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Road Trips

Road Trip from Brisbane to Darwin

By Pat Dorri | Updated on 27 May 2022

A road trip from Brisbane to Darwin is one of Australia's epic outback adventures. You can venture deep into a working mine, check out the biggest cattle yards in the Southern Hemisphere, learn the stories of sacred indigenous sights and enjoy a relaxing swim in a tropical waterhole as you make your way cross country.

This fantastic journey takes over 36 hours of pure driving time to complete a mammoth 3425-km distance. But you can stop off at wonderful places like Roma, Longreach, Mount ISA, Tennant Creek, Daly Waters, Katherine and Kakadu National Park along the way.

These are just a few of the many incredible places you can visit on this once-in-a-lifetime drive. So you'll want to keep reading until the end to find out where else you could go, where's best to stay, and the best time to travel so you can make the most of this great road trip.

How far is Brisbane to Darwin and how long will the road trip take?

Hitting the road is definitely the best way to discover the fascinating way of life in this venerated region.

The drive, though long, is fairly straightforward, with much of it taking place on bitumen, making it a comfortable cruise if you plan accordingly.

Overall it will take you more than 36 hours of pure driving time to complete the journey. Which means the overall transit should take at least 3-5 days to complete, depending on where exactly you want to visit.

Murky green river with bridge crossing it lit up in bright sunshine with downtown buildings behind
Hang out in Brisbane before heading inland for this epic road trip.
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For much of the drive, especially when you get towards the Northern Territory, amenities like restrooms, shops and gas stations are few and far between. So its always worth making use of these facilities when you do come across them.

Also be aware that the Royal Flying Doctor Service uses stretches of the Stuart Highway as an emergency landing strip. This only happens in clearly designated spots once police have closed the road. But it is something which could delay your journey slightly.

Best road trip route from Brisbane to Darwin

Considering the distance involved, it might surprise you to learn that you can reach Darwin from Brisbane via just two main roads - the A2 and the Stuart Highway.

From Brisbane you will need to join the A2 and head towards Toowoomba. If you love flowers the ‘Garden City' should be one of your first stops, as it features a number of stunning parks, botanic gardens and other floral displays. Especially around September when the ‘Carnival of Flowers' takes place.

This road will continue past Dalby, which serves as a great base for visiting the magnificent Bunya Mountains National Park, before reaching Roma. A town famous for having the largest volume of cattle sales in the Southern Hemisphere, with over 400,000 sold every year. Regular visitor tours of cattle yards are conducted for those who have an interest in it.

From here you will pass the wonderful town of Charleville, where you might want to take in the magnificence of an outback night sky at the Charleville Cosmos Centre & Observatory, before arriving in Longreach.

A place you will definitely want to stay at for a while, the town of Longreach features a number of notable attractions. These include the Qantas Founders Museum (Longreach was where the national airline Qantas was born) and the iconic Stockman's Hall of Fame.

Tree and riverbank reflected in glass-like water of the river
An oasis in the outback near Longreach.
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Leaving Longreach, the road will then lead you on past Winton, which is famous for hosting the world's largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, and is also the place where Banjo Patterson penned, and first performed, the iconic ‘Waltzing Matilda' in 1895. You will also pass Mt Isa, where you can take a tour deep underground into a fully working mine.

Soon after Mt Isa you will make your way onto the Stuart Highway and into the Northern Territory. Your first port of call here should be at Tenant Creek, which hosts the fascinating Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre and provides an excellent opportunity to learn all about the culture, history and art of the local Warumungu people.

The highway, which was named after John McDouall Stuart, a Scottish explorer who was the first European to traverse Australia from south to north, will then lead you on to Daly Waters, which features the legendary Daly Waters Pub.

An institution in the Northern Territories, the décor showcases a wide array of bras, nik naks and other trinkets that have been left by patrons since the 1980s. The food menu they serve up includes crocodile burgers and kangaroo loin as well.

Low roofed building by the roadside with chairs outside and bright green tree
In time honoured tradition, stop for a drink at the legendary Daly Waters Pub.
Nick Brundle Photography/Shutterstock.com

Leaving Daly Waters the highway will carry you on to Katherine, which is a fantastic base to explore the Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge and Katherine Hot Springs. Before finally leading you on to the magnificent Kakadu National Park. Also known as Jabiru, you will be able to explore deep sandstone gorges that are millions of years old, and swim in complete tranquility in wonderful, tropical waterholes.

Best places to stop between Brisbane and Darwin

Given how long the drive from Brisbane to Darwin is you will need to pick at least three, if not more places to stop overnight.

There are countless options available to you. But here are some we most recommend.

See the stars at Charleville

Charleville is the largest town in southwest Queensland and as it is only 8 hours from Brisbane it makes a terrific great option for an overnight stay.

