I have to admit that I was pretty excited to be ‘Home’ again with Col. I was back in Adelaide for 4 months in the end and while Col visited every month, it is not the same as living together in the same state. I had to fight the urge to rush back to Darwin and to enjoy the journey there. But we were only four and a half hours out of Darwin and I was very ready to get home. So another early start and on the road to enjoy the last stretch of our journey North.
Col’s Dad, Dave East, was up in Darwin visiting Col and enjoying the fishing. He was hoping to also experience the wet season, but there wasn’t much of that this year unfortunately. It was a very dry wet. But still good for Dave to have some time to hang out with Col and for Col to have the company too. We made it back to Lee Point around midday and it was awesome to be home again. We got Sam and Steff settled into their cabin and then took them for a drive around Darwin to orientate themselves.
In the evening we headed to the Waterfront to have dinner at the mexican restaurant there called ‘Hot Tamale’. Yummy food and I just love the atmosphere of the waterfont. Stting outside on the deck on a warm evening, overlooking the water and watching the sun set. Quintessential Darwin!
As we were only stopping overnight in Tennant Creek, we wanted to get up early and get going to maximise the time we had in Mataranka. There is a free Barra and Turtle feeding show on at Territory Manor Motel and Caravan Park. It is done twice a day at 9am and 1pm. We thought we would try for the 1pm show, but it was always highly unlikely that we would make it. I think we arrived there by 1.10pm, which was fairly impressive. We zoomed into the park and rushed to the reception only to find out that the water was too cold and the Barra weren’t really feeding. Oh well, we tried. The reviews are pretty good, so keep this in mind if you are passing through.
We headed to the Bitter Springs Cabin that we had booked, and we were really happy with the accommodation. They provide you with some pool noodles that you can take with you to the hot springs, and this is always a good idea while you float around. There are two hot springs in Mataranka – Bitter Springs and Mataranka Hot Springs. I had heard many people say that they prefer Bitter Springs, and so we headed there first.
It was beautiful, but it also challenged some of my fears to go down it. There is a current running in one direction and you basically float down the spring, then get out and walk back to the start to do it all over again. It was beautiful, but there was grass brushing your leg, rocks and tree trunks bumping into you under the water and the spring was lined with reeds and bushes. It was also quite smelly in parts. I was ok, but then there was a group of people in the spring talking about a huge water snake they saw last time and that kind of freaked me out. Steff was really scared of Freshwater Crocs and I had to be brave and lead the pack. I wasn’t actually scared of the Freshies, but the idea of bumping into a big freshwater snake scared me. Still I lead the group a couple of times down the spring and we all survived. Steff basically rode on my back all the way down the spring hahahaha. I would turn aroung to warn her of something and realise she was litereally on my back. We had a good laugh about this. It was a beautiful and more natural experience than Mataranka Hot Spring. A few people saw turtles swimming and it was an interesting experience. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to see a freshwater croc, but generally you don’t see them. They keep out of your way if you keep out of theirs. I wouldn’t go along the side near the banks, just stick to the middle. I am pleased to say we didn’t meet any snakes or crocs that day. So proud of Steff who has faced and overcome her fears every step of this journey.
I had wanted to go and see the replica house from ‘We of the Never Never’, it was used in the making of the film. I had read the story of Jeannie Gunn, one of the pioneering women of Australia. I also made Sam and Steff watch the movie on the way up so they would also be able to appreciate the homestead. Sadly the house has not been looked after and it was a very disappointing experience. I would not rush there to see it. I really love standing in a house and trying to imagine what it would have been like to have lived in remote parts of Australia back in those days, but this place did not conjure up those feelings at all. It is free, but it almost would have been better to have paid for it and that money be invested in maintaining it.
It is located in the same caravan park as the Mataranka Hot Springs, so it was only a short walk to get to them. These were more man-made, in that it had an almost pool or spa feel, set in amongst the beautiful trees with the fresh flowing hot spring water surrounding you. It was crystal clear and I felt more comfortable there than in Bitter Springs.
We returned to our cabin in Bitter Springs and sat out on the deck having a drink as the sun was setting. A very cute little Joey decided to come and join us and came up onto the deck and sat under my chair. We were pretty infatuated with him. He was super friendly and very, very cute. All in all, Mataranka was a beautiful place and worth a visit. We had wanted to do Katherine Gorge but it was closed because it was still the wet season. Combining Mataranka and Katherine Gorge is a good idea as Mataranka is only about an hour and a half from Katherine.
