Rusty & Dim led the charge in the Isuzu DMax, towing their Black Series Dominator.
Kate & Rich assumed the tail-end-charlie responsibility in their Isuzu Mux, towing their luxurious and extremely comfortable Lumberjack Johanna.
In the middle, driving the mighty Hilux and towing the Cub Brumby were Shane, Penny, Annabelle and Ben.
Our journey began with the group meeting at Gol Gol on Saturday 23rd June, with a well-deserved visit to the Gol Gol Hotel for dinner – after all, it had been voted the best country pub in NSW for three years running and who better to assess that call than us? We stayed at the River Garden Holiday Park. The weather was quite cold, and we were already looking forward to the warmer weather up north.
It was a fresh start on Sunday 24th, hitting the road by 8:30am with the aim to reach Cameron Corner (CC) by days end. Everyone was pumped, none more so than Shane and Rusty who were beginning their endeavour to find the perfect pie or sausage roll. This would prove to be a long and arduous task over the course of the whole trip, with Russ and Shane both realising it is probably unachievable… but that did not deter them from trying goodies at every bakery they encountered along the way.
We followed the straight line of the Silver City Hwy on the GPS and saw lots of goats, emus and different forms of road kill. We passed through Broken Hill and at one-point drove on a part of the road which doubled as an airstrip for the RFDS. We didn’t quite reach CC that day, but instead decided to strike a beautiful bush camp at Evelyn Creek which was about 40km south of Tibooburra. It was a fantastic clear but crisp night and we all gained an insight into how big the fires would be with Rusty at the helm.
On Monday 25th June we stopped at Tibooburra for fuel and you guessed it, another pie for Russ and Shane. On the road to CC we encountered a mixture of dirt and bitumen, and we started to notice more red kangaroos than greys. The road to CC was fair so long as you were doing 60-80km/hr to get across the corrugations. Upon arrival at CC, group members all took turns at standing on the junction between NSW, SA and QLD, and this was to be our first sighting of the dog proof fence… little did we know that we would be seeing this fence again from the other end in 4 weeks’ time. We ate lunch in the CC car park and departed, leaving behind a rather nasty looking set of storm clouds behind us. We found out days later that rain had set in and trapped many other visitors on the red dusty roads which had turned into a slippery, boggy mess. We survived the track unscathed however Rich and Kate’s water tank had sprung a leak; after a short maintenance stop we were back on the road. We pulled up at a great little campsite on the Wilson River just shy of Nocatunga for the night where we had the whole river to ourselves. As it was Penny’s birthday we all tucked into a Coles’ mud cake and delicious pancakes made by Kate. Yum!
Tuesday 26th saw us heading off towards Longreach. We had planned to get fuel in Eromanga, noted as being the furthest town from any ocean; However, all bowsers were dry, and we had to take the longer route to Longreach via Quilpie. We fuelled up in Quilpie, where we first realised that we were getting closer to the warmer weather. At 22 degrees it felt almost tropical! We continued on our way, making camp at a small council site at Augathella where we celebrated Dimi’s birthday with Carrot cake and an early night.
On Wednesday 27th we left Augathella for Longreach. We stopped at Blackall for yet another bakery visit where the kids enjoyed bakery treats as big as their heads. We saw the Black Stump (“beyond the black stump”) and a road train with 62 tyres – we could only count them because it was stopped. We arrived at Longreach Caravan Park and were all very pleased to shower after four days roughing it in the bush. Some of us had a great night’s sleep however others were kept awake by the snoring of adjacent caravaners. We were already missing the solitude of free bush camping. We spent two days in Longreach relaxing and checking out local attractions.
On Friday 29th we headed off towards Winton with the intention of visiting the Dinosaur Stampede. This was a classic case of false advertising as the Dinosaur Exhibit was 110km south of Winton! We decided to forgo the dinosaurs, telling young Ben that it was closed. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were rewarded with a stunning bush camp that night all to ourselves on a Billabong at Clem Walton Park, 60km outside of Mt Isa. It was a great advantage to have 4WD capable vehicles and campers as we were able to reach this site, far far away from the 100’s of Grey Nomads who dominated the main reserve.
