The Great Ocean Road

Odometer: 30,816km

Overnight stays: Aireys Inlet Private Acres, Aireys Inlet (2 nights); Wonky Stables Holiday Park, Forrest (3 nights)

Our introduction to Victoria was frustrating. Crappy roads, stacks of slowing for necessary roadworks, and a total of six hours to travel a measly 400km in an arvo.

But when we eventually rolled into Airys Inlet, to our private campsite with our friends, the Percies, all was good in the world again.

Reconnecting with the Percies

We first met Scott, Heidi, Eden (4) and Jack (2) on Stradbroke Island earlier this year, and hit it off almost immediately. From there we caught up with them again in Noosa, the place they enviously call home, and now they were travelling through to Tassie, so we were able to swing another rendezvous.

After seven months apart the kids were back at it immediately, like a house on fire, as were us adults, sharing stories, insanity burgers, and a few cheeky glasses of McLaren Vale Tawny.

Torquay

The following morning we convoyed into Torquay for a wander around and cracking lunch, while the kids collected more sandpit sand than a Venician glassmaker. Torquay is the home of Rip Curl, and by default, Australian surfing, so Scott and Heidi, being the keen surfers they are, were in their element, soaking in the history and vibe of the town also famous for its’ proximity to the pretty Bells Beach.

The surf was pretty calm so there were no surfers around, but with the wind starting to pick up it felt like the mythical 50-year Point Break storm could arrive any minute.

Surprising the Stroms

Loz’s parents, Deb and Stu, whom we had planned to travel with post Percy, were only a stone’s throw away, in Geelong, so we split with the Percy’s for the arvo and surprised the Stroms, after several months apart.

Needless to say they were excited to see the three of us, especially the final and smallest point in our triangle, who seemingly has grown up quite a lot since February.

Starting the Strombatical

Bidding farewell to the Percies the following morning, Deb and Stu came to meet us, now together heading west on the Great Ocean Road, for the beginning of the Strombatical Downunder.

Bells Beach was absolutely massive, only 24 hours after sitting stiller than a flat-earther’s misguided beliefs, I reckon around 12ft; only challenged by the brave and insane following Suazey and Reeves’ boardlines.

Sweet-tooth (Loz has since nicknamed her ‘Spoons’) Deb has an eye for ice cream, so didn’t miss the sign to the nearby chocolaterie, where we watched chocolate churn through a complex convoy, and inhaled some of the silkiest and succulent ice cream on earth.

Split Point Lighthouse offered a nice view before our energy focussed on finding somewhere to settle for the night.

Finding a free camp fail

While our friends the Clohesies, whom we met on the road were celebrating their horse Extra Brut’s magnificent Derby win, the Strombatical tension was rising when we pulled into our desired free camp, filled to the seams. It was effectively an extra long weekend in Victoria as the unions somehow swung an annual public holiday for Melbourne Cup each year. It seemed this meant plenty of Melbournians escaped the city for the weekend, and naturally filled campsites and caravan parks covering one of the most popular destinations in Australia, The Great Ocean Road (GOR). Hmmm.

We didn’t have a plan B at this point, and with four cooks in the kitchen we were getting nowhere, fast.

Eventually Loz took charge and got us back on the GOR, bound for a hinterland hideaway called Wonky Stables in Forrest. Compared to the exhorbinently priced parks on the coast, this relaxed retreat was beautiful, tucked away in the hills, ideal for a base for a few days.

The bogging

With powered sites booked out we were forced into the unpowered overflow area, given free roam over where we wanted to park in a pretty large area. Most punters were locked in on the bottom side of the ridge, next to the small forest, leaving a large opening on top of the ridge looking ripe for the Strombatical to settle.

Like a bull at a gate we roared in, over the ridge, headed for the nice looking corner spot. Everything was going well, albeit a little damp underwheel, until I started to feel the WomBatmobile sinking, sinking, sunk. Oh damn. We had failed to check the ground cover, and it had become bleedingly obvious we had driven straight into a mud trap, with our rear wheels now only semi-visible. We were proper stuck, spinning the wheels while fellow campers looked on with empathetic yet embarrassing eyes.

Every fairytale needs a hero and ours arrived just in time, with a brand new Land Cruiser, excited to put it to use. He pulled our 4.5 tonne sunken brick out with ease until we had enough momentum to accelerate solo, now opting for a dryer part on the cusp of the ridge. For a family who have travelled for almost a year in this vehicle, we looked like absolute amateurs, inner-city Melbournians who had hired a home for the long weekend, only to get stuck on our first night. Oh well ๐Ÿ˜”.

GORgeous driving

It was Stu’s sixty-ninth birthday the following day, and with the weather forecast to come in hard in the coming days, we agreed that there was no day like the present to check out the famed Great Ocean Road.

Falling in love, again

First stop, staying high, was Erskine Falls. We hit waterfalls hard early on the Wombatical, and fell (get it?) a bit out of love with them after being spoiled for choice, size, and ability to swim under them in northern Australia. But I was keen again, so managed to drag everyone else along. These falls were marginally impressive from the top, but down the 300 or so stairs, were pretty stunning, restoring some faith that we could still see beauty in water.

Next we settled for a cuppa at Teddy’s Lookout, which was a great spot with an endless outlook over the ocean, and the winding GOR in the immediate foreground below.

Lorne

I love Lorne. When Loz and I first visited it last year briefly, we agreed we’d love to spend some serious time there on our trip this year. Turns out time and timing were against us on this account, so we had to settle for an hour or so passing through.

It reminds me a bit of Byron, with lots of cafes and restaurants, nice beaches, and a young bustling vibe. We will 100% come back to Lorne, perhaps next time for a weekend or so.

Cape Otway

Not knowing exactly what to expect, we arrived at Cape Otway Lighthouse to a packed carpark and no light house in view. Given we’d visited a thousand lighthouses and they were charging $20pp to see it, we assumed it would be a waste of our hard-earned, so instead found a spot on the side of the road for lunch to eat uncomfortably with thousands of flies.

Oceans on the left and mountains on the right, GOR driving was beautiful, as we passed stacks of spots that would take weeks to see them all. It was also a luxury being a passenger on this famous drive, as we had all piled into the StromBatmobile Prado of Loz’s parents, giving me pole position for pretty views.

The Twelve Apostles

Deb mentioned that her parents travelled the GOR many years ago and returned with photos of twelve clearly visible apostles (whatever ‘apostle’ means). Those days are long gone, as winds and water have eroded them to just-visible remains.

But what is left is beautiful, stunning. It reminded us a bit of the Nullarbor cliffs, but with giant rock natural statues petrifying from the ocean depths.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones who had heard of these rocks, as we wound through the biggest crowds we have seen in the entire country, even busier than Blackhall ๐Ÿ˜œ.

It’s a long way to the shop if you wanna rock

Further along the coast we stopped seemingly every seven-hundred metres, to a different yet impressive rock or formation, including Loch Ard Gorge, The Razorback, The Arch, London Arch, The Grotto and Bay of Islands. It was one of those days where you drive all day and feel like you’ve gone five hundred miles, but realise you’ve actually gone the equivalent to the corner shop and back for $10 worth of hot chips; except you stop on every corner to buy a piece of watermelon, lemonade, and a bag of chook poo. Every stop was well worth it, and although it was a massive day looking at a bunch of rocks, it was an absolute ripper, another for the memory bank (unless they somehow drag memory banks into the Royal Commission).

