This is a trip that I have always wanted to do for a long time. The time needed and especially the cost has always been my biggest stumbling block to this journey. Finally, I was able to do the trip in mid October 2016 and it lasted for around 10 days. The night before the trip, I was thinking of leaving Darwin to go to Bali. At the same time, I thought to myself, why not go to Uluru ( also known as Ayers Rock ) since Stuart Highway heads to that direction. It’s a far drive of more than 1500+ kilometres though. I tried to see if anyone in the hostel was headed that way but no one was advertising on the hostel information board.
I managed to find a French girl, Marlene in an online ad on Gumtree who had a car , was heading south and had one more spare seat in her car. Perfect! We’ll share costs of the journey. It’s also cheaper as we only paid for petrol and didn’t have to pay for car rental.
She stopped in front of my hostel at around 11.30 am the next morning. Earlier I have stocked on groceries enough for around 3 days of travel. There was also another car joining us driven by another French guy, Ivan. We went to fill up on petrol, entered the Stuart Highway and thus began our journey.
Darwin to Uluru
First stop was the town of Katherine where we loaded up on food and other things we have missed out in Darwin. Afterwards, we had our bath at Katherine Hot Springs outside of town. We met up with two more German groups driving vans. They have planned to join our convoy much more earlier. They were staying at a trailer park which was well equipped with amenities located near the town centre. So there’ll be a total of 4 vehicles for our convoy starting tomorrow.
Group picture at the 4wd recommended route heading towards Henbury Meteorites Conservation Centre.
Along the journey, we stopped at a few places to buy food and other things and to camp for free. We pretty much took our time as we didn’t have any fixed itinerary so we can stop wherever we wanted. Some travellers we met along the way said they took 3 days to reach the rock. So it depends on how much you want to drive everyday.
We were driving around 6-8 hours per day averaging 80 km/hour because we were following the pace of the 2 vans in our convoy. Driving faster also meant using more fuel. One of the vans in front driven by the Julia and Gina actually ran out of fuel twice that they had to take some of Ivan’s jerry can reserves. So when you see a petrol station, make sure you fill up so that you can reach the next one.
We managed to see bats flying out to look for food at dusk during our drive to a free campsite 25 kilometres outside of Katherine town. The first night, some of us slept in tents outside while Marlene slept inside the car which had a mattress.
Next morning, we packed up our wet stuff and continued the journey. We had a break for lunch and a swim at Mataranka Hot Springs. After that, we continued on our journey and took a short detour to Daly Waters Pub.
We camped for the night at a campsite at Newcastle Waters near Elliott.
Continuing south the next morning, you’ll pass through the T-junction a few kilometres before the town of Tennant Creek. It is one of the major intersections heading to the East Coast towns such as Townsville and Cairns.
Today, we had lunch at Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles National Park. It’s basically an area with big round rocks that makes it looks a like a bunch of big marbles ( hence the name ) . The temperatures here were still very hot during the day but it was becoming cold at night. We camped at Barrows Creek.
The distance between each town ( if you can call them towns ) were enormous. As you leave the towns ( which you can drive past in 5 seconds ), you’ll see road signs telling you how far the next town, telephone or petrol station is. The towns usually consists of a petrol station, a grocery shop or two and might have a motel / caravan park as well.
Phone reception along the way is poor. Telstra has the best reception of all networks. I was on Optus and lost my mobile reception within 50 kilometres from Darwin and it was patchy after that.
Every time we pass through some outback towns, I will try my luck by turning on mobile data in case I can get reception. No problem for big towns like Katherine and Alice Springs.
The next day, we were back to civilization again when we had a major stop in Alice Springs where we were able to stock up on groceries, take out cash as well as fill up petrol and water. I always thought that Alice Springs was close to Uluru since everyone who flew in to visit Uluru would land here. In actual fact, the town is more than 400+ kms away which meant that a return trip is almost 900kms!
The landscape changed from greenery of the tropical forests to the yellow sandy desolate desert. You will still encounter local wildlife around such as camels and big kangaroos as well as the usual cows from the ranches along the way ( some roadkill too ) . Temperatures went from tropical to cold nights the more south we drove. Another annoying thing was the amount of flies around!
Some of the campsites had biological toilets which were a blessing but most of the places we went didn’t have any. You had to do your business in the bushes. As we were in the desert, bushes were not that lush and quite sparse which meant having to walk a bit of a distance for privacy. Didn’t help if there were campers here and there at the site. Won’t be a problem at night but during the day, it can be tricky. Gentle winds in the desert were enough to blow some pieces of tissue paper from the bushes but usually it’ll just lodge at another bush. lol.
We took a detour from the main highway and had a brief stop at Henbury Meteorites Conservation Centre. There’s a few roads leading there but we decided to take a route recommended for 4 wheel drive vehicles since it was a shorter route. The 2 vans decided not to join after they saw the road conditions and the time needed to get there. Instead, we will meet them at a free campsite later that night.
The campsite that we stayed at that night had more people compared to the other nights. There was also a dingo scavenging for food. Luckily, it was tame.
The next morning we drove towards Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park for a hike. The hike around the Canyon took us around 2-3 hours and we took loads of pictures from the exposed cliffs ( which made the hike longer than it should have been ) . There’s toilets and wifi reception at the parking lot which just like water, are something of a luxury out here. Earlier that day, we paid for shower at a caravan park. It was the first shower I had in days. The freshness was however short lived because we were sweating again after the Kings Canyon hike.
