Ocean to Outback
I had eighteen days left and five thousand kilometers to go. We returned to Melbourne briefly after Tasmania to reorganize and get prepared for our longest journey yet. We rented a hippie van, packed up our stuff, loaded up on supplies and then began our journey from the ocean to outback.
The Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles are two of the most significant marks in the state of Victoria, Australia. It is only a short two-hour drive from Melbourne and it was our first point of interest on our final road trip. We turned heads as we drove along the Great Ocean Road. In our pink and purple Peace and Love Machine we were hard to miss. This van was our home for the next eighteen days and had all of our kitchen supplies and sleeping needs. It even had a ‘balcony’ on top for the perfect photo opportunity or to watch the sunset! Our van was pretty cool and it was always a conversation starter.
Similar to the Pacific Highway in the U.S., the Great Ocean Road was stunning and relaxing to drive along. We also came upon a spot where people were piling rocks where a creek meets the ocean. I am unsure of the significance of this, but of course, we had to join in too.
Our drive into the Great Otway National Park was filled with wildlife. Some cars had pulled over because wild koalas had been spotted. We got out of the van to have a look at them. There were three of them perched high in the trees. As we kept driving there were even more. The park had a lot of tree with overhanging limbs that must have been perfect for the koalas. We camped in the park at one of the small parking lots right by the beach and walking trail. Before it got dark we walked the short path down to the beach and then along the coast’s trail to get a good view of the ocean and the lighthouse.
The next morning we drove the short distance to Port Campbell National Park where the famous Twelve Apostles are located. When we arrived we decided to go down to the beach to see them at ground-level first. We had to walk down a steep set of stairs down the side of the cliff to the beach. The rocks seemed massive from the ground, but I did prefer the view from above which we saw later. There was a walking path that contained viewing platforms for all possible views of the rocks. I cannot deny its beauty, but this was one of the travel moments that was ruined by the amount of tourists. There were so many people around it was difficult to stand in one place and enjoy the moment without someone bumping into you for a photo.
We spent most of the day driving through and stopping to explore different areas of Port Campbell National Park. There was a lot to see and it was a beautiful area. Later that evening we began driving to Grampians National Park. We were driving along the curvy road through the mountains when we came upon a small car park on the side of the road. We were expecting a small viewpoint, but we couldn’t see anything. Instead, we decided to climb the mountain for our own viewpoint.
We were in flip-flops and the climb was not easy. There was no path and everything was overgrown. I don’t think a lot of people went up this way. We got so many scratches on our legs and arms from the brush, but we kept going until we finally made it to the top! We wanted a view, and we got it. Then we saw an even more tempting place. There was a rock that jetted straight out of the mountain. It was perfect. Slightly dangerous, but we made it. Thank goodness for steady feet and a calm mind.
It was beautiful! The view was full of rolling green everywhere. The mountains were full of trees and we could only see the small, curvy road in the distance. After seeing our van down below looking so tiny we couldn’t believe we had climbed that far. We decided we needed a photo of us together after this great feat. We found a suitable rock to set my camera on and turned on the ten second timer. Paul was already in place on a slender ledge off of the mountain and I quickly (but gently) hopped down just in time for the perfect photo. Crazy hair, sweaty and no make-up, but with smiles large and bright and a backdrop of green. This is now one of my favorite photos of our trip. It captured a great moment filled with adventure and when we had accomplished climbing this small mountain in determination of obtaining a non-tourist filled view.
We noticed the sun was beginning to set quickly so we began our descent back to the van. We camped inside the park and were lucky enough to see even more wildlife and were able to get up close to them! We saw several kangaroos, an emu and later after it got dark we saw opossums. They opossums over there are much cuter than our opossums in North America. Their opossums look almost like cats with fur. Unlike ours which look like oversized rats. They kept trying to steal some food from us and were playing with one another.
We hiked around the Grampians National Park. Like usual, we were not up and about the earliest so by the time we were hiking it was already getting hot. We visited one waterfall, but it was all dried up. Paul decided to climb up it, but I stayed on the ground and watched a deer that was peaking around the bushes. The other hiking trails were great, but I couldn’t seem to get my second wind and struggled making it up. We eventually made it to the top and was rewarded with some excellent views once again. The best part of the day though was doing the final hike to the full-flowing waterfall! It was bliss after the previous hikes in the heat.
We camped just outside of Adelaide that night and drove into the small town the next day. It ended up being a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting it to be small, but I didn’t realize just how small it really was. We visited the botanical gardens, walked around the main street, took the tram to the beach and listened to street music, and visited a festival that evening. We weren’t overly impressed by Adelaide so we decided to leave early. We had planned to stay two to three days, but I’m not sure what we would have done there. Plus, we had a tight schedule and this extra couple of days would give us some more flexibility.
We camped just north of Adelaide and started driving toward the Center the next morning. As we were driving we saw a young hitchhiker on the side of the road with a sign reading “Port Augusta”. We were heading that direction and decided to pick him up. I had never picked up a hitchhiker before, but I always wanted to do it! Since I was with Paul I felt comfortable picking up a stranger. Plus, the guy was just a young traveler like us just trying to get by cheaply. He was harmless. I felt bad because it was difficult to speak with him over the noise of the open windows, but he was a very friendly guy! He even bought us a huge pack of water bottles as his ‘thank you’ to us since he knew we were heading into the Outback.
