Big Red Rock

After a few days of enjoyable ignorance we decided to check the news on our last morning in SA . We were both surprised when we got there that we were able to travel straight though unchecked and it was only another 20km up the road where we ran into the police. Much more relaxed than the SA lot we showed our passes, IDs, and were immediately let in. Another 100 clicks up the highway and we reached our spot for the night Erldunda Roadhouse. We picked this meeting point of highways to enable us to reach Uluru the next day and still have time to see a bit of it. From the outside and our dusty campsite it didn’t look too encouraging Erldunda turned into a bit of a desert gem, with a free washing machine, pool, and pizza for dinner.

The next morning full of anticipation and excitement (well I was anyway) we entered Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Even though I’d visited before it was no less incredible watching the enormous red monolith appear on the horizon and grow as we drove towards it. I wish I’d taken a picture of Matt while he was driving around the base and the way he was tottering on the edge of his seat and peering through the screen to try and see the top. We looked around the cultural center, went on three short walks (Minymaku, Watiku, and Dune Viewing), and set up our van in the sunset viewing carpark to watch what turned out to be a bit of a dud sunset and cook up some snags. Following dinner, we went into the town/resort of Yulara to catch our bus to the Field of Light art installation. I’d booked our pick up spot as the fanciest hotel I could find with the intention of having a drink before hand in a nice bar but it wasn’t to be, because Matt an I opted not to pay $45 per night for an unpowered site and stay up the road we couldn’t get served, not even one beer. After the disappointment of the booze denial the Field of Light more than made up for it. We had a 40 minute allocation to explore the 50,000 handmade, light emitting, bulbs and it wasn’t nearly enough. Photos do it no justice, it was just stunning.

Day two started with our second running over belongings event when Matt decided to shift the car and promptly ran over the washing up bucket containing 2 plates, a knife, the tongs, and my cup. I was stoked that it wasn’t my fault this time but was less happy to lose my insulated cup. Matt gave me his as compensation, so I was in a good mood again by the time we got to the Camel Farm. After hearing some great things about the Uluru camel tour we booked in for the 90 minute short version ($80pp rather than $135). We got introduced to our camel Kahn, had a quick safety chat, were shown how to mount a camel, and away we went. Riding on camels was very relaxing and the guiding was fantastic. We both learnt a lot about the camel farm, capturing feral camels, training them, and a heap of camel facts.

The afternoon was spent completing the 11km circuit of Uluru and learning more about the Anangu and the Tjukuritja (creation period when ancestral beings created the world/traditional law). It was interesting to see the complexity of the rock face up close and the lines and shapes within. There were a couple of places where artwork had been drawn on the roof of overhangs and small caves and areas where campfires had blackened the stone. Our favorite spot was the waterhole where we saw birds drinking and I saw a hopping mouse.

Our third and last day (entry is $ per person and only allows admission to the park for 3 days) was spent at the less popular and more impressive (in my opinion) Kata Tjuta. This area is of particular importance to Anangu men and is a 45km drive from the park entry. We decided to complete the Valley of the Winds walk which is by far the best walk in the park. The track was challenging but highly enjoyable and there were amazing lookouts and purple wildflowers everywhere. We made one last stop in the park to fill up our water tank, said a fond farewell to the incredible place and drove on to Curtain Springs to camp for the night.

Uluru Tips
Don’t pay an extortionately high amount for accommodation in the town area, there is a free camp on the side of the road 20km from the entry gate.
The IGA is surprisingly well priced.
Fuel is unsurprisingly not well priced, we paid $2.12/L.
Getting to the sunset viewing area an hour or two before the sun goes down will ensure you get the best spot to watch the rock change colour.
Use all 3 days, the first time I visited I didn’t even get to stay for a whole day as it was on a guided tour and was way too short. We felt like we covered everything well using all three.

Campsite Review
Erldunda Roadhouse – Great spot and very quiet if you are in the unpowered area, the powered sites looked like a casserole of madness. Said hello to their emus, very friendly camels, and rooster Cluck Norris. $30pn – 7/10.

Sandy View Rest Area – It’s a rest area on the side of the road but was quite a nice one. Next to no traffic after 9pm and a view of Uluru from the top of the dune. $Free – 5/10.

Curtain Springs Wayside Inn – Another spot that was effectively a car park but a big upgrade from the rest area. We had drinks in the beer garden and watched their cockatiels then splurged $4 each for a shower which turned out to be the best camp shower I’ve had on the trip so far. $Free – 7/10.

