From endless sun-scorched deserts to the azure waters of the Timor and Arafura Seas, the Northern Territory is Mecca for travellers the world over. With 10 top tips for touring from Alice Springs to Darwin, you’ll be savouring some of the Stuart Highway’s northern treasures…
They say life is a journey, and for the caravan traveller, most of that journey is on the road. The Stuart Highway bisects Australia from north to south and the section from Alice Springs to Darwin offers several highlights along the way, including plenty to do at each end and two of Australia’s most hilarious festivals: Alice Spring’s Henly-on-Todd Regatta and Darwin’s Beer Can Regatta.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your journey.
1. MACDONNELL RANGES, FINKE GORGE AND SIMPSON DESERT
When in Alice, don’t miss the West MacDonnell Ranges NP; this makes a great day trip or you can include a few nights at the Ormiston Gorge campgrounds. Palm Valley in Finke Gorge NP is 4WD only; while another excellent 4WD route is to Chambers Pillar in the Simpson Desert.
2. ALICE NATURE PARKS
Wildlife buffs should jump at the opportunity to get to know the furry, scaly and feathered locals at two outstanding facilities, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and Alice Springs Desert Park.
3. WATCH YOUR FUEL
Depending on how many kilometres you like to do each day, there are several good places to stop at or stay along the way. Keep an eye on that fuel gauge and don’t let the tank drop below half without filling up at the next roadhouse. Watch for massive road trains and don’t drive between dusk and dawn to avoid colliding with wandering stock and wildlife.
4. GEMS, ART AND UFOs
Heading north, fossickers may want to divert along the Plenty Highway for 69km to the Gem Tree Caravan Park. The sites are the best you could ask for and there are guided fossicking tours. Back on the Stuart, Aileron Roadhouse greets visitors with a statue looming over the landscape. At Ti-Tree, there is a café and an Aboriginal art gallery just off to the west. Wycliffe Well is the UFO Capital of Australia (the pub proudly proclaims “the more you drink, the more you see”) and the caravan park at the back makes for a great overnighter.
5. DEVILS MARBLES
The scenic highlight of this drive is the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve. At the very least, drive in to have a look around. A basic campground provides the chance to spend the night and witness the ‘marbles’ at sunset and sunrise, when they are at their best. Avid 4WDers may want to take the 70km unsealed road and 24km 4WD track to the Whistle Duck Creek campground in Davenport Range NP. Note that accessing the park from the south via Murray Downs is for experienced 4WDers only, and most certainly not for caravans.
6. TENNANT CREEK, DALY WATERS AND MATARANKA
Tennant Creek is next with a couple of caravan park options and the chance to stock up on fuel, food and information at the Barkly Tourism Centre. Up the road, pleasant overnighters can be had at Renner Springs or Elliot. The Daly Waters Hi Way Inn (an historic pub) has camping too. As you approach Larrimah you’ll see signs for Fran’s Devonshire Tea House, which is well worth a spot for a selection of freshly baked goods. Mataranka is another hour along, and a night at the Homestead Tourist Resort with a long soak in the springs is a must.
7. CAVES AND CANOES
From here, things get really interesting. Cavers may want to stop at the Cutta Cutta Caves and Tindal Caves Nature Park. Katherine offers an information centre, all supplies and a selection of caravan parks. Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) NP has a caravan park and the visitor centre offers boat tours or (even better) canoe hire to have a look along the river. You’ll find Edith Falls located at the northwest end of the park with an excellent campground, a short walk from the spectacular Upper Edith Falls. Just north of the Emerald Springs Roadhouse is the turnoff (to the west) to the Douglas Hot Springs Nature Park, where there’s a caravan park by the Douglas River.
8. WAR HISTORY AND LITCHFIELD NP
WWII buffs will see a number of signs on the way north indicating historic landmarks and sites. Adelaide River has a war cemetery and there seem to be an awful lot of landing strips. It would be tragic to miss Litchfield NP, so easily accessed from a caravan park in Batchelor; allow a few days to see this wonderful destination.
9. BARRY SPRINGS
Just south of Noonamah is the turnoff (west) to Barry Springs. There you’ll find a couple of excellent van parks, the chance to take a dip in the springs themselves, and access to Humpty Doo and the nearby Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, which positively throbs with birdlife.
10. THE END OF THE ROAD
Finding a spot at a caravan park in and around Darwin can be tricky during the ‘season’. The Darwin Visitor Centre has information on all the regional activities. Everyone loves the atmosphere at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, where you’ll find lots of interesting things to eat and some great street museums. And for those WWII buffs, fascinating historic sites abound.