Last Updated on September 22, 2020
Melbourne to Uluru / Ayers Rock Drive Itinerary
The Melbourne to Ayers Rock (Uluru) drive is one of the best Australian road trips we have done as a family, the East Coast of Australia is a great drive, but the Aussie outback is even better, in my opinion!
The huge distances between places, such as Melbourne to Alice Springs which is a 24-hour drive or just under 3 hours to fly, can sometimes deter people from driving, especially with kids, but it is an awesome experience and highly recommended.
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Will 2 Weeks be long enough to drive from Melbourne to Uluru/Ayers Rock & return? YES!
Two weeks to do a return road trip from Melbourne to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon/Watarrka National Park, Alice Springs, and return is just enough time to see and experience many of the highlights of this incredible Australian outback region. Three weeks, or even four, would be better still. It’s a long drive from Melbourne to Uluru and Alice Springs, though nothing compared to a full lap of Australia.
We did the Melbourne to Uluru drive and to Kings Canyon before continuing our road trip to Alice Springs and return in 14 days with no problem and saw some incredible countryside, wild camels, underground caves, and did some epic hikes too. The Melbourne to Uluru drive is an excellent introduction to the Outback of Australia for everyone, including families.
Do you need a 4 Wheel Drive Vehicle? No.
All the roads we used on our road trip to Uluru/ Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon were sealed and perfect for 2 wheel drive cars. 4 Wheel Drive only roads are plentiful for the more adventurous.
Total Distances & Suggested Overnight Stops
These are the overnight stops we made during our 2-week return trip from Melbourne. We did do some big days of driving but the rest days in between when we explored and hiked more than made up for it.
The kids happily drew and played music or read books, along with some good sleeps and plenty of opportunities to jump out of the car and stretch.
Travel Times, Distances & Recommended Accommodation
|Melbourne to Murray Bridge||655 km / 407 miles||7 h 10 min||Adelaide Road Motor Lodge|
|Murray Bridge to Port Augusta||366.5 km / 228 miles||4 h 10 min||Acacia Ridge Motel|
|Port Augusta to Coober Pedy||542 km / 337 miles||5 h 30 min||Ribas Underground Camping|
|Coober Pedy to Yulara Resort (Uluru)||732 km / 455 miles||8 h||Uluru / Ayers Rock Campground Resort|
|Uluru (Yulara) to Kings Canyon||304 km / 189 miles||4 h||Kings Canyon Accommodation|
|Kings Canyon to Alice Springs||475 km / 295 miles||6 h||Chifley Alice Springs Resort|
|Alice Springs - Coober Pedy||687 km / 427 miles||7 h 30 min||Ali's Underground Motel|
|Coober Pedy to Port Augusta||542 km / 337 miles||5 h 30 min||Highway One Motel|
|Port Augusta to Horsham & Grampian Mountains||805 km / 500 miles||9 h||Ploughman's Motor Inn|
|Halls Gap / Grampians to Melbourne||257 km / 160 miles||3 h||Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park|
|Total Distance:||5365.50 km / 3334 m|
Can dogs be taken to Central Australia?
Yes. But they cannot go into National Parks, this applies to all of Australia. We have added some pet-friendly accommodation options in the itinerary below. Please always book in advance and make sure it is still ok to bring your dog to any of the places listed.
Join this Facebook group for advice on traveling with your dogs and to find people who may be in the same location and looking to share dog-sitting times.
Melbourne to Murray Bridge – Day 1
7 hr 10 min | 655 Kms
Travel from Melbourne via the country towns of Ballarat, Nhill …. past the Giant Koala at Dadswell Bridge, and finish the day in Murray Bridge.
There is plenty to see and do along this stretch of the trip, if you have time and are not in a hurry to get to Ayers Rock/Uluru, make a few diversions along the way.
- The Great Ocean Road
- Painted Silo Art Trail through the Wimmera and Mallee
- The Grampian Mountains
- Read more about the Melbourne to Adelaide road trip.
