From Melbourne we made our way towards the Great Ocean Road, which is a famous and beautiful coastal road in south east Australia. The Great Ocean Road is about 250km long and stretches between Geelong and Warrnambool. After that, we planned to drive into the Outback with Darwin as the final destination. On the way we also wanted to have a look at the Grampians National Park.
Our exact itinerary looked like this: Melbourne – Geelong – Torquay – Bells Beach – Lorne (Teddy Lookout) – Apollo Bay – Great Otway National Park / Mait Rest – Port Campbell National Park (Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge , The Grotto) – Warrnambool – Grampians National Park (Grand Canyon, Reed Lookout, Boroka Lookout, McKenzie Falls) – Murray River – Loxton – Berri – Morgan – Burra – Melrose – Port Augusta – Cooba Pedy – Marla – Uluru / Ayers Rock – Kata Tjuta / Olgas – Kings Canyon – Watarranka National Park – West MacDonnel Ranges (Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Simpsons Gap) – Alice Springs – Devils Marvels – Tennant Creek – Mataranka (Bitter Springs, Thermal Pools) – Katherine (Hot Springs) – Robin Falls – Litchfield National Park (Magnetic Termite Mounts, Florence Falls, Burley Rockhole, Tolmer Falls, Wangi Falls) – Berry Spings – Darwin
First, we stocked up on supplies at ALDI in Geelong and then took a shower in Torquay. We then stopped at the world-famous surf beach Bells Beach, where the final preparations for an upcoming Surf Cup were being made. Two viewing platforms were already set up. We followed the coast road and made our way to Lorne, where we had a great view from the Teddy Lookout. In the evening, we found a great camp spot nearby. The next morning we saw a beautiful sunrise over the ocean. Then we continued our journey, but we didn’t get far down the road when we spotted a koala in the trees sitting right above the road! Of course we had to stop and take a look – they are so cute!
Our journey led us along the coast to Apollo Bay, where we stopped for a break. Then we hit the road again. After Apollo Bay the landscape changed, we were suddenly surrounded by the rain forest of Otway National Park. At Mait’s Rest, we went for a short walk to explore the area. After that, we hopped back into the car and drove until we reached the Port Campbell National Park and its many attractions. The Port Campbell National Park is characteristic for its wave-sculpted rock formations. The most popular one is the Twelve Apostles, which we reached first. I took some pictures because the view was amazing!
It was a sunny and warm day, so we drove on to the next attraction: Loch Ard Gorge! This is a true dream beach surrounded by cliffs. It is a wonderful place where we enjoyed swimming. After we had refreshed ourselves, we kept following the coast and explored some more sandstone rock formations including “The Arch”, “London Bridge” and “The Grotto”. They were all very beautiful to look at. We finally reached Warrnambool, the end of the beautiful Great Ocean Road. By this time, the sun was going down. We drove a little bit longer and found a place to stay the night.
The next morning we reached the Grampians National Park, which is characterized by its rugged mountain ranges. Before entering the National Park, we stopped briefly at the Visitor Center in Dunkeld. After passing through Hall’s Gap, we arrived at our planned hike; the Grand Canyon Loop Walk. It was a small but beautiful short walk which took us through the middle of a canyon. Later, on the way to some lookouts, we saw one of my favourite animals again – an Echidna! We had already seen some in Tasmania! Unfortunately, it was a little too fast to take a good picture of it.
After enjoying the views from the Reed Lookout and the Boroka Lookout, we had a some lunch. Then we drove on to one of Victoria’s most beautiful waterfalls – McKenzie Falls. We reached the base of the falls by following a series of steep steps straight down. The descent was definitely worth it as the waterfall was very impressive! Unfortunately, swimming was not allowed there …
After a full day in the Grampians National Park, we kept driving until we found a place to camp for the night. The next morning we crossed the border into South Australia near Bordertown, where we saw some white kangaroos for the first time. From this point on, there were some large distances to cover as we were getting closer to the outback. Later that day we stopped at Murray River, the longest river in Australia, and passed Loxton, Berri, Morgan, Burra and Melrose. We got closer and closer to the Outback … that evening I saw my first Emu!