Cya Later South Australia

We only had a couple more places to visit before entering our 3rd state, 2nd really because we saw almost none of Victoria, and the first was Coober Pedy. As a huge fan of rocks, I also have the guilty pleasure of watching Outback Opal Hunters almost obsessively and therefore felt that I knew most of the town and what it would be like, I couldn’t have been more wrong. As we made our way through the piles of dirt that make up the opal fields the collection of buildings that materialized in front of the van made us feel like we were traveling back to the late 80s to a bizarre mining theme park. We set up the van at the free campsite behind the old mining museum and were lucky enough to get the only site shaded by a tree. Because the owners of the museum were so kind to host a free camp we paid the $15 entry fee and spent the next couple of hours walking through the mine and then learning about underground homes. Matt went back to the camp to relax while I walked down the road with my fossicking kit and dug around in the dust for another few hours. The correct term for looking for accidentally discarded opal in mine heaps is noodling and as it turns out I’m not much good at it, I didn’t even find a bit of potch (colourless and valueless opal). What I did find was an absolutely massive gypsum crystal which must have weighed 4kg and another smaller stack, probably about 500g worth. Matt was less than impressed when I rocked up in camp with them.

The next day we explored the town starting off with the underground catholic church then the underground bar, an underground display/museum which was filled with, of all things, South Australia Roads and Transport propeganda. After a morning of exploring we were getting a bit hungry and ended up having waffles for lunch at a tiny cafe run by a dutch couple. During the afternoon we visited the local IGA which was absolutely fantastic, I swear the supermarket was better stocked than half the shops in Tasmania and we bought 4 wheels of cheese that had been discounted to 99 cents each . Our final activity that day was to visit the small Kangaroo Sanctuary where we cuddled a beautiful little joey and learned about how the animals were rehabilitated and cared for.

There was one more spot we had to visit before we departed, Crocodile Harry’s Nest. Unfortunately, Harry passed away in 2006 but he left the legacy of his amazing home and legendary exploits in the town. We walked around his “nest” marveling at the sculptures he’d made and the artworks pained directly onto his walls as well as his impressive collection of signed women’s undergarments.

Our final destination for South Australia was a bit off the beaten track located just outside a station called Arckaringa. We parked up at the homestead for the afternoon and enjoyed a shower in the saltiest water I’ve ever experienced outside the ocean. I washed my hair for the first time in 6 days and it honestly felt cleaner before I got under the water. Oh well. Just before the sun went down we took out the picnic rug and some of our discount cheeses and went and watched the sun go down over the Painted Desert, a beautiful sandstone formation created 80 million years ago.

South Australia had one more surprise for us, between the desert and the border we saw what must have been 100,000 budgies. Matt was kept very busy avoiding the huge flocks that seemed determined to fly directly in front of the car.

Campsite Reviews

Old Timers Mine Campsite – Another spot that is basically a campsite in a car park. We’re starting to really appreciate places we can stay for free after all the less money we spend the longer we can travel. $Free – 6/10.

Arckaringa Station – The sunrises and sunsets were absolutely spectacular here, a perfect base to visit the desert. $20pn – 7/10.

Oooooonadatta

It was a bit sad saying goodbye to Copley for the second time and knowing if we ever got back there again it wouldn’t be for a very long while. I also contemplated how strange it was that such an out of the way town felt so friendly to both of us, more than any of the other places we have visited so far. If we’d been stuck there for two months instead of two days I don’t think I would have minded. But the road was calling and our new, heavy duty roof racks were screaming for a test run so we returned to the bitumen and continued our drive north. It wasn’t too long before we came to Lyndhurst and decided to stop for a spot of lunch. Lyndhurst was a lot like Copley in that the only things there were a caravan park, a pub and a couple of houses but unlike Copley it had a local celebrity, Talc Alf. As we pulled up to the rest stop I saw a bloke with a beard cleaning out the bins and I turned to Matt and said “do you think that’s him?”, sure enough it was and no sooner had we pulled the van up we were driving off again with Talc Alf heading for his house (constructed out of half water tanks) about 2km out of town. Alf’s place was brilliant and he spent a good 45 minutes showing us his studio, talc carvings, art and teaching us about his interpretation of the meaning of letters. We ended up buying a carving off him for $10 which is our first souvenir of the trip, we shook hands and promised to come back if we had to drive south through SA rather than NSW.

We’d made good time driving on the sealed highway and reached the “Historical Inland Town” of Farina (the local restoration group clearly don’t like it being called a ruin as they’d attached their own sign underneath the old one) just after lunch. Farina had been recommended us to Lee and Neil which was yet another great tip from them (cheers guys!). It was a fascinating and slightly eerie place with ruined buildings, streets, and cars as well as a cricket oval and the all important railway station. If you visit between June and July there is an operating underground bakery which sounds amazing. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t open but we still had a great time learning all about the town and its eventual demise.

