How to Get from Cairns to Darwin


darwin sunsetSome of the major cities in the country of Australia are quite a feat to get to and between when not taking a plane. Cairns and Darwin are both located in the northern section of the country and are two such major cities that many would like to know how to get from one to the other. It makes sense, after all, to try and hit the two when already in the northern part of the country, a far cry from Sydney and Melbourne.

Obviously, the time limited can benefit from a flight, but the other overland journeys are going to be so much more memorable.

Getting from Cairns to Darwin by Plane

The distance from Cairns to Darwin as the crow flies is around 1680 kilometers, which translates into a 2.5 hour flight. Direct flights from Cairns to Darwin can be booked on JetStar and Qantas, but Virgin Blue would require a connecting flight in Brisbane, for example. Flights would land in the Darwin International Airport.

Quick search for fares to Darwin (DRW) from Cairns (CNS), Brisbane (BNE) and Sydney (SYD):

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Getting from Cairns to Darwin by Train

There is no direct train from Cairns to Darwin, and there is not really a route that can take you the entire journey by rail unless you go completely out of the way. For example, you can catch train from Cairns down to Sydney on many different train lines, then take the Indian Pacific to Adelaide, and then continue on the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin. It would make for a great excuse to see the country, but not optimal if your primary trip is simply Cairns to Darwin. You could also take the Queensland local rails from Cairns to Mt. Isa, at which point you can take a bus to another connecting point on the Ghan and continue north to Darwin. Train is just not a good method for making the Cairns to Darwin trek.

Getting from Cairns to Darwin by Car

Driving from Cairns to Darwin is a must-do for the adventurous soul with time to spare. You will want to take it slow and experience some of the wonders of the outback areas of Australia. The easiest route (the one requiring less of a 4WD experience) takes the traveler about 2852 kilometers along the Barkly and Stuart Highways, much like the bus route (below). Look into a campervan rental for the drive.


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The alternative route is called the Savannah Way, which you can take from Cairns to Katherine and then head north from there to Darwin. The Savannah Way is a route that leads travelers all the way across the top of the country from Cairns to Broome in a more interesting route closer to the gulf. The first section of the Savannah Way (official site) would be to head from Cairns to Normanton, followed by the section from Normanton to Katherine.

Here is a map of the Savannah Way to get a better idea.

Getting from Cairns to Darwin by Bus

You can complete the long journey from Cairns to Darwin by bus if you desire. In fact, Greyhound offers this route, although not the most direct. You will need to go south from Cairns to Townsville, west to Tennant Creek and then north to Darwin, and to put the whole thing into perspective:

  • Cairns to Tennant Creek (via Townsville and Mt. Isa) takes 31 hours
  • Tennant Creek to Darwin takes 14 hours

This is no short trip, and if you are on a bus, and not stopping off at places along the way, you will be feeling the ride for nearly 2 days. As an alternative, it might be a good idea to look into adventure bus tours in Australia that will give you the ride you want but with stops and breaks at key locations along the way.

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