The 3000km drive from Adelaide to Darwin is a very, very long drive, with a lot of monotonous long empty stretches through desert country, with nary a town along the way. The drive is largely along the Stuart Highway, which starts 300km north of Adelaide in Port Augusta.
So how should you plan to drive along the Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin with a dog? Find out some of the best-rated pet-friendly accommodation stops along the way, plus interesting dog-friendly sights you can stop at to break up the drive through South Australia and the Northern Territory.
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Adelaide to Port Augusta (308km)
The Stuart Highway doesn’t properly begin until you reach Port Augusta, a 308km drive northwest of Adelaide largely along the eastern side of the Spencer Gulf.
The last major town you’ll pass through for a long stretch, it’s also home to proper supermarkets and reasonably priced fuel, before you turn right at the sign marked “Darwin / Northern Territory”.
Where to Stop
About a 90 minute drive north of Adelaide, consider stopping at Lochiel at the Lake Bumbunga View & Access point to stretch your legs. This pink lake is at its pinkest between late October and early December, but year round you can also spot the local “Loch-Eel” monster!
We enjoyed stopping for lunch at the Port August Foreshore Beach, just before you cross the bridge over what remains of the Spencer Gulf. Dogs on a leash are allowed at the reserve, which is also just a block away from the local Woolworths supermarket.
While the majority of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Botanic Garden is off-limit to dogs, leashed dogs are able to join you at the Matthew Flinders Red Cliffs Lookout, overlooking the waters of the upper gulf. Drive to the lookout through the garden, then take the short walk along the clifftops.
If you’re wanting to stay the night with your dog in Port Augusta, one of the best options is Discovery Parks – Port Augusta. This caravan park allows pets on sites, as well as in selected economy cabins. Look out for the options listed as “Pet Friendly” when booking. The park features a camp kitchen and swimming pool.
Port Augusta to Coober Pedy (540km)
It’s a long empty drive from Port Augusta to Coober Pedy, with not much along the way, except for the turn-off to Woomera, a village 7km off the highway, adjacent to the Woomera defence force base and testing range.
(So much so that last time I considered driving along this section of the Stuart, we detoured via the Oodnadatta Track and Maree, on our way to the Flinders Ranges.)
However, things pick up once you arrive at the town of Coober Pedy. The opal mining capital of Australia, this quirky town has a number of attractions, and is more dog-friendly than you’d expect.
Where to Stop
Detour off the highway at Woomera to check out the Woomera Rocket Park. This collection of rockets, aircraft and machinery is an excellent open-air museum that it is free to wander through.
About 40km after the Woomera turn-off, stop at the Lake Hart Lookout. There’s beautiful views of this salt lake, plus a picnic area, although no toilets.
In Coober Pedy, spend some time exploring it’s quirky attractions, from the Big Miner to a the Big Winch. Leashed dogs are welcome to join you on the self-guided or guided tours at Tom’s Opal Mine, where you can also noodle for opals afterwards.
Just north of Coober Pedy, go on a drive through the Kanku/Breakaways Conservation Park, a series of low colourful hills. A permit is required per vehicle, but pets are welcome to join you. Just skip driving on the unsealed access road if it has recently rained.
Find out more about visiting Coober Pedy with a dog
The Woomera Traveller’s Village and Caravan Park has pet-friendly powered and unpowered sites, although not pets are allowed inside any building.
Alternatively, stay at the donation campground at the Woomera turn-off, adjacent to Spud’s Roadhouse, or camp for free at the Lake Hart Rest Area, although there are no facilities. Also note that the beer garden at Spud’s is emphatically not dog-friendly.
Once you get to Coober Pedy, there’s a wider range of dog-friendly options. Selected underground rooms at the Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience are pet-friendly, with no additional fee applying. Alternatively, camp underground at Riba’s Underground Camping, one of the only places in the world that offers this.
Coober Pedy to Alice Springs (687km)
From Coober Pedy, it’s another 687km long flat drive north to Alice Springs. After about 400km, you’ll reach the Northern Territory border and its Welcome sign, after which the top speed limit on the open roads is 130km/hr.
Alice Springs is the largest town in central Australia and a handy spot for topping up supplies, although recent security issues have deterred many visitors – be wary after dark.
Where to Stop
If you’re driving south and carrying fruit or vegetables, you may need to dispose of them at the quarantine bins in Marla, about 235km north of Coober Pedy.
Further north, stop at the border for a photo opportunity with the Welcome to the Northern Territory sign (or Welcome to South Australia if you’re travelling in the opposite direction). The rest area also has toilets.
