Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayers Rock) on the Stuart Highway

| September 1, 2013

The Northern Territory road trip between Darwin and Uluru (Ayers Rock) is regarded as an essential Australian outback experience.  A diverse range of experiences are available along the route, ranging from the awesome spectacle of Uluru, thermal hot springs and amazing National Parks.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory, Australia

Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory, Australia

To make the most of the road trip you need to be prepared to take some side trips, however in the Northern Territory these will be limited for a 2WD vehicle.  All of the options described in this article are accessible by 2WD vehicles such as cars and vans.

This article provides a detailed overview of the main Stuart Highway route and side trip options between Alice Springs and Uluru in the Northern Territory.  The trip stages are detailed in:

2WD Stuart Highway Road Trip Overview, Northern Territory Australia

The major route between Darwin and Uluru in the Northern Territory is the Stuart Highway and the Lasseter Highway which can be travelled direct in 25 hrs over the 1964 km, 1221 mi distance.

The Stuart Highway consists of mostly single carriageway roads with an 130 km/hr (80 mi/hr) speed limit outside of the towns along the way in accordance with the signage.  Be aware that the route is used by road trains which are trucks which haul multiple large trailers.  Therefore be very careful overtaking, and it is worthwhile to ensure you have a more powerful engine in your car to reduce your overtaking time past the road trains.  The Northern Territory is not a good place to have a gutless vehicle.

The route also has large expanses of unpopulated roads between towns, so ensure you pack extra water and food in your vehicle and also pack a first aid kit.  For more information about preparing for your trip see 5 Top Tips to Prepare Your Car for a Big Road Trip.


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Stuart Highway 2WD Road Trip – Alice Springs to Uluru, Northern Territory Australia

The road trip from Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) on the Stuart Highway and Lasseter Highway consists of a drive of 468km, 291 mi, 6:28 hrs through the sparsely populated Australian outback in the Red Centre.


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Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia

The Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is located 97km (60 mi) south of Alice Springs.  The turnoff is 75km (47 mi) south of Alice Springs, and is followed by a 22km (14 mi) unsealed road which can have sandy patches.  The formal advice is that it is a 4WD only road, however other advice suggests that in good conditions that a 2WD vehicle may be able to get into the site.  Check the road conditions before committing.

Rainbow Valley contains spectacular red rock formations and small walks to explore the area.

Stuart Wells, Northern Territory Australia

The ‘township’ of Stuart Wells is located 90km (56 mi) south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.  In town you can visit the Stuart Wells Roadhouse which is a classic Australian roadhouse, featuring Jim’s Place and Dinky the Singing Dingo.

Camels Australia is located beside the roadhouse which provides free entry to see camels, llamas, kangaroos and emus.  If you feel adventurous for a fee you can ride on a camel, either in an enclosure or for half hour and one hour camel rides outside the enclosure.

Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia

The Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve is located 145km (90 mi) south west of Alice Springs, of which the final 13km is gravel road which is 2WD accessible.  The reserve contains 12 craters which formed when a disintegrated meteor hit the Earth 4700 years ago.  So far over 500kg of metal remnants (90% iron and 10% nickel) have been found and removed from the site.  Some of the meteorite pieces can be seen at the Museum of Central Australia in Alice Springs. A self guided walking track enables visitors to explore the features, of which the largest crater is 180m (590 ft) wide and 15m (49 ft) deep through to the smallest crater which is 6m (20 ft) wide and only a few centimetres deep.

If you are in a 2WD vehicle don’t be tempted to continue further west on Ernest Giles Road as it is a high clearance 4WD only road which provides an alternate route to Kings Canyon.

Erlunda, Northern Territory Australia

Exactly 200km, 124 mi, 2:32 hr drive south of Alice Springs is the intersection of the Stuart Highway and the Lasseter Highway.  At the intersection is the township of Erlunda.  The main feature is the Erlunda Roadhouse which is a popular stopping point for travellers.  A range of accommodation options are available at both the Erlunda Desert Oaks Resort and the Erlunda Station Bed and Breakfast, as this is the last cheaper accommodation within day trip distance of Uluru.

