With this Perth to Darwin road trip itinerary, I show you why and how to visit Australia’s west coast, where you’ll find a side of this country most people haven’t thought much about, let alone visited. When people talk about visiting Australia, images of Ayers Rock and the Sydney Opera House probably come to mind. Throw a kangaroo into the scene, and you have most people’s idea of Australia. Western Australia is frequently overlooked, but this guide will demonstrate why so many people say the west is best!
Perth to Darwin Road Trip Itinerary Day-by-Day
My Perth to Darwin itinerary reflects my minimum recommended time to spend in each location. It’s fairly fast-paced, and given that drives between locations are long (it’s over 4,000 km from Perth to Darwin), you may want to spread it out. I’ve indicated which places I recommend lingering in if you have extra time.
Days 1-3: Perth
You’ll start your road trip itinerary to Darwin in Perth, the capital of Western Australia. The cosmopolitan city is a great place to settle in and get over any jet lag.
Things to Do in Perth
- Explore the waterfront at Elizabeth Quay
- Walk through the Kings Park and Botanical Gardens
- Enjoy the nightlife in Leederville
- Take a day trip to Rottnest Island to introduce yourself to the unique wildlife and scenery the west coast offers. You’re all but guaranteed to see adorable quokkas (tiny marsupials) roaming about. You can book ferry tickets to Rottnest Island, including bike and snorkel rentals, directly with ferry companies or via Viator.
- Wander through the small artistic city of Fremantle, another easy day trip from Perth.
- Visit the Fremantle Prison if you enjoy creepy and dark history. They offer a variety of tours, including one focused on the macabre aspects of its history and a tour through underground tunnels built by prisoners.
Day 4: Perth to Kalbarri via Pinnacles in Nambung National Park
Approximate driving time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Heading north from Perth, visit Nambung National Park (about 200km north of Perth) to see the mysterious Pinnacles Desert. This place is home to eerie limestone pillars. Scientists think they may be the remains of a dense forest, whose trees left behind towers of mineral deposits that accumulated from the water their thirsty roots pulled in. Others think they may merely be what is left of a dense shelf of compacted shells that have eroded over time.
Departing Nambung National Park, continue to Kalbarri to overnight.
You can easily see the highlights of the Pinnacles in less than an hour, but if you want to really enjoy the area or just space out the drive, I recommend staying a night in nearby Cervantes and adding in a visit to Lesueur National Park. Lesueur has over 820 plant species, many endemic to that area. This adds a night to the overall Perth to Darwin road trip itinerary.
View this post on Instagram
Day 5: Kalbarri National Park to Shark Bay
Approximate driving time: 5 hours
Spend the morning exploring Kalbarri National Park. Nature’s Window, Z-Bend Gorge, and the hike down to into the gorge itself are all popular attractions. Inside the gorge, you can pay $40 AUD to try abseiling down the gorge walls. Either way, bring lots of water! Don’t miss the fossilized tracks of the scorpion-like Eurypterid on the ground along the trail to Z-Bend Gorge! After enjoying Kalbarri, carry on to Shark Bay to overnight. On the way, stop at Hamelin Pool for a quick view of the Stromatolites – the oldest life forms on earth.
Day 6: Shark Bay to Coral Bay
Approximate driving time: 6 hours
I’d be remiss to exclude the dolphin feedings at Monkey Mia from my Perth to Darwin road trip itinerary, even though I thought it was overrated and ethically questionable.
It’s about a 45-minute drive from Shark Bay to Monkey Mia. At 7:45 every morning, rangers feed bottlenose dolphins to the delight of hundreds of ogling tourists.
Animal Ethics at Monkey Mia
I had really complicated feelings about this place. On one hand, it feels wrong that humans should be feeding wild animals at all, and much more so if these feedings are the bait to draw the dolphins in for tourist amusement.