Before we knew it we pulled in at Marree which is where the real part of the Oonadatta Track begins complete with dust, corrugations, and endless railway relics. Matt and I sat in the pub and drank a beer before settling down in the free camp behind the pub and watching the Inbetweeners 2 movie (the end was filmed in the area and the pub featured for about 30 seconds). The next day we wandered around and looked at the local sites which were, the Ghan engines, the “mostly accurate” camel sundial, and the museum inside the pub dedicated to a postman called Tom Kruise who used to drive the mail from Coober Pedy to Marree in a truck that looked like it would struggle on a normal road. We also filled up with petrol at an eye watering $1.95/l both well aware that it was going to get more expensive soon.

After deflating the tyres to the recommended corrugation PSI of 25 we tentatively began our next leg of the trip. I think both of us were feeling a bit worried about the roof racks as I spent most of the first hour looking up at them through the side mirror and Matt walked around shaking them every time we stopped (which was a lot because every 20km there was something else to look at). We saw a sculpture park that made no sense in any way, I figured the creator was a friend of Talc Alf and there was a greater meaning. There was more old railway infrastructure than you could poke a stick at, abandoned bridges, half falling down buildings filled with graffiti, stockyards, water tanks, a surprisingly large number of lizards, and an amazing lookout that allowed us the joy of walking down to and then across a small piece of Lake Eyre. Towards the end of the afternoon and quite close to camp we visited a conservation area where a number of mound springs were located. These strange hills are the result of pressure from the Great Artesian Basin forcing water and the minerals that it contains to the surface of the earth. We walked around enjoying the unusual landscape but the beautiful pools of crystal clear water had us both craving a swim so we left pretty early to get to our campsite at Coward Springs.

At $30 per night the date farm/camp ground is so far the most expensive place we’d been on our trip but the cost was 100% worth it because they have their own little spring that they’ve turned into a spa for the people staying. Within minutes of pulling up we’d changed into our bathers and jumped into the slightly warm water (29 degrees), it was such a nice way to get the dust off after a long day on the road. Following our swim we decided to pop over to the café near the gate and grab a date treat for afternoon tea. The owners were both serving so we had a chat about the date farm and what made them choose to move from their original home in the Adelaide Hills out to the middle of nowhere. We ended up having a date ice-cream each, Matt had coffee and I had chocolate. They were both amazing but I had to admit Matts was slightly better.

It was a short drive the next day through another abandoned town/telegraph station and then into the quirky pub at William Creek. We stopped for a cheeky beer, it would be rude not to, and played a couple of holes on the golf course. Matt hit a 6 and and a 5, I managed a 10 and a 9 but also shattered Matts only golf tee taking a wild swing at the ball and missing entirely. I’m so bad at golf! We camped up at a peaceful placed called Lake Cadibarrawirracanna (it’s easier to say than it looks) where I found the motherload of desert rose gypsum. Once again with my hat full of rocks I went back to the van to show Matt, they must be nice because even he admitted they were “kind of cool”. We watched the sun set and the stars come out one by one until the sky was alight with billions of tiny dots. It was one of the best night skies I’ve seen so we took some photos of the van, Matt light painted the van with his torch and I focused on the sky. What an amazing feeling, knowing that you’re the only people for at least 70km.

Campground Reviews

Marree Hotel – Cool hotel with museum and apparently good food (we didn’t eat but the restaurant was chockers). I’ll never not appreciate these kinds of places that let you stay out the back for free and use the toilets. It makes a big difference to the budget. $Free – 6/10.

Coward Springs – My favourite place we’ve stayed so far with amazing owners, a beautiful spa, cute welcome messages and amazing date products. Completely worth the price per night and we were a bit sad we couldn’t stay longer. $30pn ($15pp) – 10/10.

Lake Cadibarrawirracanna – The most peaceful place of the trip with only the scurrying of native mice at night or the chattering of budgies in the morning. We were the only people there which added to the magic. No facilities but you didn’t need them. $Free – 9/10.

Port Augusta – Roof Racks can Rack Off

Three weeks into our trip and it has all gone a bit wrong with our broken roof rack fiasco and unplanned extended stay in Port Augusta but hey that’s all part of the journey and it wouldn’t be an adventure if bad things didn’t happen every now and again. Our introduction to ‘Gusta was not especially welcoming, we showed up on Friday afternoon after driving down from Copley and started to do the rounds of the local crash repair shops and a welder. The first place we visited was pretty positive about the gutters being fixable but couldn’t give us a quote on the repair because the guy that does it is away until Tuesday. The second place we went to straight up said no, the third said he wouldn’t even look at it. Getting a bit desperate we went to see a welder who actually had a decent look at it and then gave us a more helpful explanation about why he wouldn’t be able to fix it.