The drive back to Forrest, on empty country roads, through dairy farms, mountains and spectacular scenery topped the day off wonderfully.

We were all totally exhausted by the time we got home that we decided to add another night to our bookings we could chill the following day.

Chilling discovery

My version of chill is remarkably different from many. Most people would associate chill with reading a book, floating on the water, or watching Netflix and seeing where things go. But I was lucky enough to convince everyone for a few hours of ‘Davo chill’ the following morning, dragging us on the waterfall route in Otway National Park.

We looped around to some ripping falls, most of which required walking somewhere between a hundred metres and four kilometres to reach, to the impressively scattered Stevenson Falls, beautiful Beauchamp Falls, and hard to access Hopetoun Falls.

Prior to visiting the area we were completely unaware these falls actually existed. But they are a wonderful addition to the already impressive GOR, and a great way to mix things up in one of the most popular places in this diverse land we call home.

SA summary

Stats

Distance: 4,358km

Overnight stays: 26 nights

Overnight destinations: 21

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Average stay: 1.2 nights

Average daily distance: 168km

Distance from home: 1,190km (13hrs)

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Song: Puttin’ on the Ritz – Taco

Highlights

Best park: Discovery Parks – Streaky Bay Foreshore, Streaky Bay, Eyre Peninsula

Runner up: BIG4 Adelaide Shores Caravan Park, West Beach, Adelaide

Best campsite: Mikkira Station Campground, Sleaford, Eyre Peninsula

Runner up: Hill View Farm Stay, Mount Torrens, Adelaide Hills

Prettiest beach: Vivonne Bay, Kangaroo Island

Runner up: 2-way tie –

  • Western River Bay, Kangaroo Island
  • Pennington Bay, Kangaroo Island

Best sunset:ย West Beach, Adelaide

Runner up: Trezona Campground, Flinders Ranges National Park, Outback SA

Best activity: Swimming with sea lions, Hopkins Island, Eyre Peninsula

Runner up: 4WD Ridgetop Tour, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Outback SA

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Best hike: Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty, Cleland Conservation Park, Adelaide

Runner up: Alligator Gorge, Mount Remarkable National Park, Outback SA

Best National Park: Flinders Ranges National Park, Outback SA

Runner up:ย Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island

Biggest fail:ย Getting bogged & taking up the entire road, Cape Borda, Kangaroo Island

Runner up: 2-way tie –ย 

  • Loz playing with fire, Mikkira Station Campground, Eyre Peninsula
  • Loz accidentally booking 20 nights accomodation (instead of 1), costing >$300, American River Campground, Kangaroo Island

Best town/suburb/city: Adelaide

Runner up: Port Lincoln, Eyre Peninsula

Best wine region: Barossa Valley

Runner up: McLaren Vale

Best winery: Langmeil, Barossa Valley

Runner up: Bremerton, Langhorne Creek

SA wineries

Odometer: 30,076km

Overnight stays: Greenock Centenary Park, Greenock; McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park, McLaren Vale; Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park, Comaum

South Australia is the undisputed home of Australian wine. There are more wine regions than fossil fuel power plants (fact), and all of the country’s biggest names in wine are there. Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Jacobs Creek etc.

But it wasn’t these big boys we were after – we were chasing quality gems, and with dad’s expert pallette providing remote recommendations on top of some already known rippers, we were pretty excited to check out the big regions, having had such a wonderful experience in Margaret River.

Clare Valley

Before we arrived in Clare we passed through some beautiful little towns like Melrose and Gladstone, where the local Fair brought everyone out and about with bubbles, jumping castles, food stalls and an animal farm. Who knew The Lions Club could do doughnuts so well?

Our first winery visit was Sevenhill, set on stunning grounds with a beautiful stone church, and plenty of room to picnic and kick a footy. The service was outstandingly personable but the wines were a little lacking, with our taste buds slightly soured after expecting world-class Riesling, but getting just mediocre.

Kilikanoon

Kilikanoon, on the other hand, were ridiculously good. We didn’t taste a bad wine, and when we tasted their recently awarded ‘Best Shiraz in the World’ (or some ridiculous claim like that), we were convinced we wanted to buy everything. I reckon it’s one of the best tastes of red wine I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t have picked it, with a Clare’s reputation dominated by white.

Looking back, buying a bottle of this Shiryaz was a turning point for us. Prior to that, we were okay with one, maximum two bottles per winery, and we were after everyday drinking wines, that we would open along the way. It was clear we weren’t buying wines to cellar, until now.

As we walked out with a box full of wine, and a bank account in a hurry, this was the beginning of our new approach to buying wine on the Wombatical. We have barely opened a bottle all year, and had about 20 bottles in the back of the WomBatmobile from Margs, so buying for now clearly wasn’t required.

So from hereon-in, we were only looking for wines to keep under the house, or for 2014 vintage bangers in oversized formats, for Liv’s 21st.

Barossa Valley

Greenock

It was pretty late in the day when we arrived into the tiny town of Greenock. But in an instant we were in love with the charm and character oozing from the handful of streets.

There’s a pub, cafe and a recently installed brewery that we patroned on dusk, where it seemed the entire town also wound down the day. The husband and wife owners were more hospitable than a hot water bottle on a cold night, and could cook a sausage platter better than anyone. And their beer was pretty great too.

We passed the following morning with a beautifully brewed coffee at the only cafe in town, before getting stuck into some serious wine tasting for the remainder of the day.

Seppeltsfield

The Seppeltsfield carpark was almost full when we arrived on opening hours, almost like Pitt Street Myer on Boxing Day. The massive grounds with more business ventures than an aggressive venture capitalist told an early story that this business has too many products and not enough focus. And when we hit the tasting room we found the same with their wines – trying to do too much at the cost of quality. So, despite the beautiful spacious grounds with segues, bikes, cafes, restaurants and who knows what else, we left a little disheartened that perhaps The Barossa was too commercial for us.

Turkey Flat & Rockford

Back on the boutique wagon, we found plenty of hits and misses at both Turkey Flat and Rockford, offering plenty of opportunities to blow our single bottle purchase rule again out the window. Surprisingly, we were buying wines we didn’t expect to, such as Grenache and Pedro Ximinez, adding to our now completely indulgent and over-stocked under-the-backseat makeshift cellar.

Langmeil

As we left Rockford, ready to exit The Barossa, the lovely sales lady recommended one more stop, at Langmeil. I had tried one or two of their products way back when I was working in wine, but have to say they were pretty unmemorable at the time. But we were having fun being back in wine country, so figured we had time for one more.

This is for me the best winery in Australia. We not only liked, but absolutely adored every single one of their wines, from Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, and through to Tawny, everything was so elegantly and beautifully made, just to our palettes.

So without hesitation, but knowing full well we already had too much wine (and more wine coming from the wine club we joined in Margs), we joined the wine club then and there. I felt like we didn’t have a choice, their wines were that bloody good.

And as we left on a massive high, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – I had never felt so good about joining a club, and am so excited for the wines to arrive every few months.

Maggie’s Farm

Loz’s mum, like many from her generation, have a huge crush on Maggie Beer, and idolise her cooking. She recommended we check out her shop in The Barossa, for a unique experience and top quality products.

