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The Cairns to Darwin road trip, the capital of the Northern Territory, is not for people who are easily frightened. The Australian Outback is full of crocodiles and kangaroos, but with planning and preparation, you can conquer it and return home with amazing stories to tell your friends.
The road trip from Cairns to Darwin is around 3,140 kilometres and should take about 34 hours. Among the many interesting places to see on the way are Katherine, Alice Springs, Granite Gorge Nature Park, the Crystal Caves, Historic Village Heberton, Undara Volcanic National Park, Winton, and Mount Isa.
Driving from Cairns to Darwin is one of the highlights of your time in Australia. Take this road, and you’ll see some of Australia’s most breathtaking scenery, from lush rainforests to rugged mountains to huge outback deserts. Camping equipment, cameras, and a sense of adventure are all highly recommended, as there is much to see and do along the way.
Keep reading to learn more about this once-in-a-lifetime experience and the places you should see and stay along the route.
Highlights of the itinerary: Cairns to Darwin Road Trip
|2 days 1 hour 3:00 from Cairns (250 $ to 350$)
|1 day 5 hours (400 $ to 450$)
|Katherine, Alice Springs, Granite Gorge Nature Park, the Crystal Caves, Historic Village Heberton, Undara Volcanic National Park, Winton, and Mount Isa.
|Darwin (DRW) Airport
Cairns to Darwin is one of Australia’s classic road trips. Stretching over 3140 km, the journey takes in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, from the tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland to the red desert landscapes of the Northern Territory.
Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to stop and explore, with plenty of attractions and activities to suit all interests. Here is a suggested itinerary for Cairns to Darwin road trip, taking in some of the highlights of this stunning part of Australia.
Start your journey in Cairns, where you can explore the Great Barrier Reef and visit Kuranda, the rainforest village in the sky. Head north to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge before continuing to Cape Tribulation, where you can walk through the Daintree Rainforest. Make your way up the coast to Cooktown, where you can learn about Captain Cook’s history at the local museum.
From here, it’s a short drive to Lakeland Downs and Laura, home of the famous ‘Quinkan’ rock art paintings. Take a day’s detour inland from Laura to Palmer River Roadhouse to see cool off at Emmagen Creek Falls. Continue north towards Mount Isa, stopping en route at Undara Lava Tubes – an impressive network of ancient volcanic caves.
After exploring Mount Isa, go northwest across the Gulf Country to Borroloola. From Borroloola, it’s a short drive through Kakadu National Park – don’t miss a chance to go on a crocodile cruise on Yellow Water Billabong! – before arriving in Darwin. Conclude your Cairns to Darwin road trip with a few days exploring Darwin city and its surrounds, including Mindil Beach Sunset Markets and Litchfield National Park.
The advantage of flying is that it has air conditioning. The downside is that flying is expensive, and there are few places to stop. Another advantage of driving is that it is fast, and plenty of places to stop.
You can also read: Geelong to Adelaide Road Trip
Cairns to Undara
- Distance: 404 Kilometres
- Time: 5 Hours
Cairns to Undara is a five-hour drive, so it’s best to leave early in the morning. The route takes you through the rainforest-clad Atherton Tablelands and past Lake Eacham. You’ll also see Little Millstream Falls near Ravenshoe.
The drive is mainly on Route 1 (National Highway), so it’s a straight shot to Darwin. From there, continue west to Undara Experience. A sunset wildlife tour is an excellent option if you can arrive on time. You can stay overnight in cabins, converted railway carriages, or a campground.
Undara Volcanic National Park offers a great place to relax after a long journey, as it marks the start of the Outback and is home to 164 extinct volcanoes. Excellent for watching the plethora of local birds. Then you can spend the at-bats and stars bushwalking or riding a mountain bike across the beautiful landscape.
Undara to Croydon
- Distance- 300 kilometres
- Time-3 hours
During the trip, you will travel through some of the most beautiful and remote areas of the state, and there will be lots of sights to see and things to do along the way. Highlights include the Undara Lava Tubes, Georgetown’s Terrestrial Centre, and Cobbold Gorge.
You can also learn about the area’s gold-mining history in Croydon, which has an interesting heritage precinct. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for adventure or to explore some of Queensland’s most beautiful scenery; this road trip is sure to please.
