Friends and the Coast

As we made our way through Rockhamton and towards Byfield National Park I reflected on our time in Australia’s interior. The past few months exploring the outback have been amazing, we’ve met brilliant people, seen incredible things, and felt like we were truly immersed in the interior of this massive country. I’ve loved the red dirt, the dry heat, and the wildlife, which was unexpectedly abundant, but it was blissful to see the coast again after such a long time and smell the salty tang of the ocean. It feels like we have started another leg of our trip, The East Coast.



Our first stop on our new journey is a little-known national park that sits slightly north of Yepoon called Byfield. I’d organised two nights in a coastal campground Called Five Rocks which I booked not realizing that a notoriously difficult 4WDing obstacle stood in our way, Big Sandy, a massive dune with sand the texture of talcum powder. I knew we were in trouble when we reached the bottom of the climb and immediately dug into the sand despite our deflated tyres. Matt pulled over and let some more air out so we were sitting at 15psi and went again. This time we maybe got halfway up before getting stuck again. We got out the recovery boards and had a go at leapfrogging our way up, I’d put down the boards, Matt would drive over them and another 2m up the hill, I’d dig the boards out, put them back under the wheels and we’d go again. We tried this about 5 times before deciding it was ridiculous, reversing down the hill and going again. The third attempt was much better and we managed to get the whole way up, it turned out the trick was instead of going up the left “up” side we needed to go up the right “down” side. After Big Sandy the rest of the drive to camp was a breeze. We spent the afternoon walking down to the beach and chatting with our fellow campers making note of the advice that the locals deflate their tyres to 8psi to get up the dune.



The next morning we took the van out on the trails and explored the national park, I was much too nervous to get into the ocean due to the slight risk of crocodiles so was very happy when we found a clear creek running into the sea reminiscent of Eli Creek on Fraser Island. Matt didn’t want to swim but was happy to walk up the creek and then watch me lie in the shallow water and wash off the sand and sweat from yesterday. We got back in the van and drove up the beach to a lagoon surrounded by mangroves and watched the seabirds fishing. On the way back towards the camp we walked to another huge orangey/red dune and climbed up for a beautiful view over the ocean. After another restful night, we made our way back to town with a few stops along the way. Our first was a lookout at Stockyard Point which is a small beach shack town in the national park, Matt made a few work calls and checked in with our friends in Yepoon to let them know we were on our way. Next, we drove back to Big Sandy, let our tyres down and I drove us to the bottom without any issues. Matt wasn’t happy about how we’d done it the first time and what a mess we’d made out of it so he decided to climb it again using the trick of even lower tyre pressure. He absolutely flew up! We couldn’t believe the difference between 15 and 8psi. There looked like a bit of weather was rolling in but Matt was keen to have a swim so instead of turning left and driving back to Yepoon we hung a right and popped into Stoney Creek for a dip, unfortunately, a storm rolled in which cut the swimming short but it was a beautiful place.



We rocked up at Tom and Emma’s house in Yepoon by mid-afternoon where we were greeted by Emma’s sister, her partner, and Emma’s mum and dad. It was so lovely to see them all and catch up with everything that had been going in their lives as well as play with their beautiful one-year-old daughter Aria. After pizza for dinner and a hot shower, we went to bed happy and clean. On Saturday morning we decided to all head to the beach for a coffee to have some fun on Emma and Tom’s stand-up paddleboard and kayak. I was very excited to have a go on the SUP because I’ve wanted to try it for ages but never had the opportunity. We had a fantastic morning splashing and paddling around and I was pleased to discover that paddleboarding isn’t too challenging and that the water in Yepoon is deliciously warm. In the evening Tom, Matt, and I went out to the Railway Hotel for dinner and then had drinks at the surf club. We got home at 11.30pm and while I went to bed Matt and Tom stayed up talking and drinking, Tom informs me Matt made an “espresso martini” for them which was a shot of coffee spirit and a shot of vodka and nothing else…hmm.

I was well-rested and excited on Sunday morning, unlike Matt who was reasonably seedy because we’d all booked on to the ferry to go snorkeling on Wop-pa (Great Keppel Island). Neither of us had been to a reef since we had a family holiday in Vanuatu in 2013. The ferry took about 45 minutes and we then walked for another 20 minutes to reach the beach where we spent 4 hours exploring the reef and lying in the sun. We saw 2 turtles which was the first time Matt and I had swum with a turtle in the wild, it was just magic. I think we spent around 2 hours in the water and were all exhausted by the end of the day, but it was absolutely brilliant and it was even better to spend it with friends.



We left Yepoon on Tuesday morning with the plan to pop up north for a few days to Stanage Bay and then head back south dropping back into see our friends the next weekend. On our way out of town, we stopped in at the local surf shop so I could buy a rash vest as despite the stringent sunscreen applications I’d managed to get sunburnt both times we’d been swimming. I ended up walking out with a surf suit which is a hybrid between a wetsuit and swimmers and should hopefully be good for both. The drive out to Stanage was surprisingly long because the road off the highway was nothing short of disgraceful, and we have been on some bad roads in the NT. It was corrugated, pothole-riddled and to make matters worse a thunderstorm had just been through and dumped a ludicrous amount of water over the road. It was late afternoon by the time we found somewhere to camp. In the evening atop our cliff we watched two storms travel either side of us filling the sky with lightning.



The following morning we woke up late and enjoyed relaxing before taking a leisurely drive around the town to check out the main sites. There wasn’t that much to see or do, no hikes, no real touristy things but there were beautiful beaches and some fun little 4WDing tracks. It was a good place to sit around and enjoy views and would be amazing if you had a boat, which sadly we do not. The day was not completely without drama however, as we made our way down a track to our campsite for the night we managed to get our 2nd flat tyre for the trip. Fortunately, we noticed it when we pulled in for the night and the side was nice and level so the change wasn’t too difficult. Unfortunately, we also noticed that the tyres are on the way out so we will have to get a new set in Brisbane.


