Katherine to Western Australia
The sealed Victoria Hwy − part of the Savannah Way − stretches 513km from Katherine to Kununurra in WA. A 4WD will get you into a few out-of-the-way national parks accessed off the Victoria Hwy or you can meander through semiarid desert and sandstone outcrops until bloated boab trees herald your imminent arrival in WA.
Tennant Creek is the only town of any size between Katherine, 680km to the north, and Alice Springs, 511km to the south, and is the Northern Territory's fifth-largest town (which says more about the Northern Territory's small population than it does about Tennant Creek). It's a good place to break up a long drive and check out the town's few attractions.
Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
Spectacular Katherine Gorge forms the backbone of the 2920-sq-km Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, about 30km from Katherine. A series of 13 deep sandstone gorges have been carved out by the Katherine River on its journey from Arnhem Land to the Timor Sea. It is a hauntingly beautiful place − though it can get crowded in peak season − and a must-do from Katherine.
Carpentaria & Tablelands Highways
The Carpentaria Hwy connects the deserts of the outback with the subtropical hinterland of the Gulf of Carpentaria and it's one of the Territory's most remote stretches of tarmac. Part of the Savannah Way (a loose network of highways from Broome to Cairns), it runs for 390km from Daly Waters on the Stuart Hwy to Borroloola.
On the McArthur River out near the Gulf of Carpentaria, Borroloola has a wonderful end-of-the-road feel to it – it's a sleepy, slightly neglected place that revels in its remoteness. There's a good Indigenous art centre, some fine wildlife and conservation reserves in neighbouring country and fabulous barramundi fishing.
Tanami Road (NT)
Welcome to one of the longest short cuts on the planet. Synonymous with isolated outback driving, the 1055km Tanami Rd connects Alice Springs with Halls Creek, the Red Centre with the Kimberley. The Tanami Desert and surrounding country are the homeland of the Warlpiri, Arrente, Luritja and Pintubi peoples and much of the land now falls under their traditional ownership.
If you're interested in seeing genuine Aboriginal art produced by local communities, it's worth detouring off the Stuart Hwy to the remote cultural centre and small community of Beswick (Wugularr). It's an opportunity to draw near to the great artistic traditions of Arnhem Land, without straying down detours along long and lonely dirt tracks.
Once upon a time the railway line from Darwin came as far as Birdum, 8km south of tiny Larrimah. That's about as good as it ever got for Larrimah, and it has since settled back into quiet obscurity, a sleepy roadside outback town with a quintessentially Australian, quirky outback pub the main attraction.
Keep River National Park
The remote Keep River National Park is noted for its stunning sandstone formations, beautiful desolation and rock art. Pamphlets detailing walks are available at the start of the excellent trails. Don't miss the rock art walk (5.5km return, two hours) near Jarnem and the gorge walk (3km return, two hours) at Jinumum.