DESTINATIONS - AUSTRALIA PART 2
He sowed the seed of an Aussie 4WD adventure last month. Now Gary Cooper offers up some specific places to visit.
Finally got permission and have some time and money? Here is a summary of three outback tracks/routes we discovered on our big lap. All of these can be done as either a short break, i.e. fly in, hire a 4WD and fly out, or be added as part of larger lifetime experience. Many of the outback routes in Australia are more about remote outback touring and camping for well-equipped 4WDs rather than hard-core 4WD trips, but never underestimate the need to be 100 percent self-sufficient and that the tracks change quickly especially after rain.
Western Australia: The legendary “Gibb River Road”
The Gibb River Road is a 660km cattle route through the Southern Kimberley. An alternative path between Broome and Darwin (or Derby & Kununurra as closer major towns) it cuts through the best and easiest section to access, providing access to numerous amazing gorges, beautiful waterfalls, scenic ranges, Aboriginal rock art, fantastic hikes and off-road adventures and camping. If you have the time and an even bigger sense of adventure, plan a visit to Mitchell Falls in northwest Kimberley as this is an absolute must!
The Kimberley is very remote; to put this into perspective it is roughly the same size as California (423,000sq km, NZ is 270,000sq km) with a population of just 40,000 people! So if you want to get away from it all – this is the place. Having said that, the Gibb Road can at times be busy, dusty and badly corrugated. So
above all go prepared and be self-sufficient. Most roads are cut off and closed during the wet season (November to April), with July to September being the best time to visit. Nearly every gorge has an associated or nearby campsite; some are rustic whilst others offer relative luxury with private areas and toilets! If you want the luxury sites best book in advance as they are popular especially at El Questro or Home Valley Station. You can fly into Broome or Darwin, hire a 4WD and do a one-way trip. To do this you will need at least two-three weeks or, if you have a little bit more time, “The Great Northern Highway” to the south can be used as a looping route back to your starting point avoiding often extreme one-way rental fees plus allowing you to add major attractions such as: The Bungle Bungles in the World Heritage Purnululu National Park, an area famous for beehive-shaped sandstone domes with dozens of walks and canyons to explore. Halls Creek which is famous for two reasons, both involving the Wolfe Creek Crater, the second largest meteorite crater known on Earth (the other being Barringer Crater in Arizona) and a horror film location.
The ultimate Red Centre experience, you can fly into Alice Springs, rent a 4WD and return back to Alice. Plan on two-three weeks to complete this 1,200km circuit, a red earth outback highway alternative to taking the tarmac (you can’t avoid the black stuff completely) not a hard 4WD trip (unless its wet) and unexpectedly for us the lesser known attractions on this drive were much better than we expected namely:
West MacDonnell ranges which are close to Alice Springs and have cool scenic gorges which are great for walking and swimming the highlight being Simpsons Gap.
Kings Canyon with its 300m sheer cliffs cut into the ground is a must visit, the canyon has a three to four-hour rim walk past spectacular rock formations and even a palm-fringed swimming hole in the middle of the desert!
Uluru or Ayers Rock. For many a place of pilgrimage, we enjoyed the base walk which is about 10kms around but be
warned the midday sun is fierce. The highlight was “The sounds of silence sunset dinner” in the desert watching the sun gently set over Uluru whilst listening to a didgeridoo. Yes it’s a bit touristy, but still a magical experience.
Kata Tjuta or The Olgas. This was more impressive to us than Uluru with its huge weathered rock domes. The eight km “Valley of the Winds” walk is another must do. We experienced a rainstorm like no other, which is rare, and the dry valley become a torrent of knee deep water in a matter of minutes. As an alternative adventure you can leave the national park and drive through the Great Victorian Desert on the Gunbarrel Highway to Western Australia!
Rainbow Valley Conservation Area. Sandstone bluffs that have a multitude of colours, a short 4WD track leads to the parking area and access to the numerous walks.
The Red Centre Way connects to the Mereenie Loop and takes you from the West MacDonnell Ranges – to Kings Canyon (Watarrka National Park) but goes through Aboriginal country, so you will need a permit, then on to Uluru and the Olgas before heading back via the highway and Rainbow Valley Conservation area.
Combine sections of all three historic tracks to form one amazing outback adventure loop that will take two to three weeks to complete or more if you have the time. From Adelaide you need to bomb it 800km north to Coober Pedy, which is famous for its underground homes and opal mining. The climate is so harsh here that the miners used their skills to dig their homes, so they literally do live underground! The strange lunar landscape around here has been used for many movies including; Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, Pitch Black, Red Planet and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The Oodnadatta can be joined from Coober Pedy and is actually one of the easiest outback tracks to drive. You are basically following the original old Ghan Railway route that runs from Alice Springs to Adelaide. Consequently there are plenty of historic railway sidings and buildings to explore, along with the mighty Lake Eyre, which is home to Australia’s lowest point at 15m below sea level and also the world’s largest salt lake. The track takes you past hot springs, waterholes and picturesque camping spots
and into the town of Maree after travelling approximately 400km. At Maree you join the Birdsville Track which is an old stock route and takes you north up the other side of Lake Eyre into Queensland. At least 517km later you reach the town of Birdsville (which is very close to the Simpson Desert) famous for its pub and its annual bush races held every September. Heading south again you can join the Strzelecki Track at Innamincka which follows an old stock route blazed by a cattle thief, who drove 1000 head of stolen cattle from central Queensland to Adelaide. He was eventually caught, but when it was realised that he had pioneered a new cattle route across the outback he was let off! The track runs near Australia’s famous dog fence, which is twice the length of the Great Wall of China! and finally into Lynhurst which is essentially beside the Flinders Ranges approximately 750km later. The Flinders Ranges are known for their unique beauty, indigenous history, ancient geological formations, rich colours and abundant wildlife this area would be a great destination all by itself, after exploring the Finders Ranges it’s an easy 275km back to Adelaide.
Starting and returning to Adelaide you can shorten or lengthen this trip to suit your individual needs. You need a Desert Parks Pass to access and camp at the National Parks on route. The best time to do this loop is in the winter months from April to October. If you want more adventure rather than taking the tarmac to Coober Pedy, head across to Ceduna and do the little-known Googs Track north. This track traverses the Yumbarra Conservation area and the Yellabinna Regional Reserve and finally gets you close to Coober Pedy after some 300- odd sandhill crossings! These are just three adventures, Australia is full of epic outback road trips that with a little bit of planning and preparation can be organised from New Zealand and turned into the trip of a lifetime!
Just do it!
Explore deserted canyons
Northern Territory. “Red Centre Way” and “The Mereenie Loop”
Australia has 750,000 wild camels…
Western Australia: The legendary “Gibb River Road”
Fantastic scenery in The Kimberleys
Gibb River Road, do it! Don’t just dream about The
South Australia.” Oodnadatta, Strzelecki and Birdsville Tracks and then The Flinders Ranges all in one hit!
Gary with a Mad Max tribute XA Falcon coupe