4th June to 10th June
Cairns to Uluru
If you read last week’s instalment, you’ll know that we finally finished road tripping up the East Coast of Australia. Next on our agenda was to travel right to centre of the Australian continent to Uluru. For those who haven’t heard of Uluru (most commonly known as Ayer’s Rock), it’s essentially a huge red rock in the middle of the desert. It is an extremely spiritual place to the local indigenous people and a world-famous tourist attraction.
So, this week will mostly be taken up with driving 2,800km through a whole load of emptiness. Not the most exciting of week’s for you readers nor us but it’s something that has to be done in Australia. The more sensible approach would have been to fly from Cairns to Uluru but we’re hoping to get around the whole of Australia in our little campervan.
This journey was meant to start on the Monday but, thanks to a little too much alcohol, I was really not in any state to drive four hours. I tried to get up at 6:30am but my head hurt far too much. I finally appeared at about midday and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. Luckily Tom & Ireen were so nice they let us stay another night.
Retry. I woke up early feeling so much better. Good job, as we had to pack up the van and fill our three water containers up all before 7:30am! After stopping for petrol, checking over the van and pumping up the tyres, we were on our merry way!
The first stop of the day was at the famous Millaa Millaa Falls. We didn’t feel like swimming in the murky (and quite smelly) water so unfortunately no-one gets to see me impersonating Peter Andre. Yep, this waterfall is where the classic ‘Mysterious Girl’ was filmed as well as the famous Herbal Essences ‘hair flick’.
Somehow we’d forgotten to close the van’s side door and all of our belongings were out on show. Luckily nothing was stolen!!
Back on the road, we began driving on the Savannah Way, which links Cairns to Broome in Western Australia. It’s only sealed as far as Normanton, at the Gulf of Carpentaria, which was where we’d turn left.
The directions to Uluru were pretty straight forward with just four major turning points; left at Normanton, right at Cloncurry, left at Three Ways Roadhouse and then right at Erldunda Roadhouse.
The road conditions weren’t too bad for the first hour or so until all of a sudden the road narrowed to a single track of tarmac with a dirt run-off either side. This was still a two-way road. The one thing I didn’t want to happen was to meet a road-train; a truck with three sometimes four trailers. Emma had read a leaflet about what to do on these roads when you see one hurtling towards you. Essentially, it’s chuck the van off the road as far as humanely possible, stop and hold your breath. It’s pretty scary when a truck with four trailers comes within inches of your van and does not slow down one bit.
Our first stop was at a free camp (Cumberland Chimney) next to a little reservoir a few kilometres outside of a small town called Georgetown. This region was built on the gold mines and it was the mines that was also responsible for its downfall. There were so many towns around this area, larger than Georgetown, that have simply disappeared.
The highlight of today was, quite strangely, the walk to the drop toilets at night. It’s almost winter which means the core of the milky way can be seen and, with no light pollution, the night sky had such clarity that I’ve never seen before! It also means that it is freezing cold through the night. Cue me sleeping in shorts, socks, jogging bottoms, a t-shirt and a hoodie.
Our second day in the outback and we drove again for about five hours. We were meant to be taking turns driving but I was right in the zone which meant it was easier for me just to power through. You might think that a five hour drive isn’t that bad but when the road is arrow straight, with nothing to see apart from dead kangaroos, termite mounds and eagles everywhere, it gets a bit tiring.
We finished the sealed section of the Savannah Way today arriving in Normanton simply for a rest and a fuel stop. This is really in the middle of nowhere now with the town’s main attraction being a life-sized replica of the largest recorded crocodile in the world. Huge!
When living on the road, it’s easier not to plan ahead as you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a weird feeling not knowing where you’ll sleep that night. We decided to carry on driving south towards Cloncurry to a rest area called Bang Bang.
I felt so relaxed today and we ended up sitting outside the van for absolutely ages. It’s the first time in a while that we’ve not been bothered by bugs after dark! The only thing you have to put up with during the day is the countless flies trying to get in your ears, nose and mouth. Not the most glamorous lifestyle and I haven’t even discussed showers yet.
