Caravan Life Diaries – Month 5 (June 2021)

READ THE OTHER CARAVAN LIFE DIARIES MONTHLY RECAPS HERE.

June was spent entirely in Australia’s Red Centre region, which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind the Outback is a place that’s perpetually HOT. In reality, it’s not at all hot during winter – in fact, on many occasions it was so cold at night and in early morning that we could see our breath. We slept with hot water bottles in bed at least half of the time.

During the day, it was very comfortable – sunny and moderately warm, sometimes t-shirt weather and sometimes long sleeve weather.

outback sunset

To sum up the month: it was all about gorges and routine. We explored a lot of gorges, and then we spent 3 weeks in one place getting work done. ’twas a good mix of work and play, I think!

From Kings Canyon to the West MacDonnell Ranges to Alice Springs, here’s how Month 5 of caravan life played out:

Where We Went This Month

TRAVEL BY STATE: 30 days in NT

ACCOMMODATION COSTS:
AU$535 on campsites

australia caravan road trip route

Jun 1-3: Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is a mandatory detour to make on the way to or from Uluru, so there was never any question whether we’d go out of our way to see it.

We stayed at Kings Creek Station, a rustic bush camp with dingos howling at night nearby, which I quite enjoyed. The price, not so much – an unpowered site for $50, are you kidding me? You might be able to justify that if it were a fancy caravan park with all sorts of amenities, but this place was very no-frills. It’s just one of those cases where you have to suck it up and deal, because you don’t really have any other option.

They do have a decent cafe onsite, which boasts the famous camel burger. I tried it and was underwhelmed, but maybe that’s because I rarely eat meat these days?

kings canyon rim walk

At Kings Canyon, the thing to do is the Rim Walk around the top edges of the canyon. It was just as stunning as I remembered from when I hiked it 15 years ago. More deets in ‘The Best Bits’ section below!

June 3-9: West MacDonnell Ranges

I was especially jazzed to explore all of the gorges in the West MacDonnell Ranges, an area I had completely missed on my whirlwind Outback tour back in 2006.

We based ourselves at Standley Chasm, where they allow you to camp overnight in their car park. I probably wouldn’t have stayed here if it weren’t the only place in the West Macs with reliable phone reception; let’s just say it’s not the most peaceful camping experience with tourists and cars coming and going all day long right next to you.

west macdonnell ranges drone

These are the gorges/chasms we visited (pretty much all of ’em):

Simpsons Gap – The easiest to reach (from Alice Springs) and the least impressive I’d say.

Standley Chasm – Since we camped here, we got to witness the chasm at midday and late afternoon, two vastly different lighting situations. At midday, the sun is right over the chasm and illuminates the walls so they glow a bright orange color. Later in the day, the lighting is much softer and more even (and better for portraits). I’m glad we got to see it both ways!

Ellery Creek Big Hole – I wasn’t overly impressed by this one, but I think it was because we went in late morning when it was too bright and washed out. If I were to return, I’d aim to visit first thing in the morning for killer reflections and flat water.

ellery creek big hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole.

Serpentine Gorge – The gorge itself is not very picturesque and it’s pretty much always in the shade, but the walk up to the lookout above was excellent. The views up there are incredible!

Glen Helen Gorge – SUCH a picture-perfect gorge, but the main road in is currently closed off so we had to hike in via an alternate path. I SO would have loved to have gotten up close and/or paddleboarded through the gorge.

Ormiston Gorge – OBSESSED with this one. I loved it so much I returned a couple weeks later, after we’d gone back to Alice Springs. There’s a beach, and a glorious lookout above the gorge, and a fantastic loop hike around and through the gorge. More in ‘The Best Bits’ section below, or in this blog post.

Oh, and I ran into Instagram legends Hayley and Kyle at Ormiston Gorge while they were leading a tour. It was so crazy witnessing them in the wild! They were in the middle of filming a vlog so I didn’t go up to them. I watched it later on and our red esky is actually visible in the background, too funny!

ormiston gorge
Ormiston Gorge.

Redbank Gorge – This gorge is SUCH a gem, and I’m pretty sure it’s the least-visited because it’s the one furthest away from Alice Springs and requires a short drive on a gravel road. We visited in late afternoon, when the rocks were more of a purple color, but around midday they’re more bright orange – I think either is gorge(ou)s.

I’d really wanted to get on my floatie and explore inside the gorge, but there were dozens of dead fish floating around the water and I just couldn’t bring myself to get in the water after that. Like, if fish are dying in that water, do I really want to insert myself into it?

trephina gorge
Trephina Gorge.

June 9-30: Alice Springs

We spent the rest of the month based in Alice Springs at the campground behind the National Road Transport Hall of Fame… not because we had a lot to see here, but because we wanted time to catch up on work things.

