unusual places to stop in the Outback. An opal mining town, Coober Pedy is home to many underground houses and buildings, or "dugouts." Made from natural rock, the buildings provide respite from the desert heat during the day and warmth at night. Exploring this underground town is a must stop on a road trip through the outback. Join a tour of Faye's Underground Home for a peek into Coober Pedy's past, followed by a visit to the popular tourist attraction, the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Driving duration: 5.5 hours
Driving distance: 337 miles (542 km)

Day 7: Drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Australia - Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Drive through the desert landscape to reach Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Today you will make the long haul through the vast Outback and to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Leave early to avoid driving in the dark and make plenty of pit stops to break up the trip and refuel. Enjoy the views of the arid "red center." 

Driving duration: 8.5 hours
Driving distance: 469 miles (755 km)

Day 8: Explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Australia - Uluru - Walpa Gorge
Trek through Uluru's Walpa Gorge

Wake up early to watch the sunrise over the desert. Warm up with a cup of tea or coffee as you watch the sunlight slowly stretch across the plains, changing colors as it goes. Afterward, explore the Uluru region and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Discover the mystical domes of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and walk through Walpa Gorge. Here the trail follows the natural creek bed between two of the tallest domes. Spend time exploring the gorge and the unusual rock formations.

Return to your hotel and enjoy a leisurely afternoon before joining your guide for a drive around the base of Uluru. Continue on foot to make the Kuniya Walk, and with your guide, trek to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. View ancient rock art and learn about the Aboriginal and European history of Uluru. Immerse yourself in the ancient traditions of the indigenous Anangu culture with a visit to the Cultural Center, an Aboriginal art workshop. Next, travel to the Uluru sunset viewing area and sit with a glass of sparkling wine, watching the changing colors over the landscape as the sun makes its westerly journey.

Day 9: Drive to Kings Canyon - Hike the Rim Walk

Australia - Watarraka National Park - Kings Canyon Rim Walk - Garden of Eden
Discover the Garden of Eden on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk

After breakfast, leave Uluru behind and set out for your next destination, Kings Canyon in the Watarraka National Park. Stretch your legs and choose one of the many walks within the park, like the 4-mile (6 km) Rim Walk (3-4 hours). The plunging views to the canyon floor, alone, make the trek worthwhile. Trek down into the canyon to the permanent waterhole known as the Garden of Eden for its surrounding lush plant life. Explore the unusual weathered rock formations referred to as the Lost City carved over time by water and wind erosion.

Driving duration: 4.5 hours
Driving distance: 200 miles (322 km)

Day 10: Drive to Alice Springs

Australia - Alice Spings
Discover Alice Spring

Today you will drive to the remote town of Alice Springs in Australia's center. Head to the Overland Telegraph Station to view the actual spring as well as learn about the history of how Alice Springs got its start. Visit the Alice Springs Desert Park, part adventure safari park and part hands-on natural history museum, for face-to-face interaction with kangaroos, emus, and birds of prey. Walk through aviaries as well as the biggest nocturnal house in the Southern Hemisphere, all the while discovering just how diverse and full of life Australia’s deserts are.

If there's time, visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service's (RFDS) Visitor Center for a comprehensive look at the impressive work the aeromedical organization fulfills. 

Driving duration: 6-6.5 hours
Driving distance: 292 miles (470 km)

Day 11: Explore Alice Springs

Australia - Alice Springs - Simpson Gap
Ride a bike to Simpsons Gap

Today is yours to explore Alice Springs and the surrounding landscape at your own pace. Visit Emily Gap east of town for impressive caterpillar rock art depicting part of the Aboriginal "caterpillar dreaming" creation story of the MacDonnell Ranges. Rent a bike and explore the desert along a sealed bike path and cool off in a natural pool at Simpsons Gap. Spend some time at the Baby Kangaroo Rescue Center and learn about the organization as well as learn about the local wildlife.

Day 12: Drive to Tennant Creek

Australia - Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) -
Stop to check out the Devils Marbles landscape

Depart for Tennant Creek this morning after breakfast. Along the way, stop at the Tropic of Capricorn Marker for a fun photo opportunity set 50 feet (15 m) from the road along the Stuart Highway. Continue north to the Ti-Tree Roadhouse for a bite to eat (and to fuel the car) and carry on to the eccentric Wycliffe Well UFO Center. Drive through the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) Conservation Area for stunning views of the granite boulders before carrying on to Tennant Creek and checking into your hotel.