Accommodation at Murray Bridge
The Adelaide Road Motor Lodge is a good, clean motel with a spacious family room, heated swimming pool for the kids, and a BBQ area for the evening meal. An ideal stopover to relax and then make an early start the next morning.
The Murray Bridge Tourist Park is pet-friendly at their discretion. Phone in advance to check.
Murray Bridge to Port Augusta – Day 2
4 hr 10 mins | 366.5 km
Heading straight for Central Australia, by-pass Adelaide, unless you have time, and reach Port Augusta for the evening. The Acacia Ridge Motel is a recommended and welcomed stop at the end of the day.
Accommodation at Port Augusta
The Acacia Ridge Motel is a good clean option for a quick overnight stay.
Port Augusta to Coober Pedy – Day 3
5hr 30 mins | 542 km
Heading north and finally getting into the real Outback of Australia! A few interesting stops can be made along the way, watch out for emus as well as other wildlife.
Salt lakes are quite common, Lake Hart being one of the most popular to stop at (details below). Free camping sites are easy to find too.
Stops along the way
- Port Augusta to Pimba – 175 km/just under 2 hours. About 60 km north of Port Augusta is the Range View Rest area with toilets and a few tables. The view across to the gulf is quite good on a clear day.
- Near Pimba: Just before Pimba (where you can find fuel and a basic restaurant) is the remains of a Joint U.S.A./Australian Defence Facility called Nurrungar. A rough track goes to the site for anyone keen to look. Woomera Village, a former defense/rocket testing range is 14km off the highway from Pimba and worth going to see. Lots of rockets were tested here when the site was built in 1947. Woomera is an aboriginal word for a device used to increase the distance a spear could be thrown.
- Pimba to Glendambo Roadhouse – 112km/45 mins. Food and fuel are available.
- Lake Hart, about 30 minutes past Pimba, is a Salt Lake and a good lunch spot as well as fun for kids to play and stay awhile. There is free camping available.
- Glendambo to Coober Pedy – 255 kms/2hr 45 mins. Overnight in Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy – Opal Mining & Underground Homes
Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world! It is a real experience arriving in this outback town. Famous for opal mining, the town has few trees and the landscape is dotted with ‘mullock heaps’ – rubble from the many opal mines also referred to as ‘tailings’.
Signs warn visitors not to go walking around these areas unless on a tour as many mine shafts are exposed and the risk of falling into one is quite high. Please take these warnings seriously.
70% percent of the 3,500 or so residents live underground in Coober Pedy to find relief from the relentless summertime heat where temperatures can reach 47 degrees. The main street is lined with tourist shops where you can buy opals and all sorts of souvenirs. Summertime, December to end of February, is not an ideal time to be here.
Coober Pedy is also a junction point for people heading to Oodnadatta.
Coober Pedy Accommodation – Motels and Underground Camping
Motels: Coober Pedy has some unusual accommodation and it is definitely a great Aussie experience to stay in this outback town!
- The Underground Motel is one of the most popular motels
- The Zen Underground B&B is another unique option.
- The Lookout Cave Motel is a pet-friendly underground motel option that has come recommended – book in advance and make sure you can stay with your dog.
- Camping: Riba’s, just outside of Coober Pedy, is a fun way to camp. The world’s only underground camping ground! It is fine to lay a groundsheet and simply sleep in the underground area, but we wanted to put the Kombi campervan tent up, just for the amusement value.
- Browse lots more unique accommodation choices and get the best prices here.
Things to do in Coober Pedy, South Australia
- It would be easy to spend a couple of nights here and really get to know the town. Sunset and sunrise can both be incredible to experience.
- Try ‘noodling’ or fossicking for opals.
- Riba’s run their own underground opal mining tour and offer the first-night camping free with a mine tour booking.
- It is definitely worth joining a mine tour when in Coober Pedy and there is a choice of a few.
- Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest – Crocodile Harry was one of Coober Pedy’s best-known characters. Some visitors may recognise his home from the underground scenes of “Mad Max-Beyond the Thunderdome”.Harry sadly passed away in 2006 but his Dugout is open to the public from 9 am – 12 midday and 2 pm – 6 pm daily (closed from midday to 2pm)Entry fee: Adults $5 and Children $2
- The Big Winch Viewpoint – The arty side of Coober Pedy is displayed at this popular lookout stop. The landscape is overrun with sculptures and hilarious signs, overlooking the town with views across to the Breakaways.
- The Dingo Fence & Breakaways are worth adding to the list of ‘to do’s’.
- Visit ‘Moon Plains’ where Mad Max 3 was filmed.
- If you have time to spare drive on to famous places like William Creek, Lake Eyre, and the Oodnadatta Track.
Coober Pedy to Uluru – Day 4
8 hr 15 mins | 755 km
The drive from Coober Pedy to Yulara, which is the closest point to Ayers Rock/Uluru for accommodation and camping, is a wide, open countryside where wild camels may well be seen. We had a few cross the road in front of us, which was a great experience for the kids too.
No need to worry about everything being too remote, most cars should easily be able to get between fuel stops. BUT do carry water and a spare tyre!
Optional stops along the way
- Coober Pedy to Cadney Homestead Roadhouse. 153 kms/1hr 35 mins. Painted Desert turnoff – from the roadhouse there is a turn off to the Painted Desert which is worth a visit if you have time, especially to see the sunset. It is a rough, 4wd track and needs a few hours to visit.
- Cadney Roadhouse has a good motel if it needed for an overnight stop.
- Cadney Roadhouse to Marla. 81kms/50 mins. Another opportunity to stretch your legs and refuel. The landscape starts to slowly change and small trees known as Mulga Scrub are dotted around.
- Marla to Kulgera Roadhouse. 181kms/2 hours. Another fuel stop, camping area, and budget motel. The pub lays claim to being ‘The First and Last Pub in The Northern Territory’ plus ‘The Most Central Pub In Australia’.
- 20kms before Kulgera is the South Australia/Northern Territory border. Definitely a photo opportunity!
- Kulgera to Erldunda. 75kms/45 mins. Fuel stop and the turn off point to go to Yulara Resort and Uluru following the Lasseter Highway. Alice Springs is about 200kms north. There is a range of accommodation in Erldunda as well as camping sites. Book ahead to stay in Erldunda during the busy season.
- Erldunda to Yulara – 247 km/ 3 hours. It is still a reasonable drive to Yulara and Ayers Rock. The closest camping and motel accommodation before Yulara is at Curtin Springs Wayside Inn which is a good option. From Curtin Springs it is about an hour to Yulara. Powered campsites are at a cost but un-powered sites are free, which makes this a popular stop.
Mt Connor Lookout
On the way to Yulara, Mt Connor looms and is often mistaken for Uluru. Mt Connor is flat-topped and about 860m high. It’s a sacred site for the Yankunytjatjara people. It is located in the Curtin Springs Station and tours can be arranged from the station. No public access is otherwise available.
Recommended Yulara Accommodation –
Desert Gardens Hotel – Enjoy the luxury of air conditioning plus a swimming pool with a bar and cafe. Desert Gardens is one of the top choices in Yulara.
Yulara Resort campground
This is the only camping option at Yulara Resort, but it has access to everything needed for a holiday and is an easy stroll to the supermarket, restaurants, etc.
Yulara Campground, about 20 minutes’ drive from Uluru/ Ayers Rock. Most of the camping and caravan sites are on dirt though a few small areas with grass can sometimes be found. There is a pool to cool down in before pitching camp perhaps. Book prior to arrival as it does get busy.
The Ayers Rock Resort / Yulara Campground allows dogs. Please, phone before arrival and check that they have space available. The managers of the resort are friendly and love seeing people traveling with their dogs.
- You cannot take a dog or any pet into the National Park, there is no pet-sitting service at the campground and dogs should not be left unattended. If staying with your dog, try to find another camper who can pet-sit while you visit Uluru.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Pass
On entering Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park a pass has to be purchased. They are valid for 3-days but can be extended.