Our last day in Stanage Bay turned into one of the very rare days where we do nothing, I don’t think we’ve had one since we got stuck in Arkaroola. I alternated between lying in my hammock next to the beach and walking along the beach enjoying all the sea critters. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.

Campsite Reviews

Five Rocks Camping Area – Secluded sites in the bush a short walk down to the beach (190 steps). Drop toilets, cold showers, and frogs that sounded like car alarms. It was blissfully peaceful during the week, there were maybe 3 other people there while we were camped. $$6.15pp/pn – 8/10.

Stanage Bay Road Camping – The set up at Stanage Bay is quite unusual. All the sites are free and there are heaps of them but they are all hidden along random 4WD tracks off the right hand side of the main road as you drive in. We spent the first night camped up on a hill with cliffs on each side and the second two nights in a little covered area directly next to the beach. None of the sites had toilets but they were beautiful. $Free – 8/10.

Rodeos, Sapphires, Gorges, Coal

Our evening in Mitchell was very pleasant, we caught up with one of the couples that were staying in the caravan site in Charleville. We bonded over our bizarre tour and shared a platter of cheese and biscuits while watching the sunset over the river. The next morning, we packed up and drove into Roma for a short visit to pick up some more socks because I have lost so many pairs it is getting ridiculous, and both of us invested in a pair of goggles as we have decided to try and do some exercise in the local pools that we are visiting. From Roma we turned north for the first time in a long while and started to make our way towards Carnarvon National Park. Not much further along the road, we stumbled upon an event that I’ve wanted to go to for years, a rodeo! I was stoked that the timing had finally worked out because it feels like every town we’ve been to we’ve either missed the rodeo by a few days or we have arrived a week too early. We paid our $15 entry each and settled down to watch under a shade tent at the end of the arena. Matt and I were clearly really out of place as everyone else was wearing their rodeo outfit of cowboy boots, jeans with a comically large belt buckle, a plaid button-up shirt, and an Akubra. No word of a lie Matt and I were the only people dressed differently in the entire event. We soon struck up a conversation with the families sitting around us and I peppered them with questions about the events and the rules of each one. To pay them back for their kindness I took out my wildlife lens and captured photos of their kids competing to send to them.

Eventually, we reached a point where we either had to commit to staying in Injune for the night or leave to get to Carnarvon. Matt had had enough of steer wrestling so I begrudgingly let him lead me back to the car. It was a great afternoon. By the time we reached the caravan park in Carnarvon, it was nearly dark but luck was on our side and we managed to nab the last poky unpowered site at the only accommodation place that was still open for the offseason. I was less than impressed at the $45pn we had to fork out for the tiny bit of dirt we parked the van on.

The next morning dawned clear and warm which was a bit of an issue as Matt and I had decided to complete the longest hike of our trip into the Gorge. The main gorge hiking trail is 19.4km one way finishing up at a campsite for those completing the walk over two days, because we are unable to do overnight hikes, we decided to terminate our journey at the Cathedral Cave making our hike 18.2km return from the visitor’s center. Our first stop was the beautiful Moss Garden, we were lucky to have seen it when there was a bit of water around with the lush dripping wall of ferns and the small waterfall making a lovely cool place to have a rest. We continued onwards to the Amphitheatre, which was my favourite place on the hike, after climbing up a staircase that might as well have been a ladder, we squeezed through a gap in the towering limestone cliffs which opened into an amazing room stretching up to the gumtrees far above. While we were sitting and eating a snack a little native mouse started running around our feet and trying to get into our backpack. Another kilometer down the track we reached Wards Canyon, it was similar to the Moss Garden but with more water and King Ferns. Our final two stops were both spectacular examples of indigenous cave art. I couldn’t believe the colours of the stencils and free hard drawings standing out stark against the white stone, it was just beautiful. We returned to the car park in the early afternoon and decided to walk down to the local waterhole where we ate our lunch and had a swim before heading back to the campground for a relaxing afternoon.

Because we hadn’t had enough of walking after our solid 18km the day before we picked another hike for our final day in the park. In retrospect picking a hike that we 6km long and had a 3 hour walking time wasn’t a great idea but hey hindsight is 20-20. It started off civilized enough but we were soon climbing/clamoring up ladders and rocks on the side of the cliff to reach the top of the gorge. The view from Boolimba Bluff was well worth the effort as it rewarded us with views down into the gorge where we had walked yesterday and then across the mountains on the other side. Needless to say, we were both completely buggered when we got back to the van. The afternoon was spent driving to Emerald and setting up camp under the railway bridge next to the botanical gardens. We didn’t end up having a very good sleep thanks to the road trains and actual training rumbling next to us and over us all night. Oh well.



In the morning we drove to The Gemfields to do some more fossicking. After reading a lot of information online I decided that we would be better of buying wash from one of the mining companies in the town of Rubyvale rather than digging for our own gems due to the limited time that we had. My research lead us to Armfest Mine where we met the owner and purchased our first bag of wash. He showed us how to get the sapphires out of the dirt and we managed to pick up a few good ones. We ended up buying 4 bags, 2 standard, and 2 premium, and left with over 30 sapphires that were cutting quality. Not a bad way to spend the morning. The rest of the day was taken up by putting some big miles in and heading towards the coast. We spent the night behind the pub in the coal mining town of Bluff.



Campsite Reviews

Takarakka Bush Resort – Urg where to start with this one. Ridiculously overpriced at $45 per night for an unpowered patch of dirt but to add insult to injury the park wasn’t even very nice. The showers weren’t very clean, there was no soap in the toilets, it smelt vaguely of sewerage and the camp kitchen was overcrowded. We were even more annoyed that it was our only option anywhere near the national park. $45pn – 3/10.

Botanic Gardens Emerald – You can’t really complain too much about a free camp but this one wasn’t great. There was a lot of road noise and a train went over us in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens were nice. $Free – 5/10.

