Best Spots to Visit on a Road Trip Through the Australian Outback
September 11, 2018
by Sidney Mckenzie
One of the greatest pleasures of my life was taking a road trip from Cairns to Darwin, via Alice Springs and Uluru. Every night the sky erupted in the most incredible shades of red, orange, and pink as the sun went down. I spent the mornings sipping on my camp-style instant coffee while I sat in peaceful bliss, enjoying the early morning hours whilst watching the Australian Outback come to life as time went by.
My road trip lasted two weeks; every single day there was something worth my attention. However, there are a few spots that stick out more than others.
Clem Walton Park
Clem Walton Park in Cloncurry was the first place that I fell in love with while driving through the outback. It was day two of my trip and I decided to stop there for the evening. It is free to stay, which means it is up to individual visitors to clean up after themselves (lucky for us, humanity isn’t entirely lost and it was in great condition while I was there). If you are lucky enough to spend a few days in this outback oasis, I would highly encourage it. The lake is huge and fishing is allowed. There is a good variety of places to walk around and explore, and the diversity of wildlife is plentiful. Maybe it was the time of the year that I visited Clem Walton Park, but it was fairly empty and the space that I had with my campervan was divine. It felt like my own private little lakeside camping spot.
Upon getting to Alice Springs, I needed a good place to hole up for the evening and start grilling hot dogs. G’Day Mate Caravan Park had excellent reviews online, so I figured I would give it a shot. I was NOT disappointed. The park itself is very well-kept with an exceptionally friendly staff. The grass was green, the pool was so relaxing (and open 24 hours), and – my favorite part – the bathrooms were newly remodeled. Honestly, they resembled bathrooms in a hotel in the middle of the city. It was refreshing to be able to relax in a place that was safe, clean, and so close to town.
West MacDonnell National Park
Only about an hour outside of Alice Springs s West MacDonnell National Park. A vehicle that is four-wheel drive will allow much more access to the jaw-dropping scenery that West MacDonnell has to offer, however, I managed perfectly with my large campervan for a handful of prime locations.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
I was skeptical at first – I have to admit. For those of us that have been around Australia, it is common to be a bit fearful of jumping into a body of water due to the overwhelming impending fear of crocodiles waiting to strike. However, worry you shall not. Ellery Hole is entirely free of crocs, and it is entirely worth it to jump in and go for a swim through the gorge. The water was cool but invigorating. Swimming between the walls of the canyon was an experience that will forever be unmatched – it brings on a perspective that forces you to appreciate the world we live in for its natural beauty.
Not as easily accessible as Ellery, the Ormiston Gorge is about a ten-minute walk through tall weeds and rocks. That being said, it is worth every moment of your time. I didn’t truly appreciate the gorge until I swam to the middle of it – the sky reflects so clearly on the surface of the water. Coupled with the vibrant reds in the gorge walls and the seemingly infinite desert horizon, Ormiston Gorge is a gift that should be appreciated.
Mt. Sonders Look Out
Mt. Sonders Look Out was the perfect place to relax, catch a cool breeze, and enjoy the sunset. For as far as thee eye can see, rolling desert landscape was in every direction. The way the sun hit the hills and mountains in the distance blanketed me with a feeling of absolute serenity. The colors of the brush were in a constant state of manipulation with the light of the setting sun, and as the sun sank further below the horizon, the stars lit up the sky.
Ayers Rock Resort
It sounds very high end and fancy, however, I utilized the campground that they have to offer. Ayers Rock Resort is more of a small community in the middle of nowhere. It is the closest place to Uluru National Park to stay, however, they have everything you need right in the community. There are shops, pools, markets, petrol stations, and of course, a couple of bars.
Obviously, when in the center of Australia, it is essential to visit the giant, infamous rock. Thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago, Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians. I witnessed both sunrise and sunset on Uluru, and let me tell you, it is worth the hype. Its pure enormity was reason enough to road trip through the Outback. Waking up before the sun does is typically a bit of a struggle for a lot of travelers, but if you only do it once in your life, it should be to watch the sun rise over the horizon whilst the first rays of the day cast their light on Uluru and bring the world to life. In a matter of minutes, the monolith’s colors change from deep oranges to fiery reds.
Lesser known, but just as unbelievable, Kata Tjuta is in the same national park as Uluru. It is home to quite a few iconic hikes if you are willing to put in the effort. The majority of them, unfortunately, were closed while I was there. I seem to have a new found love for gorges because I decided to walk through the Walpa Gorge, right down the middle of Kata Tjuta. The walk started as a steady incline up tiny little rocks and ended with a wall of greenery that climbed the sheer barriers surrounding me. The Walpa Gorge walk is impressive, quick and easy, and stocked full of amazing rock formations.
Mt Bundy Station
By far the best campground I have ever stayed in, Mt. Bundy Station is home to horses, pigs, dogs, a buffalo, and – because they are unavoidable – a heard of wallabies at dusk. It is situated about 130 kilometers south of Darwin, and I loved it so much, that I ended up staying parked there for three straight days. My first night staying with them, I was enjoying my dinner outside my camper, when a tiny miniature pony appeared out of nowhere and kept me company while I finished up my backpacker pasta. Homey and comfortable, and very obviously filled with a lot of love for the land, Mt. Bundy Station was a home away from home.
Litchfield National Park
My very last stop on my road trip was to Litchfield National Park. It is MASSIVE. Feast your eyes upon some of the largest termite mounds in the world, hike through the swamplands, go for a swim in one of the many waterfalls, or just mosey through in your car and enjoy the beauty that envelops you. Many places in Litchfield are crocodile havens, so be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to the signs posted.
As I stated earlier, every single day of my road trip had a noteworthy moment. The only way for anyone to really understand the bewildering Australian Outback is to go out there and see it for yourself. My words don’t do it the justice it deserves.