Members Trips

stories from Australia



Red Centre Trip

Wollongong - Mildura - Port Augusta - Darwin and back

May to August 2006

by Greg Carthew

Greg & Marge's Red Centre Trip is four pages in length with plenty of reading & photos.


part one

    At the end of May 2006, we, (Greg & Marge), set off in my 4WD and Cub Spacematic Off-Road camper trailer for the Red Centre of Australia and north to Darwin. We had a fridge in the car, set to freezer, with a month’s worth of meat and the trailer packed with non perishable food, (we knew that many vegies and fruits would be confiscated in the fruit fly exclusion zones in Southern NSW, Northern Vic and S.A. so we purchased all of our perishable goods after we had left the fruit fly exclusion areas)


My 4WD and CT next to a Road Train
The CT set up next to 4WD


    Day 1... We left Wollongong NSW at 7:00 a.m. and arrived in Mildura Victoria at around 8:30 pm. This run is about 960km. We Visited our son/stepson, Daryl, his wife Melissa and our two grandchildren, Courtney and Mitchell. We spent several days there and then headed on to Port Augusta, about 650 km away in South Australia. The first of our problems occurred there - the 12 volt battery that runs the water pump for the kitchen tap and the interior lights in the trailer packed it in. We had to amend our plans to rough camp, as it would be too rough without lights during the early sunsets of winter. So we tried to stay in caravan parks with powered sites until the battery could be replaced.

    We stayed in a great van park 5 km off Horrocks Pass Road and 25km SE of the city of Port Augusta.

    Spear Creek is set in bush land tucked into the side of the mountain. The sites were shady and the camp kitchen was good. (Often, if we are in a place for a short time, we prefer to use their facilities for cooking instead of dragging the barbecue out from under the bed or cooking inside.) Best of all there was a huge campfire and a friendly group who expressed disappointment that we were only there for the one

    Next morning we headed into Port Augusta. Our stay in Port Augusta was short, only giving us time to visit the fascinating Wadlata Outback Centre and the cold and windy, Arid Botanic Gardens.

    And so just after lunch we began the 2730 km run north from Port Augusta to Darwin.

    Woomera, about 182 km north of Port Augusta was our first stop, and is the rocket capital of Australia. We had just learned that NASA will again be using the facilities there. The caravan park there was by far the worst Caravan Park of the whole trip. It was cold, bare, and subject to traffic noises, but it did have a great camp kitchen. In the dark without power it was the best option for meal preparation. powered sites were booked out and it was the only Van Park on the whole trip where we were told "you should have booked 3 months in advance"). The rockets on display and the visitor’s centre in town were worth a visit.

    Next day we made for Coober Pedy, travelling 252 Km of practically nothing. One of the few things to see was the sign just before the Glendambo Road House.


Glendambo road sign


    Coober Pedy is a centre of opal mining and we stayed there a few nights, visiting underground churches, houses, and shops (because of the heat), then we took a bus trip to the opal fields, a golf course totally without grass, the dog fence and the Breakaways.    After the bus trip we took our 4WD back along the dog fence, and out to The Breakaways to watch the colours change and to photograph the sunset.

    No trip to Coober Pedy would be complete without a visit to Crocodile Harry's underground home. Crocodile Harry is a real character who had many careers during his working life. He became a photographer after moving to Coober Pedy, and advertised in the Adelaide papers for beautiful young women to be photographed nude. He boasts that he slept with most of them. To prove his point he had each of them leave their underwear, which adorns his walls and ceilings. Harry now makes a few dollars from the tourists who are charged $1 per head to have a look around his home.


The Dog Fence The Mermaid at
Crocodile Harry's
underground home
Greek Orthodox Church
One of the "Greens" at the
Coober Pedy Golf Course
The greens are oiled sand


The Coober Pedy Sign An Opal Mine Shaft A vertical Mine Shaft Opal Mine Tailings


    The desert landscape around The Breakaways is much like the American west with its spectacular mesa's, buttes and hills. Unfortunately the clouds had rolled in and the sunset was quite disappointing.