It was Emma’s turn to drive today through the barren outback. I don’t have much to say other than our most notable stop of the day was at Burke & Mills Roadhouse; the only petrol station for miles and miles. Roadhouse’s are essentially glorified petrol stations providing everything you could ever possibly need for a massively inflated price.
The biggest city out here is Mount Isa. We stopped again for fuel and to try and find a public shower. That didn’t go so well so we had to make do with baby wipes. I’m really not making it sound glamorous am I?
Emma also clocked up her first road kill today, a poor little defenceless bird, almost followed up by a huge wedge-tailed eagle! That would have taken some cleaning up!
Tonight, we stayed at a campsite called WWII historic site on WikiCamps (an app for free camping) which I thought was a little odd. I read the sign which described the historic event that happened here as being the sealing of the dirt road for transporting supplies. Sometimes I miss Europe and it’s real history. I’m not saying that there’s not important aboriginal history here which is really interesting it’s just that the White Australians might be trying too hard.
After another cold night, we were ready to tackle probably our longest drive yet. The first section was 200km of nothing just to get to a petrol station. Shortly after filling up, we stopped again at the border to the Northern Territory; our third Australian state.
We had to get a few pictures with the sign and the most empty landscape I’ve ever seen. As far as you could see, absolutely nothing. At least before, you could look at trees or termite mounds.
Eventually we reached the ‘highlight’ of the day; a junction. The Stuart Highway. From here you can turn left and drive south to Alice Springs (and on to Adelaide) or right and north on up to Darwin. We actually celebrated reaching this point and high-fived each other.
Not long after this momentous achievement, and after rattling our brains with an unsealed corrugated road, we arrived at our camp for the night. We were staying at the Devil’s Pebbles which was basically a collection of small red rocks. A poor man’s Devil’s Marbles where we planned to stay on our return journey.
We probably celebrated a little too early yesterday. Whilst getting past the ‘junction’ was a slight achievement, we still had a LONG way to go and today turned out to be my least favourite.
A little free camp past Alice Springs was our intended destination but we didn’t realise how much this drive would take it out of us.
I think we clocked up about seven hours and had to filled up with petrol three times! The standard so far has been two times a day but having to fill up again hurt a little. Especially when the petrol is so expensive out here.
We did have a minor scare as it turned out we were driving into a headwind all day which meant we used too much petrol too quickly. Normally we would get around 350/400km from a full tank although we would always fill up whenever we saw a petrol station.
Well things did not go well today. We decided not to fill up as we still had about half a tank left and it was only 90km to the next petrol station. I don’t know how we made it. The needle must have had some sort of issue as it just kept going further down every time I looked. Somehow we crawled into the next roadhouse with the needle on empty.
Maybe it was a godsend that we missed that petrol station at Barrow Creek. We later learned that it was in that area where a British couple in their campervan were flagged down and attacked. Peter Falconi died whist his girlfriend managed to get away. They were on their way to the Devil’s Marbles campground where we intended to stay on our way back. We did only find this out AFTER staying at these places but it shows how dangerous it is out here.
We didn’t stay long at all in Alice Springs. There was a huge aboriginal presence with most, from very young to very old, all out on the streets. A lot of them were drinking. If I’m honest, it didn’t feel too safe. We had a quick trip into Woolies, bagged ourselves a cooked chicken reduced to $1.80, and got the F out.
Our night was spent watching the sunset followed by Netflix and chicken and stuffing sandwiches.
Day 6 – The Final Day
From Alice Springs, Uluru is still a gruelling five hour drive. Nothing much to see apart from a huge rectangle mountain which Emma thought was Uluru at first. I wished it was. We still had a few hours to go.
We decided to stay at the only campground in the purpose built resort luckily for $25 a night which was a bargain considering. It was absolutely rammed with travellers young and old.
The only way to end this week was to watch the sunset at Uluru. It wasn’t a great sunset by any stretch of the imagination but it really was beautiful. I also discovered the top deck (roof-rack) of the van which I’ll be taking full advantage of from now on.
Next week, we’ll be spending a few more days at Uluru and the Olgas (wait until you see these!) before getting back on the road up to Darwin.
If you’ve missed any of the previous weeks, click here to catch up!