For sheer outback adventure, there's no beating this 12-day Aussie road trip, which starts at the tip of the Northern Territory. From there you'll hit the road south to visit protected wetlands, sacred Aboriginal sites, unspoiled national parks, deep gorges—even the alien abduction capital of Australia. The last stop is the vast deserts of the Red Plains and the iconic Uluru (Ayers Rock), where you'll immerse yourself even more in Aboriginal culture and enjoy an otherworldly dinner you won't soon forget.
- See crocodiles and waterbirds in the Mary River wetlands near Darwin
- Go on a 4WD tour to Arnhem Land to experience Aboriginal culture
- Take boat tours down massive billabongs (river ponds) led by Aboriginal guides
- Hit the road in the outback, traveling from Kakadu National Park down to Uluru
|Day 1||Arrive in Darwin, Optional Activities||Darwin|
|Day 2||Drive From Darwin to Corroboree||Corroboree|
|Day 3||Drive From Corroboree to Ubirr, Cultural Experience||Ubirr|
|Day 4||4WD Tour to Arnhem Land||Ubirr|
|Day 5||Drive to Kakadu National Park, River Cruise||Cooinda|
|Day 6||Yellow Water Cruise, Drive From Kakadu to Katherine||Katherine|
|Day 7||Drive From Katherine to Devils Marbles||Devils Marbles|
|Day 8||Drive From Devils Marbles to Alice Springs||Alice Springs|
|Day 9||Drive From Alice Springs to Kings Canyon||Kings Canyon|
|Day 10||Drive From Kings Canyon to Uluru||Uluru|
|Day 11||Free Day at Uluru & the Kata Tjutas||Uluru|
|Day 12||Depart Australia|
Day 1: Arrive in Darwin, Optional ActivitiesWelcome to the tropical top end of Australia! Upon arrival at the airport in Darwin, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. After checking in, take some to relax after your flight. The rest of the day is yours to explore this waterfront city, which is the capital of Australia's Northern Territory and gateway to Kakadu National Park.
A good place to embark on a self-guided walking tour is Darwin's Waterfront, located in the city center. From here, it's a quick walk to the Parliament House and historic wharf precinct, where Japanese bombs fell during World War II. Follow the Heritage Trail scenic walk to retrace the steps of 19th-century settlers, then stop at a museum or gallery to learn about Darwin's maritime history or admire Aboriginal art. You can also visit Indigenous sites like Mindil Beach, which holds important spiritual significance to the land's traditional owners, the Larrakia people.
Day 2: Drive From Darwin to CorroboreePick up your rental car this morning and hit the road on the first leg of your grand outback adventure. Today's route will take you from Darwin to Corroboree Billabong, part of the Mary River wetlands. About halfway through the approximately 1.5-hour drive, you can stop and participate in an Indigenous art experience. It's an opportunity to paint your own souvenir while engaging with Aboriginal people right in their homeland.
Then continue to Corroboree Billabong. This part of the wetlands is home to the highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the world, and it's also a birder's paradise. Here you can see an incredible variety of waterbirds like herons, cormorants, egrets, and jabiru storks. Be sure to stock up on groceries before checking in to your very own houseboat, where you'll overnight.
Day 3: Drive From Corroboree to Ubirr, Cultural ExperienceAfter the fun houseboat experience, you'll head back to land and drive east to Kakadu National Park. Covering an area of nearly 7,722 square miles (20,000 sq km), this is one of Australia's largest national parks. It's also an incredibly biodiverse nature reserve filled with more wetlands, waterfalls, billabongs (river ponds), and escarpments than you can count. Keep an eye out once you reach the park boundary, as you might spot wallabies, bandicoots, and flying foxes (fruit bats). Buffalo have even been sighted crossing the Kakadu Highway here.
Your destination is Ubirr, one of the main villages in the national park. You can stop along the way to do some nature hiking and wildlife spotting, but you should definitely visit Ubirr Rock Art Gallery. The rock outcroppings here are famous for the Aboriginal art painted on their surface, some dating back 40,000 years (although most are about 2,000 years old). These diverse paintings depict everything from animals to scenes of the first contact with European settlers.