Bluff Pub – Cute little pub in a coal mining town with cold beer and good food. Matt and I got the only spot in the shade which was good for us as it was a very hot night. $5pp/pn – 7/10.

Outback Queensland

Thanks to the night of cycling viewing we woke up a little bit later than planned and therefore had to get ready at speed and drive to the QANTAS Founders Museum which we were both really looking forward to. We’d decided that if we were going to do it we might as well do it properly so we booked entry to the museum, a guided walk of the airpark, and the 747 wing walk, when in Rome look at as many planes as humanly possible. We started off with the museum which was an absolutely fascinating exploration of the history of the airline. The large room was filled with information boards and artifacts that allowed visitors to walk through the creation of the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services as well as learn about the founding members, the aircraft they purchased, the issues they had with receiving government funding, and I discovered it was founded on my birthday. I’d thought that I would be bored (not being a huge fan of planes) but it was so interesting, honestly, the story was incredible and if you’re not familiar with it I’d strongly recommend either buying one of the many books written on the subject or read about it on google.

Once we had finished in the museum we had enough time for a scone and a coffee in the cafe before we were called to go into the airpark. If you only do one thing in Longreach do this! Our guide took us outside and we walked through a number of planes, they were all different from a frankly terrifying machine that carried 70 people but needed a navigator who would look at the stars through a little window in the roof near the cockpit to ensure the plane was traveling in the right direction, to the amazing 747, to a fully customised private jet complete with gold plated seatbelt buckles and a bedroom with a queen bed.

Our final activity, directly following the airpark was the wing walk, the only place in the world where you can step onto the wing of a 747. We went on the tour with one other guy and the same guide that had taken us around the other planes. Rather than going straight to the wing we were taken into the cockpit and spent 20 minutes learning about the different knobs and dials as well as the roles of the staff that would have worked there. We followed the guide back down the stairs into the main part of the plane, put on some very gratuitous safety harnesses, and then walked out and onto the wing. It was a cool experience, my favourite part was when the guide got us to all jump at the same time so we could see the flex of the wing tip.


We left Longreach in the afternoon with a plan to stop in Barcaldine for the night. We were going to drive flat out to the campsite but on the way through a little town called Ilfracombe we saw a sign for a bottle and gun display. Obviously, we were both very intrigued by this bizarre combination of items so we stopped and went into a room that was completely full of bottles, and another room that was floor to ceiling covered in guns with a Nazi flag hanging on the wall. Our last stop for the day was The Tree of Knowledge, the remnants of the original ghost gum where the 1891 Shearer’s Strike occured which ultimately turned into the Australian Labor Party. In 2006 the tree mysteriously died by poisoning but was resurrected as part of a 5 million dollar sculptural art piece that opened in 2009. Matt and I were both really impressed with how the tree had been reborn, under the glass at your feet you can view the root system while overhead hundreds of wooden planks gently shift in the breeze and clank together like the biggest wooden windchime that has ever existed.

The next morning we drove into the town of Blackall and had a look around the main street. We’ve become very slack of late with our pre arrival research so we had no idea what there was to do or where we’d be staying so naturally, our first stop was the combined information center/library. The woman behind the desk was lovely and soon we had a pass to camp next to the river, a town map, and advice to see the main attraction, The Blackall Woolscour. I called the woolscour and booked in for the 1.30pm tour, while we waited we had a coffee, some delicious food from the bakery, found the second black stump of the trip and wandered around the very pleasant little town. I know absolutely nothing about sheep farming or wool so I was quite surprised at the size and complexity of the scour when we rolled into the car park. Our tour started with a video that explained the wool boom and the phrase “Australia rides on the sheep’s back”. When that ended we were introduced to our tour guide who was in the middle of a cup of tea and not at all keen to take us, in the end, he begrudgingly got up and took us on one of the most amusing tours we’ve done. The woolscour was surprisingly interesting, both historically and mechanically but honestly the tour guide absolutely made the place for us. He was probably 75 years old and just about as ocker as you could get, his sense of humor was hilarious and we had a great time. At the end of the tour it was getting pretty warm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the public pool.

Our plan for Wednesday was to cruise down the road to Tambo and spend the night at their free camp but we’d woken up early and found ourselves parking up at 9am. We popped in to see the wonderful teddies and then went down to the visitor center where we picked up a free booklet that took us on a historical walk around the town. By the time we’d finished exploring we had only killed another 2.5 hours and we really didn’t feel like sitting around on our bums until night so we decided to keep on going with a new plan to stop in Augathella for the night. Well, we reached the meat ant capital of Australia and were both so uninspired we opted to keep on heading south to Charleville. We ended up finding a brilliant little caravan park on the outside of town called the Charleville Bush Caravan Park where we met the owners Graham and Deb. It was a very welcoming place and we were soon sitting at the communal fire pit, enjoying fresh damper while Graham told us all about Lake Eyre.

The next day Graham encouraged us to join him on his 2 hour tour of the town and at $15pp it was hard to say no. The tour was a bit hit and miss for me but not in a way that left us feeling disappointed we needed something to do to fill in the day and it certainly did that but the format was bizarre. We looked at things like the kindergarten, and power poles while Graham handed out photos from the last major flooding event and explained that the old people in the town were now scared of rain. He also kept stopping at houses that were for sale and asking us to guess how much they cost before telling us and then explaining all the good things about each property…Matt and I were wondering if he might have got a commission from the real estate agents if he managed to sell one. We then went to the town weir and had a 15-minute explanation on how that functioned, the tour was very strange. During the afternoon we popped into town to look at the botanical garden and some of the historic buildings that were missed while we learned you could buy a 2 bedroom house with a nice garden for $200,000. I kept an anxious eye on the weather as we’d booked in for an astronomy tour and the clouds looked like they’d be hanging around for the rest of the day. Fortunately, they dispersed just in time and we were able to take our seats at the Cosmos Centre and enjoy the million-star views. Matt and I both agreed that the highlight was looking through the telescope at Jupiter and Saturn to see the moons/colours and rings respectively, it was beautiful.