As soon as we entered, still on a Langmeil high, we were sold. The buzz was electric, with punters everywhere wandering around tasting all the products on offer, and filling their baskets quicker than a coal-loader fills Christmas stockings for stubborn parents’ whose kids call their December bluff.

It felt like we bought about one of everything, and it was all top shelf. Some of it we opened then and there for a quasi picnic lunch overlooking the duck and turtle filled pond.

Just as our entire South Australian leg felt, we rushed through The Barossa, and would have loved to spend a hell of a lot more time there. It’s definitely a place we want to return to, to check out more wineries, breweries, shops, towns and of course, Langmeil.

McLaren Vale

By this point of the trip we had blown our non-existent wine budget out of the water, and had more booze onboard than John Bonham. But we figured there wasn’t going to be many opportunities like this year, where we could visit all our favourite wine regions in one trip, and buy enough wine (and join wine clubs) to last a lifetime, so figured we were in the deep, why not keep digging?!

Yarraglen, on the way into town, was a bit hit and miss, although their Shiraz was a banger.

The drive into McLaren Vale was beautiful. It’s a tiny wine region, so super saturated with vines in a small area, which provides a super setting for the cute little in-town caravan park, where we settled in for the night.

Rodney the Redeemer

When I was setting up the motorhome, a bloke celebrating Happy Hour nearby asked how I was going, to which I replied that we were having a few electrical issues inside the van. Without thinking, he immediately nominated his travel buddy, Rodney, a sparky, to have a gander.

And so he did, Rodney entered the van, pretty drunk from a day’s tasting, but all the while willing to help, and he diagnosed our issues, even able to fix one particular one. What a legend, and a testament to some of the people you meet on the road. They then invited us over to join them for Happy Hour, of which we happily obliged, knowing full well these sorts of invitations are rare.

The show must go on

Wineries are so beautiful. They’re obviously set in stunning locations, surrounded by vines, but the buildings are also always so nice. Wirra Wirra, Chapel Hill and Samuel’s Gorge were no exception to this, and with some ripper wines offered between them, we were in a pretty good place when the morning came to an end. Along the way we had collected even more vino, and one novelty-sized 2014 Chapel Hill Shiraz/Cabernet for Liv’s 21st, an absolute banger of a wine.

d’Arenburg

d’Arengburg would have to be McLaren Vale’s most famous winery, and I reckon they’d produce about half of the product that comes out of this beautiful region.

Apparently their owner is a bit eccentric, and decided a while back that he wanted to do something beyond just the wine. And so came along The Cube.

Towering four stories above the surrounding vines, with weird chanting sounds pulsating through oversized outdoor speakers, we were immediately reminded of MONA in Hobart, which we absolutely loved. This wasn’t about the world famous d’Arenburg wines, this was a multi-sensory stimulating experience.

We paid our entrance fee and were asked to keep an open mind as we entered to a room covered in fake flowers and fruit, with sniff jars lining the walls, offering spray sniffs to anyone interested. Livvy absolutely loved this, and even more so when we passed into the next room playing a 360′ video of complete nonsensical mystery, completely captivating.

Into the lift to the top floor and you could see pretty much the entire McLaren Vale with 360′ views on offer while tasting your pick of way too many wines. By this stage we were pretty much done with wine tasting, but equally fascinated by this weird and wonderful oddity.

Not to be outdone, a visit to the toilets is an experience in itself in The Cube, with comical cubicles and forest-covered doors. Even the fire escapes were a ‘thing’, tripping you out with all sorts of colours and mirrors. I reckon an actual fire in that building would cause chaos!

We were totally shagged and as we wound down towards the south of the south towards Kangaroo Island, we agreed we were probably done for wineries now. At least that’s what we thought.

Bremerton Wines

I remember years ago, when I was working in wine and basically getting an endless supply of premium stuff for free, smashing through a carton of Bremerton Cabernet like it was going out of fashion. It was a super premium wine, but I must have paid a pittance for it, because we were drinking it quicker than Mark Latham changes political parties. It was absolutely delicious, so, knowing we wouldn’t be passing through Langhorne Creek again anytime soon, I convinced Loz that maybe we could manage one or two more tastings on the Wombatical.

Just as I remembered, the wines were top shelf. So good that we again joined a wine club, oh dear, that’s three now. But we had always said, that if we loved every wine on offer, we obviously loved the winemaker, so should join the wine club. Again, I can’t wait to to get a box of wine delivered every few months, and now we would have a great variety from different regions.

Coonawarra

Loz was completely done with wineries by the time we arrived at Coonawarra, and understandably so, given we’d been to I reckon close to 20 in the past fortnight. But she is lovely enough to tag along, with the little legend Liv, who has been an understated trooper through our entire winery trail, while I assured this to be our last wine region of the trip, at least for SA ๐Ÿ˜œ.

We found an awesome caravan park just out of town, right next to vineyards, where firewood was hand delivered and the atmosphere was awesome. Knowing it was our final night in SA, we embraced it for all it was, and reflected on the surprising state that had blown away our past month or so.

Knowing we had some distance to cover, we got on the winery wagon early the following morning, visiting the disappointing Brands Laira and excellent Wynns, before finally calling time.

Wining up

To be honest we don’t really drink much alcohol these days. When we worked in wine it wasn’t uncommon to open a bottle every night or so, but over the years that’s wound right down to a glass here or bottle there. This year especially we have probably drunk less than usual as well, especially wine.

But knowing we love good wine and it holds well if treated well, we had so so much fun driving around the beautiful wine regions of South Australia. It is unquestionably the home of Aussie vino, and we are stoked to come home with amazing physical representations of our time there.

As we checked out the impressive Blue Lake and Umpherston Sinkhole in Mount Gambier we tried to mentally count all the wineries we had visited, bottles bought, and dollars spent. But reflecting on it, it’s not about that, it’s really about the amazing times we had doing an activity we value – and we’re hoping those memories and stories flood back to us every time we receive a box of wine on our front door.

Fleurieu Peninsula

Odometer: 29,676km

Overnight stays: Rapid Bay Campground, Rapid Bay; Hindmarsh Island Caravan Park, Hindmarsh Island

As darkness fell on the ferry from The Roo, we wound our way through unknown roads, with all our faith in Google, bound for Rapid Bay, a place recommended by a former travelling family’s blog. Loz had her roo-spotting eyes on maximum concentration, with night driving a foreign concept to The WomBatmobile, but, despite almost knocking off a cow, we made it into the shadows of the campground, pulling in wherever was convenient, knowing nothing of our surroundings.

Rapid Bay

It wasn’t until morning that we realised we had picked an absolute beauty of a spot, right on the water of the pretty protected bay, apparently swifter than its’ opponents.

I dusted months of cobwebs and dust off the fishing rod and wandered down to the sleepy town’s jetty, while the girls played in the sunshine. The lack of beach weather since Cape Range had pretty much turned me off fishing, but the weather here was spot on and conditions, calm. I returned with nothing but nice memories of a gentle nibble and dolphin spotting – not a terrible way to pass an hour really.

With time sadly against us, we moved on for a cuppa at the neighbouring cute town of Second Bay (obviously not as quick as Rapid Bay, but not far off), before venturing through the fantastic Victor Harbour for a bit of shopping and reality checks.