The next day we started to have a look for replacement racks and ended up ordering from a shop in town that said they’d be able to get them in by Tuesday. I wasn’t feeling very positive about it because the guy kept messing up the amounts of each part we’d need but we didn’t have any other options. We decided to use the unexpected time that we had living in a motel (thanks RACQ ultimate) to clean out the van, change the linen, wash all the clothes, and take the van to a car wash for a good clean. On Sunday we’d already had enough of the town so we drove out into the country to visit Mount Remarkable and do the Alligator Gorge hike. The scenery was so different to what we have been experiencing for the past week with the beachy suburbs opening up to green farmland. The walk was serene, it was 9km long and twisted through a series of canyons with red stone cliffs towering above us and the creek running along the bottom. We had fun doing the last section of the hike through The Narrows as it was made up of a series of stepping stones we ended up hopping across so we didn’t get our feet wet. At lunch we saw a large lace monitor trying to find a snack and being scared away by a red wattle bird and a magpie.

Monday was a very exciting day for me because I finally managed to get into a vaccination clinic to get my pfizer! Woo hoo!! My one regret from quitting my job was doing it before I got vaccinated, being a healthy 30 year old it has been completely impossible to get it. Fortunately South Australia was giving anyone 16-30yo the jab so I registered for mine using the motel address. No worries at all. I’m going to try and get my second one in the NT, probably Alice Springs in the next 3-6 weeks. In the evening the weather went absolutely feral with lighting, winds of 50km/h and pouring rain. We decided that we didn’t want to cook dinner outside our motel room on our gas stove and headed for the local pub where we ate two very tasty meals, Matt had kangaroo and I had butterfish.

RACQ read us the riot act on Monday and told us without a quote they’d no longer be able to put us up in our lovely motel home so we had to move out as unsurprisingly the first mechanic still hadn’t given us any information about the van. With not so heavy hearts we packed up and left heading towards a free camp via the Arid Botanical Gardens. If you ever have the misfortune of being stuck in Port Augusta this is probably one of the only places I’d suggest visiting. There was a beautiful variety of plants, a wonderful array of birds, and the cafe had scones and cream with quandong jam.

The free camp Matt picked was a short drive out of town in a place called Winninowie Conservation Park, unfortunately when we reached the entry we found that the gate was shut due to the “wet road conditions”, we looked down the track and it could not have been further from wet so I decided to call Parks SA and see if there was anyone that could check it for us. After a couple of phone calls I spoke to a ranger from Mount Remarkable who told me it was shut from the 10mm of rain the previous night, I explained how dry it looked and he said the earliest he’d be able to get down would probably be the next day, bugger! Unsure of where we would be staying the night we spent a while looking at the other options and decided on a seaside town but as we were driving out to go there we saw an SA Parks car and sure enough the ranger I spoke to on the phone. He came down, checked the road for us and sure enough it was dry. We spent the evening sitting on the sandy site and enjoying the mangroves while the eccentric care taker Doug talked my ear off about how he worked for the CSIRO collecting data on the campers and taught me about the animals and environment where we were staying.

We both slept so much better staying out in the wilderness again so we were feeling fresh for the drive to Copley the next day after we popped back into Port August for the last time to pick up the roof racks. We ended up stopping thrice along the way, once at Quorn to look at the old buildings and railway, the second time at the historic homestead of Kanyaka and the third stop was Hawker to fill up with fuel. It was an amusing 3rd visit to Hawker which was 3 more than we’d planned to do. Back in Copley we were greeted like old friends by the publican wearing his standard uniform of footy shorts and his hat (a cross between the Harry Potter sorting hat and a cowboy hat) and by the caravan park manager with his greeting of “you two again!” and then by the town mechanic who seemed pretty happy to be gifted the basket that was on top of our roof racks and two gas cylinder holders. He even brought our spare tyre over to the caravan park on his gold buggy. Matt spent the better part of the afternoon assembling the racks and we celebrated with a meal at the pub.

Campsite Reviews

Comfort Inn Port Augusta – A pretty bog standard motel room in a pretty bog standard town. It was weird having a toilet in the same building as where we slept and we enjoyed having a couch. Glad that the RACQ paid for it – 6/10.

Chinaman’s Creek – Beautiful spot and we will probably come back in summer when it’s warm enough to swim. Caretaker was extremely eccentric. Toilets could do with some TLC and loo paper. $Free – 7/10.

Copley Caravan Park – $20 per night and automatically 8/10 because of how nice everyone in the town was and for how good the quondong tarts are.

Flinders Ranges II – The Wilder North

Our time in the northern half of the Flinders Ranges was unfortunately not nearly as interesting or exciting as we had originally planned because two days into our stay in Arkaroola we had our first travel mishap of the trip with the catastrophic failure of our roof racks and associated damage to the gutters of the van but I’ll get back to that later, I’m just giving you all a heads up that we didn’t end up seeing all that much so if you’re looking for a travel guide for the north this isn’t it.

