This is the story of how Amy, Holly and myself made it from Alice Springs, to Uluru and then all our way up to Darwin. A gruelling 2500km trip of mainly Australian outback. Our main concern was to not end up like that scene out of the Inbetweeners 2 movie where they’re all stuck on a dirt road with no fuel, no water and thinking they are all going to die. Thankfully that did not happen because the outback was a rather civilized place. Considering it was quite literally the middle of Australia. In the desert.
The extravaganza started with us flying into Alice Springs. After leaving the airport we were hit with an immense heat. 32c felt like an oven compared to the paltry winter 16c in Sydney. We didn’t have too much we needed to do in Alice Springs. It was a very short list of:
Step 1: Get the camper
Step 1.5: Get food
Step 2: Drive
All two and a half items were done rather quickly. The camper was bigger than expected and quite plush. In built sink, hob, beds that folded out the whole shabang. But when looking for food the one thing Australia is really missing out on is meal deals. I couldn’t find a single one (still haven’t to this day). Because of that I decided a massive bit of ciabatta should suffice. Amy and Holly grabbed a few bits and off on the open road we went.
Alice Springs to Uluru:
It was a paltry 5 hours 40 minutes to Uluru and we were stopping before we even got there, score. The journey started off and we were all excited. Captain Egg was at the wheel. With co-pilot Holly in the passenger seat and co-pilot Amy fast asleep in the back.
The exciting new landscape quickly wore off as the drive went on. The road had no twists or turns. No land marks, not much vegetation. Just straight until the end of the world or that’s what it felt like.
Eventually we made it to our campsite or should I say field: Curtin springs. A free-for-all campsite where no-one took any survivors. I might be exaggerating a small bit. But there was a sense of chaos here on the fact there were no lines or check-in. Just park wherever you want and stay the night. It was absolutely rammed when we arrived late in the evening. We spotted a small opening behind a caravan and parked up. It was no less than an hour later there was a knock at our door. It was the people who owned the caravan. We had stolen their spot. Oops. Thankfully they were rather nice and let us park behind their car as we had an early morning ahead of us for the Uluru sun rise.
The 5am start was not a pleasant one for us all. The early start coupled with a bad night’s sleep because of the temperature dropping to 0c and the most uncomfortable bed in the world. (Seriously, who runs metal bars randomly under a thin mattress?). It made for a really pleasant wake up call.
The drive to Uluru was fairly straight forward. Only about an hour from the campsite in the dark and cold as we waited for the camper to heat up. Then out of nowhere came a traffic jam. It took a few moments before it became clear as to why there was a traffic jam in the outback. It was for the entrance to get in. As we sat in the queue we started to notice there was two lines. “Ticket holders” and “Ticket sales”. Hmmm, maybe we should have pre-bought tickets. A few moments later that thought was scrapped. As the ticket holder line was the longer one. A quirk skirt around the other vehicles trying not to scrape the camper and have to pay a fortune. We overtook everyone else. Bought our ticket and headed into the park leaving the other in the dust.
It was still a bit of a drive to get to the rock even though we could see it in the distance. We were following the satnav to an area on it that simply said “Sunrise viewing spot”. You can always trust a satnav, right? Apparently not. It took us to a spot we could view the sunrise. But not the main spot. The plus-side of this however was that it was not very busy at all and we pretty much had the entire place to ourselves.
The sunrise was absolutely stunning. It was even better than imagined.
The range of colours it flashed through as the sun quickly rose was beautiful. It was not long until the sun was fully in the sky and it was time to head back to the van. It was breakfast after all, and I think we were all in need of something to eat and a nice warm cuppa tea to warm us up.
After our light breakfast refreshments and a short time eggsploring around the base of Uluru. It was time to head to the most eggciting part of the day (In my opinion) – A helicopter ride. Now I’m a big aviation nerd so anything related to helicopters makes me happy. But what better way to see a bit of Australia than on a short helicopter tour!
The views were amazing and the pilot even had some cool facts. Who knew there were camels in Australia which get exported around the world? I certainly didn’t. However our pilot did and she kindly informed me of this.
