A city girl survives the desert

After a few days in the tropical rainforests of Australia, it was time for a visit to the Outback. I’ll admit I was not excited about this part…at all. I’m a city girl through and through, so the idea of being in the literal middle of nowhere for 4 days was pretty unappealing–not to mention the fact that I was at risk of encountering some scary spiders and snakes…NO THANKS. But Ben really wanted to camp, so I decided to face my fears. Here is the story of our (my) survival.

Day 21: A city girl’s introduction to camping

We flew from Cairns to Alice Springs early in the morning and headed straight to pick up our campervan (or ‘camper’, as the Aussies call it). Ben selected a Maui Ultima for the trip, as I had made it very clear to Ben that I had no plans to actually camp in a tent and the hotels in the Outback are quite expensive (plus most of them were sold out when we booked this months ago, so it’s not like I had a choice). I don’t know much about campers, but this one was pretty great for a moving, tiny NYC apartment. I’d never even been in one before, so just touring this thing and understanding all of the parts was an experience.

The back of the camper came set up as a sitting area and could be switched to a bed (in fact, multiple bed size options–two twins, a full, or a king!). There was a TV back there with a DVD player, but no DVDs…so that was useless. The kitchen area had a fridge, a stove range, and a sink, and the stove & sink could be covered with glass screens to create counter space instead–very helpful for cooking. There was also a good amount of cabinet and drawer space, and our camper came fully loaded with kitchen supplies (plates, bowls, cutlery, mugs, pots…even wine glasses!). The bathroom (a requirement from my end) was teeny tiny but included a toilet (similar to an airplane toilet but a bit smaller), a tiny sink (which we never used because the kitchen sink was much larger), and a shower head (the entire bathroom serves as a shower…talk about a mess, but was so grateful for this thing in the end). There was also a small sitting area towards the front that you could add a table to and where we had some of our meals. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we also had a ‘barbie’–cutest name ever for the outside cooking range/BBQ grill. There are plenty of other aspects of the camper in terms of maintenance (where to add clean water, where to empty out dirty water, how to empty the toilet, etc) that left my head spinning…I left those lovely tasks to Ben 😉😏.

Maui Ultima Campervan
Inside of Maui Ultima Campervan

Fortunately we got an automatic, so Ben didn’t need to figure out how to shift gears with his left hand on top of driving a 22+ foot vehicle. Driving something that large on the wrong side of the road is definitely an experience (I did it for like 2 hours and had my fill). We loaded up the camper with our luggage and groceries (we went shopping at the nearby store while they finished setting up the camper for us) and got on the road. We drove from Alice Springs to Ayer’s Rock Campground for our first leg–a 6 hour drive. The scenery was very interesting and changed quite a bit throughout the drive, from a tan/brown, very flat Arizona-like desert to a bright red, hilly landscape with lots of bushes and small trees. At one point we saw clear telltale signs of a recent bush fire (burnt trees, bushes, and grass, etc)–it was sad to see but in some ways a unique experience.

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Unfortunately, we got to Ayers Rock after dark, so there wasn’t much for us to see once we got there, but we could tell it was a very big, busy campground (we were surrounded by tons of other campervans). There was even Wifi! I felt like I had returned to civilization. Given the pitch black darkness, we (read: I) decided it was best to stay in the camper for the night. We had a quick sandwich dinner and went on to try out our ‘fancy’ shower. It was a surprisingly nice, hot shower given the cramped quarters! However…nothing in life is so simple. After Ben’s shower we noticed a little problem…the shower wasn’t draining properly, and so the floor had about 3 inches (7-8 cm) of stagnant water. We couldn’t do much about it in the dark so we let it be, with the hope it would be drained by the morning, and to bed we went–what else are you going to do in the desert?

Day 22: On the road again

Ben wanted to watch the sunrise over Uluru, which meant getting up and walking a mile and a half (2.5 km) in the pitch black…needless to say, I bowed out of this one. Ben will post more photos of this later, but here’s what he saw:

We made a pit stop at Uluru later that morning after checking out of the campground so I could take a look too, and it was quite a sight. I finally understand the nickname “Red Centre”:

Next stop: getting our clogged shower fixed, because no road trip is complete without a visit to the mechanic. Fortunately they were very nice and very speedy, so it didn’t eat up too much of our morning (and the rental company covered the cost). We got back on the road to head to our next stop: Kings Creek Station. This was ‘only’ a 4 hour drive, so it allowed us to arrive well before dark and have a proper dinner…time to use the barbie! We went with burgers, me with my fingers crossed that it would fill the American burger-shaped hole in my heart…sadly, the hole is still there.

Day 23: A city girl learns to ride an ATV

We were supposed to head to our third campground, but since our rental company told us it was forbidden to drive our camper on unpaved roads (and of course the shortcut between Kings Creek Station and the next campground was an unpaved road), we decided to stay at Kings Creek another night instead. (Ben had planned to break the rules but the rental company actually tracks the campers…Big Brother is always watching.) This meant very little driving for the day (yay!), so we headed to Kings Canyon in the late morning for a little hiking. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we took one of the shorter trails.

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Unfortunately (or was it? 🤷🏽‍♀️) it ended halfway due to a rock slide in 2016, so we headed back towards the entrance. Ben really wanted to do a more strenuous hike, so he went off to do that and I headed back to the camper for a little reading and Coke Zero 💁🏽. He said the hike was tough when he got back so I’m glad I didn’t go, but I did miss out on some pretty spectacular scenery:

We headed back to our campground for our little desert treat…an ATV ride! It’s not something we planned on ahead of time, but Kings Creek Station offers them and we thought it would be fun. It’s not cheap–$100 per person–but eh… We had a lot of fun! I felt like I had broken by thumb by the end from holding down the accelerator, but it was an exciting ride and we saw a ton of camels (sadly, or maybe not so sadly, no red kangaroos). Perhaps the only con was the massive amount of dirt/dust that blew into my face and onto my clothes–I’m pretty sure I ate dirt at some point, but even that wasn’t so bad.

Cheesing in our fabulously nerdy helmets

Australian Outback camels!
Eat my dust, Ben!

For dinner that night we had pork chops cooked on the barbie with some rice. The pork chops were fabulous, the rice not so much. My family will be horrified to hear that I no longer remember how to cook rice properly in a regular pot…rice cookers have ruined me for life. I have brought shame on my people 😔

Day 24: Back to civilization we go!

It was finally time to back to the real world! I had some fun in the desert and certainly caught up on my reading and sleep, but I was ready to have internet access and sleep in a real bed again. We left that morning for Alice Springs, another 6 hour, highly uneventful drive ahead of us. Once again, the slight changes in landscape were really interesting to see along the way. Something we noticed this time around that we didn’t on the way out of Alice Springs was how very dry every single river and creek was…not a drop of water to be seen. I know it’s the desert, but damn…I hope the animals can find some water! It is their dry season, so I’d be really curious to see what it looks like in the summer after they’ve gotten some rain.

We checked into a hotel for the night, and it was glorious to sit down at a real table and eat a meal cooked by someone else with ingredients besides salt and pepper. Of course Ben had the kangaroo (bottom left), and he thoroughly enjoyed it…poor (probably adorable) kangaroo.

 Day 25: Here we go again, part 1

Before heading to our next stop, we cleaned out and returned our camper, but not before getting some last few shots:


Adios Alice Springs!
A very pessimistic fire danger scale…
Just one of many adorable road signs we’ve seen so far


After that, off we went to Alice Springs airport for a flight down to Adelaide for the next leg of our trip–a multi-day road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne. More on that next time!

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