We hit the road for six weeks in Western Australia and also drove further north into the Northern Territories. Our last part consisted of long distances, incredible landscapes, and tropical weather as we went all the way from Exmouth to Darwin!
Our Wicked Campers called Horst did an amazing job even after 5.000 kilometres on the road with us, having discovered both Western Australia’s southern and mid-western part before entering it’s north. Our final article tells you what to see and do when exploring Australia’s north, so that you will have an amazing trip just like we had!
Road trip North Australia: the best tips for your trip from Exmouth to Darwin!
Exmouth to Port Hedland
After spending a few days in Exmouth, discovering the Cape Range National Park, snorkelling and sun bathing at Turquoise Bay and swimming with whale sharks it’s time to go further north. All information and tips for Exmouth can be found in our article about road tripping through the mid-western part of Western Australia!
From now on the distances are really far and you are looking at some long hours of driving. The first is from Exmouth to Port Headland and you have two options: either via the inland and the Karijini National Park, which is 980 kilometres, or via the coast and Karratha, which is 780 kilometres. If you go for option one you will pass the small mining town Tom Price, which has a large supermarket to get you sorted, some shops and good reception.
Option A: Karijini National Park
Though this route is 200 kilometres longer we’ve decided to give the coast a break and head into Australia’s outback. And it was worth it! Because if you opt for this route you will drive through the incredible Karijini National Park! This park is truly amazing as it consists of stunning gorges, waterfalls and pools where you can go swimming.
It is a good idea to enter the park with a 4WD as most of the streets are unsealed. Especially after heavy rains it can be almost impossible to drive on the park’s roads. We were really lucky as we’ve managed to drive through it with our Wicked Campers (Use Code “OFFPATH” for 10% discount) 2WD van, though we couldn’t drive that fast and it took us a bit longer.
It’s a good idea to enter the park in the west, then drive north towards the Oxers Lookout, continue to the Joffre Falls and Knox Lookout, and then make it through the park and visit the Dales Gorge including the Fern Pool and the Fortescue Falls, before leaving the park through its eastern entrance. If you like to do walking tours plan at least a whole day in the park, or stay overnight to fully enjoy it!
Option B: Karratha
From Exmouth to Karratha it’s a 7 hours drive and you won’t really stop only if you decide to break this tour into two parts and stay overnight at one of the 24 hours parking spots. Karratha itself has not much to offer and is an old mining town. Approximately 2 hours south of Karratha, and if you have the extra time, you can find the Millstream Chichester National Park.
The park is especially great to visit during June and August when all the wildflowers start to blossom. There are a lot of permanent pools where you can go swimming such as the popular Python Pool or the Deep Reach Pool. The park also offers a few campgrounds and, depending on the weather and road conditions, can be accessed with a 2WD.
Port Hedland to Broome
Port Hedland is a small town with a few larger supermarkets, and a few bars and restaurants. Yet when we’ve visited the town nothing was going on so we just stayed there to sleep. From Port Hedland to Broome it is again a pretty long distance with about 610 kilometres.
A good idea is to get up early in the mornings, like we did, and to just get done with it, arriving in Broome in the early afternoons. There’s really not much to see other than beaches and dry land, and you’ll only pass two roadhouses with ridiculous prices – so make sure your tank is full and you have enough water and food!
Broome is famous for its Cable Beach and the camels, great sunsets and surfing. Broome also hosts a large Chinese community and the city’s center is China Town. But other than the famous beach, the city itself has not really much to offer and it’s quite expensive to go dining or have coffee. We only stayed for a night and left the next morning. But Broome has a large supermarket where you should definitely fill up your stock as this is the last option before heading the road again towards Kununurra!
If you have some spare time, you can drive north from Broome and explore the Dampier Peninsular. This region has great landscapes, including white, sandy beaches and impressive red cliffs. You can drive all the way north to Cape Leveque at the western side of the peninsular and then go back to the Great Northern Hwy on its eastern side.
