A road trip from Perth to Darwin is nothing short of epic. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a 4WD to experience many of the breathtaking top stops and hidden gems along the way.
There are two more common routes. One is predominantly coastal, with the other being a dessert extravaganza. There are detours and byways along both routes, guaranteed to enrich any itinerary. So, how much time do you have?
This vast expanse of Australian wilderness invites a lifetime of exploration. But with a week or two and a reliable vehicle, you can experience one of the great bucket list road trips.
Let’s explore the possibilities, and start planning your adventure.
How Far Is Perth From Darwin?
By air, the distance from Perth to Darwin is approximately 2,646 km.
For intrepid road trippers, Perth/Darwin via the coast, including Geraldton, Carnarvon and Karratha is a whopping 4024 km.
Northeast inland via Paynes Find, Meekatharra, Kumarina, and Newman is 3720 km.
How Long Is The Drive From Perth To Darwin?
Whichever route you take you’re looking at 42 to 44 hours non-stop from Perth to Darwin.
The difference of 2 hours has little impact over such a distance, so selecting a route based on time is neither here nor there. With two drivers doing 5 hours of driving each per day, you’ll need a minimum of 4 days, which allows only layovers and brief rest stops.
For a less arduous quick trip, 6 days is a more sensible minimum. For a trip that allows you to stop, explore and experience the many wonders en route, allow 10 days to two weeks. For experienced, self-sufficient campers with 4WD vehicles, there’s literally a lifetime of exploration in these regions.
What Are The Best Road Trip Routes Perth To Darwin?
There are two commonly taken Perth/Darwin routes. I’ll call route one, “The coastal route” and route two, “The northeast inland route”.
The route via the Gibson Desert and Via South Australia are also popular but demand their own dedicated road trip travellers guide. Instead of naming specific routes by highways, I’ve outlined key waypoints en-route to illustrate the general direction. In some cases, I’ve mentioned cool detours.
The times I have indicated are approximate, and allow for leisurely cruising – this isn’t a trip to be hurried. It’s important to keep in mind that these routes assume a normal vehicle – no 4WD required.
Route 1: The Coastal Route
Distance: 4024 km
Time: Minimum 7 days – 2 weeks ideal.
Highlights: Spectacular untouched East Indian Ocean coastline, wildlife, desert, flora, views, history, indigenous culture, remote living, The Pilbara, The Kimberly, and more.
Waypoints: Jurien Bay, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Port Headland, Eighty Mile Beach, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra Lake Argyle, Katherine, Darwin.
Coastal Views And Wildlife Encounters
Driving north out of Perth head for Highway 60. You’re not far out of the city and already there are link roads to small seaside towns such as Two Rocks, Guilderton, Seabird and Lancelin, just to name a few, and all with spectacular coastal views and beaches. When you reach Cervantes, you’re a short drive from Nambung National Park – a must-visit to see the Pinnacles, and you’re only 2 hours out of Perth.
Head on to Geraldton, for an easy stopover for a feed of lobster, turquoise waters, pink lakes and western coastal café culture. Your next must-stop is Carnarvon, 4 hours up the road. Halfway there you’ll need to stop and visit Kalbarri National Park and Monkey Mia (Shark Bay). Here you can get up close and personal with the wild dolphins and even book a dive with whale sharks. There’s accommodation in Monkey Mia, or you can travel on to Carnarvon. Take a detour up to Coral Bay for some easy and spectacular snorkelling straight off the white sandy beaches.
There’s plenty to explore in this region from Ningaloo Reef to the Cape Range National Park. It’s an essential visit for lovers of snorkelling, marine life and unique Australian geography and wildflowers. From manta rays to wallabies, it’s a sensational wildlife tour.
Pilbara And Kimberley Adventure
There are nearly 8 hours of red wilderness driving between the Coral Bay region and Port Headland as you travel the mighty Pilbara. Stop over in Karratha as it’s a great launching spot for a little Pilbara sightseeing.