- Prices (2019) Adult $25 | Family (2 adults plus 2 kids) $65 | Child 5-15 $12.50 | Child under 5 Free.
- Buy a pass when you arrive at the entry point or purchase your pass online.
- If purchased online, print out your pass or save it on your device to show when entering.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Day 5
Nothing can quite prepare travelers for their first sighting of Australia’s monolith – Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock.
Declared a National Park in 1950 and renamed the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1993.
It is easy to spend the day visiting the park information centres, watching the sunrise over the rock, and learning about the importance of the rock to the Aṉangu traditional owners.
How Big is Ayers Rock / Uluru?
The sandstone formation stands 348 m (1,142 ft) high, rising 863 m (2,831 ft) above sea level with most of its bulk lying underground, the total circumference is 9.4 km (5.8 miles)
- 348 meters (1141 feet) high
- 3.6 km long (2.2 miles)
- 1.9 km wide (1.2 miles)
- 9.4 km or 5.8 miles around the base
- covers 3.33 km2 (1.29 miles2)
- extends approximately several km’s into the ground.
- 862.5 meters above sea level
- How much does Uluru weigh? An estimate was made that it weighs 1,425,000,000 tonnes – that is just the visible part of the rock!
- What type of rock is Uluru? Uluru rock is composed of arkose, a coarse-grained sandstone rich in the mineral feldspar. The sandy sediment, which hardened to form this arkose, was eroded from high mountains composed largely of granite. Source: Dept of Environment
A number of ideas are touted as to the meaning of Uluru, this article by Amanda from Travel Outback Australia is the best researched and evidence-based article that will answer this question.
The Uluru climb closed on 26 October 2019
In November 2017 the decision was made by the Traditional Owners of the land along with the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board to close the climb permanently. From 26 October 2019, marking the 34th anniversary of the Uluru hand-back, the climb will be closed.
The local Anangu have always asked that visitors not climb Ayers Rock/Uluru, this is in part due to the fact that the path crosses a dreaming track, and for the safety of visitors. Climbing Uluru has been a popular attraction, a chain handhold was put there in 1964 and in 1976 it was extended, making the 1-hour long climb a bit easier, but it was still a strenuous hike to the summit. Over the years there have been deaths due to heart failure, as well as non-fatal heart attacks.
It is a contentious issue and many people flocked to the rock to climb it before it finally closed.
Uluru/Ayers Rock will still be a place many tourists will come to visit and the area can be enjoyed from the ground with tracks and local indigenous tours showing the way bush food was sourced etc.
How many people used to climb Uluru each year?
Around 300,000 people visit Ayers Rock/Uluru each year. Up until the date of the climbing, ban was announced, it is estimated that 50-140 people climbed the rock daily.
That number has increased to between 300 – 500 per day as thousands of people flock to the centre of Australia.
Best Uluru Tours
Plenty of tour options around Ayers Rock/Uluru from half-day trips to multi-day tours are available if preferred or visitors can easily self-drive.
Join a traditional owner of Uluru, a member of the Uluru family, on his traditional homelands and spend time learning about the oldest living culture in the world. Explore this extraordinary environment by 4WD with your Aboriginal guide, stopping along the journey to hear stories such as how Paddy Uluru fought for Aboriginal land rights to where Uluru is today. The traditional owners of Uluru want to share their personal story with you on their land. Join them for a yarn and afternoon tea at a remote shelter and hear how they survived in this environment before tourism started in the region. End the day at a private sand dune overlooking Uluru and Kata Tjuta while enjoying drinks and light snacks at sunset.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) Base Walk – Day 6
The 10km walk around the base of Uluru takes about 3.5 hours. Spend time at the Cultural Centre as there is a lot to learn.
The walk is level and fairly easy to do with some shady spots. When doing this or any other walk or activity, remember to:
- Try to avoid the hottest part of the day.