You can make as many stops as you like, just be sure to arrive at the Ubirr Border Store by 2.30 pm. That's where you'll meet your guide and transfer to a secluded lodge located in a remote part of Kakadu called Cannon Hill. This area is renowned for having great spiritual significance to the local Aboriginal residents who live nearby. After checking in, your guide will lead you on a sunset rock-art tour followed by a three-course dinner back at the lodge.
Day 4: 4WD Tour to Arnhem LandIn the morning, you'll hop in a 4WD vehicle and, together with a guide, embark on a full-day tour to Arnhem Land. This ruggedly beautiful region is known for its stunning coastline, offshore islands, rainforests, savanna woodlands, and towering escarpments. It's also the ancestral home of the Yolngu people, who remain the official custodians of their homeland. Access here is restricted to ensure the land remains unspoiled.
Pass by flood plains and rock-art sites on your way to Injalak Arts, an Aboriginal-owned community art center. Injalak has become famous for the hand-printed bolts of linen and silk its members produce, emblazoned with designs from Aboriginal creation mythology. Browse stunning fabrics, paintings, wooden sculptures, jewelry, and other items. Then enjoy a leisurely lunch on the shores of a billabong before returning to Ubirr.
Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Drive to Kakadu National Park, River CruisePick up your vehicle this morning and take a short drive to Kakadu's East Alligator River. Here, you'll embark on the famous Guluyambi Cultural Cruise. This scenic boat ride will take you up the crocodile-filled river in the company of expert Aboriginal guides. Along the way, they will not only point out the area's flora and fauna but also offer insight into bush survival skills, the river's abundant food chain, and how they use plants and animals in various ways to survive.
You'll then disembark on the Arnhem Land side of the river, at which point your guides will display traditional hunting and gathering implements. Afterward, transfer to the town of Jabiru, the main hub of Kakadu National Park, where you'll have lunch and check in to the nearby lodge. The rest of the day will be yours to continue exploring the area. To learn more about the Indigenous owners of the land, you should visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Day 6: Yellow Water Cruise, Drive From Kakadu to KatherineBefore embarking on the next leg of the journey, enjoy one of the most popular activities in the region: a two-hour boat cruise down the Yellow River Billabong. As you glide across the water, keep an eye out for saltwater crocodiles, brumbies (wild horses), and wallabies in their natural habitat. There are also 60 different species of birds here, including kingfishers, jabirus, whistling ducks, magpie geese, and more.
After the boat tour, continue south to Katherine, a township on the banks of the Katherine River. After checking in to your hotel, you can head over to Katherine Hot Springs and soak in crystalline thermal pools. Or, if you're up for a more adventurous experience, go to nearby Katherine Gorge and hike along cliffs and through river canyons to cascading waterfalls. Later, catch dinner and a show at the Katherine Outback Experience, which celebrates the Northern Territory's rural culture through live music, bush tales, and horse demonstrations.
Day 7: Drive From Katherine to Devils MarblesContinue further south into the Australian outback today. Your destination is Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles), a protected area known for the granite boulders scattered around a wide valley. These smoothly rounded rocks have been shaped by wind erosion over millions of years to the point they seem to be performing a balancing act in defiance of gravity. The site is also sacred to the Warumungu Aboriginal people, who are the traditional owners of the land.
After checking into your nearby hotel, you can learn some Aboriginal history in the form of Dreamtime stories. These tales are the centerpiece of Aboriginal religion and creation mythology. Many such stories regarding these stones have been passed down over the generations by the Whyungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra, and Warlpiri people, who are the original inhabitants of the Northern Territory.
Day 8: Drive From Devils Marbles to Alice SpringsA drive along the Stuart Highway into the deep outback wouldn't be complete without a quick stop at Wycliffe Well, the "UFO capital of Australia." Legend has it that there's been more UFO sightings and alien visits in this spot than anywhere else in the country. You certainly can't miss the town's café, whose vivid exterior is a celebration of all things UFO—complete with little green men and flying saucers.
