I recently had a conversation with someone about what the “Outback” really is. According to him it’s all those areas of South Australia that are not governed by a local council. So the Outback is a bit of a rough and lawless place, the Wild West, the back of beyond! For me it’s all about bush characters, open spaces and red dirt. If you’re not sure what the Outback is all about, then the best way to find out is to go and see it for yourself with this Outback road trip itinerary.
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- 1 Preparing for your Outback Road Trip
- 2 The Outback Road Trip Itinerary
This itinerary is for the traveller who has not spent a lot of time in central Australia. You will need a sturdy vehicle to travel along some of the roads, but a hard-core 4WD is not required. We did the trip quite comfortably in an AWD SUV. There is self-contained accommodation at each location, although sometimes it can be limited so is worth booking well in advance. Otherwise there is plenty of camping, caravan and RV parking spaces available too.
The best time to travel in the South Australia Outback is over the cooler months between April and October. Outside of these months the temperature here can become extreme, often topping the 50 degree mark. This means many of the locals pack up and head south, so services will be more limited and tourism activities are likely to not be happening.
This itinerary will lead and return to Adelaide, but it can be modified to suit your future travel plans. Just join the itinerary at Port Augusta or leave it early at say Marree or further south if you are heading elsewhere.
Preparing for your Outback Road Trip
While this road trip will not take you to anywhere REALLY remote, there are still some things that should be carefully considered, especially if you choose to leave the main roads and explore some of the attractions nearby.
- make sure you vehicle is in good condition, your spare tyre is pumped up, and water and oil levels are good. The last thing you want to deal with is a preventable break-down somewhere remote. Having said that, all of the roads I am recommending have at least a little traffic. You may be stuck for a few hours, but it would be unlikely for a whole day to go by without traffic.
- pack a good supply of food and water. While each night will be somewhere with access to both, if you breakdown or are delayed then you will be thankful for the supplies. This is particularly important if the weather is warm.
- keep an eye on the weather and road conditions. Even a little rain can close some of the roads and you may be stuck waiting it out. The best place to find details in the lead up is the government website here. If you want more up to the minute information during your trip, contact a local business, such as The Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta or the William Creek Hotel.
- phone reception in the Outback is limited. You will likely have reception in each town, but out on the roads in between there will be nothing. Arrange to have a person at home who knows your plans. Make contact with them each evening and update them on your location. If they don’t hear from you, then they can get the locals to start looking for you.
The Outback Road Trip Itinerary
This road trip itinerary will take you to the Outback via Port Augusta. You will stop at Coober Pedy, then follow the Oodnadatta Track across to William Creek and Marree. You will return to Adelaide via the Flinders ranges.
Day One – Adelaide to Port Augusta
The first day of your road trip to the Outback is an easy one. It’s just over 300km of driving today straight up the highway to Port Augusta. Find this to be a relatively uninteresting drive, but if you haven’t done it before then you may find these stops of interest:
- Dublin sculptures – admire these political sculptures, including a rat, a cockroach and a space ship, as you drive past
- Lake Bumbunga – the pink lake at Lochiel
- Snowtown – to see the water tower art, the Big Blade, and speculate over which building is “that” bank!
- Port Germein – to walk on the second longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere.
Once you arrive in Port Augusta, spend the afternoon exploring the town. My picks are the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Gardens and Wadlata Outback Centre.
Port Augusta is also the last opportunity you will have to access last supermarkets and other shops, so pick up your last minute requirements here.
My recommendation for accommodation in Port Augusta if you are looking for something self-contained is the Majestic Oasis Apartments. For motel-style accommodation try the Crossroads Ecomotel, and for a caravan park I recommend Discovery Parks – Port Augusta.
For more suggestions see my full Port Augusta post here.
Day Two – Port Augusta to Coober Pedy
Today is mostly a driving day. It’s about 540km between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy, and there is even less to see along this drive. I do recommend stopping at some of the viewpoints along the way to break up the drive and stretch your legs. My favourite stop was at Lake Hart where we were able to walk out onto the salt lake and take a look.
There are really only two “towns” – and that’s a very loose description – to stop at. Both are little more than service station, although Glendambo does also have a pub. I recommend checking fuel supplies at each place and topping up if required. Fuel will be more expensive here, but worse is yet to come so it’s still better to fill up than wait.
If you have time once you arrive in Coober Pedy, take a quick look around town. If you plan to visit the kangaroos at Josephine’s Gallery & Kangaroo Orphanage contact them in advance and organise it for today (during my visit the tour was at 5pm). If it’s Saturday night you could spent your evening at the drive in, or any night you can do an evening mine tour at Riba’s Underground Camping & Caravan Park.
My recommendations for accommodation in Coober Pedy are Desert Cave Hotel for a comfortable underground stay, Mud Hut Motel for basic accommodation, and Riba’s Underground Camping & Caravan Park for campers, caravans and RVs. For more accommodation options see my dedicated post here.
Day Three – Coober Pedy
Spend today in Coober Pedy learning about the town’s unique opal mining industry. I recommend spending the morning exploring the town and visiting some of the quirky attractions such as:
- Boot Hill
- Crocodile Harry’s
- Faye’s Underground House
- The Big Winch
In the afternoon, take the Coober Pedy Town & Breakaways Tour offered by Noble Tours Australia. This will give you a great overview of the opal mining industry and an underground home at Umoona Opal Mine. You will visit the Serbian Church and head out to the magnificent Breakaways, the Dingo Fence and the Moon Plain. You will also get a brief look at a working opal mine that many tourists do not get to see.
Day Four – Coober Pedy to William Creek
Today you will drive from Coober Pedy to William Creek. You could take the direct route which is around 165km over dirt roads and will take you around two hours, or you could take the scenic route! This means two legs, from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta, then Oodnadatta to William Creek. I recommend the second option because you have a whole day to do the drive, and there is a lot more to see this way.