Got some time on your hands? The Pilbara region is twice the size of the United Kingdom and is around 3.6 billion years old. One of the oldest places on Earth. Take a guided tour of Murujuga National Park, hire a boat and explore the Dampier Archipelago or camp on spectacular beaches.
Broome is the next stop. It’s a desert oasis with some of the most magnificent beaches you’ll find anywhere in the world. Take a Kimberly coast cruise, mount a camel and explore the beaches, and watch crocs laze about in paradise. There are countless tours, day trips, and guided adventures to suit all travellers. I recommend a cultural tour for a taste of indigenous life and culture.
Broome gets busy during the holiday season. Make sure you’ve planned ahead if you have your heart set on a particular Kimberly experience. Broome is worth it just for the sunsets - there’s nothing like it.
Northern Territory Wonders
Broome to Fitzroy Crossing is around 400 km. Fitzroy Crossing tells a story of the extreme difficulties of living in such an isolated, remote country, where access has always been subject to the seasons. The savanna peppered with prehistoric rock formations will take your breath away - as will the feeling of remoteness. Here you have access to the spectacular Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge and Geikie Gorge, three must-see areas of the Kimberly.
Fitzroy crossing to Lake Argyle is about 420 km. You’ll pass Halls Creek, The Orde River, and Kununurra, with each place offering classic Kimberly vistas and exploration. El Questro on Emma Gorge is breathtaking. They have 5-star luxury accommodation or camping. Highly recommended.
Lake Argyle, formed by damming the Orde River has fantastic camping with serene waters surrounded by classic Kimberly red cliffs. Take a wildlife tour, or lake cruise and explore a remote island relatively untouched by humans. Lake Argyle restaurant is well worth the investment. Once you depart Lake Argyle, you’re minutes from entering the Northern Territory.
Lake Argyle to Katherine is about 510 km, easily achieved in two 2.5-hour driving spells. Stop off at Timber Creek and have a feed at the Timber Creek Hotel. There’s accommodation at Circle F caravan park, and the Victoria River holds the biggest Barra in the Northern Territory. This is where I caught my first barra over 80 cm. I also fed crocodiles. There are some great walks that take in the Boabs and incredible local flora and fauna.
Katherine is worth a few days stay over as there’s so much to do and see. If you only have a short time, make sure you see Nitmiluk National Park and do a Katherine Gorge cruise - the vistas, the walks, and the wildlife are truly special.
Katherine to Darwin is the final leg of the trip and a pretty easy three hours. If you’re looking for a fun detour, the Daley River Hotel is an iconic Aussie Pub located in the heart of Barramundi country. There’s camping accommodation, great fun and food, and the best fishing in the world. Stay a night or two. You’re very close to Litchfield National Park. It has some of the most spectacular waterfalls and swimming holes of the Northern Territory - that you don’t have to share with crocodiles.
Route 2: The Northeast Inland Route
Distance: 3846 km
Time: Minimum 6 days – 2 weeks ideal.
Highlights: Wildlife, desert, flora, views, history, indigenous culture, remote living, gold prospecting, abandoned settlements, The Murchison, The Kimberly, and more.
Waypoints: Paynes Find, Mount Magnet, Lake Austin, Meekerratha, Newman, Marble Bar, Eighty Mile Beach, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra Lake Argyle, Katherine, Darwin.
Journey Through The Outback To The Coast
This is the most direct route heading northeast from Perth on Highway 95. It’s classic western outback terrain until you reach 80 mile beach. Then the itinerary is the same as Route 1. I take this direction when The Kimberly or a far northern location is the destination. You can get to Broome in 4 days of easy driving and still take in the sites at each stopover. This route offers more than a taste of the unique aspects of the outback, isolated living, and stunning geography.