We stopped in Port Augusta to fill up on supplies and get some last wifi at the McDonald’s. This was our last major stopping point before heading into the desert. The hitchhiker (I don’t think we ever got his name) was heading West so we went our separate ways after Port Augusta. We just kept driving. The dirt was beginning to turn redder and redder and we passed by many salt lakes. We drove the entire next day and didn’t stop until the sun was beginning to set. We camped at out first “outback” camp just before the town of Coober Pedy. We sat on top of the van to watch the sun set. There were these horrible stick tight things on the ground that kept going through out flip-flops. It was starting to get hotter and at night we were beginning to kick off our blankets.
The next morning we had our first taste of the flies in the Outback. There were hundreds! Everywhere! They were humorous our first day or two, but they got annoying really quick. We had to drive away just to get away from them.
This day we spent at Coober Pedy. The town is mostly underground because of the heat. We saw the underground churches, bookstores, hotels and museums. The town is a small opal mining town and the topography makes it look like it should be on the moon. It was small enough we could walk everywhere. We saw a unique outdoor museum with “white man” stuff like a totem pole made out of computer keyboards. Nothing was really overly interesting here, just very strange. It was a weird place that reminded me a little of the Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Everyone we encountered there were very friendly, but it was just an odd place.
We drove out to the Breakaways Conservation Park just outside the town. It felt even more like the moon. Here is where the largest fence in the world is located as well. The fence is used to keep dingoes out of the southern port of Australia to protect the sheep. It took more than one hour to make the full circuit drive through the park and over the corrugated roads. We drove more the rest of the day and camped along the side of the highway and watched a lot of road trains go by. Australia uses massive trucks called ‘road trains’ that have multiple trailers for shipping. The biggest one I saw had five trailers! You always see them on the highways in the bush and outback, and they are a little bit scary. You can see the train of trailers swaying as the truckers drive.
We drove another full day until we reached Uluru– the main destination in the desert Center of Outback Australia. We arrived later in the afternoon so it was incredibly hot. We had time to do a short walk by Ayers Rock and see some rock art and a water hole. Then we went to the viewing spot for the sunset. The flies were terrible. They had gotten even worse. We finally invested in some fly nets. There were also a ton of tourists. With it being one of the most iconic parts of Australia that can only be expected. At the viewing lot for the sunset we sat on top of our van for the perfect view. There was one friendly family from Sydney that was loving our van and the balcony we had! Afterwards, we drove out of the park to camp at a nearby free camp site. The 3-day ticket for the park wasn’t cheap and to camp inside the park was even more expensive.
I made Paul get up early with me the next day to watch the sunrise at Uluru. He wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but he was a trooper and did it with me! We were running late and almost missed it though. It was mostly rising as we were driving there, but we got to the viewing area just in time for a few good photos with the rock. Afterwards, we went to Ayers Rock for the free guided walk. They provided us with a lot of background and historical information.
We then drove to the neighboring park of Kata Tjuta. It was nearing mid-day and technically we weren’t allowed to do this hike at this time of the day because of the heat. We did it anyways. It wasn’t that bad. It was very quiet and it was a unique landscape full of red rocks. We took a break for lunch afterwards and actually ate in a ladies restroom of a site that didn’t have a lot of traffic. This way we were out of the sun and the flies didn’t come in. We didn’t care at this point and there was no one else around. We were both sweaty and disgusting and wanted to eat in peace from the pesky flies and cool off.
One full day at Uluru and Kata Tjuta was enough. We saw everything we wanted and started driving again for our next destination. This was the best drive ever. We witnessed the most beautiful sunset! It was full of purples, blues, yellows and orange. Paul tried to take photos from the passenger side, but eventually I just had to stop and get out to take photos from on top of the van. It was just that beautiful! Then, even better, we came across roaming camels! Amid the beautiful sunset! This was my first time seeing camels in their natural ways and not just in a zoo. It was a great moment. We eventually made it to our camp shortly after the camels.
The next morning I awoke early and could not go back to sleep due to the combination of the heat, mosquitos and flies once the sun started rising. I began looking up information on King’s Canyon and realized we had to get there early otherwise they lock the gate to the trail because of the heat. I woke Paul up because we were going to be running late. Hikers had to start the hike by 9am. I rushed us to leave so we didn’t have breakfast, coffee or even brush our teeth. I drove like a mad woman to get there in time. I didn’t want to come all of this way and miss one of the main sites in the Center!
We arrived just as they were locking the gate. I was so annoyed. I understand the park rangers’ job is to provide a safe environment for guests which includes no one hiking too hard in the heat and getting ill. However, I also feel like 9am was a bit extreme and if I wanted to hike then I should be able to do so at my own risk. After a disagreement with my brain’s two sides- “Do the right thing” and “Ugh, I really want to do this dang hike!”- we eventually hopped the fence and did the hike anyways. Once again, we made it with no problems.
