Does everyone else give their car a name? Give it a personality?
Orlando is our 4WD Landcruiser (hence the name adaptation) 😬 He’s worthy of a little humanising. The most solid, reliable, trustworthy, tough, adventurous hunk of metal we have ever had the pleasure of owning. With a little house on his back he takes us the most amazing places and gives us so much joy. We follow remote dirt tracks with complete faith and confidence in his ability and because of that we see some bloody beautiful places. Crawling at a snails pace, windows down, a warm breeze messing up my hair, the fragrance of bull dust and gum trees in the air and sunshine glinting off the windscreen. Our happy place 🤗.
And you know what? Orlando just loves living in Central Australia. He really hates travelling fast on bitumen roads with lots of traffic and he despises big cities. Give him a rough dirt track to follow in the heart of the outback and he purrs like a kitten. Well, actually, with his big V8 engine it’s more like a throaty growl.
There’s no airs and graces. No bells and whistles. He’s not sleek and sophisticated to look at it. Comfort is not his finest feature. It’s what’s below the surface that counts – under the bonnet. Where other people fear to tread he just never lets us down. I like my cars like I like my men 😬.
Yes, we have definitely humanised our car. To the extent that Kevin makes me apologise to him if I dare say anything derogatory. After all, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. It’s a partnership. We look after him and he looks after us and our life sure would be a whole lot less fun without him.
That’s what 4WD ownership is all about. We wouldn’t have it any other way 😊.
These photos were taken around Ross River Homestead in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges.
I can hear you thinking already ” What? A holiday to Alice Springs? A dry, dusty town in the middle of nowhere? Surely there’s nothing to do or see. Its too remote, way too hot or way too cold and too many flies.”
Let me set you straight. Every one must have a pilgrimage to the red heart of Australia. Its a destination where we reconnect. With each other, with the natural environment and with this beautiful country. The outback has charms that international visitors long to experience. The colour, the soul and the heart of this unique landscape will leave an imprint on the soul of every member of your family in some way. You’ll cover some distance but its a vast region.
During the day this is red rock, blue sky country. In summer its hot, in winter it can get very cold but those colours are always there. Bright and cheerful. No gloomy, dismal grey skies here. Nights are just as special. This is dark sky country at night. The chandelier of stars will leave you spellbound. This part of Australia is dramatic and its extreme. Its the real Australia, the outback, and believe me that red sand gets into your blood.
A holiday to Alice Springs is mostly about exploring the natural world. Not playgrounds, fancy resorts or man made attractions. Its a place to get immersed in the large scale scenery that’s just so uniquely Australian, under a perpetually bright blue sky. What ever mode of transport takes your fancy – a camel, a bicycle, a segway, a 4WD vehicle, your two legs with a backpack or even a noodle in a waterhole. There’s exploring to be done. Adventure filled days. Over red sand dunes, through dry riverbeds, to gaps, gorges, chasms and of course you just gotta camp a night or two. A night sharing stories and quality time around a blazing campfire with a billion stars overhead and the howl of a dingo in the distance is unforgettable.
So where to start? The Desert Wildlife Park is a fantastic introduction to the Central Australian environment. An absolute must do and so cleverly done to completely blend with the landscape. The best way to see our dangerous snakes and our birds of prey up close. The finale at the end will send tingles down your spine but I don’t want to ruin the surprise so I’ll just leave you hanging.
The Gaps, Gorges and Chasms of the Western MacDonnell Ranges that extend 130km+ west from Alice Springs are quite extraordinary and will be a highlight. Its an easy sealed bitumen road all the way to Glen Helen Gorge and so many stops on the way. The scenery is pure magic and the swimming always an adventure. Nothing beats a waterhole crawl and, yes, there are beaches – outback style. Click on my link here for more information THE AMAZING OUTBACK WATERHOLES AROUND ALICE SPRINGS
If you’re anything like me, while in Central Australia, you will definitely want to sit on top of a red sand dune under that blue outback sky. An absolute must. Its just something you have to tick off that bucket list. Uluru will give you this opportunity in a fashion but for me the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert are unrivaled and you don’t have to drive all the way across the desert to Birdsville. A little bit of 4WD adventuring can take you out to Old Andado Homestead in about 5 hours through some amazing remote scenery. This place will allow you to sit on a red sand dune and look into the horizon at dune after dune after dune. Its something special. Read more about Old Andado by clicking on this link Old Andado Homestead and the Red Sand of the Simpson Desert.