The crowds are overwhelming. Hundreds of people line up on the boardwalk above the beach until a Department of Parks and Wildlife volunteer announces that they can all go down to the shoreline. As soon as she made the announcement, everyone swarmed down to the water in such a dolphin feeding frenzy that it made my stomach turn.
On the other hand, the feedings are tightly controlled and limited to only a handful of individuals in the wild population. The amount of fish the volunteers give them each day amounts to only 10% of their daily intake, meaning they still hunt for the majority of their food.
Lastly, prior to implementing the controlled feeding program, many more dolphins were eating large quantities of scraps thrown overboard on fishing boats, which was arguably worse for them than the current arrangement.
And I’ll admit, it was hard to resist the magic of the moment one of the females swam by us and then turned around and curved back towards us as if to show off her beauty one more time.
I haven’t settled on a clear answer on whether the dolphin experience at Monkey Mia is ethical or not. I tried finding articles from people smarter than me online, in an effort to find some science that can tell me how I should feel, but I found nothing.
In the end, my best assessment is that it’s not the best thing for the dolphins, but it’s a lot better than Sea World. There are worse ways to enjoy animals, and if the experience inspires the people (children especially) who visit to love wildlife and think mindfully about their engagement with animals, then that’s all the better.
That said, this is my least favorite stop on the Perth to Darwin route. If you want something really special, go on a dolphin spotting boat trip and see these animals free of human interaction.
Leaving Monkey Mia, stop for a snack or a short rest on Shell Beach. It’s a pleasant beach to spend an hour. The best part is there’s no sand, just millions of tiny seashells! Continue to Coral Bay to overnight.
Day 7: Coral Bay to Exmouth
Approximate driving time: 1 hour 30 minutes
This morning, go on a snorkeling trip to see manta rays (book in advance). Coral Bay Eco Tours offers manta ray tours starting at $175 AUD, and also offers whale shark and humpback whale swimming tours. In the afternoon, continue on to Exmouth for the night.
Day 8: Exmouth
On your full day in Exmouth, I recommend snorkeling with whale sharks, or even humpbacks (seasonally). Ningaloo Discovery offers whale shark tours starting at $249 AUD. They also offer opportunities to swim with humpback whales seasonally!
Exmouth is a good place to spend a few extra nights if you have the time. My itinerary builds in 2 nights here to give you the opportunity to swim with whale sharks, but I recommend 3 nights if you can. This will give you the opportunity to swim with whale sharks as well as explore the canyons and gorges of Cape Range National Park.
Day 9: Exmouth to Karijini National Park
Approximate driving time: 8 hours
Today is a driving day as you make your way inland to the red sands of Karijini National Park. Overnight at Karijini Eco Retreat.
Day 10: Explore Karijini National Park
There are several beautiful gorges to explore in this area. The hikes are challenging, requiring walking on large rocks, through water and down steep and slippery areas as you descend into the gorges. When at the top of the gorges, you’ll be exposed to the hot sun. Pesky flies seek out any moisture they can find on your body. The flies alone are enough to make you dislike being in this region of Australia. If you can manage the flies, however, the national park has big rewards.
Best Gorges to Explore in Karijini National Park
With a full day to explore, you can visit Hancock Gorge, Weano Gorge, and Joffres Gorge. Make sure you have good shoes and plenty of water. Be prepared to get wet during your hike, and carry a dry bag if you’re bringing anything that isn’t waterproof. In the gorges you’ll also have the opportunity to swim, so wear a swimsuit under your clothes!
Sky Watching in Karijini National Park
Karijini is one of the best places in the world for sky gazing thanks to the clear desert skies and extremely low light pollution. In the evening if the sky is clear, join the nightly sky watching tours for opportunities to see other planets, stars, and moons through high-powered telescopes.
Day 11: Karijini National Park to Port Hedland
Approximate driving time: 5 hours
Before you leave Karijini, visit Circular Pool, Dale’s Gorge and Fern Pool. The rest of the day is a travel day. Stay overnight in Port Hedland.
