So with the Land Cruiser packed and ready to go, I quickly did an inventory of our gear. We had three lounge chairs, 15 liters of water, four cameras, two GoPros, a plethora of camera equipment, food, two tanks of gas, two batteries, a fridge (awesome), clothes, music, maps, books, and three keen bodies with an itinerary that any backpacker would dream of. This is it, go time. The Outback is calling and we need to hit the road. 3,000+ km starts now.
About two months ago the SATC (South Australia Tourism Commission) presented me the opportunity to join fellow Best Jobs winner Allan Dixon and embark on a road trip spanning the entire Red Centre of Australia, cutting directly down the middle of the country. Of course without a doubt I agreed. I mean really, who would pass that up? We were set to begin in Darwin on November 07th travelling exactly two weeks and ending in Adelaide on the 20th. The combined Best Jobs adventure was an idea to share the highlights of the route through both South Australia and the Northern Territory, a chance for us to experience each others ‘office’ environment. It was also a chance for me to gain a better understanding of how my role as Wildlife Caretaker will take shape this coming December.
From Darwin to Adelaide is a stretch that many an Aussie knows well, but one that few have ventured to complete themselves. The main (paved) route is known as the Stuart Highway and stretches unbroken for 3,029km. Our route would take us zig-zagging along this highway spending half the time in the NT and half the time in South Australia. There is so much to see and do in both states our itineraries were jam packed and we were itching to go.
Our first couple days driving south were conveniently spent exploring the Tropical North. These first days were filled with swimming hole dips, national parks, waterfalls, off road tracks, hot springs (in the desert), kayaking up rivers and right back down again, laughing with locals, and for me especially, learning as much as there is to know about the Northern Territory of Australia. Allan and I were joined by a working holiday maker named Nellie who had spent the last four months working in Darwin before deciding to join our party and head south. Both Nellie and Allan are a wealth of knowledge about everything NT and their patience in answering my questions was a blessing. The first week of our journey was an eye opener for me and one that blew away any expectations I had of what the Northern Territory has to offer the traveller. I mean truly, there is a lot of really cool stuff to check out, a lot.
Now the original itinerary didn’t include a visit to Uluru (Aires Rock), which was actually a bit of a surprise to me. One of the most iconic Australian images ever, right in the heart of the country, a symbol of the Outback, and I wasn’t going to see it….? No no no, this can’t be right. But it was, we were packing in a lot of activities and the detour from the main route was going to be just too much for the original itinerary to handle. Now this being said, you have three young and adventurous spirits with a car and keen minds to see ‘the rock’. So we thought to ourselves, wait we can make this happen, and we did.
After some shuffling of time, reservations and distances, we decided on an additional route that would allow us not only a visit to Uluru but also Kings Canyon and a couple other gem swimming holes along the path. Winning!! It was a perfect little switch and allowed me the realization of another life goal, watching the sunrise over Uluru in the centre of Australa with nothing but a warm wind at my back, a complete engulfing silence, and the knowledge that millions had stood in this exact spot before me, and millions will continue to do so long after my time has expired. It is a wonderful thing to imagine how many different people find the same kind of solstice in a certain level of seemingly impossible natural beauty.
From our slightly deviated Northern Territory itinerary we were off on the races into South Australia. It was time to head home and start exploring the vast expansive parts of SA I had yet to see. First stop, the internationally renowned and quirky Opal Mining town of Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy is a very interesting conglomerate (pun intended) of people. It boasts a population of around 5,000 permanent inhabitants from over 40 countries. Most came at some stage to test their luck at Mining Opal, then never left.
Opal Mining had been happening in and around Coober Pedy for close to 150 years with some incredible stories of endurance and hardship coming from the original founders. I was surprised to learn how relatively easy it is to start mining yourself. All you need is a prospectors permit ($60AUD) and four pegs to stake your three meter square claim of land somewhere out in the Opal Fields (crown land basically leased to the prospector). Really, that easy, so much so, there have been a huge number of people digging up the land over the last 70 years. Check the photo below. So why do know big industrial mining operations buy the land from the government and set up shop? Mostly because Opal is very unreliable. You could dig for years and find nothing, or two days and strike incredibly rich. One good tower of Opal (about the size of an instant coffee packet) could claim up to $20,000. !!! Let’s go mining.
Now Coober gets the reputation as being a slightly strange place, mostly because of its absolute remoteness and the slightly crazed perception people have of individual Opal Miners. It also sits in the middle of probably the hottest spot in Australia. At the height of summer (January) it can read 55 degrees Celsius in the shade. The natural solution is to go underground where it is cooler and less exposed to the harsh conditions above. Now this adds to Cobber Pedy’s strangeness, the majority of the population live in underground dugout homes. It is the only place I have ever known to have similarities with The Shire, except for of course the surrounding ‘above ground’ environment.
From our tour of the underground homes we headed once again above ground and towards the only golf course in the world with not a single blade of grass, again adding to the strangeness. Most Coober Pedy residents golf at night with illuminated fairways, greens, holes, pins, and of course, golf balls. This is all in an effort to avoid the intense heat of the day.
Coober Pedy is surrounded by the South Australian Outback and is a gem of a location within the centre of a truly difficult and inhospitable environment. It is a testament to human adaptability and determination. The residents love their town and love their lifestyle, many choosing to stay not only for the hopes of striking it rich one day, but for the uniqueness of living in such a remote and quirky corner of SA. It was a pleasure to get know a portion of the town I had read so much about.
Off to the next one. From Coober we struck even further into the expansive nothingness and land of the living skies. The Outback is an incredible place. This is a shot of the 200km stretch from Coober Pedy to the Homestead/Town of William Creek on the Oodnadatta Track.