While your out and about in a 4WD, a camping trip to Ruby Gap Nature Park is a must do. You can get cabin accommodation at nearby Hale River Homestead and do a day trip from there but camping in this remote wilderness is my personal preference. Ruby Gap is in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges, the scenery is magic+ and a bit of 4WD action is always loads of fun. A bit of sand and rocks to low range through beside towering red gorge walls. A swim in the silent, majestic Glen Annie Gorge was just sublime and who doesn’t love searching for garnets in a dry river bed? This place just blew me away. See more by clicking on this link RUBY GAP NATURE PARK – Paradise Found in Central Australia
If exploring by 4WD is just not in your list of capabilities but you still want an authentic, rustic experience in the outback, I would highly recommend Ooraminna Station Homestead only 25km out of Alice Springs down the Maryvale dirt road. Spend a night or two in a charming, authentic stone, timber, tin or log cabin. Our rustic log cabin had an open fireplace, so much character and beds for a family of five. I absolutely loved the experience. Absolutely charming. Dinner at the Homestead ‘hotel’ was just excellent, the views stunning and you can do a little exploring on foot in red sand country. A larger budget required but worth splurging just a bit.
So have I whet your appetite just a little? I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with a few of my favourite options for a holiday here. I’m an adventurer at heart and Central Australia is always awe inspiring and never boring. The Outback holds a special place in my heart. Trust me it grows on you. Yes, there are flies. In summer in particular. Bring fly nets to keep your sanity. They are a life saver. Yes, it gets hot in summer but those waterholes are always cool and wonderful to swim in. Yes, the mornings and evenings can get below zero in winter but you’ll usually be back in a tee shirt by lunch time and that winter sunshine and blue sky is just bloody perfect.
Our borders are open tomorrow (sorry Victoria and Sydney) Get ya bums over here and enjoy what’s left this year of winter sunshine.
So we’re home. And home is lovely. After months of living in arid landscapes, red dirt and deserts we had forgotten just how ‘green’ Cairns is. It’s so pretty with the mountain backdrop and rainforest. The ocean isn’t the glorious aquamarine of the WA coast but its lovely in a north QLD kind of way. Isn’t it wonderful we have experienced it all?
So we did it, the trip of a lifetime, and it was just grand. No regrets. We gave up our jobs and drove 20232 kilometres across the top, down the west coast, across the middle and a quick dash down south. Fantastic. Australia is amazing.
So here are some random statistics on our experience travelling remote Australia by 4WD.
The ultimate trip cost
We were away for just over 16 weeks in total and we spent $18 681 in total. I’m happy with that. I had budgeted for $1000 per week plus an extra $4000 for car repairs and maintenance. We came in under budget in our weekly spending averaging at $800 per week and went over in the car expenditure which blew out to $5860. Three services in Kununurra, Tom Price and Kapunda, front wheel bearings in Broome, rear parabolic springs and 4 Cooper tyres in Geraldton and, thanks to the Simpson Desert, new rear shock absorbers in Kapunda. We didn’t actually need the new Coopers but we were getting frustrated with the flats we were getting on the skinny split rim tube tyres and opted to replace them with fatter tubeless. No flats since so it was worth it.
We travelled 20232 km and spent $4696 on fuel. The most expensive fuel was at Mt Dare Station SA just before the Simpson Desert at $2.15 per litre and the cheapest in Kapunda SA at $1.21 per litre. That’s a bit uncanny that South Australia wins the crown in both cases and it wasn’t even planned.
Food came in at $4514 and we ate way too much chocolate. We would stock up on chocolate and other assorted snacks when we got to a big supermarket as that sort of stuff is too expensive to buy in remote locations. We bought 6 blocks of chocolate in Broome (after 2 weeks on the Gibb River Road) as it was so cheap and ate them all in 3 days. That’s why I had to buy moo moo’s in Broome. We ate a little too well and were not as disciplined as we are at home. Let’s not talk about all the kitchener buns and chocolate donuts in Kapunda. I’m paying for that extravagance now.
Accommodation costs were very reasonable at $1957. A good mix of free camping, national parks, the luxury of three nights in a cottage at Geraldton and a couple of nights in a cabin at Kapunda because it was freezing cold.
Miscellaneous spending was $1654. This money was put aside for tours, entry fees and everything else. There were quite a few Op Shop purchases in there. It was one of my favourite activities in a town; pottering through an Op Shop in an exotic new destination. My wardrobe expanded unnecessarily and exponentially much to Kevin’s perturbed amusement and mild disgust. (Chuckle)
Between us we managed to read 28 books and listen to 3 audio books. Every book swap was taken advantage of with much gusto. That’s what we did in the evenings. Read books and ate chocolate.
Ugg boots are just the best footwear on holiday, even in warm country (clean feet with ease)
I made bread 14 times in the Weber Baby Q, and with home made lentil soup this was our most popular meal choice. (Chocolate for desert of course) We called our Weber ‘Baby you fat bitch’. A little harsh I know, but she was so big and heavy and took up a lot of space in the camper. We wouldn’t have gone without her though. She gave us so many awesome meals.