The ending dream

With only about six weeks left we at this point started to find normal life realities starting to creep into our sabbatical. We are starting to make contact with real estate, work, utilities and real life all too quickly. But I guess that’s what semi-retirement is about, with the operative word being ‘semi’ ๐Ÿ˜”.

The Coorong

When we were in Tamworth at the beginning of the trip, dad made one single recommendation for the entire country, and that was to canoe the Coorong. At that stage I had no idea what The Coorong was, but I plotted it as a place of interest on our map, assuming I’d do a bit more research down the line.

That moment came as we cruised towards the town of Goolwa, and I did a bit of Googling to see what this canoeing business was all about. Turns out it’s a dude who runs a variety of canoe tours along the Coorong Wetlands, which is where the Murray River runs into the Southern Ocean.

He runs sunset tours on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Today was a Tuesday, and we were only around for a night, so it looked at that point like we were going to miss the single thing dad recommended.

But I had significantly underestimated South Australians. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but South Aussies are the friendliest people in the world.

I rang the number on the website, to which a fella who was out fishing somewhere happily answered. When I questioned the days he runs tours, thought for a small moment, and then, because he is an SA legend, said, “argh bugger it, it’s a nice day, let’s do it!”. You little ripper. We were booked in that evening for a private paddle on The Coorong, which we later found out is one of the most significant wetlands in the world.

Canoeing The Coorong

You couldn’t ask for a more relaxed and helpful tour guide than Brenton, the bloke to runs the canoeing business. He helped us into the vessels promptly and we were on the water in no time, paddling across the calm Coorong towards the sand dunes on the other side. Being keener on fishing than a Monkey Mia dolphin, he threw a trawling line in en-route, boasting that he bagged a dozen or so salmon the day prior. And low and behold, he was on within minutes, kindly letting Liv reel in her first fish for months, adding Australian Salmon to her trophy cabinet.

As we crossed the mouth of the Murray, the only place where it meets the ocean, we spotted egrets, pelicans, dredges, and even a seal sitting on the sand, while Brenton passionately taught us about the significance and history of this body of water.

When pulled up on the beach, with the sun starting to magnetise to the edge of the world, Brenton pulled out a bocce set for us to entertain ourselves while he setup a private picnic in the sand dunes. Cheese, fruit and wine in private isolation – not a bad way to run the clock down really.

Back on the canoes, now with the the daylight aggressively diminishing, we watched an absolute banger of a sunset in the middle of The Coorong, which is an incredibly memorable experience.

Flying through Fleurieu

We would’ve loved to have spent longer in the Peninsula, but with such little time left, some prior commitments made, and so many things left to see, we moved on, through the beautiful countryside, past pink lakes (we still reckon they’re pretty shit, unless you’re looking at them from a jet pack), towards Coonawarra, for our final night in Australia’s most underrated state.

Kangaroo Island

Odometer: 29,364km

Overnight stays: American River Camping Ground, American River; Emu Bay Camp Site, Emu Bay; Rocky River Campground, Flinders Chase National Park

We changed our mind about visiting Kangaroo Island more often than Pauline Hanson on corporate tax cuts. I was always keen to see what it might offer, but for everything we could find out about it, nothing seemed that great, especially given the extraordinary cost of taking the ferry across. The deciding moment for us was when our friend Dan Nimmo, whom we met for about 10 minutes in Carnarvon Gorge, recommended it as a unique and great place, from his memory of their visit about five years ago.

So we bit the bullet and booked our ticket across from Cape Jervis, and raced down on the gorgeous drive from McLaren Vale, where farmland meets the ocean, supporting emus, roos, endless hills and spectacular cliffs. The one thing we noticed was that the further south we travelled, the wilder and untouched it became – perfect.

We promptly boarded the 6pm ferry and took the WomBatmobile on her second car ferry, bound for a The Roo.

Arriving

The dusk drive to American River was a ripper. The road was paralleled by tall gums meeting in the middle, and the fading sunlight was peeking through the branches, giving us the feeling we were in a tunnel with strobe lights.

Another day, another echidna scurrying across the road for its life, knowing full well it’s the underdog against a 4.5 tonne Talvor Murana. From this moment I think we pretty much knew we were going to like The Roo. And the campsite, calm and quiet on the water was pretty good too, for a pittance.

Kingscote

Eager to see what all the fuss is about, we set off the next morning towards the island’s capital, Kingscote. This tiny town gave us an early indication of just how small and quiet KI is. I reckon I could’ve counted the amount of people floating around town on two hands, as I sat sipping my coffee while the girls looked for shops. I reckon I’ve been to primary school soccer games that have more people present than Kingscote.

We discovered that the island’s Fair was in town that day, so made our way to the oval for a relaxed morning watching horses, motorbikes, prized hens, and cake stalls.

Emu Bay

The one thing we couldn’t quite come to terms with the entire time we were on the island, was the complete lack of people there were around. Loz joked numerous times how kind it was of the island to open up for us. But that’s honestly what it felt like. And when we pulled into Emu Bay, it was no exception. There was one single tent at the campsite, and us, who took advantage of a site looking out over the pretty ocean.

We reckon it must have been a reasonably quiet time to visit the island, but also noticed a lack of caravans and Stromatolites. In fact, we only spotted one single caravan the entire time we were there. We suspect the fact that because the ferry charges based on length of vehicle, it turns caravanners away in waves. It suited us motorhomers perfectly, costing not much more than a car.

The quietness lent itself perfectly to a chilled arvo and a nice long walk along the beach.

South Australia has already delivered some of the best sunsets of the trip to-date, and the one at Emu Bay that disturbed us while we were knocking down dinner outside, was no exception to the state’s remarkable colourful dusk talent.

Exploring the north

The following morning we decided to scour the remainder of The Roo’s north, which I think was the moment we went from liking KI, to loving it.

Western River Bay

The stunning descent into Western River Bay, over rolling green hills, admiring the sparkling turquoise ocean, is one of those brain photos you never hope to lose. And on arrival we again found ourselves the only ones around, with a cuppa on the cliff edge, overlooking the beautiful beach and rockpool, this was one of those special moments you hope for, but seldom get.

Snelling Beach

Snelling was another cracker, with unimaginable views surprising us as we popped over a hill, and rolled down into the bay, again, with no one around. We thought visiting KI was a thing, but it seemed one of SA’s best kept (or most expensive) secrets at this point.

Stokes Bay

King George Beach was forgettable, as was the main rocky beach at Stokes Bay. But, the not-so-secret beach, accessible only to people no larger than me, through rock tunnels and cavities, was a ripper. And here we saw some signs of civilisation, including sea gulls bigger than 2018 house prices drops.

We didn’t vibe the intended campsite there for the night, so continued our journey towards the north-western end of the island, bound for Borda Lighthouse.

Borda bogging

Kangaroo Island has one main ‘highway’ loop road that is sealed. It gets you between the ‘major’ towns on the island and some attractions, but if you want to explore a bit more, as we usually do, you need to be prepared for gravel roads. We kind of have a ‘no gravel’ rule, but we’re willing to make an exception on The Roo, knowing it was a small island, and a couple we met before boarding said we’d be able to take the WomBatmobile anywhere on the island without any trouble.

Turns out they weren’t completely right.

The dirt road to Borda Lighthouse would be one of the longer roads on the island, and is an in/out to the top end of Flinders Chase National Park. Given the gravel we had been on to-date was great, our confidence was high, and the 30-odd kilometres each-way should be a walk in the park.