50km (31 mi) along the Lasseter Highway is the closed Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse, so ensure you have sufficient fuel, water and supplies before leaving Erlunda.

Sidetrip to Watarkka National Park (Kings Canyon), Northern Territory Australia

The turn off to Watarkka National Park is 108km (67 mi) along the Lasseter Highway from Erlunda.  Upon turning northwards onto the sealed Luritja Road there is a further 164 km (101 mi) each way drive to reach Watarkka National Park.

Accommodation is limited to Kings Canyon Resort, Kings Canyon Station and Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge which each offer a range of accommodation options.  There are also a range of other touring options including helicopter flights, quad bike and camel tours available to explore the area.


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Kings Canyon Rim Walk

The walk which is most raved about is the Kings Canyon Rim Walk which is rated as difficult because there is a steep climb of around 500 steps near the start of the walk.  Once the initial climb is completed the remainder of the walk is more gently undulating.  The rim walk is a 6km (3.7 mi) loop which must be done in a clockwise direction and can take 3-4 hours to complete.  This walk is not recommended when the weather is very hot.

The Kings Canyon Rim Walk provides 360 degree views of the spectacular red rock of Kings Canyon, which has cliff faces over 100m (328 ft) high.  Along the way you can cool down with a swim at a permanent waterhole called the Garden of Eden.

Kings Canyon, in Watarkka National Park, Northern Territory Australia

Kings Canyon, in Watarkka National Park, Northern Territory Australia

Other Kings Canyon Walks

There are two shorter walks available.  The Kings Creek Walk (2.6km, 1.6 mi return, approximately one hour) will take you along the floor of Kings Canyon where you can look up at the sheer cliffs of Kings Canyon.  The Kathleen Springs Walk (2.4km, 1.5 mi return, approximately 1.5 hours) takes you along the separate Kathleen Gorge which has stories of the local Aboriginal history and European settlement.

If you are interested in a bigger walk then the Giles Track (22km, 14 mi, 2 days) traverses between Kathleen Gorge and Kings Canyon.

Erlunda to Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort) along the Lasseter Highway, Northern Territory Australia

The road trip from Erlunda to Yulara (the township servicing Uluru) is a 331km, 206 mi, 4:38 hr drive across a mostly barren landscape, with the exception of the spectacular Mt Connor.  There is only one place to stop for fuel and supplies along the way at Curtin Springs.


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The Mt Connor lookout is located 139km (86 mi) west of Erlunda along the Lasseter Highway.  Many tourists mistake the flat hill of Mt Conner as being Uluru!  Mt Connor is a 300m (984 ft) high flat topped sandstone mountain.  Mt Connor is not accessible to the public as it sits within Curtin Springs Station.  If you are interested in visiting Mt Connor the only option is to book a 4WD guided day tour through SEIT where you can be picked up from either Ayers Rock Resort or Curtin Springs Station.

Curtin Springs Station runs the Wayside Inn which is located 11km west from the Mt Connor Lookout.  The Wayside Inn offers fuel, food and a range of accommodation options which can be much cheaper than at Uluru.

From Curtin Springs is the final 80km (50 mi) drive to Yulara / Ayers Rock Resort which sits outside the national park.  Uluru is located 25km (15 mi) south of Yulara and you can start to see it from 40km (25 mi) away as the peak is 348m (1437 ft) high above the surrounding flat landscape.

Around Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory Australia

The centrepiece of the area is the World Heritage listed Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park which is jointly managed by the Anangu tribe and Parks Australia.  Yulara is the gateway town for the national park for all visitors as no visitors are allowed to stay within the park boundaries at night.


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Yulara Accommodation and Services

The township of Yulara operates a small range of accommodation and other service options.  All accommodation is managed by the one company so pricing is high.  There are different levels of accommodation which are all managed under the Ayers Rock Resort brand.  The Ayers Rock Resort also includes a range of service shops including a supermarket, dining and tourism services.  A free shuttle bus connects each accommodation option and the main services area.

