From Melbourne to the Red Centre

During the next days we have to drive a long distance from Melbourne to the Red Centre near Alice Springs, roughly 3000 km road along beaches, through deserts and some mountainous landscapes.

We leave Melbourne and head to Geelong, the official start point of the Great Ocean Road. A famous drive along the coastline, with some stunning beach views, world class surf beaches and steep cliffs. In Geelong we spot many Australian family barbecues along the beach, all of them celebrating Christmas in the summer…
From Geelong we head directly to Queenscliff, with a clear view on Port Philip Bay. From far we spot the black lighthouse in the fort and have a nice bay view. After that we drive to Point Lonsdale Lighthouse, cross the coastal villages Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads on the way to Torquay, the first coastal city on the Road and a famous surfing village. We take a look near Bells Beach, where the annual Rip Curl event is hold on one of the country’s largest right-handers (if he works – because he’s known for its inconsistency), otherwise they move to Johanna Bay, some 2 hrs further.
Along this Bells beach the end scene of ‘Point Break’, with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze is filmed.
From there we keep driving and pass Anglesea, the lighthouse and beautiful lookout at Aireys Inlet, some of the best architectural houses with beach views and drive under the Great Ocean Road Arc, a homage to the killed soldiers in WWI. The surviving soldiers built the first section of this road between 1919 and 1932.
Along the coast we keep driving to Lorne, along Mt Defiance and Cape Patton lookout to park and camp near the sea in Wongarra.

Next morning we enjoy the coastal scene, before driving to Apollo Bay. From there we head to the Cape Otway, the second southernmost point in Australia with an old lighthouse. On the road to the cape, we spot numerous koalas sleeping on tree branches. Such a cosy view! They are not hard to find, just stop near the other cars and pick them in their trees. At the cape you have to pay to enter the spot, so we head to nearby Point Franklin. From there we enjoy a beautiful coast and spot the lighthouse from afar.
After that we drive to Johanna Bay, a well known surf beach and the stand-in for Bells Beach during the Rip Curl event. From then we drive into the fertile Hordon Vale and changes the coastline into one with sheer limestone cliffs. This coastline is called shipwreck beach, because of its dangerous currents. Between 1830 and 1930 sank here around 634 ships. The most famous wreck there is that of Loch Ard, a clipper with 37 crew members and 19 passengers on board. That day he started at the last day of its route from England when he got lost on the cliffs. Only two survived and stranded in the Loch Ard Gorge.
For us this coastline holds some of the best known coastal sceneries on this ocean route. We spot Gog and Magog near the Gibson steps, we count 7 of the apostles (how many there exact are is yet unknown – probably 11), visit the razorback, Loch Ard Gorge and the thunder cave. All of them are spectacular coastal cliff sceneries.
In the evening we cross Port Campbell and camp in the fields around the village.

From our campsite we drive to some other creations in the limestone landscape. The Arch, the London Bridge and the Grotto. From there we drive along the coastline to two other scenic views – the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands. Both provide some stunning views of the rugged and eroded coastline.
We keep driving to the west and refill our supplies in Warrnambool, before we reach the town we pass Logan’s beach. A famous spot for whale watching in the winter, the southern whales use it as a resting area. In summertime it is only a surf spot. After that we cross Port Fairy and the scenic view at the Crags. From there we see the tiny Lady Julia Island, known for its colony of fur seals. We’re however to far on shore to spot them.
From then a huge number of wind mills appear in sight, while we drive to Cape Nelson Lighthouse. Here we can see the Humpback and Southern Whales in winter and the Blue Whales in summer. But today we’re unlucky and spot none. Thereafter we drive to Cape Bridgewater for a walk to the petrified forest – another limestone creation – and a (non blowing at the moment of visit) blowhole. After these short walks we choose a longer one to a seal colony. The walk takes us along the beautiful white sanded Bridgewater Bay, before we spot the seals playing on the rocks and some albatrosses flying overhead.
After another well-filled day, we drive one more hour, until Nelson, the last village before entering South Australia. We camp there in a huge pine forest.

