Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Perth to Darwin
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From Western Australia to Northern Territory
When you are thinking about an epic road trip with your family, Australia must be on your radar. The country is known for its adventurous outback and lots of amazing national parks. Most people focus on the famous East Coast. Everybody knows about the Great Barrier Reef, the Blue Mountains and Sydney’s Opera House. The East Coast is surely going to amaze you. But, if you’re looking for a beautiful coastline, a relaxed atmosphere, dramatic gorges and a stunning reef to explore you shouldn’t overlook the West Coast. It brings you all that and more, but is quieter and more rugged than the East Coast.
How to get there
If you’re flying in internationally to Perth (or Darwin, if you’re going the other way around) then I recommend you to use a site like Expedia to check which airline offers the best price for your flight. Expedia is an online travel agency where you can not only book your flights, but also hotels, rent cars or even excursions. I usually turn to Expedia for flights, but if you like to book everything in one place then Expedia is going to be your best friend.
If you are taking a domestic flight or if you want to travel to Darwin or Perth by train, I recommend 12Go. It’s a user-friendly website that will show you all the different price options and comparisons as well as reviews from fellow travellers.
Booking a 4×4 campervan
Our family choose to hire a 4wd campervan and drove from Perth to Darwin. It turned out to be the most adventurous drives we ever did. We started in Western Australia and we ended our 4 week self-drive in the Northern Territory. If you are looking for the ultimate family road trip guide from Perth to Darwin, look no further. Read on and find out what the must-sees and do’s are when spending 4 weeks in Australia and drive your car or motorhome from Perth to Darwin. Of course you can also use this itinerary from Perth to Darwin if you take the road trip from Darwin to Perth.
Before I start the ultimate road trip guide from Perth to Darwin, I would like to mention that we rented our 4WD from WA Experts. A rental company just outside of Perth. An easy booking with great service. Even before we arrived, Iwan (the owner) shared great tips about Perth like good places to eat and things to see. He even picked us up with his car from our AirBnb in Perth and drove us back to his place, where he gave us an extensive instruction on how to use everything the car had to offer. Iwan sold his company a few years ago and I can’t vouch for the current owners level of service. But be sure to check out their website, because the cars themselves are great.
And now the perfect itinerary for a road trip in a 4WD from Perth to Darwin in 4 weeks. A trip of a total distance of roughly 4050 km, depending on the route. Which takes about 43 hours in one go. But that’s not going to bring you the adventures you and your family are looking for, right? Take it slow and admire all that this part of Australia has to offer.
You start your trip in Perth. A nice town with great food and a tropical climate. Stay here for one or two days. After this short city trip you take off in your 4WD, with a rooftop tent, a fully loaded freezer and/or cooler and a great mood, because this is when the magic starts. If you have more time be sure to check out the former prison in Fremantle to learn more about the time when Great Britain set foot in Australia.
A great tip for kids is a visit to Rottnest Island. This is the only place in the world where you can spot the insanely cute (but very helpless) Quokka’s in the wild.
Yanchep National Park
On your first day you will only take a short drive, 55 km, to Yanchep National Park. It is a great NP to start. It’s not too touristy. And there are a lot of Grey Kangaroos humping around and that will totally make your day. We were sitting in front of our Troopy with a beer in hand and they where chillling right in front of us. Slowly the sun went down and it was a magical experience that made for a great first day! And oh, did I mention you can also spot koala’s here? You can and they’re adorable.
Nambung National Park
In the morning you’ll leave Yanchep NP to drive to Nambung NP in just a few hours. The highlight in this NP is the Pinnacle Desert. Spend a few hours walking through this park. It is quite a sight. Everyone knows about the pinnacles so it is a touristy spot, but definitely still worth a visit. And to be fair: it’s still far quieter than any other tourist spot on the East Coast of Australia.
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Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri NP is a definite must-see. You can hike multiple routes. We walked to Nature Window and then hiked the 10km Loop Route, which is a beautiful walk through the gorge. Both routes were do-able for children, but when you visit this NP when it’s hot take enough water with you and hats and sun glasses. There aren’t many shady places around.
We did these two hikes in a day. If you like to hike more routes, then I recommend an extra day.
Peron National Park (4wd only)
Before I get into Peron NP I would love to give you the first inside tip: on your way to Peron NP, stop at Overlander Roadhouse for the best hamburger you have ever had. Spend a whole day exploring Peron NP, you can only drive here with a 4WD and there are multiple free camping spots there. We choose to set up camp at Herald Bight, where we spotted dolphins while hanging the laundry out to dry. Can you believe it?
After playing around here you head on over to the next spot: Coral Bay. You will drive by the Blowholes, make time to see them if you can. It felt like walking on Mars, don’t walk around on flip flops, you will get hurt.
Remember that I promised you a beautiful reef? It’s time to spend a few days at the amazing Ningaloo Reef. Book a camping spot for a few days to charge your battery after all that traveling. Relax and swim, dive, bbq and do a whale shark tour. Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s most accessible coral reef. The area is cheaper than around Great Barrier Reef. If I have to compare the two: Great Barrier Reef is more diverse on all accounts, but I’d go for Ningaloo reef where you get the chance on more intimate wildlife encounters.
The whale shark tours aren’t much fun for younger children. They won’t allow younger kids to partake in the snorkling (too deep and dangerous). It’s a great family outing for families with kids 14 and up.