- Take plenty of water and some snacks.
Kata Tjuta – The Olgas
The Unesco World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park comprises of both Uluru and what was formerly called The Olgas. It is about a 100 km round trip to visit Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) from the entrance to the national park.
The 8km Valley of the Winds walk is considered one of the best walks in the national park. Gorges, waterholes, tree-lined creeks, and the possibility to find a quiet spot to take in the beauty of the heart of Australia.
- Remember to pack plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat.
Watarrka National Park / Kings Canyon – Day 7
Yulara Resort to Kings Canyon via the Lasseter Highway | 4 hrs / 303 km
The drive over to Watarrka National Park / Kings Canyon is straightforward and on a sealed road all the way.
The sunsets in this area can be stunning and the local campground is a top place to sleep out in a swag and listen to dingoes howling!
Accommodation at Watarrka National Park
There is limited accommodation at the resort, but there is however something to suit everyone.
Dogs are allowed in the Kings Canyon Resort Campground. On-leash at all times, They cannot go on the Rim Walk or anywhere within the National Park.
Free Camping near Kings Canyon / Watarrka National Park
The WikiCamps Australia App is one of the best ways to find free camp sites around Australia. The app for Apple or Android costs under $10 Au which is a bargain considering the invaluable information available it provides. As free camping regulations can change, use the app to find up to date info on free camping near Kings Canyon / Watarrka National Park.
Kings Canyon Rim Walk – Day 8
When is the best time to visit Kings Canyon / Watarrka?
During the cooler winter, months from May-September is ideal. It is possible at any time of the year, of course. Be prepared for much higher temperatures during summer.
The rim walk is a highlight of the Kings Canyon region and definitely not to be missed. Read all about the Kings Canyon Rim Walk…
Other walks around Kings Canyon
- Kings Creek Walk is a 2.6km / 1-hour hike that goes along the floor of the canyon and has spectacular views up the sheer cliffs of the canyon.
- Kathleen Springs Walk is a 2.4 km / 1 hour along the Kathleen Gorge.
- Giles Track is a 22km hike for the more serious bushwalkers, from Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs (or the opposite direction). It is suitable to do as an overnight hike. Find more details here.
Watarrka/Kings Canyon to Alice Springs – Driving Routes
From Kings Canyon to Alice Springs, two popular touring options are available:
- Stuart/Lasseter Highway direct to Alice Springs takes 5 hours, the road is sealed all the way.
- Kings Canyon to Alice Springs – via the unsealed Red Centre Way (formerly called the Mereenie Loop Road) is roughly 5 hours 30 mins (permit required) or Ernest Giles Road (4 wheel drive recommended for both of these routes). Trailers that are not made for rough terrain are likely to end up with a broken axel. Vehicles with a Roof Top Tent are perfect or pack a regular tent.
Alice Springs – Day 9
The 5-hour drive to Alice Springs from Kings Canyon is via the sealed Lasseter Highway, the best option for 2 wd vehicles and anyone towing a trailer that is not specifically made for rough off-road towing.
The Red Centre Way option would be a spectacular drive to Alice Springs but does cover a lot of rough, corrugated road and will destroy caravans or trailers that are not made for the job.
Alice Springs – The largest town in Central Australia
Founded as part of the famous Overland Telegraph which was built between 1870 and 1872, connecting Darwin and Adelaide. A population of just over 25,000 people live in this remote town, the hub of all the major touring routes through the centre of Australia.
Accommodation in Alice Springs
Alice offers loads of accommodation options. We recommend the Chifley Alice Springs Resort. Not overpriced and family-friendly with a fabulous swimming pool for the kids.
The Squeaky Windmill is somewhere a little bit different, not too far from Alice Springs with superb views and amazing bird sounds to wake up to – 3 Luxury eco-tents, Giles, Stuart, and Gosse, available, sleeping a total of 2-3 people in each, in either queen-size or single bed configurations.
The Heritage Caravan Park is not only dog-friendly but a great place for all caravanners and campers.
