Adventures in the Outback….Australia Part 2

Welcome back!  After 8 days with our tiny home, we pulled into Melbourne to drop off our little caravan and pick up our next “home.”  This was truly a luxury vehicle!  A class C RV motorhome that sleeps 6 (mind you, not overly comfortable if you are 6….but plenty spacious for 2).  Here is the crazy part….we signed up for a relocation deal which has some definite perks, as well as at least one big downside.  So what this boiled down to was we got this amazing “home” for 8 days, for the whopping sum of $1 dollar a day.  Yep, you read that right….$1 dollar per day to rent this baby!  But, let’s not forget the aforementioned downside 🙁  The downside was that we had to move the vehicle 1700 miles over 8 days….yikes!

Moving day! From small to much larger!

At this point, I have not driven here in Australia.  For those who know me well, you know how much I hate to drive in my own country where I have a firm grasp on what I am doing!  Since this leg of our journey required many long hours behind the wheel, we agreed that I would share in some of the driving….gulp.  Dan and I decided to log as many miles as we could up front, so that we could have some down days to enjoy this beautiful country.  Since it was somewhat late in the day by the time we did all the vehicle switching, we decided to drive 2 hours and grab a camp spot for the night.

Robyn’s turn at the wheel. “Look right and drive right” was our mantra!

The next day we got an early start from our spot in Nhill and drove 8 hours straight into the outback via the Barossa wine country.  I took the first shift which worked out well since we were one of the very few cars on the road.  After “backseat” driving Dan for the last week, I felt pretty skilled driving my big rig from the right seat on the left side of the road!  One of the freakiest things we’ve encountered on our drives are these rigs called Road Trains.  They are basically a semi with 3 attached cargo trailers.  They are scary to pass since they are so long, and when they blow by you, you feel like you are going to be blown off the road.  Needless to say, we tend to hug the shoulder when we see one approaching and hang on tight!  The terrain in the outback is quite spectacular with it’s wide array of colors and features.  We expected to encounter a lot of wildlife, but unfortunately everything we saw on this day was road kill 🙁  At this point, the only wombat and kangaroo I’d seen were deceased… heartbreaking.  After our long drive, we opted for a “wild” camping spot which was down a red dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.  Knowing all the deadly things that lurk in the outback waiting for me, I wasn’t overly keen to go exploring on foot or hang out outside.  I know….what a wimp!

Welcome to the Outback!
Wish you could tie off the wheel and set the cruise control.
Our first wilderness camp spot in the Outback. Kangaroo and snake tracks were everywhere but we didn’t see a Roo until with we left the next morning.
Can’t complain about the locale!
Sunset from our camp spot

We were up with the sun the following morning and on the road again.  Once again, I took first shift.  I kind of liked having the road all to myself.  Since we were out and about at sunrise, we were treated to some kangaroos and a number of emu.  The kangaroos were messing around in the roadway, so by the time we got close enough (very slowly), they had disappeared into the brush.  It was very cool to finally get to see some alive and well.  On this day, we planned to cover 5 hours to the town of Coober Pedy.  Along the way, we stopped at a salt lake (we’ve seen quite few of these here) and walked out onto if for some pictures.  They are really an unusual landform out here in the middle of nowhere.

“Lake” Hart – a salt lake used in movies like Mad Max
An Emu couple in front of the secretive Woomera missile test facility.

Before long, we were approaching the town of Coober Pedy.  Before you even arrive, you are surrounded by very odd piles of dirt that cover the landscape as far as the eye can see.  There are also a multitude of signs warning you of the dangers surrounding these big dirt hills.  We have now entered Coober Pedy which claims to be the Opal mining capital of the world and home to over 70 fields.  The name Coober Pedy means White Man in a Hole.  Seems rather appropriate!  In addition to all the mines, much of the town is built underground and tunneled into hillsides.  We took some time to go explore an old mine turned tourist attraction which housed many artifacts and recreated the life and times of a miner and his family.  We then hiked to the top of Big Winch 360 where we were treated to 360 degree views of the countryside.