At the turn-off to Kings Canyon, it’s just a 10 minute detour off the Stuart Highway to Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve. While dogs are only allowed in the carpark, it’s just a quick 20 minute walk to view the crater. Be warned the short access road is unsealed and can be rough.
Once you reach Alice Springs, the surrounding area is home to some beautiful landscape. While many of the attractions in the McDonnell Ranges are contained within national parks, you can still drive on the highway through the area.
Alternatively, stop off at the ANZAC Hill lookout in Alice Springs to take in a great view of the town and The Gap, with dogs on a leash permitted at the reserve.
Alice Springs is home to a fenced dog park, at Rotaract Park in Braitling. There are separate areas for small and large dogs, along with shady seating, although don’t expect much grass.
Find out more about visiting Alice Springs with a dog
Marla Travellers Rest has a campground, with both powered and unpowered sites, along with a swimming pool, and pets allowed. I don’t expect pets are allowed in any of the motel rooms or the roadhouse restaurant.
In Alice Springs, a popular dog-friendly spot is the Heritage Caravan Park, on the southern side of town. The park allows pets both on sites and in all cabins, has a huge fenced off-leash dog run, and even a dog wash.
Alternatively, check out the Alice on Todd Apartments. Selected studio and one-bedroom apartments have been designated as pet-friendly.
Alice Springs to Tennant Creek (508km)
Tennant Creek was once a station on the Overland Telegraph Line and the site of Australia’s last great gold rush. These days it’s the centre of the Barkly Tablelands region and not far south of the major junction of the Stuart and Barkly Highways.
Where to Stop
A mere 20 minutes north of Alice Springs you’ll cross the Tropic of Capricorn, marked by an interesting sign, a worthy photo stop.
Further on, stop off at the Aileron Roadhouse to view the Anmatjere Man Sculpture. This 17m high sculpture of a giant man with a spear was created by local sculptor Mark Egan. Also take advantage of the quarantine bins to dispose of fruit and vegetables when travelling north, before you reach Ti Tree.
Take some time to stop off in the small town of Ti Tree. In between Hese Street and Heffernan Street is a partially enclosed grassy park where your pup can enjoy a run. Plus see if the mango smoothies or ice-creams are in season at the Ti Tree Farm Garden or Red Centre Farm, about 10km south of town.
Heading further north, Wycliff Well is the self-proclaimed UFO Capital of Australia. While the site and holiday park are reportedly very rundown compared to when I last visited, it’s still worthwhile for a photo stop thanks to its quirky murals and statues.
About 100km south of Tennant Creek are Karlu Karlu, better known as the Devil’s Marbles. These impressive granite boulders are well worth the slight detour off the highway. While dogs are not allowed on the walking trails, they are allowed in the carpark and day use area. If you’re not travelling alone, perhaps also take turns to walk along one or two of the shorter walking trails from the carpark.
A popular spot to break the drive is the Ti Tree Roadhouse. This well-maintained and secure overnight stop permits pets in its campground, which has both powered and unpowered sites.
Note that the campground adjacent to the Devils Marbles doesn’t permit dogs. Instead, most travellers with dogs instead stay at the Devils Marbles Hotel, 10km to the south. Pets on a leash are allowed in the caravan park and beer garden, although not in any of the motel rooms.
Tennant Creek to Daly Waters (407km)
About 25km north of Tennant Creek you’ll pass through Three Ways, the junction of the Stuart and Barkly Highways. The Barkly Highway is the only sealed highway the crosses the border to Queensland, not far from the city of Mount Isa. Daly Waters is these days basically a small hamlet, best known for its famous pub.
Where to Stop
Just north of Tennant Creek is a turn-off to Mary Ann Dam. There’s a great reserve and picnic area next to this man-made dam. Make sure you keep your dog on a leash and well away from the wandering peacocks.
There’s not much else to stop at until you arrive at Daly Waters, best known for the Daly Waters Pub. This iconic piece of Australiana is a must-visit. While dogs are not allowed inside the beer garden proper, they are allowed at the tables along the front verandah. We were quite impressed with lunch and the prices.
Also at Daly Waters, two other dog-friendly sights to see are the Historic Hanger, one of the oldest in Australia and a base during WWII, and the Stuart Tree. The explorer John McDouall Stuart, after whom the Stuart Highway is named, carved an “S” in the tree when exploring the route north.
We spent a night at the Attack Creek Rest Area, just under 50km north of Three Ways. Despite the grisly sounding name, the rest area is quite nice, with a picnic area and long drop toilets. We spent a pleasant evening with the company of fellow campers.
