Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, and the Red Centre!

This is the long overdue report of what might be the best holiday of my life so far :) Hannah and I did a 10 day extravaganza from Brisbane to Melbourne to Adelaide to Alice Springs and back to Brisbane again! Here’s the story….

The original plan was to fly from Brisbane to Melbourne to begin the trip. However, 2 days before we were due to leave everything started to go a bit wrong…. That volcano in Chile was spewing forth crap and dust and the wind was bringing it over all the Australian flight paths. Right up until the last minute we were feeling okay about our flight as nothing between Brisbane and Melbourne had been cancelled, but things started to get really touch-and-go. Finally we gave in, the flights were so cheap we decided to buy a 2nd one the evening before we were due to leave. We figured if we can just get down there then we can find a cheap hostel to stay overnight and then carry on as normal. Sadly, as our train pulled up to the airport, I received a text telling me our flight had been cancelled! So annoying….. At this point we had a dilemma – do we do nothing, wait til morning and hope our original flight was still okay – or do we get a bus ticket. The problem with the bus was two-fold – the flights were about $65 each, the bus ticket? $312 each!!! Also, who wants to spend 26 hours on a bus when you can spend 2 hours on a plane? To cut a long story (and lots of worrying and moaning) short we decided that the risk wasn’t worth our holiday. We had booked different accommodation every night, had a car hired, and had flights to & from Alice Springs in a week that we couldn’t cancel as well as a tour to Uluru. So we bit the bullet and forked out the money for the bus tickets. The next morning, at 6 am, we were on our way to Melbourne and not looking forward to the journey!

Fortunately, as the bus traveled on, it very slowly got emptier until Hannah and I had a whole row of seats each and we could lie down to get a bit of a rest. The longer journey did mean we had to cut out one night of our trip, but it just meant we had one night in Port Fairy rather than two. We eventually arrived in Melbourne about 7 am the day after we had originally planned, picked up our hire car, and drove to our first destination: Torquay.

Torquay was brilliant. This might sound odd for anyone who’s been there, particularly in Australian winter. However, we were tired, stressed from the previous 2-3 days of worrying, and ready to start our holiday. When we pulled up to our own private little mobile home with kitchen, bathroom, and a comfy bed we thought we had found heaven! It was so nice to arrive there in the late morning and just have the day to chill out, buy some food for dinner, and enjoy being away from home and not having to worry any more! We cooked a really nice (and quite Aussie?) dinner of chicken parmiggana with curly fries :)

The next morning we set off for the Great Ocean Road! We saw so many great sights (and sites?) on that day, starting off with Split Point Lighthouse – where they filmed Round the Twist! I was sad to find out that it’s not actually something you could live in – it’s only wide enough for the staircase up to the top – but it was still really cool to see :) Next we stopped off and walked (further than expected and through the mud, much to Hannah’s chagrin!) to Sheoak falls, which was actually worth it in the end. From there it was on to the famous Twelve Apostles. Sadly it turned out that (even though it was Victoria/South Australia winter) this day was the worst of our weather, which meant there was a tiny bit of light rain and it was a bit overcast. However, it didn’t stop us really enjoying the scenery and it was all very impressive. I think by the late afternoon, all the stopping at “lookouts” and walking 200-300 m there and back was starting to get to us both (Hannah in particular!) and we still had a little drive to go so we pushed on. We did manage to catch some pretty amazing views of the sun setting with dramatic clouds in the sky though! After a bloody awful drive through Warrnambool (rain so heavy the wipers weren’t helping!) we finally arrived in a dry Port Fairy. We were again very pleased with the hotel we’d chosen! Had “shared facilities” but we were the only guests! Really nice old place with off-road parking and all you can eat breakfast the next day! That night was fish & chips & a pint before bed :)

Woke up to Port Fairy in the stunning bright sunshine. We walked around the tiny town centre and went to a nice little market. Before we left Port Fairy we had the most amazing cake “lumberjack pie with warm butterscotch sauce” from Rebecca’s on Tilly’s recommendation. I can second that recommendation, it was brilliant! This day had a bit less driving so we took the scenic route to Cape Bridgewater (via Portland and it’s white kangaroos and emus!). Cape Bridegwater had some amazing views, including the giant wind farm we drove through to get to a lookout by the sea. Also next to the lookout was the “petrified forest”, a weird set of rock formations that looked like tree fossils but weren’t. It was like being on another planet (a very bright, sunny, windy planet!). From here we drove through into South Australia and on to Mt Gambier. Here we stopped briefly to see one of the blue lakes in Mt Gambier at sunset, but decided to go on to our accommodation before it got too late.