After departing from Willow Springs we found ourselves on the road without much of an idea where we were going but with the general intention of heading north. This vagueness inadvertently resulted in our arrival at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna where we both opted for a South Australian pint of the local ale. Because it was 11.30am, we were drinking on an empty stomachs, and I am a total light weight, I was feeling very merry after finishing my glass much to Matt’s annoyance. Poor Matt, the more exasperated he got the funnier I found the whole situation so it turned into a possitive feedback loop of giggles. We pulled up and had lunch in Parachilna Gorge and by the time we’d finished I was back to normal. Having no idea where we’d be staying the night we continued onwards to Glass Gorge, another geological feature that had been recommended by fellow travellers and as usual it took us the entire afternoon to get there. We decided to be a bit cheeky and free camped in the gorge car park that night.

The next morning we drove into the nearby town of Blinman and had a look around the local mine. There are official tours on offer which can be booked from the information centre or you can walk around the site for free which we did. It wasn’t as impressive as some of the others we have been to as most of the buildings and equipment were gone but the slag pile was interesting and the information boards were really well written. Back in town we stopped at The Miners Crib (shop/cafe) to grab some fresh bread and couldn’t help but buy two of the pies for morning tea. I had steak and mushroom and it was delicious! On the way towards Arkaroola we only ended up making one stop at Mount Chambers Gorge. You’ve probably realised by now that there are a lot of gorges in the Flinders Ranges but if you visit you won’t get sick of them because they are all so unique. Chambers Gorge is special because of the Aboriginal rock engravings placed on the rock walls that line the dry river bank. The engravings were produced by the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges by using a sharp object to create a series of inter-connecting pits or by rubbing the surface of the rock to form a groove. The further we walked in the more engravings appeared until the walls were completely covered. The final leg of the journey to Arkaroola was our first proper taste of corrugated dirt roads but the van seemed to handle it well. We set up camp in the valley below the main powered camping area at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

The next morning we decided to have our first “rest afternoon”, I was starting to feel a bit fatigued which sounds so stupid because we are on holiday and sleeping 10 hours a night but the constant action had worn me out. So that we were still making the most of our time in Arkaroola we took the shuttle bus up the road and walked back on the Acacia Ridge walk. It was only 7km but there was a significant climb which made it a nice challenge and the views! Well I think the pictures speak for themselves. Back at camp we spent the rest of the day doing, not much at all. I did some cross stitch and read, Matt did some work.

After our rest day we both felt ready to tackle some of the roads through the sanctuary. Armed with our hand drawn map of the roads and tracks we bounced along with the ultimate goal of reaching the only hot spring powered by radioactivity in the world. If you ever find yourself in Arkaroola my one piece of advice is do not trust the map that you’re given. Anything on there marked 2WD is 4WD and anything marked 4WD is undrivable. The journey out to the springs was stunning with more of the Flinders geology, various historic mine sites, wildlife, and finally the spring. I’m glad that the receptionist had clued us up that it wasn’t much to look at because we would have been disappointed otherwise but the gulley the trickle of warm green water was situated in was stunning. We spent some time sitting there and enjoying the bird life before heading back to camp.

The drive back was uneventful until we hit the ruts on the main road going back towards the station. I started to hear a weird tapping noise and asked Matt to get out and look. It turned out to be the wire for the solar panel tapping on the roof because the roof rack cross beam had moved and sheared the wire in half. We decided to keep going but not even 50m down the road I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed the rack was swinging from side to side. Matt got out with the intention of tightening the cross bar to fix it but happened to look at one of the joining legs and noticed a crack. He looked at the rest of the mounts and sure enough 3/4 of them had completely failed. It was a total disaster and a hair raising drive back along the road to our campsite at 5km/h praying the rack didn’t fall off onto the roof.

Sitting in the campsite, spending hours looking at the huge problem that was our roof racks was getting us nowhere and we decided to take the advice of the Arkaroola owner and pop up to see the Yellow-footed rock-wallabies be fed as he says ” if I’m having a bad day I come up here in the afternoon and feed the wallabies which makes everything better”. After spending half an hour watching those beautiful animals including a mum and baby eat their kangaroo pellets we concluded that we couldn’t agree more.

The next day was spent sitting around in our camp calling RACQ and trying to work out a solution as we couldn’t continue to drive with the rack. We ended up being put in contact with a mechanic in Copley (130km away) that was an affiliated member with RACQ. The most frustrating thing was that nobody we spoke to was in any hurry to do anything and the mechanic was particularly unhelpful suggesting that we “place some bits of wood under the rack to give it support and then drive it to Copley”. I think the only thing more dangerous than driving on the corrugated roads and washouts that originally broke the rack is doing it with a heap of loose wood on top of the van. After an entire day of negotiations and Matt using his angry voice we managed to negotiate to get the rack picked up the next day, around lunch time, if Matt and I had taken everything off it and removed it from the roof. Far out.