Drive 600km to Mt Magnet for some gold prospecting, and the history melancholy feel of abandoned outback settlements. There’s a great break halfway there at Paynes Find - another gold settlement reminding you of the courage and determination of our pioneers. Travel in spring and the millions of wildflowers will take your breath away.
The next waypoint is Newman. You’ll pass Lake Austin and Meekarratha and the Collier Range National Park. Meekerratha is a must-stop for deeper insights into regional indigenous culture and great views of Murchison’s incredibly rugged geography.
Newman is a mining town, home to the largest iron ore mine in the world, and well worth exploring. It’s the launching spot to some of Australia’s most famous 4WD trails. It’s also an ideal location from which to discover the beauty of Karijini National Park and its dramatic gorges - fantastic for swimming and kayaking.
If you include Karijini, you can hit the coast just south of Port Headland.
Mining Towns And Kakadu National Park
For those heading directly north of Newman, Marble Bar is 3 hours up the road and can reach temperatures just shy of 50 degrees Celsius. I encourage people to experience this place as it shows what pioneers will endure if ever there’s a sniff of gold. In the summer, this place is harsh and particularly unforgiving. Grab a beer at the historic Ironclad pub. Be sure to talk with locals about local life and why they live there.
From Marble Bar, it’s 6 and a bit hours to Broome. Stock up on supplies at Marble Bar, because there’s nothing but wilderness for the next 600 km. From Broome, the itinerary will follow that as outlined in Route 1 above.
When you get to Darwin, you’re well-placed to tour Kakadu National Park. There are months of exploration here - so give it a least a few days.
Best Places To Stop Between Perth & Darwin
Both routes I described above have countless places you can put on a must-see list. Singling out only 3 seems disrespectful. Nonetheless, here are three places I encourage you all to experience. One for each route, plus one you’ll pass on both.
Broom: An Astonishing Blend Of Cultures (Routes 1 and 2)
Both routes will take you to Broome. This place is like something out of a novel. It’s an astonishing blend of cultures - indigenous, colonial, Asian, corporate mining, the cafe set and tourists - to name a few.
They’re wedged between the boundless beauty of the white sands of cable beach, the blues of the Indian Ocean, and a harsh unforgiving inland, indifferent to your thirst and hunger - unless you know her secrets. The beach is long and often vacant. And the sunsets are so incredibly beautiful they seem contrived. There’s nowhere quite like it.
Cape Range National Park (Route 1)
While it’s handy to have a 4WD for deeper park exploration, it’s possible to explore the Cape Range National Park with a 2WD, given a good road report.
For those looking for activity, you can walk, fish, kayak paddle, explore, camp, dive, snorkel, bird watch, whale watch, - and the list goes on. For many, just roaming the pristine empty beaches by a world heritage reef is enough.
For me, and many others, Cape Range invites you to reconnect to mother earth. It’s a place to be still, feel and recharge naturally in every sense. Here you can be the only person in the world surrounded by a contrasting paradise of rugged ranges and turquoise seas. This is West Australia at its best - and can’t be missed.
Marble Bar (Route 2)
Those who know the extremes of Marble Bar will wonder how on earth such a town gets a recommendation over the magnificence of Katherine Gorge, or Karijini. But Marble Bar is less about vistas and geography (of which there are) and more about people and the extraordinary places they choose to live.
Few Australian visitors, and just as few Australians will have ever visited such a place. It has an astonishing history and pre-history. A chat with locals will give you a particularly unique insight into what it is to be Australian, living in the driest part of the Pilbara. A genuine cultural experience for those who want to learn about people.
Best Time Of Year To Drive Between Perth & Darwin
Driving from Perth to Darwin is a trip that can be undertaken all year round.
Owing to the vast distances, you’ll pass through a number of climate zones temperate, desert and tropical. As you’ll pass through the tropical top end of Australia, it’s best done in the dry season (Winter) - May to October. Temperatures range from 20 to 30 degrees.
