After many road trips between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, for something a bit different, I recently took on the challenge of driving from Sydney to Adelaide along the Sturt Highway (A20).
It’s probably not one of the typical iconic Australian road trips, but the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide definitely showcases some of the most diverse landscapes Australia has to offer.
From the vast expanse of the Hay Plain to the lush banks of the Murray River, it’s probably one of the most contrasting road trips I’ve ever done throughout Australia. Well worth doing for just that experience alone.
There are several routes between Sydney and Adelaide, but the Sturt Highway is the most direct, at little over 1400 kms through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
In theory, it’s about a 15-hour drive if you don’t stop. Realistically I found the driving time to be a little over 17 hours without stopping to see anything along the way. I’d recommend breaking the trip up over at least two days, possibly even three, if you are planning on visiting Mungo National Park or some of the places outlined in this blog post.
The drive along the Sturt Highway is simple enough. It’s not a motorway route like that of the Hume or Pacific Highways. Still, the majority of the route is long straight sections of undivided highway with plenty of overtaking opportunities.
There are sections along the Sturt Highway route where fuel options are limited. In particular, between Wagga Wagga and Mildura, petrol stations only appear in a couple of major townships, which were few and far between, as outlined in this blog post. Knowing your fuel range and planning ahead is important for this trip.
With multiple drivers, it would be possible to complete the Sturt Highway in a day. Realistically you’re probably going to want to stop overnight and break up the drive.
The small town of Hay in New South Wales is roughly halfway between Sydney and Adelaide and is one of a few options for places to stopover on the drive, as outlined in this blog post.
The Sturt Highway stretches 947km from the Hume Highway (M31) in Tarcutta, NSW to Northern Expressway (M2) in Gawler, SA. While the A20 route continues along Main North Road to Gepps Cross.
With that said, here are my tips and advice for the best places to stop while driving along the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide.
Much like the drive between Sydney and Melbourne, the trip out of Sydney to Adelaide commences with a short stint down the Hume Highway.
I would suggest you refer to my Hume Highway guide for more details about this first part of the drive to Adelaide. That said, the first stop to keep yourself fresh for the big drive ahead should be Goulburn.
Continuing along the Hume Highway, another two hours down the road from Goulburn is Gundagai. It’s the last major stop on the Hume Highway before taking the exit off to the Sturt Highway towards Adelaide.
If you are looking for tips and suggestions for Gundagai, again it is best to check out my Hume Highway guide.
As you drive down the Hume Highway, the Sturt Highway (A20) exit is the next major exit after the Snowy Mountains Highway (B72) exit. Just keep an eye out for the signs that direct you towards the A20 and Wagga Wagga.
Wagga Wagga, NSW
The regional city of Wagga Wagga is the very first stop that you’ll come across once you’re on the Sturt Highway.
Only about an hour further into the trip, Wagga (as it’s known colloquially) is the last sizeable township to stop, without any significant detours, before continuing over 250km (nearly three hours) drive to the next major township of Hay.
This alone, makes Wagga well worthwhile to stop into to refuel, stock up and break up the trip before the next long stint behind the wheel.
If you’re anything like me and have a bit of extra time up your sleeves, then the RAAF Base at Wagga is well worth a visit. In addition to the selection of aircraft on display on the front lawn, which you’ll easily spot from the highway, they also have the Aviation Heritage Centre, which is well worth a visit if you have any interest in flying and aviation. Entry is also free!
If that’s not your thing, then a detour off the highway to the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens might be more your style. Not only is it home to a selection of native plants, but it also features a mini zoo with 90 species of animals and birds, as well as a model railway.
Otherwise, for something unique, the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery features the National Art Glass Collection with more than 600 pieces of glass art that are well worth a quick visit.
For food and fuel, there are plenty of service stations and fast food restaurants along the Sturt Highway while you’re in the city.
That said, if you are looking for something with a little more substance, then a quick detour down Bayliss Street offers several cafes and restaurant options.
The township of Hay in the middle of the vast Hay Plains marks roughly the halfway point between Sydney and Adelaide.
Hay sits at the junction of the Sturt and Cobb Highways and, as a major transport junction, makes an ideal stop regardless if you are looking for somewhere to get a feed and some fuel or if you are planning on breaking the trip up half with an overnight stay.