When we arrived in Port Augusta the next day, we refilled our supplies. We bought an additional 10L of water and started our trip with more than 25L of water in total. As we were leaving Port Augusta, I saw a road sign announcing the next towns along the highway. The following distances were written on the sign: Coober Pedy was more than 500km away and Alice Springs was more than 1200km away. Now it was time to drive, drive, drive, … After only a few kilometres, I realized that we were now in the desert. There was nothing to see for miles and miles around us except for a few small bushes and red sand. Directly after Port Augusta you can see some rock formations in the distance, but that’s about it. There were some large salt lakes which became a real highlight! We stopped occasionally to rest or swap seats. Every fifty to one hundred kilometres there was a rest area. If you were lucky, it offered a little bit of shade underneath a small carport. Some of the rest areas had a water tank for emergencies, but the water quality was not good enough for drinking. Some of the tanks were even empty. It was quite hot outside, so we preferred being inside (driving) and enjoying the air conditioning. The time had come to spent my first night in the outback – it was amazingly fresh at night. It was a great experience to be in the middle of nowhere … and in that moment a dream had finally come true for me!
The next morning we got up early and of course continued driving. We were able to see a lot of animals in the outback while driving in the morning and evening. That morning we saw many kangaroos, but also huge eagles and emus again! It was a perfect start to the day! We reached the desert town of Coober Pedy, where a lot of Opal mines are still in operation. This is really not a place where I would like to live … it was just too hot and too dry! Nevertheless, there was an outdoor drive-in cinema and a beautiful underground church. We refilled our drinking water and continued our journey. That day, we kept driving and driving. We passed Marla and reached Erlunda in the late evening. We had arrived at the turn off to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.
In the morning we stopped at a stopping bay offering a fantastic view of Mt. Connor (350m), which is often confounded with the Uluru / Ayers Rock. We had breakfast there and enjoyed the view. As soon as the sun rose, the temperature rose too. For the following days, the forecast said 36-39 degrees. After only a little bit of driving, we finally reached the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. We bought a National Parks Pass, which was valid for three days and started exploring the area right away. We could finally see Uluru / Ayers Rock! It was a fascinating view and an indescribable feeling when, after so many miles of desert, the magical red rock, the symbol of Australia, suddenly appears.
We decided to hike the Ayers Rock Base Walk, a 10km loop around Uluru / Ayers Rock. We started the hike on the shady side of the rock to avoid the sun as long as possible. Near the base of the rock there were some small trees growing and there was also a small water hole, which still had some water in it! In some places we also saw some aboriginal rock art. Our hike revealed that the rock has a number of crevices and caves. Unfortunately, not all are freely accessible, as they are sacred Aboriginal areas. Photographing is also not allowed in marked places. We were happy once we completed the circuit as it was getting really hot.
When we returned to the car, we realized that the Ayers Rock Climb was open. We knew that the Ayers Rock Climb was closed most of the year due to strong winds or hot temperatures. This Climb closes at temperatures above 36 degrees. However, we were lucky that the forecast the day was “only” 36 degrees and so the climb was open. In general, the Ayers Rock Climb is a very controversial topic as Uluru is a sacred Aboriginal site. In their belief, Uluru is only climbed by the Mala ancestors and is reserved for them alone. In November 2017, it was decided that the Ayers Rock Climb will be closed on 26/10/2019 forever. Before I arrived here, I had decided that I wanted to climb the Ayers Rock – it had always been a dream of mine! Now, however, I had come to this sacred site of the Aborigines and was confronted with the campaign “Please do not climb Uluru”. This put me in a serious conundrum. In addition, I could already feel my feet due to the 10km hike and the climb looked much steeper that I had imagined. There was only one chain to hold onto and I knew that many people have died doing the climb (mostly due to heart attack). So, there I was … It was a difficult decision! Finally, I prayed and decided to do the climb, as I would probably only be given this opportunity once in my life (“either today or never” as temperatures would rise in the following days). The climb was very demanding. It was just after lunchtime, the hottest time of the day, and the sun was burning. I had to concentrate a lot when climbing and push myself beyond my limits – vertigo is definitely not helpful here! Nevertheless, I mastered the steep piece with the support of my boyfriend and was finally able to enjoy the view from there. Due to the rising heat and my dwindling strength, I decided to descend. I have to say that I did not hike to the very top end of the Ayers Rock, but I climbed the steepest part and had a great view. After our descent we were both quite exhausted. In the evening we saw the sunset from the Uluru Sunset Viewing Area and drove to our camp spot. Unfortunately, my first (and so far only) sunstroke caught up with me that night. Maybe that was the penalty for the climb, which was still worth it! I am glad that I fulfilled another dream !!
The next morning we relaxed a bit. It was going to be pretty hot that day … 39 degrees! We tried to recover from the previous day. We visited the cultural centre in the National Park and spent most of our time in the shade, which was unfortunately very sparse. In the evening we saw the sunset with another amazing view of Uluru / Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta / the Olgas. The following day we got up early in the morning and watched the sunrise from the viewing area near the Olgas. We again had a great view of both attractions. After breakfast we explored the Olgas. We hiked the Valley of the Winds Walk in the morning as we knew the track would close at 11am due to the forecast temperature being 39 degrees. We had a fantastic view! We did another small hike and returned to Yulara to stock up on supplies, especially water. The temperatures outside had reached already 39 degrees so we decided to leave the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. We had a lovely three days there. We decided to head in the direction of Kings Canyon (driving = air conditioning). It is often said that the Kings Canyon is the Australian Grand Canyon, but I somehow don’t think so. It’s probably not comparable.