Croydon to Karumba
- Distance-125 kilometres
- Time-2.3 hours
The Savannah Way is a scenic highway that stretches from Croydon to Karumba, passing through some of Australia’s most beautiful landscapes. The journey takes about 2.3 hours, and there are plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. The first stop is the Mutton Hole Wetlands, where you can see brolgas and black swans.
Karumba is the next stop, and it’s a great place to charter a fishing boat or visit the Barramundi Discovery Centre. The journey ends at the Sunset Tavern, where you can enjoy an evening meal with a view of the gulf.
Karumba to Burketown
- Distance-300 kilometres
- Time-3.5 hours
It takes roughly 3.5 hours to travel the 300 kilometres from Karumba to Burketown. Normanton’s eight-meter crocodile (calm down, it’s a reproduction) and bright Purple Pub make it challenging to pass up a photo op. Bring your fishing rod, or rent one in town because Burketown on the Albert River is another excellent place to tackle barramundi. Yagurli Tours, owned and operated by locals, offers sunset cruises and stargazing excursions.
Yogurt also offers an insightful two-hour town tour focusing on the history of this former frontier town, once home to the world’s largest pearling fleet. Be sure to visit the Burke & Wills Roadhouse Museum, which has an excellent display on the ill-fated expedition of 1860-61. You might even see a wild dingo or two roaming the streets if you’re lucky!
Burketown to Seven Emu Station (NT border)
- Distance- 450 kilometres
- Time-5 hours
Make your way west from Burketown, stopping to fill up with petrol at Hells’ Gate Roadhouse. You’ll soon cross into the Northern Territory, and your destination is Seven Emu Station. This working cattle station is a great spot for birdwatching, fishing for trevally and mackerel, and enjoying the views of the Robinson River.
You’ll also have a chance to chat with the Shadforth family about their traditional Garawa culture. Please note that Seven Emu Station is accessible by 4WD only, so check road conditions before visiting.
Seven Emu Station to Lorella Springs
- Distance-260 kilometres
- Time-3.5 hours
The Lorella Springs Wilderness Park is a massive 4000-square-kilometre nature reserve in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including many rare and endangered species. The park is also known for its stunning scenery, towering cliffs, pristine rainforests, and crystal-clear rivers. Visitors to the park can camp in the wilderness or stay in air-conditioned cabins.
There are also many activities, such as birdwatching, fishing, hiking, and swimming. The Seven Emu Station is located just outside the park and contains all the necessary supplies before entering the park.
Lorella Springs to Daly Waters
- Distance-400 kilometres
- Time- 5 hours
Lorella Springs to Daly waters drive will take about five hours; unfortunately, no towns will break up the trip. However, the scenery is beautiful, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take photos. The Stuart Highway is a long, straight road that runs from Darwin to Adelaide and is notoriously lonely.
If you’re lucky enough to reach the end, you’ll be rewarded with a stay at the Daly Waters Pub. This eccentric outback pub is famous for its bras hanging from the ceiling and its delicious beef-and-barramundi barbecues during the dry season. So even though today’s drive may be extended and lonely, it will all be worth it in the end.
Daly Waters to Katherine
- Distance-280 kilometres
- Time-3 hours
Situated in Australia’s Northern Territory, Katherine is approximately 280 kilometres from Daly Waters and a 3-hour drive away. You will pass by Larrimah, home to a historic bush pub and a Second World War museum. You will also come across Mataranka, made famous by the 1908 Jeannie Gunn novel, We of the Never-Never. If you’re looking to take a dip, Elsey National Park is the perfect place to do so with its turquoise spring water pools.
This park is also unique in its patchwork landscape of savannah woodland, stone country, and monsoon rainforest. After spending the day exploring, you can retire for the night at Katherine Gorge, where there are campgrounds and Cicada Lodge, a luxury accommodations option.
Katherine to Litchfield National Park
- Distance- 250 kilometres
- Time- 2.5 hours
Heading north out of Katherine, Leliyn (Edith Falls) is another Nitmiluk National Park must-see. Just a short drive away, you can enjoy a swim or hike in the beautiful fall area. Your next stops should be former gold-rush town Pine Creek and Adelaide River, famous for its jumping crocodile cruises. The region is a nature lover’s dream, with many things to see and do.
Litchfield National Park has several waterfalls and waterholes accessible via sealed roads, including Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole, popular with locals and tourists alike. Wangi Falls offers a short rainforest walk or heli flight year-round. Take a photo of the bizarre magnetic termite mounds along the way, which glow orange at sunset when you stop for a photo.