We were a bit slow to get going the next day as our slightly late night caused us both to sleep in but we had a bit of time to kill before the WWII Secret Base museum opened. Located at the airport in an old hanger the museum explained how the Australian and American forces collaborated in Charleville during world war two and hid secret technology from the enemy side. It is currently undergoing a rebuild so the first section was much more modern than the second but it is due for completion at the end of this year so hopefully if you decided to go there it will be finished by the time you arrive. Our final activity was to visit the bilby centre which my mum had recommended that we go and see months ago. It’s directly next to the visitor information section in the train station so it was very easy to find. The tour started with a presentation about bilbies, a question session, and then we were let into the bilby house where we saw a bilby family bouncing around. They were so cute!

We left Charleville and rather than continuing to travel south we turned east stopping for the night beside a beautiful river near the small town of Mitchell.

Campsite Reviews

Lloyd Jones Weir – Just outside the town this small but peaceful campground has clean toilets, picnic tables, and an excess of turtles. We were very amused by the pretend grave for “people that steal toilet paper”. There is a couple of long-term campers set up here but they were friendly and considerate. $5pn – 6/10.

Barcoo River Camping Area – Thanks to Blackall for setting up this lovely little camp. Public toilets a short walk away and free showers in the amenities block in the main street of the town. $10pn – 7/10.

Charleville Bush Caravan Park – The perfect caravan park, awesome hosts, free information talks and damper in the evening, communal fire pit, good washing machine, great showers and toilets, and really nice fellow campers. $25pn – 9/10.

Fishermans Rest – There are two campsites in Mitchell and this is by far the better one. It’s quieter, more secluded and the river is absolutely beautiful, bring your bug spray though they were thick. $Free – 7/10.

Australian Dinosaur Trail

Australian Dinosaur Trail

Rather than leaving at our usual 9am departure time from Julia Creek we decided to hang around until mid morning so that we could go to the visitor centre and see the fat-tailed dunnart be fed. Entry was $5 and it was well worth it to see the adorable little marsupial munch into some mealworms as well as learn some more about the dunnarts of Australia.

We hit the road and headed to our first stop on the Dinosaur trail at Richmond, Kronosaurus Korner. Because we’d made quite good time getting into Queensland we were actually a day ahead of ourselves and booked into visit the museum the next day so we occupied ourselves exploring the very pleasant town. I don’t know if it was the isolation of the Northern Territory or not but our appreciation of small towns has increased exponentially and Richmond was particularly nice with long wide streets lined with bougainvillea. The main highlight of the town for us was a large man-made lake right next door to the caravan park we were staying at. It was very warm again so we paddled around in the water until it was late enough to walk into town and have dinner in the pub. That night we had the worst sleep we have had on the road so far, it was oppressively hot and we had the most inconsiderate family park next to us. Not only did they pull up ridiculously close considering the amount of space available but their children were an absolute nightmare. When they weren’t getting into our campsite and going through our stuff, they were screaming and running around until well after midnight. At 1am after getting completely fed up of having the little turds shining torches directly into our van Matt yelled at them to shut up.

Despite the lack of sleep we woke up determined to enjoy the dinosaurs and walked into town to the museum. Matt jumped into the mouth of the kronosaurus for a cheeky photo and we had a second coffee in the cafe to ensure we were properly awake and ready to take everything in. Richmond is a hot spot for marine fossils so the museum was filled with the bones of huge carnivorus ocean reptiles down to perfectly preserved shells. It wasn’t a huge display with two main rooms but there were that many things crammed in we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and then watching the short documentary in the attached theater. Afterwards we strolled back to the caravan park and had a walk around the lake so I could take some bird photos before we had yet another dip, cooked dinner, and turned in early for what turned out to be a wonderful noise free sleep sans horrible kids.

The next morning I woke up early and went down to the lake to watch the sun rise, the water was so still and the only sounds were of the birds flying from their roosts and out to the bush for breakfast. We made our way to Winton through the disturbingly flat and dry farmlands reaching the town in time to grab some rolls from the bakery and make lunch in a park next to the local pool. We walked up and down the main street enjoying the art deco architecture and looking in a couple of opal shops that were more than a bit of a rip off ($10 for a piece of potch what a joke). We decided not to fork out $32pp for the Waltzing Matilda Centre but did go in to use the amazing toilets and visit an exhibition at the gallery attached to the museum. I really liked the art despite it’s weirdness, it was a series of portraits of boss drovers by Robert MacPherson  who drew them while taking on the persona of a year 4 student of St Joseph’s Convent, Nambour, Queensland named Robert Pene. They were drawn on kids sketch book paper, signed like a child, and then had “great work” and “you’re a star” stamps put all over each piece. There was also an interactive area where you were able to make your own poem using language from Banjo Paterson’s poetry which Matt and I enjoyed. That night we camped at a local waterhole and were kept company by a bunch of friendly cattle and emus.

The drive to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum took about 20 minutes from our camp and even though we left quite early by the time we reached the Jump Up (a sort of mountain think above the flat farmlands) it was already pushing 35 degrees. I was feeling very glad that I’d booked one of the first available tours at 9am. Our first stop was the dinosaur laboratory where we saw the volunteers preparing numerous bones found on digs throughout the local area. We also met Kim, a fellow delica owner who contacted me through instagram and asked us to make sure we said hello. He was working on the sacrum of a sauropod dinosaur and explained what he was doing inbetween chatting about our vans, great guy! Our next tour was in the main museum area and was more like a lecture in that we sat in a theatre area and were shown a documentary about the area and how the fossils were found. After the video one of the guides explained each of the fossils that were particularly special such as Matilda (Diamantinasaurus ) and Australias most complete carnivorous dinosaur (my favourite) Banjo (Australovenator wintonensis). The final tour was of the dinosaur foot prints housed within a specially designed shed at the top of the museum site. We learnt how the slab of prints were moved from their original location when they were deemed at risk of deterioration and how they were put back together. After the talk we were set free to wander the area and enjoy the dinosuar sculptures.

