Six thousand kilometres, 19 days, two adults, two kids, and a hell of a lot of camping gear. This was the plan my husband Tom and I concocted earlier this year when we decided we’d go on a roadtrip from Sydney to Uluru and back.
In my pre-kid days, I loved going on roadtrips – you can just pack the car and go where the road takes you. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of it – choosing to stop on a whim and explore a new place for a day or two. Then packing up and setting off to do it again, and again.
This trip was about ticking a few bucket list items off. I had always wanted to visit Uluru, and have never been to the glorious Northern Territory, plus I wanted to test the waters and see how the kids would fare on a long journey. But more than anything, I wanted to share my love of camping, roadtrips and adventure with them. So we did a thorough inventory of our camping gear, invested in a roof rack, sketched out a loose itinerary and researched camping spots, then we were off…
Wagga Wagga to Port Augusta
Our first port of call was Wagga, where we met up with a close friend and her twin 10-year-old daughters, who drove up from Melbourne to meet us. We loved having friends to share part of our journey with and had a wonderful couple of days in Wagga. We camped the first night, then stayed in a cabin on the second due to freezing temps! Visiting the RAAF museum there was a highlight, but the kids mostly just wanted to check out the playground in the BIG 4 campsite we stayed in, and jump around on the bunk beds. We enjoyed having another adult to chat with over dinner and a wine. Everyone was happy!
After Wagga, we said goodbye to our friends and set off for Hay, where we stayed at another BIG 4 campsite – seriously, BIG 4 is such a great choice when camping with kids. As soon as we arrived the kids would hit the playground and make new friends while Tom set up the tent and I made dinner. Then we’d sit under the stars drinking hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows. In the morning, they’d hit the playground before we’d even had brekkie, and play until we’d packed the car up. It was a great way for them to burn off energy before and after long car drives.
Our next stop was lovely Mildura, where we camped by the riverside in Buronga. The kids loved the playgrounds (two!), chooks, goats and bounced to their hearts’ content on the jumping pillow. We would have loved to stay more than one night, but time was ticking and we needed to get to Uluru as we’d pre-booked our camping spot there. We had a quick stop in Port Augusta where we stayed in a waterfront serviced apartment so we could sleep in a proper bed, wash and dry all our laundry and stock up on food. Luxury!
Coober Pedy to Erldunda
Turning onto the Stuart Highway from Port Augusta truly felt like the beginning of a huge adventure. In seconds, we left civilisation behind for a long, long stretch of road with beautiful desert landscapes as far as the eye could see. We knew we wouldn’t have any mobile phone reception until we reached Port Augusta again, so we hired a satellite phone for this period. We never had reason to use it but it was nice to know it was there.
On our way to Coober Pedy we stopped at Lake Hart, a stunning, glimmering salt lake in the heart of the desert. We walked down from the car park on the main road and had a simple picnic while the kids ran and skidded on the salt surfaces to their hearts content. That night we stayed at the Stuart Range Outback Resort in Coober Pedy, which has a fab pizzeria and wine bar! The area surrounding Coober Pedy is eerie and beautiful, somewhat like a lunar landscape. The underground dwellings and mines are well worth a look.
Next morning we were up early again and on to Erldunda Roadhouse, which is at the corner of the Stuart and Lasseter Highways, just a few hundred kilometres from Uluru. This is a great spot where you can camp or stay in basic motel-style accommodation. There’s an emu farm, kangaroos, the infamous rooster Cluck Norris who thinks he’s a roo – Google him! - plus great facilities including a pool, diner, cosy bar and gas station. I just loved staying at this great spot and feel like I’ve left a little bit of my heart there.
The magic of Uluru
Seeing Uluru for the first time was truly breathtaking. It’s hard to put into the words the feeling of connection I had to the beautiful beating red heart of our lovely country. The colours change constantly with the sun, shifting from burnt orange to blood red and delicate pinkish purple. We stayed at the fantastic Ayres Rock Campground in Yulara for four nights, which we used as a base to explore the area. We went on bush walks, cycled around the base of Uluru together – a huge highlight of the trip! – and my daughter and I did a dot painting workshop with a local Aboriginal artist. And of course we had lots of great meals in the outdoors and ate another few hundred marshmallows. We also visited gorgeous Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) which are just as stunning as Uluru and offer plenty of great opportunities for hiking, including the Walpa Gorge walk, which is an easy, short one to do with kids.
Broken Hill to Dubbo
We wound back home the way we came, until we reached Port Augusta, and then we headed north-east back to NSW via Broken Hill. After fuelling up and stocking up on food, we headed out to beautiful Menindee Lakes where we camped in Kinchega National Park by the river. This was the kids’ first experience of bush camping (only one small drop toilet nearby) and they loved it, spotting kangaroos and emus, making ‘castles’ from fallen trees and collecting kindling for our campfire. We made chocolate-stuffed bananas for dessert and slept like babies. It was another big highlight of the trip for sure.
After a short overnight stop at a motel in Cobar, where my daughter proclaimed the modest restaurant “SO fancy and posh”, we headed to Dubbo, as I’d promised the kids we’d take them to the Western Plains Zoo. We splurged on a golf cart to take us around the safari-style zoo, which was hugely fun, stopping to take photos of the animals and eat ice-creams along the way. After camping overnight at the Discovery Park there, we headed for home, stopping at Mudgee for a delicious lunch, then back to Sydney through the Blue Mountains.
It’s been almost a month since we came home and I am still pining for the road and that beautiful red dirt. There’s not much I would change about the way we did things, except perhaps to add a few more days in so we could have had the luxury to stay on a night or two longer in some of the nicer spots, such as Mildura. And I would have loved to do a bit more bush camping. The kids adored camping and were amazing in the car – the secret is to pack lots of snacks and little surprises, stop frequently and invest in a portable DVD player. My son also loved playing ‘I spy’ or we had a few sing-alongs too. We’re already planning our next trip; it’s the only way to cure the travel blues!