How much does it Cost to Drive from Uluru to Cairns?

Road-trip… Did I hear you say

Australia Road-trip from Uluru to Cairns?

I had three American sisters visiting me in Australia ~
Where should they go and what should they see
to get the most out of their four week stay down under?

They’d landed in Sydney and spent a few days seeing the main sights of the harbour and Opera House…

Sydney Opera House

The Opera House across Sydney Harbour’s water

…they’d taken the train up to northern NSW and been enthralled by the wonders of the ancient rainforest and Antarctic Beech trees.

Now in Brisbane, where to next, and more critically…

What could they achieve on a $1,000 budget to make a truly memorable trip?

Countries fit Australia

Australia is a big country

Great Britain barely covers from Darwin to Tennant Creek, and France is engulfed in just the Pilbara region of Western Australia –

We looked at:

  • hiring a caravan to explore the Queensland coast
  • renting a house to investigate an area more intimately…
  • when we decided to take a peek at the standby relocation website to see if any vehicles were available (at a fraction of the rental cost) to kick off our ideas in a fresh direction.


A 6 berth motorhome (with shower and toilet) needed to be relocated from Alice Springs in the red centre to Cairns in northern Queensland

This was too good an opportunity to miss.

Suddenly, from being a mere idea instigator in the master plan I was now an accomplice – The outline of what was now our trip (as opposed to their trip) was determined 🙂


How much was it going to cost

to do the trip of a lifetime from the red centre of Australia to the lush green tropics of northern Queensland?

We flew from Brisbane (via Sydney) to Yulara, at Uluru

Cost $309 ea

Yulara Camping Ground

At Yulara we stayed at the camp site and hired a chalet for $150 per night (for 2 nights), which between the four of us was $37.50 ea per night ($75 each for the first two nights accomodation).

Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park fee is $25 each and allows unlimited entries over a period of 3 days.

We hired a car for 3 days at Yulara airport

(returnable for no extra cost to Alice Springs), which meant we had our own transport to come and go as we pleased. I’d highly recommend this. Doing the trip in November, the weather was hot. It was more than a bonus being able to choose what time of day we’d be active to take in the wonderful Mala Walk, the Kuniya Walk and the Walpa Gorge Walk at Kata Tjuta (where we enjoyed the sunset on the second night)… and when it suited us to retreat from the red centre heat.

Car hire for 3 days was $358 ($89 each) and was also our mode of transport from Yulara to Alice Springs – Total fuel running around at the Rock and driving the 450km (280miles) to Alice Springs was $119 ($30 each)


Motorhome Relocation

Relocations of motorhomes are a very economical way to see the country –

But the length of the hire is limited – And of course the choice of locations is dependent on seasonal movements – The consequential serendipity of where you end up can all add to the adventure!

We were allocated 5 days to cover the 2,500 km from Alice Springs to Cairns as part of the relocation, but opted to hire it for an additional 2 days (the max) at a reduced rate – The cost to hire the 6 berth Motorhome, including insurance (and chemical for the toilet!) was $385 so $96 each for the 7 days.

Exploring the West McDonnell Ranges

The extra couple of days was to spend more time in the Red Centre and explore the West McDonnell Ranges. It was wonderful!

Standley Chasm, Ochre Pits, Orminston Gorge and Glen Helen, which is where we camped the night 130km (80 miles) west of Alice Springs. A powered site for the motorhome at Glen Helen Gorge was $54 ($13.50 each)

Camp Sites en route

Apart from the Devils Marbles where camping in the conservation reserve had limited facilities (only a pit toilet) and the cost minimal ($3.30 per person) we chose to pay the extra and stay in camping grounds along the route. For what averaged less than $10 each per night, it meant there was no queuing for the shower – As soon as we pulled off the road we could all get straight into the shower block and take as long as we liked – We also could make use of the laundry facilities, the wonderfully refreshing swimming pools, and spacious bar-b-q and picnic areas – With our tight time frame, the meagre ‘extra’ cost (in this instance) was more than worth the added convenience.

Australia map

Breaking up the Journey

From Glen Helen the real road-trip to Cairns began

We did it in the following segments –

  • 535km (330 miles) from Glen Helen to the Devils Marbles
  • 765km (475 miles). from the Devils Marbles across the Barkly Tablelands to Mt Isa
  • 770km (480 miles) from Mt Isa to Charters Towers.
  • 495km (305 miles) from Charters Towers to Milla Milla up on the Atherton Tablelands.
  • 100km (62 miles) from the Tablelands down to Cairns

Cost of Fuel

Diesel fuel for the trip was 15% more than we’d anticipated – On the hire company’s website the specifications said our model of motorhome should do 13 litres per 100 km – We calculated out the expected cost based on this consumption but at $2 per litre, which we felt would compensate for any extra unexpected deviations. It is true that due to the heat we did have the air conditioning going when we were moving, but we travelled at a leisurely rate that shouldn’t have chewed up the fuel that much. It’s therefore worth bearing in mind that as the vehicle only has a 75 litre tank that at 15 litres per 100km the max we should allow between fuel stops is 500km – Worth knowing where fuel stops in these outback regions are not so frequent.