While in Winton, we had a quick look at the Waltzing Matilda Center where one of our younger members asked if she was famous for making a potion. Luckily, we set him straight after a quick walk through the center. We had a quick lunch – yes there was a bakery involved – and got back on the road. We also stopped at the Walkabout Creek Hotel in Mackinlay, made famous by its appearance in the Aussie classic, Crocodile Dundee. It seemed only Australian to drop in for a beer.
Our campsite at Clem Walton Park was dusty but spectacular. Everyone relaxed around another magnificent fire and Penny and Shane were pleased to see that Rich had been recruited by the kids to be their new Uno opponent; but it was hard to determine who was a more brutal player – Rich or Belle.
We woke up to bird calls and the fluttering of flocks of budgerigars. We made our way from Clem Walton Park to the Barkley Homestead. On the way, we stopped in at Mt Isa for food and other supplies. This was our first encounter with the many differing rules regarding the purchase of alcohol in QLD and NT, as we had to wait till midday to buy cask wine. We passed through Camooweal and crossed the border into NT, driving through extremely flat countryside on our way to the Barkley Homestead Roadhouse. Upon arrival at the roadhouse we circled the wagons and were very pleased with our grass site; that is of course until a bus load of high school kids arrived and set up adjacent to us. Russ and Dim had the pleasure of being woken at 5am as the same school kids left the campground. The rest of us commented on how well behaved and quiet they all were as we hadn’t heard a thing. Hahaha.
We hit the road again and travelled to Dunmarra. Along the way we stopped at a ‘free camp’ for a toilet stop. The smell reminded us of the scene in the Australian movie Kenny where he says, “The smell in here will outlast religion”. We quickly moved on… with full bladders. Free camps in NT were not great compared to those in QLD. At Dunmurra we were greeted by cows and buffalos roaming around the campsite and young Benny had a great time playing with the camp dog. Through the night fireworks were let off for Territory Day – if we had known we could legally purchase crackers we certainly would have done so ourselves.
The next morning, ahead of our drive into Katherine, Rich and Dim walked around the air strip behind the station and Shane and Penny went for a run. Sadly, those pies were beginning to catch up with us. We fuelled up at the Three Ways where we enjoyed their ‘low aromatic’ fuel range after having to leave ID at the counter to unlock the bowsers. There may or may not have been another pie purchase here. Along the way we stopped at the Daly Waters hotel for a coffee, but sadly the coffee machine was out of order. It was an interesting little place with lots of quirks, including the myriad of bras hanging from the roof – it certainly looked like a fun place to stay. We had morning tea at the Pink Panther Pub in Laramar which was another quirky place to stop at for a quick visit and incidentally makes a great sausage roll.
We reached Katherine and were all excited to be beginning the next stage of the trip. We passed through Katherine to collect groceries before driving out to Katherine Gorge and staying at Nitmiluk Caravan park. Initially we were disappointed to discover that we couldn’t access the Gorge for ‘free’ swimming from the park, but our adventures over the next few days certainly made up for that.
Whilst in Katherine we visited the stunning Edith falls to the north of the town itself, swam in the warm Katherine hot springs, kayaked through the Nitmiluk Gorge, swam in gorges two and three, and had a few great sightings of fresh water crocodiles – or snapping hand bags as our esteemed leader liked to refer to them. Some of the more adventurous members of the team (or crazier depending how you look at it) jumped off rocks, ran up to the top of the escarpment for a better view and took a Helicopter ride to glimpse eight of the gorges. A few of us purchased artworks from some local artists and had the privilege of watching the ladies dye and weave reeds for baskets and art works. Overall a great three days were had, with beautiful scenery, birds and wild life around and memorable experiences. Katherine you are absolutely gorges! (what a pun!)