The next morning after packing up, we finally reached Uluru/ Ayers Rock in the Kata-Tjuta National Park. You need to pay an entrance fee of AUD25 to enter the park and the ticket is valid for 3 days meaning we can come back to Uluru for sunrise tomorrow.
We decided to go to Valley of the Winds for a short hike first. After the hike, we visited the Uluru Information Centre. Unfortunately, it was closing in 30 minutes when we arrived. So I had to rush through the exhibits detailing the history and stories about the rock. Then we continued to a public carpark so that we admire Uluru during sunset.
There were quite a lot of cars parked there to see the sunset. We were lucky to get a good spot. We camped at a free campsite for the night some 40 minutes drive away. It was hard to get a spot there too since lots of tourists were also camping there.
The next morning was cold when we went back to see the sunrise over Uluru. After that, we had breakfast at the parking lot. There was a public toilet there and wifi connection. So we stayed at the parking lot a bit longer.
We proceeded to drive to another public spot that is next to Uluru and we walked the path that circles it. Took us a few hrs to finish the 10km route. Some of us wanted to climb up the rock.
There are signs put up by local Aborigines strongly discouraging tourists from doing so because it was their sacred place but it’s not illegal either. However, the access up to the rock was closed that day perhaps due to winds.
We had lunch after the walk and we parted ways. I had to change vehicles to join Ivan and Eva while Aylin took my place in Marlene’s car because we were heading south to Adelaide while the others were going to the East Coast which meant driving back north.
Uluru to Adelaide
When driving, you will also encounter a lot of road trains transporting goods between South Australia and the Northern Territory. It’s a series of trailers connected to each other making them very long. It’s more economical than to drive with just 1 trailer due to the long distances. This is reflected by the high prices of goods and fuel as you drive to more remote places along the highway ( most expensive fuel we got was almost AUD 3 per litre compared to AUD 1 + in the cities ).
After Uluru, we drove south and a few hours later we reached the South Australian border where the clocks go forward one hour ( in summer ). There’s road signs from customs asking you to dispose any things or foods that can spread diseases. We stopped to take a break at Glendambo a small town along the way and then lunch in another town called Marla, around 1 hour away from the NT-SA border.
That evening, we reached Coober Pedy. I always wanted to go here after I saw it on the Lonely Planet TV series by Ian Wright. During the drive before you arrive in the centre of town, you’ll see mounds that were created from Opal mining activities dotting the flat landscape.
The town itself is quite a big considering how remote it is. Some houses and buildings are built underground due to the extreme weather. The temperature underground is cooler even when it’s boiling hot and it will be warm when it’s freezing cold outside. We slept at one of the free campsites outside of town that night.
The next day, we went to Umoona Opal Mine museum and walked the main shopping area of the town. We paid to take a shower at the towns petrol station ( AUD 5 ). As for filling up our water supplies, the petrol station directed us to a water centre where you can buy some water. We also visited the local charity chop so that Ivan and Eva can have a look at some cheap clothing that they use for their onward journey.
Before we left, we went to see Kangaroos at Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage. She and her husband saves kangaroos ( sometimes other animals too ) that are injured, orphaned etc. There’s certain opening times for the centre where she also sells souvenirs. It relies on donations so any purchase goes to the centre. Apart from that, you can also donate any amount of cash or choose an amount based on the cost of milk and food for the animals from a price list that she keeps.
Since we left Coober Pedy quite late, we had to camp one more night before reaching Adelaide. We stayed at another free campsite near Glendambo.
The next day, we had a brief stop in Port Augusta to get some food from Woolworths. Ivan and Eva also wanted to look for thick clothes for their drive to Melbourne where the weather is going to be colder.
It was the last day of free camping where we camped next to the Mallala Footy Club close to Adelaide. This meant we will save money and not pay for accommodation in Adelaide for the night especially when we would be only arrive late in the afternoon. On the way down to Adelaide, you can see pink coloured lakes in the distance from the road. We didn’t stop though.
We arrived in Adelaide at around afternoon the next day. We went to Hahndorf, a town with German influences around 30 minutes drive out of the city centre. You can purchase German souvenirs and try German dishes/food. We also went play mini golf there.
After Hahndorf, we looked for free parking at the outskirts of the CBD to have lunch and walk around the city. The city centre itself is not too big and it is has a square grid design surrounded by lush park areas.
That night, we finally stayed at a more comfortable place at a caravan park equipped with hot showers, washing machines and kitchen to prepare our food. We had our farewells at a bar near the caravan park before going to bed.
The next day was my final day in Australia where I had a flight going to Bali. Since I managed to puncture Ivan’s inflatable bed somewhere along the journey, I had to buy him a new one at Target in Rundle Mall which is the main pedestrian shopping street in the CBD. Ivan and Eva sent me to the airport before continuing their journey to the south east where they planned to drive along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne.
Cost of trip (AUD) : 522 which includes :
1) fuel, groceries, 1 night at Adelaide caravan park (after dividing by 3 persons per car)
2) personal expenses such as fast food, 2 showers in the outback and laundry.
3) Entrance to Kata-Tjuta NP (Uluru and valley of the Winds) : 25
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