We drove out of Brisbane and headed due West, straight into the Outback. The first day was a reverse of a day we did back in September after heading back to the coast from the Northern Territory, so we had a place to camp in mind, a nice little place by a lagoon. This time around though we were the only ones there. Most of the times that we stop for the night there are one or two others around, but every so often you end up all alone in the middle of nowhere with only the snakes and spiders for company!
After a couple of days of driving we were well and truly in the outback and arrived in the small town of Charleville. For such a remote town it had a lot going on and we paid a visit to The Royal Flying Doctors museum and airstrip. On our travels around Australia we have become more and more aware of how important the service is and how it has developed over the years. It is no longer just for emergencies but it provides dentist facilities, mental health counseling, regular GP services and so much more. They even have part of the highway converted to a landing site every 100 or so kilometres.
Also in Charleville they have a pretty impressive observatory. Having virtually zero light pollution it makes a great location to stargaze and we joined a tour one night to look through the big telescope at some of the nearer planets and some constellations which were an incomprehensible distance away. Neither of us are astronomy experts but we both found it very interesting. When we drove back to our camping location it was 34 degrees at 11pm!! It can get seriously hot out here.
After Charleville we were faced with a choice. Covid restrictions here in Australia, like many things, vary from State to State and the longer we stay here the more it appears less like one country and more like independent countries, similar in many ways to the European Union. The regulations mean you need a border pass to enter each of the different States (except NSW, they let anyone in). Then each state has different rules depending upon which other States you have visited recently determining whether you have to be tested, self isolate, go into hotel quarantine or you’re just not allowed in at all. So you have to plan your route and timings carefully. Anyway, as we were heading to South Australia and then Western Australia our choice was to 1) drive from Queensland through NSW into South Australia without stopping (except for fuel) or 2) stop overnight in NSW and then have to submit for testing three times in a 14 day period. After much discussion we opted for option one, as it’s only about 650 miles with pretty much nothing to see.
So we set off as the sun came up, we swapped drivers every hour, we listened to music, we had some quizzes, we made plans for the future and as the sun dropped low in the sky we crossed the border into South Australia, with not a Police Officer or any Official in site. “What a waste of time applying for those border passes”, was Steve’s reaction.
The first “town” in South Australia was an absolute nightmare. Half a dozen buildings all falling apart, rusted old cars lining the street and a couple of people playing banjos! “Maybe we won’t stay here”, said Sarah. We pushed on another 30 or so miles to the next “town” which made the first one seem pretty welcoming! Another 40 miles further into South Australia and we arrived in the town of Yunta, which consisted of two petrol stations, a pub and a parking area which contained two caravans, a campervan and some huge road trains. After more than 700 miles it looked like paradise. We parked up, cooked, ate and cleared up, then slept like babies! The following morning we were up and away early and within the first hour we saw activity on the road ahead. As we got closer we could see it was a road block of some sort and then eventually it became clear it was Border Control. Well over a hundred miles into the State, Steve’s efforts at obtaining the Border Pass were rewarded. In many ways it was the perfect place to have it, near a relatively large town and with no turn offs since the actual border anyone who crossed into the State had to pass through this point, unless of course you wanted to stay solely at one of the “Ghost” towns we passed through! After some fairly rigorous questioning relating to our previous travel and future intentions we were officially allowed into South Australia (SA)
We now had to spend 14 days in here in SA before we were allowed into Western Australia (WA). “How are we going to pass the time?”, had been our question. We have both been to SA a couple of times before but we have just passed through. Adelaide and The Barrosa Valley had been our limit before heading off to The Great Ocean Road and Victoria. Well, 28 days later we finally made it into WA. So what took us so long?
To cut a long story short there was more to do than we thought. As we have travelled around and around Australia, our focus has changed. Initially, it was all about getting in the big, major sights which are known Worldwide such as Sydney, with its Opera House, Harbour Bridge and beaches, The Great Ocean Road with the Twelve Apostles, Ayres Rock, The Great Barrier Reef, etc. But, as time has progressed, we have come to realise that there is so much more to Australia when you go just a little bit away from the normal routes and when you really start to venture further afield it gets even better. When we have been here in the past for two or three weeks at a time, we have (like most people on holiday) wanted to get the most out of our time, however now we are in the very fortunate position to have time on our side. So spending a day or so getting to a place that looks like it might be good only to find it isn’t that great is not a big inconvenience to us and, in reality, most of the places we have made the effort to visit have been more than worth it.