From Broome to Cape Leveque it takes about three hours to drive (170 km), and from Cape Leveque back to the Great Northern Hwy it takes over six hours to drive (200 km), so plan at least two days to explore the Dampier Peninsular
Broome to Kununurra
Though Broome itself has not much to do, it is the starting point of visits to the great Kimberly region. And it also is the starting point of one of the longest distances you will travel in Western Australia! Because the next stop where you fill find food and people again is the town Kununurra.
From Broome to Kununurra you have two options to travel: either via the famous Gibb River Road through the Kimberly outback, which should only be done by a 4WD as it is a mostly unsealed road and depending on the conditions can be difficult to pass. Though this route is a bit shorter with 920 km it takes at least 12 hours to travel. The other option is via the Great Northern Hwy, which is a bit over 1.000 km long and takes about 11 hours to drive on sealed roads.
Option A: The Kimberly
The Kimberly is Western Australia’s most northern part and has some magnificent nature and landscapes. However, you can only access it with a 4WD and most parts can only be reached by plane or boat. If you choose for driving into the Kimberly make sure to have enough food, water and fuel supply with you, enough so you could survive a week from it!
Plan a few days for this route and take enough time to discover all its rugged gorges, the stunning rivers and waterfalls such as the Mitchel Falls, the empty beaches or the Buccaneer Archipelago, which offers great diving and snorkelling opportunities! Get in contact with all the different tour operators to decide what you would like to see and do as you won’t be able to access most of the great places without booking a tour.
Gibb River Road
The Gibb River Road used to be a cattle route and roughly 660 km long. The road conditions have improved tremendously over the past years but it is still a good idea to only travel this road with a 4WD. If you choose to travel this way, make sure to check weather and road conditions beforehand, because the road can be impassable at some times.
Especially during the wet season which runs from November to March the road is closed due to floodings and bad road conditions. You will pass some great scenery when travelling this road and there is also accommodation provided on several cattle stations.
Option B: Purnululu National Park
As we were running out of time and only had a 2WD we chose for option two on our road trip and used the Great Northern Hwy to get from Broome to Kununurra. This route was less spectacular, of course, and a bit tiring to drive as well. If you choose to do a trip in the northern part of Western Australia, I would recommend you to get a 4WD, drive the Gibb River Road and get into the Kimberly’s outback as this is the real adventure!
On the other hand, on this route you will pass the great Purnululu National Park with its fantastic looking Bungle Bungle Range, which is best explored by airplane. You can also do walking tours in the park and stay over night at one of the two campsites. However, the park as well is only accessible with a 4WD!
Kununurra to Katherine
Having driven this very long distance you will arrive in the small town Kununurra. It has a surprisingly cool vibe, a large supermarket and a few nice cafés such as the hip Wild Mango Cafe with a great breakfast menu and lovely coffee.
Kununurra ist also your last stop in the state of Western Australia before entering the Northern Territories. About 45 minutes south of town you’ll find Australia’s second largest artificial lake, the Lake Argyle. From Kununurra to Katherine it takes about 6.5 hours or 510 km. We travelled that distance on one go, and started driving early in the morning.
Nitmiluk National Park
Katherine is not really a nice city to stay and once you are there it’s not that far anymore to the great Nitmiluk National Park. Within half an hour of driving you will reach the park’s visitor centre and also the spot where all the tours into the national park start. Nitmiluk Tours offers several cruise tours where you will be able to see the stunning Katherine Gorge and even encounter some wild crocodiles!
We did one of the classic cruises with them and spotted two large crocodiles! So great! You can also to choose to do a scenic flight and get even more incredible views from above. There are also plenty of walking tours and lookout spots in the park, so better take some time to fully explore it. Make also sure to visit the Edith Falls in the western part of the park and take a swim in one of the pools there – so much fun and the best on a hot and sunny day!
Within the Nitmiluk National Park and close to its entrance, you will find the beautiful Cicada Lodge. The lodge is really a great place to stay, offers spacious rooms, super comfy beds and views strait into the park’s wilderness. We stayed at the lodge for two nights and simply loved it!
