On a wet, windy, very cold afternoon, our time had come to experience one of the greatest iconic Central Australian Road Trips. Melbourne was left behind as we battled angry rain and seriously strong gusty winds. The weather was truly miserable but the forecast predicted clear sunny days coming up, with temperatures in the low to mid 20’s. Perfect for walking and exploring
We spent our first night at Charlton Travellers Rest, three and a half hours out of Melbourne. Tired and somewhat wet by the time we set up the camper trailer, (I have to admit, I was dry. I refused to get out of the car until the trailer was up. My man of the day got out, and got…wet) dinner was far from gourmet but hit the spot. Baked beans on toast, with a sprinkle of Parmesan and a crunchy pickle on the side washed down with a nice Shiraz. Camp food. It was a perfect simple comfort meal and a great start to our trip. Cheers.
Animals are a great ice breaker for making friends. We met a relaxed triangle of dad, young son and faithful dog. Camping in a dome tent, driving a retro gold Cortina they were undaunted by the weather and had a fire going in the camp kitchen. We had a lovely chat. How cute is there little beagle? She was so well behaved.
The pretty Avoca river has several walks if you decide to stay in Charlton for a couple of days. The main street offers a good stroll and some interesting shops. Saturday morning we had a long drive ahead. 630km’s to Burra.
Lunch was in Ouyen at The Mallee Bakery. The cakes were something else! 9/10. Worth a stop.
Burra is a very interesting pretty little town, with lots of restored buildings and cute cottage accommodation. A heritage trail via a key which gives you access to unlock historical sites is a great way to walk the town and learn about its history. Upmarket shops in the main streets indicate seasonal crowds a plenty, but on Sunday morning as we walked its streets, Burra was a sleeping town, although there were gradual signs of retailers coming to grips with starting the day as the morning turned towards lunch time.
Amenities at the Burra caravan park were very good. Excellent showers, nice and hot. The toilet blocks have recently been renovated and are very clean. The laundry has big new washers and dryers.
Take note: According to a Burra local, ‘Burra is either freezing cold, or very very hot. There is nothing in between.’
Be warned, the border crossing at Renmark from VIC into SA is a stop and search area. They will search your car and caravan for fruit. I lost my tomatoes and avocado’s.
Back on the road, lunch was at Spuds Roadhouse in Pimba. Just before Pimba there are some excellent salt lakes. Very pretty. Take care of animals on the roads. We had to slow for sheep wandering around and saw two cows that had been hit.
I love this idea. In the car park bins have bicycle wheels on them to stop rubbish flying out in the wind, and check out the showers!
I really like Glendambo. There is a huge area behind the pub with spacious camp sites and several covered open sided shelters which provide protection for campers in tents or swags. There were a group of young ‘lads’ in one of these shelters with a portable patio heater and swags. They were quite comfortable regardless of the rather windy, cold evening. The pub is a terrific building, a really lovely space with a huge open fire which turns out to be a perfect way to relax after a meal, have a drink, and chat with fellow travellers on large plush couches around generous coffee tables. I highly recommend the pub for dinner. The menu is basic, steak, barramundi, schnitzels etc. typical pub fare. We both chose the barra with chips and salad and it was excellent.
Glendambo to Coober Pedy has plenty of rest stops but here are no roadhouses, so make sure you have a wee before you hit the road unless you are happy to drop your knickers without a bush in sight to hide behind. This is remote country.
As we approached Coober Pedy, signage began to line the roadside. It’s bit sad. The town outskirts are very messy. I didn’t find Coober Pedy an inspiring town. I think the lure to visit is due to the unknown rather than the actual experience. This is definitely a mining town, utilitarian rather than pretty. We stayed at Big 4 Stuart Range Outback Resort.
There is no water in Coober Pedy, it is all trucked in, so showers are coin operated. Twenty cents for two minutes. Signs remind you to ‘have your coins ready!’ It actually isn’t too bad. The water came on hot and strong immediately the coin dropped.