On Thursday morning we took everything off the top of the van, gave our firewood away to some nearby campers, and with the help of some kind locals disassembled the roof rack system and put it on the ground for the worlds most relaxed mechanic to pick up. In the process of removing the roof racks we also made the very grim discovery that the damage had gone through to the van and the guttering at the attachment points was also cracked. It was weird leaving Arkaroola with no roof rack and no real plan but we were both feeling pretty positive that we’d find a solution and get back on the road soon.

Flinders Ranges I – Wilpena and Willow

We both have a couple of places on this trip that we are particularly looking forward to and the Flinders Ranges is one of mine, I was therefore especially excited when the rocky outcrops started to come in to view on the horizon and my spirits could not be dampened by the light drizzle that had set in. Matt was equally enthusiastic and had us stopping off so often at lookouts and landmarks that we didn’t reach our base for the next 3 nights until 2pm, despite it only being 40km up the road from the Cradock Hotel. I’d picked Willow Springs Station as our first site in the ranges because of its proximity to Wilpena Pound, the amenities, but most importantly the Skytrek 4WD adventure located on the property. We set up, made ourselves at home, and cooked dinner over the fire.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to find our camp chairs and my towel that I’d left out to dry were covered in a decent layer of frost, the locals have since told me that it’s not uncommon this time of year. We ate breakfast in the camp kitchen, removed the fuel from the roof of the van, took some of the more noisy things out if the kitchen and with key in hand headed off on our drive.

The way that the Skytrek works is that you book it at the station office, pay your $60 entry and get given a a key and an information booklet with all the interest points along the way. It was only a few hundred meters through the gate that we reached the first of 50 points in the booklet, a stream and spring next to a small cliff face. I drove the first 40km stopping off at each of the points and learning more about the environment and what it would have been like to work as a pastoralist during the 1880s in such an isolated place. The driving was not particularly technical and both the van and I managed it without issue. We stopped for lunch in a dry creek bed and spotted a family of emus. Matt took over the second part of the drive because we were warned before we departed that the last 15-20km of the drive was a lot more challenging (to the point where they had put in a route to avoid it entirely if you weren’t feeling up to it). Sure enough after another 20km we reached 2 steep hills which we tackled slowly and carefully with an occasional hit to the bash plate. It was completely worth a couple of scratches on the van because when we reached the top the views were simply breath-taking. 6 hours later, tired and happy we got back into camp.

On Friday it was my turn to pick an activity and I decided that we should try and get a bit more exercise in and do a walk into Wilpena Pound. I made the suggestion to Matt that we climb to Mary’s Peak (the highest point in the Pound) but was met with so much resistance we opted for 2 shorter walks. Matt has since informed me that he is happy to do more bush walking but needs to be trained up a bit before we do 16km hikes with 700m of climbing…fair enough. Our first walk was to the Wangara Lookout where we enjoyed views into the pound and received the happy news that our agent had found someone to rent our house in Glenorchy. Yay! On the way back we did a small 1.2km side loop called Drought Busters that had a number of information boards describing the animals and plants in the area, how they manage in the harsh weather, and the changes of the seasons. We made fantastic time so after lunch we got back on the road and visited Ridgeback Lookout (the best view in Flinders Ranges so far) and drove into Brachina Gorge where we saw yet another emu family but to our great excitement Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies!

All too soon Saturday morning arrived and we once again cleared out our campsite and said goodbye to the family of apostlebirds we made friends with to continue our journey into the far northern end of Flinders.

Campsite Review

Willow Springs Station – I think it says a lot when you rock up at a place and instantly sign on for another day which is exactly what we did. The staff were helpful, Wifi worked well, hot showers, clean camp kitchen, and spectacular night sky. $25pn – 9/10.

Nip into Burra

Nip into Burra

I finished my last post with Matt and I enjoying my woeful first attempt of camp oven cooking so we will take off again from there. We left the farm after saying goodbye to the animals and checking out the view over the river. Our first stop for the day was Waikerie, a surprisingly pleasant little town with orange shaped rubbish bins, massive TV aerials, silo art of a giant parrot, and most importantly the Nippy’s Factory Outlet. I’d like to say that Matt and I were restrained and did not buy a ridiculous number of drinks to the point where we had to stack boxes next to be bed but I can’t. Now in possession of every conceivable flavour of milk me made our way towards our next campsite in Burra.

Our unplanned lunch spot ended up being Morgan, which in it’s day was the second busiest port in South Australia after Port Adelaide. It was an interesting town and we spent a good couple of hours following the historic walk through the village, train station, and port area. I’d strongly recommend stopping in if you are in the vicinity, especially if you have kids as there is a playground that is shaped in one part like a paddle steamer and in the other part as a train station! So cool!

When we rolled into Burra in the afternoon we were faced with yet another pleasant surprise. There is definitely something to be said for travelling around without much of an idea of what you are doing because we are constantly rolling into towns and being amazed with what is there. Burra is so far probably the best example of this as not only did Matt meet a lady working in the visitor centre who was from Burnie with her relatives attending school with him but the town itself was amazing!