The two equally worst roads were the Simpson Desert crossing and the Kalumburu Road to Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly. Both were particularly punishing to our vehicle but the scenic reward was worth it so no real regrets there.
People ask what was the absolute highlight of the whole trip and I find it impossible to narrow it down to one place. We saw and did so much that was absolutely stunning, each in its own unique way. So many ‘wow, moments. I loved it all.
So the highlight has to be the length of our trip. Four months was an ideal time frame. We didn’t feel pressured for time and we felt the pure joy of freedom to explore at our leisure. That was a sufficient length of time though as by the end we were both weary. I don’t think you can keep appreciating it as much if you do it perpetually. It was time to come home and we actually started to look forward to a couch, a TV, our own toilet and a bed where Kevin doesn’t have to climb over me to go out for a wee. It’s the little things.
Kevin and I, for the first time, spent 24 hours a day with each other, for four months in a confined living arrangement. We survived, we laughed a lot, we became more tolerant, we relaxed into a comfortable camaraderie and it made our relationship stronger. It was a fantastic experience to share.
We saw hundreds of emus in all states. They were the dominant wildlife on this trip which was great because I love them. They’re so quirky.
Lessons learnt along the way
Follow the weather. The perception of a holiday is 95% dictated by the weather, especially when living under a canvas roof. A place that is simply magnificent in sunshine becomes bleak and horrid in wet, bleak, cold and overcast weather. During the winter months the North of Australia is the place to be. Gotta love warmth and sunshine.
Less is more and will save you grief. We overpacked. Too much ‘stuff’. I tried to be minimalist when we packed but failed and it became obvious when at our first service, the mechanic assumed we were there to get our suddenly sagging rear springs replaced. We carried too much ‘just in case’ stuff and things that only got minimal use. The heavy generator and max tracks sat on the roof rack the whole way with no use, the boat only got used twice, the BBQ plate that got used once, there was too much stuff in our internal cupboards like the heavy camp oven that didn’t get used, too many clothes (in my section). The excessive weight of our vehicle became stringently obvious in Kapunda when the mechanic replacing the shockers couldn’t lift the vehicle with a 4 tonne hoist (our gvm is 3.3 tonnes). No wonder we suffered trying to cross the Simpson Desert and had the considerable expense of replacing our suspension.
It’s nice to have a home to come back too. We did actually consider selling up everything to travel perpetually prior to this trip. Sell the house, hit the road and be totally free. That’s a romantic notion though and I’m glad we didn’t go down that path. It’s wonderful to be free but living in a confined space, always on the move takes its toll. I’m positive that the thrill of travel wouldn’t be as great if it was a way of life rather than just a holiday. I guess it’s a personal thing because some people happily do it but we need a place to go ‘home’. Then we can plan and get excited about the next adventure. And there will be more………..
So to those people that faithfully followed my blog on this adventure, thank you for coming with us, thank you for the likes and nice comments and I hope you enjoyed the journey. I hope I encouraged other people to do similar and inspired you to visit these amazing places in our beautiful country. It is so worth it. We are much richer for the experience. Kevin and I have luckily both got our jobs back straight away so we didn’t even have to line up at Centrelink, which is a huge bonus. We took a risk and the reward was beyond our expectations.
“Oh, for f**** sake” mutters Kevin in frustration. The Cruiser is screaming in low range as Kevin tries to gain enough momentum to reach the crest of the massive sand dune. Our springs are bouncing like yo-yo’s in the deep, scalloped sand and our heavy load is momentarily air-borne with each bounce. Our seat belts clunk as they pin us to our seats and then after a moment of indecision the Cruiser, nose sky ward, surges over the crest before plummeting earthward again down the other side of the dune, where we hope there is a track beneath us.We are following ‘The French Line’ across the Simpson Desert and we do this over and over and over again. There are 1100 sand dunes to cross on this 450km extremely remote route and the track is badly scalloped and chewed up. It is simply impossible to gain a decent run up to a steep dune when the track upwards looks like a wavy sheet of corrugated iron. The more speed we get the more we bounce. When we get to the crest we get a view of sand dune after sand dune all the way to the horizon. Its immense and goes on forever. We groan each time we see the view.
We both comment frequently, “Why, the heck are we doing this?”
The Simpson Desert was never meant to be an inclusion on this epic half lap of Australia. It was a last minute, let’s do something adventurous on our way home, kind of decision. Not thought out, no research done, and no Simpson Desert specific preparations done. Quite simply, we had no idea what to expect. We certainly didn’t anticipate the brutality of the track.