Day 12: Port Hedland to Broome
Approximate driving time: 6 hours
This is a travel day to Broome. You’ll pass near 80 Mile Beach. While pretty, it’s not unique from any other beach, and you can’t swim there due to jellyfish. Overnight in Broome.
Days 13-14: Broome
Tropical Broome is a good town to relax for a few days at the midway point of the Perth to Darwin itinerary.
Things to Do in Broome
- Cable Beach is a popular spot, and you’ll likely see tourists riding camels there during sunset. Note that the water is unsafe for swimming during the wet season due to jellyfish and stingrays.
- During full moons over the dry season (winter months), the town has a big festival called Staircase to the Moon. During full moons and only at low tide, the moon reflects its light over the mud flats, creating the illusion of a staircase. The night of the festival, food and craft stalls set up at Town Beach, which makes it a fun evening out. It’s not something I would recommend traveling somewhere just to see, but it’s pretty cool.
- Broome if also home to a few sets of dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point and Cable Beach. They are only visible at low tides, and even then are very hard to find. If you want to find them, I recommend talking to a local who can take you to them.
Day 15: Broome to Silent Grove via Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
Approximate driving time: 8 hours
Today marks the start of the second half of the trip from Perth to Darwin.
Gibb River Road
You’ll be heading onto the Gibb River Road. This mostly unpaved road is closed during the wet season and can be dangerous during the dry season. The heat is intense, cell phone service is scarce, and refueling stops are limited. Additionally, the Gibb River Road requires a 4×4 vehicle (with lockers so that all wheels deliver power to the road) in order to traverse the streams and rocks without getting stuck. You should also bring spare tires, 20 liters of water, and enough food for a few days in the event of a breakdown.
If you don’t have experience in rugged terrain, I recommend going with a driver guide or sticking to the paved portion and then taking the alternative Highway 1. Along the way, there are campsites where you can overnight. Most have small, basic rooms or you can bring a tent and camp outside.
Today’s route is entirely on the paved part of the Gibb, so even if you choose to take Highway 1, you can still follow most of this itinerary.
Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek National Parks
From Broome, head to Windjana Gorge National Park, one of three Devonian Reef National Parks. This area used to be an expansive underwater reef 350 million years ago. The walls of Windjana Gorge stand 100m high over the Lennard River. There are many freshwater crocodiles here, but don’t be afraid. Freshwater crocodiles are not interested in eating humans. Keep your distance and leave them alone and they’ll do the same for you. Note that saltwater crocodiles, on the other hand, are dangerous and should be avoided entirely. Allow at least an hour return for the walk into the gorge.
Next, visit nearby Tunnel Creek National Park to explore the cave and underground creek. Bring a headlamp to guide your path and keep on the lookout for freshwater crocodiles. If your light hits just right, you might catch the red glow of their eyes on the dark. Allow another hour here.
Continue back onto the Gibb River Road and overnight at Silent Grove campsite.
If you aren’t prepared or don’t have the desire to head down 660 km of unsealed road on the Gibb, stay overnight in Fitzroy Crossing. The next morning, visit the third Devonian Reef National Park, Geikie Gorge, before heading to Highway 1 and continuing your journey from there.
Day 16: Silent Grove to Manning Gorge campsite via Bell, Galvans and Manning Gorges
Approximate driving time: 5 hours
If you opted to tackle the Gibb River Road, you are in for some great rewards today. Several gorges await you! The first is Bell Gorge. The hike into the gorge is relatively easy and flat. Most of it is along a creek. You’ll follow a rocky trail down to a plunge pool below the waterfall, where you can swim or lay out on the rocks under the sun. I recommend about an hour and a half here.
From Bell Gorge, Galvans Gorge is your next stop, with its beautiful green waters and another waterfall.