After a sunrise comes a sunset (If you didn’t know that sorry for the spoiler). We had a tip off from a fellow tourist the sunset parking gets busy extremely quickly. We decided we would head there nice and early. Nab a decent spot, chill, cook some dinner, make a cuppa then watch the sunset in all it’s glory.
The plan went swimmingly despite our parking spot not being the best. And before we knew it the sun was going down. Uluru itself went through a myriad of colours in an instant. It was breathtaking.
Before we knew it though, the sun was down and the stars were coming out. Time to scramble out of there as we didn’t fancy hitting any kangaroos on our way back to the camp grounds.
Once again, the camp grounds were jam packed. Luckily we managed to find a small space to just slip the camper into. It was a chill evening followed by another freezing cold night. Ready for our next few days of big drives.
Uluru to Alice Springs:
There is not much to add for this part of the journey. It was basically the same as getting to Uluru. Just in reverse. So if you’re really really keen to imagine what the journey was like, give Alice Springs to Uluru a read again, but backwards.
Alice Springs to Tennant Creek:
This leg of the trip was an interesting one. From aliens to marbles and everything in-between. We started off from Alice Springs to begin our journey to Tennant Creek. The first part of the journey was very standard and non-eventful. Lots of sand, a few trees, blue sky and the occasional car driving by. And that was it for hours on end. Until we hit the mysterious place of Wycliffe Well.
Wycliffe well is the UFO capital of Australia, some even say the world! This Vice article gives a good explanation for what it’s about. We had a bit of a wander around after filling up with fuel. And I’ve got to say it was definitely a bit of a strange place. It felt like it had a lot of potential. But just fell flat in certain ways. It almost felt like the owners had forgotten what the place was about. There was a few alien related things to buy, a room with lots of newspaper clippings of sightings. But other than that not much.
I don’t really know what I expected but I guess I was wanting more. Maybe seeing an alien or two would have made it memorable. Hold that thought. I think I actually did spot three aliens there…
We didn’t hang with the aliens for too long for fear of getting abducted. It was off to see some marbles now. Some very devilish marbles.
The Devils Marbles was only a short drive from Wycliffe Well and was well worth the stop. They look really cool, as the softer rocks had been weathered leaving exposed harder rock standing in weird places. (I may be wrong on that, I’ve slept since then).
It really was as hot as hell here. So hot I almost lost my marbles. With so many flies around as well. They definitely tested my patience. We only had a quick look around before it was time to hit the road again. There’s lots of interesting walks around them which I would have loved to do. But alas, time constraints and the heat got the better of me.
From Devil’s Marbles it was only a short drive to Tennant creek. Just over an hour of red sand and we were there! At last, Tennant Creek. We pulled up to the campsite and went to check-in. There was one small issue – we had only booked for two people when there was three of us (money was tight don’t judge too much please). That was fine, Amy and I would go in, check us in. Then drive to the spot they wouldn’t even know. It was going well until the owner came out with us to walk us to the camping site. Holly knew what was going down and quickly threw herself under some covers on the floor. We parked up, nothing was said. We gave Holly the all clear and on with the evening we went.
Dinner, bed and sleep. Ready for the next day.
Tennant Creek to Daly Waters:
As much as I would love to regale you with the journey on the way. Unfortunately there is not much to tell. Other than, sand and desert. A brief 5 hour drive from one destination to the other. What waited on the other side was worth the drive.
Daly Waters, population 9, was an interesting place. It had a unique history and feel to it. It had an airfield, which served as a centre for the London to Sydney air race of 1926, a refuelling stop for early Qantas flights to Singapore and operated as a WW2 airforce base with field hospital. This all led to one thing. The oldest pub in the outback. Home to shoot-outs in the street. Thankfully the shoot-outs were a thing of the past. Leaving us with a quaint pub. The walls were lined with women’s bras and underwear, driving licenses, number plates, hats, flip flops and even more! It definitely gave the place character.