This campground was perfect for our needs: it was cheap, had showers and laundry, offered free firewood, and was just a 10min drive from town. Best of all, we had the whole unpowered area in the back all to ourselves for most of the time. I loved watching trains pass by and planes fly directly overhead (the airport was just a few km away).

And being near the transport museum, there were tons of old train cars and vehicles scattered around the property. So cool and unique!

alice springs campground

As for what we did besides work, we did manage to do a few excursions from Alice:

Alice Springs Desert Park – I’m not normally one to visit zoos, but this one was fantastic. Firstly, all of the featured creatures are from the Outback. Secondly, it’s an open air park and it honestly feels like you’re just going for a stroll outside of Alice when you’re walking from station to station. And most importantly, their flying bird show is SO GOOD: they had an owl, an eagle, and all sorts of other native birds swoop in real close so we could get a good look at them. Ever since my visit, I’ve been noticing wedge tailed eagles soaring over me virtually everywhere I am.

alice springs desert park

Trephina Gorge – You don’t hear much about the East MacDonnell Ranges, which is why I was so keen to check this gorge out. It was beautiful! I only wish we’d had time to do the ridgetop hike to another nearby gorge, but it’s a full day endeavor and not really doable for us between the limited daylight hours in winter and our propensity for late starts (aka WE ARE NOT MORNING PEOPLE).

Rainbow Valley – This one had been on my list for YEARS and I’m so glad I finally got to visit! The road in was absolutely awful, but it was worth the trek.

rainbow valley

The Best Bits

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

This bucket list-worthy hike was just as epic as I’d remembered. It starts with a very steep 10 minute hike up to the top of the canyon, and then it’s a few hours of easy walking around the rim and back down.

kings canyon rim walk

It’s one of those places where I just couldn’t put my camera down because there was something new to see every minute. Whether it was the rocks immediately surrounding me or the views down and out through the canyon, the Kings Canyon Rim Walk had me absolutely captivated. And yes, I’d absolutely go back a third time someday!

West MacDonnell Ranges

This whole region in general was a big highlight for me. I had such a blast exploring all the gorges and ogling the mountain ranges whenever we were driving through them.

Ormiston Gorge was the standout: from its beach to its other-worldly Pound Walk, I honestly could not get enough of this magical place.

Redbank Gorge was another fave, though I wish we’d gone earlier in the day and I also wish there hadn’t been a million dead fish to deter me from going for a swim.

redbank gorge
Redbank Gorge.

Watertank Cafe

Most days while we were based in Alice Springs, I drove into town and spent the morning working at Watertank Cafe, which had the most ideal setup for working: spacious, never overly crowded, very friendly staff who never said a word about me being there so much, great coffee, plentiful outlets, and good music playing. It felt so good to have a little bit of routine again and be a (temporary) local at the neighborhood coffee shop, something I’ve definitely been missing.

Trephina Gorge

I’m not sure how this place flies under the radar, but it’s seriously beautiful and makes for the perfect day trip from Alice Springs.

We had a picnic lunch at the park campground, surrounded by the ranges, and I lamented not camping here instead (but there’s no phone reception, so it wouldn’t have worked with us needing to be online every day).

Then we did a couple of short hikes around the rim and through the gorge. I may have gotten told off by a cranky old lady for flying my drone (which I had a permit for), even though I had moved it far away from her group as soon as I noticed they were coming through.

trephina gorge

The Worst Bits

Getting The Van Stuck Next To A Stump

So occasionally Pete and I have a little drama when we’re parking the caravan in a new campsite. I’ll be standing there directing him as he backs in, and sometimes… it just doesn’t work.

I’ll say one thing and he’ll do another… or I’ll advise him to do something, and he does it even though he knows better (as the one who’s driving) and then has to redo it. Either way results in frustration, but we do get over it quickly and it’s no big deal.

At Kings Creek Station, we got to our assigned campsite only to find someone already in it. They asked if we’d mind taking their assigned site instead and we said sure, why not.

Well, this new site had a big ol’ stump in the middle of it. I’m not sure how, but Pete ended up getting the caravan stuck right up against it, to the point where moving either forward or backward would result in potential damage underneath the van.

In desperation, I went back to our old site and commandeered the folks who took it to try to move our van away from the stump. In the end, the guy had this brilliant idea to put a large rock underneath one of the van wheels and drive the caravan onto it, clearing the edge of the stump. Crisis averted!

west macdonnell ranges

Camping Next To The Most Obnoxious Group Ever

I’m sure this will go down as one of the worst moments of our entire trip. *Takes a deep breath* OK, here we go:

So we arrived in Alice Springs just before the start of Finke, an annual motorbike race through the desert in southern NT. We had no idea this was even a thing, else we probably would have gone into hiding elsewhere.

The campground we were staying in prepared for a full house by allocating sites very close together as groups arrived. This meant that they put a big group of middle aged men right next to our site – and I mean RIGHT. NEXT. TO. US. No elbow room whatsoever.