A valuable lesson has been learnt from the experience. The Simpson Desert is an epic, iconic Australian 4WD journey that should be given the respect and preparation it deserves. It’s not a destination that should be taken lightly with a ‘she’ll be right kind of attitude’. It’s certainly not a trip that you have your vehicle packed for a trip down the coastline of WA. The inflatable boat, the snorkels and masks and the overloaded Trayon didn’t exactly contribute positively to a sandy desert crossing. And it’s not a trip you should do solo and without a satellite phone because if something goes wrong with your vehicle you are incredibly remote and no help available.
This, of course, occurred to us when the car started making strange noises.
Of course, we realised the error of our ways when we were half way across and the dunes kept getting bigger and more chewed up. We could tell when a dune was going to be particularly bad as it had at least three alternate routes to choose between, all just as bad. Once we had to reverse back down all three. That was a dicey one. The cruiser was making unpleasant clunking noises and developed a rather pronounced squeak. We suspect we blew out a shock absorber. There was only so much bouncing they could absorb I guess. Most of the time we were travelling at only 10km per hour.
All that aside, I’m glad we have experienced it. Dalhousie Hot Springs (24 – 36 degrees swimming on a chilly morning) was absolutely magnificent at the start, the magnitude and colour of the Simpson Desert needs to be seen to be believed and I think the most fascinating aspect of the Simpson Desert was the absolute silence. When we camped in between the dunes there was no sound in the evening or the morning. No crickets, no birds, no wind – just nothing. It’s the first time I have ever experienced this. It’s not lifeless – there are tracks on the dunes; dingoes, camels, hopping mice but the absence of bird life was a bit freaky. No water in the desert. It’s cold at night but we have a campfire and there is something quite eerie about camping so totally alone in complete silence. Eerie and wonderful.
So, absolutely shattered, we finally reach Poeppels Corner where I jump from South Australia to the Northern Territory to Queensland. It’s the corner of the three states.
Our guide book tells us from here to Birdsville it’s still 170km (that’s a long way at 10km per hour). Here the route traverses the QAA Line where the largest sand dunes reside. What? Bigger than the ones we have just come across! That was horrific to read. We both just wanted out of the ‘Simmo’ by this stage. We were afraid for our car and had no wish to damage it further for no reason. So, a quick study of the map revealed an alternative option. There is a track from Poeppels Corner called the K1 Line that runs parallel to the dunes. This leads on to the Warburton Track which crosses claypans and intersects 200km down the Birdsville Track. Both these tracks were listed as ‘easy going’. My only concern was that we were heading even more remote, with not one soul knowing where we were and no method of communication except an EPBIRB in the glovebox. What the heck! Off we go anyway, turning south and just looking at where we are heading on the map is a bit daunting. It’s the most remote we have ever, ever been and on a remote narrow track, in the desert, of the driest state in the driest continent. It turned out to be a good decision though; the tracks were good with only a couple of really easy sand dune climbs and we even sighted another car coming towards us which was very exciting. Such a relief.
So, that’s how we end up deciding to visit Kevin’s parents in Kapunda, South Australia while we are in the State of SA and part way down the Birdsville Track already.
So, in hindsight the Simpson Desert turned out to be a little ‘too much’ of an adventure for us but has given us a hell of great story as a finish to our journey. It will be a grand camp fire tale that will be told with much relish in the future. One day I’d like to do it again properly and give it the preparation and time it deserves. We’ve had a taste and know what to expect now.
The Red Centre is truly Australia’s heart (literally and figuratively) and once again has captured our hearts. It’s so unique to our country and people from all over the world flock here to see the landscape and the colours of the ‘real’ Australia – the red sand, the blue sky, the gold spinifex plains and the myriad shades of pink, gold, purple and red in the flowering native shrubs. The sky has layers of pastel shades at dusk and at night it glitters with diamond stars in a inky black nightscape. Statuesque desert oak trees whisper in the wind and of course the sight of Uluru is something to behold. That great big ochre sandstone monolith that juts from the flat spinifex plain and has different moods according to the angle of that ever present golden sunshine. It’s glorious.
The Great Central Road was quite simply a brilliant shortcut from the WA coastline to this region of the NT. We expected a lengthy, sandy, rutted 4WD track over the 1150km distance from Laverton to Yulara but we were treated to a dirt super highway. It was a fraction rougher around the border crossing and sandier on the NT side but not a challenging journey at all.
The road is remote, passing by an occasional Aboriginal community but easy traveling and the sky at night in the Gibson Desert was incredible. For the first time in my life I could see the spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy extend completely across the sky from one horizon to another. That’s the joy of being in one of the worlds great dark night sky regions. Incredible stars.
After the border crossing its only 200km to Yulara and the ‘Namatjira’ colours of the Red Centre become obvious (Albert Namatjira was a famous Aborginal landscape painter who captured the colours to perfection).
