Caravan Life Diaries – Month 4 (May 2021)

This month we begrudgingly left the coast and summer behind for winter in the Outback!

The bulk of May was spent in northern South Australia before we crossed the border into the Northern Territory. My body took awhile to adjust to the change in climate, as my sinuses went haywire and my skin was the driest it’s ever been, but I think I’m just about used to it now.

outback campfire

We made it to Uluru at the end of the month and wow, what an incredible experience that was! I don’t feel like the thousands of photos I took really do justice to how incredible a time we had there… but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Where We Went This Month

TRAVEL BY STATE: 25 days in SA + 6 days in NT
ACCOMMODATION COSTS: AU$517 on campsites

caravan road trip route australia

yorke peninsula hillocks drive

May 1-4: Yorke Peninsula

I absolutely LOVED the Yorke Peninsula and can’t wait to return to explore more of it… however, these few days were plagued with lackluster (aka not beach) weather, which was a big bummer. It was windy and cloudy pretty much the whole time, which made me grateful for the few sunny days we had there in late April to kick off our week on the peninsula.

Another bummer was that around this time, a bunch of people set up camp right where we were at Hillocks Drive, while so many other campsites on the property remained empty the entire week. I really need to start requesting campsites that are AWAY from others so that we aren’t placed in the most popular area (as keeps happening).

yorke peninsula hillocks drive

We did manage to do a few short walks along the coast from where we were camping and came across an epic rock pool at the other end of the beach closest to where our campsite was.

May 4-5: Appila Springs

We broke up a nearly 6 hour drive from the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula up to the Flinders Ranges with a quick wine tasting stop in the Clare Valley and an overnight stay at Appila Springs.

By the time we reached our overnight camp, it was already dark and we couldn’t really see where the campsites were, so we parked on the side of the road leading in and woke up to a spectacular Outback landscape – our first of the trip!

appila springs campsite

Appila Springs is around the southern reaches of the Flinders Ranges and it was our first taste of red rock – so pretty!

May 5-14: Flinders Ranges

I found myself in a bit of a funk during our 9 days in the Flinders Ranges, so I didn’t end up doing all that I wanted to do in this area (reason to return someday!). I think where we stayed had a lot to do with it: we camped at Wilpena Pound purely because they have Telstra reception and we need to work, despite the mediocre reviews.

I expected old and not-so-clean facilities (they weren’t actually that bad), but I wasn’t prepared for all of the groups that took over the campground! There were a few school groups that made SO much noise, and then on our last day we basically got forced out by a huge cycling group that arrived in the morning ready to set up on one whole side of the camp.

flinders ranges drive

Then a couple times during our stay, we had people come and set up tents like *right* next to our campsite, a little too close for comfort, when there were plenty of other more spacious sites around that they could have taken. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS! Aussies get the concept of personal space, right? Unlike other campgrounds, at Wilpena Pound you can choose your own (unpowered) site, so it wasn’t that reception assigned us all to the same condensed space.

Last gripe, I promise: the campground was very shady and dark, which I’m sure is a blessing in the hot summer months, but in May it just made it colder and bleak-like and I just didn’t enjoy it that much.

However, we picked a site with a HUGE octagonal fire pit – never seen one this big in a site before, but it was awesome! Especially when we spread all the red coals out and made our own little heater :)

rawnsley park station flinders ranges

As for what we DID do in the Flinders Ranges:

  • The St. Mary Peak hike, a 20km loop that took us about 5 hours to complete. The last bit of the uphill climb is STEEP and exhausting, but still fun.
  • The Bunyeroo & Brachina Gorge scenic drive, by far the highlight of our time here (more on this in The Best Bits section below!).
  • Rawnsley Park Station, where I would have preferred to camp if they had reliable reception! Instead we stopped by one day to take in the views from Station Lookout.

flinders ranges hike

May 14-15: Port Augusta (ish)

We broke up the 7 hour drive from the Flinders Ranges to Coober Pedy by staying overnight at the North Tent Hill Rest Area, about 36km NW of Port Augusta.