At the roundabout that links both the Sturt and Cobb Highways, you’ll spot Shear Outback. It’s a unique experience that you’ll only find in Hay, offering insight into farming life on the Hay Plains, in particular sheep shearing.
If it is a feed you are after, you won’t find any of the large chain fast food restaurants in Hay. What you will find, though, is a couple of local cafe and dining options along the Cobb Highway (Lachlan Street). The Hay Fish shop does a decent burger and chips, while the Black Sheep Coffee Shop offers a few more substantial options.
As for petrol/diesel options, there are a couple of options, with an Ampol within the township (along the Cobb Highway), as well as both an Ampol and a Shell opposite Shear Outback along the Sturt Highway. Along this section of the Sturt Highway, it’s worth keeping in mind that the next town is 140 km away.
Should you decide to stay in Hay overnight to help break up the trip over two days, then I would recommend the following places to stay in Hay:
- Cobb Inlander Motel – Ideal if you are looking for a simple overnight stay option that will allow you to get back on the road early.
- Bishop’s Lodge Motor Inn – Another good hotel-style option within easy access off the Sturt Highway.
- BIG 4 Hay – If you are travelling as a family or in a group and need a slightly larger accommodation option. The BIG 4 offers a variety of cabin options.
That said, Mildura is also a very good option to stay overnight to split the drive in two. But we’ll get to that shortly.
Balranald, NSW/Mungo National Park
If you are going to make the detour off the Sturt Highway to visit the Mungo National Park, then the small town of Balranald is the best place for an overnight stop.
Balranald is about another hour and a half (140 km) further along the Sturt Highway from Hay, and while a much smaller town, it does offer its own unique insight into outback living, its own historic buildings and sites.
That said, the key attraction in this part of regional New South Wales is definitely the world heritage listed National Park that rewrote Australian history. Mungo is a destination all of its own and well worth a visit as a full-day trip out of Balranald if you have the time.
It’s a 300-kilometre round trip to Mungo from Balranald, and the route is along with remote unsealed roads with little to no mobile phone reception for most of the trip.
While a standard car should be able to make the trip just fine most of the time, the roads are subject to closure due to bushfires and, in my particular case, recent heavy rains. Having a proper four-wheel-drive vehicle will be better suited for this detour if it has the potential to rain during your trip. Always worth checking the local alerts in advance.
The Yanga Woolshed is also worth a visit while you are in the area. Once the largest in the region, the woolshed is now part of the national park and is open for the public to explore.
If you are planning on making Balranald your overnight stay, then the Balranald Club Motel or Motel Capri are my picks of the accommodation options. Just keep in mind that all the hotels are right next to the highway, and trucks come through at all hours of the night, which could be an issue if you are a light sleeper.
Pro Tip: Balranald is also where you could detour off the Sturt Highway for a more direct route to Adelaide via the Mallee Highway if you were in a hurry to get there. That said, it only saves 30 minutes in the overall driving time, and there is very little to see along the Mallee Highway route in comparison to the Sturt Highway.
Right on the Murray River, which is also the border between New South Wales and Victoria, Mildura is the start of a very short (in the overall picture) 115km section of the Sturt Highway that passes through Victoria.
A destination in its own right, the regional city of Mildura has plenty to offer and is a welcome sight after nearly 600 km crossing the Hay Plains.
The iconic Murray River, which is the lifeblood of this whole region of Australia, is definitely the first stop once you reach Mildura, with the riverfront a very short 5-10min stroll from the centre of town.
At this point in the trip, you will definitely want to get out of the car for a bit and stretch your legs. So it is well worth taking a walk along the riverbank to see the Murray River first-hand for yourself. That said, if you want the full experience and plan on staying in Mildura overnight (or even a couple of days), then a paddleboat tour is the best way to explore the river properly.
If you have the time, there are a couple of other things worth a visit while you are in Mildura. Car lovers will enjoy the Mildura Holden Motor Museum. If you are more of a history buff, then you can find out a little more about the region by checking out Mildura Station Homestead and Lock 11 & Mildura Weir.
Being a small regional city, Mildura also makes it the ideal spot to stop overnight and restock along the Sturt Highway after the limited options since Wagga Wagga.