There is a large pool, but it is closed ‘indefinitely’ due to structural damage.
A local told me the wind gets crazy bad in September, strong and relentless, a good thing to bear in mind when planning to travel. We were there in August and it was quite blustery. A good thing is the colder weather means less flies!
Strange signs in the main street.
27km’s from Coober Pedy is The Breakaways. Well worth a detour. The view is spectacular, and the colours amazing. The road is unmade but well graded. It really beautiful.
On the way to Erldunda, we had a couple of stops. Lunch at Cadney Park Homestead, where we were very impressed by the simply delicious, extremely yummy, buttery, crunchy, grilled cheese sandwiches. Coffee is expensive at $6 but it is a large mug. There are toilets, easy parking and if needed a caravan park. This is a licensed bar in a huge space. It is a comfortable place to stop for a break but there is no phone service. We also stopped at Kulgera Hotel, the last pub in SA and the first in NT. It has a cosy little bar, with gorgeous old timber door fridges. The ceiling is an art installation of hanging hats and bra’s. Outside there is a hills hoist hung with shoes. I love the way people leave bits of themselves behind.
Erldunda is a huge caravan/camping park with shady trees and lots of red sand. There is an animal enclosure with a camel that appears to have a fun time chasing a wallaby, kangaroos, a beautiful rooster and emus.
There is no camp kitchen, there are some outdoor BBQ’s, but they were surrounded by men who had happily settled in with a beer, chat and cooking and I felt I would intrude if tried to squeeze in. There is a licensed hotel on site, take away food and groceries. The amenities block is huge, but bore water again. Not suitable for drinking.
A three hour drive from Erldunda is Ayers Rock Resort, Yulara. It’s a huge complex, which is not surprising. It covers all facets of accommodation from resort style rooms, down to unpowered sites. It has bars, cafes, a very good IGA, post office and all manner of shops. Arrive as early as you can. As the afternoon turns into early evening, campers can sit in quite a long line waiting to check in. Staff at reception are efficient, friendly and professional but they struggle with the huge numbers of people who turn up after lunch. Campsites vary dramatically so early arrival can help with a better site allocation. There is no grass, but there is a good supply of shade, which is a bonus. All water is drinkable. The amenities are in need of refurbishment but okay. The IGA is excellent. Very well stocked and fresh. Take away booze can only be purchased from one area. You need to show your camp ground pass to purchase alcohol from any outlet at Yulara.
A short walk behind the campsites takes you to the top of a sand hill where you get a fabulous view of Uluru. We didn’t know it was there, and were taken by surprise by the unexpected, truly beautiful sight. Awesome is not a word I generally use, but this rock is awesome! It’s a long drive getting here, after so much driving allow a few days to walk and explore. It is a peaceful environment and nice to spend a few days and enjoy it.
We chose not to climb Uluru out of respect. Instead we walked the 10km track that circles the rock. The pathway is flat and well maintained. Although long, it is an easy walk. Take plenty of water. Even early in the day, with the temperature only in the mid 20’s it got quite hot in parts where there is no shade. Note, there are no toilets on the walk. The café at the cultural centre has a limited choice of food but it is good and very reasonably priced. A burger only cost $8.50. There is also coffee and a selection of cakes. Plenty of souvenirs and artwork are available and the toilets are clean. The building itself is beautiful, with stories and artworks for visitors.
The Olga’s – Kata Tjuta.
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is a beautiful walk. It is indeed impressive. Just under an hour’s drive from Yulara, it is a 7.4km circuit walk. There are drinking water stations in a few places around the walk, and clean drop dunnies. The walk takes you through some incredible spaces, views and colours. The track is never dull. It changes constantly. It can be challenging in parts with steep ascents and climbs and loose rocks. This is a great walk, don’t be discouraged if you think your fitness level is not good enough. I am a middle aged somewhat chubby person who doesn’t go to the gym, has never done Pilates, I don’t jog, don’t swim countless laps, I walk a little each day, and I did this walk reasonably comfortable with only a bit of huffing and puffing during certain very steep climbs, which although tough, are short. Remember to stop and look behind you. Sometimes the view from behind is amazing and you will miss it.