The wet season in the north can present road issues due to flooding - it rains and rains hard. It can also get profoundly hot - with Mardie recording a temperature in excess of 50 degrees. The transition from the tropical dry to wet, the build-up, can deliver humidity that can be very difficult for some to handle. Spring sees the start of the build-up, but is a must for the magnificent desert wildflowers - truly incredible.
Best Places To Camp Between Perth & Darwin
Here are three great places to camp that I highly recommend. I also recommend campers download Wikicamps Australia. It’s brilliant for finding places to camp (with user reviews) along the road anywhere in the country.
I’ve focussed on campgrounds that I know have easy access, and are more suitable for inexperienced campers.
Route 1: Osprey Bay - Cape Range National Park
Osprey Bay is on the Coral Coast in the Cape Range National Park, 1325 km from Perth. I like it for its ocean views and a central location within the park - it’s a great place to launch your local exploration.
Bookings are essential and start at $11 per adult per night. The snorkelling is fantastic, and the beach is pristine. I advise avoiding the school holiday season, as it’s very popular and there are only 20 sites. Pit toilets provided - be self-sufficient. There’s no shelter here - bring your own.
Route 2: Dales Campground - Karijini National Park
Dales Campground is 1400 km north of Perth in the Pilbara Region. It’s a very popular campground, but it’s brilliantly designed, with very spacious campsites. You need to be self-sufficient, including water, but drop toilets are provided and they’re always very clean.
The park is truly magnificent, showcasing the drama and colour of the best of the Pilbara. Highlights include Dales Gorge, Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. If you have time, 3 days is the minimum you need to scratch the surface. This is mindblowing geographical beauty.
Bookings are essential, with prices starting from $15 per adult per night. This is a must for hikers, both novice and experienced.
Routes 1 and 2: Daly River Mango Farm
The Daly River Mango Farm is in the Northern Territory 3800 km from Perth. It’s a byway trip en route to Darwin from Katherine and sits roughly 200 km from Darwin.
This is the first place I ever camped in the Northern Territory and it’s brilliant. It’s a barra angler's paradise, but there’s something for everyone, with the tropical atmosphere underpinned by a warm and welcoming Aussie spirit. You can find peace and tranquillity, or fun and laughter with complete strangers who’ll be your best mates by the end of the night.
There’s history, wildlife, and countless crocodiles. They have full facilities including a pool. There are cabins, powered and unpowered sites. Make sure you stop at the iconic Daly Waters Hotel. It’s on the way. Access is seasonal, and you have to contact the owners for prices and availability.
Perth To Darwin Road Trip Tips
Tip 1: Slow Down
Don’t be in a hurry. Take time to stop by the side of the road in remote locations, hundreds of miles from everywhere. The vast planes and massive sky fill your senses and remind you of just how big Australia is.
Tip 2: Check Your Vehicle
This is a trip of over 4000 km - 8000 km if you include the return. It’s hard on your vehicle, so make sure your insurance and road service membership is active. Check your vehicle’s policy features such as towing and accommodation.
You’re a very long way from home, and often remote. Breakdowns can be very expensive. Have your car serviced or given a pre-road trip inspection by a licensed mechanic.
Tip 3: Take Provisions
When travelling through remote and arid locations, particularly in dry seasons and summer, it’s very important that you have emergency food and water in your vehicle for all travellers. Have enough for about 3 days just in case you become stranded somewhere off the beaten track.
Tip 4: Share Your Itinerary
Give friends or family at home your itinerary. Work out regular contact intervals such as leaving a location with estimates of arrival times at the next. Set out a maximum period for no contact between yourselves and the home base.
Tip 5: Plan & Book Ahead
Planning is essential but so too is feeling carefree and spontaneous. Having taken care of tips 2 through 4, you’re well placed to take detours and byways in safety. Book ahead for accommodation, events and tours you don’t want to miss and make sure the kids look out the window on the way - limit device time. If you’re travelling in the wet season, be prepared to take alternative routes should roads become impassable.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.