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Alice Springs to Darwin

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Seven days on the road in maui Ultima Plus

Tania Lee from Fairfax newspapers recently hit the road in a maui Ultima plus and explored the iconic Alice Springs to Darwin ro​ute. Discover the many hidden gems along the way – and read below for some local advice from Tania!

Travel

6 days


Route

Darwin to Alice Springs

1500km


Best Time of the Year

April to October

Highlights

  • Alice Springs
  • Aileron
  • Banka Banka
  • Kakadu National Park
  • Darwin

The Journey

Days

1 2 3 4 5

Day 1
Alice Springs to Aileron

Distance 135km - Driving Time 2 hours

This was a short journey just to get the journey underway. We got a powered site at a truckies stop not far in NT terms from Alice Springs at a place called Aileron. In the morning you could visit the site’s Aboriginal art gallery and make a phone call at ET phone box (basically a satelite with ET spray painted on it and where people stand to get reception).

Day 2
Aileron to Banka Banka

Distance 477km - Driving Time 2 hours

A long day of driving. But helped by a good night’s rest in our spacious campervan. Stopped over at Devils Marbles for lunch. This was a beautiful scenic spot for a break. Went for a long walk to stretch our legs. Tennant Creek was also interesting. Town has reception, good for refuelling, grabbing an ice cream and checking messages and emails.

Good to download a heap of music onto your device beforehand and bluetoothing it through the vehicle’s speakers. Banka Banka station is where we stayed. Non-powered sites, so we slept in the dark and cooked kangaroo steaks and veggies on the bbq attached to the campervan. Celebrated Ismael’s birthday today with cake, good bottle of red and nice conversations around the communal campfire at this excellent, popular stop.

Day 3
Banka Banka to Mataranka

Distance 465km - Driving Time 5 hours 30

​​Drove to the very famous Daly Water Pub for lunch, a short drive in from Stuart Highway. This was probably the most Aussie pub I’ve every been to. Thousands of tourists and locals have stopped over for a feed. Pub drips of memorabilia- people have left behind their currency notes, ID cards, caps, undies and bras for all to see! Barmen are happy to greet you with a smile and share a good yarn. Although we stopped for lunch, dinner is when the action begins with live music, more people and a communal BBQ.  

Stayed overnight in Mataranka which we heard was a must see for their natural thermal pool and  welcoming swim through clear blue water and aquamarine plants. 

Stayed at Bitter Springs campervan site, a 500m bushwalk to the Springs- open 24/7. Owners had a pet Wallaby that their friend had rescued- cute photo op!

Day 4
Mataranka to Kakadu National Park

Distance 360km - Driving Time 4 hours

Took a detour to Katherine Gorge where we completed a morning hike to the lookout, which was stunning. Would have taken the morning slower if our schedule had permitted. Stayed in Cooinda Gagudju Lodge the first night in the park. Yellow Cruises give a very detailed brief on the wetlands and its rich wildlife. Come here for crocodiles! Plenty to be seen in the dry season. A 4WD would have been handy if we had the time to visit the waterholes (the ones that had been cleared of crocs!) 

We opted to spend the second night in Kakadu in a hotel. This was probably my biggest regret as staying in the campervan was way more fun. 

Ubirr which is in the north-easterly end of Kakadu by Arnhem Land was the highlight of the Kakadu followed by the wetlands of Yellow River. Ubiir has the open air gallery of Aboriginal rock art and stunning sunset views of Kakadu wetlands via a 1km return walk.  

Tip to drivers- be prepared set air vents to reverse cycle as a lot of control burnings take place in the Park during the dryer months.

Day 5
Kakadu National Park to Darwin

Distance 305km - Driving Time 3 hours 30

Left Kakudu and its stunning scenary- for Darwin. Stopped via Humty Doo to purchase a didgeridoo from Aboriginal-owned Didgerdoo Hut at the end of/start of  Arnhem Hwy just before the turnoff to Darwin. 

Stayed at Hidden Valley Tourist Park, a very friendly, clean, well facilitated campsite. Slightly more expensive than the other campsites we had stopped over at. Best coffee was had a Laneway Specialty Coffee in Parap Village. They use Campos coffee beans. Taste was on par with Melbourne coffee. Visited Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, which is a must see. As good as Mona, with collection of boats, aboriginal art and political cartoons exhibition. Ate at Rachael’s Seafood Shack. Seafood was as promised: No chips, No salad, No bull. We had the Red Snapper, seafood chowder and freshly caught NT prawns for lunch.