That evening they had a lovely country duo playing. So we sat back, enjoyed some music and the character Daly Waters had. That was until our meals arrived. Holly and I had a vegetarian burger each which is decent. Amy got a half cooked chicken schnitzel. The sad thing is, she didn’t realise until the next day as it was too dark to tell. She took her scraps away for tomorrows lunch, only for her to see it was pretty in pink chicken.
Other than the chicken the night was really enjoyable. The music was good and the company was alright I guess. But an early night once again before we hit the road in the morning. Every night would take my breath away with how many stars we could see in the sky. It was like no other. Absolutely beautiful.
Daly Water to Katherine:
Now for a change this journey actually had some fun stops on the way.
Our first stop out of Daly Water was Mataranka. Mataranka was home to some amazing thermal pools. Once we arrived we did have have a bit of trouble finding it. There were a few campers parked but couldn’t see anyone about. So we got changed and went for a wander.
It didn’t take us too long to uncover it. The place was more equipped than expected. It had a cafe, hotel, camp ground. Pretty much everything you could need! As we walked down to the springs we were greeted with plenty of croc warnings.
This wasn’t going to stop us. Well, not me anyway. After a short walk we made it to the springs and the water was gorgeous. It wasn’t too busy as well which was nice. We hopped in the water and swam around for a bit. It was lovely and warm, absolutely tranquil. Sitting on the ledge at the side in the water enjoying relaxing. Until I got splashed from a kid jumping in. Brilliant.
We spent a bit of time chilling in the lovely warm water until the hunger pangs came along. Quick stop for lunch at the cafe there then it was back on the road. Onwards to Katherine!
Thankfully it was not too long of a drive to Katherine. However, we did have the added stress of trying to find somewhere to stay. Everywhere seemed super expensive or didn’t look that good. We were trying to stay central ish. That was until we found the needle in the haystack that was Manbulloo homestead (totally recommend staying here if you’re in Katherine).
We headed down a long track off the main road, it never seemed to end. Until we were greeted with lots of fields and cows. We checked in, pulled up at our campsite and got to dinner. It was a gorgeous little place to stay, with amazing views and a very homely happy feel. We spent most of the evening taking in the sunset then the amazing stars when they arrived.
Nitmiluk National Park:
We decided we’d spend the next day at the national park. Go for a nice hike, see some nice scenery, work our legs, maybe see a waterfall. That plan was cut very short. I’m not sure whether it was because we were so used to our little cosy air conditioned environment or if we were just being lazy. But we did not last long.
It was hot. Too hot for three Brits anyway. We also didn’t realise how long some of these treks were. We thought we could do them in a few hours. But the shortest one took that. The longest one took literally a week! We trekked around in the middle of the day (bad idea), with not much water (another bad idea), with not much clue of where we were going (Not such a bad idea, thanks signposts).
After the short hike we decided to call it quits. Too hot. Too sweaty. Too hungry. Too Thirsty. I bought a cheeky ice-cream to cool down, headed back to the van and back to the homestay it was for one last night in the chilled countryside.
Katherine to Darwin:
This was the last leg of the journey. A short 3 hour drive. The drive itself was pretty non eventful. We rejoiced at the fact of being able to see more and more trees and green.
We got to Darwin and had the issue of trying to fill up the gas canister for the cooker. Otherwise we would have to spend $15 to get the hire company to do it. I was not about to be ripped off. So we searched far and wide. We eventually found a place. Spent about 15 minutes trying to find someone to do it, waited another 5 minutes for him to come, only to say he had the wrong part, go another 15 minutes for him to come back saying the don’t have the bit for our cannister. Fantastic.
We gambled and headed to the hire place to drop the van off. There was a huge bunch of people outside all dropping vans off. Luckily we managed to slip inside and hand the keys over before they got in. I mentioned to the lady about the gas, and she said not to worry. SCORE! We all came out of there with our wallets/purses $5 heavier each.
A short Uber to the hostel and that was it. The first of many road trips in Australia completed.
Outback? Completed it mate.