Kevin, a bit of a history buff, has had a long held fascination with the tale of Harold Bell Lassetter and his infamous long lost reef of gold. It was a Central Australian yarn and tale of woe that he told with much flourish to his tour groups many years ago. So he was literally jumping out of his seat with excitement to finally have the opportunity to spend a moment or two in THE very cave and the region where Lassetter spent his last 22 days before perishing in the desert. Lassetters Cave is not far from the border and an interesting historic stop on our journey and sadly, although I looked, no gold was found.
Then, 35 km away from our destination, the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) start looming into view and it’s such an incredible sight after over 1000km of flat desert. We approach from the west in the afternoon sunshine and, like huge sentinels guarding the landscape, they glow red against the brilliant blue sky and send shivers down our spine. Stunning sight to behold.
This portion of the trip is nostalgic for us. Kevin and I met 28 years ago here at the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area so it’s a trip down memory lane re-exploring this region, although things change. The natural landscape is unchanged (if anything it’s more beautiful) but since our time here a lot more focus has been placed upon the traditional aboriginal perspective around the Yulara Resort and at the rock itself. It is now seriously frowned upon by the ‘traditional owners’ to climb Uluru, a pursuit that used to be a crowning glory of a visit to this 348 metre monolith. Signs and and all the Park literature ‘suggests’ that visitors respect the traditional owners and ‘don’t climb the rock’.
However, it is not banned and still an optional choice. An optional choice that we and many other visitors choose to participate in willingly on that day. This is not out of any disrespect to the ‘traditional owners’ but simply because it’s what we love to do and while we still can we will. It’s how we savour a place. We walk it and we climb it. That’s how we connect with the landscape. You just can’t get that intimate connection looking out a bus window, riding a Segway or peering through fences.
So on a sunny winters day we climb to the summit marker and feel a great sense of achievement. The views are incredible and I even meditate for a few minutes feeling like an eagle way above the plains. There’s just something really special about being on top of Uluru.We then walk the 10.6 km around the base of the rock. So much of it is fenced off now but Kevin knows this place intimately after many years tour guiding and tells me what secrets are behind the barriers in the silent crevices. The native shrubs are in flower early this year so we walk past mulla mulla, honey grevillea, wattle, acacia and many more in lovely sunshine. The following day we walk the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta, my first time even though I spent time working out here. This was icing on the cake and I was in awe. A beautiful 7.4km walk through the towering domes of the Olgas and once again I had the insights and knowledge of my personal tour guide.
Lastly, Ayers Rock and The Olgas are 600 million years old and it bemuses me that the word owner and the concept of money is bandied around in relation to them these days. This place is so ancient and timeless and its just such a privilege to feel the soul of the landscape. It’s always an amazing experience.
Next stop is an afternoon hiking around the rim of Kings Canyon. The walk was lovely but it has been ‘manicured’ since we last did it 20 odd years ago. No more slithering through slippery caves and perilous clambering down rock faces. Had to happen but the adventure has diminished somewhat. Still nice though as the scenery is impressive.
Then a couple of nights camping at Ormiston Gorge in the Western MacDonnell Ranges where we hiked the 4 hour Ormiston Pound circuit. One evening I was sitting here alone by the waterhole at dusk being mellow and enjoying the stillness and serenity. A hippy chick with dreadlocks walked past me deeper into the Gorge and a few minutes later she started chanting in a pure, high voice. It was magical as it echoed through the gorge. Moments like this make holidays so special.
Next stop on the journey – our old hometown of Alice Springs. Now that will be a jaunt down memory lane.
IT WAS A HEART WRENCHING AFFAIR leaving the coastline of Western Australia. I crane my neck seeking one last glimpse of that strip of alluring blue and then it was gone. Inside my soul was kicking and screaming, dragging its heals and hanging on with clawed fingers. It was just sad like I was losing something precious. We had the most wonderful time on this gorgeous coastline.
Its all a trade-off though. We said goodbye to the ocean but in the process have gained something back in the desert; something just as precious and soul stirring.
On the coast in the popular National Parks we had a nightly routine. Watch the sun set into the sea, retire into the camper out of the wind and read for a while before sleeping to the lullaby of waves. Here in the desert, however, that time of day is the most special. When the skies pastel layers of pink, mauve and blue start to disappate, we enjoy the warmth and companionship of a blazing mulga campfire. Other than the crackle of the flames, the silence is absolute. It’s utterly still and for the first time in over a month we hear white noise in our heads. That chandelier of stars commands our attention and we have quiet conversations feeling toasty warm while that cold desert air descends heavy around us. This too is special.
Now, instead of our bed sheets being salty and crunchy with beach sand they have a whiff of campfire about them. All is good with the world. We are still out here doing it and appreciating another new phase.