Coober Pedy – started as “Kupa Piti”, which is aborigine for “White Man Holes”
There are thousands of mineshafts in the area- and they are not marked!
Felt a bit like Mos Eisley from Star wars to us.
Some old mining equipment rusting away
A former Opal mine turned tourist exhibit.
Exploring the mine shafts that miners looked for Opal treasure.
The area is scorching hot in summer so miners lived underground with their familes. Here Robyn is in a kid’s bedroom in use until the 1960s
The underground homes had multiple bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.
Miners had to exit the mines via vertical shafts with footholds chopped in the sandstone
There are miles and miles of mine shafts under the ground. All dug to look for Opal.
Waffles and Opals. Why not?

The other draw to this small town is the landscapes which are certainly out of this world.  Many movies have used this unusual landscape for their shoots, including Mad Max, The Red Planet, and Ground Zero just to name a few.  A short drive out of town had us clanging down a washboard, red dirt road to some of the craziest landforms imaginable.  This was an Aboriginal heritage site known as the Breakaways which boasts unusual land formations and a wide range of colors that change with the light of the sun.  Along one part of the site is the world’s longest fence.  Here you will find part of a 5300km dog fence that was built to keep the Dingos out of the south where the cattle and sheep roam free (unfortunately, it didn’t stop a few cows from encounters with high speed trucks).  After thoroughly exploring the Breakaways, we followed the bone jarring dirt road back to the highway to continue our trek.  Our next stop was the town of Kulgera in the Northern Territory.  Here we spent another creepy night out in the bush (it was a beautiful site despite the thousand ways I conjured up to die painfully in Australia….haha!)  At one point, I even yelled at Dan who was busy wandering around in the brush at dusk.  Crazy man!

The desert landscape was used for many movies, for which some props were left behind.
Piles of rubble from the thousands of Opal mine shaft in the area
We took the motorhome down a long stretch of teeth rattling washboard dirt roads
Looking out over the “Breakaways’, a surreal landscape.
Longest fence in the world. Built to keep the dingoes (wild dogs) away from the sheep
After hours and hours of driving finally made it the Northern Territory border
Camping in the wilderness near Kulgera, Northern Territories.

Once again, we hit the road at sun up.  Our next destination was the famous world heritage site of Uluru.  As we drove there, we were treated to  hills and soil that ranged in color from grays, to deep purples, to fiery reds which changed as the sun moved in the sky.  We arrived at our campsite nestled in amongst some very nice hotels and one lowly gas station.  As you can imagine, filling up this big RV at that particular gas station was quite painful!  It was $2.90/liter or $9.00/gallon!  OUCH!!!

Ouch – over $9 US dollars a gallon to fill up!
The first rock feature on the road to Uluru – “Fool-uru” Fool’s Uluru. Just a mesa.
Camping near Uluru at the Yulara campground
First view of Uluru. Quite the beauty!

Our first full day in Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, we headed out to the monolith itself.  This is known as the world’s largest monolith and is sacred to the Aborigines.  We decided to do the almost 7 mile walk around the circumference of this giant rock.  The colors changed with the movement of the sun and clouds, and we were treated to a variety of unique features.  Luckily we had bought some head nets the day before because the flys were horrendous.  They hover around your head trying to get into your ears, nose, eyes, and mouth.  They are so relentless it nearly drives you insane.  There were numerous areas where photos were forbidden because the rocks tell the stories of the aboriginal people to be handed down in person to their future generations and not shared through photographs.  In addition, there are sections strictly for the men and others for the women.  We were not able to get up close to any of these areas.  Later that evening, we headed to a spot dedicated to watching the sunset over Ayer’s Rock.  Once again, we were treated to the changing colors of this giant monolith as the sun set over the horizon.