The path varies greatly, from flat and well defined, to scrambling up rock faces.
Kings Creek Station.
30km’s before Kings Canyon Resort make sure to drop in at Kings Creek Station. They offer a variety of food including the Freddy Burger! Which are camel patty burgers. The biggest surprise was the pastries. Portuguese tarts and apple and berry crumble slices. They are so good we stopped there again on the way back from Alice Springs. Unbelievably delicious.
Kings Canyon Resort was relaxed and comfortable but the amenities could do with refurbishment. The campground is large, the sites spacious and shady. There is no internet, and no Telstra. Only Optus. There are some Wi-Fi spots at a charge. The Outback BBQ and Grill is worth going to for a feed. It has live entertainment and large communal tables where people chat and share stories over dinner. The meals are simple, hearty and good. The bar offers pizza and there is a restaurant on site, but most people opted for the casual eateries. Look out for dingo’s! A little fellow poked his head under the canvas wall of the Outback BBQ dining hall and slunk off into the kitchen. As the sun sets, colours move and change over a spectacular rocky backdrop. It is quite dramatic. A sunset viewing area in the park serves drinks and crisps every evening while the sun sets.
Kathleen Springs Walk.
Kathleen Springs Walk is an easy 2.6km return walk on a well made path which leads to a deep clear spring fed waterhole. There is no swimming allowed. It is very peaceful, tucked away under towering rock walls. Signs along the path explain aboriginal culture of the area. It is a tranquil spot. I enjoyed the solitude and quiet. Late in the day is a good time to go as there were only a few people around.
Kings Canyon Walk.
This walk is one of the highlights of my travels anywhere in the world. The start is tough. A steep climb up a lot of rocky steps. I had to stop a couple of times and try to breathe! Once you get up there however, the rim walk itself is reasonably easy. It’s a big walk but worth every grunt and drop of sweat. Every way you turn it is gob smackingly beautiful. The natural beauty of the area is mind blowing. It is tricky at times. I had to use my bottom to slide down several rocks as my legs were too short to jump or scramble down…and it felt just that little more secure sitting on the job! It is a very busy track. I saw too many people charging past, more eager to complete the walk than absorb the beauty. Stop and sit occasionally. Let people pass so you can snatch a few moments of quiet. I lay back on a smooth rock and closed my eyes, soaking up the warmth of the sun. It was very nice. This is a walk that deserves to be savoured rather than guzzled.
ROCKS. CANYON. RED.
People become familiar faces as we move from one site to another. Brief friendships form as we catch up for chats on trails, and over meals. At each stop we pick up another couple of buddies, increasing the friendship group. It is a very friendly, multi-age community that travels the outback.
We chose to stay at Big 4 MacDonnell Ranges so we could explore the MacDonnell Ranges. It is very clean and has plenty of shade and grass, I noticed each site is watered as people leave. This is a great park for families. Kids are well catered for and it is the first time I have seen a quiet reading room! For over 16’s only. Interesting concept. However, I didn’t see anyone in it. The camp kitchen is a ripper, with a huge TV on the wall. The amenities are super clean and good water flow. They also have a coffee, pancake and strawberry van that operated in the evenings which was quite popular.
Ormiston Gorge is approximately 130 km’s from Alice Springs. We went there first and worked our way back, stopping to explore the Ochre Pits, Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole, all doable in one day.
Ormiston Gorge is beautiful. A large waterhole with birds diving for fish. The jade green water contrasted perfectly with the red of the towering surrounds. We sat here for ages soaking up the beauty. The sand was as clean and pure as any beach I have been to. A huge dry river bed leading to the water hole is stunning. I loved it, and took about a million photos.
There is a small kiosk here with decent coffee and plenty of shady spots outside to sit around. These cute birds kept us amused for ages with their preening and pompous display.
The Ochre Pits.
