You’ve heard about it. You’ve seen pictures. But until you actually go and experience it yourself, you won’t appreciate the vast, nothingness of the Australian Outback. I joined a group tour that took me across the red centre from Alice Springs to Darwin over 9 days, visiting some major Australian landmarks and national parks, and ending with a journey onboard the Ghan train from Darwin to Adelaide over 3 days.
It has been an incredible experience, driving thousands of kms, seeing thunderstorms in the desert, watching millions of stars in the sky, sleeping in basis tents. It’s a nice break from the monotonous of driving alone and not having to plan anything and just follow the program. Along the way, I also make like-minded new friends. The Ghan was a little underwhelming, nevertheless a unique experience.
A trip you want to do at least once in your life.
Alice Springs is the gateway to the red centre of Australia and the start of the tour. It’s roughly in the middle of Australia, between Adelaide and Darwin. A small town, it was really hot when I was there. Walk for 15 mins and you can feel the heat really taking its toll on you. Other than a small town centre area, some museums, a reptile centre, there’s not much to do really. Spent two nights here because of the way my tour is arranged, I think one day is plenty to see everything you want to see here. I run out of ideas that I went to the cinema (again) and watched In the Heart of the Sea (great movie!)
ULURU, KATA TJUTAS AND KING’S CANYON
Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is an Australian icon. We did a 3 days trip around this area southwest of Alice Springs. I think 3 days is about right, too long and you’ll get bored, too short and you can’t see much. The drive from Alice Springs is not too long, about 4 hours per day.
While this is the desert, we experienced a thunderstorm on the first night in Uluru and therefore no Uluru sunset photos. The flip side is, it makes sleeping at night in a permanent basic tent bearable. Did an 8km walk around Uluru at sunrise. King’s Canyon was ok, nothing special in my opinion, but managed to snap some stars photos. Stargazing in this part of Australia, when it’s clear sky, is quite amazing. There’s literally billions of stars.
KATHERINE AND THE NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK
After a day of break in Alice Springs, the trip continues to Darwin/Katherine over 2 days driving over 1,500kms distance. We did about 920kms in the first day from Alice Springs to Daly Waters, and it actually felt ok. There’s part of the roads with no speed limit (would love to hit over 200kph!) with mainly 130kph limit though our bus is restricted to 100kph max. The contrasting orange/red color of the land and the blue sky is a feast for the eyes. You can definitely drive this route comfortably over 1 day. I think you can even go as far as Katherine (~1,200kms) with lots of roadhouses and stops along the way.
We spent day 2 visiting Katherine Gorge and the Nitmiluk NP. It was okay, not as spectacular as I expected. The day ended in Darwin, probably the most humid city I’ve ever been!
KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
Our first stop in the Kakadu National Park is the Ubirr Rock and other rock paintings in the area, including East Alligator region and Nourlangie.
In the afternoon was a cruise along the Yellow River from Cooinda. Beautiful landscapes, lots of wildlife. We saw a lot of crocodiles, but at the most important moments my camera battery run out!
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Our visit to Litchfield was mainly about waterfalls, on top of the termite mounds.
THE GHAN EXPERIENCE
I love train ride. The Ghan is probably the most iconic train ride in Australia, going through the red centre from Adelaide to Darwin v.v. I have high expectations. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing. Crew service is excellent but that where it ends. The cabin is quite small, the food is average, and the activities along the way are just plain boring. Value for money wise, it’s simply terrible. It’s also very uncomfortable ride with the carriages shaking heavily while moving, leading to difficulty to get good sleep. I can’t remember such uncomfortable ride in some of the train rides I’ve done, even compared to the economy train from Cambodian/Thai border to Bangkok!