This was the big one – Adelaide to Darwin. Driving through Australia’s red centre following pretty much one straight road, only detouring to take in the epic Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) and King’s Canyon. In total this would be a 4,000km (2,500 mile) leg of our campervan adventure which may be a long way to go see a big rock literally in the middle of nowhere – would it be worth it?
Day 21: 23 November 2017
After a stop at Woolies to fill up on tinned food, super noodles and water, we followed our sat nav and made our way out of Adelaide. Once we had negotiated the city streets and made our way onto the Stuart Highway – which makes it’s way up the entire centre of Australia – it was cool to see that Google was telling us to turn left in a whopping 1,211km (752 miles). By far the longest stretch of road we’ve ever been directed on.
Thankfully we weren’t doing it all in one day. Our first day was a steady 8 hour drive to our campsite/dirt field at the Pimba petrol station. Despite being a petrol station surrounded by empty horizons there was a strange beauty and serenity to the place. Made even more amazing by giant rainbows and our first outback sunset.
Dist. Travelled: 478km / 297 miles
Day 22: 24 November 2017
Our daily routine for this part of our Oz adventure became clear – wake up early as the sun rises, drive, drive, drive, find a place to sleep before sun goes down. So today we set out to make it into the Northern Territory – the true heartland of the bush.
There were actually a few stops on the way. A distance lake with some psychedelic picnic tables, a dead car and a storm drain might not sound like tourist attractions worth stopping at but when you are driving solidly for hours on end you can find entertainment in pretty much anything.
We also stopped for a roadside lunch at the “Opal Capital of the World” in the form of the opal mining town Coober Pedy (named after the Aboriginal term Kupa-piti which means “boys’ waterhole”). Due to the heat most of the town folk live underground in man-made caves and there are underground hotels, shops and even a church. Although this sounds rather cool, it also means there is very little to see if you are just doing a quick roadside stop. In fact the most distinctive feature of the Coober Pedy landscape is that of the Coober Pedy blowers (huge industrial vacuum cleaners on a truck that suck dust 30 meters undergound as part of the mining process) and the dust dumps they leave behind. We also spotted an advert placed in the tourist guide by the entrepreneurial mailman – advertising his outback route as a true outback adventure where you can ride along and help deliver the mail! You can’t blame him – it must be a lonely job.
Coober Pedy’s main above ground attraction
The afternoon was pure driving. But we made it to the Northern Territory border and stopped the night at the roadside carpark and enjoyed another sunset. It was this second night in the outback when we realised how hot the nights were getting. Trying to sleep in what is practically a mobile oven due to the campervan’s engine being under the seats next to the bed and the scorching outback temperatures was near impossible.
Dist. Travelled: 759km / 472 miles
Day 23: 25 November 2017
Today was the big one: THE LEFT TURN…oh, and Uluru! Just a 363km (256 miles) drive in the morning and we would be there for lunch. Along the highway we got incredibly excited as we spotted Uluru in the distance for the first time. We pulled over at a stop area and marvelled at the stunning rock majestically puncturing the horizon. We were so happy to see this lump of earth that we had travelled so far to glimpse. Lots of photos later we set off along the road for a closer look. It was only then when we passed a sign saying Mount Conner Lookout that we realised this wasn’t Uluru at all! Oh well, Mount Conner was still pretty impressive.
Finally the real Uluru. We made it! We drove around the rock stopping at various walks and lookouts. Rob was so excited that he paid tribute to Australian legend Steve Irwin by recreating his famous photo next to Uluru.
When we got to one of the lookouts a biblical storm erupted which left us stranded in a lookout shelter. This turned out to be a real blessing as we watched on in awe as deafening thunder rumbled overhead and lightning bolts struck down on the rock with vengeance. Hundreds of waterfalls then appeared as streams of rain water started pouring down the sides of Uluru. It was a spectacular sight which we were very fortunate to see.
Once the rain had stopped we negotiated the flooded roadways (ignoring the huge sign on the inside of our van windscreen warning not to do this very thing or risk catastrophic engine failure which we would have to pay for) to have a closer and more intimate experience with the rock. Uluru is a very spritiual place for the Aboriginal people and around the rock you can see different fractures that have lent themselves to the Aboriginal stories of creation. As you walk around the rock you do feel a spiritual connection with the land as you take in Uluru’s size against the empty backdrop.