We were wrong.

The first 25km were a breeze, stock-standard solid gravel, giving you a false sense of security of what was to come. As the road hastily worsened, we slowed, and slowed, and slowed, until we were riding the corrugation slower than a snail.

It was a tough situation. We were so close to the lighthouse, for all we know, which could have the best views in the world, yet, at 6km/h we weren’t going to get there and back before dark. So we made the tough decision to turn around.

The road was barely wide enough to swing a cat, but with no traffic around I wasn’t too concerned on a three or four point turn, knowing we wouldn’t be holding anyone up. But the road was sandy, like super sandy. And we didn’t really noticed this fact until we stopped, an 8m long motorhome stopped across the road, completely covering both sides of the track.

Going in for my reverse leg of the second point of the turn, I realised I was accelerating to no avail. We were bogged, and were taking up the entire road, like a fish too big for its tank. Shit.

Thankfully we were onto it quickly enough and dug our tyres out of trouble, enough to get the wheels moving again, for the final point turn, and returning on the same deceitful road we had now come to despise. With no one around (apart from the odd goanna), I have no idea what we would’ve done if we couldn’t dig our way out ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿผโ€โ™‚๏ธ. At least our home is also our car.

Flinders Chase National Park

Remarkable Rocks

The drive into Remarkable Rocks the next morning was another absolute beauty. And the rocks themselves, shaped over the past 500 million years or so were pretty impressive, with some perfectly formed ‘laxing’ chairs (as Liv calls them) sprawled throughout. The red rocks also reminded us of The Bay of Fires in Tassie.

Admirals Arch

Like most of the places we visit, we know very little about them prior to arrival, preferring the ‘wing it’ approach that has failed to fail us thus far. Admirals Arch was no exception, and when we rocked up and admired the scores of seals lazing and playing in the waters below, we became fixated.

When we descended almost into the actual Admirals Arch, watching the seal pups play in the naturally protected pool was pretty addictive. The seals were definitely the highlight, leaving the actual attraction of the arch to play second fiddle.

Scouring the south

Hanson Bay

Reasonably recently, someone built a 6-star resort on Hanson Bay. As one would expect, punters like us don’t get much of a look in, but the beach at Hanson Bay is another beauty.

But one thing we noticed about the south, was the winds. While the north was calm and still, the whirling winds seemed to come from the south, cooling the temp a few degrees and white-capping the otherwise pristine water.

Vivonne Bay

I think the view we had for lunch looking across Vivonne Bay was one of our all-time favourites. Again, we were alone, parking up at one end of the bay, looking back across the gentle white caps splashing the bay waters, very very easy on the eyes.

Little Sahara

Our first sand-boarding experience was in south-west WA, and we had one hell of a time, so were pretty pumped to hit The Roo’s dunes with Liv’s boogie board in-tow.

The experience was totally different, and when we wandered into the dunes we realised why it’s called Little Sahara, offering nothing but sand dunes for as far as the eyes allow. No water, and very little vegetation.

Sadly the sand dunes weren’t as steep as those in WA, so our little boogie board didn’t slide so smoothly. We did manage to find one small hill with enough slope to slide, which was a hell of a lot of fun in the glorious weather KI was putting on for us.

D’Estrees Bay

The advice we were given was that KI would likely take longer than we anticipated, but we were making extraordinarily good time, and weren’t in a hurry by any means. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry on the way to D’Estrees Bay when we found ourselves at tortoise-pace behind a full flock of sheep and their farmer, sprawling the entire width of the road for a number of kilometres. The farmer clearly either wasn’t used to tourists in the area or had little regard for them, as he showed no signs of urgency or apology. But we didn’t mind, and we laughed at how Australian this moment was – on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, stuck in ‘traffic’ of the merino variety.

D’Estrees Bay itself was pretty ugly, and had the drive in itself not been beautiful countryside, we would’ve been disappointed. Despite some incredible looking freecamp options with beach frontage, there was stacks of seaweed on the sand, smelling worse than an isolated traveller who runs out of deodorant, so we shifted on.

Pennington Bay

We had almost ‘done’ Kangaroo Island in three days, which became a realisation when we had daylight to spare as we pulled in to check out Pennington Bay. It was another beauty, and the perfect place to finish our Roo, two nights earlier than expected.

Calling time

The ferry had room for us that night, so rather than stick around for a couple more days, we agreed we’d seen all we came for, and wouldn’t leave disappointed.

The Roo really is a unique place, one difficult to describe. We had been given the advice to just check it out for ourselves, which although it sounds like a cop out, is 100% on the money. The drives, beaches, wildlife, and natural formations made our trip worthwhile, giving KI ‘a heart’, as Liv likes to encourage us to do when she likes a place.

Adelaide

Odometer: 28,780km

Overnight stays: BIG4 Adelaide Shores Caravan Park, West Beach (3 nights); Hill View Farm Stay, Mount Torrens

I first visited Adelaide only last year, with dad, for a couple of days of The Ashes Day/Might Test Match, back when Australia didn’t cheat, and could actually play cricket. I must say that, despite the glorious Adelaide Oval putting on a spectacle, I wasn’t blown away with the city itself. Rundle Mall was quiet, as was Glenelg Beach.

But, I was ready to give it another chance, and given Loz and Liv hadn’t been, we figured we should at least visit all the capitals on an around the country trip (except maybe Canberra, but who knows?).

Chinatown

We were scurrying from a beautiful day in the Barossa, to make it in time to our caravan park at West Beach for a quick setup and then trek into Chinatown to meet our friends Cam, Georgina and their little freshie, Jackson, for a cheap and dirty feed. It was great to catch up, and to be able to swing our visit with them happening to be in town for the weekend was ideal.

West Beach

Like all major cities, the caravan parks are miles from town in Adelaide. But the park at West Beach looked the goods, with plenty of facilities and public transport options to Glenelg and the city. We had been on the move for several days so were keen to settle for a few days and catch our breath.

The caravan park was excellent, especially as we requested the site right next to the jumping pillow, giving Liv (and me) plenty of opportunity to bounce like a mofo. It also had a waterpark for Liv to have a run around in.

Being right on the beach, it also connected onto a 70km stretch of bike/walking path, which to be honest, we under-utilised, but Loz went for a couple of runs along it (not the entire 140km round-trip – she’s good, but not that good), and raved about it.

The beach itself was prettyish but reasonably unmemorable, with the exception of possibly the best ocean sunset we’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Our time spent lazing, washing, reading, and playing at the caravan park was just what we needed to refresh and hit the road again for more adventure.

Glenelg

Despite the lack of crowds when I first visited Glenelg via tram in 2017, I really enjoyed the look and feel of the place, so I was keen to take the girls there and show them what the Surry Hills or St Kilda of Adelaide was like.

It was buzzing! There were people everywhere; street performers, fitness fanatics, fishers, swimmers, shoppers and just wanderers like us. We couldn’t get enough of this suburb, and reckon if we were ever to reside in The Laide, Glenelg is where you’d find us.

Adelaide city

On the tram in from Glenelg we noticed how flat Adelaide is, like flatter than Michael Clarke’s commentary, which thankfully we don’t have to deal with this summer. And the homes are beautiful, made in a magical age with sandstone and love.