When we leave Nelson, we pass the sign ‘welcome to South Australia’. Our last state to visit during the trip, from now we’ve been in all 7 states. The first stop is Mt Gambier, where the blue lake is a real must see. During the summer months it has a clear blue colour, which transforms in November to some grey. We also stop in my namesake caves, the Engelbrecht caves, but it is quite boring and we peep into the sinkhole near town. After all, that city could not make us happy.
From there we head to the coastline, pass Brightwater, Robe and Kingston SE with its big lobster before driving into the Coorong NP. There we enjoy a nice campsite at Parnka Point, after we visited the pelican breeding grounds… But the breeding birds were all gone already.

Yesterday we hadn’t seen a lot of the NP, so we go for a small exploring drive near the Lake Albert and lake Alexandrina. A 4WD between salt lakes, sheeps and coastal areas is our share. We even spot some colonies of pelicans. With a little ferry we leave the NP and drive to the Fleurieu Peninsula, known for its numerous quality wines and wineries. We make a scenic drive between some huge wineries, before driving to Adelaide.
Famous for its many beaches, we decide to enter the city along its coastline. That proves to be a real rewarding trip, with stunning beach views and numerous holiday like houses along the coast. From Glenelg and the coastline we head to Port Adelaide, but this is quite empty on a Saturday evening, before driving into the city. Adelaide is famous for its wide and long boulevards, so we explore some of them, taste the food in Chinatown, go dancing salsa and head back to Glenelg to camp near the beachside.

For today it is mostly driving… We leave Adelaide and drive to Gladstone, the start point for a scenic drive through the Flinders Ranges. Gladstone, Laura, Wirrabara, we all cross them without much interest, except for the 400 year old King Tree in the forests around town. We cross Melrose and end in the Mt Remarkable NP, for a nice campsite and evening walk around the Alligator Gorge. Inside the gorge we get a long time company from a grey kangaroo playing our guide. After a long day, we enjoy the rest and silence of this park.

From Mt Remarkable it is some 150 km’s till the Flinders Ranges NP. Underway we cross Quorn and Hawker before we arrive in the park. Quorn is a small cinematographic town, with more jeering crows than people when the film crews have left town. On the last day of the year it is just a sleepy spot and Hawker is even more desolate…
In the early afternoon we arrive at the Arkaroo Aboriginal Rock Art site. On this site the dreamtime story about the Wilpena Pound is told. The walls of Ikara (Wilpena Pound) are the bodies of two akurra (giant
snakes), who coiled around Ikara during an initiation ceremony, eating most of the participants. The snakes were so full after their feast they couldn’t move and willed themselves to die, creating the landmark. The only two people who escaped created the nearby mountaintops and a bird signalling it’s arrival with fires created the coal deposits near Leigh Creek. We walk the short distance – 1 hour return – in 36 degrees, hot enough to be happy to finish the walk to a beautiful art site. Especially both snakes are wonderfully depicted.
Late afternoon we arrive in the park, gather the information about the hikes for tomorrow and jump into the – too cold – swimming pool. Afterwards we join the New Years Eve barbecue, enjoy some chatting with Australian people before heading to our campsite. There we keep talking with Alex and Susan, our German neighbours and enter – half an hour too early because a watch in the wrong time zone – 2013.
Happy New Year to all of you, let the sun shine and the love grow!

On New Years Day we get up early, for the St Mary Peak hike. This is the highest spot – 1170m – in the Flinders Ranges. Above all it is one of the most beautiful hikes in the park, but we have some 15 km’s to go in temperatures about 39 degrees, so starting early is necessary. The walk proves to be a parcel of landscapes – eucalyptus trees and rocks – and the 360° view over the oval Wilpena Pound is majestic. We really enjoy our day, but are even happy we can end the walk with a refreshing shower…