Standley Chasm / Angkerle Atwatye – Day 10
The day was spent looking around Alice and out to nearby Standley Chasm / Angkerle Atwatye. A fantastic place to experience, a short walk into the chasm, which is best seen around noon when the walls of the chasm are easier to distinguish. This is considered to be the best lighting at this time of day.
Other things to see and do around Alice Springs
- Alice Springs Desert Park
- The Alice Springs Telegraph Station
- The Royal Flying Doctor Service visitor centre
- National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame
- The School of The Air
- Reptile Centre
- Kangaroo Sanctuary
East & West MacDonnell Ranges
Visiting these two areas will require a few more days than this two-week itinerary allows for. If you have time though, these National Parks have so much to offer.
East MacDonnell Ranges
A good day trip is to the East MacDonnell Ranges National Park. A good day trip from Alice Springs and a return trip of just over 150 km. Read more…
West MacDonnell Ranges
A return trip from Alice of under 120 km makes this another good day out. On the way, there is the Alice Springs Desert Park which is well worth a visit. Read more…
Finke Gorge National Park
138km west of Alice Springs, a spectacular gorge and the location of Palm Valley where 3,000 palm trees dot the landscape. The area was the inspiration of the famous artist, Albert Namatjira, who was born in the nearby community of Hermannsburg. Read more about planning a day trip or longer to Finke Gorge.
The Return Journey – Alice to Coober Pedy – Day 11
We headed for home to Melbourne after traveling over 5,000 kilometers and having one of the family vacations ever.
An extra week or two for this road trip to the center of Australia would have been ideal, but we still made the trip to Uluru and Kings Canyon without feeling too hurried.
Alice to Coober Pedy – 7 hours 10 mins / 687.3 km
From Alice Springs, Darwin is now closer than Melbourne by a long shot… we would have loved to have had the time to go further… past the Devils Marbles, etc…
We headed down the highway again to Coober Pedy, stopping at the roadhouses along the way for icy poles and such….
Accommodation in Coober Pedy
We chose to stay underground again in Coober Pedy on our return trip… a little bit of fun – Ali’s Underground. What a great experience. It is family-friendly, relaxing, and a great experience.
Port Augusta, South Australia – Day 12
On down to Port Augusta where we stayed in the Highway One Motel for the night.
Horsham & Grampian Mountains – Day 13
We had planned to go home via Mildura and the Murray River region but decided to take the girls into the Grampian Mountains instead, so headed that way and stayed the night in Horsham.
Grampian Mountains – Day 14
A drive through the Grampian Mountains and a quick stop in the township of Halls Gap was not doing this beautiful area of Victoria justice, as days can be spent exploring this region. That will have to keep for another holiday!
- Dogs are allowed into the towns and a few areas within the Grampians, but not allowed within the National Park boundaries.
Accommodation in the Grampians & Halls Gap
Halls Gap and the Grampians have enough accommodation to suit every budget, motels, guest houses, farm stays, and cottages are all on offer.
The Halls Gap Caravan Park is another great place to stay and it is also dog-friendly.
Alternative itinerary for a road trip from Melbourne to Ayers Rock/Uluru
So many more interesting places can be included in this trip if time allows. Here are some of our suggested road trip itinerary additions.
- Melbourne > Geelong > Along the Great Ocean Road (perhaps staying in Apollo Bay as an overnight stop).
- Apollo Bay > Port Campbell > North to the Grampian Mountains ( overnight in the Grampians)
- Grampians > Horsham > Hahndorf > Adelaide ( overnight in Adelaide..)
- Divert down the Fleurieu Peninsula if you have time, even pop across to Kangaroo Island )
- Adelaide > Port Augusta ( not a long trip, could drive further to Woomera or Glendambo Hotel/ Pub or campsite ( about 3 hrs from Port Augusta)
- Return… Alice Springs > Port Augusta > Flinders Ranges > Barossa Valley >Mildura> along the Murray River.
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