So after arriving in SA we realised we knew very little about The State, other than it is very dry, heavily farmed, the main city is Adelaide, and they make good wine in The Barossa Valley. So we set sail for the good wine! We found ourselves a great campsite on the edge of a cricket oval for £2.50 a night, right in the centre of the wine region and settled in to make plans.
After some research we found that there are three adjacent peninsulas which stick out into the Southern Ocean at varying positions South of Adelaide. One is shaped a little bit like India (Eyre Peninsula), one like Italy (Yorke Peninsula), and one like a big sploge! (Fleurieu Peninsula). So we decided to explore each one in turn. Firstly though we earmarked some extra time for the Barossa and covered it pretty thoroughly, visiting all of the quaint, manicured villages, surrounded by what seems like an endless sea of vineyards. Although we are certainly not wine connoisseurs, we did recognise many of the vineyards from labels that we have seen in the past (as we have searched the shelves of Tesco for a cheap bottle or two!).
Between The Barossa and The Fleurieu Peninsula you pass through the Adelaide Hills. We stopped here for a couple of days which was way too short. It’s a lovely area of rolling green hills, forests and small towns. Sarah went horse riding one day while Steve cycled one of the stages of The Tour Down Under. He had a great time, especially going flat out up Old Willunga Hill (not quite at the same pace as the pro’s). However, when he got back he could tell Sarah’s day had been much better. She doesn’t get to go horse riding as much as she would like, so to do it in a lovely setting, on a beautiful horse, at a stable run by an Olympic Silver Medalist was something special for her.
Continuing with the horse theme we had another day at the races, this time in Adelaide. We were surprised at how close you could get up to the horses and Sarah was in her element as we walked right through the stables where they are saddled and then cooled down after racing. She also saved the day by picking the winner in the last race!!
We spent the next couple of weeks driving around the three peninsulas. It was an area different from anywhere we had seen so far which was very arid with huge areas of agricultural farmland, one or two sparsely populated coastal towns and plenty of remote, exposed beaches. To be honest, by the time we had finished the drive it was difficult to differentiate between each of the areas as they were in many ways very similar. It could easily have been a bit of a disappointment if it wasn’t for the National Parks at the very tip of each one, especially Innes and Coffin Bay. They were spectacular. The contrast as you pass from the dry, arid countryside into the thick green vegetation, dramatic cliffs and fabulous beaches was surprising to say the least. They were easily the highlights of our two weeks.
Sarah found us a super pitch in Coffin Bay National Park and as we parked the van an emu and four babies wandered in and hung around for about 20 minutes, when they stand up straight they are surprisingly tall and the mother was eye to eye with Sarah. Steve was more eye to middle of the neck!!
Our route around the three peninsulas had been just over 1000 miles and although it wasn’t the highlight of our trip down under it was certainly worth the trip. It was a new experience, in a new area, and further emphasizes the diversity of the Australian landscape.
As we approached the end of the Eyre Peninsula we arrived in the town of Streaky Bay. Back in August in The Northern Territory we met a couple and their two young children who were travelling around the country, home schooling the kids. They were from Streaky Bay and described it as a laid back place with nice beaches and just enough services to get by.
With a long drive across The Nullabor ahead of us, and both feeling pretty tired, we decided to stop for a couple of days in ‘Streaky’. It was Steve’s birthday while we were there so Sarah took him out for a ‘full on’ breakfast burger, complete with birthday candle!
Sarah also had her hair cut (well over due!). In fact, it was so relaxed we lost track of time and spent five days there on a brilliant little campsite. It was the first commercial site we had been on since Brisbane, so with a fabulous pitch overlooking the bay, electricity and amazing hot showers, we kicked back and recharged our own batteries in preperation for another long drive into WA.