Driving into a vibrant sunset is always a favorite; sleeping right next to road trains thundering past in the middle of the night, not so much. Was very grateful to past Lindsay for having the good sense to stash ear plugs in the hidden pocked of my suitcase many months ago.

outback sunset

Also, the drive from Port Augusta to Coober Pedy (specifically the first half) was absolutely beautiful! I had my head and camera lens out the window every other minute trying to soak it all in. Lots of (dried up) salt lakes and big rock formations along this drive.

salt lake south australia

May 15-25: Coober Pedy

I was eager to check out this quirky Outback mining town and spend some time thoroughly exploring it, but fate had other plans I guess. Between a nasty bout of allergies and/or sinusitis, horrendous flies switching off with heavy winds, and a whole lot of work to catch up on, I spent most of the time holed up in our caravan.

camping coober pedy

We camped at the Hutchinson Memorial just 13km south of town for 10 days and absolutely LOVED it. I wasn’t sure how we’d go camping on the side of the road without facilities for so long, but it was totally fine. We barely heard any traffic from the nearby road.

We drove into town every few days to use the shower at the Shell station and refill our water ($1 for 30L!), and made use of our portable toilet at the campsite (burying our waste in the bush nearby). The best part was how spacious this unofficial campsite was. There was nobody else within eyesight of where we were set up and it really felt like our own private property.

At night, we’d sit around the campfire and look up at the stars. So glorious!

As far as sightseeing goes, I had two must-dos: the Coober Pedy (Hollywood) sign, and the Breakaways. The latter were absolutely breathtaking – so vibrant and photogenic! I may have choked on a fly and started dry heaving in front of some tourists there, oops.

coober pedy sign

May 25-26: SA/NT Border

Another overnight stop to break up the 7 hour drive from Coober Pedy to Uluru! This time we camped right across the street from the SA/NT border rest area (technically still in South Australia, though we could have camped on the NT side).

Camping is allowed at the rest area itself, which lots of people did, but why on earth would you bother when across the street is a huge plot of land where you can set up wherever you want and have tons of space? I don’t get it. But it meant there was only one other party across the road with us (on the NT side) and all we saw of them was the flicker of their campfire in the distance.

The rest area itself was fun because you can take the classic cheesy photo of yourself straddling the state border! Or in our case, we had one foot in SA and one foot in NT… and then we had the car in NT and the caravan in SA ;)

sa nt border

May 26-31: Uluru & Kata Tjuta

Our week in Uluru was absolutely magical – it’ll be one of the top highlights when we look back at this trip, I know that already.

I was here 15 years ago during my study abroad year in Sydney, but it was a whirlwind tour and left me with fuzzy memories. On this trip, I had plenty more time to really soak it all in and enjoy, and we took full advantage.

uluru sunrise

The Ayers Rock Campground has mixed reviews, but apart from the occasional lengthy wait at reception, I loved my time here. I surprised myself by waking up for sunrise 4 of the 6 mornings (WHO EVEN AM I?!). There are lookouts over Uluru both in the campground and just across the street, so I managed to roll out of bed, throw on all my layers (my god it got COLD here overnight!), and walk over to one of the lookouts most mornings to catch the sunrise. One morning we actually drove into the park to see sunrise up close over Kata Tjuta – I still can’t believe we managed that as two decidedly NOT morning people!

kata tjuta
Just realized my eyes are closed in like every photo in this post, oops!

We splurged on the Field of Light Star Pass, which was an evening excursion to a sand dune overlooking Uluru. Here we were given drinks and canapes as we waited for the sun to go down and the light installation to turn on below us. Then once the lights came on, we got to walk down and wander around the lights.

This would have been an incredible date night had it not been so uncomfortably cold and windy! It was still magical, but all that waiting in the cold was brutal.

uluru field of light

And of course we did all of the walks and viewing platforms, and made sure to catch the sunset every night in the park – as you do. More in The Best Bits section below!

The Best Bits

IMM

A few years ago, I attended the IMM travel media conference in Sydney and it was such a fruitful experience. This year, they moved the event online and I had a bunch of 1:1 Zoom meetings with different tourism boards and travel vendors around Australia.

As much as I’m an introvert and generally dread socializing with people I don’t know, I can actually turn it on and act like a bubbly extravert when the occasion calls for it. It’s super strange, but also really cool because I’m always left thinking, who WAS that? (It me!)

But yeah, I had some really excellent meetings and I’m excited to see what collaborations come to fruition during this road trip! Most of the opportunities are in Queensland, which is where we’ll likely be from August til the end of the year. Looking forward to showing you guys some amazing experiences in the coming months!

bunyeroo gorge

Bunyeroo & Brachina Gorge

I already blogged about the scenic drive we did in the Flinders Ranges, but Bunyeroo & Brachina Gorge are worth mentioning once more because they’re gorge(ou)s. The sensational views from atop Bunyeroo Gorge are forever seared in my memory.