Mildura is much bigger than Hay and Balranald, so you’ll have plenty more service stations, restaurants, hotels and a couple of major, well-stocked supermarkets, all within easy access to the centre of town. For this reason alone, I would actually recommend Mildura over Hay for your overnight stop if you are trying to complete the Sydney to Adelaide drive in just two days.
I found that Langtree Avenue had the pick of the restaurants, with Mildura Brewery a great local dinner option while Kaffenio was perfect for breakfast and a coffee before getting back on the road.
It’s worth noting that fruits and vegetables can’t be taken into South Australia, particularly the Sunraysia district (to prevent the spread of fruit flies). So don’t stock up on these as they conduct vehicle checks at the border. Most packaged food and drinks it fine.
As for places to stay in Mildura overnight, here are a couple of my picks:
- Quality Hotel Mildura Grand – My first choice when planning to visit Mildura, this really nice hotel for the price and within easy walking distance of everything. Perfect after a long day in the car.
- Quest Mildura– Is a very good alternative, especially if you are looking to stay in town for a couple of days and need a little more space.
- Seven Pines Motor Inn – Has been recently refurbished with modern, comfortable rooms and is usually reasonably priced if you want an alternative to the bigger chain hotels.
- Discovery Parks Mildura – Buronga Riverside – Ideal if you are travelling as a family or group and looking for cabin-style accommodation.
After a short transit through Victoria and crossing the border into South Australia, Renmark is the first sizeable town that you will discover.
The official state border is marked with a small sign, but you will know you are in South Australia when you pull up to the quarantine station, where your car will be searched for fruit and vegetable products.
Don’t stress. It’s simply to keep fruit flies out of the major fruit-farming region of Australia, so all you need to do is hand over any produce you happen to be carrying or, better yet, discard it at the bins as you approach the border.
They take the fruit and vegetable thing very seriously, and there are some significant fines attached to not declaring them at the border. Definitely don’t attempt to carry bulk fruit and vegetable items across.
After the quarantine station, you will see the iconic Dunlop “Welcome to South Australia” sign. But by the time you see this, you are actually well within South Australia.
Upon entering South Australia, towns become a lot more frequent along the Sturt Highway, offering many more places to stop and take a break if required. Renmark, in particular, is home to a couple of petrol/service stations and all the usual fast food options, as well as local cafes.
Renmark, in particular, is where the red dirt of the desert starts to turn green as vineyards and orchards start to line the banks of the Murray River. It’s amazing the see how quickly the scenery changes along this section of the route.
Something quite unique is the bridge crossing the river still features the old railroad (that sits between the two lanes of the Sturt Highway) that use to service the region.
Not even an hour further along the Sturt Highway in the township of Waikerie. However, it’s well worth at least a quick stop in to check out the Silo Art and great views from the cliffs over the Murray River.
It’s a slight detour to the Silo Art (pictured above), but it is well-signposted and will only add 5 minutes to the driving time to the trip. If the artwork doesn’t interest you, the views from the lookout in the same location are also worthwhile. It is stunning to see the contrasting landscapes that make up the Murray River from a different perspective after driving alongside the river since well before Mildura.
If, at this point of the trip, you need fuel, or anything else, it’s a bit more of a detour into the actual township of Waikerie.
Nuriootpa/Barossa Valley, SAit’s
Nuriootpa/Barossa Valley is where the Sturt Highway turns into a proper dual carriage road to take you the rest of the way to Adelaide.
It also makes for a good spot final spot to make a quick detour to take in a small part of the famous wine region before completing the final hour of the drive into the city.
The Barossa Valley features an abundance of famous vineyards, including Penfolds and Wolf Blass. At the same time, the region as a whole has plenty to offer as a destination of its own — something which probably deserves its own guide exclusively. I’ll put one together at some point in the not too distant future.
The end of the Sturt Highway will take you most of the way into Adelaide, but your best bet will be to follow the Northern Expressway (M2), which branches off the Sturt at Gawler for the rest of the trip into the city.
Taking the Expressway route will be much easier and save you a bunch of time so you can settle into your accommodation in Adelaide sooner, especially after the long drive from Sydney.
If you’d like my best advice on everything you need to know once you have arrived in Adelaide, make sure you check out this post of mine covering everything the city has to offer.
That wraps up the best places to stop along the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide to help you in planning your road trip.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.
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