Our Landcruiser is now a totally sexy beast after having been fitted with new fat Cooper tyres and rear WA made parabolic leaf springs to give it the butt lift it so seriously needed. So with total confidence once again in our rig we finally turned to the East from the Geraldton coastline and two hours later passed a big sign announcing ` You are now entering the Outback`. The point of no return and the commencement of phase 3 of our trip.
Our trip is composed of three phases
Phase 1: The Savannah Way- Cairns to Broome
Phase 2: The WA Coastline and Karajini
Phase 3: The Mega Desert Crossings – West to East
In this last and final phase we will traverse most remote and isolated regions of Australia. Through the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts into The Red Centre of the Northern Territory and the Simpson Desert crossing back into Queensland.
This phase will be different again and we are both excited about the adventure ahead. As I write this we are heading for the remote WA township of Laverton, permit to cross Aboriginal land in hand, as we prepare to cross The Great Central Road. Next blog post will be from Ayers Rock in Territory.
Just quietly, between you and me, I’m so impressed with myself.
We are at Cape Range National Park for five nights, an absolute highlight of our Australian meanderings. Cape Range is on the Coral Coast of Western Australia and is on the coastal strip adjacent to the famous Ningaloo Marine Park. The ocean is turquoise and crystal clear and the coral reef is right there off the sandy white beaches. It’s a pristine wilderness. The clarity of the water here is so incredible – like looking through glass.
Of course, like most of the national parks in WA, its inevitably and deservedly popular. The nearest town to the park is Exmouth and there are signs everywhere stating CAPE RANGE NP CAMPGROUNDS ARE FULL, despite there being a choice of six campgrounds.
Anyhow this is why I’m so impressed with myself. Yours truly, madame way over organised, booked our campsite in advance. And by advance, I mean 6 months ago. I remember putting so much time into reading travel blogs trying to ascertain not only the best out of the campgrounds but also the best site in the best campground.
But you know what? I bloody nailed it. High five Micky Jo. Not only did we drive straight in without any booking hassles, we ended up on ‘millionaires row’ in the best campground in the park (Site 9, Osprey Bay Campground). Called ‘millionaires row’ due to the spectacular ocean views (the other campgrounds are tucked behind sand dunes). The view is simply breathtaking.
Kevin fishes right in front of the camper (with no success but that’s not the point), we have snorkelled the reef right off the beach, seen an array of colourful fish, stingrays, turtles and a reef tip shark and we are a 650m stroll to the absolute most exquisite aquamarine Sandy Bay Beach where I worship the sun and the water like I haven’t done for years.
And of course, no visit to Ningaloo is complete without a swim with the Whale sharks on a Ningaloo Reef Tour. It cost us $800 but what an absolute buzz. Chaotic trying to avoid fins in your face and a bit of space jostling as you all swim frantically chasing after the massive sharks as the hoover their way through the ocean. It was all go, go, go. (Very much like the ‘Swim with Dolphins’ in Zanzibar, Joel) It was worth it getting to snorkel alongside the world’s biggest fish and we jumped into the water five times following them. We swam on top of them, alongside and Kevin just got out of the way of the huge mouth in time so he wasn’t sucked in with the plankton. Such fun and so exciting. We also saw humpback whales breaching and snorkelled coral bombies. What a sight. Great day.
Then the next day the weather changed. There is always wind on the WA coast but it got really windy. The type of windy that we were sure our little camper on its legs was going to be sucked up in some sort of wind vortex with us inside (off to the Land of Oz we go). The sound of canvas furiously flapping at night even blocked out the roar of the ocean on the reef. It was so bad that a caravan pulled up stakes and left at 2.30am. We would have liked to be in a caravan with non-canvas walls just then. Where it was going too at that hour I’m not sure. It was cold the next day and when the sun was hidden by clouds the aquamarine ocean took on a more ominous grey quality with 3m swells. It’s the first time the weather has been disagreeable for us and the weather plays such an important role in your perspective of a place. Fortunately, it passed though, the sun came out, the sea turned aqua and although it was still windy all was good with the world once again. Of course, today as we had to leave was picture postcard perfect and neither of us wanted to go but better to leave on a high. A few tears but one day we’ll be back.
Even though we are pretty much bitumen bashing on this portion of our holiday, we are still remote. In fact, everywhere in WA is remote. The distances between towns are huge. The Coral Coast is unique because its where the desert meets the ocean. Literally. Inland we were driving through red sandhills every 100m or so, just like the Simpson Desert.
And there’s nothing. From horizon to horizon its flat, featureless and boring. But then you see this absolute jewel of a coastline that makes Western Australia so incredibly special. We suddenly have this special affinity with the ocean and each evening as I stroll the beach watching that vibrant sunset I am aware how privileged we are to be able to do this.