We arrived at Kings Canyon in the next morning and started hiking straight after breakfast. The first part of the track was quite steep, but after that it got better. We did the 6km Kings Canyon Serpentine Walk (Loop Walk) with a detour to the Garden of Eden, the green and blooming bottom of the gorge. It was an exciting and beautiful hike. The path sometimes led us directly along the edge of the canyon so we had some wonderful views! Overall, it was worth getting up early, as the temperatures were rising again. After our hike, we relaxed a bit and then hit the road again. Unfortunately, the paved road ended just after Kings Canyon and we had to do 150km on a really rough dirt road! This cost us a lot of time. On the way we saw some wild horses, but unfortunately no camels (despite the “careful camels” signs). Towards evening we finally got closer to the West MacDonnell Ranges and were back on a sealed road. We reached a lookout with an excellent view of Gosse Bluff, a meteor crater that was believed to have formed more than 140 million years ago when a meteor collided with Earth. The crater is roughly 20 km long and 5km deep.
Over the next two days (which was Easter) we explored the West MacDonnel Ranges, a very scenic mountain range with many gorges. First, we explored Glen Helen Gorge, then we drove on to Ormiston Gorge. Both gorges had water holes, which were ideal for swimming! Especially Ormiston Gorge was a nice place to stay. We relaxed on a sandy beach in the shade of the rocks and went swimming. Later, we explored the Ellery Creek Big Hole, another waterhole in the middle of a gorge, where we refreshed ourselves again. The next day we had a look at Simpsons Gap and kept driving to Alice Springs. In Alice Springs we stopped only briefly to refill our supplies and our petrol tank once again. Here, for the first time, I noticed a lot of the Aborigines. After a short stop in Alice Springs, we kept going. From here on, thousands of kilometers of road lay ahead of us … Towards evening, after many kilometers of nothing, the popular rock formations called Devils Marbles suddenly appeared right in front of us alongside the Stuart Highway. We went for a short walk, ate dinner and watched the sunset. Then we drove on to Tennant Creek.
The next day, we finally reached Mataranka after many hours of driving. In Mataranka we went swimming at Bitter Springs and Mataranka Thermal Pools! These are natural thermal springs that are over 30 degrees celcius. The water is crystal clear and rises from the ground. This was a very special outdoor bathing experience! We decided to stay here for one night.
After several more kilometres we reached Katherine, the biggest town since Alice Springs. I have to say that I did not really like this town, even though we swam here again in the Katherine Hot Springs. One day later, we went to Robin Falls – finally waterfalls again! Meanwhile, the landscape had changed significantly. Instead of endless outback landscape, we were getting closer to the tropical city of Darwin. Since it was April and we were just at the border from rainy season to the dry season, it was beautiful and green everywhere! Unfortunately, we also had to be crocwise again.
The next day we reached the beautiful Litchfield National Park. We were greeted by giant termite mounds, which seemed to be everywhere. Our first stop was Florence Falls, a beautiful twin waterfall where swimming was possible without the danger of crocodiles! We enjoyed it a lot and stayed here a bit longer. After a long lunch break, we went swimming at the next attraction, Buley Rockholes. Then, as usual in the rainy season, an afternoon storm was brewing. We still had enough time to explore the beautiful Tolmer Falls and Wangi Falls. Wangi Falls were still closed for swimming due to the risk of crocodiles being present. We had a look at the waterfalls and then went back to the car. As we arrived it started to rain, luckily only a little bit.
The next day was my birthday! We stopped at Berry Springs, which were unfortunately still closed for swimming due to crocodiles. Nevertheless, it was worth having a look at the springs. After a bit of driving, we reached our destination – the tropical city of Darwin! We were lucky enough to find a boutique market in the Smith Street Mall. There were various food stalls and to celebrate my birthday we treated ourselves to a Pad Thai and a fruity smoothie. We ended the evening with a beer and cocktail at a local bar. In the coming days and weeks we explored Darwin, more on this in the next post.
My TOP 10 Highlights between Melbourne, Alice Springs and Darwin:
- Great Ocean Road
- Grampians National Park
- Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park
- Kings Canyon
- West MacDonnel Ranges
- Mataranka Thermal Pool and Bitter Springs
- Katherine Hot Springs
- Litchfield National Park
- Berry Springs