Everyone usually has a bucket list of places they want to visit. For me, Uluru wasn’t really on mine, but when the opportunity arose to go on an outback adventure for two weeks with my boyfriend’s family, I couldn’t say no!
If you would like to watch the video from our trip, then click below to see some of the beautiful scenery the Australian outback has to offer. Otherwise, keep reading to get the low-down on where we stayed and what we did. There is a link right at the bottom to download our summarised itinerary, including accommodation and prices.
The Centre 2018 from Jessica Shipton on Vimeo.
In the famous words of Russell Coight, it was “time to hit the road.”
We got up early and left Lithgow (about two hours north-west of Sydney) around 7am to start our first and longest stint of the trip to Broken Hill. We grabbed a hot drink in Orange and stopped in Dubbo to purchase some wheel nuts, then had lunch in a small town called Nyngan.
We filled up with petrol (the first of many, many times along the trip) before continuing on. A few hours later we stopped again. Why? You guessed it. To get petrol. We finally arrived in Broken Hill around 7:30pm and ordered some pizza, then checked in to the Broken Hill Tourist Park where we would be staying for two nights.
Tip: Caravan and tourist parks are definitely the way to go! We had a roof-top tent attached to the car, so it generally cost around $10-50 per night for an unpowered camp site.
The tourist park in Broken Hill was really nice and set the benchmark quite high for the rest of the trip. When you are camping, the amenities block is always the one thing you hope is decent. Thankfully, this one was.
line of lode lookout and miner’s memorial
We made the most of our first full day in Broken Hill by starting off with a trip to the Line of Lode Memorial which is an iconic structure sitting on the edge of the mine’s remains. The views over Broken Hill are beautiful and provide a sombre experience as you walk through the memorial constructed in honour of the 800+ miners who lost their lives. The youngest was a 14-year-old boy back in the early 1900s who passed away due to suffocation.
pro hart art gallery
The gallery is definitely an interesting place to visit, particularly if you have a passion for art. The entry fee is next to nothing (about $2-5) and the gallery showcases three levels of Pro Hart’s work. From painted Roles Royce’s to flowers, miners and the outback, there’s definitely some beautiful paintings, but also some quirky ones.
We stopped in at the Silverton Hotel for lunch and grabbed a seat inside to avoid eating flies. (Seriously, they get worse the further out you travel). The pub has a great atmosphere, with a cute set-up both indoors and outdoors, and offers a fairly extensive menu.
Once you’re finished reading the long list of movies and ads filmed in Silverton, you can check out the Mad Max 2 Museum a few hundred metres away. Entry to the museum isn’t free, but depending on how much of a fan you are of the movies, you may want to have a look anyway.
We packed up camp and left Broken Hill to begin our drive to Hawker. Our first stop of the day was an old theatre in Peterborough that had been turned into a cafe called 229 on Main Cafe. If you would like to sip your morning coffee and be surrounded by props used from stage shows performed in an old capitol theatre, then this is definitely the spot to take a break.
With both indoor and outdoor seating, you can relax where you feel most comfortable and enjoy breakfast or brunch, then treat the kids to the lolly shop.
Tip: Don’t forget that when you cross the border into South Australia, you will have to pass through the interstate quarantine station and discard of any fruit and vegetables. So if you are planning on doing a big grocery shop, I suggest leaving that for once you have entered SA.
We continued our drive on RM Williams Way toward Hawker, where we stayed at Rawnsley Park Station. The campsite is quite large and provides a camp kitchen, clean amenities and plenty of walks to choose from.
Our unpowered sites were on top of a hill with an amazing view of the mountainous Flinders Ranges. We set up camp and went for a walk to Clem’s Corner, which boasts a pretty spectacular view from the top, then took an impromptu route back down.
You can pay for a 7 Day Park Pass of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, however, their system is a little odd. You pay $10 per vehicle, they write down your basic details and then your parks pass is emailed to you. Talk about a funky piece of automated paper! Yeah…none of us received our parks pass at all, nor were we asked by rangers for one. So I gather it is a bit of an honesty system there.
We stopped at a few different lookouts including Huck’s Lookout, which showcased beautiful scenery of the Australian outback.
The tiny town of Blinman is nestled deep in the Flinders Ranges and has a huge population of less than 20. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a small general store/cafe, which had a few tourists inside munching on sausage rolls and slurping milkshakes (wait, that was us).
Next, we drove out toward the Glass Gorge scenic drive and on the way, tested out the boy’s four-wheel driving skills up a steep hill. The drive does a loop and brings you back to Blinman, but there are lots of little things to see on the way.
This tiny town tugged on our heartstrings a fair bit. It is a government-owned town on the edge of the desert and is currently up for sale. Originally, the town thrived due to the huge Leigh Creek open cut coal mine, however, when the mine was shut down in 2015 it no longer held much of a purpose.
Work and therefore money declined rapidly, and as result, the people moved elsewhere. Of course, without people, the place couldn’t run. Unfortunately, the future of the little outback town doesn’t seem too bright, but we met a small group of people who believed strongly enough in making something of what was left.
