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Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory

The Stuart Highway known as "the Explorer's Way" is a highway running north to south through the middle of Australia, linking Darwin (Northern Territory) with Port Augusta (South Australia).

Understand[edit]

The highway spans 3,200 kilometres, a vast magnificent country of arid lands in the south via Central Australia to the tropical Top End.

From there, the Princes Highway connects it with Adelaide and the Eyre Highway will lead you to Western Australia. In the north of South Australia, the Stuart Highway also provides an entry and exit point for the more adventurous "Oodnadatta Track", a dirt road that takes you to some old outback towns the newer Stuart Highway now bypasses. This track may be closed after heavy rains, but the Stuart Highway is much more reliable in bad weather. It is also the only paved highway between South Australia and the Territory.

Along the highway, you will encounter towns such as Katherine (Northern Territory), Tennant Creek (Northern Territory), Alice Springs (Northern Territory), Coober Pedy (South Australia), and Woomera (South Australia)

Today's explorers have the same fascination for the vast expanses without the risks and privations of the past. Take lots of photos, leave nothing but footprints. Chat to the locals and fellow travellers and take time to go exploring off the beaten track on walks and tours. Use common sense if "going bush" in the Outback.

Prepare[edit]

Get in[edit]

Drive[edit]

Adelaide to Pt. Augusta[edit]

  • Distance: 320 km (200 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 110 km/h (68 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

While this section of the route is not part of the Stuart Highway, it is still a major waypoint to go to the Stuart. This section is about 300 km, so don't underestimate how long it will take to travel.

Pt. Augusta to Coober Pedy[edit]

  • Distance: 544 km (338 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 110 km/h (68 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

To Pimba[edit]

The route to Pimba goes in a NNW direction between large lakes, of which unfortunately you can't see anything, only in the east you can see the Flinders range as a panorama.

Pimba is less than a village with its 50 inhabitants, but has the "Spud's Roadhouse" founded by Spud Murphy in 1969, where you can refuel, shop and eat in an outback atmosphere. Spud died in 2007, but lived in his roadhouse.

Borefield Road (B97) also branches off here:

After only 7 km you are in Woomera, which was a restricted zone until 1982 as a test facility for aerospace and weapons experiments. Between 1955 and 1963 the site was a British nuclear weapons test area. Some parts of the facility and museums can be visited, others are still in operation or still blocked (e.g. blasting sites for old ammunition), check on the web if Woomera is open (or this link. There are also overnight accommodations in the Womera.

Further on the B97 there is Roxby Downs (city of the miners of Olympic Dam), the opal fields of Andamooka and the Olympic Dam mine (uranium, copper, gold, silver).

After 205 km the road reaches the Oodnadatta Track, which was once a traditional Aboriginal trade route (today a dirt road) and on whose route the Ghan should also run: remnants of the railway are still visible, many springs, some campsites. The track can be driven as a loop by all-wheel drive vehicles, it joins the Stuart Highway again at Coober Pedy or Marla.

To Glenambo[edit]

The route to Glendambo leads along the large salt lake Lake Gairdner (third largest salt lake in Australia with an area of 160 km by 48 km and an area of around 4350 km² with up to 1.2-metre-thick salt layers) and the national park of the same name.

In Glendambo there is a gas station, a motel, a camping site and the Woolshed restaurant. Shortly after the village, a dirt road that is easy to drive on to Kingoonya branches off to the left, there is now a hotel again. In 1982 the highway was moved from here to Glendambo, since then the small settlement has been a ghost town. Indian Pacific and The Ghan are still driving through, their route only separates a few kilometres behind them.

From Kingoonya there is an all-wheel-drive track to Lake Gairdner. The access to the salt lake is not easy to find, it is best to head for Mount Ive Station (large sheep breeding station) and turn right at the "Submarine", camping is also possible there. From the station it is another 30 km to the salt lake. It is also used for speed records of motor vehicles, which are more likely to be called rockets on wheels than cars (races take place in March when the lake is safely dry).

To Coober Pedy[edit]

It continues to the north, the route is now very calm and drowsy, only a few resting places bring change, there are no more refueling options on the way.

Coober Pedy announces itself through small hills, or rather piles, which were created by the mining activities of the local opal seekers, the city claims to be the "opal capital of the world". The mines and the underground buildings (dogouts) are the main attractions of the place, you can of course also buy opals or dig for them yourself. The place has several places to stay and rest, a supermarket open 7 days a week and service stations.

Trips in Coober Pedy:

  • to the Dingo Fence, the fence that is supposed to keep the wild Australian dogs away from the grazing grounds, about 10 km away on a dirt road
  • the 18-hole golf course without grass, 3 km outside the village
  • the Breakaways, a bizarre landscape 33 km north, once home to an inland sea, which has since been dried up and now part of the Great Artesian Basin
  • Mail Run - ride with the postman for a day. Don't forget that this is the outback.