We took it easy this morning packing up and driving to Tennant Creek as we only wanted to get there before dinner. We drove back through Alice Springs and stopped at Maccas for breakfast on our way then started the 5 to 6 hour drive from Alice to Tennant Creek. We wanted to stop on the way to see the Devil’s Marbles which are about an hour out of Tennant Creek.
So people have different ways of amusing themselves while driving. My son Sam has an amazing memory such as the first 60 elements of the periodic table and Pi to 51 decimal places. So he decided to teach me Pi to 51 decimal places as we drove along. All three of us got very invested in this process and there were many highs and lows as we drove along, as I battled to get these numbers to stick in order and repeat them. Let me just say there was a whole lot of cheering in the car when I finally managed to recite the full 51 decimal places. I believe Sam recorded it. A great moment and a highlight of the trip hahahahaha. Not sure when it will ever come in handy other than a party trick, but I thought that about algebra too and who knew, it actually came in handy doing drug calculations. So I am yet to see where this new found skill will be used in the future.
You may be asking why 51 decimal places? Why not 50? Well Sam had learnt Pi to 50 decimal places and was proudly reciting this to a friend of his who was reading along and checking his answer. On completion of the 50 decimal places, Kyle kindly ofered the 51st number being 5. So we now recite to 51 decimal places and end this with ‘Thank you Kyle’ for the 51st. The things you can do to amuse yourself while driving. It actually made the time fly and we laughed alot along the way.
Karlu Karlu, The Devils Marbles, were a beautiful sight. The Warmungu Aboriginal people believed them to be the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. It is pretty mind boggling trying to imagine how they were formed, there are so many of them and some are huge. They are stacked up and scattered about. A very intriguing sight.
We drove on to Tennant Creek and felt like we had entered another timezone or planet. Every shop had bars on the window and the place had a very eerie feel. We were suddenly wondering if we had made a bad decision to stop here. We had decided to stay at the Bluestone Motor Inn and headed there to book in and unload our luggage. It was a fairly comfortable and clean hotel, and we felt it was a good choice. Once we had unpacked we decided to go for a drive and grab some drinks from the drive through and also find somewhere to go and eat for dinner.
There were queues out of every bottle shop along the main street. We pulled into one and there was a female police officer there who was asking me questions about who I was buying alcohol for, where we were from and where we were going. She was really lovely but it was an intimidating place. While I grabbed some wine, Sam and Steff started chatting to the police officer who gave some great insight into the place. She had been there for a few years and assured us that the community there were lovely, but sadly alcohol is the cause of many of the issues. They had just changed the law in Tennant Creek where bottle shops are only open for a few hours in the afternoon and there is a limit of how much alcohol you can buy. That is why there were queues out of the bottle shops when we arrived.
She suggested that there were only really two places she would recommend to eat and one of them was the Tennant Creek Memorial Club and the other was the Chinese shop on the main road. Apparently all the off duty cops eat at the Memorial Club and she said that is the safest place in Tennant Creek. So we headed there for dinner and enjoyed the evening. This is definitely the place to go and eat if you are staying overnight in Tennant Creek.
This spot is really back tracking and you would be better off to fit this inbetween Kings Canyon and Alice. Tjoritja, the West McDonnell Ranges, are beautiful and there are many places you can visit along this stretch. I found some posts about Redbank Gorge and being able to float down the gorge on your blow up pool toy, and we all thought it sounded interesting and fun. Glen Helen Lodge is the only resort in the West McDonnell Ranges so we booked to stay there overnight, it is about an hour and a half from Alice. Redbank Gorge was about 20 minutes further on.
We went straight to Redbank Gorge. Definitely needed the fly nets! The walk is along a dry riverbed that starts off quite sandy and you end up climbing over rocks to reach the gorge. I had checked with the NT parks and wildlife if it was ok to go in the water, as it can get quite green and smelly if there has not been adequate rainfall. It can also be really cold depending on the time of year, which is why the pool toys are a great idea to keep you out of the water a bit.
When we were walking there I wasn’t confident that there would be any water at the end of it. Everything was so dry. I thought we had gone to the effort of buying the stuff and lugging it in, of backtracking on our trip to experience this and maybe there is no water at the end of it. Right at the end of the dry river bed Sam found a little puddle of gross looking water and we were all a little scared that was it. We continued to climb over rocks to the end of the gorge and it opened out into a swimming hole with high cliff walls narrowing into the gorge. Steff and I were not sure that we were game enough to get in. Luckily there was another older couple there who had been in for a swim and assured us it was safe and good. Steff and I were still not convinced, but Sam blew up his big red lobster pool toy and launched himself confidently out into the swimming hole to go exploring. He was unimpressed that Steff and I refused to join him.