Total fuel from Alice Springs, out to Glen Helen and back, then north and west to Cairns was $890, which between four of us cost $222 each.

Final Night in Cairns

We spent our final night in Cairns at Tropic Days backpackers in a four bed dorm for $24 each. There was a free pick up from the motorhome depot where we dropped the vehicle off.

Tropic Days is set in two classic Queenslander houses. I loved the trompe l’oeil that included twining ivy around the toilet roll dispensers and pot plants around most corners 😉

tropic days backpackers

The flight back from Cairns to Brisbane was $190 each.

Summary of Cost Uluru to Cairns

So, summary of costs (excluding food) per person (totals – except for the airfares are listed as having been split 4 ways) was:

  • $19 Taxi to Brisbane airport (due to very early departure)
  • $309 Flight Brisbane to Uluru
  • $75 Accom Yulara 2 nights
  • $25 Uluru & Kata Tjuta National Park entrance
  • $89 Hire Car Yulara to Alice
  • $30 Fuel for at Uluru & drive to Alice
  • $96 Motorhome Hire
  • $56 Caravan Park fees for 6 nights
  • $222 Fuel from Alice to Cairns
  • $24 Backpacker Cairns
  • $190 Flight Cairns to Brisbane

The all-up ‘damage’ including flights from Brisbane & back from Cairns, taxi to the airport (we had a very early departure from Brisbane!), park entry to Uluru and 3,000km by road from Uluru to Cairns was:

$1,135 per person for 10 days.

And wow – what a trip it was!

Map travel journal

Further Reading:

Summary of my blog posts about Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen and the road-trip to Cairns:

Have you done a big Australia road trip? How did your costing work out?

Expensive… Cheap… or for what you got, great value?

Do share your travel adventures &/or aspirations in the comments below 🙂 

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14 thoughts on “How much does it Cost to Drive from Uluru to Cairns?

    • Its a great way of seeing a lot of country, particularly if you’re time constrained anyway!
      And if you can split the fuel (the most expensive part of the expedition) between separate purses it becomes an economical adventure too 🙂

    • I’ve used the relocation system three times now – and each time have been thrilled with what I got to see for the cost!
      A couple of times where I quite specifically needed to get from one point to another (once when moving and had more gear to transport than I could have comfortably flown).
      And on this latest trip, the list of places they had vehicles going to and from proved to be our inspiration and was what formulated our adventure 🙂

    • If you’re not dead set on where or when you ‘must’ go – Relocation Campers are really good fun –
      The magical mystery tour element all adds to the fun and adventure – Drive one way and fly home! 🙂

      • Linda, I have looked at relocation campers before, but never actually used them. We are heading to japan in September which is going to use all of our travel money, but maybe i can have another look in the next year or so.

        • They could be worth keeping an eye on even if you simply wanted to drive interstate to visit rellies! With a family it could work out quite a bit cheaper than flying one way and add to the adventure having a few days camping on the way 🙂
          I’m *green* about your trip to Japan!
          Look forward to reading all your posts about that 😉

  1. Wonderful blog about your trip, so user friendly your trip sounds and economical! Thanks for all the details, have often thought about doing this!

    • I can certainly recommend it Sue!
      It was definitely a more economic way to see the Centre and the wondrous expanse of country that takes you across the flat Barkly Tablelands to the lush green Atherton Tablelands 🙂

  2. Awesome! Our biggest road trip in Oz was a return trip to Australia after we moved back to the U.S. We flew back using Airline reward miles, then rented a car. We drove south from Sydney along the coast, stopping for lighthouses, around to the G. Peninsula, up to Melbourne, then over through the Grampians to Adelaide, where we stayed several days with friends. Along the way we stayed in motels, which weren’t busy in September, but sometimes not open either! From A. we flew to Alice, where we saw several friends from when we lived there. From Alice we flew to Cairns, staying with other friends. We then rented a care and drove back to Sydney for our flight home a month later than we started. Saw beautiful and historic sites around the country, with several serendipitous moments as we journeyed.

    • That sounds like an amazing round robin of a trip!!
      What a great way to see the whole of the east coast – and drop into Alice to visit friends ‘en route’ 😉
      And the ‘serendipitous moments’ sound intriguing 😀

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