View on the drive to the trailhead
Part of the magic of Uluru is how it changes color throughout the day.
Mutijuju Walterhole nestled against the rock
The “Kitchen” where aborigine woman prepared meals
The rock changes form and look as you hike around it.
Aborigine rock art
The flies can be pesky so a net can help.
It was magical to hike around the base.
The walk around Uluru was surprisingly lush at times
Banksia flowers
Before and after sunset pictures
A great finish to a special day

The next morning, we were up super early in order to drive a 1/2 hour to a sunrise viewing spot to witness sunrise over Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) another rock formation.  Coincidentally, we could also see sunrise over Uluru as well.  Once the sun was up, we headed up close to Kata Tjuta to do a little bit of hiking.  We didn’t last very long as the wind was just howling (ironically named Valley of the Winds), and the terrain was a little bit treacherous.  Thanks to the wind, the flys were not near as bad.  After the our short exploration of Kata Tjuta, we decided to end our stay in the outback and head to Alice Springs since our time in the RV was coming to an end.

Sunrise over the Olgas – Kata Tjuta
Sunrise next to Uluru in the distance
Starting the “Valley of the Winds” hike

After 5 hours of driving, we found a lovely little campground outside Alice Springs.  A super friendly campground host guided us to our spot, and I jumped out to guide   Dan into the spot since there were many trees.  As I directed him as close to the tree as possible, making sure he didn’t hit the top on the low branches, I looked up and saw the biggest spider I’ve ever seen right above my head.  Needless to say, I squealed and did my “eww, creepy spider” dance out from under him only to find myself under and even bigger one!  The camp host and all our neighbors busted up laughing at the goofy American girl terrified of spiders.  The camp host repeatedly assured me that these Orb spiders were not dangerous.  Ummm…..don’t care!  Ewwww!  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more spiders in this campground than anywhere else on our journey so far.  Once settled and chores completed, we walked next door to this really fun brewery for some dinner and local beers.  It was a great way to end the day.

Made it! 3094 kms (1922 miles) from Melbourne.
Our last camp spot with this motorhome. Alice Springs and lots of spiders!
The Australian Giant Orb weaver spider – and source of Robyn’s Giant nightmares!
Our campground was next door to a nice craft brewery with local Barrmundi fish and chips.

We had now arrived at the end of this leg of our journey.  We needed to prep the RV for turn in and check into our hotel room for the night.  The following day we would be flying to Brisbane and then Cairns for the final 3 weeks of our journey.  We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 but were told we could not check in until 2:00, so we dropped our bags and headed out to turn in the RV.  We walked back to the hotel around 1:30 and asked once again.  Still no rooms were ready, so the girl handed us 2 free drink coupons for the bar onsite.  We headed over and grabbed a beer and burger.  Long story short, our room was not ready until nearly 4:30 and we were given 6 drink coupons to keep us occupied….lol.  Not a bad way to while away the afternoon!

Free beers (courtesy of hotel) and Australian Rules Football.

That night was opening night of Parrtjima Festival which is an annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival.  We hopped on a very crowded shuttle bus (standing room only and my most favorite thing in the world to do) and headed to the festival as darkness set in.  As we entered the outdoor venue, we were treated to some beautiful light displays throughout the desert.  The centerpiece of the festival was a light and sound show that took place on the McDowell Mountain Range displaying aboriginal art, music and story canvased on the mountain.  After exploring the festival, we stood in a long line to once again crowd on to an overstuffed shuttle bus home.  Tomorrow would be an early start and a long day of standby flying….2 flights totaling over 5 hours 🙁

Alice Springs desert park kangaroo
Wedge tailed eagle
Same eagle showing us how it breaks open hard Emu eggs with rocks
Australian Emu
Joining the hordes for a nighttime light show in Alice Springs
They did a great job translating Aboriginal legends into light
Very impressed!
Bamboo turned into a tunnel of light
The McDonnell mountain range ringing Alice Springs was lit up as well!
Met a local Aborigine woman and enjoyed leaning her culture first hand.

When we meet again, we will take you back to the sea and through the rainforests of Australia!

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Tom Strebel
Tom Strebel
2 years ago

Love all of this post. Can’t wait to see the future posts of the rest of Australia. Good luck flying standby. I hope you make your first flights.

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