In Coober Pedy there are two streets that are only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles. East it goes to the Oodnadatta Track, west over the Anne Beadell Highway to Western Australia.

Coober Pedy to SA/NT border[edit]

  • Distance: 389 km (242 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 110 km/h (68 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

The path continues over the flat desert landscape, after 60 km the route of the Ghan comes back to the road. Otherwise there is no change until Cadney Homestead turns up as a nice surprise, an oasis in the desert, so to speak.

The roadhouse on the airfield parallel to the road offers a motel, a campsite with (from $25) and without electricity and tent sites (no shade), plus showers, a small swimming pool and BBQ areas. Restaurant and Cattleman's Bar complete the offer. The vehicles that stop or drive past the truck stop are also exciting, e.g. the long road trains.

From Cadney you can reach the Painted Desert (all-wheel track).

On the further route the landscape changes slowly, the earth becomes more and more reddish, the red center approaches. It also goes a little uphill imperceptibly.

The border between South Australia and the Northern Territory is marked by a rest area with a large marker stone. There are covered picnic tables, drinking water tanks, toilets and a few information signs. Since you cross an inner Australian border here, you are also asked to dispose of fruits (e.g. bananas) and seeds (e.g. from grain) (import restrictions due to quarantine regulations).

SA/NT border to Alice Springs[edit]

  • Distance: 300 km (190 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 130 km/h (81 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

Alice Springs to Tennant Creek[edit]

  • Distance: 505 km (314 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 130 km/h (81 mph) (formerly no speed limit)
  • Road surface: asphalt

This section is mostly dry desolate, and may feel endlessly going, and fatigue is a big killer on these roads. While once this section of road once had open speed limits to reduce fatigue, that has since been removed in 2016 and what is now a 130-km/h road. There isn't really much on this route, and the best thing one would want to do is to speedy run this route. While it may sound obvious, but speeding on this road isn't a wise idea as this route is not really built for speeds higher than 140 km/h.

Tennant Creek to Daly Waters[edit]

  • Distance: 406 km (252 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 130 km/h (81 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

Daly Waters to Katherine[edit]

  • Distance: 276 km (171 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 130 km/h (81 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

Katherine to Darwin[edit]

  • Distance: 282 km (175 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 110–130 km/h (68–81 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

Once the road quality starts to improve, and the road becomes a divided highway, you will notice that the road quality starts to improve, and a sign that you're coming closer to Darwin. Unusually though, right after the road becomes a dual carriageway, the speed limit decreases from 130 km/h on the undivided single carriageway, to 110 km/h. Further north, you'll start to see more traffic lights, although beware that going at 110 km/h, there's little notice on when a traffic light will come up, and make sure to watch out for signage here.

Darwin[edit]

  • Distance: 35 km (22 mi)
  • Speed Limit: 60–100 km/h (37–62 mph)
  • Road surface: asphalt

Most of this route is a divided highway, and is the longest stretch of a divided dual carriageway in the Territory. It does have a couple of traffic lights every now and then, although these won't slow you down. For more practical purposes, in the very northern section, it is rather quicker to go through the newly opened A15 Tiger Brennan Drive, which has a 100-km/h limit as opposed to the 80-km/h limit on the Stuart. While it isn't a proper freeway/motorway, the 100-km/h limit still makes it feel like one despite the occasional traffic lights. Some intersections are grade separated, but some aren't, though there's no roundabouts here.

From the south at the junction of Arnhem Highway, to get to Darwin CBD, the Stuart Highway is mainly a quick straightforward route. For the northern section where it is more quicker and scenic to use Tiger Brennan Drive, to get onto the drive, keep going straight, and you will need to do nothing. The Stuart Highway exits off, and once you continue, you'll be on the scenic Tiger Brennan Drive.

Precautions[edit]

Mind the kangaroos!

There are services around every 200 km along the highway, but not all are open 24 hours. In many cases you will have to plan your trip so arrive at fuelling stops when they are open. A good idea is to get fuel at every truck stop you see: this will ensure that you have enough to get to your next stop.

The highway sees regular traffic at all hours, however it pays to make sure you have some food and drinking water if you happen to get stranded. Extreme temperatures are possible in summer, and temperatures overnight can also drop to near freezing.

If you leave the main road, you could be entering remote country. When outside of towns, services are limited so make sure you are well prepared and self-sufficient for yourself and your car. Many vehicles carry at least two spare wheels. Ensure that your vehicle's jack is a substantial one, as it may be difficult to change a wheel on some of the rough roadsides. Ensure that you have an adequate toolkit. Carry additional spare parts, such as fuses and other items which can be easily changed by the driver, as auto parts stores are few and far between, and may not even be open when you need them. Many vehicles carry additional fuel in jerrycans or other approved containers on roof racks or special outside fuel racks. Though as always plan ahead, especially in the South Australian section.

Go next[edit]

This itinerary to Stuart Highway is a usable article. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.