Driving duration: 5.5 hours
Driving distance: 316 miles (508 km)

Day 13: Drive to Katherine

Australia - Mataranka Hot Springs
Swim in Mataranka's thermal pool

After an early breakfast at your motel, head out for another full-days drive, making stops along the way to break up the trip. Stop in Renner Springs for a rest and then onward to the famous Daly Waters Pub for lunch and to possibly "leave your mark" (travelers leave behind an item to be remembered by). Go for a refreshing swim at the Mataranka Thermal Springs before wandering through the Never Never Museum to learn about the Mangarayi and Yangman people as well as the history of the North Australian Railway, the Overland Telegraph Line construction, and World War II.

Just over an hour away lies today's final stop, Katherine. 

Driving duration: 8-11 hours
Driving distance: 419-476 miles (675-766 km)

Day 14: Explore Nitmiluk National Park - Drive to Kakadu National Park

Katherine Gorge, NT, Australia
Paddle Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park

Known as the place where "the Outback meets the tropics," Katherine offers plenty of sites worth exploring. Board a sunrise cruise or speedboat to investigate a series of equally stunning gorges, like the Katherine Gorge, in the Nitmiluk National Park just outside of town. Rent a canoe and paddle along the canyons to see waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art, and wildlife. Paddle through the narrow chasms of Butterfly Gorge, a quiet, shaded gorge with rocky walls that are home to thousands of butterflies.

Enjoy a swim at Leliyn (Edith Falls), a pandanus-fringed plunge pool on the park’s western boundary. Then follow the scenic walking track to Sweetwater Pool, a secluded and tranquil swimming hole. After a day of exploration, continue your venture north to the Kakadu National Park and check in to your accommodation, spending the evening at your leisure.

Driving duration: 4 hours
Driving distance: 212 miles (341 km)

Day 15: Explore Kakadu National Park

Australia - NT - Kakado National Park - Yellow Water Billabong
Search for wildlife as you cruise the Yellow Water Billabong

Spend a full day today exploring Kakadu National Park. Start at Kakadu's iconic Yellow Water Billabong (wetlands) for postcard-worthy photos. Board a boat and explore the vast swathes of floodwaters, half-submerged paperbarks, pandanus and water lilies, while Kakadu’s famous crocs cruise beneath the surface. If it's the dry season, you can explore the billabong on foot. Next, travel to Gunlom (Waterfall Creek Falls) and go for a swim in its freshwater pool at the base of the cascading falls. For encompassing views of the park, as well as rock pools to lounge in, make the 30-minute walk to the top of the falls.

After drying off, head to Ubirr, one of two popular Aboriginal rock art galleries for a collection of art ranging from over 15,000 years old to as recent as 150 years ago. Ubirr’s most famous pieces include X-ray paintings of animals, Dreamtime folklore and contact art showing local impressions of contact with European explorers. Make sure you take the extra 30-minute moderate climb to Nadab Lookout to watch the sunset.

Day 16: Drive to Darwin - Sunset cruise

Australia - NT - Ubirr - Nadab Lookout
View over the Nadab floodplain in Ubirr

Enjoy a relaxing morning, taking your time over breakfast before making the short drive to Darwin. If there's interest, stop at the Humpty Doo Hotel on your way for a drink at the bar taking in the local flavor as well as a sight of a pair of very large water buffalo horns. Arrive in Darwin and spend the afternoon as you choose before finding your way to the Stokes Hill Wharf for your sunset cruise aboard the Charles Darwin. Enjoy the two and a half hour experience, taking in Darwin's famous sunset with a drink from the bar in hand.

Driving duration: 2.5 hours
Driving distance: 131 miles (211 km)

Day 17: Explore Darwin

Sunset in Darwin
Take in in a stellar Darwin sunset

Today is yours to explore Darwin as you like. You may wish to visit the Crocosaurus Cove and learn everything there is to know about the intimidating saltwater crocodile. Explore the three-story crocodile zoo where you can observe these animals in their enclosures and even dare to feed them.

Day 18: Depart Darwin

Australia - NT - Darwin
Darwin in the distance

Depending on your flight details, spend one last morning relaxing on the beach before returning your car and catching your flight home.

Map

Map of Australian Outback Self-Drive Tour- 18 Days
Map of Australian Outback Self-Drive Tour- 18 Days