Our next leg took us up to Kakadu National Park – a relatively short drive. We turned off to access Gunlom Campground and followed a very red, very corrugated road to camp. Red dirt was everywhere! After a quick camp set up we began the walk up to Gunlom plunge pools. The 1km uphill trek is not for the faint hearted but gee was it worth it. A series of swimming holes, feeding off a reset waterfall and ending with an infinity pool overlooking Kakadu National Park – spectacular. We laughed at the tourists taking model pose photos (# Gunlom Falls) and lamented that many of the girls could not afford properly fitting bathers (we must be getting old). We walked back down the hill (well Ben slid most of the way on his bottom) and swam in the pool at the bottom of another waterfall which was fed from the infinity pool hundreds of feet above. It was a gorgeous spot and for those movie buffs out there, this was the filming location for another great scene from Croc Dundee (the scene where she almost gets taken by the croc while filling up her water bottle). It would have been a very relaxing swim if the signs hadn’t told us to look out for crocodiles!
Our next day at Kakadu took us through Jabiru and onto Merl Campground at the Northern end of the park. We visited Ubirr to view the rock art and were gobsmacked again at another stunning view of Kakadu and Arnhem Land with another famous image from our favourite crocodile movie. We trekked down to Cahills Crossing after hearing that it was the spot to see crocs as they come in on the changing of the tide to feed. We saw a few crocs, a fisherman land a HUGE barra and at low tide the next day some upside-down cars that had tried to cross in the wet season and had been taken by the river. We came back to camp only to discover a carnivorous bird (a Whistling Kite) eating a rather large piece of meat. Closer inspection showed that the piece of meat was from Kate’s sink where it had been defrosting and the bird had helped itself to her dinner! The mozzies were so bad at Merl camp ground that we had to retire early and eat inside. At one stage they sounded like rain hitting the canvas there were so many of them!
On Saturday 7th we said goodbye to Kakadu. We saw some baby crocodiles on the drive out and marvelled at the amazing rock formations throughout the park. We travelled the short distance to Darwin, passing through Humpty Doo. Nothing special there to report but it’s a funny name and deserves a mention.
Darwin was another busy four days as everyone explored sights of interest. We stayed at the Free Spirit Caravan park. It was a big park and very well set up, only a few kilometres out of the city itself. Between us all we visited museums, manmade wave pools, inflatable adventure parks on water, restaurants, art galleries (purchases were made), fish and chip shops (Frying Nemo’s buffalo burger is worth a mention), jumping crocodile tours, Aboriginal cultural tours and of course the famous Mindil Markets. We witnessed a stunning sun set over the water while eating great food and basking in the beauty of this great country. More art was purchased, and Rich had to be careful that no one mistook his magnificent bark painting for wood and accidentally tossed it on the fire. We visited Berry Springs about 40km out of Darwin, another beautiful natural swimming hole, surrounded by Pandanus trees with water that was just the right temperature for swimming. We floated around on noodles in the water and had our toes nibbled on by little fish. It’s definitely a great place to visit if you’re up that way! Dimi cooked up a storm with her famous porcupine meatballs and everyone went to bed with a full tummy and a warm heart after ‘just a tipple’. The park gives out a free drink voucher on arrival (God bless them) so we went and enjoyed a drink by the pool, loving the luxury of wine from a bottle and not a cask! Russ squashed a cane toad, we saw a road train with 86 wheels, and heard that a 4.4m salt water croc was pulled out of Katherine Gorge near where we had been swimming a few days earlier!
Wednesday 11th saw us heading south towards Litchfield National Park. Goodbye Darwin you were amazing! We loved the warm weather and swimming every day, especially when we saw the freezing cold temps in Melbourne and Canberra. We passed loads of termite mounds as we made our way to the park and based ourselves in the Florence Falls 4WD campground ready for three days of exploring (definitely did not require a 4WD to reach this campsite though).