It was early afternoon by the time we’d finished but we decided to make our way towards the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quary because our tour the next day was booked for 9am and it was a 110km drive. About 80km in I realised that I’d made a significant mistake believing that we’d be able to spend the night in Opalton before driving across to see the footprints. It turned out that there were two roads, completely seperated, one went to Opalton and the other went to Lark Quarry, they were 40km apart as the crow flies, 130km away by road. Bugger. We decided to go to the conservation area anyway and ask the tour guide if there were any campsites near by. Our misfortune was quickly turned around when he gave us directions to a spectacular spot overlooking the valley below. The following morning we were able to get ready at a leasurely pace and cruise the 500m down to the stampede, we were confused when we arrived as there was no one around and nothing was open. After sitting under the shelter feeling puzzled for 15 minutes I realised that both of our phones had changed over to daylight saving time and we had arrived 90 minutes early instead of 30 minutes early. We occupied ourselves by going on a bush walk until we were forced back to the centre by the unbelivable heat, it hit 35 degrees at 8.30am again! The tour of the stampede was nothing short of outstanding from the enthusiasm of the guide to the shear spectical of the hundreds of footprints, we both agreed that the 220km round trip was 100% worth it to see the only record of a dinosaur stampede on the planet. Amazing.

The rest of the day was boring, we drove back into Winton and then on to Longreach stopping for the night in a hot and dusty free camp on the side of a river. We set up our laptop and watched the Paris Roubaix cycing race into the early hours of the morning.

Campsite Reviews

Lakeview Caravan Park – You know it is a good caravan park if we fork out for a two night stay and still enjoy ourselves with a sleepless night. Perfect location, lovely shower block, and really well priced. $20pn – 8/10.

Long Waterhole – Dusty site under the trees next to a waterhole. Aparently the locals swim there but after watching a seemingly endless herd of cattle wade in and do their buisness in the water you couldn’t pay me to go for a dip. Nice spot though and we enjoyed the friendly cows walking through our camp in the afternoon. $Free – 6/10.

Jump Up Lookout – I actually had the pleasure of popping this site on WikiCamps which is a first for our trip. It had clearly been used before with a couple of sites and a fire pit already there. Amazing view down off the Jump Up and the perfect spot to visit the footprints. $Free – 8/10

Apex Riverside Park – Grim, just so grim, but there were limited options in Longreach and we wanted somewhere cheap for the night. On the bright side it was quiet and the toilets were clean. $5pn – 5/10.

Chasing the Bushman’s Ruby

If I have one regret on this trip so far its that we did not spend nearly enough time in the East MacDonnell Ranges. The guidebooks and information pamphlets I read said things like “enough to fill a day trip” and “where the locals go to ger away from the tourists”, they did nothing to explain the rugged and remote landscape that we barely scratched the surface of.

After the heat of the Fink we were both surprised to find ourselves driving into the ranges in our jumpers. A cool little breeze popped up after the storm with occasional patches of drizzle thrown in for good measure. It was blissful. We ticked off Emily & Jessie Gaps quickly and enjoyed the beautiful rock art depicting the caterpillar ancestral beings of Mparntwe (no photography allowed). 40km down the road was the poorly named Corroboree Rock where it is likely there were never any Corroborees there, instead the signs informed us that the dolomite outcrop was part of the Perentie dreaming story. We pulled up for lunch at Trephina Gorge Nature Park, I could have spent a week there. It’s a bit hard to describe the purple and red mountains, the sandy white river beds, green cool rock holes and towering ghost gums in a way that would give you a fair indicator of what it is like so I normally take a heap of photos, in this place with the light and the weather I couldn’t do it justice, it is the most beautiful place in the West Macs. We tragically spent all of 2 hours there, we had lunch, hiked to John Hayes Rockhole, hiked into the gorge, marveled at the biggest ghost gum in Australia, and on the way out came face to face with a perentie. It was getting late when we pulled up at our campground in Glen Helen but we had just enough time to do some bird watching before dinner and bed.

The next day was as packed as the first so we left early and drove into the NTs version of Sovereign Hill, Arltunga Historical Reserve. After the disastrous failure of Ruby Gap (more on that later) explorers discovered several gold reefs and went about another attempted resource boom. While there was a reasonable amount of gold it wasn’t even remotely the size or value of the Victorian Fields so the number of people was small but a town still sprung up complete with processing plant and police station. Matt and I spent the morning wandering in the ruins and then climbing into the mines (with encouragement from the visitor centre). This is a fantastic example of the looseness of the NT, they point at a mine, say “take your torch” and away you go, no lights, no signs, no handrails, just climbing over the piles of tailings into a hole. It was great. That afternoon we drove into the aforementioned Ruby Gap.



In the late 1880s a bloke going by the name of David Lindsay was exploring the East MacDonnell Ranges when he stumbled upon beautiful red stones glittering in the bed of the Hale River. Being a calm and logical man, he thought he had stumbled on the motherload of all rubies and promptly started the first gem rush of central Australia. For 18 months 200 miners worked to extract the stones which resulted in flood of “rubies” flowing into the market. The jewelers in London became both annoyed and suspicious and had the gems examined closely finding that they were in fact the more common, much less valuable garnet. I felt sorry for him, I really did until we reached the gorge and I picked up a handful of garnet in a few minutes. I’m not a geologist but if I was to find a stream full of beautiful clear stones my first thought would be oh look quartz not oh my god a stream full of diamonds. The value of precious stones tends to be based on the rarity of them therefore huge amounts of nice rocks = probably not that valuable.