For some reason we had decided to book this night in hostel that had been converted from a gaol! We thought it would be a bit of fun, but from the moment we arrived this got weird. The place was closed & locked with a sign on the front saying they were shut for the next 2 days. Luckily for us, as we stood out the front looking confused the owner of the place (who was out walking his dog) suddenly appeared and asked if we needed help. I explained we’d booked a room and he told us all about how they’d hosted a hip-hop concert for over 3000 people there a couple of days before and had spent so long cleaning up they decided to shut the place for a few days to have a rest! However, even though they’d lost our booking, he was “nice enough” to open the place up and let us stay. I say “nice enough” because we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for! The place was still an active gaol until the 90s, at which point it became a half-way house for addicts etc. He and his wife had taken the place over just 10 months previously and begun the conversion into a hostel. I have to hand it to them, it was full of character and I can imagine that when it was full of backpackers and the bar was open it would have been a brilliant place to stay! We had the pick of the rooms, and chose a delightful cell with a double bed (complete with sink and toilet in the corner of the room!) and the owner left us to it. We did the self-tour of the place and learnt about how many people had been hanged & buried on site, and it was all good, then it got dark…. I feel stupid saying it, but we were scared. The place freaked us out! We decided to go into town for a drink and get some dinner, and after a really nice curry & a couple of bottles of wine we made our way back to the gaol for bed. It is safe to say that with all the noises throughout the night, neither of us slept well! Haha. I would recommend the place to anyone going through Mt Gambier! It was “fun” and would be amazing if we hadn’t been the only ones staying there. Sadly for us, it was a bit too much like a teen slasher movie for comfort! Safe to say the next morning, after a quick breakfast of toast, we were glad to get out :)

We wanted to go back to see the blue lakes in the daylight, and we did, but sadly it was raining again and so they looked more like normal brown/grey lakes :) We moved on, the weather improved, and we passed the giant lobster! We stopped in Robe (not famous for robes….) for lunch and I bought a little pewter echidna from the tourist information shop (to go with my pewter kiwi from my trip to NZ). Hannah and I each had some amazing burgers before we set back on the road to Meningie (via the replica oil rig!). Meningie was…. an odd place. It was nothing more than some buildings by the road, but it had an amazing view over lake Albert and we had some fun on the toys in the park before checking in to our accommodation. The place we stayed was probably the least inspiring of the trip, but it felt just fine after the night we’d had in Mt Gambier! Haha. Due to the complete lack of anything in Meningie, and as we were so tired from lack of rest the previous night, we had a very romantic dinner of microwave pizzas and cider in our room before an early night.

The next morning was a straight dash to Adelaide, where we had booked ourselves in to a slightly posher hotel with the spa suite for 2 nights. We were very happy with the room (which was HUGE) and the spa itself was also good fun, particularly with the complimentary bottle of wine! Sadly, the afternoon we got to Adelaide, we hit another snag. We went to check in to our Qantas flight to Alice Springs (which was leaving very early in the morning 2 days later) to find out that it still required paying. Now, I had definitely paid, and I had spoken to the bank to confirm this, but Qantas were only able to say “we will try and find the money and get back to you – you don’t currently have seats on that plane”. Sadly they did NOT get back to us that day, so we spent the entire afternoon and evening worrying about whether we’d be able to get to Alice Springs and start out (non-refundable) tour around the red centre. One positive from that day, however, was an amazing thai dinner we had that night. My crocodile noodles were incredibly good :) Check out Lemongrass Thai if you get the chance!

The next morning we were up early for a Barossa Valley tour with wine tasting. Still worried about our flight we were overjoyed to receive a phone call from Qantas at about 9 am saying they’d found my payment and we were indeed allowed on the plane to Alice :) The relief made our trip around the Barossa all the more sweet, and it was a really nice day stopping at a dam, two vineyards, having a nice lunch (where we were the token young english couple among a large group of older aussies), and a trip to “little Germany” where it felt strangely like Christmas! Back to the hotel for our last night of luxury and the spa suite before bed.

The next morning we got a cab to Adelaide airport and flew from there to Alice Springs. Had an incredibly racist bus driver for our free airport transfer, but fortunately he liked Brits :) Turns out “winter” in Alice – still quite warm :) Unsurprisingly we had hot sunny weather all day and we checked in to our room at Toddy’s backpackers before heading in to Alice Springs town centre for a look around. Hannah bought her mum a present and we found a hat for me, and some cheap pillows to take on our tour. Also, completely on a whim, we found ourselves in Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Let me recommend this place HIGHLY! It was cheap and brilliant fund. We stayed for a live show where one of the employees brought out a bunch of reptiles to hold, including a blue-tongued skink, a bearded dragon, and a 7 ft carpet python. Holding the snake was great :) Hannah did really well to overcome her fear of them and hold it too. We had a great time! It was then back to the hostel for cheap dinner in the bar (camel burger – VERY tasty!), a jug (or two) of snakebite, then early-ish to bed as our tour pick up was at 5 am.

