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 contrasting road trips I’ve ever done. Well worth doing for just that experience alone.
There are several routes between Sydney and Adelaide, but along the Sturt Highway is little over 1400km’s
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. I’d recommend breaking the trip up over at least two days, three if you are planning on visiting Mungo National Park.
The drive is simple enough. It’s not a motorway, but the majority of the route is long straight sections of undivided highway with plenty of overtaking opportunities.
There are sections where fuel options are limited. In particular between Wagga Wagga and Mildura petrol stations only appeared in a couple of major townships, which were few and far between. 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.
With that said, here are my tips and advice for the best places to stop along the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide.
Much like the drive between Sydney and Melbourne the trip commences on the Hume Highway, so two hours after leaving Sydney stopping in Goulburn is probably best to keep you fresh for the long drive ahead.
Definitely check out my Hume Highway guide for more information about Goulburn.
Continuing along the Hume Highway, another two hours down the road, Gundagai. It’s the last major stop before the exit off the Hume Highway to take the Sturt Highway towards Adelaide.
If you are looking for tips for Gundagai, check out my Hume Highway guide.
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 in before over 250km, nearly three hour, drive to the next township of Hay. Making it well worthwhile to stop in, refuel, stock up and break up the trip before the next long stint behind the wheel.
If you’re anything like me, 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 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 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 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 just 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 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 is a Caltex in the township, as well as a both a Caltex and a Shell opposite Shear Outback along the Sturt Highway. It’s worth keeping in mind that the next town is 140kms away.
My recommendations for places to stay in Hay include:
- 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 of 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.
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 (140km’s) 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, which is a destination all of its own and well worth a visit as a full day trip.
It’s a 300 kilometre round trip to Mungo from Balranald and the route is along with remote unsealed roads without mobile phone reception. While a standard car should be able to make the trip just fine normally, the roads are subject to closure due to bushfire and in my particular case recent heavy rains. Having a proper four-wheel-drive vehicle will be better suited in the event of rain. Always worth checking the local alerts in advance.
If you are planning on making Balranald your overnight stay then the Balranald Club Motel is my pick of the accommodation options.
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 600km’s 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.
It’s well worth taking a walk along the riverbank, but if you want the full experience then a paddleboat tour is the best way to properly explore the river.
A couple of other things worth a visit in Mildura if you really want to break up the drive. Car lovers will enjoy the Mildura Holden Motor Museum. Or if you’d like to know a little more about the history of the region, check out Mildura Station Homestead and Lock 11 & Mildura Weir.
Being a small city, the size of Mildura also makes it the ideal spot to stop overnight and restock along the Sturt Highway after the limited options since Wagga Wagga. There are plenty of service stations, restaurants, hotels and a couple of supermarkets all within easy access to the centre of town.
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, in particular, the Sunraysia district (to prevent the spread of fruit flies). So don’t stock up these as they conduct vehicle checks at the border.
My accommodation recommendations for Mildura include:
- Quality Hotel Mildura Grand – A really nice hotel for the price within easy walking distance of everything. Perfect after a long day in the car.
- Indulge Apartments – A good choice if you are looking something a little more fancy and planning on staying in Mildura a couple of days
- KaRama Motor Inn Mildura – If you are looking option on the cheaper side.
- Discovery Parks Mildura – Buronga Riverside – Is a good option if you are travelling as a family or group and looking for cabin style accommodation.
After crossing the border into South Australia, Renmark is the first sizeable town that you will discover.
Towns become a lot more frequent along this section of the Sturt Highway, offering many more places to stop and take a break if required. Renmark, in particular, offers 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 line the banks of the Murray River.
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.
The slight detour to the Silo Art (pictured above) 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 is also worthwhile to see the contrasting landscapes that make up the Murray River.
A bit more of a detour into the actual township of Waikerie will be required if you are looking to stop for a feed or fuel.
Nuriootpa/Barossa Valley, SA
Nuriootpa/Barossa Valley is where the Sturt Highway turns into a proper dual carriage motorway taking you all the way into the heart of Adelaide.
It also makes for a good spot final spot to make quick to detour to take in a small part of the famous wine region before making the final hour of the drive into Adelaide.
The Barossa Valley features an abundance of vineyards including Penfolds and Wolf Blass. While the region as a whole as plenty to offer as a destination of its own that probably deserves it’s own guide exclusively.
That wraps up my picks for the best places to stop along the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide to help you in planning your trip.
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