Rundle Mall

With our Adelaide rose-goggles now starting to leave a mark on our faces, we fell further in love when we reached the pumping Rundle Mall. This wasn’t the city I remember at all – it was like wandering through Pitt Street on a sunny lunchtime, without being hassled by hawkers trying to squeeze a few bucks out of you. The street performers were excellent, which gave a great vibrancy to the swarm of coming and going swirling around.

Adelaide City Markets

I’m not a markets man, but the food markets in Adelaide gave me hope. They were the perfect mix of fresh food, delicious coffee, and doughnuts bigger than an about-to-retire’s hatred for the current stockmarket.

Wright you are

On our final night staying in West Beach we caught up with a friend of mine from school days, Tom, who now resides in a funky part of Radelaide. He’s located ideally halfway between Glenelg and the city, which in a small city like The Rad is like 10 minutes each way, perfect.

It was great to catch up with him, scoffing some takeaway pizza and couple of beers before Loz clocked up another 10 or so kms on her driving for the Wombatical, taking her total to about 100km. That’s not an insult btw, she does pretty much everything else ๐Ÿ˜.

Mount Lofty hike

En-route to the Adelaide Hills, with some hiking mojo back, we decided to tackle the Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty hike. This walk would have to be one of the toughest ones we’ve ever done. Only 4km each way, we figured it’d be relatively easy. But wow. There was ‘trackwork’ going on, so the first part of the track was detoured up and over the toughest of hills, for over a kilometre, where we questioned turning around about 100 times.

The middle section re-birthed our faith, until the final kilometre smashed us again, with nothing but up, steep, to the summit of Mount Lofty. The view from the top was well worth the hard slog to get there, and the return 4km journey seemed a walk in the park after what we’d been through. The weather was on-point and we did our exercise for the day, so we have no right to complain, as does Liv, who spent most of it on our backs.

Morialta Falls

Exhausted, weaving through the leafy and wealthy outer suburbs of the city, we agreed on one more stop at Morialta Falls, before settling in on the hills for the night.

Compared to the leg-shaking struggle to the top of Mount Lofty, the walk to the falls was a piece of piss, and with the sun still shining, well worthy too.

Adelaide Hills

We wound slowly through the scenic Adelaide Hills, towards a campsite we had in mind for the night, one that turned out to be one of our favourite sites for our lap. It was totally random, effectively a property with nothing on it, but when we reached the top of the hill to take our pick of where to park, completely on our own, we knew we’d struck gold. Added to that, there was more firewood to pick from than Democratic Presidential candidates, so we parked up, lit the fire, and enjoyed the views.

Just on dusk, which was starting to fall ridiculously late in this part of Australia, we pulled our weary legs to the top of the hill for a stunning 200′ view over the green and pristine Adelaide Hills. Another winning SA sunset, this time all to ourselves; simply breathtaking.

Wineries

We didn’t know a lot about Adelaide Hills wine, and it would have to be one of the lesser known regions in the wine Mecca that is South Australia, so we just picked a couple of wineries to visit.

Artwine was a tad disappointing. For a region that is meant to showcase good cool-climate wines, they didn’t offer any Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz or Pinot Noir. Instead offering us a Montepulciano that I reckon smelt like bait. I guess this is an outcome of a region that’s not particularly known for anything great, they try and do everything, which sends quality tumbling further than ScoMo’s popularity rating.

Shaw + Smith stepped it up a bit, with a spectacular setting and professionalism exceedingly high. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were excellent, immediately continuing our failed one bottle per winery rule out the window.

Hahndorf

I remember reading an article about a year ago that highlighted ten places in Australia that make you feel like you’re in another country. For us that put Hahndorf on the map, and became a place high on our to-do list.

Despite our dangerously high expectations, this gorgeous German town didn’t disappoint. Driving through on another glorious SA day, we were astonished and stoked with the amount of people filling Hahndorf with a vibe difficult to describe. It was like a German Nimbin or Byron – bustling with beauty and character, but with a German undercurrent highlighting the architecture, pubs and stores.

You can’t visit Germany without eating pork knuckle, so at the Hahndorf Inn I went all in, smashing it without a breath, sharing slightly with my sidekicks.

From there we just wandered and enjoyed the busyness we love so much.

Wrapping up The Rad

What a city! From Glenelg Beach to the beautiful city and sensational hills, we found it hard to fault, and finally understood why people call it Radelaide.

Not only that, it’s a stone’s throw from some of the most ideallic wine regions on offer. Should we ever decide to spend time living in Adelaide, we can picture ourselves spending too much time in a log cabin in The Barossa, Clare, Adelaide Hills, and/or McLaren Vale.

Had we not been running out of time to see Australia, we would’ve loved to have spent at least twice as long as we did in this hugely underrated city.

Outback SA

Odometer: 28,228km

Overnight stays: Venushill B&B, Coober Pedy; Coward Springs Museum & Campground, Oodnadatta Track; Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Arkaroola Village; Trezona Campground, Flinders Ranges National Park; Mambray Creek, Mount Remarkable National Park

When we first left Sydney, we had a rough mud-map of where we were going to visit on the Wombatical. The Red Centre was on the must-do list but we weren’t quite sure whether we were going to hit it from the top or bottom, towards the beginning, or end of the trip. I was initially leaning towards approaching from the bottom, as it meant we could pass through Coober Pedy, a place with such fond memories in one of Loz’s childhood holidays.

When we reached the 3-ways intersection way back in May or June (can’t remember) we decided that was the right time to hit Uluru etc. which inevitably meant Coober Pedy probably wasn’t going to happen on this trip. But I was fine with that: you can’t do everything, right?

Many balls in the Eyre

When we were finishing up in the Eyre Peninsula, we started discussing how we might attack The Flinders Ranges. We initially thought about looping across to Broken Hill, down to Mungo National Park, and back into Adelaide, but that fizzled quicker than a cheap bottle of sparkling water. And then, when we had a closer look at the map, we realised there was an opportunity to run a loop from Port Augusta, not only covering The Flinders, but also Lake Eyre. These combined brought Coober Pedy right back into the ‘in’ basket. Decision made – we would rest the WomBatmobile for a few days, pack a rented 4WD to the rafters, and go off-road for a while, the SA Outback was our Coffin Bay Oyster.

Gearing up

The bloke from the rental company, Pat from Port Augusta, was about the most relaxed, helpful and friendly person we’ve met on the trip. We called him to see what options were available, and just like that he made it happen. We never got an exact quote out of him, but the ballpark figures he was throwing around were about half what we expected to pay, so we were in the driver’s seat.

And when we started to map the trip out a little, we weren’t quite sure how long we’d need – but probably 4/5 nights. “No worries”, replied Pat, “Just bring it back whenever”. What a legend. But we reckon Pat is pretty typical of South Aussies – most definitely the friendliest people in Oz. Nothing is problematic, they are incredibly friendly, and will go out of their way to help others – champions.

The road to Coober Pedy

We have seen more emus in South Australia than anywhere else, and we love it. Prior to this trip we had barely seen wild emus, so the novelty of spotting them shaking their tail feather hasn’t waned. And on the road to Coober Pedy we spotted dozens alongside the road, in some of the most barren landscape we’ve experienced. It was also our favourite bird, Wedge-Tailed Eagle territory, and they were scavenging in abundance.

The land is flat, red, bare, and beautiful. This is exactly what we expected the NT to look like – we actually think SA is more NT than the NT.