While it was still dark we were picked up by Karla and Radz (Trent). There were lots of pickups and then a check-in at the tour HQ, but then we were finally on our way, sitting in the front seat of the minibus. Karla insisted on playing the Lion King’s Circle of Life at full volume as her “morning song” every day, but it did it’s job waking us up and getting us in the mood :) By 7:30 am we were at a camel ranch and Hannah and I paid $7 for a ride around the paddock on a camel. So random and unexpected it was brilliant fun! From there it was a long drive, with a stop to pick up firewood, before we got to our campsite in the Yulara township for lunch. The camp was awesome – some of the nicest toilets/showers I’ve ever seen as well as a bunch of permanent tents with “beds” in them (wooden boxed with sponge mattresses). I also saw my first wild snake, which I later identified as a yellow-faced whip snake (had my camera so there’s a video of it here). I was most impressed because Radz himself hadn’t even seen a snake yet and he’d been touring for a few months! After the group had made & eaten lunch together it was all in the bus to head to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) for our afternoon hike. I hadn’t heard of the Olgas before we got there but I have to say that in many ways they are just as impressive as Uluru itself. We walked all around to the valley of the winds (where there were a couple of very rude-looking cracks in the walls!) and Radz gave us a talk about how Kata Tjuta and Uluru were formed geologically. All very educational and fun! From there it was a quick dash to the lookout to watch Uluru over sunset. The tour guides surprised us all with bottles of bubbly and snacks and it was truly magical to watch the big red rock change colour throughout the sunset. I took lots of photos but they don’t really do it justice. It was quite surreal actually seeing such a famous view “in the flesh” but brilliant to have done. After that it was back to camp (during the drive we were taught the actions for the song “home among the gumtrees” and enjoyed “g’day g’day” :) ) for a huge BBQ dinner, including kangaroo and camel burgers! Yum :) I felt very manly being put in charge of setting the fire going and then everybody sat around for a few hours chatting. The others in our group were really good fun (Dawn, Vicky & Amanda, Teagan & her dad Robert, the elderly German couple, Florence & Felix) – we seemed to have got a really nice balance and everyone helped out. Finally we settled down in our swag bags under the stars (which were UNBELIEVABLY amazing). We tried to share one larger swag between us, but sadly we were just too large and decided it was best to get our own rather than spend the whole night restless. It was quite a weird experience sleeping out in the open, but I would definitely do it again. One thing that really struck me in the middle of the night was just how quiet it was. It was amazing, albeit a little cold on your face!

The next morning we were up very early again so we could drive to watch sunrise over Uluru. I have to say that this wasn’t quite as impressive as sunset, but it was VERY different. The whole place was covered in mist and fog and at one point the ground couldn’t be seen at all, with just the top of Uluru showing. You couldn’t see anywhere near as much as we had the night before, but it was good that it wasn’t just the same again. From here we drove up to Uluru itself and, after visiting the visitors centre to be educated about the aboriginal people who owned the land, began our walk around half the base. There’s a lot of detail and subtlety you don’t get from seeing the distant photos of Uluru – it’s a giant rock, but it’s full of grains and lines and pock-marks. We were then given a guided tour of some of the more sacred areas of Uluru and given some of the aboriginal stories by one of theĀ Anangu people, Valerie, who had a translator to communicate with us. It was made very clear just how special the area is to the indigenous people and the Adventure Tours seemed very respectful of them.

After Uluru it was back to camp for lunch then we were packed up and went on the long drive to our camp near King’s Canyon. This camp was a little more basic, but still had the permanent tents and I was again put in charge of lighting the fire :) After dinner, Karla & Radz cooked a kangaroo tail for us to taste (it smelt awful and tasted worse) and we fought off all the MILLIONS of mice that plagued the campsite. Due to the mice we decided to spend the night in the tent and we didn’t regret it :) The next morning was yet another early start to make our way to Kings Canyon itself for a long but very impressive walk. Radz stopped us regularly to tell us about the rock formations, the trees and plants, and the animals. We stopped in the middle at a place called the Garden of Eden to have some muesli bars before continuing on. One of the really cool parts was everybody in the group standing in a line on the edge of the canyon facing a large flat wall on the other side. We all shouted “G’DAY” at the same time and the echo bounced off the wall across the valley and came back to us a couple of seconds later. Great fun :) On the drive back to Alice Springs that afternoon we all stayed entertained with a “how fast can you eat a dry weetbix” competition, I came 2nd last…. The battle for first place was strongly faught between Florence and Jack, each performing 3 times and each one beating the previous time until Jack finally gave in to Florence’s prowess! That night everybody met up at our hostel for dinner and drinks and I got to hold the barman’s pet snake (no penis jokes….). It was an absolutely AMAZING tour and I would thoroughly recommend the Adventure Tours 3-day Rock the Centre trip to anybody who wanted to see Uluru and some of the red centre.

Finally, after our last night in Toddy’s backpackers, we made our way back to Alice Springs airport and flew back to Brisbane. Very sad to have finished what I can honestly say is the best holiday of my life. I have to thank Hannah for coming with me and experiencing it all. It was brilliant :)

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