This group had absolutely no respect or regard for anyone around them and carried on making all sorts of noise whenever they were around. I’m talking constant f-bombs, blasting music past midnight, shouting, and just being extremely obnoxious in general.

One night, we were sitting around our campfire when one of the group came over and started talking to us. This guy would not leave us alone, even when I couldn’t be bothered to pretend to listen to him anymore and started reading my book as he was standing there. I just wanted to read my murder mystery in peace, dammit! And Pete is too nice to tell him to f off, so he politely entertained the guy.

Later that night, we went to sleep in our van with our neighbors’ music still blasting a few feet away from us. I put earplugs in and was just starting to doze off when I felt our van shaking. I figured it was Pete just getting settled in bed, as he usually shakes it like crazy, but no – SOMEONE WAS SHAKING OUR VAN! At this point, Pete opened the window and told them off, and we somehow managed to fall asleep.

The next day, the group went out for breakfast and the older guy (their chaperone? hah) came over to apologize to us for his friend’s antics the night before. None of them bothered us after that, and to my delight and surprise: they left after just two nights at camp. Half of the campground moved to camp closer to the race the day it kicked off, and from that point on things were much more peaceful.

I still don’t see why they crammed this group in so close to us when there was plenty of unused space around the property, even if it had been at capacity. But whew, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve felt THAT uncomfortable.

outback camping

Breaking ALL Of Our Charging Units

What are the odds that both my solar power charging station AND my inverter died on the same day? I’m thinking slim to none, and yet… IT HAPPENED.

We were camping without power at the time, so the only thing I could really do was head to my fave cafe in town and charge everything up while there. Except conveniently, the next day Alice Springs went into lockdown and cafes closed. How convenient!

In the end, I ended up charging some devices in the camp bathroom – I know, such a glamorous life it is being on the road 24/7! Eventually I bought a new inverter, so we were able to charge our laptops in the car, and I shipped my power station out for repair.

outback australia

Lockdown AGAIN

Speaking of lockdown, yep, Australia is going through another wave of COVID and thus another round of lockdowns, which always vary by state. The Northern Territory is the least populous state and luckily hasn’t had to deal with many cases or lockdowns, so it was a bit of a surprise that both Alice and Darwin went into lockdown over hardly anything.

Thankfully the one in Alice only lasted a few days and didn’t get extended, but it was annoying having to wear the old mask again.

Money Stress

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share this, but here it is: money has been a pretty big stress on me lately.

It’s not that traveling Australia full time is more expensive than living in an apartment in Bondi (it’s definitely not)… it’s that I’ve been supporting Pete and paying for ALL expenses for the past 3 months while he builds his coaching business.

This shouldn’t be at all surprising, given my blog name has the word frugal in it, but I’m generally very good with money, never live beyond my means, always pay bills on time and in full, etc. This is the first time I’m having to run calculations, shift money around between accounts, etc, and it was a shock to see that, if we continued to spend in the same way that we have been, and I continued to pay for everything without any extra money coming in, I wouldn’t be able to pay my next credit card bill. That has NEVER happened to me in 20 years of credit card ownership and I will do anything to avoid it ever happening (gotta preserve my near-perfect credit score!).

Thank GOD for tax return season though! Pete’s due to get a sizable chunk back since he only worked for half of last year, and I’m very ready to let my credit card cool off for awhile. He’s also very close to signing a client, which’ll make all this worth it. All fingers crossed!

standley chasm
Standley Chasm.

What I Read

8. Knife – Jo Nesbo

I’ve read nearly every one of the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbo and they’re one of my favorite murder mystery series of ALL TIME, so it’s a wee bit surprising that I didn’t know a new book was released last year – oops! Definitely not surprising that I devoured the whole thing and loved the crap out of it, though. 

9. Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey

Admittedly I knew nothing about Matthew McConaughey other than him being the hot guy in all the rom coms. Turns out, he’s actually smart, adventurous, spiritual, and a masterful storyteller. This book is all about the lessons he’s learned in his 50 years of life, and how they all led to what he calls “greenlights”. I loved it! And I also love that he traveled around the US in an Airstream and would have work meetings while on the road, picking up whoever he was meeting with from whatever airport he was near and dropping them off afterwards before continuing on with his travels. Who knew this guy was so cool?

ochre pit

What’s Next?

It’s hard to say with any certainty what comes next with the recent lockdowns across Australia, but we are VERY ready to head towards Darwin in July.

If we’re able to go forward with our plans, we’ll be driving 1500km north to tackle the Top End of Australia. I’m looking forward to hot springs, natural infinity pools, and gorges galore – not to mention, hot sunny days and balmy nights on tap (think: 90F high and 20F low… and that’s in winter!).

 

READ THE OTHER CARAVAN LIFE DIARIES MONTHLY RECAPS HERE.

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