This was an interesting spot. Long vertical stripes of different coloured ochres tower above a dry river bed varying from white through yellow to reds.
Serpentine Gorge is a small waterhole surrounded with amazing colours.
Ellery Creek Big Hole.
Ellery Creek Big Hole is stunning. Everywhere you looked was beautiful! The reflections in the still water were mirror like. Another million photos went into my IPhone. Mind blowing. It is hard to reproduce what the eye can see. I can only recommend you go and see for yourself and feel these places. The tranquillity and power. Incredibly emotional landscapes.
Standley Chasm. Angkerle Atwatye
Standley Chasm walk takes you right in to the chasm. 80m sheer red rock walls tower above you. This is an easy, pretty walk accessible to most people. It is a popular destination at noon when the sun is straight above. There is a good kiosk with food and coffee. And toilets.
Simpsons Gap is another wonderful walk along a dry river bed with huge beautiful gum trees throwing shade onto the pristine sand. I gotta say, I love those river beds. It’s like being at the bottom of the ocean, without water…or fish…or seaweed. But still the same feeling! The waterhole is quite different to the previous ones. Each of these gaps in the range have their own feel and personalities. Simpsons Gap is a tour bus destination. A huge group were there when we arrived, chattering away with little regard for the peace of those not on the tour. It was still a gorgeous place to see, but I wish we had missed the tour bus crowd so we could soak up more of it in solitude.
We rocked into Marla early afternoon, with plenty of time to set up and chill for a few hours before the cool night kicked in. Just as we were settling down, the first of ninety NSW Variety Club Bash vehicles began revving their way into Marla’s traveller’s rest camping site. They had come from Oodnadatta as part of a ten day journey from Bonnyrigg NSW to Braitling NT. Over the next few hours the campsite slowly filled with colour and noise. A band set up and we were glad to be tucked away in a relatively quiet corner…except…behind us was a bank of huge generators that hummed throughout the night. Take note, don’t choose a camp site along the back fence, these huge generators are noisy and don’t stop at night. There is heaps of accommodation in cabin and motel style, plenty of unpowered sites but not so many powered. Get in early if you want power. There is grass, but you can’t park on it. Bore water only. There is a large pool. A tavern, restaurant, well stocked IGA and fuel.
Pretty Bougainvillaea in Marla.
Marla to Oodnadatta.
Excited to start the Oodnadatta track, we hit the road at 9am. Not a car was in sight. Kicking up some reasonable dust behind us we were very glad the variety club vehicles had came through the day before or we would have been driving through a constant stream of dust and kicked up stones as they passed. Phew! The surface of the track starts quite reasonable, with some corrugations on and off, nothing that can’t be handled with sensible driving and lower speed. We were lulled into a false sense of security. Pretty soon the road deteriorated. The surface varies a great deal, from big loose stones to soft dust and horrid corrugations. We let our tyres down to 26psi while on the track. There are many creek crossings, all dry during our drive but there are many many many floodway signs. Anyone who decides to do the track in the wet needs to be sure they are confident with adverse road conditions and have a suitable vehicle.
The Pink Roadhouse – Oodnadatta.
Hmmmm. A very interesting experience. And it is an experience. The roadhouse itself is large, open and pleasant, with big tables. Terrific for a lunch stop. Behind the roadhouse is the caravan park. This dusty piece of land quickly filled with camper trailers and small vans as the afternoon turned to evening. Jostling for space, it soon became a carpark, each new arrival expressed visible disbelief as they circled and scrambled into a vacant space. The amenities caused quite a stir, I chose not to use the showers as they offered very little privacy. The laundry contains retro cement troughs, not so much a cute idea as perhaps the original wash troughs have never been replaced. The camp kitchen does have a microwave, kettle and toaster but the shed that covers them is dilapidated, and although the communal benches and tables appear to invite people to congregate, the dirty space is not comfortable and while we were there, I didn’t see anyone use it. I don’t like to berate a place, but a bit of TLC, even of a minimal nature would show some respect for the many visitors that stop here. I certainly felt my money offered nothing more than a nights power, a frightening toilet and a place to park. There was nothing to offer comfort, welcome or service to weary travellers.
