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 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.

Goodbye Tasmania

Goodbye Tasmania

It’s going to take a while for it to sink in but after over 2 years of planning, saving, and waiting I can finally write the words that I’ve dreamed of for so long…we’re on the road.

Our last week in Hobart was surprisingly busy as we needed to pack up the house, clean it from top to bottom for the new tenants, arrange cancellation of the power, internet, and various insurance that is no longer relevant, and finish packing the van. Because of all the cleaning we ended up moving in to my parents place earlier than intended and spent nearly a week together while making the most of their hospitality and functional washing machine (ours broke last month). We also settled in our pets which my parents are looking after for us while we are away. It is such a relief to know that the birds and Mr Babbington (my dog) are in good hands and will be loved and cared for during our trip. We could not be more grateful to them for it.

On Friday we checked the van and moved another load of things that were culled back to our house for storage. I have a feeling that we will end up getting rid of some more stuff as the trip progresses, the van is absolutely chockers. In the afternoon mum and I walked around Knocklofty to say goodbye to my bird friends and that night we popped down to our favorite pub for our farewell party and enjoyed some drinks and food with our friends and family. Our get together coincided with the Matildas playing the quarter final match against the UK so we all had a fantastic time cheering them on!

We finally departed for our lap on Saturday morning, although the first drive (Hobart to Launceston) was one we’d done many times before it felt weirdly liberating to leave Hobart behind and be heading north. Matt had arranged our second departure party in Launceston and we enjoyed yet another night of good food, drinks, and friends. We parked up in Gerald (Matts brother) and his wife Danalea’s street for the night and had a very good sleep. The next morning Matt commented on how soft the bed was, getting nice sheets and a doona that wasn’t $15 from Ikea has made a big difference to the comfort level in the bed.

After breakfast we packed up to drive to Matt’s parents house in Burnie. On the way we stopped at the Tamar Island wetlands so I could get my Big Year (a bird watching challenge) off to a good start. There weren’t a huge number of birds around but I managed to tick off Chestnut Teals, Black Swans, Royal Spoonbills, Purple Swamp Hens, and Native Hens. We didn’t spend as much time there as I would have liked because we needed to be in Burnie before lunch to give us enough time to check out Gunn’s Plains Caves.

Matt’s parents and brother made us a delicious lunch complete with a blueberry cheesecake and then drove us through the spectacular valley roads to Gunns Plains Caves. The cave system was discovered in 1906 when a local man, Bill Woodhouse, was out shooting possums and lost one down a hole. He followed it down and found the spectacular limestone cave that tourists can visit today. Because of the large amount of rain that has been falling for the last few weeks in the area the cave was quite damp and had a healthy creek flowing through the center. Our tour guide Trish explained that the formations were created by the water coming through the rock and that the cave was one of only 6 in Australia that had a permanent creek flowing through it. We didn’t see any cave critters but really enjoyed the incredible formations such as the Wedding Cake, Dagger, and Crispy Bacon.

Our last day in Tasmania was beautifully relaxing. I did some work on my cross stitch, vacuumed the van, packed up, and spent some time walking on the block and enjoying Matt’s parents garden. Matt decided that he wanted a hair cut and asked his brother to do it and create a mullet for him. I’ve put in a photo for your entertainment as it may well be one of the rudest hair cuts I’ve ever seen. It’s very funny but if people don’t want to come and chat with us I will know why. We left at about 5pm and drove on to a very empty Spirit of Tasmania at 6, waving farewell to Tassie and heading with our fingers crossed towards Victoria for our transit to South Australia on Tuesday morning.

A Visitors Guide to K’gari (Fraser Island)

A Visitors Guide to K’gari (Fraser Island)

I wasn’t planning on writing about Fraser Island before we left but as I lay in the bath this morning looking out the window at the cold grey sky I found my thoughts drifting to the tropics which inevitably led to contemplating our visits to the world’s largest sand island. It’s unlikely that we will be visiting on our lap and I therefore thought that I should write a post about our experiences on K’gari before we head off (in 50 days!!)

Moody kunyani out our study window

K’gari (pronounced gurri) is a word in the language of the Butchulla people meaning paradise that comes directly from the creation story of the island which you can find transcribed from one of the elders here. Fraser Island is a habitat to large numbers of vulnerable plants, birds, and marine life and has the second highest concentration of freshwater lakes in Australia (behind Tasmania). Of the lakes on the island 40% are perched, meaning that they are formed when sand is cemented together with decomposing organic material making a barrier that prevents the water from flowing away. There are 80 known perched lakes on earth making K’gari the perfect place to see (and swim in) these watery wonders. It is the ideal destination for travellers that enjoy 4WDing, camping, fishing, wildlife, bushwalking, and swimming.

Places to Stay
The accommodation options on Fraser vary significantly in both location and price. I can only speak in confidence about the places that we have stayed/experienced but I’ll also outline the other options that are available to travellers.