It was a heck of a hike straight up the canyon at first, but that was the worst of it. The rest was much more gradual once we made the initial climb to the top. The view was spectacular. I think I preferred King’s Canyon over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We took some more photos on sides of cliffs, saw a guy flying a drone, crossed bridges and found lizards. The hike only took about two or three hours. At the end of it we rested in the shade, brushed our teeth in the bathroom and filled our water from their “clean tap”.
We drove the long corrugated off-road to get to the highway for Alice Springs. Otherwise, we would have had to drive all the way back to the highway to get to Uluru and then go north. That was way too far so we took the short cut through that off-road for a couple of hours instead. It wasn’t as bad as we were expecting and we saw a lot of pretty scenery and wildlife roaming about. The worst was that all of the stuff in the van turned red from the dirt since we had the windows down and all of our stuff got jumbled around by all the bumps in the road.
We stopped at a lookout on the very top of a hill for lunch. By this point we were running out of food and made a strange combination of foods for lunch. The flies were still awful and we were really getting sick of them. We were also in desperate need of a shower. It had been over one week since we showered and my hair was so knotted I had no idea how I was going to get it brushed out. I could no longer tell if I was tan or just dirty, I was hairy and smelly and I was beginning to form natural dreadlocks. Good thing we were getting close to Alice Springs where there would finally be an available shower!
Our entire trip up to this point had been ‘go-go-go’ and we never had a time to rest and relax. We decided to take some time off the rest of the day and drove straight to our next camp site that was by the river. Being near water again after a week in the desert was so nice! Paul went fishing and I went straight into the water for a swim and the next best thing to a shower. I took my razor down to the water to shave my overgrown legs and underarms, and doused my hair in conditioner to try to get the knots to come out. I didn’t bother washing with soap because I knew the next day I would get a proper shower in Alice Springs. It took at least an hour to brush through my hair, but once it was finished it felt great to finally have hair again! Camping by the river was wonderful after being so hot and smelly, but the only bad thing was the mosquitoes that came out that night.
The next morning we left for Alice Springs, but stopped along the way at a small creek for another quick swim. We ate lunch in the park at Alice Springs then went to the public pool for a swim, but mostly for the included shower. The aquatic center was massive! There was an indoor lap pool, kiddie play area, hot tubs, outdoor olympic size pool and outdoor splash pad. I was impressed! We swam for quite a while but finally the shower was beckoning me. It was the longest shower I have ever taken and I finally felt clean again after ten days of hiking in the desert without a shower!
We decided to rest and not rush out of Alice Springs because we were ahead of the schedule. We went to the McDonald’s to use the wifi and then to the grocery store to get food. We camped just outside the town in a small lot. It was a little loud, but we wanted to be close to town as we were going to return the next day to stock up on supplies before our journey out of the desert.
We now had a looooonnnnggg drive. We had four days of driving non-stop to get to Sydney. This was the longest road trip I’ve ever done. For the next four days we didn’t stop or do anything- just drive. Drive, drive, drive. The roads were long, straight and boring. We had a tire almost blow out so we changed it at a petrol station before it did. It was better to change it there then wait and have it blow out on the side of the blazing hot highway. Everyone was so nice and helpful to us as well. The drive back down went quite well actually. Other than changing the tire the only other bad thing that happened was a got a stint of food poisoning or heat stroke or something. I was really sick one night, but luckily it didn’t get any worse.
Before we reached the ocean the next day we stayed overnight at a 24-hour 7/11 shop that had a free shower. We were allowed to sleep in the parking lot. The next morning as we were eating breakfast and drinking coffee at the picnic table a man saw us and our van and said, “I can smell the freedom from here”! He was in a business suit and obviously going to work. Paul said, “You choose your life buddy”. We have the same souls.
Finally, we made it back to the coast! Our very last day we went to the beaches just south of Sydney and then drove into the city the next day. The realization that I was leaving soon was starting to hit me, and I didn’t like it. It felt strange to be in Sydney again. I had begun my Australian travels in Sydney and now I was ending it in Sydney. We had one last day to spend together until my flight the next morning back to the U.S.A.
Our Ocean to Outback road trip was definitely one for the books. We saw a lot, did a lot and felt as though we completed a great feat. We saw the iconic outback and survived the Australian desert. We stunk and looked homeless, but we traveled in a way which allowed us the most freedom and flexibility. I am beginning to really love van life.
My Australian travels have now come to a close. As I look back on my time in the country I am grateful I was able to see everything I did. I spent a total of nine months in the country with three months living and working in Perth. I saw and did everything I had set out for myself before arriving. The only regret I have is not getting scuba certified at the Great Barrier Reef like I had wanted to do and dive in the reef. I snorkeled and did an introductory dive on the Great Barrier, but not a proper full dive. But now that just gives me an excuse to return one day! I am very happy with my time in Australia.
What’s next? Well, Paul is coming to the U.S.A. for the very first time! He arrives in just two days and we are going to spend the summer traveling around the country. After that, I guess I will see where the wind takes me. And hopefully the wind takes Paul with me too.