Camping perfection James Price Point 50 km from Broome
Our current address:
Landcruiser perched on the Red Cliff Top
Beach Access Track
James Price Point
Dampier Peninsula Paradise
Via Broome WA
Sigh…………Its just magnificent. Costs us absolutely nothing but is totally priceless. Beach bum nirvana.
We have red sandstone cliffs that extend further than we can walk, soft creamy white sand, blue clear ocean, whales cavorting on the horizon, sunshine in abundance, rock pools to explore and the fine detail of nature’s beach art everywhere. It’s beautiful and its impossibly all ours and ours alone. Kevin has even caught two fish – that’s how special this place is. We might just stay awhile.
Lovely Broome is just bursting at the seams. The population swells by massive proportions during this peak tourist season. The caravan parks are so full that the overflow are camped at sport fields and club ovals.
Fortunately, I had the foresight to pre-book a sight at the Roebuck Bay Caravan Park. Brilliant location on the amazing aqua blue town beach but the park itself was shabby and the facilities run-down. At least 80% full of permanent residents. Broome is a really expensive place to buy or rent accommodation so a significant proportion become trailer park dwellers. Shame. Another 10% of the park is taken up by grey nomads flocking from Southern WA who stay for months at a time so that only leaves 10% for us transient tourists. Still the town has a really nice atmosphere, great shopping facilities and we really enjoyed the town beach markets on Thursday night.
Four days was well and truly enough in civilisation though as money was running like water through our fingers. We then drove up the interesting route through Dampier Peninsula to Kooljamon at Cape Leveque.
Bookings are required for this very popular tourist spot however we managed to snag one night to camp anyway. Stunning, amazing scenery especially at sunset. Colour, colour, colour. These should be the colours of our Australian flag. The ochre of the sandstone, the creamy white beaches and the vivid blue ocean and sky.
Then we head back down the Peninsula in search of a free beach camp to spend a few leisurely days. There quite a few free camping sites within a 50km radius of Broome. Quandong Beach is the most popular with some stretches of sandy beach but so many vans packed in and every available spot on the cliff top was taken. A couple of stake holders even claimed land rights and blocked access to their patch of turf with branches or shovel plonked right in the middle of the track. Greedy old farts but thanks to them we continued further onto James Price Point and found our own patch of paradise in a more scenic and quieter location.
We see so much natural beauty that it’s almost impossible to take it all in and we are a bit overwhelmed. Its so lovely exploring the rock pools at low tide and I discover that the stiller and quieter you are the more you will see (there is a life lesson in there somewhere I’m sure); I see crabs scuttling, an octopus and intricate artwork in the sand.
The wind blows persistently on the cliff top but it’s so lovely hearing the rhythmic cadoosh of waves at night and the sunsets over the Indian Ocean are simply incredible. Even the moon sinks into the sea in the wee small hours as an orange bauble. The breath-taking view from our campsite costs us nothing but makes us so much wealthier. At this point in time we are brimming with riches.
She’s in her bikini, thigh deep in the Pentecost River – not that far down from where it joins the Cambrian Gulf which is the domain of absolute monster estuarine crocodiles. Meanwhile Kevin and I, a bit further along the bank, tie a rope onto our bucket and chuck it into the river from high on the bank to scoop some water out for our dishes. There’s no way we are going near that water. Not after our episode at Douglas Hot Springs ( Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs )
It’s a car load of adventurous European backpackers and we are all being ‘slippery gypsies’ free camping at the Pentecost River Crossing on the Gibb River Road. I say to her “you’re brave” and she replies with “it’s okay, I can’t see any crocodiles”. Oh dear. Their naivety is delightful but then she didn’t get munched so all good. We saw a croc the next day so they were definitely in there.
In the morning I say to Kevin, “this is priceless” and he agrees. We have just cooked bacon, eggs and naan bread toast on the BBQ plate over a small campfire and eat in the sunshine on the bank of the Pentecost River in the beautiful light of a cool Kimberley morning. This is good.
I admit we were a little ‘jaded’ with the El Questro experience at the start of the Eastern end of the Gibb River Road. Its bitumen all the way to the turn off now and too easily accessible by the masses. I swam in icy cold Emma Gorge by myself, as we were the first early birds there, and it was just delightful, however, Zebedee Hot Springs and El Questro Gorge were just ridiculous with the volume of people. (although the scenery is worth it).
This is our third time across the Gibb River Road and we got to see it 28 years ago when it was totally ‘uncommercialised’. We had to pump diesel out of a 44-gallon drum at Mt Barnett to refuel and the road was little more than a rough track. It’s much busier now, the road is badly corrugated in places but a lot wider than back then. Initially we thought it was less of an adventure than our honeymoon trip in 1989 BUT THEN for the first time ever we turned onto the Kalumbaru Road and headed north to Mitchell Plateau. Crikey. The road was savage with corrugations as big as speed humps. Now that’s definitely an adventure.