Every now and then a salt lake would appear in the distance and create amazing mirage illusions of water and reflections, impossible to photograph. One could only imagine explorers’ frustrations trekking through this land, being constantly fed hope of water, only to again be disappointed by bare salt seas.

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is famed for its’ houses being underground, cleverly designed to manage the extreme heat that can sweep through this desert climate. I was therefore expecting a Flindstones type arrangement, where you wouldn’t be able to see the houses, just long flat dust plains where a trapdoor would open and person appear (possibly with some sort of primitive wooden Bam-Bam-esq baton) from underground.

Turns out I couldn’t have been further from the truth with my assumptions. It just looks like a kind of normal rundown, shitty town. There are shops, roads, people, and a few mounds where some houses are built into the side, therefore deeming the house ‘underground’. I must say I was pretty underwhelmed and disappointed that this town didn’t look anywhere near what I hoped – but like I always say, expectation is dangerous.

Going undercover

Spread among the houses and shops there seem to be opal mines all over the place. Not the mass mining operations of Kalgoorlie or Mount Isa, but tiny little operations on the surface that feed into rabbit warrens of underground prospecting tunnels.

We visited the Old Timers Mine which gave us an interesting insight into the old days of mining in Coober Pedy, and living underground.

We were also keen to visit an underground bar, something we thought could be a cool and unique experience. But unlike the class and vibrancy of something like The Baxter Inn in Sydney, we found the only underground bar a depressing mix of no vibe and poker machines, all tenanted by patrons there for the sole purpose of feeding their sad addiction. Not a good environment for Liv to be, so we hobbled out of there quick-smart.

Staying underground

When you visit a town like Coober Pedy we figured you have to try and experience it as authentically as possible. So rather than pulling the tent out at the BIG4 on the edge of town, we booked into an underground B&B to see what it would be like sleeping underground.

This was the absolute highlight of Coober Pedy. Walking into the side of a hill, through a long tunnel entrance down to our living room, was pretty surreal, and it just got better and better with the bedroom and bathroom deep in cave territory.

When all the lights were off it was as dark as a post-Brexit Britain, ideal for a good night’s sleep.

Breaking away

Beyond the almost greenless dust-bowl of a town we ventured out to The Breakaways for a BBQ dinner and sunset. Along the way we detoured via the Dingo Fence (a fence that runs basically from the top to bottom of Oz to keep the dingoes out) and Moonscape, which literally gives you the feel of being on the moon. The soil and rocks mould together on the flat and infinite horizon giving the feeling of another planet.

The Breakaways themselves were pretty nice, especially as dusk was approaching. We found a spot beside what we thought was the second lookout, kicked the footy around for a while and whipped out the barbie to cook a few snags with the sun setting behind the mountains.

Once we’d finished dinner we grabbed our chairs and climbed up the rocky side of a mound to watch the sun go down, sitting down with 10 minutes to go before disappearance, and then we spotted a few other cars up on the horizon, higher than us. Damn it, this wasn’t a lookout, we were in the wrong spot.

So racing against the sun, we packed the car at lightning speed and hammered our way to the lookout, just making it before the sun vanished in the distance and beautiful colours filled the sky.

Going off (road)

The working mine we had hoped to visit the following morning had some broken machinery, so rather than wait around we decided to hit the gravel, excited for some authentic outback experiences.

The 160km road to William Creek we were told by some Stroms at the Visitors Centre, would take a day. Given we’re not experienced off-readers we became a little concerned that if 160km on gravel is a good day, maybe we would need the rental car for 2 weeks, not 4 days. But we set off regardless, eager to see for ourselves how we’d go. We covered roughly 700km in just over 2 days on the Gibb River Road, so were reasonably confident we’d be okay.

I don’t think we have felt more isolated in our lives than we did on our 3 hour drive (not all day) to William Creek. Bar a few cows and 2 cars, we were amazed with how remote we were. This part of Australia is as outback as it gets – nothing but long, flat, dry, red plains. Simply magnificent, and exactly what we had hoped for.

William Creek

Given we arrived at William Creek about half a day earlier than the Strom suggested, we were comfortable to keep on keepin’ on. We bought a Lake Eyre visitors permit from the friendliest publican in SA at the only business in ‘town’, shifting out of town, and taking the turnoff for the 65km goat track to the edge of the world, I mean Lake Eyre.

I reckon goats would probably even battle on this particular road – the corrugation was deeper than Loz’s love for dolphins, but nothing a rental with $0 excess couldn’t handle ๐Ÿ˜€.

Lake Eyre

Every now and then we would get a glimpse of the lake on the way in, with white reflections giving the misguided view of water and mountains, which was magnificently mystique.

It took us the best part of an hour to arrive at the lowest point in Australia which is 15m below sea-level, on the bed of Lake Eyre, filled only 3 times in the last 150 years. It’s a difficult place to describe – the lake is whiter than a new set of 700-thread-counts, and takes your eyes to the edge of the world, with nothing in the distance. It’s therefore difficult to get any concept of distance or direction. The warning signs as you wander onto the lake-bed advise you not to venture too far, as you may lose your bearings and never return – it’s truly surreal.

The lack of horizontal references also provides a great opportunity to create your own optical illusions. We had a crack at it, but you really need 3 adults to make it happen – trying to explain exactly what to do to a 4yo at the best of times is a tougher task than curing Polio, but when she’s not in a photo mood and just wants to play with her truck, it’s like trying to fly to the moon in a boat – just not going to happen.

Coward Springs

We didn’t expect to make it anywhere near Coward Springs for our first camping night, but the Oodnadatta Track was in pretty good knick, so travelling around 80km/h was a piece of cake.

It was a great little place, again, totally isolated from the real world. Quite a few punters were starting to pull in for the night, for a dip in their luke-warm spring and nice campsites with fire pits. We hadn’t been in the tent since The Kimberley so were pretty pumped to get back into it, especially Liv. There’s nothing she treasures more than time with mum and dad; and being able to sleep 3-abreast in the 2-man tent is her happy place.

The road to Flinders

Mound Springs

Not far east of Coward Springs, we discovered Mound Springs, which consists of a series of fresh water springs breaking the desert. They weren’t hard to spot, as you could see fresh green grass, shrubs and trees concentrated in small parts of the otherwise dry and barren desert – true Oasis’. The Bubbler and Blanche Cup were very pretty, especially in the context of their climate.

Mutonia Sculpture Park

When there isn’t much to see as far as sweeping dry plains, it seems people will make something out of nothing.

As was the case with Mutonia Sculpture Park, which is a paddock bordering the Oodnadatta Track, where someone has filled it with junk made into sculptures. It’s random and totally unnecessary, but a good backdrop mix-up for a travelling cuppa.

Tiny towns

As we incorrectly spotted what I thought was the Flinders Ranges about a hundred times in the distance, we passed through some odd and unique tiny towns. Marree, where the Oodnadatta meets the Birdsville Track, was much larger than expected. It’s so weird when you pull into these tiny towns for overpriced fuel or fly-nets, about as Aussie as it gets, and are served by a German backpacker. Like seriously, what the hell sort of life are they living in a one-horse outback town in central Australia? Besides the roadhouse there is nothing, literally nothing there. And it’s quite common to see this – I lost count of the amount of foreigners working at remote roadhouses in WA – so strange ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿผโ€โ™‚๏ธ.