My second tip: swimming with a whale shark is a great experience. Just make sure you check out which company does it sustainably.
We booked the tour with Coral Bay Eco Tours and enjoyed it very much. We didn’t only see the whale sharks, but also dolphins and whales.
After a last chill morning at your camping spot at Ningaloo Reef it is time to hit the road. The next highlight is Karijini NP, but I recommend to stop halfway, because it’s a very long drive and you don’t want to drive in the dark, because you should avoid hitting wildlife. Spend the night in miners town Tom Price and fill up on gas and do groceries to get you going for the next few days.
Karijini National Park
Karijini NP is a place where we could’ve spend an extra day, but we arrived at the camping ground (Dales) around 9am, so we did have a full day to hike and therefore we did decide to move on the next day. What did we do during the day? We went to Oxer Lookout first, where you get rewarded with a great view of three gorges coming together. After that it was time to hike and we walked to Fern Pool and then back to Circular Pool. After a picnic at Circular Pool we hiked back to the Threeway Lookout before walking back to Dales Campground, enjoying our surroundings, in little less than an hour. A schedule I highly recommend.
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Eighty Mile Beach
Drive to the start of Eighty Mile Beach via Port Hedland. Play in the sand (shark alert, so now swimming here) and chill in your hammock. After all the hiking you did yesterday you deserve to put your feet up and have a beer, mate!
Next up is Broome. There are many campings in Broome. It is really popular with Grey Nomads, families and backpackers. It was really the only place where we drove for hours before we had any luck and that’s only because the guy at the reception saw my despair after the 10th “no” and looked at my very tired 11yo who almost started crying. He gave us a spot that wasn’t officially a camping spot, but we were really grateful. Moral of the story is, that if you visit Broome during high season, than you should book ahead.
- driving onto Cable beach with your 4WD, cooking and eating there while people are riding camels (yes, really: camels);
- check out dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point (kids love it!);
- visit the Bird observatory;
- if you’re here between May and October you have to watch the sun go down at the beach to see the Staircase to the Moon.
Gibb River Road
Today you start driving the impressive Gibb River Road. Your first visit is to the Prison Boab. A Boab with a horrific background story. Aboriginals used to get strapped to it in the scorching heat as punishment, mostly for petty crimes or even just the hint of suspicion of a crime they might have commited. It will teach your kids and you more about the racism the original inhabitants of Australia had to cope with (and sadly still have to endure, like most minorities in the world).
After that you hike through the gorgeous Windjana Gorge and observe hundreds of freshwater crocs. No, I’m not exaggerating! It is a loop, because there is only one way to enter and exit the gorge. The good news is that you will see all those crocs again on your way back. Believe me, it won’t get old.
Our plan was to drive the complete Gibb River Road. But after our visit to Tunnel Creek we were tired of the bumpy roads and a piece of pebble broke our front window, so we had to change our plans anyway.
We needed to drive to Halls Creek and leave the Gibb River Road. But we found a hidden gem in the process: Caroline Pool! We camped out there for free, were surrounded by wildlife drinking from the creek. We made a fire and had so much fun by ourselves in the middle of nowhere with no one around.
Purnululu National Park
Our car was at a mechanic for a few hours, but in that few hours we came up with a new plan and it turned out to be the best decision we could’ve made. We would’ve missed out on one of the highlights of our road trip, Purnululu NP.
I’ve said it before about spots in Oz, and I’ll say it again: it’s a must-see. The beehive-shaped Bungle Bungle Range is out of this world and the hikes are amazing. Don’t skip Cathedral Gorge and if you have the time go on a helicopter ride to admire the view from the sky.
You really do need a 4WD for a lot of the roads in Purnululu NP and the camping grounds that are only accessible by 4WD are less crowded and surrounded by nature. If you can live without a hot shower and clean toilets you will have an awesome time here.
Another insider tip. In Timber Creek we decided that it was time for a little chill out time. So we spend time at a camping where we could wash our clothes in a real washing machine and where we could bbq and make a bonfire. We didn’t do much else but read, watch freshwater crocodiles and watch dozens of eagles fly by. A nice little breather.
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Kakadu National Park
Kakadu NP deserves so much more praise than it already gets. It was the absolute number 1 highlight of our road trip and if we had more time we would’ve stayed even longer than we already did. The NP is huge and you could easily spend a week there and you still wouldn’t have seen it all. We were there for 3,5 days and we saw as much as we could and we really enjoyed it, but I already know I want to go back there.
Please don’t skip the Yellow Water Cruise and make sure you find out when the sun will set and book the tour at that time slot. It is enchanting and you will never forget it. Magical for children too!
Our last day on the road ended in Darwin. We really enjoyed Darwin so I advise you to stay there for a day or two.
That’s it. Our ultimate family road trip guide from Perth to Darwin. But our trip through Australia wasn’t over yet. We also visited Sydney and Melbourne after. If you are taking a domestic flight from Darwin to either of these cities, I recommend 12Go. We used them to find the cheapest flight from Darwin to Sydney and from Sydney to Melbourne. It’s a user-friendly website that will show you all the different price options and comparisons as well as reviews from fellow travellers.
Did you ever go an a self-drive through Western Australia and Northern Territory? Did I leave things out that people really shouldn’t miss? Would you like more information? Share it with us by leaving a comment below.
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