Burra was established in the 1840s after copper was discovered on a local property, it was originally a number of different towns known collectively as “The Burra” but combined later on as they began to expand into one another. At the peak of the copper boom the population swelled to make it the second largest city in South Australia after Adelaide. What was so interesting about Burra was the number of historic buildings and how well preserved they all were. For most people the best option to visit these sites is to purchase a Heritage Passport from the visitor centre. The key that is provided to you after paying the $30pp and $50 deposit will get you into all of the main attractions (and they are numerous), I hear that it takes about 5 hours to complete them all. For those of us that wander into town in the late afternoon expecting a standard country town and therefore not having nearly enough time driving around and looking at the outside of the buildings was still highly enjoyable and interesting. My favourite part was 3km out of town where we saw the house from the album cover of Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil!

We set up camp just outside town down a dusty dirt road at a place I found on WikiCamps called Red Banks, the sites were sunny in lowish bushland but with trees that were robust enough to put the hammock out. The next morning we walked to the Red Bank along a dry stream bed and then back into camp so we could pack up and make our way northwards. The drive towards Cradock was fairly uneventful apart from the loss of Matt’s straw hat. We’d pulled off the road (as we often do) to have a poke around an abandoned railway station at Eurelia and Matt decided to climb up the abandoned railway water tank. Just as he got to the top of the ladder a gust of wind caught his hat and blew it into the tank. I was very helpful and found him a new had in Cradock (pictured below).

Campsite Reviews

Red Banks – Stunning location for a free camp with interesting walks and an impressive “red bank” of sand a short walk away. Free – 8/10.

Cradock Hotel – This place was so much fun, the publicans were lovely, beer was cold and the food was delicious. Couldn’t have picked a better spot to do the census “there are 11 people in town and half of them live here”. Free – 7/10 (broken glass all through the camping area).

Warmth in the Riverlands

Well it’s not quite warm enough to take the puffer jacket off in the evenings but the temperature has improved significantly which can only mean one thing. We’ve moved North!

Our drive out of Mount Gambier was a wet one and the rain chased us 200km up the road. It’s unbelievable the amount of water around, fields that look like lakes, parks where the path leads into a river, and some quite put out looking sheep. We got to Naracoorte caves at 10:30 unfortunately missing out on the fossil cave tour by 15 minutes but consoled ourselves by exploring the discovery centre (just awful, think poorly designed robot animals) and Stick-Tomato Cave (very enjoyable self guided tour through dry limestone caverns). The area the caves are located in was also beautiful with wattle and grey kangaroos. We popped into town for a pie and then drove to Bordertown for Matt to do a case conference to work while I lay in the back of the van and had a nap. Before we departed town Matt spotted a house with a sign that we’d parked across the road from. It turned out to be the childhood home of Bob Hawk!

Because there was still light in the day instead of stopping near Bordertown as we’d intended we decided to press on and visit Ngarkat Conservation Area. The manager of the caravan park in Mount Gambier had told us there was “nothing out there” but we prefer camping in the bush to camping in a show ground so it was an easy decision to keep on heading up the road. It turned out to be a good one as Ngarkat was just beautiful. It is situated in the Mallee, an environment I heard way too much about in year 11 science. Along with the beauty of the area we met another couple, Lee and Neil, who offered us their fire and company. We had a wonderful night chatting away, went for a walk with them in the morning and as we parted ways they shared their contact information with us so we could come and visit them.

We spent the rest of Friday exploring Ngarkat in the van particularly the Centre Track which was a soft sandy dune drive through the scrub. Around halfway along we met a bloke on a fat bike who was going for a ride because he had lost his job and wanted something to do. We wished him all the best and watched as he disappeared into the distance. It was quite a long drive so we got into Renmark just as the sun was going down, parking up in a beautiful little spot right next to the river.

The next morning we made our way out of town and northwards to visit an amazing Murray River look out and to have lunch at a brewery called The Woolshed that everyone we chatted to has informed us was the thing to do in Renmark. The view at the lookout across the cliffs and river made me reflect on how different this dry and wild part of the world was compared to my expectations of in retrospect what was probably an English or European river system. At the brewery we put on our masks and checked in (a requirement for all of SA), found a table, and ordered some Italian food off the van in the beer garden for lunch. Matt grabbed a tasting paddle of dark beers and I sampled a small amount of each as it was my turn to be designated driver. On the way back into town we decided to continue our little booze tour and swung by 23 Degrees Distillery where we sampled a flight of brandy and a delicious wood fired garlic pizza.