Before venturing off through the North Flinders Ranges, we stopped in for a deliciously unique Quandong Pie at the Copley Bush Bakery & Quandong Cafe. Quandong are unique to the area do make a sensational sweet pie with the fruit just enough to wash down the mysterious yellow cotton-mouth dust covering the top layer on a deliciously soft, perfect pastry.

Gammon Ranges

Our drive through Gammon National Park in the North Flinders was about as good as it gets. Completely surrounded by dust-capped mountains, we felt like we were back in Kings Canyon, or The Grand Canyon in the US. And the goats! We have never seen so many goats wandering absolutely everywhere, and it was Spring so their cute kids were in abundance, following their families and friends around this beautiful rugged landscape.

We had been told about the Gammon Ranges by our friend Alex in Freeo, and he couldn’t have been more on the money. This place was incredible, and the drive was one of our favourites.

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

Tucked into the north end of the long ranges that are the Flinders, I had read somewhere, about a wilderness sanctuary called Arkaroola. I had no idea what it was, but given our love for nature and wilderness, it seemed like our kind of cup of tea. Apart from that we had done no research, until I found a spot of phone reception and gave them a call.

We discovered that it was all about the tours they offer, which, although pricey, must be okay, we figured. So we went for the most popular tour, booked in for the following morning, and agreed we’d camp there the night.

It was about a thousand degrees when we arrived into this man-made oasis resort. “That’s okay”, we thought, “at least they have a pool we can cool off in”. Just our luck, the pool was closed, so after setting up camp on the river bed, we just drove around for a bit in the air-conditioning, and showered until the sun slipped behind the hills, and the mecury dropped to an acceptable level.

Another spectacular starry night by the campfire, where all you need to do is look up and realise your insignificance, we already loved this place, and we hadn’t really done anything yet.

4WD Ridgetop Tour

The three of us piled into the back of a safari-altered Land Cruiser with two other couples, ready for a real 4WD adventure. We didn’t know a lot about what to expect, except possibly some nice views of the dry north.

The roads were barely fit for a saddled-up desert camel, let alone an open-top Toyota with 7 passengers holding on for dear life. This was proper four-wheel driving, like we had never experienced before. In the first 15 minutes alone, on the ‘smooth’ part of the track, we lost count of the amount of times it felt like we were going to either fall out or drop off the edge of a cliff. So much fun!

Bob the driver seemed unfazed by it all, one arm out the window, a walk in the park when you’ve done this track hundreds of times. Not only that, with one hand on the wheel he was somehow managing to not only keep us alive, but give incredibly detailed commentary on Arkaroola’s history and geology.

On the way to the top we stopped in at two lookouts, both as breathtaking as the other, with 360′ views of the remarkable barren ranges we had already fallen for.

And the pinnacle was when we reached the summit of the final lookout, and Bob brought out the coffee, tea and lamingtons, for the what we thought was one of the best spots for morning tea in the world. To add to the perfection of this place we were joined by a friendly rock wallaby and lizard, who together, shared the amazing silence of this remote part of the world.

On the 2 hour return leg, still all holding on for dear life as we wound through the same terrain, Liv befriended the rest of the passengers, and at one point had the whole lot of us playing ‘I spy’, and at another point doing selfies with the lady next to her, which had everyone in hysterics.

Southern migration

The drive out of Arkaroola towards Parachilna was just as breathtaking as the road in from Leigh Creek. If only photos could do this place justice. We were high on adrenilin and soaking up this wonderful day as one of the best of the trip, stopping at every bend for an underjustified photo.

Tiny towns do treats terrifically. To this point we had seldom been disappointed with country caramel and vanilla slices offered to us, and the little cafe at Blinman was no exception, punching well above their weight for quality of slice, cookie and coffee. What amazed me was that the owner had only been there a year or so. That got me wondering what circumstances would bring someone to move to a blink of a town like Blinman and run a cafe/general store? Amazing stuff.

Prairie Hotel

Up until we arrived at The Praire Hotel, famed for offering outback grub such as camel salami, emu pรขtรฉ, roo schnitzel and goats cheese, we had planned to camp their the night. But we were pretty disappointed when no one else was there, the kitchen wasn’t open to offer us the game grub we were game to try, and the publican showed little interest in helping us in any way. Again, expectation is everything.

So we settled for a soda water and got out of there quicker than the numerous emus we had to stop suddenly for several times on our journey, and entered Flinders National Park for the home stretch of our outback adventure.

Flinders National Park

Brichana Gorge

Dusk was starting as we entered the impressive Brichana Gorge, which was the most perfect time to crawl through the sensational scenery. We spotted scores of wallabies, Euros (Wallaroos) and what we reckon were Big Reds, emus, and came scarily close to squashing an echidna. Had Loz not screamed he would’ve had a bad day, and luckily we were able to stop with him between the front bumper and front tyre – close call. That gave the poor little bugger a good fright and he scampered off into the shrubbery to live another day.

The light was nothing short of perfect on this drive, which only enhanced the romance of it all. This brilliant day seemed to just keep getting better and better, as it did when we arrived at the awesome campsite shortly before sunset, where I obsessed over a couple of gums that just provided the ideal foreground for another ripping outback sunset. After being so excited for ocean sunsets in this trip, I must say that their country cousins tear them to shreds.

Another morning, another waking and almost colliding with Australia’s Coat of Arms, as we stopped in at a couple of lookouts en-route to the infamous Wilpena Pound.

Wilpena Pound

This was another place we knew little of (I’m sensing a theme) when we arrived, but expected there would be a walk or two. We hadn’t done a decent hike since Cape Range National Park as after we had seen some of the best gorges in the NT and WA, we were pretty hard to impress. But the hiking juices somewhat flowed back after a sabbatical; and really, the only way to see Wilpena Pound was to walk it, unless we were willing to fork out for a flight, which we weren’t.

Regardless of the fact that we’ve seen some of the best gorges in the world, we thought the view at Wilpena Pound was simply meh. It was a nice and relatively simple 7km return trip, but the view was just average.

But, at least we got some exercise, and we left nothing to chance. If the worst thing we did that day was hike one of Australia’s most famous places, then we’ve had worse days!

The Flinders Ranges blew us away. We didn’t really have expectations, which is the best way to be. Wilpena Pound is the most famous and popular part of the range, but we don’t quite understand why…? Maybe it’s because it has sealed roads all the way to it? Whatever the case, it was the worst part of the best ranges.

Remarkable effort

After 3 three nights in a tent with an old school esky, eating delicious yet simple food, we decided to spoil ourselves for lunch in Hawker, on the way back through to Port Augusta.

Full, tired, and dirty, we transferred everything from the car to motorhome in horrid winds, returned the vehicle to our mate Pat, and got back to our normal, pulling in for the night at Mount Remarkable National Park for one final campfire before a state-wide fire-ban came into effect. It was another ripping campsite on a dry river bed, surrounded by our Coat of Arms and plenty more wildlife. Even though all we felt like was a good shower and a bit of space to sleep, this final night before real civilisation was just perfect.

Alligator Gorge

The following morning, on our way through to the much anticipated wine regions of SA, we did hiked through Alligator Gorge in Mount Remarkable National Park. This walk was quite enjoyable, taking us down into a skinny winding gorge and back up around again. It was only short, but again, some good exercise to kick off the day – time to drink some wine ๐Ÿท .