Sam got to the narrow part of the gorge and clambered up onto the rocks and dragged his lobster to the second gorge to check it out. Steff and I started to feel bad that Sam was having to go exploring on his own, so we took a teaspoon of cement and blew up our mermaid tails and clambored onto them to venture into the unknown. Really glad we found our courage as we all ended up really enjoying the experience. The water was cool but not freezing and the gorge was beautiful. It was challenging to climb onto the slippery wet rocks between the gorges but worth the effort to see further into it. The second gorge was much harder to get out of as it was steep and slippery, so Steff and I waited between the gorges to make sure we could help Sam out if necessary. He got out ok, but just be conscious of it if you go. Depending on how much rainfall there has been depends on how far up the gorge you can go. The third pool was solidly green so we couldn’t go any futher in. It was a beautiful place to hang out and we all loved the experience. It was worth the back track.
We hiked back to the car when we were done and drove back down the road to Glen Helen Lodge. At first we were disappointed when we saw the accommodation. It is hard going from a 4 star resort to the bare basics at first. But they have a great communal room and outdoor restaurant there. We ate outside taking in the spectacular view and watching small bats divebomb the insects around the floodlights. We went for a walk away from the resort to take in the amazing stars without the light pollution.
After dinner we played some games of pool and had a few drinks. It was Steff and I teamed up against Sam. We didn’t manage to beat him but we got close each game and had a really fun night.
So it ended up being a great place to stay and I would encourage you pick a spot in the West McDonnell Ranges to explore if you are near Alice. Some other places recommended to us that we didn’t make it to were – Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge, which all have water holes you can swim in. We also bought a $5 foot pump to blow up the pool toys and that was a great idea too.
We were not in a huge hurry today so took it easy packing up and having breakfast in the morning. The drive to Alice Springs went smoothly and we stuck to the sealed roads, so backtracked back to Lasseters Highway. We stayed at the Crown Plaza Hotel near the casino and loved the accommodation. Great service and facilities.
We went to the shops to buy our blow up pool toys to take to Redbank Gorge the following day.
In the evening we caught up with my cousin Stuart and his partner Michelle and their boys for dinner at their local sports club. It was good to see them and spend some time together.
We also stopped in to have a quick look at the hotel that my Grandfather used to manage there called the Oasis Hotel. It was a good feeling to be somewhere he once was. He has managed few Roadhouses, Hotels and Leagues Clubs and always had great stories to tell. We had stayed at this hotel in Alice Springs when I was really young and I hoped that it might be familiar when I saw it, but I didn’t remember it. It has been a very long time and has probably changed over the years. Still glad we dropped in to see it.
When we were on the coach going to the Sound of Silence dinner, we asked the driver about the road conditions heading out to Kings Canyon. He said it was a sealed road between Uluru and Kings Canyon but he warned us about camels on the Kings Canyon road. A coach hit a camel there fairly recently. So we were all on high alert when driving, but at the same time we wanted to see a camel, just not hit one. Fortunately or unfortunately we didn’t see any wild camels wandering around. We did see a few on a farm though and had to make do with that.
He did mention that there is a dirt road from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs but that was pretty rough and people often do tyres on that road. So he recommended backtracking out the same way we go in and sticking to the sealed road. It adds a bit of distance on, but still quicker than having to replace tyres. I did have the Mazda CX5 and not a 4WD, so we were happy with this advice and agreed that would be the plan on the way to Alice the following day.
We checked into our room at the Kings Canyon Resort and got upgraded to a spa room which was nice. We then went for a hike to do the rim walk at Kings Canyon. We were told to allow 4 hours for this but it didn’t take us that long. The beginning of the hike is a little intimidating as it is the steepest section and you just scramble up the rocky stairs cut out into the side of the hill. This was definitely the hardest bit, so don’t be put off before you start. There were many stairs and it was quite up and down, so be careful if you have any knee issues doing this hike.
Sam spotted this sign and requested that Steff and I do a re-enactment. I feel we did it justice.
After our hike we returned to our room and decided to have a spa to alleviate the achy muscles after all of those stairs. The spa is really a romantic bath for two people, not designed for a group. But we didn’t let that stop us. We put on our bathers and lined up next to each other facing the window and played a challenging game of eye spy. This kept us entertained for a surprisingly long time.