Litchfield NP you did not disappoint! Wow, wow and wow! So many great spots to see. Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, Tjaetaba Falls, Sandy Creek, Buley Waterholes. The list goes on and it was such a beautiful part of the world. Fantastic walks were had past gurgling streams and cascading waterfalls. We encountered a small 4WD water crossing which surprisingly no one offered to walk across due to the crocodile warning signs. There was a brief visit to Blythe homestead and also the Lost City. Back at camp Dimi impressed all of us with her Aussie Smores (ANZAC biscuits, Cadbury chocolate and Pascall marshmallows) though we suspect young Ben might have taken chocolate off some peoples smores to add to his own. Litchfield NP is simply spectacular with so many great places to explore in a relatively small geographical area. Although the showers were ‘hokey pokey showers’ with such a small trickle that you had to put your left arm in, then your right arm in, etc, etc….
We left Litchfield NP and started heading south with the sad realisation that the warm days were limited. Our intention had been to camp at Umbrawarra Gorge (about 22km inland from Pine Creek) but when we got there it was such a disappointing campsite compared to what we had just experienced so we drove back along the dusty dry road and made our way once again to Katherine.
From Katherine we stopped at Bitter springs outside of Mataranka for a swim before heading to Daly Waters pub for the night. This pub had been described as a nightclub for grey nomads and the description was apt. This being said, it was a great stopover with good food and entertainment. Nobody had a better night than one of the grey nomads, Jim, who was celebrating his 75th birthday and decided to treat the diners to a semi strip tease as the crowd sang happy birthday to him.
After a good night’s sleep at Daly Waters we made our way to Devils Marbles. We drove through some significant back burning that was so intense you could feel the heat of the fire through the closed car windows. We passed many grey nomads, poking along at 85km/hr in 130km/hr zones. We passed through Devils Pebbles which were really just a small group of rocks and hoped for better things from Devils Marbles. Luckily the Marbles really were the big kahunas of red rocks. The campground was packed by 3pm when we rolled in, so we drove on to the Devils Marbles Pub which also happened to be full. This sent us further down the road to Wycliffe Well Caravan Park – supposedly the UFO sighting capital of Australia. This was an interesting park which had been left to rundown a bit but would have been a cracker of a spot in its day. We woke up to a very crisp morning so Russ started a fire, to which the kids were most grateful. We realised we should probably have been putting long pants on by now, but stubbornness alone meant that we were all trying to get away with shorts and thongs for a day or two longer.
Heading to Alice Springs on the Barkley Hwy saw us encounter more straight roads, more grey nomads, more eagles, more vast empty nothingness. I don’t know what the other cars were doing to fill the time, but games of boxes, TED talks and an endeavour to listen to every song on the iPod was helping keep us sane in the Hilux. We passed back through the Tropic of Capricorn which we had first crossed in Longreach back in week one…. this could only mean that the weather was going to get cooler. We wondered if it was too late to call our respective employers and say we weren’t coming home till September.
At Alice Springs we stayed at the MacDonnell Ranges Big4 caravan park. This had been described on review pages as the ‘best camp ground in Australia’ – we suspect this review was made by people who had only travelled between Tenant Creek and Alice Springs. Good? Yes. The best? No. It was a relatively relaxed tempo at Alice, taking time to explore the local sights and delights.
From Alice it was out to the West MacDonnell Ranges. We walked through Standley Chasm and out to Ellery Creek Waterhole. The waterhole was a beautiful spot with very, very cold water. Shane decided to dive in just to confirm how cold it was and his voice promptly went up a few octaves. We then drove to Glen Helen Resort at Glen Helen Gorge. Please note that this is an extremely liberal use of the word “resort” – we were expecting butlers, palm trees, a turn down service and a breakfast buffet. Sadly, the resort had none of these and offered just basic camping, albeit with a beautiful backdrop. Rusty produced yet another impressive fire and Shane made a delicious damper for dessert. We spoke to a fellow traveller who warned us about the road to Kings Canyon, saying that he had witnessed four popped tyres along the 150km stretch. But we were in tough trucks (and a Hilux was in the convoy) so we knew we would be fine! Haha.