Pepper & Salt Hills
The Breakaways
The Breakaways The Breakaways Stone Art in
The Breakaways


    On the second morning there was a heavy fog over the whole area of Coober Pedy, which the locals said they haven’t seen for many years. We stayed at the Stuart Range Caravan Park, which was pretty good except for the bloody noisy rooster who had decided that dawn started at about 2:30 a.m. Coober Pedy has to pipe all of their water in and so you have to pay for showers and to fill your water tank (although the cost was minimal).

    In Coober Pedy, there was no suitable battery to be found, so we headed north to the next big centre, Alice Springs, two easy days’ journey away or about 690km. The first overnight stay on this leg was at Cadney Homestead. This is a roadhouse and Caravan Park on the Stuart Highway and is a good base from which to access the Painted Desert.


The sign as you come into Cadney Homestead


    We had originally planned to stay at the Copper Hills Station, which is some 30 or 40km along the dirt road into the Painted Desert, but when we arrived we found that it was closed and had a For Sale sign out the front. The gates were locked and there was no sign of life. There was no option but to return to the Cadney Roadhouse. On the dirt road to Copper Hills, some of the welds broke on the bike racks that I had attached to the top of the camper trailer, (my welding is like the proverbial bird sh*t on a wire fence) so when we arrived at Cadney Homestead I had to screw the brackets on with self drilling screws. Luckily I had brought my cordless drill in the tool kit.

    On our travels, we found that homesteads and roadhouses have reasonable camping, but non-existent cooking facilities. You are expected to buy your meal at their restaurant. This meant that I had to get the BBQ out to cook our dinner.

    Early the next day, we sidetracked to the Painted Desert, 60 or so km up a dirt road toward the Oodnadatta Track. We spent the morning there walking. It was breath-takingly beautiful. The photo's below don't really do justice to the area.

Greg in the Painted Desert
The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert



    After a half day in The Painted Desert we headed back towards Cadney Homestead but instead of stopping we turned right and headed towards the Northern Territory/South Australia border.

    Our next stop was Kulgera, a non- descript roadhouse, but handy and fairly spacious. We stayed the one night and headed off after a leisurely breakfast.

    We finally arrived in Alice Springs where I was able to locate a suitable battery. We stayed at the Heavitree Gap Caravan Park, where in the early evening the Black Footed Wallabies come down to be fed by the tourists.


Black Footed Wallabies
Marge feeds the Wallabies
Alice Springs Telegraph Station
Marge at the "Alice Spring


    There was a lot to do in Alice besides getting the battery and more food and alcohol. We rode our bikes up to the Old Telegraph Station and saw the original spring named Alice. It is not a spring, but a soak in the dry sandy riverbed of the Tod River. For a few dollars we got a guide who showed us around the station and regaled us with stories of the past.

    A highlight of the whole trip was a visit to the Desert Park, where we were planning to spend a couple of hours in the morning and ended up staying for over 6 hours. The Bird of Prey show was really first class and included free flying eagles and other birds of prey. There was also a talk by an Aboriginal elder which was memorable. He told us some stories from the Dreamtime (a term he didn’t like). He also told us part of a "travelling story" but advised that he was only able to tell the part of the story which his people owned and related to his area. We would have to travel to the other areas to hear the rest of the story. The next day we visited the Reptile Centre, and then went to the Cultural precinct and a rather poorly maintained Botanic Garden.

Marge with Olive Python at Reptile Centre
Marge gets a kiss from Romeo the Blue Tongue Lizard
One of the Birds of Prey at the Desert Park
Another of the Birds of Prey at the Desert Park



    We spent the next day exploring the East McDonnell Ranges where we walked through gaps and gorges, one more spectacular than the next: Emily and Jessie Gaps, Corroboree Rock, N’Dhala Gorge. We saw ancient cave art and carvings, and timed our visits to correspond with guided ranger walks.


