Up the Guts Part 2 Alice to Darwin on the Stuart
I hope this guide will assist you folks wanting to take one of the classic touring rides that Australia has to offer: Up the Centre from Port Augusta to Darwin.
But I’ve gotta give you a caveat on this guide to the second part of the trip, the northern half from Alice to the top: Nothing you’ve experienced will prepare you for the widespread gouge pricing at venues which, due to the wet season, do their best to make twelve months’ money in the seven months they work. And nothing will prepare you for the infestation of untrained backpacker staff totally ignorant of their surrounds and its history and even the rudiments of what Australian country hospitality involves.
And if you’re not a nicotine addict, be prepared for a phalanx of publicans who just don’t give a damn about smoking regulations.
I once asked a fella in a pub in Darwin why the beer and fish ‘n’ chips were so exy and he mumbled about freight distances and costs. “Where’s the barra from?” I asked. “It’s local, mate,” he replied without any sense of irony.
In Pine Creek four times I asked the German cowboy magnet if they had white wine and four times she stammered that no, they didn’t have wifi.
In Adelaide River I asked every staff member why it was called the ‘303 Bar’. What was the significance of that rifle to the area and not a single one had a clue.
Ah but the scenery’s amazing and the good places are memorable and this top half has far more fun options that the bottom section.
Anyway, that being said, it’s pretty damn easy to get out of the Alice: if you’ve been near the river just head north until you hit Wills Terrace where you take a left and then right at the lights at the T and you’re on the Stuart heading north.
Keep it easy, past the old Telegraph Station and in a couple of kms you’ll see the Tropic of Capricorn monument on your left and once you’ve taken the mandatory pic, you’re in the tropics!
Because it’s pretty straight (and straight forward), I’ll list the points in order as you leave Alice. The first figure is the distance from the last and the second is the cumulative distance from Alice Springs. The * signs signify places dealt with in the town notes and the last numbers are the grades of fuel available.
52 kms Start of Unrestricted Speed Zone
82 kms (134) Aileron Roadhouse* 91 95
154 kms (288) Barrow Creek * 91 95
At around 380 kms from Alice you’ll come to the end of the unrestricted speed zone, just before the graceful rail bridge.
105 kms (393) Puma Fuel 91 95
9kms (412) Devils Marbles*
95kms (507)Tennant Creek* 91 95 98
26 kms (533) Three Ways Roadhouse. This is where the Barkly Highway from Nth Queensland joins from the east. 91 95
136kms (669) Renner Springs Roadhouse 91
94km (663) Elliott 91 95
24kms (687) Newcaslte Waters Turn*
78kms (765) Dunmarra Roadhouse 91 95
44kms (809) Daly Waters* 91 95
168kms (977) Mataranka* 91
106kms (1083) Katherine* 91 95 98
91 kms (1174) Pine Creek * 91 95
This is where you can turn north west to Jabiru and Kakadu if you have the time otherwise there’s not much to see here, but note that the Emerald Springs Roadhouse which shows as having fuel on most GPS units, is now closed. Fill up at Pine Creek!
55kms (1229) Hayes Creek 91
Here you have your first real option. Six kms north of Hayes Creek is the left turn for Douglas Daly Region Scenic Route. (Brown Signed). This detour is now fully sealed and will get you onto a beautiful Territory road and to Robin Falls, a great place to take a swim and refresh. Taking this detour adds just 16kms to the trip to Adelaide River. CROC FREE!
57kms (1286) Adelaide River* 91 95
Twenty one kms north of Adelaide River is your next option. Buley Rockhole in the Litchfield National Park is superb, great for a refresh or an overnight stay in the camping area. If you don’t want to take on the two mild stretches of gravel, you can go in and out on sealed road.
Take the left on Crater Lake road 21 kms north of Adelaide River and follow this for 4 kms when you turn left for Rum Jungle and now just follow this road for 48kms before turning right on Florence Falls Drive signed Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole for the 3kms ride into the park right beside the water. CROC FREE!
When you leave the waterhole, at the T back on Litchfield Park Road you’ll see Darwin in both directions. Left will take you back the way you came, right will take you on a much more enjoyable 116kms ride looping back north via two stretches of mild gravel to join the Stuart at Livingstone.
82kms (1368) Humpty Doo* is just a few kms to the east of the Stuart on the Kakadu Rd. 91 95 98
And from here it’s just 40kms to Darwin.
39kms (1427) Darwin * 91 95 98
If you’re feral camping you’ll have no problems finding a place to throw your kit. A regular and very quiet option is on the access roads to the microwave repeater towers which regularly punctuate the ride. They usually have narrow bollards to stop caravans getting through but bikes are easy.
Then it’s really up to you to deal with the fauna how you wish!
An interesting artist township. Don’t just fill your tank here, also fill your curiosity by chatting with the locals and taking a wander around the sculptures. A surprising little cultural oasis.
The Old Telegraph Station is worth a visit and you’ll long remember the signs on the servo and the attitude of the owner.
One of the true highlights of this ride and you really should overnight here. The stars at night are amazing and the colours of the rocks in the evening and morning are almost unbelievable. Plenty of camping and toilet facilities. Don’t ride past!
A couple of good cafes here doing their best and just north of the town is the Mary Anne Recreation Area which is very well maintained and campable.
An historic and iconic old cattle station still working and with a number of well maintained old buildings and a great little park. A top place for a break and a leg-stretching wander.
The Daly Waters pub is a bit off the highway and it manages to encapsulate all that is wrong with some ‘iconic’ country pubs. It’s expensive, clichéd, backpacker infested, a formula without a soul. Check it out if you must. Tourists may enjoy but travellers will want to vomit.
Bitter Springs with its clear hot artesian water is extraordinary and a must-do! The camping ground is ridiculously expensive with tiny cheek by jowl sites but feral camping is not advised around here. The pub is rough but real. Don’t leave loose stuff on your bike.
A major hub town with some good nosh houses. If your ride is needing anything, the blokes at R&M Motorcycles on Giles St (T (08) 8972 2693) will be a good bet to fix it.
The BP Servo is the best on the highway and the pub is a contender for the worst. If you want to visit the old bomb shelters or trenches of WW2, try to track down Eddie Ah Toy who’ll likely be in his shop. He’s a third generation Creeker and in a sea of dreck, he is a shining beacon.
Another iconic pub staffed by ill-trained transients using distance as justification for gouge prices and a don’t care attitude. Leave it to the tourists who need safe experiences and head up to:
The pub has been a Pub of the Month and it’s full of real people, locals and travellers. You’ll enjoy this detour. Park your bike in the side street.
The city whose population has the lowest age of any in the country and has all services, most of them expensive. An exception is NT Motorcycles, right on your left at Berrimah on the southern approaches to town. Twice I’ve had issues with my bike up there and twice they’ve stayed back and sorted it for me. They are THE bike shop in Darwin. (T 08 8939 0390)