The Oodnadatta Track is an incredible stretch of road in Aus. It is highly regarded by a number of my friends as one of the more remote and less travelled sections of the country. Naturally this made me want to see it even more.
Allan, Nellie and I entered at William Creek Station and had the amazing opportunity to jump in a tiny four seater Cessna and head out on a scenic flight over the, Painted Hills, the Red Centre, and best of all Lake Eyre the biggest salt lake in South Australia. The flight was nothing short of spectacular and gave such an expansive feeling of desertedness, a great perception of what we had been driving through and just how far we had gone.
Our stay at William Creek was short lived and the next day we were up early to continue ‘Down The Track’. I am trying to avoid writing itinerary style posts, so I’ll keep these brief, but wow, what an awesome section of road. Following the old Ghan Railway (first to connect the south to north) we drove to ruin after ruin of old train station houses and small towns built to support the passing locomotives, eventually left to slowly dust back into desert sands with the passing of the glory days. It was like walking through the movie set of a 1930’s western film.
We also conveniently passed Lake Eyre, obviously deciding to jump out and go for a bit of a walk. Who can pass up potential salt flat shots? One of the best natural backdrops for incredible travel photography, salt flats are a great find and Lake Eyre is exactly this!
Once significantly covered in salt and happy with our snaps, we headed to the Talc Alf art gallery, owned by the eccentric Cornelius Johan Alferink. This man has developed a life obsession with unraveling what he deems the true meaning of the English alphabet and origin of words. He has a system in place that crosses cultures, land, history, religion, and really anything at all. There is always a reason for why something is… and it all comes down to travelling towards the rising sun. Talc Alf is incredibly creative and his unique, completely persuasive, version of how to define the English language is pretty spectacular. True Aussie awesomeness!
That evening we spent the night at the famed Prairie Hotel, an Outback homestead sitting conveniently on the border of the Flinders Ranges National Park, our next destination for the upcoming two days driving. The Prairie gets a rep in South Australia for being a posh destination literally in the middle of nowhere. It has beautiful décor an amazing array of food options, the best being the Aussie Bush Trucker, which sadly I did not get the chance to sample. I did however sample the Fahger Lager, a beer made by owner Russ Fahger, which was so good I bought six!
Enter the Flinders Ranges National Park and a huge highlight of our road trip. We had almost three full days planned to explore the park. It was amazing, great weather, great hikes, great photos, and a great scenic flight that completely blew me away. The history of this place is mind blowing. A range that dates back to 600 million years. Serious. The land was once the sandstone bed of an ancient sea and with the tectonic movements the range arose like the middle of a table cloth you are pushing together from each opposite end. Then through erosion and countless seasons we have what is possible to explore today, and it is fully worth it.
We spent the time 4×4 off road driving, hiking through canyons and up peaks, watching sunrises and sunsets, and really just making the most of such a stunning area of the world. We stayed at the Wilpena Pound resort and the Rawnsley Park station, both perfectly situated lodges with great access to countless hiking trails and the main highlight, the pound itself. The Wilpena Pound is actually a giant circular rock formation that is so perfect it resembles the mark a meteor would have left after smashing into the earth leaving its forever timeless scar. This however is not the case, it is actually a natural indent created by the pressure of the plates crashing together hundreds of millions of years ago, enter erosion and you have what we can see today. Again, amazing!! Sometimes the perfect balance of nature has such a fragile and stunning outcome, the mind finds it hard to grasp the enormity of what you see before you.
Are you getting thirsty? Let’s move into wine country 🙂 South Australia is famous for producing some incredibly delicious gourmet foods and wines and it was time for us to have a look see for ourselves. The produce in this state is amazing and I am truly lucky to be eating this well, my Nutritionist mum will be very proud. No more Poutine for the next long while!
We drove south to the Clare Valley and had a very tough afternoon cycling between wineries tasting most of their stunning whites and reds. Hard life. The Riesling Trail, Clare Valley cycling route is a must do on route to the Flinders Ranges and or in our case on the way south.
Clare is actually more like a plateau sitting just above 500m with an arid dry and hot annual climate. It is actually perfect for wine making. The area supports hundreds of small vineyards each hosting boutique wineries that produce award winning wines year after year. It was a treat to be hosted by Bianca Sowik from 1834 Hotels giving us an incredible introduction to this famed and historic part of South Australia.
From Clare we headed south towards Adelaide with a quick stopover in the Barossa Valley, another famed wine making region of South Australia and an area considered by many one of the best wine producing regions in the world. Serious. The Barossa is stunning.
We decided to make a couple drop ins at some suggested local haunts before continuing onto Adelaide. Luckily for us, the Barossa is less than one hour from the city and we were able to spend a bit of time exploring before taking off. I was told a couple must sees were Rockfords Cellar Door, Charles Melten, and Maggie Beers, all three of which were incredibly hard to avoid tasting everything offered. In the end we stuck to just a few samplers, saving our drinking energy for later that evening in RADelaide!
Enter the capitol of South Australia and the end of our Explorers Way Road Trip. Over 14 days we covered 3,500km through two amazing states and a number of incredibly diverse and unique landscapes and ecosystems. The trip was an absolute success and the amount of content acquired is a little overwhelming. I have a ton of photos and difficulty went through the lot picking only a handful of the very best to share with you on the net. Please follow this link to see those shots!
The combined Best Jobs road trip was the perfect introduction to the Australian Red Centre and famed Outback. I have had the experience of a lifetime and can’t wait to see what the future holds. This is truly just the beginning of something so much more and having you along for the ride is an absolute pleasure. Thank you for following and please stay tuned. The Land Down Unda awaits and there is a ton of incredible things to see and do.
Cheers from Adelaide, South Australia!!