Oodnadatta to William Creek.
The road improved significantly. Well graded and wider than a standard road it was possible to maintain 80km speeds for most of the drive while towing a camper trailer. The road is not straight, or flat. It bends and curves and follows the undulating landscape with many dips and crests. Colours and landscape change frequently. It’s not a difficult drive, but you need to concentrate. Go slow and look out for animals and other vehicles. There are ruins scattered along the old Ghan railway. It is worth a stop and a look at a few of them, the beautiful red stones they are built of are gorgeous and offer terrific photo opportunities.
The Algebuckina Bridge.
The Algebuckina Bridge is a popular stop both for a quick look and for self sufficient overnight campers. Rings of rocks containing charred remains are scattered randomly and indicate the amount of campers who do stop overnight. We climbed up for a look and I, who am not scared of heights, felt distinctly uncomfortable looking down through the steel mesh to the ground waaaay below. It’s quite a nice spot to camp. But there are no facilities or water.
This camp ground is spacious, there are a few trees, cabins and recently renovated amenities which are thankfully clean, and have good hot water flow. We chose to have dinner in the hotel and it was good. The ceiling as you enter is covered in business card let by travellers. I added mine!
A limited pub menu of the usual favourites, fish and chips, Parma and the unusual addition of goat curry. Desserts were excellent. We sampled choc lava cake and sticky date pudding. A warm fire enhanced the relaxed atmosphere and the ambiance invited travellers at adjoining tables to turn chairs around and share yarns. Out in the camp ground, fires provided a convivial atmosphere in the cool evening. It is a peaceful, friendly campsite and the shower/toilet facilities were a welcome relief. I definitely recommend stopping at William Creek.
The Oodnadatta track changes continually. Dry lakes and river beds, red hills, land so flat it disappears into the horizon without a bump in sight. There so are many variations in the soil and vegetation. I did not for a moment think the drive was boring. It is demanding, and extremely beautiful. Passing drivers give a wave, feel good moment that comes from sharing the Oodnadatta track drive. There are also a lot of man made points interest to keep you amused on the track. A pink safe reminds you to ‘stay safe’. The many Dip, Grid and Crest signs are humorously graffited by previous travellers. As well as ‘skinny dip’ we saw ‘lucky dip’ ‘big dipper’ ‘HaGRID’ and my favourite ‘silver CRESTed cockatoo’
We stopped here just for a look, and a wee. It has a very nice camp sites, and the drop dunnies are first class.. The natural spring fed spa is warm and the water felt so soft! Time was short so we didn’t have time to take the plunge.
A neat boardwalk leads to The Bubbler. A small clear water pool that bubbles erratically, although constantly. I sat for ages, mesmerised by the bubble and ripple effect, and was rewarded by an eventual larger outburst which frothed up mud from below and become for a short while an angry churning bubble exuding deep ripples, and then, just as quietly and quickly, it died down, leaving the surface of the water once again clear and meditative.
This is a vastly different beast to the bubbler. Deeper, and sitting high up on a mound, surrounded by verdant green grasses. It feels more ominous and broody, the bubbler is more dignified, if not somewhat impatient with the stream of people waiting for it to put on a show.
These springs are based in a large salt lake.
Lake Eyre South.
The white gleam of salt in the distance beckoned enticingly but remained distant and aloof. Fine sand as pure as any of the best beaches but the actual salt was too far to get close to. This was frustrating and I vowed to return to Lake Eyre North and get closer.
