Road Trip Through Central Australia
I’m not really one to enjoy the colder months, especially when the winter in Victoria, Australia seems to linger in the frosty air for far longer than necessary. The idea of taking off on an adventure to warmer pastures and escaping the cold grey skies is something that always sounds too appealing for me to pass up! I’ve always loved to travel and see new places, but I’d never seen a great deal of my own mother country of Australia.
To say Australia is huge is an understatement; it’s the biggest island in the world. The landscapes are so vast and varied, and the climates are so changeable. Last year in July, my boyfriend and I decided it would be fun to hire a van and drive the 4,000 kms from Melbourne to Darwin. We wanted to drive up through the red center of Australia, stopping somewhere new nearly every night for 3 weeks.
The first breathtaking place we found ourselves at was the Ikara-Flinders Ranges in South Australia; rugged mountains, spectacular gorges, sheltered creeks lined with river red gums and abundant wildlife- dingoes, kangaroos, emus, and so many birds! We started the mornings with yoga and green tea, and stretched our legs out as we wandered through the bush land. It was a great feeling to be out of the city.
On the road again we came across Coober Pedy- such an eye opening and surreal place, and my first taste of the Australian desert. More than half of the town’s families live underground, as the temperatures get so extreme. It’s a town famous for it’s opal abundance, and movies like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the original Mad Max were filmed here. You will feel like you are on another planet. We had a picnic on one of the rocky hills and marveled at how far our eyes could see into the distance.
Another day of driving and we made it to the bottom of the Northern Territory. The weather was just as we had hoped- clear blue skies and sunshine beating down on our arms as we hung them out the van window. Witnessing the rising sun behind the one and only Uluru was incredible. The hype of this special and sacred rock had really outdone all expectations. It holds immeasurable spiritual value to the rightful Indigenous owners of this land and you can really feel that it is the true heart of Australia.
We stayed here for 3 nights, and learned about Aboriginal culture and saw Aboriginal arts and crafts. In the late afternoons, we traveled to the Uluru sunset viewing area, and witnessed the striking colour changes of Uluru at sunset while enjoying a red wine. It was brilliant, quiet and serene. We then watched the sky come alive with a sea of bright shining stars, and the temperature dropped to freezing! Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas) is close by. We did the walking trail through Walpa Gorge called the Valley of the Winds, which follows the natural creek between two of the tallest domes. Again, it felt like we were on Mars!
There wasn’t much more on the long strait road between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek other than the giant boulders known as the Devil’s Marbles. The different colours as the sun rises and sets have to be seen to be believed. We were the only young couple at the camp ground. All of the older nomads who were enjoying their life on the road in their retirement were more than happy to give us an over-load of information and travel tips from their experiences. We wore our tie-dyed rainbow jumpsuits just to see their reactions. The Devil’s Marbles is a great place to have some fun with photography.
When we got to the Mataranka Thermal Pools, where springs bubble up at 34 degrees in a pool of perfectly turquoise water, we were in heaven. The pools sit under a shady canopy of stretching palms and it feels so tropical and fresh. It was crowded at times because it is a regular stop over for tour buses, but we stayed here for a few days swimming and chatting to locals. Bonus fact: the waters here are believed to hold healing powers for all your aches and pains.
Back on the road (again), we arrived at Nitmiluk National Park (aka Katherine Gorge) which covers a vast area of escarpment country, including 13 gorges carved from the ancient sandstone country. There are many Aboriginal rock art paintings on sandstone walls throughout the gorge system, some of which are thousands of years old. It was incredibly hot here and it was too dangerous to swim due to crocodiles, so we only stayed one night. There were lots of fruit bats and kookaburras in the trees, and we loved watching the wallabies and kangaroos hop around on the grassy areas.
The next part of the drive consisted of very rough, unsealed roads, probably not suitable for our 2WD hire van! When we got to the Gunlom Plunge Pool, located in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, it was like a magical combination of waterfalls and clear blue swimming holes unfolded, with picnic areas shaded by tall gums. From the top of Gunlom, we could see sweeping southern hills and the ridges of the park. It was beautiful. We had a campfire and a glass of red wine as we planned what we were going to do for our last few days before we got to Darwin and flew back down to Melbourne.
We met up with friends near Jabiru and found some beautiful water holes to swim in, with waterfalls and big rocks to sunbathe on. Kakadu is huge and spreads so far over the top of the Northern Territory. We got to see some more Aboriginal rock art in caves and on the sides of cliffs. It was fascinating to learn about the stories of the Dreamtime and admire the detailed drawings made with red and yellow ochre. There were muddy rivers that were swarming with crocodiles that floated like logs as they waited for fish to swim near their open mouths. Incredible to watch- at a safe distance.
When we arrived in Darwin, we dropped off our van and then went to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, which features so many beautiful clothes and handmade items. We filled up on delicious food that wasn’t cooked on our little camper gas stove for once! Our entire trip, we drove for about 70 hours in total- that’s a lot of playlists! It was an absolutely incredible experience road tripping through Central Australia. It has given me a much deeper understanding and respect for the ancient history that has occurred in this country.
The stunning red sand contrasting against the blue sky and the beautifully unique flora and fauna inspired me as an artist to appreciate colors in nature on a much more in depth level. We are so lucky to have a place like this in the world and I hope if others read this and decide to do a similar adventure, they choose to acknowledge with kindness the hardships that were faced by the Indigenous Australians since the arrival of the European settlers. As I noticed on our journey some people, can forget to have manners- spread love and be amazed at the friends you can make!