Day 1: Bendigo to Renmark
It’s Friday which means it’s the end of the work week, but the start of a 2 week adventure to the Red Centre of Australia and back. With four of us having pre-packed the night before, all we have to do is ensure we leave work on time, rendevous at my place then head off!
I guess with all four of us working at the same company, it’s quite easy to ensure we all get away at the same time, on time. Such was the case, with us leaving with military precision at 3:30pm.
We anticipate that we will be covering around 6500km, travelling to Uluru via the Oodnadatta track, which in turn is reached via the Flinders Ranges. From Uluru, we hope to head over to Kings Canyon on the way to Alice Springs, then back down to Coober Pedy via the Finke River where we hope to do some four-wheel driving.
In terms of how we’re getting there, we’re going to have four of us divided across two vehicles. One being my Mitsubishi Triton and the second vehicle being an 80 Series Landcruiser owner by my good mate Al.
The set up of the Triton is pretty much all stock, apart from the the fitment of BF Goodrich TA/KO All Terrain tyres in the stock 245/70 R16 size and the installation of additions which will add plenty of weight and further decrease my ground clearance. These are lighting upgrades, steel bullbar, rear towbar, and steel sidesteps. As I don’t have a canopy or cover for the back, weather protection for my gear in the rear is provided through two Trimcast rotomoulded cases. As the back is open, I was also carrying 100L of diesel fuel across five jerry cans, camera equipment, 80L of water, a second spare tyre and an air compressor.
Al’s Cruiser on the other hand is anything but stock. I can’t fully remember all the things he’s done to it in preparation for a journey like this, but I do recall he has a 50mm suspension lift with Old Man Emu coil springs and shock absorbers, 33″ Cooper ST Maxx tyres, 12,000lbs winch fitted to a custom fabricated winch bracket, Rhinorack roof racks with an outdoor awning, highlift jack, dual battery system, snorkel, part-time 4WD conversion and an ARB fridge/freezer in the back.
The fridge/freezer allowed us to take plenty of snags, mince and burger patties for meals along the way. Other than that, our food rations consisted of 8 different kinds of Chunky Soup (Outback Steak, Lamb Hotpot, Stockpot, Steak and Ale, Pepper Steak, Ravioli Beef, Lamb Curry, Steak and Potato…..), instant cup noodles, pasta, frozen Four ‘n’ Twenty pies and course for breakfast, Weetbix etc.
As I said before, we had all packed the night before so we could make an early departure right? Well it turns out that there was more to be packed so our departure from Bendigo was slightly delayed by about 1.5hrs.
So finally, at around 5pm, we were on the road. Making good time, we stopped in Mildura for dinner at a fine dining establishment called McDonalds then crossing over into South Australia into Renmark where we found a free camping spot on the outskirts of town. There, the boys set up their swags for the first time on this trip.
Day 2: Renmark to Parachilna
With overnight temperatures dropping to around 0’C, we were eager to start the next day early at 6am to get on the road and get warm.
Back on the open highway, we were met with a clear spring day and we spotted our first group of emu’s running away from the road as we drove past. Just as we passed them, a message on the radio came through from Alan that he needs to pull over as he’s got a bird in his snorkel…
As we just passed a bunch of emu’s, I was thinking he had hit an emu?! Surely not!
Alas the culprit was a small bird, but regardless of the size of the catch, it was the catch of the day and writing this post trip, was also the only road kill for the entire trip (although it is disputed that this was in fact ‘air-kill’ not road kill).
Continuing, we stumbled upon the first relics of the original Ghan Railway – a historic, narrow-gauge railway which ran from Adelaide to Alice Springs and named after Afghan camel herders who lived and operated in the outback of Australia.
We also journeyed into the Flinders Ranges, having been attacked by the billions of flies which seem to pop out of nowhere. Good thing they weren’t marsh flies…
That evening, we arrived at Parachilna which was absolutely packed! It turns out that the local guitarist at the bar was getting married that very evening. After driving over a thousand kilometres, the last thing you expect in the middle of nowhere is to see 50-odd people in suits and dinner gowns! Luckily, we were able to set up camp at the local school, which at the time was unoccupied.
It was mostly a peaceful night until the morning coal train shot past at 5am in the morning, shaking the ground and taking what felt like forever to pass. I swear there must’ve been over 200 carriages.