We arrived at Marree Roadhouse after another day of driving and exploring little towns along the way – and trust me, the towns just get smaller and smaller. And consequently, the more remote you go, the more likely it is that the accommodation will be far from five-star.
The Roadhouse had everything you needed, although the amenities block was a bit dodgy. The community aspect was really nice and there was a bit of karaoke to listen to while you enjoyed dinner. The town in itself is very small, so you definitely wouldn’t need to stay here for longer than a night.
The next day was filled with lots of dirt, with the majority of the trip from Marree to Coober Pedy on unsealed roads. You have to concentrate pretty hard on dodging all those big rocks!
This beautiful lake stretches 144km and is an incredible sight to see whether its filled with water or dry. Let’s be honest, you will be lucky if you see even a spot of water out there. The lake is officially known as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and is an incredibly vast expanse of shimmering salt in the outback.
As you follow the Oodnadatta Track, keep your eyes peeled for the mysterious Marree Man! We stopped off at Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park where you can explore The Bubbler and Blanche Cup. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to swim here but if you travel a little further to Coward Springs, you’ll be able to go for a quick dip – although the hot spring is rather disappointing due to how small it is.
william creek hotel
The pubs tend to get more intriguing as you travel further into outback Australia. With unique personality shown through the decor, the William Creek Hotel was definitely a winner. A population of 12 people meant that as soon as we stopped for lunch, the entire town almost doubled in size.
We arrived in Coober Pedy and checked in to the Underground Motel, which is really the only way you can experience this cool little place. There are plenty of options for dinner, but we went with John’s Pizza Bar & Restaurant, which provided a huge menu with generous portions.
umoona opal mine museum
The next morning, we had a look at the Opal Mine Museum and read about the history of the mines and checked out the jewellery store. We learnt about the different characteristics of opals that are considered when determining their value and price. The museum also offers tours and has a small gift shop.
We grabbed a drink and some groceries at an IGA in Coober Pedy, before embarking on our drive to Erldunda Roadhouse, where we stopped in Marla for an afternoon snack.
Once we arrived in Erldunda, we set up camp and had a barbeque for dinner. There isn’t too much to see there, but the Roadhouse had everything you need; with a pool (although it was freezing), a great amenities block, barbeques, and a laundry. There is even an emu park attached to the petrol station right outside the campsite.
Another long and straight commute to Ayres Rock Campground, where we had lunch and then drove to The Olgas. It’s a beautiful sight to see, but be warned: the flies are next-level ridiculous here. We also visited a lookout near Valley of the Winds, which was stunning.
Tip: If you haven’t been convinced to purchase a fly net for your head yet, then I highly suggest doing so prior to stopping in Uluru! You may lose your dignity, but your sanity will keep in tact.
The campground has a few pools to choose from, so we (unintentionally) picked the coldest one and decided to go for a dip to cool off after our afternoon walks.
With an early start, we were ready to go by 6am. The park rangers decide whether they will close Uluru for climbing at 8am depending on the weather forecast for the day. If it is forecast to reach 36°C by 11am, they will close the rock to visitors. So if you are on a tight schedule, I would recommend getting an early start.
Tip: You will need to purchase a park pass prior to entering Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, so make sure you factor this in to your budget and your day. It is roughly $25/person.
“So, what’s the climb like?” Well, I’m so glad you asked. It’s incredibly hard.
Ayres Rock is 348m high and I’m not going to sugar coat it and tell you it’s easy because frankly, it’s not. However, it is a beautiful view from the top looking over the vastness of the outback, with The Olgas in the distance.
It took us about two and a half hours to complete the walk, but if you don’t stop for too many pictures, then you could definitely do it in less time than that. It is tiring though, so pace yourself.
Tip: Take a light backpack with you. The first part of the climb is steep and although there is a chain to hold on to, you will need both hands at times – which proves difficult when you have sunglasses, a water bottle and a camera to hold (trust me).
If you are wanting to climb Uluru, you will have to do so before 26 October 2019, when the rock will be permanently closed. Of course, there are plenty of other activities to do while you are at the site, including the 10km base walk and a bike ride or Segway tour.
After a three hour drive the next day, we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort and had lunch at the cafe joined to the accommodation. We relaxed by the pool for the afternoon and waited for it to cool down before we walked around the base of Kings Creek Canyon within Watarrka National Park. This gentle walk usually takes about an hour, but due to a fallen boulder blocking part of the path, it took us half the time.
Kings Canyon is well known for its sheer cliff walks towering 100m high. If you get the opportunity, definitely factor in time to complete the Rim Walk, which is the most popular of all the walks, taking about 3-4hrs and starting off very steep. Unfortunately, we didn’t get time to do this, but if I were to ever go back, it would be the first thing on my list!
There is a designated area back at the campsite where you can watch the sunset over the canyons, which is a nice way to end the day before listening to live music at the bistro and having some dinner.
ellery’s creek big hole
The next morning we packed up and after filling up with diesel that cost $1.95/L (yes, you read that right), we headed to Ellery’s Creek Big Hole for a swim. If you are anywhere near this general location, then this is a must-see.