The next day we headed to Kings Canyon via Haasts Bluff and the Ikuntji Art Shop (more art purchased). Do not be fooled – the road from the MacDonnell Ranges to Kings Canyon is bad! Bumpy, dusty, corrugated, crests, dips, deteriorating tar roads (and those are the good bits). We pulled into Kings Canyon Resort, later realising that Russ had damaged a tyre and Shane had rattled off both driving lights – still no Butlers or Palm trees but a damn sight more like a resort than Glen Helen. The light from the sunset reflecting off the cliffs was brilliant.
We took on the 4-hour Kings Canyon rim walk. Those pies and sausage rolls failed to slow us down and we all walked it in under two hours. It was a gorgeous spot with spectacular views! Fuel at the park was $2.19 a litre!
Sunday 22nd saw us begin the drive to Uluru. This was another ‘big ticket’ item on the bucket list and one that we were all looking forward to. We stopped to collect wood as we were certain that fires were permitted at the ‘Ayres Rock Campground’ (we later found that this was not the case). Everyone pitched in (even the kids), sawing, dragging and collecting wood and kindling to ensure we could have another massive fire. Things were going well until Rich went to move his car and bogged it in sand. Like really bogged it! Luckily the Hilux came and saved the day, which was fine till we drove off and realised that the Hilux main battery was now running at 10.4 volts, compounding further damage done to the battery on an earlier Vic High Country trip. We cautiously drove into ‘town’, expecting to pay $500+ for a new battery and got it for a bargain $330.
We’d heard horrendous reports of the wait time for check-in at Ayres Rock campground, with some reports saying it was taking 2-3 hours, so we were pretty pleased when it was all sorted within half an hour. We weren’t all together, but we were in Uluru! That was ok! Then we got to the camp sites! It was such a disappointing camp ground so if you’re ever heading up that way be sure to book your site well in advance. The place can be summarised by words such as dust, dirt, no water, small sites, cold showers….. But we were determined not to let it ruin our experience of the Red Center…. and it did not as Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) are icons of Australia. To say that we have walked around them, through them (but proudly not up them) is a holiday moment that will never fade. Seeing them at sunrise, midday and sunset only cements how special Australia is.
And so, on Tuesday 24th we began what was well and truly the homeward stretch of our trip. We covered 270km across the Lasseter Hwy before turning right onto the Sturt Hwy and heading south. It was the beginning of the end, and we all knew it. We stopped at Kulgera Roadhouse for a pie, a grossly overpriced bottled of wine, port and $1.99/L diesel. Still, we were all happy. We pulled up for the night at Agnes Creek road stop where again, the benefits of having a 4WD were highlighted when we took the off-road path past the grey nomads to a clearing on a dried-up riverbank and had it all to ourselves. We collected more wood for Rusty to make what would turn out to be his best and final campfire of the trip. We sat by our fire, looking at the stars and thought “this is living”.
On Wednesday 25th we set out on what would be the final leg of the trip. Agnes Creek to Coober Pedy. At first glance CP looked quite unimpressive but after seeing the mines and underground homes it really changed our initial perspective and we thoroughly enjoyed our CP experience. We paid 20c for a two-minute shower and 20c for 40 litres of water (not bad really as we could guarantee we had good quality drinking water) – it really made us appreciate how lucky we have it in the cities.
As weather forecasts started to look less appealing we headed further south towards Port Augusta. Rain and colder climates meant that we were all keen to get home as quickly as possible, keeping the memory of 30 degrees + alive if only in our hearts. This is where we all said our farewells and set off in our respective directions with the intent of finding the warmth of home as quickly as possible.
What an amazing trip. Spectacular scenery, great company, great laughs, lots of kilometres and more than a few things ticked off the bucket list.
Thank you, team and safe travels, one and all.