This is a classic outback town, interestingly sporting a memorial to Muslim camel drivers. It is very dusty like the other towns along the track. The roadhouse has terrific bakery bread, muffins and cookies. The amenities are clean and roomy individual pods with shower and toilet. Once again there is only bore water. No matter how sweet smelling your shampoo and soap, your skin and hair still absorb the never to forget smell of bore water. Camp sites are tight. The neighbour’s conversations come in loud and clear and at times are quite amusing. There are a couple of sites with trees providing shade. The camp kitchen is basic, a bit dusty but that is unavoidable. You soon get used to the dust. They have a comfy indoor area. I don’t quite understand why there is a Lake Eyre Boathouse in town?
At night, staff and travellers congregate around a fire and chat, locals share stories of their outback childhoods and I am told the manager usually plays and sings a few songs on her guitar but she was away when we were there. Nice sunsets.
The road from Marree turns rough again after a bit of bitumen relief. The end of the Oodnadatta track is not the end of the unmade road. As we drove further away from Optus service, my Telstra phone began to ting and bip as emails and messages finally flowed through.
There are lots of stone ruins along the track. Some are worth a stop and look. Great photo opportunities.
I love the way the Oodnadatta track morphs into different road surfaces and all the dips and crests. I took way too many photos of the road…
Wilpena Pound camp ground is delightful. Shady trees and decent sized spaces. At night the glow of fires are spotted all through the bush. Firewood is sold in bags at the visitors centre, where there is also fuel, groceries, booze and a café that has great cakes but not much food. Wilpena Pound is a restful place. There is a lot of wildlife, wallabies, emu’s, emerald green parrots and quite a few feral goats. The amenities are good. Clean toilets and hot showers with excellent flow. There is also a resort with restaurants for those you prefer to glamp it up, but the serenity of the pound would be lost if you lock yourself in a room.
Emus are in abundance. Look out. They have poor road sense.
As are feral goats.
The walk to Wangara Lookout is via a walk which started in quite a civilized manner, before it rapidly became nasty. I seriously busted a gut getting to the top. Half a kilometre straight up! It was steep. There is a panoramic view from a viewing platform at the top. I sat there for quite some time enjoying the view…and recovering.
The trees along the walk are impressive. So many huge beautiful gums are toppled over everywhere you look. Branches are everywhere in huge piles, fallen or toppled and pushed into piles by raging floods?
There are plenty of signs along the road telling you to look out for wandering cattle. Don’t ignore them. They mean it! Cows have priority, best to stop and wait for them to cross in their own sweet time.
Petrol got mighty expensive in some places, but most times it wasn’t much more than Melbourne prices. Retro bathrooms in camp grounds are not uncommon.
Pretty plants everywhere. I was fascinated by the bitter melons growing on the roadside verges.
A long day of driving ended after dark at Apex River Beach Holiday Park. We woke in the morning to a room with a view of the mighty Murray without even having to crawl out of bed. Nice. There is a sandy beach at this part of the river with clean good sand. The water is clear along the edges where it laps the sand, but rapidly drops and the current is a bit scary. Paddle steamers chug past, so I think maybe swimming is not such a good idea midstream. A bit of a paddle on the edges looks mighty fine. The Murray is as always a restorative waterway. The power lulls you and scares you.
5km’s from the township of Sea Lake, Lake Tyrell is an interesting stop. The turn off is easy to miss. We did. Twice. There is a viewing platform, and a walk that takes you onto the lake itself, which is separated into many sections by sandbars. There was quite a bit of water in the lake glittering silvery blue in the bright sun. We crunched our way over the dry areas, fascinated by the evenly formed squares of salt crystals, and fairy sprinkles of glitter. I love a salt lake.
300km’s out of Melbourne we copped a flat tyre. After 6000km’s and the Oodnadatta track we scored a flat on the tarmac. It put us behind about an hour so our final stop on the way home was dinner at Marong Family Hotel. Lamb features heavily on the menu and it was good. It got quite busy on a Saturday night but there was heaps of room outside in the covered garden.
This has been a brilliant road trip and I highly recommend it. At no time did I regret venturing out into this dusty, red, dry part of Australia and the beauty of the country has been firmly cemented in my mind. I feel the pull of heading off again as soon as I can get away. There is a lot of driving, but there is a lot to see and feel.