Dave’s been saying to me for years: you have to experience driving in the Outback to really get it. If I thought the drive on the way into the Red Center from Queensland was epic, then what was to come was even more so.
Following our incredible Kings Canyon visit we decided to head down through the Northern Territory into South Australia, stopping at Coober Pedy for a night along the way.
The approach to Coober Pedy was surreal. It seemed something like the surface of the moon with so many piles of white soil dotted around the outskirts, the aftermath of miners digging for opals. Some of these lumps were the result of the hand made efforts of humans, other bigger piles obviously from the constant actions of mechanical devices.
Finding a place to stay in Coober Pedy really was a challenge because it is such a frontier town. After checking reviews on the usual booking channels the Comfort Inn Motel seemed to rate the best, and we were so pleased we chose it, although when we first pulled up in the car I felt a bit dubious about the appearance and location. Once we got inside and met our wonderfully friendly host Deborah, we knew we were in the right place for us.
Have you ever slept totally underground? No, nor had I (Dave has in a previous life), and this entire motel was built in former opal mine shafts completely below earth. Everything’s ok as long as you don’t think too much about the fact that you’re sleeping in a rock box. And don’t look at the cracks in the ceiling ….. and the ventilation was surprisingly effective with the temperature constantly around 21C.
Have a read of this link to learn about the amazing effort and foresight of Deborah’s parents, the original owners. It really is something else and worth a look.
Next door to the motel is the Revival Church, also started by Deborah’s family, and dug out of the ground with an equally fascinating story. We could tell as soon as we started talking with Deborah that her family is very religious.
When leaving Coober Pedy we knew there were many many hours ahead of us and we wanted to arrive in South Australia’s Clare Valley before nightfall, which meant we had to leave in the darkness of early morning. Danger time for hitting kangaroos, emus & cattle and we passed road kill (mostly roos) every few meters or so on either side of the road. You have to be vigilant and have all eyes on the surrounding road verges even in the middle of the day.
We were surprised to find the road surface was built in the same colour as the red landscape. So as we drove along it felt like we were traveling on the actual red desert soil. It was an incredible experience and made the trip even more enjoyable. The Stuart Highway is a good quality road and well maintained, a pleasure to drive.
Continuing south we marveled at the harsh beauty of ever changing landscapes. Barren for a while and then just like being in a completely different place we’d drive through lush greenery and small hills, with mountain ranges in the distance.
And then we started to see water-filled lakes, so we had to take a dusty turnoff to check it out. Eventually we came to a parking spot where about 10 or so cars and campers were parked and with people milling about at the lake’s edge.
Of course there are salt lakes all around the world (we’ve walked on salt pans in other places), though we never expected to see anything like it here.
Our road trip took us along for another 2 weeks through South Australia’s iconic wine regions: Clare Valley and Barossa Valley, where we managed to sample the national average consumption of local wines, cheeses and delicious food.
The Barossa is of course world famous for its punchy reds, Clare Valley produces wonderful Rieslings.
Plus, we visited what we believe to be the best farmers market in Australia. All under cover in a former winery.
This entire region of South Australia is a foodies paradise, with our very own national treasure Maggie Beer reigning in all her fabulous glory. We were thrilled to be able to spend some time at Maggie’s farm shop and restaurant. Disappointed that she didn’t make an appearance while we were there, though her magic touch was apparent throughout property. And we got to sample every single thing in the shop, many times over!
Then on we went through the northwest of Victoria to visit my extended family in New South Wales: Wagga Wagga, the Blue Mountains, Nelson Bay, Coffs Harbour then finally our last night before Brisbane, at the too-glitzy Gold Coast.
Along the way we made a slight detour to take in a few laps around the famous Bathurst raceway. That was a great thrill especially in our massive beast of a truck.
Dave and I each took a turn at driving and although the track is speed limited to 60K (with speed cameras everywhere) the best I could manage around “The Esses” was 10K while holding my breath.
All the while I imagined how exhilarating it must be for those car racing drivers. No longer are motorbike races allowed at Bathurst because it is such a deadly track, so only cars. Another bucket list item ticked off (although i always imagined I’d be in a proper racing car)!
If you tell people you want to do a road trip through the Outback to Australia’s Red Center and they try to put you off, don’t listen! Just make sure you have a reliable vehicle (4WD is not necessary) with at least one spare, an adventurous spirit and a tolerance for sitting in a vehicle for a long time.
Do your homework and research the road distances and conditions. Hire a satellite phone. Take water and some food in the car with you. Maybe download some podcasts. We loved having our Engel car fridge for keeping things cold like milk, butter, fruit & beer.
Some people free-camp along the road at sidings. That’s not for us at this stage, although we did have a mattress (and Sheridan bed linen & pillows) in the back of the truck just in case we got stuck somewhere. But we’ve spoken to plenty of folk that have happily found their little spot off the road and pitched a tent or set up their swag. Certainly having a caravan or motor home is a good option, we saw so many along the way.
All up the Beast safely carried us around 14,000 klm in 4 weeks. It was an unforgettable experience and we can’t wait to get back on the road.