Kingfisher Bay Resort
On our first trip we spent 4 nights at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Because it was the off season (June) we got a fantastic deal which included accommodation, breakfast, drinks, and our ferry tickets. The resort will often have promotions and seasonal packages available on their website.

Kingfisher Bay is a very interesting place to stay. Some of the reviews online describe it as dated but we felt that the older architectural style and fittings added to the charm of the resort. The atrium is incredible, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the layout of the grounds and cabins makes you feel like you are a part of the wilderness.

We participated in several of the activities offered by the resort including the ranger guided bush tucker walk, where we learnt about and sampled food growing in the area, the ranger guided night walk, that included a trip down to the jetty to look for rays and the disturbing information that spiders eyes reflect torch light, the guided kayak paddle, and the brilliant Bush Tucker Talk and Taste. Needless to say we were never bored during our visit.

Private Accomodation
There are a number of communities on Fraser such as Orchid Beach, Second Valley, and Happy Valley. In these areas you can find houses and units that can be rented. If you are planning to go to Fraser with a large group of people and weren’t camping this would be a great option. Find them by searching for “Fraser Island” on airbnb

Eurong
By far the biggest town on Fraser Island is Eurong which makes it a very convenient base for holidays. The main place to stay is Eurong Beach Resort. We’ve never been into the building but we have looked jealousy at their pool (which is amazing). It’s cheaper than Kingfisher Bay and a bit more basic however the rooms appear bright and roomy and it would be a great place to stay on a budget.

Campsites
Most of our time on Fraser has been spent camping so we can offer some advice on where to stay if you are roughing it in a tent or campervan.

Central Station Campground – My personal favourite campground on the island it is situated in the middle of the rainforest and has the added bonus of being the closest site to Lake McKenzie. It has drop toilets, $2 showers, and massive flat sites for cars, vans, or tents. We left this site early in the morning and drove to the lake where we spent an hour enjoying it all on our own.

Wathumba Creek – An absolutely stunning site for a campground but be warned, do not try and camp there in summer! We set up for the night but ended up leaving in the dark because the midges were horrific. I literally have scars on my legs from the bites. The other issue was that a lot of dingos (wongari) were in the area and they were much too friendly. I had to shoo a couple away several times.

Add: I’ve just read that in early February this campground was closed due to issues with the wongari interacting with people. Good decision by QPS.

Dundubara – This wongari safe campground is a quick walk inland from the beach. There are open areas, grassy areas, and hot showers available. There is also a ranger station and phone reception next to the building which is handy. We really enjoyed our stay at this site and it was nice to spend a night where we weren’t being constantly followed by dingos.

Northern Beach Sites – We ended up staying in one of the Northern Beach camping zones after being chased out of Wathumba by the bugs. In the evening while we were cooking dinner I had a feeling that something was watching us and sure enough there were a couple of wongari poking their heads around the dune behind our van but they didn’t bother us. The sunrise the next day was spectacular. There were no facilities available at this site it was simply a cleared area on some dunes.

Eurong Beach Campsites – Just north of Eurong there are a number of beach campsites available. We chose one back from the main drag in some she oaks. It was very pleasant in the evening but unfortunately during the day we were hounded by sand flies. I ended up cooking dinner while Matt supervised my legs and swatted the flies off with a thong. We killed about 50 and still they came. After this trip we ended up buying an awning tent to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.

We really enjoyed camping on K’gari but struggled a lot with the number of biting insects. I think winter would be a much nicer time to be outdoors or bring a heap of insect repellent with you (and buy the strong stuff aeroguard didn’t work).

Transport
K’gari is a mecca for 4WDing but if you don’t own an offroad vehicle don’t despair. There are numerous 4WDing tours you can do including the huge and impressive 4WD bus tours, self drive tours, and guided tours.

On our first trip we hired a 4WD for a day from Aussie Trax 4X4 (which is next to Kingfisher Bay Resort). The price was absolutely obscene, from recollection it set me back $400 without the additional cost of paying for petrol. Matt really wanted to do it for his birthday and there weren’t any other hire options where we were staying so I forked out for it. It would seem from the Google Reviews that the owner may have changed since we were there and I therefore wouldn’t recommend using this company any more. For us at the time it was a good option and the man that talked us through the hire and basic 4WD safety was friendly and fun.

Matt had basic 4WDing experience when we first visited but if you don’t I’d definitely steer clear of hiring and take one of the coach tours around the main sites on the island. The tracks aren’t very challenging but it there are a lot of potential hazards, especially along the beach, and if something goes wrong it would become a very expensive issue very quickly.

The second time we visited (in January this year) it was part of our trip to bring Egg down to Tasmania and we therefore had our own 4WD to get around in. It was absolutely brilliant and we saw so much more of the island in the 5 days that we were there. The inland tracks and beach were