The Daly Waters Pub offers a wide range of accommodation and two swimming pools. Dogs are permitted in the campground, plus there are three pet-friendly motel rooms and one cabin. An additional cleaning charge of $30 applies, with pets to be kept off furniture and beds. It’s best to arrive early if camping during dry season, with no bookings taken for the campsite.
Daly Waters to Katherine (276km)
It’s not a long drive north of Daly Waters to Katherine, although many visitors will stop off at the small town of Mataranka, 100km south of Katherine. The larger town of Katherine is home to supermarkets and essential services, but most of its attractions including Katherine Gorge are off limits to dogs.
Where to Stop
The highway goes right through the small town of Mataranka, a handy stopping point. If you just want to briefly stop, check out the intriguing artificial Termite Mound alongside the highway, where you can learn about these mounds commonly found in the area. (Plus grab some coffee or a bite opposite.)
Mataranka is best known for its thermal springs, and there’s two options to visit, although both are technically off-limits to dogs. Closest to town is Bitter Springs, with its sparkling blue water. While located in the Elsey National Park, there’s a campground just outside of the park that allows dogs. Many campers leave their dogs behind (or take turns minding them) for the 10 minute walk to the springs.
South of town is the turn-off to Mataranka Homestead, home to the more man-made Mataranka Thermal Springs swimming area. Once again there is a caravan park onsite, where dogs are allowed. It’s possible to take turns visiting the thermal pool, while someone else looks after your dog in the carpark or the caravan park, just a couple of minutes walk away.
While visiting the Mataranka Homestead, also check out the Elsey Homestead Replica, built for the film “We of the Never Never” and a great example of what life was like in the area during the early 20th century.
Once you arrive in Katherine, one of the best spots to visit with your dog is the excellent fenced dog park, located on Lockheed Road, close to the Auster Street intersection. The well-grassed area is a great spot to let your dog run around, with a water fountain and shady seats.
Find out more about visiting Katherine with a dog
We spent the night at the Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping. Pets are welcome at the park, although not inside the cabins. We had an unpowered campsite down the back along the river, a peaceful spot. It was just a short walk from the springs, although they were closed due to a crocodile sighting.
In Katherine, a great spot to stay in town is the Boab Caravan Park. This small, well-maintained caravan park has grass, well laid-out powered sites. Dogs are allowed on sites, plus in some of the ensuite cabins, for a small extra fee. We stayed in one while our campervan was being repaired.
Just outside of Katherine is the Manbulloo Homestead Caravan Park, on a working cattle station. While the facilities aren’t that fancy, most of the sites are shady and there’s a free dog bath. In addition to sites, both the motel rooms and self-contained cabins have lockable verandahs that are pet-friendly.
Katherine to Darwin (317km)
Finally, it’s just over 300km north from Katherine to the far end of the Stuart Highway and the tropical outpost of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory.
Where to Stop
It’s about a 90km drive north of Katherine to Pine Creek. An interesting spot to stop is the Miners Park in Pine Creek. Check out the old mining equipment on site and give your dog a walk on leash.
One you arrive in Darwin, there’s some great off-leash dog parks. My pick of them is the Marlow Lagoon Dog Park in the Palmerston City area. This huge park has multiple fenced areas, including one alongside Marlow Lagoon, with lots of facilities. Check out my other tips for fenced dogs parks in the Northern Territory.
Alternatively, a fun outing with your dog in Darwin is the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. Dogs are allowed off-leash in the gardens (just keep them under control), and there’s a wonderfully shady walk through the Rainforest Loop and adjacent Shade Forest. The onsite Eva’s Cafe allows dogs at its many outside tables.
Find out more about visiting Darwin with a dog
The majority of the caravan parks in Darwin are pet-friendly, although sometimes pets are only permitted on selected sites. We camped at the Coolalinga Tourist Park, 25 minutes south of the city. It has a swimming pool and a fenced dog exercise area, and it’s reasonable prices makes it popular for longer stays.
For something more luxurious after the long drive north, stay at the Mercure Darwin Airport Resort. Check out the details of their Pampered Pets Package, which includes a pet-friendly room, a bed and bowl for your pet, plus a complimentary gift for your pet to take home.
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Shandos Cleaver is the founder of Travelnuity: Dog-Friendly Travel. She has travelled extensively with her Miniature Dachshund, Schnitzel, including to 33 countries across Europe, every state and territory of Australia except Tasmania, and 10 of the United States. She’s passionate about providing inspiration and information to others wanting to travel with their dogs, whether close to home or internationally.