The Breakaways

I’m not sure what I was expecting when we drove out from Coober Pedy to the Breakaways apart from colorful rocks, but we got there and were spellbound by what we saw. Even the valley itself was mesmerizing to look at.

I’m glad we went later in the day during the golden hour light, ’cause that added to the magic.

breakaways coober pedy

Sunrise + Base Walk + Sunset At Uluru

One of my favorite days this month was the one in which I woke up to see a brilliant pink sunrise over Uluru, then spent the day walking around the entire base of Uluru, then watched the rock turn bright red at sunset. So much beauty crammed into one day!

uluru base walk

Friends Reunion

My expectations for the Friends reunion were pretty low, but I didn’t even care because I just wanted to see them all together again so badly. I was so surprised at how well done it was! I love that it wasn’t just an interview format, and I love even more that the actors still are these characters (same mannerisms and everything!). I held onto their every word from start to finish, skin lined with goosebumps the entire time.

I was also pleased that we were able to stream it from Australia on the release day (before it was even released in the US!). Such a luxury we rarely get to enjoy Down Under!

kata tjuta valley of the winds
First time hiking in a skirt, and honestly? So easy and comfy, would do again.

Valley of the Winds Walk

I believe I referred to this walk as “heaven on earth” when I first wrote about it 15 years ago. Happy to report that the Garden of Eden vibes are still strong around Kata Tjuta. Beyond that, it’s hard to put into words what it’s like to walk into the valley and be totally surrounded by those majestic orange mounds.

The insane thing is that we had the walk completely to ourselves! The whole of Ayers Rock Resort (which includes the campground and all hotels) was booked out on that day, yet we were the only ones doing this hike? HOW?! I honestly think a lot of people skip it or miss it, which is a shame because it’s the best damn thing to do at Uluru (yep, I said it).

 

kata tjuta sand dunes kulgera roadhouse outback

 

The Worst Bits

Sick In The Outback

I don’t even remember the last time I was sick, but man did this sinus infection knock me out for a few days. I suspect that the quick change in weather conditions triggered it, going from balmy humid coastal weather to dry warm Outback weather with crazy winds. Either way, I was tied to the tissue box for awhile there and felt just generally crap, so I didn’t end up doing as much as I’d hoped I would during my time in Coober Pedy.

Also, this is gross but so perfectly sums up this stop on our road trip: one time I blew my nose and found a dead fly in my snot. My lord, the flies were absolutely HORRENDOUS here, literally all up in my face whenever I stepped outside between 8:30am and 6pm.

outback night sky
Living our best lives near Coober Pedy.

Gas Leak Scare

Filed under things you really don’t want to happen while you’re caravanning: waking up in freezing temps to the putrid smell of what seems to be gas mixed with rotten eggs.

Our first thought was that maybe we had a gas leak (we use gas to power the stove and fridge). Then I noticed that one of the burners wasn’t quite turned off all the way (it was just the slightest bit away from being completely off), so maybe the gas had just been running all night while we were asleep?

Either way, we had to get the horrible smell out of our van: cue us flinging open the door and all windows at 7am when it was about 40F outside and throwing on our beanies, winter jackets, and blankets to keep from freezing.

It took a couple days to fully get rid of the smell, but it’s gone so that means it probably wasn’t a leak thank goodness.

outback road

What I Read

The Crow Girl – A very long Scandinavian Noir novel that reeeeeeally dragged for the first half, then picked up in the second half to the point where I could barely put it down. I’m not sure if the book was originally written in Swedish and then translated awkwardly, but that’s what it seemed like. I felt like it wasn’t written super well, but the story itself was pretty gripping so I stuck with it.

Boy Swallows Universe – I’d heard this book being hyped up the past year or two and thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and see what all the fuss was about. And aw, what a delightful read! Very well written, and something different to other stories I’ve read before. I also didn’t realize before that it takes place in Brisbane, so that was kinda cool (go Aussie!).

flinders ranges sunset

Things I’m Loving

UnReal – If you’re a reality tv fan and you haven’t watched this series yet, YOU MUST. You’ll never look at reality tv the same again, knowing what actually goes into making it. I first watched it a few years ago and then re-watched the whole thing this month. SO GOOD.

What’s Next?

After Uluru, we’re heading to Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges before settling in around Alice Springs for a couple weeks to catch up on work and routines.

By the end of the month, we’ll be driving north to Darwin (I’m guessing we won’t actually hit Darwin til July, but we’ll get close to it!).

 

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