The drive into the gorge started with another warning sign about the dangers of the road and what you’d need to survive it. After the ease of Fink I wasn’t too worried and the track turned out to be even easier as the sand was more gritty and there were more sections of solid stone. We also ended up in an accidental convoy with a family group including a couple of Tasmanians we had a chat with. They took up most of the space in the official campsite so we drove down the river and found our own isolated patch of sand for the night.

The next morning we woke up reasonably early and started the walk to Glen Annie Gorge. The hike was easy, mostly flat and the end was determined by when we wanted to stop and turn around. After around 2km we reached the most spectacular gorge in the MacDonnell Ranges, the red cliffs rose from the base of white sand in the riverbed that sparkled with thousands of garnets. As we moved through, we came across waterhole after waterhole surrounded by lush green reeds with birds darting in and out for a drink. Unfortunately, even my best efforts of capturing the beauty of it were thwarted by the horrible lighting so you’ll just have to go and see it in person for the full spectacle. That afternoon we drove north through another notorious 4WD route The Binns Track. The first 40km through cattle stations was fine but after that and where the NT government took on responsibility for road management it went to crap. The corrugations were so big at one point they looked like someone had lined up speed humps next to each other, we crept along at 20km/h with a concerning mechanical banging sound developing under the drivers side floor.

It was a huge relief when we pulled into the caravan park at Gemtree and things got even better when they had a spot for us to camp in and a place on the garnet fossicking tour the next day. We celebrated by getting fish and chips delivered to our van for dinner! What a great place.

Garnet fossicking was my first bucket list item for the trip so I was more than a little bit excited when we went and picked up our shovels, buckets, sieves, and water the next day. We followed a bloke out to the private mining lease and he showed us the ropes. I picked a hole and we got digging and found…nothing. After 20 minutes and not even a spec of red we decided to move to another hole and began chipping away underneath a tree. Almost instantly it started paying off and after 4 hours of work our tin was completely full of stones ready to be evaluated by the in-house gemologist. We managed to get the most stones out of any of the groups and had a couple of people come up to us afterwards and ask if they could use our spot for the tour tomorrow, we wouldn’t be around so had no issue with that. All our work and 1kg of raw garnet returned 6 cutters (stones with enough clarity and no imperfections that can be used to make into gems for jewelry) 3 x 4mm and 3 x 3mm. I picked the best one and had it sent away to be faceted as a beautiful memento of our trip. For afternoon tea we celebrated with scones and coffee and Matt conceded that maybe fossicking wasn’t too bad.

I’d have liked to spend a week at Gemtree and in the Harts Ranges but we needed to get back to Alice Springs for Matts first special activity of the trip. We went on the nature hike around the caravan park in the morning and spotted a few birds and some dingo pups rewarding ourselves when we got back with yet another round of scones and coffee before getting back in the van, turning on our tail and driving back south.

Campsite Reviews

Ross River – Beautiful campsite with our first grass in weeks and the bird watching was phenomenal. The entire resort was a bit of a strange set up, it had a feeling like it had been really touristy in the past but had partially closed. $30pn – 8/10.

Ruby Gap – Stunning, quite, secluded and beyond peaceful. If you want to visit you will need a high clearance 4WD. $Free – 8/10.

Gemtree – Man I loved it here. Devonshire tea, fossicking tours, fish and chips delivered to your van. I wish we could have stayed longer. $27pn – 9/10.

West Macs

West Macs

Thanks to Mr Budgie we weren’t even remotely near where we’d planned to be on the date that we departed Alice Springs so we sat down and worked out an alternative route for the next 10 days. Instead of backtracking to the Fink Gorge we decided that it would be better to drive out to the West MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja) and go the long way around back to the gorge.  

The Macs, as they are known locally, are a 644km long series of mountains that cut Alice Springs almost perfectly in half (divided into East and West). They were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell (a previous governor of South Australia) by the explorer John Stuart who “discovered” the range in 1860. The ranges lay claim to the 5 highest mountains in the NT and are approximately 300-350 million years old. Realised pretty quickly they are also an incredibly popular tourist location and the busiest place that we’ve been so far this trip.

Because there is so much to see in the area we decided to keep it simple and just work our way across from right to left stopping at the destinations that interested us. We skipped Simpsons Gap with the intention to visit it later making our first stop Angkerle (Standley Chasm). We were more than happy to fork out the entry fee of $12pp to the traditional owners as Angkerle is the most dramatic of the numerous chasms in the range. The red quartzite walls towered 80m above us with the gap itself only 8m wide. Continuing along the road we came upon our campsite for the night at Ellery Creek Big Hole intending to go for a swim in the beautiful waterhole amongst the cliffs and trees. Despite the warm and sunny weather it wasn’t to be, enthusiastically splashing into the water we were greeted by the most freezing liquid I’ve ever put my feet into. I used to surf in Tasmania in winter and have had numerous ice baths in my time and it had absolutely nothing on this water. It was that cold it made my bones ache. I managed to get up to my butt and Matt hit the middle of his shin. We decided to spend our time more wisely by sitting on the sand and reading our books in the sun until it was time to go back and make dinner then head to bed.

The next day we woke up reasonably early and made our way back to the waterhole to watch the birds come into drink. We saw grebes, painted finches, budgies, a kingfisher, various honeyeaters, and some very nice Black-fronted Dotterels. After breakfast we went on the Dolomite Hike an enjoyable short but varied walk. Our first stop for the day was Serpentine Gorge, as the name would suggest this narrow and shady gorge snakes its way through the range and towards the horizon. We were feeling a bit lazy so we did the lookout walk and wandered into the waterhole. On the way back Matt spotted a Little Button Quail and I spent 20 minutes trying and failing to photograph the tiny, speckled bird. We popped into the slightly uninspiring Ochre Pits for lunch (the Lyndhust ones are so much better). By this point I was feeling pretty rubbish, tired with body aches thanks to my second Pfizer vaccine I’d had the day before so instead of going into Ormiston Gorge for another hike we pulled up at a stunning little campground called Big Gum. I’d just got comfortable in my hammock for a bit of R&R and Panadol when Matt pointed out a group of women that were struggling in the soft sand a couple of campsites over. Matt wandered across and suggested that they reverse into a bit of harder track. Well they floored it in reverse and wedged themselves straight in a dune. Thinking that we might have to tow them out we drove Egg over and set about digging in and placing our recovery boards. Matt jumped in the drivers seat and got the car out and back on the track, with a push from me and the girls. So much for a restful afternoon!