The Charleville Motel is a fantastic choice of accommodation as it features very comfortable rooms to relax in, which will be just the ticket after a long day of driving.

The hotel has a lovely swimming pool, which will feel heavenly on a hot day. While it's also situated close to all the main shops, restaurants and attractions. One of which, the Charleville Cosmos Centre & Observatory, is an excellent place to take in the starry views of the wonderful outback sky at night.

large flock of sheep on dry ground next to road, viewed from above
Watch out for livestock on the road as you travel past Charleville.
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Tour a working mine in Mount Isa

A city rich in history and culture, Mount Isa boasts one of the most productive single mines in history. The sunsets here are pretty amazing too.

If you want to experience one or the other, or indeed both, the Burke & Wills Mount Isa is a very good choice.

Located right in the centre of Mt Isa, the hotel offers a convenient central location. There are plenty of places to eat within easy walking distance, as well as some decent shops to explore too.

The accommodation is known for having very comfortable beds, which is exactly what you need after a long day of driving. While the hotel swimming pool offers a great way to cool yourself down from the piercing afternoon sun.

Check out the delights of Katherine

Katherine is a wonderful part of the world and you will definitely want to spend a couple of days exploring the areas main attractions of the Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge and Katherine Hot Springs.

Whilst here, the Pine Tree Motel is a great option, set amongst lush, tropical gardens. This setting offers weary drivers a shaded retreat in which to relax. And of course, the rooms are stylish, well-appointed and comfortable.

The hotel is also close to the centre of town, with the Katherine Country Club being just a 5-minute drive away, and the Rodeo Arena being a short distance away too.

As well as having a nice outdoor swimming pool, the hotel also has a tour desk that can help you book helicopter flights and cruises along the river gorges, amongst many other excursions.

View of steep cliffs into gorge
Take your time to explore Katherine Gorge when you stop off on your route from Brisbane to Darwin.
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Things to see on a road trip from Brisbane to Darwin

There are so many things to see and do on a road trip from Brisbane to Darwin, you'll really need a few weeks spare to visit them all.

But if you are short on time, this list of notable places is what you really should try and check out first:

  1. Toowoomba -Visit Queensland's largest inland city. Known for its annual Carnival of Flowers, the ‘Garden City' boasts a number of excellent parks, green spaces and floral displays.
  2. Bunya Mountains National Park - Magnificent national park that features the largest stand of ancient bunya pines in the world.
  3. Roma - Take a tour of a cattle yard in the town that processes the largest volume of cattle sales in the Southern Hemisphere.
  4. Charleville - Marvel at the magnificence of a starry outback night sky at the Charleville Cosmos Centre & Observatory.
  5. Longreach -Birthplace of Qantas. Check out the fantastic Qantas Founders Museum and the iconic Stockman's Hall of Fame.
  6. Winton – Famous town which hosts the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world. Also where Banjo Patterson penned, and first performed, the iconic ‘Waltzing Matilda' in 1895.
  7. Mt Isa – Take a tour deep underground and discover what life is like for workers in a fully functional and working mine.
  8. Tenant Creek - Visit the fascinating Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre and learn all about the culture, history, language and art of the local Warumungu people.
  9. Daly Waters - Have a cold one at the legendary Daly Waters Pub. An institution in the Northern Territories, its décor showcases a wide selection of bras, nik naks and other trinkets that have been left by patrons since the 1980s. Dine on a food menu that includes crocodile burgers and kangaroo loin.
  10. Katherine - Check out the wonders of the Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge and take a relaxing dip in the Katherine Hot Springs.
  11. Jabiru - Explore deep sandstone gorges and swim in wonderful, tropical waterholes at the spectacular Kakadu National Park.
creek with tree covered bank
Explore Kakadu National Park as you reach the end of your trip from Brisbane to Darwin.
Christina Fink/Shutterstock.com

Best time to go on a road trip from Brisbane to Darwin

While Brisbane to Darwin is a road trip you can do at any time throughout the year, the best time to do it is between May and September.

This coincides with the dry season in northern Australia and you will find the weather to be both cooler than in the summer, which can often exceed temperatures of over 40°C, and more consistent too. Overall there is little chance of rain in this season, and if it does come its highly unlikely to be a heavy or dangerous type of storm activity.

Darwin waterfront with silhouettes of buildings and light reflecting on the water
Look out over the water again when you reach Darwin at the end of this route.
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During this time of the year the roads are usually in good condition too and it is generally much easier to drive around, and access all areas, of the more remote national parks.

Whenever you choose to go, it is a very good idea to get your car fully serviced before your departure, to reduce your risk of it breaking down during your road trip.