Emily Gap
Rock Art at Jessie Gap
Corroboree Rock
N'Dhala Gorge Engraving

Undoolya Wattle
at N'Dhala Gorge
Undoolya Wattle
at N'Dhala Gorge
Trephina Gorge Nature Park
John Hays Waterhole


    Trephina Gorge with the short 4WD track down to John Hays Rockhole seemed to be worthy of an overnight stay. Its camping area looked inviting, but unfortunately we hadn't brought the CT. It was back in Alice Springs. Foolishly we had only allowed 1 day for the whole of the East McDonnell Ranges. I would have loved more time to explore this area, so it is definitely on the itinerary for next time.

    We arrived at the ruins of the gold mining town of Arltunga almost at sunset and so we didn't have time to do it properly. There are some great old buildings here and there is an old Gold Mine there which you can go down, but due to being there so late we have put that on hold until our next trip into the area.


The old Arltunga Police Station
Arltunga Gold Stamper
Arltunga Cornish Boiler
A Monument to a Lost Biker
near Arltunga

    Ruby Gap is another place I would love to see but as we were alone we decided that we would give it a miss until we can arrange to do it with the companionship of another off- road vehicle. Ross River Station was another place which received good word of mouth as a camp spot. It has apparently just re-opened after being renovated by the new owners. The whole trip out east was a case of briefly visiting places to which we'd like to return.

    The van park where we stayed in Alice, Heavitree Gap, was fairly unremarkable, except we were camped under trees and the “few birds” we were warned about turned out to be hundreds & hundreds of galahs and also some cockatoos who arrived at sunset and proceeded to poo on our CT tent all night. However, they did have a resident population of black-footed wallabies, who came down the hills in the evening to be hand fed by us. It was also quite cheap with the coupon from the camping and caravan show. Because the Finke Desert Race was on, every other park in Alice was booked out. We were camped next to some of the competitors in this grueling challenge and we chatted with them about the race and their chances of winning. They didn't think they had any real chance of winning but were there just for the challenge and the thrill of it all. There were two brothers, one of whom was the racer and the other was 'pit crew'. There were also another two riders and their 'pit crews'.

    In the desert of the Red Centre, the temperature at night was really cold. It dropped to 0º C (32ºF) several nights and -5ºC on one night. But because it was so dry, there was no frost. We did have 240V power much of the time and our little electric heater got a good work out. We also bought a small Gas Heat Exchanger for use in the CT (we only used it with a window open for ventilation)and our hot water bottles came in very handy as well.

    The next morning we left Alice to head out west and south, but not before another running repair. When we were ready to leave, the left turn signal indicator on the trailer refused to function. I tried everything but couldn't make it work. I ended up by Jerry Rigging the wiring by running an extra wire from the 4WD under the CT to the back of the trailer and wired directly into the offending turn light. We got away a wee bit late and did some of the West Mc Donnell Ranges. Along Larapinta Drive, which is the main road out of Alice to the west, we saw The Rev. John Flynn's Grave. Rev John Flynn also known as Flynn of the Inland, was the man who is credited with beginning the Flying Doctor Service in the outback.


Flynn of the Inland
Grave site
Flynn's Grave Inscription
Simpson's Gap
Serpentine Gap


    After leaving the gravesite we visited Simpson’s Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Serpentine Gorge. Serpentine Gorge was like a promise, because, at the end of the path, you had to wade through water to pass through a narrow gap. Peering through the gap, you could see a lush ecosystem, very inviting if the water wasn‘t so freezing cold!

    At noon, for only a short while, Standley Chasm glows red as this is the only time the sun enters the narrow space.


Black Footed Wallabies
at Simpson's Gap
Standley Chasm
Before the sun hits
about 10 to 12 noon
Standley Chasm
After the sun hits
Just on Noon
The view from the lookout
on way to Glen Helen


    We didn’t get as far as we planned due to spending lots of time looking at all the different gorges etc. When we reached Ormiston Gorge, the camping area was full, so we went on to Glen Helen Resort, which is not as posh as it sounds. The Caravan sites were very ordinary, but it did have a VERY EXPENSIVE restaurant, which we didn’t use, and a cosy, warm bar with live music, which we did use.

    The next day, we used Glen Helen as a base to explore the Ochre Pits, Ormiston and Redbank Gorges.


Glen Helen Waterhole
Ormiston Gorge
The Ochre Pits
Redbank Gorge

part two >>>>>