In the mornings you will get a lovely breakfast and they also serve some really good coffee. You can also choose to have lunch and dinner at the lodge’s restaurant, which is super delicious as well. For us, staying at the Cicada Lodge was like a great ending to our road trip and if you are looking to treat yourself, this is where you want to be!
Katherine to Darwin
After indulging yourself in the Nitmiluk National Park it’s time to do the very last part of the road trip and head further north to the final destination: Darwin. There are again two routes to get from Katherine to Darwin and both of them offer some great scenery and landscapes to discover! Option A is via the famous Kakadu National Park which is about 550 km long, or option B via the Litchfield National Park, which takes about 3.5 hours (320 km).
Option A: Kakadu National Park
To be honest, this is the only option you should consider as the Kakadu National Park is what the Northern Territories are famous for! Especially well known are the Jim Jim Falls which are between 140 and 200 metres high and look really stunning! Just as impressive is the Kakadu Escarpment and the Arnhem Land plateau, which can be best enjoyed from a above doing a scenic flight.
Also take your time to explore the floodplains and wetlands of Kakadu National Park where many water birds live. There is just so much to discover, that you should take a couple of days to fully explore this amazing park! But be aware of the many crocodiles living here and the many mosquitos and bugs that are eating you alive, especially in the wetlands!
Option B: Litchfield National Park
If you don’t have too much time left, the Litchfield National Park is a good alternative to the Kakadu National Park and easy to access. It’s less than two hours from Darwin and offers plenty of great waterfalls which cascade from a sandstone plateau. You can walk through monsoon rainforests or take a closer look at the impressive magnetic termite mounds that can be found in the park.
Of course there are also great pools to swim and cool off, and great lookout spots. Most popular are probably the Wangi Falls which look spectacular and offer a great swim. But also be aware of the wild crocodiles and dingos living in the park!
Darwin is the Northern Territories’ capital and a fairly large city with a lively city centre, lots os shopping, restaurants, bars and cafés. We stayed in darwin for three nights, before leaving to Sydney. Darwin is also the place where you will drop of your rental car, just as we said goodbye to our good friend Horst after travelling with us for more than 7.000km! Wicked Campers has its office quite close to the city center and the staff was really friendly and easy going when we returned our camper van.
Food & Accommodation
There are a few nice cafés in Darwin but we especially liked the Four Birds café. It is located next to the main shopping street and serves great coffee as well as some sandwiches and pastries. There are seatings outside in the backyard of a small shopping mal complex as well as a few tables inside the café.
You can sit here for a while as it is a really relaxing atmosphere. The café is not always open, and when it’s not, you can still get the coffee from Four Birds at the Milk Bar just a few meters down the main street right in the shopping mall on the other side.
We didn’t tried Nando’s before coming to Darwin as we didn’t know what it was. We first thought it’s a Mexican restaurant as it kind of looks like that, but it’s not. It is a really good place to get super delicious chicken! It has an oriental touch and is famous for it’s Peri-Peri flamed-grilled chicken.
You can choose between different sizes of chicken and sauces and also get various side orders including humus paste, fresh cucumber and papsicum, lentil salad and pita bread – and they are all delicious! Only later we’ve found our that it’s actually a chain that can be found in all Australia and New Zealand. Though we are not too much a fan of fast food chains, Nando’s really offers some yummy and I would even say healthy food!
The Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront
There are a lot of hotels to choose from in Darwin and we’ve stayed two night at the Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront. This hotel seems to be quite new and is really modern and clean! The rooms are spacious, offer a nice seating cornier, a really comfy bed and a nice bathroom. The location of the hotel is straight at the waterfront and less than 10 minutes walking from Darwin’s main shopping street and city center.
The hotel has a small pool, and just outside the hotel you’ll find Darwin’s small beach area as well as a cool swimming pool with a artificial beach and waves! The hotel also has a restaurant downstairs which is very modern as well, serves good coffee and great burgers. Check out their great lunch deal where you get a yummy meal and a drink for only 18,- AUD!
Have you been to Australia’s north and what are your best tips and experiences? Share them in the comments below!