  • Longitude 131° is the premium accommodation in the area which is located a short distance away from Yulara, and offers 15 luxurious five star tents which are located with views over Uluru from each tent for guests aged 12 and over.  All meals, drinks and a comprehensive range of tours are included in the accommodation fee, which includes one night at Table 131° dining under the stars.  There is a minimum stay of 2 nights.
  • Sails in the Desert is a five star resort located in Yulara which offers suites and a range of rooms which accommodate up to 5 people.
  • The Desert Gardens Hotel is a 4 ½ star resort located in Yulara which offers hotels rooms which can accommodate up to 5 people.  Some rooms offer views across Uluru.
  • The Emu Walk Apartments is 4 star accommodation which offers self contained one and two bedroom apartments which can accommodate up to 6 people.
  • The Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge offers both 3 ½ star hotel and 2 star lodge accommodation.  The hotel provides standard rooms which can accommodate up to 4 people.  The lodge provides hostel style accommodation with single sex 20 room dormitories, and 4 bedroom dormitories which have shared bathrooms.
  • The Ayers Rock Campground provides 2 bedroom cabins and powered and unpowered camping sites.  In addition there are dedicated coach camping areas.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta Viewing

Here is a map which shows the different viewing areas for both Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which are both within the national park boundary.  The sunrise and sunset viewing areas can get very busy, so ensure you allow enough time when planning your visit.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) Walks

A range of Uluru walks are available, from short sections to walking the full 11km, 6.8 mi (3 ½ hour) loop around Uluru.  Here is a map which shows the different walking options from the three carparks.  Be aware of the conditions and plan to avoid the worst heat of the sun. Free guided walks are also available at 8am each day where a ranger will guide visitors along the Mala walk which includes rock art.  If you intend to do the full loop walk you can commence with the ranger and then keep on walking.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) Walks

Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ and is located 32km (20 mi) west of Uluru.  The road trip between Uluru and Kata Tjuta is 55km (34 mi) each way on a sealed road.  There are three walk options which include the easy Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area which is a 600m (1970 ft) walk.  The next level walk is the Walpa Gorge walk (2.6km, 1.6 mi return, one hour) which takes you into the centre of Kata Tjuta.  The hardest walk is the Valley of the Winds walk (7.4km, 4.6 mi circuit, 3 hour) which is a moderately difficult walk around the domes.  A temperature limit has been placed on the Valley of the Winds walk.

Be aware that if you wish to see sunset over Kata Tjuta that you have a longer drive to get back to the park entrance before it closes for the night.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Northern Territory Australia

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Northern Territory Australia

Other Uluru Tour Options

A diverse range of other tours are available, ranging from airplane and helicopter flights, motorcycle tours, camel tours, cultural activities, guided Uluru and Kata Tjuta viewing and walks and star gazing tours.  In addition a popular option is dinner under the stars and options include the Sounds of Silence and Tali Wiru dinners.  Both dinners only cater for children aged 10 or 12 and over.

Northern Territory Trip Tips:  When to Visit & Dangers

Weather

The Stuart Highway and Lasseter Highway are 2WD vehicle accessible all year round except in the event of major flooding.

The Red Centre is a semi-arid region which has four seasons.  Summer occurs over December to February where maximum temperatures of 20C to 35C occur (68F to 95F).  Winter occurs over June to August where maximum temperatures of 3C to 20C occur (37F to 68F), and correspondingly cold nights.  Spring and autumn provide the transition between the two extremes.

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Have you travelled to or are thinking about visiting the Alice Springs to Uluru route in the Northern Territory?  Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

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Category: Darwin to Uluru (Ayers Rock) 2WD Road Trip

Anne Sutherland-Smith

About the Author ()

Anne Sutherland-Smith is the founder of the Pretraveller blog which focuses on travel planning. Anne is a keen travel planner who loves researching and preparing for her next trip. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+.

Comments (5)

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  1. I’ve done some of these road trips, the views are incredible!
    Becky Padmore recently posted…In BIG Pictures: Capture the ColourMy Profile

    • Becky, thanks for your comment. I haven’t been to the Red Center yet but it is definitely on my list of things to do over the next couple of years. It is great to hear that you enjoyed your visit!