It’s a myth you need a 4-wheel drive to do this trip, I loaded my VW Tiguan to the brim, even on the roof and did it in a breeze. I only put the wrong fuel in it once…but that was on purpose I promise. My good friend Bec flew up to Darwin and we slowly made our way down south with a few pit-stops along the way…
There’s plenty to see and do around Darwin and some amazing experiences – Litchfield National Park with a number of waterfalls and croc free (most of the time) swimming holes, Kakadu National Park, Mindil Markets, Matt Wright’s Top End Safari Camp and Tiwi Island Retreat to name a few. And the fishing…oh my golly gosh the fishing!! That’s confidential!
Ready for the trip in the loaded up Volkswagen
First stop after the above activities would normally be Adelaide River and Bar 303, but we’ll cover that in our Kununurra trip at a later date. We instead headed straight for Daly Waters. So first up was Katherine – one of the biggest towns in the NT behind Darwin, and Alice, and a good spot to stop for lunch – only 300kms from Darwin. The Golf Club aka ‘The Golfie’ is a hot spot for a good pub meal, and if you’ve ever stayed in Katherine, you’ll no doubt be familiar with these two establishments – The Golfie and Kirby’s nightclub…We can’t forget the showgrounds, home to the famous Katherine Show held in June which includes a rodeo and camp draft among other things. A big one on the NT social calendar.
If you’re after some activities, head to Katherine Gorge or Katherine Outback Experience run by Annabel and Tom Curtain just out of town. It’s won numerous tourism awards (along with Tom’s many golden guitar awards) and is an incredible horse, dog and music performance showcasing life in the outback.
Litchfield National Park, Katherine Outback Experience, Top End Safari Camp
We continued down the road through Mataranka past the pub and hot springs, and for the next hour and forty five I can’t actually report much…being December, the rains hit us heavily and we couldn’t see a lot. But we made it to the Daly Waters Pub – a famous one in the NT. We didn’t book ahead being the wet season thinking not too many tourists would be about and of course, they were fully booked, and so too was the roadhouse. SO, we parked up in the caravan park, nestled into the bar and made conversation with some interesting characters also travelling south. We slept in the car that night – it was either windows up, 45 degrees and mozzie free, or windows down, 30 degrees and eaten alive by mozzies.
After not much sleep, we fled early for a 9-hour drive to Alice Springs. We didn’t look sideways as we fled through towns such as Elliot and Tennant Creek, and after 5 hours of driving, we pulled into the Devils Marbles – a tourist attraction of big round rocks. I’ll be honest, they look incredible if photographed well, but that wasn’t us…it was stinking hot and we were ready for Alice Springs, let’s just say we’ve ticked that off the list. Another 2.5 hours on, we did a double take as we were fronted with a huge Aboriginal warrior standing out the front of the Aileron Roadhouse…I’m talking 17m tall. As you can imagine, it stands out a lot in the middle of the outback so we had a look then pressed through the last 1.5 hours into Alice – where we would stay and pick up our crazy friend Lucy.
By this stage, the car felt like the size of a matchbox and cabin fever was well and truly present. Lucy showed us around town, took us for a beer at Bojangles where the bar stools are saddles and peanut shells on the ground are the norm.
Macdonnell Ranges – Alice Springs, NT
The following day, we strapped Lucy’s gear to the roof of the VW, jammed Lucy in the back seat and went on our way. We actually detoured out to Kings Canyon & Uluru but that’s another trip in itself covered in our next Roadie story (stay tuned).
Our aim was to stay in Coober Pedy from here – just a 7-hour drive from Alice, passing through the Erldunda Roadhouse and Marla before getting to Coober Pedy. These small towns are basically just a roadhouse, so it was either a stubby holder, sticker, or another questionable CD of someone’s greatest hits where actually you’d never heard of any of the songs. Again, limited reception out here and we didn’t download anything to listen to so we went for Johnny Cash’s greatest hits – we were in the country after all.
Northern Territory – South Australia Border
After 7 hours of Johnny Cash and across the border, we found ourselves in Coober Pedy ready for a well awaited refreshing ale from the local pub – even if the windows were barred up and two gentlemen had just been removed from this fine establishment. After a quick rehydration and spin around town, we decided Coober Pedy wasn’t for us and went with Lucy’s recommendation to hit the road for a further 2 and a half hours to the small town of Glendambo! That’s another 2.5 hours of Johnny Cash FYI…but it was well worth it. We rolled into the Glendambo Roadhouse on dusk and had ourselves an early Christmas dinner (cracker hats and all) in the old wool shed turned restaurant. The accommodation is the old shearers quarters which did us just fine. There’s a heap of sheep around Glendambo but not much else really.
Opal Mines – Coober Pedy, SA
We decided to wing it the next day, not knowing where we would stay. It was either 6 hours to Adelaide or 11.5 hours to Bec’s place just across the Victorian border…Another early start and rotation for who was in the back seat with no view whatsoever. After only an hour we found ourselves at Lake Hart, a massive salt lake we cartwheeled around for half an hour. We skipped through Port Augusta, Port Pirie and landed at the Port Wakefield bakery ‘Kiplers’ – a bakery I knew about from driving to Birdsville.
Lake Hart, SA
That was 5 hours under the belt driving, and travelling well, so we decided to keep the momentum going and head for Glenorchy over the Victorian border. Through Adelaide, Murray Bridge and Keith, where we stopped for a counter meal dinner. Filled up the esky and celebrated the last 3 hours of Bec driving. We gave the ‘Big Koala’ a wave just out of Horsham and finally made it into Glenorchy – our last stop. Thankfully Lucy and I only had another 3 hours the following day, just in time for Christmas at home.
We did this trip in 8 days, this included 3 extra days out at Uluru which you can read about next… A really fun trip with friends, but take note, driving 1000km’s in a day…you can go a little crazy!