End your day at Manning Gorge, which is also where you can set up camp for the night. The hike to Manning Gorge starts by crossing a short river, but there’s a little boat on a pulley system you can use to get across dry! From there it’s about 45 minutes to the gorge with the usual rocky and steep descent. In the gorge you’ll find a swimming hole and, if it’s still early in the dry season, a waterfall.
If you opted for Highway 1 instead, some notable sights to visit on your drive are Mimbi Caves and Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater. Overnight at Halls Creek.
Day 17: Manning Gorge to El Questro Wilderness Park
Approximate driving time: 10 hours
Today is primarily a travel day. Whether you’re on the main Perth to Darwin itinerary or my alternative route, head to El Questro Wilderness Park and check in for at least two nights.
If you’re coming from Highway 1, you’ll be driving about 24 km on the end of the Gibb to reach El Questro.
Day 18: Explore El Questro
El Questro offers plenty to keep you busy for several days, and it’s one of my favorite places on the road trip itinerary from Perth to Darwin. Hiking highlights include El Questro Gorge (5 hours, extremely challenging), Emma Gorge (2 hours, relatively easy) and Zebedee Hot Springs (as long and as easy as you want!). The reception has one-page descriptions and maps of all the hikes.
Day 19: El Questro to Lake Argyle
Approximate driving time: 2 hours
Lake Argyle is Australia’s largest manmade lake, and it’s a great place to spot wildlife like freshwater crocodiles and rock wallabies. Consider taking a sunset cruise out on the lake with Lake Argyle Cruises ($95 AUD), or just hang out in the infinity pool overlooking the lake at the Lake Argyle Resort. If you want to rest up, this is a good place to stay another night and relax.
Day 20: Lake Argyle to Kununurra
Approximate driving time: 1 hour
Today it’s a short drive to Kununurra. From here I recommend taking the scenic flight and hiking trip to the iconic Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park ($399 AUD with Aviair). While it’s accessible via car, the road is rough and floods often. No other geologic formation looks more like its name than the Bungles and learning how they were formed while walking among them is a great experience.
Overnight in Kununurra.
Day 21: Kununurra to Katherine
Approximate driving time: 6 hours
Today you’ll be leaving Western Australia behind and heading into the Northern Territory.
About three and a half hours after the border crossing is a short but steep escarpment walk to a viewpoint overlooking the Victoria River area and Judbarra/Gregory National Park. If it’s still early and not too hot out yet, the 1.5-hour return hike is a nice way to break up your drive. After the hike, continue on to Katherine. Depending on what time you get in, you can visit the hot springs (free) right in town.
Day 22: Katherine to Darwin via Litchfield National Park
Approximate driving time: 4 hours
On your way into Darwin stop by Litchfield National Park to check out the magnetic termite mounds and swim in Florence Falls and Buley Rock Hole. If you have a few days to spend in Darwin, consider visiting Kakadu National Park as well!
Perth to Darwin Maps
Perth to Broome Route Map
Broome to Darwin Route Map
And there you have it! My complete Perth to Darwin road trip itinerary. I hope you find it helpful and that it inspires you to plan a trip to Australia’s less-touristy coast!
More Australia Travel Tips
While you’re in Perth, make sure you visit Rottnest Island on a day trip and spot adorable quokkas!
If you want to snorkel with manta rays or whale sharks (or both!) the Ningaloo Reef is the place to do it. My guide on snorkeling with whale sharks and manta rays has all the details.
If you’re heading all the way to the northern region of Western Australia, I highly recommend visiting Purnululu National Park and splurging on a scenic flight over the Bungle Bungle Range. My guide covers everything you need to know to make this bucket-list-worthy adventure happen!
If you want to get even more off the beaten path, I highly recommend visiting Tasmania. Day trips from Hobart to Port Arthur and Maria Island also fit perfectly in my comprehensive three-week Tasmania itinerary. Make sure you check it out and bookmark it for later!
Also, when you head to Cradle Mountain, consider doing the summit hike for a challenging but rewarding day!
Have you done this trip or are planning to? I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments or feel free to contact me!