Following a peaceful night on the river we ended up back tracking to Ormiston Gorge. At one of the other campgrounds we’d been told that the Ormiston Pound Circuit hike was one of the best in the ranges and couldn’t be missed. It was stunning. I feel like I’m saying it every single post but this walk was and remains my favourite of the trip so far. We started quite early as the temperatures are pushing into the mid thirties most days now. The first part of the walk followed a creek and then climbed over a short rise where about 20 Spinifex Pigeons called home, we continued climbing steeply to a lookout then around a ridge, down the other side, and a bit further along into the gorge. The final part of the hike is a wade through the waterhole and then an easy stroll back up to the visitors centre. We ended up having lunch in the little attached café which was great, the food was nice but a Western Bowerbird popped in for a visit and I managed to get a photo of the bird that I’ve been looking for during the past 2 weeks! A short drive down the road we made camp at Redback Gorge, a clean site with an outlook directly onto Mount Sonder. The campgrounds were quite small and close together but almost all the people staying there were getting up at 4am to climb to the summit making it a very quiet evening.

Not being as enthusiastic about mountain climbing in 35 degrees as our fellow campmates Matt and I decided to complete the cheats option and rather than going the whole way up walk the first (and hardest) 2.5km to the saddle of the mountain. Due to the shorter length rather than starting at 4am we commenced the climb at 8am and what a climb it was. 2.5km of stairs made from stones without more than 100m of flatish track to shake out the legs was much harder than I thought it would be. Sweaty and pooped we reached the top and were rewarded with outstanding views of the range and the summit of Mount Sonder, it was worth the effort. Back in the carpark we barely had time to catch our breath before we were back on the road and driving towards Tnorala (Gosses Bluff). The 4WD track into the reserve was just corrugated enough to make things difficult and we bounced along until we drove through an opening in the cliffs and into the comet crater. We were both completely taken by how big the hole in the ground was, how obvious it was that a comet had smashed into the earth and that we were allowed to drive directly into the middle of it! We did a hike around the middle and a small, short climb to a lookout.

I’d really like to write that we didn’t visit Hermannsburg for a third time, especially since we had more of enough of it the first time but we did…and we went back to the biased mission for lunch. It’s almost become a routine for us now, Hermannsburg, fill up with fuel while trying to work out if the other cars are parked or abandoned, fill up the water next to the footy oval without a single blade of grass while dodging the rubbish, then go and spend money at the mission that did so much to “help” the local indigenous population. If I never visit there again it will be too soon and the government should be disgusted that there are towns in Australia that look in worse condition than those in third world countries, it’s honestly disgraceful. Anyway, enough of my political ranting we left town, turned left and finally returned to the Fink Gorge. I turned to Matt and said “should I just try and avoid looking at animals so we don’t have to rescue any this time?” he responded with a resounding yes.

At the entry to the Fink Gorge is a sign, it says something along the lines of do not attempt this 4WD track if you are inexperienced, don’t have a PLB or EPIRB, don’t have enough food or water for several days, don’t have recovery equipment and so on. It is a very scary sign that made me want to turn around and go in the opposite direction even though we have all of the required things listed. You’d think the track would be an absolute nightmare based on it but no, as far as 4WD tracks go it was pleasant and easy, I drove on worse things doing my course in Tassie. The hardest part was that the soft sand combined with the very slow speeds and heat meant Egg was getting very hot and bothered by the time we pulled up. With the smell of hot engine in our noses we took our chairs down to the river and sat in the cool water while the gorge walls turned red and the birds came into drink. Lovely.

Campsite Reviews

Ellery Creek Big Hole – The waterhole was lovely but the campsite was squashy and there were some idiots the night we stayed. One guy was blasting music from his car and then went and slept on the ground next to the waterhole, another wouldn’t stop flying his drone around. $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Big Gum – 4WD only and I can not emphasis that enough, we were watching people in 4WDs get bogged not only on the tracks but in the actual campsites. Powder soft sand but worth it for the river, trees, and whistling kites. $Free – 8/10.

Redbank Gorge – If you enjoy campsites with a view this place is for you. Mountains and more mountains with a gecko in the toilet and very considerate fellow campers. $4pp/pn – 8/10.

Morwell Fink River – Beautiful, peaceful next to our own private bit of river/waterhole. There were a lot of bugs at night but we got rid of them with a decoy light and the rest were eaten by a resident bat that flew over us multiple times. $Free – 8/10.

Flats and Budgie Rescue

After the awe of Uluru-Kata Tjuta you’d have thought we’d have had enough of massive geological wonders? Well think again the next spot on our hit list was Kings Canyon. While it looks small on the map the drive between Curtin Springs and the canyon was almost 300km so we decided to tackle the main rim walk the next day and just take our time heading up to camp. We did end up going on a small walk after lunch at a spot called Kathleen Springs where at the end of a short 1.3km trail we found a beautiful little waterhole. We parked up early at the Morris Pass Lookout free camp and while I told myself I’d use the time to catch up on my blog and write some post cards, in reality I ended up spending hours alternating between reading my book and looking out over the spectacular view of the ranges, by far the most scenic site we’ve stayed at.

