The homeward stretch began as we left Darwin behind with its coldest day on record, struggling to get above 21 degrees all day. Too cold here, time to head south (Ha Ha, that’s one for our Darwin friends).
We stayed one night in Katherine then moved on to stay the next at Bitter Springs, Mataranka. There were noticeably more caravans and campers on the road as it got closer to the Easter weekend. Still we could pull up wherever we liked and the sites were big enough to stay hitched on to the car for a quick take-off the next day.
While at Bitter Springs campground we took a walk to look at the springs, the water was so clear but it looked like the heavy rains had left a bit of debris around. We also tried fishing in the river behind the camp ground, but had no luck.
As we drove further south the next day the weather was feeling drier with much less humidity than we had been experiencing and the sky was looking bluer by the kilometre. The day was like any other, road trains, roadside cows, the odd roo hopping across the road and a ‘get off the road – wide load coming through’ moment. And when they take up more than half the highway, you get out of their way!
With the weather drying out it was obviously time for a serious burn off, at one of the stations we passed too.
We decided to free camp one night at The Pebbles (Kunjarra) which is around 17kms north of Tennant Creek, we’d read good reviews about the spot and being off the main highway and accessible by dirt road we thought it would be a good quiet camp for a night. As we drove in we saw three caravans already set up in one area so we kept on driving through and past three tents together and then at the end of the camping area we found a quiet tucked away space with no-one else there. Perfect! Just what we were looking for. We drove in facing towards ‘The Pebbles’, leaving the car and caravan hitched together, we would have a great view, a peaceful night and another chance to take some photos of the amazing star filled skies in the blackness.
The sun had set but in the last light of day a 4wd pulled in near us, that’s ok, soon followed by another. I had no sooner commented on the fact that both the cars had numbers duct taped on their back windows, one being 4 and the other 6 (“I wonder where car 5 is?”) when in a cloud of dust comes cars 1 to 10 to join them. By now we were surrounded and feeling just a tad nervous. As the assembled group were throwing out tents, chairs, tables etc… one of the pack came over to us and introduced himself. Joel from Germany and his backpacking German mates (all 20 somethings) were on a road trip themselves and seeing Australia. They had all met during their travels, decided to buy 4wds and see Australia in a convoy – great idea, safety in numbers and helping each other out through the trip. A very good bunch of people, they were all quiet and settled down pretty early in the night and out of our way by the time we wanted to leave in the morning.
So now we are following their travels too – check out the Instagram account #offroadconvoy2k17 or Joel’s facebook page ‘Joel doing Australia’. We wished them good luck and happy travels, and suggested just a tip – slow down! Arriving and leaving in a cloud of dust en masse is a tad intimidating when you’re free camping! (I’m sure their mothers would be happy with my suggestion.) Luckily for us their convoy was heading north, so look out Darwin.
As for us we upped sticks and continued on to Devils Marbles for another night of free camping. You actually pay a small amount to Northern Territory National Parks to stay there but its only $3.30 per adult per night – bargain. For that you get drop toilets, reasonably level dirt campsites, camp tables and wood bbqs if needed, oh and a million stars at night.
The Devils Marbles are incredible natural rock formations that in a lot of places seem to defy gravity. You really do wonder how they are still balancing, but then you can see evidence that eventually they do tumble. Just not while we are parked near them hopefully.
It was now Good Friday so naturally we expected to have to share the space with others over the Easter Weekend and as the day went on more happy campers did arrive as well as day trippers coming in to see these amazing rocks.
Easter Saturday saw us hitting the road again and on our way to Alice Springs. In our travels we passed through the UFO capital of Australia, so is the claim to fame of Wycliffe Well, and crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn (again).
It had been 14 years since our last visit to the Alice but it still had a familiar feel about it. The MacDonnell Ranges are striking and you pass through the gap as you drive from North to South in the town.
Easter Sunday gave us a full day to tour around so we started by visiting sites in the East MacDonnells, Emily Gap and Jessie Gorge. Wandering through this ancient landscape is incredible and we were lucky again to have the spaces to ourselves to marvel at them.
Heading back into town we heard about a market happening in the Todd Street Mall so we made a beeline for there. The markets were very busy and well worth a visit with a lot of variety we hadn’t seen before at other places, (I do love a market!) One of the funniest things was playing spot the heavy metal fan. It just happens that Alice Springs was hosting “Blacken” a heavy metal music festival being held over 2 days of the Easter weekend, so the fans weren’t too hard to pick out of the crowd.
After the market we headed out to the West MacDonnell Ranges. Our first stop was at the grave site and memorial to Rev. John Flynn the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The memorial, with the huge boulder atop and the ranges as its backdrop has an interesting story in itself, one place you have to visit when you’re in the Alice.
We then drove on to see Standley Chasm hoping to reach it for noon when the sun is directly above the chasm and casts light down the centre to illuminate the red rock face. On our last visit here we remember walking along a rocky river bed and scrambling over larger rocks in some places, but now there is an easy, flat path to follow to one side of the gorge which delivers you directly to the picturesque and cool chasm. For the tall people, just watch out for the orb spiders and their webs in the trees all the way along the walk, beautiful and horrific at the same time.
Our last stop was at Simpsons Gap which turned out to be the most spectacular of all we’d seen that day. Another easy walking path along one side of the gorge, past breathtaking towering rock walls that make you just stop and admire them. When we reached the gap there was a pool of water there making it a magical sight, with great reflections to see. We stayed there for a while just taking in the magnificent cliffs of rock and feeling very tiny before walking back via the dry river bed which was dotted with magnificent old gum trees.
Our last night in Alice Springs was spent with a friend who now lives there, enjoying great company over good food and bevvies. There was just a tad of reminiscing including the time we visited him in Oenpelli in Arnhem Land, where I captured the image of my husband and son at East Alligator River. (The full story of that is on the front page of this website).
The Northern Territory leg of our journey home has now come to an end with us crossing the border back into South Australia today.
Stay tuned for the last few days of our travels on the road.