Day 3: Parachilna to William Creek via Marree
Day 3 was set to be the biggest day yet. Arriving in Marree for lunch, we pushed forward to get to William Creek before sundown, but not without making a 100km detour to get to the banks of Lake Eyre – Australia’s largest salt lake.
There were many more stops along the way however, one of them being a massive salt pan canyon.
Reaching Lake Eyre, we had our own rendition of “pina-coladas on the beach” – which was something we had been planning for some time now but never got around to doing!
After much singing on the radio on the way back, we finally reached our stop for the day at William Creek, where we met all four locals who live there at the pub. As we’re here in the off-peak tourist season, we had the whole camp site to ourselves, except for a few dingos of course!
Day 4: William Creek to Erldunda via Oodnadatta & Marla
Day four would see us complete the Oodnadatta track, assuming of course that we do not run into any mechanical difficulty along the way. The Oodnadatta track has a reputation for being harsh on tyres and suspension and with over 600kg of equipment in my vehicle, I was quite worried about how I’d fare.
However, for the most part we were able to progress at speeds of up to 110km/h, only having to slow down for around 20minutes when the corrugations became more like a series of speed humps.
Not to mention the number of ‘dips’ in the road which can destroy the front end of a vehicle if taken too fast.
The Oodnadatta track is in some ways the “Route 66” of Australia. Back in the day, it was a major road services a host of small towns. Now, with highways constructed in less flood-prone areas, the sizes of these small towns are shrinking and only the major tourist season can keep the hardcore locals in business. As a result, there were plenty of derelict buildings and services spread along the whole track, the most famous of course being the old Ghan railway. In fact, most new buildings all seemed to be portable units and demountable’s, perhaps due to the fact that they can be sold off and transported away if the operator wants to pack up and go.
With all things going well, we reached Oodnadatta, billed as the driest town in Australia by lunchtime. Settling in to a feast of 4 “Oodnaburgers” and the famous Pink Roadhouse, we got to see a good cross section of the local community and tourists like us who were just passing through. With Oodnadatta having a somewhat frequent mail service, we wrote a postcard to our comrades slaving away at their desks in Bendigo and continued on to reach the Northern Territory border.
Crossing the boarder, we were met with large road signs indicating the new 130km/h speed limit and a steady increase in roadtrains
Day 5: Erldunda to Yulara (Uluru)
With high hopes to reach Uluru early to get the most out of the day, we took off from Erldunda towards Yularra which would our next stop. A quick inspection of the vehicles prior to leaving for any tyre damage and we discovered plenty of chunks missing from the BFG’s, with a gash in each right hand side tyre – just short of a sidewall puncture!
Nevertheless, we pushed on. Along the way, sand dunes started popping up either side of the highway. Time to turn off and tackle one!
So with tyres semi deflated, Al chose a dune to tackle. It just so happened that at the top of this dune was a spectacular view of a salt lake!
From about 50km out, the first glimpse of Uluru was on the horizon. What a rock… Though marked aged over the centuries by rain and wind, there it remains, 343m high in the middle of nowhere…
Though many people have climbed the rock in the past, it is well known that the local custodians of the land prefer that people do not climb the rock. Though a handrail has been installed to allow access to the top, signs immediately in front state the the rock is sacred and the words “Please do not climb” are printed on there in large text. However, climbing the rock is NOT illegal, and the same signboard also has the ‘opening times’ for climbing, which are generally in the morning before it gets too hot. There is also a safety information board which states that the gates to the climb will be closed if temperatures are expected to exceed 36’C or if the winds at the top are observed to be more than 35km/h. In the three days were were here, the later condition was met and the rock climb was closed.
However, the walk around the base of the rock is always open. One word of advice however, that if you want to walk around it in midday, make sure you carry plenty of water, wear a good hat, apply sunscreen early and carry some snacks! It’s a long walk, but you really do appreciate the size of the rock when you walk in the same direction for half and hour yet you can still see the same part of the rock you started at.
The nearby tourist information centre is a nice stop over, if only for the purchase of a much awaited icecream and to build relationships with the local birds (no seriously, ask Sean about the local yellow bellied miners)
That evening, after checking in at our camp ground (Yulara resort camp ground), we headed off to the Sunset viewing area. With sunset at 7pm, we left the resort at 5:30pm to secure a good spot. Regardless of season, this area is known to draw a crowd.
Day 6: Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
The next morning, we rose early to get to the Uluru sunrise platform. Packing breakfast with us, we headed out, being the first to arrive at the viewing platform and securing the best position for the morning ‘show’.