We wanted to learn more about Uluru, it’s Aboriginal history and it’s geological origin but unfortunately, even in the visitor centre, this information is lacking. The Aborigines keep their connection and legends of the rock a closely guard secret with only small nuggets of insight being revealed now and again. With over 10,000 years of human settlement in the area and an Aboriginal culture so connected to nature and the landscape then I am sure that there is so much more they know about this magical place.
Dist. Travelled: 414km / 257 miles
Day 24: 26 November 2017
We woke up early to get to an Uluru lookout before sunrise. We were hoping for a clear morning but unfortunately it was cloudy which hindered the quality of the sunrise. Add to that the hordes of tourists (yes, yes, I know we are tourists too!) and what could be a rather nice experience gets a little ruined.
Sunrise over Uluru
Afterwards we headed to the Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas) another sacred site of the Aborigines just 25km West of Uluru. Here 36 rock domes rise from the land which we had a pleasant hike around for the afternoon.
Dist. Travelled: 351km / 218 miles
Day 25: 27 November 2017
We made our way to King’s Canyon with the aim of completing the King’s Canyon Rim Walk. The advice of the park is that this is a 6km walk which takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. Despite the signs saying that we should start this walk no later than 9am to ensure we would not be caught out in the midday sun we thought we’d give it a go. The walk starts with a steep climb called “Heartbreak Hill” – more like “Heart Attack Hill”! – with stunning views. Halfway around we descended into watering hall referred to as “The Garden of Eden” due to the abundance of wildlife thanks to the permanent water supply. Afterwards we walked along the 100 meter + walls of the canyon and back to the start. The whole walk took us 1.5 hours so were really glad we weren’t put off by the warning signs and had a walk on the wild side.
From King’s Canyon we thought we would be able to cut East straight for Alice Springs along State Route 6. However, Google Maps was adamant that it was quicker to drive an extra 150km back on ourselves. This is when we realised that State Route 6 was an unsealed dirt road – bugger. This wasn’t the last time we would be caught out by assuming roads on maps were actual finished roads adequate for all vehicles – not something we’ve ever had to really think about before.
Dist. Travelled: 527km / 327 miles
Day 26: 28 November 2017
Alice Springs was our first stop of the day which is almost bang in the middle between Adelaide and Darwin. It’s a major town so we were able to stop at Woolies and pick up some much needed supplies and water. From there we carried on North stopping at the Tropic of Capricorn for some photos with the large sign.
Our next stop was the roadhouse at Wycliffe Well which claims to be the UFO capital of Australia. The place is decked out with cheesy UFO models and newspaper clippings of local sightings. A worthwhile stop to fill up on petrol and UFO nonsense.
We next passed the Devil’s Marbles or Karlu Karlu as per the Aboriginals. These strange rock formations get their name from John Ross who was part of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line expedition through the Red Centre in 1870 and exclaimed that:
This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!
A cool place to stop and marvel at yet another weird rock formation in the Australian outback.
Dist. Travelled: 639km / 397 miles
Day 27: 29 November 2017
Today we were in for a treat and couldn’t wait to get to our first destination. We were so keen we even overtook a road train!
We arrived in the afternoon at Bitter Springs where there was a hot spring swimming hole. Oh it was wonderful. Even though we had managed to get quite good at pan and colander showers it was still glorious to submerge ourselves in fresh crystal clear water and have a little swim. What a fantastic feeling.
Dist. Travelled: 770km / 429 miles
Day 28: 30 November 2017
The final leg of this epic journey! Our first stop of the day was the Adelaide River Inn to see the stuffed water buffalo from Crocodile Dundee. Amazing!
After that we stopped at the Noonamah Tavern just 41.5km (26 miles) short of Darwin. And this is where we ended this epic drive. Darwin would have to wait as we had arranged to do a Workaway at an outback Mango farm on the outskirts of Darwin. After a week on the road with 10 hour driving days and intense heat we were so looking forward to staying put for a week and having a proper bed with air conditioning!
More on that next time.
Dist. Travelled: 104km / 64 miles