‘Roughing’ it in the NT - Tips from Outback Travel Rookies
Roughin it in the NT - Tips from Outback Travel Rookies
It seems inevitable that a conversation about which outback track you are heading to next always includes someone knowingly shaking their head and tut-tutting “Oooh it’s rough”. To the ears of a newbie to outback driving the tone of the response seems to sit somewhere between sage warning and ever so slight smugness that “we have already conquered that one”. But far from being deterred, we were busting to hit the red stuff. The red dust of the Aussie outback is notorious. It gets into every nook and cranny of your vehicle, your van and your veins. You either fight it and hate it or it becomes part of you and you do everything in your power to get back to it as soon as possible. We fell into the latter camp.
We are a family of 4: Mel, Matt, Ben (8) and Jasper (2). We set out from Melbourne last May on a 5.5 month half lap of Aus in our semi-off road camper trailer. Having left Melbourne in our 2WD Territory with the intention of sticking to the bitumen, a small taste of the outback in Northern Queensland saw us trading poor old Terry in for a Prado in Darwin and we were ready and raring to go.
We headed out of Mataranka, N.T. along the Roper highway with the Limmen National Park and Lorella Springs as our next destinations to explore.
Not far off the turn-off from Roper Bar we discovered our First Rookie Mistake: Don’t get your accessories fitted to your 4WD by the dodgy dealer you bought your car off. Hearing a big clunk we pulled over only to find one of the spotties missing off the bull bar. The first casualty of the corrugations, we found it a hundred meters back down the track.
After a long day’s driving we pulled into the Town River campsite, a peaceful bush camp in the national park, and set up camp. As we wound up the top of our Swan, the next bit of carnage became all too apparent... The rivets that hold the top half of the door to the roof were no longer in their holes and the door was now completely unattached in Matt’s hands. With a lot of swearing and an equal amount of gaffa tape, Matt managed to make a temporary fix and got the door somewhat reattached.
The next morning, however, the Gods smiled upon us and an angel in the form of a seasoned grey nomad traveller appeared with a pop rivet gun in hand and fixed our door for us while Ben fished down on the Town River with his wife keeping watch on the resident salties. This lovely man also enlightened us as to our Second Rookie Mistake: Always lower your van tyre pressures as well as your car ones. In our defence we had lowered them but nowhere near enough. (The swan now survives rough roads very well with the right tyre pressure)
Door fixed, fishing and croc spotting done, we packed up and were about to hitch up when disaster struck. Actually it struck the day before we just had no idea until then... The constant vibrations of the corrugations (and yes, we know, tyre pressures too high) had meant the tow ball nut had fallen off. Third Rookie Mistake: ALWAYS carry a spare tow ball nut. More swearing, more gaffa tape and some cable ties and Matt managed to fashion a temporary nut below the tow ball. We set off that morning praying to Allah, Buddha, Shiva, Ganesh and all other gods known to man that we would make it to Lorella without loosing our trailer.
During that day of driving we stopped off for lunch at Butterfly Waterhole, aptly named for the many butterflies fluttering around. This picturesque waterhole was a perfect spot to stop for lunch and stretch our legs. Tall gumtrees provided some much appreciated shade and the boys loved throwing sticks into the “billabong”; the peaceful silence only broken by the splash of the water and their laughter. Unfortunately it was too late in the dry season for us to be able to swim but it still provided a great backdrop for a picnic.
Another highlight of the Limmen National Park was the Southern Lost City. Following a rough track off the side of the main route we found ourselves faced with towering sandstone pillars that look just like skyscrapers in some kind of ancient city.
There is a 2km walk that meanders its way up and through the stunning red rock formations and tranquil bush. We had the place to ourselves and you could definitely be excused for thinking you had stumbled upon a scene worthy of a trepid explorer.
The road in to Lorella Springs is fairly infamous and it definitely lived up to it’s reputation with corrugations that were more like moguls and ruts that could swallow your car whole. Ok so I’ll admit there is a little bit of creative licence in my description but it certainly was a baptism of fire into the world of off- road driving for us. Particularly given we had to limp along with no tow ball nut! But we did in fact make it in one piece and had a fantastic three days exploring the million-acre property.
We loved soaking in the toasty warm thermal springs right at the homestead and the kids had a great time checking out the resident chooks, emu and baby croc. We also managed to meet up with another lovely family whilst we were enroute to Nanny’s Retreat, a beautiful waterhole surrounded by towering rock formations.
This was our first time putting the Prado into low range and Hugo helped us out with picking our line over a long section of boulders. Matty did a stellar job getting us in and back out again unscathed. Our boys and their two kids scrambled along the overgrown bush track, admiring the many insects, rocks and caves and exploring their way along the 1km track to the waterhole.
Hugo also saved our butts... he gave us a new tow ball nut!
After leaving Lorella we went on to adventures through the East MacDonnell Ranges and a section of the Binns Track, the Mereenie Loop, Oodnadatta Track and the Gill Track in Flinders Ranges. We feel we’ve learned from our rookie mistakes, earned our stripes and are now part of the club... and now we too can shake our head and utter those three words... “Oooh it’s Rough”
Article written by Melanie Von Blanckensee