Before you leave Coober Pedy, again check the road conditions and also take notice of the sign as you leave town. The first part of the drive to Oodnadatta is 195km and will take you between 2.5 and 3 hours. During our visit the first 30km or so was being bituminised, so this will make the start of the drive a little quicker.
There’s not a whole lot to see on this stretch of road until just before reaching Oodnadatta, where you will come across Hookeys Waterhole, a rare permanent water source in this are. This is a popular place for swimming and camping, and the site of many town get togethers. Stop and take a walk around, or if it’s hot, even a quick dip to cool off.
In Oodnadatta stop at the famous Pink Roadhouse. It was painted pink in the 1980s as a publicity stunt after the railway line in town closed down. It has become the one stop shop for everything, and is somewhere every traveller passing through the area wants to see. I’ve never seen so much pink in one place before – you can even pick up dozens of pink souvenirs. If you’re hungry, the famous Oodnaburger is the way to go.
The second leg from Oodnadatta to William Creek is along the Oodnadatta Track. It’s 201km between the two towns, and will again take 3.5-3 hours, but that will depend on how often you stop. The road tends to follow the old Ghan railway line that stopped being used in 1981. There are a lot of small communities along the line than have now become ruins but can still be explored such as the Peake Ruins. A must-see is the Algebuckina Bridge, the longest rail bridge in South Australia until 2014 when one was opened over the Onkaparinga River on the Seaford line.
When you arrive in William Creek you will be ready for some relaxation. Enjoy a meal or a drink at the William Creek Hotel – and while you are there check in for your accommodation. There is only one option to stay here. The campgrounds across the road have plenty of space for caravans, camping and RVs, and there are also a variety of cabins available too. I recommend booking in advance if you want a cabin as often they can become full as tour groups pass through. Click here to book now.
Day Five – Lake Eyre Flight and William Creek to Marree
There’s not much to see and do in William Creek – you can literally see the whole town by standing on the main road and turning in a circle – but there is one very good reason to come here, and that’s to take a scenic flight over the outback. There are a few different options, but I recommend a sunrise flight over the Painted Hills and Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. This will give you a real sense of the Outback, and both sites and just stunning and really worth seeing from the air.
After the flight it’s time to continue down the Oodnadatta Track to Marree. All up today you will cover another 200km on the dirt roads. This section of the road was the roughest during our trip, but depending on maintenance, that may not be the case for you.
If you didn’t eat at the William Creek Hotel before you left, stop off for your packed lunch at Coward Springs. While here, take a look at the small museum, walk around the wetlands, and soak in the natural hot springs.
Stop again to walk among the Alberrie sculptures. You will know you are in the right place when you see the particularly impressive planes standing on their tails. There are plenty of other fun pieces to discover too.
In Marree stay at the Heritage listed Marree Hotel – or in the campgrounds next door. Take a look around town at some of the interesting attractions such as the Camel Sundial, lots of railway memorabilia and the Tom Kruse Museum.
Day Six – Marree to Wilpena Pound
Today you have around 270km to cover between Marree and Wilpena Pound. It’s mostly all on bitumen roads, there’s just a small section between Parachilna and blind that is dirt, so it will be a much smoother ride.
Stop into the township of Farina. This is a big restoration project. While open all year round, for a few weeks over the winter there are dozens of volunteers at the site working and researching. The Farina Bakery also opens with fresh baked goods daily. We wanted some of their famed sourdough, but they had run out by the time we got there. We can confirm their meat pies and cinnamon scrolls are pretty good too.
You will pass through the mining town of Leigh Creek. Stop if you need supplies, but otherwise, continue on to Parachilna and the Prairie Hotel. These guys are well known for their unique Flinders Feral Food served up in the restaurant, and eating here one day is on my bucket list. Currently they are closed for renovations (June 2021) but they are hoping to be open again very soon. Even if the restaurant is closed, take a stroll and learn about the railway history and the fossils found in the area from the public displays.
Leave the bitumen and drive through the Parachilna Gorge to the tiny town of Blinman. If you didn’t eat at the Prairie Hotel, grab lunch at the North Blinman Hotel instead. We recommend their specialty meat pie – it’s made on site, is huge and absolutely delicious.
Take a tour of the Blinman Mine and learn about the copper mining in the area. This is a fun, almost theatrical tour lasting just an hour. It can be booked in advance, or just go to the office in town when you arrive. The tours run on the hour, and the last tour of the day is at 3pm.
Make your way down to Wilpena Pound Resort where you will spend the night. There is a wide range of accommodation options here from camping to motel rooms, resort rooms and luxury safari tents. If you are here in time, do a sunset tour to see the beautiful colours of the surrounding ranges as the sun goes down.
Day Seven – Wilpena Pound to Adelaide
Today is the final day of your 7 day outback road trip – but of course it doesn’t have to be. I suggest spending a day or two extra exploring the Flinders Ranges if you have the time. You can see all the things I recommend to do while you are here in this post on Things to do in the Flinders Ranges.
If you need to head back to Adelaide, there are a few different ways to go. For something different to the drive up along the main highway, I suggest the more scenic route through Quorn, Melrose and Clare. This way will take you just over 450km and 5 hours, but there are plenty of stops along the way to make it a full day.
Read more about potential stops along the way in these blog posts:
If you prefer to do the drive over two day and spend more time looking around, I recommend staying the extra night in Melrose.
Read more about the things to do along the drive from the Flinders Ranges to Adelaide here.
Visiting more great South Australian locations? These posts might help
Adelaide 3 Day Itinerary
Best Places for South Australia Whale Watching
Glamping South Australia – The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Style
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.