After that, it was off to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas for another day of walking.
With the walking tracks weaving between the mounds, you truly get a sense of scale of the place, more so than the walk around Uluru. The Valley of the Winds walk was incredible. Make sure you get there early, or check the weather before hand as again, on days expected to exceed 36’C, rangers will close the walk for safety reasons.
After a day at the Olgas, we decided to check out sunset at Uluru, but from the sunrise platform. Based on the location of the platform with respect to Uluru and the bearing of the sun at sunset, the sun should set just to the side of Uluru, which should provide opportunities for some great photos! So again, with the mobile kitchen packed away, we were off!
And what a view it was… Not only was the area empty of any crowd, the changing spectrum of colour in the evening sky was magnificent.
Day 7: Yulara to Kings Canyon
The next leg of the journey brings us to Kings Canyon. after observing sunrise at the Olgas.
As one guy from work who goes by the name of ‘Funky’ told us, “Kings Canyon was the highlight of my trip.” Boy, what a reputation to live up to!
So it was off onto the Red Centre Way, driving across plenty of red sand. When we finally got there, the temperatures were pushing 40’C, so it was time to set up camp and take a break from the walking, if for just one afternoon. Lucky for us, the Kings Canyon Resort had a nice pool to cool down in, and the sunset viewing platform was 100m walk from our campsite.
Day 8: Exploring Kings Canyon
The walk around the rim of Kings Canyon is a tough walk, approximately 4hrs. Starting early in this morning is key, to minimise the time spent unsheltered from the sun, however by the time we started, it was already around 7:30am.
The first kilometre is rather flat and amongst the shade of trees. There, you make a rapid ascent of the canyon walls, to the ‘rim’ – warning if you have weak knees, this is not for you! Carrying around 20kg of water and camera gear in my backpack, this was certainly a test of my stamina!
Another word of advice is to wear sturdy footwear as the sharp, rocky and uneven surfaces can easily tear into sneakers or cause you to twist your ankle.
With the quad’s burning, we finally reached the top and like every other high perched location on this trip, the view was spectacular (getting a bit repetitive right?).
Along the way, we walked down into the “Garden of Eden”, which is a cool, shaded waterhole providing relief from the sun- just what the doctor ordered!
Finishing the Rim Walk, we then headed back for lunch and an Icypole, and returned in the afternoon to complete the Kings Creek walk, which was a nice short stroll for finish the day off.
Day 9: Kings Canyon to Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive
With supplies running low, it was time to make our way to the Alice to restock and refresh. From Kings Canyon, Alice Springs can be reached via the Larapinta Drive, which takes you past many meteor/comet craters and other geological landmarks through the West MacDonnell Ranges. Though we did not stop at every one, the ones we did stop at were Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap.
In this leg of the journey, we also tested out our mobile pie warmer, which, after putting in pies at around 9am, were reading for eating by lunchtime.
Day 10: Alice Springs to Boggy Hole (Finke Gorge)
Stocking up with supplies in the morning (sorry Sean, no Cottees Apple Kiwi cordial at Coles), it was off to Boggy Hole along the Finke River Trail, via Hermannsburg and Palm Valley. The rock river bed towards Palm Valley really tested the ground clearance of the Triton, which in part was aided by a leaking jerry car which spilt diesel in the back! No big deal, the cap was securely fastened on and we progressed.
The same conditions along the Finke River trail was observed – think a narrow track weaving side to side across the riverbed, which did cause the Triton to be bogged after a failed attempt to change gear. Nothing to fear, that’s why we brought snatch straps and a second vehicle for right?
With the lack of rain, the river bed was dry for the entire track, even the notorious Boggy Hole was no longer boggy.
Though we initially missed the camp site, we were able to turn around and pitch our swags and tent into the soft sandy creek bed. Eating like kings for dinner, courtesy of fresh supplies from Alice, we were later attacked by massive moths as we scrambled in the cover darkness to the safety of our tents!
Day 11: Boggy Hole to Coober Pedy
With a short 20km drive back to the highway (or was that 120km Matty?) we successfully completed the Finke River Trail with no issues! Hitting the bitumen was an awesome feeling after having your back pounded by the corrugations on the track.
The next port of call was Coober Pedy – the world famous opal mining town, with its underground houses and churches. We later learned that the method of extracting opals can be likened to running a supercharged vacuum cleaner over the ground!