It took us a brutal bone shattering six hours to travel 230km from the Kalumbaru turn-off to the Mitchell Falls campground. So why do it you may ask. Is it really worth it? Well, yeah. Mitchell Falls were the most awe- inspiring, magnificent, totally gob smackingly WOW. The sight of them in full glory while we perched on the edge of a steep cliff after walking for 2 hours was something to see.
If you look where we are on a map, remote is an understatement. We saviour this remoteness by spending a couple more nights camped beside the gorgeous King Edward River where we swim and have a canoe adventure where we try to get our inflatable to ride the rapids (Kevin fell in).
Then we face the horrendous corrugations back down again. Kevin was exhausted from the serious concentration required skating over the road but it’s a small price to pay to experience such amazing scenery. No major issues with the car which was great: a few more rattles and the tray bolts were loose (despite nylock nuts) but no flat tyres. The car has been an absolute champion and performed admirably under very trying conditions.
The Western end of the Gibb River Road is in much better condition than the Eastern end with the bonus that there is more to see – gorgeous gorges and swimming at regular intervals (Manning, Galvans, Adcock, Bell and Windjana: all different). We free camp at Barnett River Gorge which was an absolute gem and free camp (a little sneakily) along a creek near beautiful Bell Gorge.
Mornington Wilderness Camp, 90 km off the Gibb River Road, was a must see. Kevin made me to drive in and I went through a couple of water crossings (over the bonnet and up to the windscreen). Okay, I exaggerate – just a little…..
Dimond Gorge is really remote and so dramatic. We paddle down the tranquil Fitzroy River where it cuts through the King Leopold Ranges. The sandstone gorge walls are contorted from long ago earth movements and ancient (up to 1.8 – 2 billion years old – mind boggling). It really was so stunning and we both commented on how at that moment in time how we were the wealthiest people in the whole world.
The Gibb River Road is not about driving the road itself, it’s about the extraordinarily special scenery it leads you too. You need to travel the corrugations, do the hard yards, make like a mountain goat at times, swim under the waterfalls and see, hear, feel and touch the landscape. Soak it up. Touch the soul and feel the heartbeat of The Kimberley. I do love it so. We both do. We did it all.
So how do we feel after 7 weeks and 6800km on the road living in a 2m x 2m box on the back of a ute? Pretty good. Naturally we have days where we feel weary, worn out and dirty, however, then we have another ‘magic’ moment to remind us why we are out here. A night sky, a sunset, a magical piece of scenery.
There are so many magic ‘wow’ moments, every day is different with a sense of anticipation and most importantly we laugh a lot. After coming all the way across the top of the country we are definitely tired and gorged, waterfalled and rough roaded out a bit now though. Its ‘slip into Broome time’ mode coming up and we have every intention of chilling out for a decent break around Broome to recharge the depleted batteries (and possibly splurging just a little with the savings we made by free camping).
Australia by road on a Budget: How much does it actually cost?
I’m keeping a record of every penny we spend on this trip. I roughly budgeted for $1000 per week when I was planning the trip so out of interest I’m curious as to how much it actually costs us in reality.
Australia is not a cheap travel destination, however, by road it is possible to reduce the financial outlay with some planning. A vehicle with 2 fuel tanks has enabled us to buy more fuel in bigger towns where it’s cheaper and travel longer distances between re-fills. Carrying a freezer and a fridge has allowed us to do the same with food. (The cost of food in remote small towns is outrageous – it was $50 for a carton of coke in Borroloola). The occasional free camp reduces the accommodation expenses so the Camps 9 book with every free camp in Australia listed is a worthwhile investment and National Park camp sites are much better value than Caravan Parks.
The boring numbers that follow are the statistics for our first month of travel from Cairns in Queensland to Wyndham at the top of Western Australia via The Savannah Way with a detour up the Top End of the Northern Territory.
Month One Stats:
Total Expenditure: $2730.93 (For a whole month of travel this is pretty good – that would just be our airfare if we went overseas)
Nil Sightseeing Tours purchased in this period – we walked and swam everywhere and they are way too bloody expensive to justify.
So, we are in fact doing quite well after our first month, slightly better than forecast. However, as we head across the Gibb River Road I anticipate a catch up will happen. High fuel and accommodation costs are unavoidable and we want to see everything this time. No scrimping here. We are getting a car service done before we go in the hope that prevention is better than cure and cross fingers our tyres hold up. Kevin’s itching to swap the split rims with tubes for tubeless fatties (please, please no more flat tyres!)