After the parcel of the Ranges, we go for a scenic drive through the park. We start with the sacred canyon Aboriginal engravings, not really worth the detour, pass some lookouts and cross the Bunyeroo and Brachina gorges. Beautiful colours and a million year old geological landscape finishes our trip through this beautiful landscape. From the Flinders we drive to Leigh Creek, pass Parachilna, with the iconic Prairie Hotel… Closed in summertime… So we drive further to Leigh Creek, at the outskirts of the desert. Our trip goes partly along the old Ghan train route, so we cross some ruins of old telegraph or maintenance buildings. By leaving Leigh Creek, we also leave the sealed roads. From now on we drive through a hot – between 42 and 48 degrees – dry, desert landscape. Most of the time it is just the three of us in complete desolation.
The first small town is Marry – only noteworthy because of its ‘Yacht Club’ in the heart of the desert – and because here the three famous desert crossings – the Oodnadatta, Strzelecki and Birdsville tracks start here.
We’ll take the first part of the Oodnadatta till William Creek, Oz’s smallest town with some 3 residents.
While driving we suddenly see some works of art along the road, we arrived in Alberrie Creek. A much better museum of modern art – in open air – than many we’ve seen yet. In the light of the sunset this gives some wonderful images. From there we drive to the Lake Eyre lookout to camp.
On our camping spot near the lake, the 6th biggest in the world and the lowest point in Australia, we enjoy the starry sky and a full moonlit landscape. We feel like in heaven.

Next morning we discover that the lake was in early times an inland sea, and nowadays its still the biggest water reserve of Australia. The bassin stretches from far North Queensland, over the Territories and New South Wales till Victoria and South Australia. It is mostly fed by the heavy rains from Queensland, while some fractures in the surface create a couple of mound springs. The presence of this basin makes also that there is plenty of water not that far underground.
Starting with our desert trip, we visit some of these beautiful spring mounds, enjoy a refreshing dive in the Coward Spring Spa’s, drive along beautiful red sand dunes and arrive in William Creek. There a helpful local helps us to break into our own car, because Ilse left the keys in the contact while locking the doors. More than a pub alias hotel, a big hangar and some small maintenance buildings doesn’t this smallest city has. We enjoy the interior of this famous pub, drink a cold coke and talk with the locals before heading to Coober Pedy.
Some two hours driving in the extreme heat later – we changed driving seats every 30 minutes – we see some holes in the mountains, with chimneys on top and cars before it… Yes we arrived in Coober Pedy! The famous dugout city of Australia.
Instead of sightseeing, we look for some accommodation in town. We really want to sleep a fortnight in one of these cool, dugout houses. Finally our choice falls on the Lookout Cave Hotel…
We enter the dugout and really it is like promised, cool, dark, with a heavenly bed! That night we sleep like roses and enjoy the beauty of our room!

We liked our room so much, we instantly decided to take a day of and just stay inside.
That day we just drove an hour and a half through the city, visiting some dug-out churches, a couple of opal caves and a supermarket. By temperatures of 44° you don’t want to do that much… That proved the city also, half of it was closed.
Our day ended by watching tv and sleeping…

That day off proved to be great, but now it is time to keep driving. Today we leave Coober for another dirt desert roads day. First we visit the breakaways near CP. This is a coloured, eroded rock formation. From there we pass the dog fence, a 5600km long fence to keep the dingoes north of it and the sheep south. It is kind of hard labour to keep this fence operational. Around Christmas some wild camels ruined another 100m fence. After that we passed the moon plains, talked with a friendly local at the Arckaringa Homestead and meet some of the friendly crew of the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta. We drive another 100km till the Hamilton Cattle Station, where we spend the night, a little disappointed about the quite cool welcome.

In the morning we’re happy to be on the road again, soon we leave the Hamilton St behind us and are once again surrounded by the desert. Our first stop are the Dalhousie Hot Springs, with really hot – 37° – water. However the water gives us little refreshment, but soon we find some showers on the nearby campsite. This time with cool water. Yippie!
From there we head to Mt Dare station, where we get a really friendly welcome. We spend the heat of the day there eating and chatting, before keep on driving at late afternoon. After crossing Finke we’re in a straight line to Alice Springs, along the Old Ghan Route… But a leak tyre and a loose wheel make things turn out different.
During the road we’ve seen many different types of desert landscapes, stony, sandy, muddy, … And many times there’s a lot of vegetation underway, but now the sand turns out to be real red! We’re in the Red Centre. At last…