Here, we were also able to find an underground camp site, which sounded like a great idea to escape the heat and the flies. What we did not expect was a family with 6 kids rocking up, pitching right next to us with a dad that snores like a lawnmower which was further amplified by the acoustic properties of the and with a young child who stayed up all night talking to himself.. Ah well, to be honest, it wasn’t too bad and I’m sure I paid them back with my snoring that night anyway.
Day 12: Coober Pedy to Port Augusta
The next morning, before leaving Coober Pedy, it was time to go on an underground mine tour. As the tour operator said himself… “Everyone in Coober Pedy has a little bit of crazy in them….” so naturally the many locals we met seemed quite special!
One of the major attractions of Coober Pedy, in line with many Australian cities/towns is the featuring of a ‘big’ item. Cairns has the Big Marlin and Big Captain Cook, Coffs Harbour the Big Banana, Tully has the Big Green Gumboot, Bowen has the Big Mango, Tamworth has the Big Golden Guitar, so what could Coober Pedy have? The Big Opal you say? No, that would make sense and everyone in Coober Pedy has a bit of crazy in them remember?
Coober Pedy has the Big Winch, which is a static, inoperable winch at the top of the hill in the middle of the city.
The nice lady at the gift store of the underground mine tour we went to gave us some kind advice when going up to look at the winch:
“As you drive up, continue driving straight, don’t turn left, otherwise you’ll bump into Crazy Charlie.”
So as I’m leading the vehicles up the hill to see the Big Winch, I’m thinking.. with a name like Crazy Charlie, we have to go and check it out, so a left turn we made!
It turns our Crazy Charlie is a Chinese Opal Miner/Jeweller from Hong Kong who lives at the top of the hill, (which provides a great view of Coober Pedy) has a room full of pictures of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, along with a room full of opal jewellery he has mined and created himself. In his words, he has been there for over 35 years. Three of us manage to escape from his sales tactics, managing to sacrifice Sean without him knowing.
Soon after this experience, were eager to get the hell out of there! So back on the road we went, down into Port Augusta and Adelaide. Alongside the highway in the distance were working opal mines with their vacuum cleaners sucking away…
Approaching Port Augusta, it was clear that the fuel economy of the Triton was at an all time low… On further investigation of the air filter, it was clear that this was the culprit! Off to Autobarn to get a new one!
Day 13: Port Augusta to Adelaide
Throughout the journey, we have passed many odd things on the road. From crop dusters, to combine harvesters, dump trucks, four-trailer road trains etc. but as we approached Adelaide, we passed for the first time a wind turbine column and turbine blade! However, the oddest thing we did past (and I will say ‘thing’) was in Snowtown.
Infamous for the Snowtown murders (a.k.a. bodies in the barrels), we made a quick stop in the town to stretch out legs. With Sean and I at the back of the car refilling our drink bottles, a gentleman dressed in a wifebeater, King Gee shorts, steel capped boots, dogtags and with a dent in his tattooed head comes over.
“Welcome to hell, I’m the devil.”
What an introduction. Obviously he’s from the tourist information centre, hoping to shake the image of the township and boost tourism no?
The conversation which proceeded was random, in some cases violent, but this guy had a sense of humour! When Al returned from the toilet, this bloke dropped the line –
“I’m a trained killer…..” to which all of us thought… “Oh sh*t…”
He then followed up this statement with “At the abattoir…”
Anyway, I made the excuse that we had to move on and so off in the cars we went and though he told us of a ‘shortcut’ to get back to the highway (involving left turns here, right turns there, followed by a right then a left) I was not taking anything to chance – I did a U-turn and left the same way I came in! Goodbye Snowtown! Thanks for the memories!
Although we did not plan to go to Adelaide, we decided that with a few days spare, to drop in and have a look. Like any capital city, there are skyscrapers, people in suits, people shopping, etc. Unlike the other capital cities I’ve been to, the parking was cheap, the traffic was minimal and there were parks everywhere near the CBD? What is this strange place? Sure, we walked past an Andy Warhol look-alike wearing stilettos, but it seemed like a really nice place…
As they say, it’s good to explore your own backyard. Before heading off to the UK for the next couple of years, driving out to Uluru and exploring the many places along the way was at the top of my list. Thanks very much to Alan, Matt and Sean for the great time along the way and hope to do another road trip again in the future. Maybe the Great Savannah Way from Cairns to Broome via the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria?