We arrived to Perth in October, which is towards the end of spring around here, looking to buy a camper car and visit the outback and the North of the country before the summer heat sets in.
Perth – the mining capital of Australia, with BHP Billington and Rio Tinto skyscrapers dominating the skyline. But also a relaxed, modern and comfortable beach town with a perfect mediterranean weather – we liked it!
Therefore we had to hurry – but having read about the remote conditions and rough outback roads we also wanted to be extra prepared. After a weekend of seeing cars, we settled for a rough but sturdy looking Landrover Discovery. Then it took us almost a week to equip it: we got (mostly second hand) tools to change, fix and inflate tyres, 40L water container, 25L extra diesel tank, storage, cooking gear, mattress, and a bedframe which we constructed ourselves.
Proud of our new ride and home
Building our nest
And then, we were finally able to start the longest roadtrip of our lives – a big loop (see map) that would take us 15,000km around Western Australia!
Turns out that even the desert has a spring – little wildflowers point their nose all over the spiky dry bushland and watching them is a popular tourist attraction in Western Australia.
Most of these wildflowers are endemic to this region only, and a lot are endangered – therefore picking them is strictly forbidden.
First encounter with local wildlife. We were a bit wary as we had no idea if this thing was poisonous, and here you never know! I jumped up and screamed when he stuck out an ugly blue tongue and hissed at me 😀 But we later we learned that bobtails are not dangerous, it’s just for show!
In the country of crazy rocks, we started with the Pinnacles – Nambung National Park, a surreal sandy desert with wind-uncovered formations
Spot the intruder pinnacle
Somehow we immediately drove on a nail and got a flat tyre. Guess who was super excited to use his new gear to fix it 😛
Almost like Europe! New Norcia Spanish monastery town
Moving towards the interior, we started encountering 19th century gold mining towns with cool names like Southern Cross…
… or Kalgoorlie. We visited an open-sky active gold mine, a hole 3km wide in the ground… astounding how much effort to get some shiny powder!!!
The size of the mining trucks can be imagined just based on the tyres! 7 such truckfuls of rock yield one golf-ball sized nugget of gold, after much pounding and chemical processing
We got stuck in Kalgoorlie for a week, waiting for the alternator of our car to be replaced. So we could observe local customs, like what kinds of cars people park in their yard 🙂
An eerie sight – mining town abandoned in the 50s. As there are very few big trees in this arid region, most constructions were made from corrugated iron.
Like most lakes you will see on the Australian interior maps, Lake Ballard is just a muddy salty endless plain. It fills with water once every 10 years, after exceptional rains. Then millions of little shrimps get born and birds flock from all over to feed and reproduce… Crazy lifecycle.
A perfect place for an art installation – a network of metal figures scattered on the lake, by British artist Anthony Gormley
Once our car was fixed, we could finally start the big desert crossing. Just in time to see huge storms with scary lightnings.
1600km to go until the next city! Just a few Aboriginal villages (but need a special permit to get in), and some road stations every 400km or so. Absolutely no phone signal whatsoever for hundreds of kilometers. We met cars every few hours, so even if our car broke down, we were not going to die from thirst and heat all by ourselves. Reassuring!
And this is what happens to cars that do break down – they are left to rust, because towing them back to civilisation cost more money than the car itself…
Sexy photo op on one of the abandoned cars. We just hoped ours will not end up as a similar photo op!
For our first desert night, we set up camp on the edge of this plateau. In the morning, we watched kangaroos playing and jumping around the plain.
The kangaroos like to sit in the shade during the heat of the day. How reasonable.
Camping nights – no-one around for hundreds of kilometers, endless starry sky, sitting around the fire with ukulele sounds – this is the Outback!
The windmills lift water from deep underground for cattle (but kangaroos are very happy about it too) . When Cesar found one that was splashing water all over, he was happy too – he jumped out of the car with his soap and took a shower 😀
THIS IS NOT A ROAD. This is an airstrip. In case of emergency, that’s where the Royal Flying Doctors land their Cessna plane. As it’s just a bit of asphalt on the main dirt road, signs say to be careful and check if any plane is not landing on you right now. Why not, very economical solution 😀
Some days we saw wild horses running around the desert – they are descendants of the early explorers’ horses
The early explorers also brought camels from Arabia and Afghanistan to help explore the desert. When no longer needed, they were released into the wild and with no natural predators, just spread by the millions. Today Australia has the largest camel herd in the world and they cause huge damages to the ecosystem as well as breaking water tanks or even houses when they look for water. Read more about this craziness here!
Covered in red dust and a bit dazed from all the driving, we finally reached the the famous Uluru! The road through which we arrived is so unfrequented that they don’t even bother collecting the entrance fee on that side…
The mandatory sunrise viewing, on a platform with hundreds of tourists. Such a weird sensation after seeing no-one for days! The tourists fly to the nearby (i.e only 600km) town of Alice Springs and get on a tourbus to visit Uluru.
At first, it looks just like an ordinary small mountain in the middle of a plain. But then, as you start walking around and looking at all the cracks, shapes and light effects, you understand why it’s so sacred to the Aboriginals…
For each crack and hole, there is a Dreamtime story, or Aboriginal creation legend. Some spots are forbidden to men, or cannot be photographed, to respect the Aboriginal customs
Looking different at every light
Despite the arid conditions, this was a fertile region for Aboriginals: lots of berries and native fruits in the shade of the rock, water holes where rain comes down from some cracks – this meant lots of emus and kangaroos for hunting!
More crazy rocks at the nearby Kata Tjuta national park
As we were visiting this region, the temperatures soared to 37 degrees. Most walks were closed after 9am to avoid people becoming sick and needing rescue from the rangers. So we got used to waking up early, but didn’t really know what to do with ourselves and our car in the heat of the day!
THIS IS A RIVER. Yep, that’s what they look like in the outback – just sandy riverbeds in the dry season, but we were told they become torrents for a few months a year
Hiking around the nearby Kings Canyon
Look at the tiny people on the edge of the canyon :O
A local bird called Cesar
As we finally reached the asphalt roads, we thought the hardest was behind us. But just then, we heard a sudden explosion and were appalled to see our tyre shredded to pieces. There were pieces of tyre behind us for dozens of meters, and even the car body got bent! Not funny this time :-O
We put on our spare tyre and hoped it would survive the 500km to Alice Springs… but it got shredded too, just before we reached civilisation. We ended up spending the afternoon at a local camel farm that also provides a few mechanical services, who were able to find us a replacement tyre.
After Alice Springs, we headed all the way North to Darwin. Not much to see on the road, but of course we found more crazy rocks – these ones are called Devil’s Marbles
And then, suddenly, we reached the “water zone”. Just like that, without warning, the desert became a tropical jungle. A delicious swim in a perfectly refreshing natural spring – perfect to wash the dust of the road.
Look at that smile… pure bliss!
This time Cesar doesn’t look as relaxed, because Kakadu national Park is full of huge saltwater crocodiles that can eat you whole.
Translation: “We did our best to remove the vicious killers but some may have slipped past us. Good luck with your swim!”
A small freshwater crocodile – they are nice because they can just bite you but not kill you
Lots of ancient rock art at the Kakadu national park, outlining the Aboriginal Dream legends.
The pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of the isolated refreshing waterfalls where we were able to swim while hiking around Litchfield National Park
Luscious tropical trees in Darwin’s botanical gardens
Cathedral termites build these huge mounds to escape the floods of the wet season
Look at this face of misery… What you don’t see in the pictures, is that in the outback there are so many flies trying to get into your nose and ears, that the only way is to wear a net over your head. They are way worse than mosquitoes or any other insect we have encountered in our trip so far!
More crazy rocks, and these ones have a crazy name too – the Bungle Bungles.
In the whole park it was just us and another 4×4 jeep – because to access it, we had to drive 50km over very bad dirt roads and cross 7 rivers. Only for the determined and deserving tourists!
Cathedral Gorge in the Bungle Bungles
We walked at the bottom of a huge canyon that got as narrow as 1m at the end
Too high to see the top!
As it had just rained, snakes got out to hunt for the jumping frogs – so we had to be careful, as most snakes here are very, very poisonous. We were told to not walk in the grass with sandals, be extra careful when we go pee in the bush, etc. Just a reflex that becomes normal after a few days here!
Admiring the Australian baobabs, called boabs. They are the cousins of the African baobabs, and only grow in the Kimberley region of Australia – how crazy!
In the Karijini national park, we were able to walk at the top on the canyon edges…
… but also at the bottom, where there is water…
…and where we could swim in refreshing swimholes
Look at this cutie, perfectly adapted to the colour of the surrounding rocks!
After this, we reached the ocean and continued down the wild west coast to Broome, Shark Bay and much more… but we have so many pictures that they will need another article!
This road trip through the outback was like nothing we had done before, and despite having read how far, remote and hot it was, we were just so innocent! We had no idea what kind of harsh and huge country we were getting ourselves into – until you experience it, there is no way to grasp it. All our notions of what qualifies as a city, a road, a hot day, or comfort had to quickly change. 😅 We saw lots of natural beauty (and lots of crazy red rocks!), wildlife, endless skies. But the one thing we will remember is this weird feeling of being so helpless, so far away from human society. We realised how sheltered we are in society, and what fragile, useless little things we are by ourselves. Like being on the ocean, hoping to reach the next island that will allow you to survive. But on the other hand, this is Australia: you always feel like you are in a safe, organised, English-speaking country where people will go out of their way to help you. A (sometimes) hard but memorable few weeks!
Coming up next: going down the Wild West Coast.