You don’t see much water when you are travelling through outback Australia, so the beautiful scenery of this waterhole is incredible. However, the water is freezing! Pack a lunch and stop to have a swim, before you continue your drive to Alice Springs.
We quite literally rolled into the service station at Alice Springs and quickly filled up before we grabbed something small to eat. The ANZAC Hill Memorial lookout is a lovely spot if you have some spare time providing stunning views of the surprisingly large city of Alice Springs.
Once we arrived at the Heritage Caravan Park, we set up our rooftop tents, had a chat with some other tourists and ate dinner. The caravan park is really nice, with the option of cabins and unpowered or powered sites.
The communal cooking and dining area for campers comes complete with barbeques, microwaves and a fridge. The amenities blocks are also a great size and not far from where you will be camping.
About two and a half hours after leaving Alice Springs, we stopped at the Kulgera Roadhouse where we checked out the pub and grabbed something quick to eat and drink.
Once again, the pub had plenty of character, with its ceiling covered in signed hats, shirts and bras left by passing tourists. The Roadhouse prides itself on being the first and last pub in the Northern Territory, so definitely pull over whether you need to fill up, or grab a bite to eat.
coober pedy (round two)
Another two hours later and we stopped again in Marla to eat our packed lunch, before making our way to Coober Pedy. We checked in at another underground motel called The Lookout Cave, which was a great place to stay. With the dark and cool rooms, it is hard to forget that you are quite literally sleeping underground.
We booked in at the Outback Bar and Grill for dinner, which had decent sized meals for a very reasonable price. If you do stay and dine at these places, then you will receive a complimentary 10% off your meal when you show the cashier your room key.
Unfortunately, there was no ANZAC Day service in Coober Pedy, so we got going after breakfast to begin our 800km drive to Peterborough. We filled up with fuel in Glendambo, where we ate a packed lunch with the fresh bread rolls purchased earlier that morning at a bakery in Coober Pedy.
Once we had filled both our cars and our tummies, we were back on the road. As we headed toward Port Augusta, we had a change of scenery from the straight, long roads to some winding around and through mountains, which was a pleasant change.
Finally, we checked into Peterborough Caravan Park and set up our tents. The amenities block was quite a trek from our unpowered sites, but thankfully we were able to scab off the rest of the family and use their bathroom.
If you hadn’t yet stopped off in Peterborough on your trip, then definitely make a stop for breakfast or a coffee at the 229 on Main Cafe that I mentioned earlier (AKA the old theatre-turned cafe). There is also a train museum at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre with tours running, as well as sound and light shows.
We left the caravan park after breakfast and headed to a patisserie in Renmark, which was a stunning little town. Everything seemed incredibly new and as you drive in, you will notice how the shops, streets and surrounds become progressively modern.
After a few more hours of driving, we stopped in Mildura where we said our goodbyes to everyone before parting ways, as Bryson and I were continuing on to Balranald. There are plenty of lovely places to stop and stay in Mildura. Although we were only there briefly, the stunning houseboats and dockside houses definitely impressed us.
Brys and I arrived at Balranald Caravan Park later that night and cooked our typical go-to of steak and salad. The campsite is fairly big, but there isn’t much in Balranald – it’s definitely a ‘just passing through’ town. While the caravan park had great amenities, everything was quite far from the unpowered site and not to mention, being located right beside the main highway proved to make it a noisy stay.
Before we headed to Wagga Wagga, we stopped for breakfast at Evoke Cafe on the main street in Hay. The cafe had a great atmosphere, with a great list of menu options, but there are definitely plenty of lovely, small cafes that you could choose from.
We continued our two-hour drive to Wagga Wagga, where we ended our two-week trip in style by staying at the International Hotel. It was a nice change not having to put up or pack up our roof-top home for once, let alone having to share a communal bathroom.
To make the most of our small amount of time in Wagga, we checked out the Botanic Gardens where we walked around both the zoo enclosures and gardens. With free entry, it is definitely a stunning place to take a picnic basket and enjoy each other’s company.
We shared both a garlic and ‘2am Kebab’ pizza for dinner at the Thirsty Crow Brewing Co. As Wagga’s first microbrewery, it is a very contemporary cafe, brewery, and restaurant in one; offering meals from breakfast to dinner. The atmosphere is great and it is definitely a nice place to eat, particularly if you like your beers or ciders.
Once we checked out the next morning, we drove down Baylis Street to find a car park close to the surrounding cafes. We enjoyed our last breakfast of the trip at Cafe Cucina, which was a lovely spot offering reasonably priced meals. Then it was back on the road again for the last time!
Fuel will cost you a lot on a trip to the Aussie outback like this (not to mention, it gets quite pricey the more remote you go). A great way to balance out the cost of things is to budget for your accommodation and food. The roof-top tent saved us a great deal of coin, and to be honest, despite having to pitch your home every night, it was surprisingly comfy!
So after two weeks of driving, here are the numbers:
- DISTANCE: 6,637.1km
- FUEL: $1,287.72
- DRIVING TIME: 82hrs
What a bloody good outback adventure! If you would like a summarised version of our itinerary including accommodation, cost, and the distance between destinations, then click here to download a copy: Road Trip – Accommodation & Prices