The next morning after a healthy porridge breakfast we drove into the canyon and commenced on what turned out to be the most offensive beginning of a hike I’ve ever experienced. The “stairs” to the top if you can even call them that were so steep it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. We reached the summit eventually, but I can’t imagine how horrible that would be in summer, the defibrillator located at the top gives a decent indication of how challenging it is. The rest of the hike was wonderful which is very high praise from me due to my fear of heights and most of the walk circulating around a massive cliff with a short dip into an area called the Garden of Eden. The rock features looked like miniature versions of the Bungle Bungles and the cycads added to the otherworldly feeling on the place. If there is one thing I can say about the NT in the few days we’ve been here is that the colours are so vivid it’s like someone has turned the saturation up in the world. Because the rim walk was only 6km we decided to do the canyon floor walk after lunch as well. It was nice but not particularly interesting so if you’re there and limited on time I’d give it a miss.

On our way back to camp we stopped in at the information centre tided up to the caravan park and bought our $6.50 pass to drive on the Mereenie Loop road. Matt only realised we’d need one going over the maps the previous night. We’d heard a lot of bad things about the section of road but driving on it the next day it was honestly fine, the last 15km were very corrugated but it wasn’t any worse than Arkaroola so we made pretty good time. We filled up for petrol in a town called Hermannsburg which Lonely Planet describes as “an appealingly run-down and sleepy place” which I think may be their attempt of a politically correct description of a mainly indigenous town that Matt and I would describe to you as a shit hole. We were running very low on water and petrol so there wasn’t much of an option than to suck it up, dodge the feral dogs and rubbish and head on in. To be fair we did also end up visiting the Historical Mission which was interesting and served a reasonable lunch of scones with jam and cream but the information given throughout the complex seemed to be weighted heavily in the favour of the church rather than giving a more balanced view of what was happening there at the time.

After refueling and another short drive we pulled up at Palm Valley and mad ourselves at home. We ended up chatting to a nice bloke from Sydney who turned out was on first name terms with Moose, the publican from Copley. He also massively rated the town, small world. That afternoon we hung around the campground, enjoyed the river and the abundance of amazing birdlife including Major Mitchell Cockatoos!

Palm Valley, as its name indicates is famous for one thing…palms, specifically red cabbage palm trees (9,000-15,000 of them) that are found nowhere else in the world. On the 5km loop walk the following morning we read about the palms and learnt that no one knows how they got there. The hike was lovely up and down hills, through valleys full of…well palms, and around an area that a few months before probably would have been quite wet. We had another lazy afternoon back at camp hiding from the ever-increasing heat. I think we will soon be restricted to morning outdoor activities as hiking in 35 degrees isn’t much fun. On our last day camped up in the valley Matt picked two more walks in a different area of the park. One was a short and steep lookout hike (1.6km return) and the second was the Mapaara loop. Along the way of the second walk we learnt a dreamtime story about a tawny frogmouth man and his son. I won’t actually repeat the story here because it was really disturbing and involved eating family members, we were both a bit flummoxed by it. At the end of the walk we ran into another couple in a Delica so we had a massive chat and compared vans, they had a long wheel base diesel and exactly the same roof racks that we managed to break. We gave them the heads up and told them where to check for issues to try and prevent theirs from filing which they were very appreciative of.

This is where our trip got derailed for the second time, we were on our way to our next campsite down in the Finke Gorge when I spotted a little budgie flailing around on the side of the track. We got out and Matt managed to catch it. On closer inspection it was a very cute baby budgie with one wing that looked like it had been plucked rendering it unable to fly. It would die if we left it so we packed it into an ice-cream tub and drove out the way we came to find some phone service and the nearest vet. Of course, being the middle of nowhere the nearest vet/animal rescue was Alice Springs so off we drove on a 120km detour. Things continued to go wrong for us when a roofing nail buried into the back tyre and gave us a flat 70km later along the highway. We both jumped out ready to put our tyre changing skills to work and in retrospect probably feeling a little bit too confident. Matt jacked up the van and I got the spare down, we pulled off the flat and discovered that the jack wouldn’t go high enough to get a fully inflated tyre back on. We tried to put the flat one back on so we could adjust the jack but even that wouldn’t go on. What should have been a 5 minute job turned into a 45 minute ordeal of hailing people on the side of the road to see if anyone had a second jack so we’d be able to move ours to the correct spot (we jacked up the body of the van accidentally), after several groups of grey nomads, one bloke that was running late for an appointment, two motorcyclists, and another couple a bloke that had a jack stopped, helped us out and got the tyre changed. We learnt a lot from that one.

In Alice Springs we dropped the very sweet budgie to a wildlife carer, grabbed some dinner and parked up the van at the Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame campsite.

We ended up spending two days in Alice but they were two very boring days of laundry, groceries, tyre repair, post office, and booking the van in to get a few things looked at so I don’t have any interesting photos or stories. We will be coming back to Alice Springs in about 10 days to do something on Matt’s bucket list so I’ll write more about it then. The one thing we did was visit the Reptile House where we saw, held, and learnt about scaly friends. Things like, what’s the main difference between a lizard and a snake? Lizards have ears.  

Campsite Reviews

Morris Pass Lookout – Another free camp we found because of the disgusting prices being changed at caravan parks. The Kings Canyon “Resort” wanted $50 per night for an unpowered site, you can shove that right up your proverbial mate. Stunning scenery and would have been perfect if on the second night we hadn’t been parked up next to the Von Trapp family who felt like the campsite needed to listen to them sing…poorly for 90 minutes. They only shut up when Matt started blasting a finance podcast at their van. $Free – 8/10.

Palm Valley – Yet another one of those sites where we pull up for one night and end up staying 2. Beautiful red cliffs, river, birds, and showers. $4pp/pn – 9/10.

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – Not sure where to start with this one. Imagine a gravel car park but instead of normal cars it is full of rusty tractors and trucks, now visualize two toilet blocks, one is in an elevated shipping container and looks like something that would be used at a music festival, the second is in a run down shed and instead of walls between the toilets/showers you have those old, carpeted, office cubical dividers. Yeah. Why did we choose to stay there? Because once more the caravan parks are stupidly expensive. Nothing under $38pn unpowered, ludicrous. $15pn – 4/10 (pretty grim but we’ll go back).

Big Red Rock

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.