Continue south to Alice Springs, a large town and gateway to the famous Red Centre interior deserts. If there's time left after checking in to your hotel, you can head to the Overland Telegraph Station, the site of Alice Springs' first European settlement in 1871 (although the Arrente Aboriginal people have inhabited this area for at least 30,000 years). You can also visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This aerial base was created in 1939 to deliver medical care by plane to some of the most remote parts of the Australian outback.
Day 9: Drive From Alice Springs to Kings CanyonWake up early for a high-flying adventure to see the desert from the basket of a hot-air balloon. This aerial tour leaves from Alice Springs just before dawn to get you in the air as the morning sun washes over the outback. During the ride, you'll spot exotic wildlife (including the elusive red kangaroo), marvel at the views of the stunning Red Centre landscapes, and enjoy an optional glass of sparkling wine once you return to earth.
Then, hop in the car and embark on an off-road adventure through the Red Centre. You'll follow the Ernest Giles Road, a scenic drive along a gravel and red-dirt track through some of the most remote parts of the outback. Don't be surprised if you spot feral horses and even wild camels on the drive. Another highlight you can visit here is the Henbury Meteorite Craters, formed when a meteor hit the earth 4,700 years ago.
Later in the afternoon, you'll arrive at the 984-foot (300 m) sandstone cliffs of Kings Canyon, located in Watarrka National Park. Here you'll check into your accommodation and have the remainder of the day free. If you have the energy, you can embark on an optional Aboriginal culture tour. During this one-hour nature walk, your guide will impart knowledge about the region's flora and fauna, Indigenous bush medicine, Aboriginal dot painting, and even weapon-making.
Day 10: Drive From Kings Canyon to UluruIt's another early wake-up call today for the famous Kings Canyon Rim Walk. This 4-mile (6 km) hike takes about three to four hours to complete, and you should start before dawn to beat the desert heat. As you ascend to the rim, you'll occasionally stop at prime viewpoints to marvel at the surrounding plateaus and peer down into the gorge to the ancient sandstone rock formations below. Time permitting, you can descend into the Garden of Eden, a green oasis home to some of the area's hundreds of plant species.
After the hike, you'll take a break for breakfast and then continue the road trip across the vast outback to Uluru (sometimes referred to as Ayers Rock). This iconic sandstone rock formation is the spiritual heart of Australia's Red Centre desert plains. It sits within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, whose other prominent feature is the Kata Tjuta rock formations. These are sacred sites to the local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara tribes, who are the area's traditional landowners. Upon arrival at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll check into your hotel.
In the evening, enjoy an alfresco dinner amid the famous Field of Light art installation. It begins with a transfer to a prime vantage point looking out to the Uluru monolith, where you'll enjoy canapés and sparkling wine as the sun sets. As darkness falls, the ground will come alive with over 50,000 glass spheres lighting up in various colors. LEDs mounted on flower-like stems are connected by optical-fiber cables, creating the effect of tendrils of light spreading like roots across vast swaths of the desert. You'll then enjoy your dinner amid this marvelous spectacle of light.
Day 11: Free Day at Uluru & the Kata TjutasYou'll have today free to discover Uluru, one of the earth's great natural wonders. At 1,141 feet (348 m) high, Uluru is one of the world's largest monoliths and the heart of the Red Centre deserts. It's a truly magical experience to watch the colors of the rock change from red to purple to gold with the sun's rising and setting.
Located approximately 25 miles (40 km) west of Uluru is another natural wonder and cultural landmark, Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). A popular activity is to go hiking around this group of 36 soaring rock domes. Choose from a number of walking trails that range from easy strolls to longer, more difficult tracks. For the Anangu (local Aboriginal people), the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park holds a special cultural significance, as it's where the spiritual and natural worlds exist as one.
Day 12: Depart AustraliaYour 12-day adventure through the rugged Australian outback has, unfortunately, come to an end. At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport in Uluru, where you'll catch your connecting flight home. Come back soon!
More Great Australia Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend 12 days in Australia, or learn about the best time of year to visit Australia.