We got ready for dinner and found a BBQ restaurant at the resort and we all really liked the food.
Overall we felt that Kings Canyon Resort is really expensive and would probably avoid staying at the resort in the future. There was a station/camp nearby the Canyon that might be a better option. The Kings Canyon rim walk was definitely worth doing and it wasn’t hard to fit it in on the same day as driving from Uluru.
We started the day with a buffet breakfast that was quite pricey but we all decided it was well worth the money. It was in the Desert Gardens Hotel in the Mangata Bistro. Following breakfast we headed off to explore the beautfiul Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. I have to say I was quite surprised at what they are charging to enter the park. They only sell a minimum three day pass, even though we would only be going in for the day. It was $25 per person, so $75 for the entry fee for the three of us.
We were booked into a Segway Tour around Uluru at 1pm, so had to make sure we were back in time for that. We decided we would just have enough time to squeeze in one of the shorter hikes at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Really glad that we did. We did the shortest hike, the Walpa Gorge Walk, and we really enjoyed it. I would prefer to do the longer hike, The Valley of the Winds, if we had the time but it was still great to see this beautiful place up close. We definitely got good use out of our fly nets!
I would always recommend taking a fly net with you on any hike in Australia as the flies can really ruin it if you are not used to dealing with them in those numbers. I had one that had a material back which helps protect against sunburn and it has an elastic bottom which also helps to keep the pesky flies out. It does reduce your visibiltiy which is a bit disappointing, but I would still prefer to keep the flies at a distance. You also need to take plenty of water with you as you generally drink a lot more than you expect to. I bought a 4 litre water bladder that is more comfortable to carry in a back pack than multiple bottles of water. Buy one with the foil bladder and avoid plastic ones as they can make your water taste gross, then you only need one bottle that you can top up. Always wear good hiking boots or closed in shoes and take a first aid kit that includes a heavy crepe bandage in case of snake bites. It is worth brushing up on your first aid knowledge if you are going to any remote spots. Consider taking an Electronic Positioning Emergency Radio Beacon (EPERB) or a Satellite Phone to ensure you can reach emergency help if required. We did find that some hikes provided these communication spots for emergencies and the places we were hiking were not particularly isolated so we did not take an EPERB or Sat Phone on this trip. Other than that be sun smart and respectful of the places you are exploring. Always do some research of the areas you will be going, Parks and Wildlife and Visitor Information Centres are a good place to start. It is really important to be prepared before you go.
We made it back in time to do the Segway tour around Uluru. It started with a training session of how to use the Segways and there was a broad range of ages and skill levels there. Once everyone is competent handling their Segway you set off on a 2 and a half hour tour around the base of Uluru. While the tour was fun, I really felt that it detracted from the experience of seeing Uluru. I found that I was more focussed on the Segway and it was not the up close, magical experience that it was when Col and I walked it back in 2015. There was also a big group in our tour, there were 11 people in a convoy. The off-road segways are speed limited to prevent you going too fast, which proved incredibly frustrating when Sam had a stack and his segway switched itself off and I had to try to chase down the rest of the group to get the tour guide to switch it back on again. So, so frustrating! I was leaning as far forward as I could and going at the maximum speed and not gaining any ground on the group. It took quite a while to catch them up and get help. Luckily Sam wasn’t hurt, he was just stranded.
We then had to rush home to get changed for the ‘Sound of Silence’ dinner. This I would highly recommend. They collect you in a bus from the resort and take you to a viewing area overlooking Uluru and Kata Tjuta to watch the sunset while having drinks and nibbles. Then you join a larger table for your meal. We had poeople from China, UK and USA at our table. It was great to meet and talk with people from around the world. It was a buffet style meal served under the stars. The food was great and we enjoyed the company. Following dinner they did an Astronomy session and there were a couple of telescopes set up to look through. It was an expensive evening but we all felt it was a highlight of our trip and well worth the money.
Although we had a long drive ahead of us today to Uluru, 755km, we still wanted to have breakfast on the viewing deck to watch the sun rise. Really glad we did this as it was a great start to the day.
After breakfast we packed up the car and began the drive. I am happy to say that it didn’t feel as long as expected. It definitely helps to have three drivers to rotate through and fun people with good taste in music too! We had some of the Brainwaves quizes out of the Saturday Advertiser to keep us entertained as well (thanks to Jill Leonard and Erin for their quiz contributions). Have you really driven to Darwin if you haven’t stopped to take cheesy roadside photos of signs??? 1772km to Darwin, not long now!