On Sunday Matt suggested that we go kayaking so I booked a two person kayak from a place called Canoe the Riverlands. The lady that runs it showed us the ropes, gave us a map and suggested route then sent us on our way. I made Matt promise not to tip us over because last time we were in a kayak (in Vanuatu) he took great pleasure in capsizing the boat on multiple occasions. I didn’t think that the Murray River would be as pleasant to swim in as a tropical ocean. We had a wonderful day through the creeks and across the river, occasionally stopping to look at the abundance of wildlife and eventually to have cheese and biscuits for lunch. In total we paddled around 12km in 3h at a price of $60 for both of us it was a bargain! As we departed Renmark we made one more stop to get yet more alcohol at the vineyard that produces Stones Green Ginger Wine. Again, we left with 2 bottles which I think brings the total amount of booze purchase in Renmark up to about 6L. We won’t be needing any more for the outback that’s for sure!

We made the short 60km journey to our next campground just outside Waikerie in good time. Ken (the owner) greeted us and showed us around his beautiful farm while we helped out with a few jobs like feeding the horses and putting the alpacas away. That night we had a roaring fire complete with marshmallows which was particularly useful as Matt was able to start a fire the next morning so I could attempt to make us damper for breakfast in the camp oven. It wasn’t a huge success with the outside crispy and the inside woefully underdone but I learnt from it and hopefully will be able to make a better one next time.

Campsite Reviews

Ngarkat Conservation Park – Another one of those weird places with an average Wikicamp review that turns out to be great. I am starting to wonder about the expectations of the people that write things like “over priced” for a beautiful campgrounds in a national park with clean facilities, flat sites, and fire pits. $13.50pn – 8/10.

Plushy’s Bend – We made a bit of an error with this one as I missed that it was “self contained vehicles only” but we were very mindful with our waste water and picked a site close to the toilets. It was a very peaceful place with whistling kites soaring overhead and pelicans gliding past in the afternoon. We also saw a spectacular sunrise. $10pn – 7/10.

Farmstay – So it looks like our limit for no showers is 3 nights which forced our hand to stay at…. and we are so glad we did. Our host Ken showed us around the farm and we helped out with a few jobs. In return we had access to all the free wood we could dream of for our fire that night. Warm showers, beautiful animals and heaps of birdlife. Definitely worth the money. $25pn – 8/10.

Escape from Victoria, Exploring Mount Gambier

Escape from Victoria, Exploring Mount Gambier

I’d like to say I had a restful night on the Spirit of Tasmania but that could not be further from the truth. Matt had a very nice sleep but I tossed and turned all night despite the relatively smooth crossing. Because of the lack of sleep I was more than happy to get up at 4.45am, shower and head out to the communal lounge area for a coffee and breakfast before getting back in our van and driving out of Melbourne.

Thanks to COVID our original plan to spend a month in Victoria, get a long range fuel tank installed, and catch up with family and friends had to be thrown out the window and we found ourselves on a 450km journey to the South Australian border with our fingers and toes crossed that they’d let us in. The drive wasn’t boring but it was frustrating to speed through places that we really would have liked to wander around. At lunch time we reached the check point, put on our masks, got our passes out, and hoped for the best. The police officer that questioned us was friendly enough but a couple of the questions caught us off guard like “will you be leaving South Australia in 15 days”…um probably not? I guess we did everything right because 5 minutes later we entered South Australia!

Just down the road we reached the town of Mt Gambier, a moderately large rural town with a population of around 30,000. Our first stop was Woolies where we stocked up on fresh food for the next few days and met another Delica enthusiast in the carpark. He was proud to show us that he owned a long wheelbase, manual, diesel – very rare! We drove around the corner to the visitor centre, hard to miss due to the massive possibly to scale replica of The Lady Nelson (a boat that is moored in Hobart). Despite the large amount of information about the ship and it’s journeys on displays within the building we couldn’t actually work out why Mount Gambier had a connection to the boat. The mystery ended up being solved by my mum who informed us that it was The Lady Nelson crew that first spotted Mount Gambier. The staff member in the centre gave us a map and highlighted the best tourist locations, we grabbed some brochures and then drove off to the caravan park where we spent the night.

The next morning the rain, sun, drizzle, was continuing and it was a bit hard to get out of the very snug van. I could not have wished for a better night after the boat and got a solid 11 hours of sleep. It made a big difference and both Matt and I were feeling very well rested for a day of exploring. We decided to be fair we would alternate “activities” with my choice of climbing Mount Schank up first. Mt Schank is Australia’s youngest volcano with it’s last eruption over 4,500 years ago. It is named after John Schank the designer of…you guessed it The Lady Nelson. We did both the 900m climb and 3km rim walk and very much enjoyed the views across the surrounding landscape and peeping into the crater. The highlight for me was the beautiful rainbow, the highlight for Matt was spotting a goat climbing on the cliff. When we got back to the van we were surprised to see that someone had left a small cardboard box balanced on the bonnet which we found was full of fresh egg! Some very kind person (we think maybe the guy that lives in the house near the carpark) had left us for them. What a lovely surprise on our first day.