Litchfield National Park to Darwin
- Distance- 110 kilometres
- Time-1.5 hours
As you approach Darwin, Northern Territory’s capital city, you’ll pass through Litchfield National Park. This area has extraordinary natural beauty, with plunging waterfalls, towering termite mounds, and monsoon forests. There are also opportunities for swimming and birdwatching. You can also visit Berry Springs Nature Park and Territory Wildlife Park.
At Berry Springs, you can take a dip in the refreshing waters of the springs, while Territory Wildlife Park is home to a wide range of outback animals, including nocturnal creatures seldom seen in the wild. So if you’re looking to get off the beaten track and explore some of Australia’s most iconic landscapes, make sure you add Litchfield National Park to your itinerary.
Why is Darwin Famous?
Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, a tropical part of Australia that makes up one-sixth of the continent. The population is 147,000 (ABS, 2018–19), and it’s a diverse group representing over 60 countries. Several ethnic and cultural festivals occur annually, and weekly food and craft markets showcase the city’s multiculturalism.
The locals are famously kind, so take advantage of their friendliness.
Darwin is considered Australia’s gateway to South East Asia by business and industrial leaders. Two and a half hours separate it from Indonesia, three hours from Singapore, eight hours from Hong Kong, and nine hours from Tokyo.
Besides fishing (this is a popular fishing spot), visitors are also drawn to see the natural beauty of the riverside, enjoy a variety of birds, etc. The diversity of culture and the Old-World Amulet of Darwin add even more charm to this beautiful place.
What Can You do in Darwin?
There are so many things to do in Darwin that it can be difficult to choose where to start. The obvious choice for nature lovers is to explore the stunning natural scenery surrounding the city. With its tropical climate and proximity to some of Australia’s most stunning natural wonders, Darwin is the perfect place to relax and explore.
There is plenty to do in Darwin, whether you’re looking for a tan on one of the many beaches, an opportunity to see wildlife at one of the nearby national parks, or simply a leisurely meal and shopping trip. And with a range of accommodation options from luxury hotels to budget-friendly backpacker hostels, you’re sure to find somewhere to stay that suits your needs.
The Kakadu National Park is a must-see, with its abundance of wildlife and pristine wetlands. For those who prefer to stay closer to the city, a visit to the Mindil Beach Markets is a must. Here you can find everything from fresh produce to handmade artisan goods. And, of course, no visit to Darwin would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. From fresh seafood to hearty pub grub, there’s something everyone can enjoy in Darwin.
Where to Stay During the Cairns To Darwin Road Trip?
Where to stay during the Cairns to Darwin road trip? It all depends on your preferences and budget. For those on a tight budget, hostels are a great option. Hostels usually have dormitory-style rooms which can be shared with other travellers. In addition to saving money on lodging, you get to see a whole new culture and make new friends.
Many hostels are located in Cairns, so finding one should not be difficult. There are a lot of hotels to choose from if you want to stay somewhere with more comfort. Cairns is the place to stay if you like being in the thick of things.
However, staying in Darwin is better if you want somewhere to relax. There are many beaches close to Darwin where you can spend your days swimming, sunbathing, and fishing. No matter what your preferences are, there is sure to be somewhere that suits your needs during the Cairns to Darwin road trip.
Why do people come to Darwin?
What’s the temperature like in Darwin?
Darwin is humid and cloudy throughout the year, stifling in the wet season and muggy in the dry. Most of the time, the temperature ranges from 68°F to 91°F over a year. It rarely goes below 62°F or above 94°F.
When you drive from Darwin to Cairns, how long does it take?
In regular traffic, it should take 2 days and 1 hour to drive directly from Darwin to Cairns, which is 1721 miles (3,140 km).
Can you see everything in Cairns in 5 days?
My research and experience have led me to conclude that a stay of 5 days in Cairns is optimal for fully experiencing the city and its environs. Cairns and Northern Queensland are worth the extra trip from Brisbane or Sydney to see the Daintree Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, and the harsh Outback.
The Cairns to Darwin road trip is a fantastic experience everyone should have. The journey will take you through some of Australia’s most stunning scenery, and you will meet some great people along the way.
In addition to the beautiful scenery, the people are friendly, and there is a lot to see and do. We highly recommend renting a campervan and exploring everything this incredible part of Australia offers.