We arrived at Yulara and checked into the Desert Gardens Hotel, part of the Ayers Rock Resort. We were really happy with the accommodation. You can go to any of the restaurants and use any of the facilities that are a part of the resort complex. Apparently lunch is good at the Backpackers accommodation, but we didn’t make it there this trip. We had booked into the Arnguli Grill & Restaurant for dinner but when we looked at the menu we decided it was more expensive than what we wanted to pay. We had booked into the Sounds of Silence dinner the following evening, so we were happy for a cheap and cheerful meal tonight. After exploring the resort we settled on Gecko’s Cafe for dinner which was quite good.
We then jumped onto a tour bus and headed over to check out the ‘Field of Light’ display. It was really beautiful. The exhibition is by artist Bruce Munro and is named ‘Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku’ or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in the local Pitjantjatjara language. It is a huge light display that spans the size of 7 football fields. You walk along a path, winding your way through the field of lights while they slowly change colour. There is also a beautiful sky full of stars sparkling overhead. The exhibition is running until 31st December 2020. I would not want to have to be a part of the pack up team! I have put a link in to the ‘Field of Light’ as our photos do not really do it justice. Sam was getting so angry at people using their flash lights to try to take photos of the light display, that was providing Steff and I with our own source of entertainment.
We were up early in the morning and on our way to Coober Pedy to maximise the time there. The drive went smoothly and we didn’t encounter any issues on the way. Coober Pedy is an interesting place to see, but I wouldn’t want to stay there more than one night. It is worth a stop to see the underground houses and opal mining. You feel like you have landed on another planet.
We pre-booked all our accommodation on this trip. It is worth noting the cancellation policies in case you run into any issues on the way and get delayed. But we felt more comfortable having it booked ahead of time and knowing where we were going to stay each night. We picked a very cute little AirBnB house in Coober Pedy and we were really happy with this decision. It was an underground house with a viewing deck above it to sit and watch the sunrise or sunset. Even though it was cute, it is still a little freaky to sleep underground I must admit.
Houses are built underground as temperatures can get up to around 50 degrees celsius in summer. Building the houses underground assists with the insulation and mainting a comfortable temperature in the houses all year round. There are also some churches and pubs underground too that you can visit.
After we unpacked and checked out our own little underground accommodation, we went for a drive to see ‘Faye’s underground home’. This home was dugout by hand by three women over 10 years and was worth seeing. An impressive achievement as well as an interesting history lesson! There is a small opal mine on the property as well but this is not always open. We did get to go through it and learn a little bit about opal mining. Otherwise the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum was also recommended to us to look through. You can also do ‘noodling’ which is fossicking through the discarded rock, known as mullock, from the miners to find opal.
We stopped in at the ‘Desert Cave Hotel’ to have a drink in the underground pub. Some of the photos I have seen of the underground churches look pretty impressive too but we didn’t go to check these out. We decided to drive to the ‘Breakaways Conservation Park’ to watch the sunset on the Breakaways, and it was beautiful. We drove back along part of the dog fence that runs through the park on our way home. We finished the night with dinner at ‘John’s Pizza Bar & Restaurant’. All in all it was an interesting experience but I don’t plan to move to Coober Pedy any time soon.
Sam, Steff and I packed up the car and we were ready to leave Adelaide to head to Port Augusta by 4pm. It was good to finally be on the road and heading back to Col and Darwin. I will definitely miss my friends and family in Adelaide but was thankful I had those months to hang out with them and enjoy their company. And so the road trip begins ……….
We didn’t encounter any issues on the drive but we were against the clock to try and get into Port Pirie before it got dark. My Grandfather, Jim Sitters, passed away just over a year ago at 93 years old. He was born in Port Pirie and grew up there with his Parents and siblings and we wanted to stop by the house to show Sam and Steff. We only just made it as the sun was setting, but there was enough light to see the house and it was a good moment to just stop and remember him. While we were standing there looking at the house from the footpath, a lady came outside and noticed us staring at her house. We quickly explained the situation and she very kindly offered for us to go inside and have a look around.
We were very grateful that a stranger would allow us this privilege, to walk through her house. They were the original floorboards, so it was nice to realise that we were standing right where Grandpa would have stood at some point. It was a fantastic start to our trip and we were all very appreciative. We said our goodbyes and went to grab some dinner before continuing our drive to Port Augusta.
As we were only staying in Port Augusta overnight, we went with fairly basic accommodation. We stayed in a cabin at the Discovery Park – Port Augusta. The room was clean and comfortable and affordably priced.