Leaving Darwin was a lot harder than we thought it would be. Not knowing what to expect from Darwin (as it typically isn’t a backpackers first choice), we were surprised with how much we loved it. You can read more about why here. After tearing ourselves away, we embarked on a two-week long road trip down through Australia’s Red Centre.
Our first stop off was only a few hours down the road at Australia’s biggest national park. Kakadu is the size of Slovenia and almost half the size of Switzerland at 7646 sq miles (19,803 km squared). We needed longer than two days (and a 4×4) to see Kakadu in all it’s glory, but we were still impressed by what we did see. Day one saw us taking in an impressive sunset at Ubirr just after seeing our first Aboriginal rock art since we arrived in Oz. The next day in Kakadu was spent reading up on the park at Bowali Visitor Centre followed by relaxing at an amazing water hole and waterfall in Maguk. After a swim, we began our drive out of the National Park heading south.
Katherine Hot Springs
After three hours of driving, this was the next cool off spot as the temperatures were tropical and hotter than Darwin. Located a couple of minutes out of the town, these are a free and popular attraction for locals and tourists. If it’s not en-route, we wouldn’t suggest going out the way to see them but they’re worth a stop off if you’re driving through Katherine mid-week (meaning fewer kids running around).
Moving down the Stuart Highway we next had a pit stop at the Devil’s Marbles, a sacred Aboriginal site. These are a geological marvel with huge, spherical boulders shaped by nature’s elements with some appearing to be balancing on top of others. After stretching our legs here, we were back on the road and heading towards Alice Springs. Look out for signs as in some areas photos are prohibited due to the site being sacred.
As we were aiming to complete this whole trip (finishing in Melbourne) in under two weeks, we only drove through Alice Springs and rolled on towards Uluru.
Our preconceptions of Uluru (Ayers rock) were completely different from what we arrived to. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact we turned up in school holidays (always check, they also differ slightly from state to state). We were expecting a more authentic, outback experience however we found a huge resort complete with restaurants, shops and a hotel. It turns out only the post office and police station aren’t commercially owned.
We also had to pay more than we usually do to camp overnight in the (dirt) overflow site. Don’t even get us started on the petrol prices ($2.23/litre compared to the $1.45 national average – as of 16/10/18), captive audience exploitation at its best!
Driving up the huge entrance gates from the resort, everything had a slightly Disney-esque feel. After coughing up the entrance fees ($25pp, the only upside is that your ticket is valid for one – three days) we drove on through to the rock itself.
In hindsight, doing some extra research and knowing more would have made the whole experience more enjoyable. So to help you learn from our mistakes, here are some truths we wish we knew.
- You can’t just drive up, take a pic and leave. The whole area is a national park with a tolled road costing $25pp
- There is one resort with camping and hotel accommodation. Camping on dirt in an overflow cost us $30
- Fill up in Alice Springs with at least a couple of jerry-cans, you will save money. Although it’s not until you cross the border to South Australia the prices come down a little
- Get to the sunset and sunrise car parks early, there are a lot of tourists
- Take more than one day to make the most of the entry price and go see Kata Tjuta
Overall, we still had a great time seeing Ayers Rock and would still rate it as a must-see if visiting Australia. We loved sitting on top of our van, Stripe and watching the sun go down over the impressive site.
Coober Pedy was our next and (although an unexpected find) favourite stop off. Dan had heard of this place before from watching Freddie Down Under but still, we didn’t really know what to expect.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘opal capital of the world’, the landscape on the approach to the town is scattered with pyramid-like mounds of dirt where opal mines have been explored. You drive past the Breakaways which is where many films have been shot including Mad Max, Pitch Black and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Driving through the town is like nothing else we’ve seen in Australia (or anywhere else) and almost felt like a film set in itself. One of the main features of the town are the dugouts, or underground houses to you and me. Built into cliff faces, this way of living was started by the miners in 1916 to escape the hot temperatures of the desert. These can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius whereas underground the temp stays consistently between 19 and 25 degrees Celsius all year, meaning no need for air con or heating. This also gave the town its name Coober Pedy which translates to ‘White Man’s Burrows’. The name was first given by the local Aboriginal community.
We went on a short bus tour of the town showing us a golf course with no grass, underground churches, an old mine and examples of dugout homes. The golf course was especially interesting as it is mainly used at night time with glow in the dark balls to avoid the harsh temperatures, with players carrying around a patch of turf to play off of.
After the tour, we did some noodling for opals in local rock piles and fed kangaroos in a rescue centre (feedings 12pm and 5pm), you can find out more here. A good combination which finished off our last stop off before Adelaide very nicely.
As an FYI, John’s pizza is well worth a visit for its award-winning slices.
Exactly a week after leaving Darwin, we arrived in Adelaide. We’ve gone into more detail on our five favourite things to do here. Adelaide concluded our Red Centre road-trip and was the start of our Great Ocean Road adventure.
Thanks for reading, we’d love to hear what you thought so drop us a comment below!