Lee Atkinson spent 10 months driving 40,000km in a 4WD with a camper trailer on a “big lap” roadtrip around mainland Australia.
Here are her top 10 spots she says not to miss.
1. EYRE PENINSULA, SA
The Eyre Peninsula is one of the country’s best kept secrets when it comes to beach holidays. OK, the water isn’t exactly tropical and is home to some rather big sharks, but it has some of the Australia’s most dramatic coastline, the best seafood in the country and next to no tourists. We camped with water views on either side of Port Lincoln in both Lincoln and Coffin Bay national parks and again on the outskirts of Ceduna at Wittlebee Conservation Park. We filled our days on coastal walking trails, testing out our four-wheel-driving skills on sand dunes and feasted on ridiculously cheap freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters every night. It was a very hard place to leave.
2. MOUNT AUGUSTUS, WA
It’s not a real Aussie road trip without at least one big thing and you don’t have to be on the road for very long before you’ll have driven past an assortment of super-sized cement animals, giant lobsters and fibreglass fruit but the most impressive was Mount Augustus, the world’s biggest rock. So how big is it? Two and a half times bigger than Uluru. The road that circles its base is 49km long, which gives you an idea of its massive size. Never heard of it? Me either, until I got there. It’s in the Gascoyne region of WA, between Carnarvon and Meekatharra.
3. WESTERN DESERT, WA
I love the outback and the beauty of doing such a long road trip was it gave us lots of time to really explore the tracks that spear through the western deserts between the Red Centre and the west coast — Gunbarrel Highway, Grand Central Road, Sandy Blight Junction Track, Gary Junction Road and the Telfer Mine Road. It’s about as remote as you can get, but spending time in the desert is an experience that you won’t soon forget. They can be challenging but they really are the ultimate roads less travelled.
4. THE PILBARA, WA
I’d never been to the Pilbara before our big lap, and it’s much grander, more expansive, more mountainous and much more magnificent than I had ever imagined. We spent a couple of weeks exploring the gorges of Karijini National Park, the oasis-like waterholes of Millstream Chichester National Park, camping beside beautiful rivers and bumping along very scenic 4WD tracks and the largest collection of rock carvings in the world on the Burrup Peninsula. It gets my vote as one of Australia’s most underrated landscapes.
5. MOUNT ELIZABETH STATION, KIMBERLEY WA
The Kimberley is one of those larger-than-life places where just about everywhere is pretty amazing, but Mt Elizabeth Station, around halfway along the Gibb River Road, was an absolute highlight of our 10-month trip. If you like a little 4WD fun you’ll love this place as much as we did. Favourite spot was Wunnamurra Gorge, which has a deep pool fed by a waterfall and rock walls covered with sacred Wandjina figures. Mount Elizabeth is also home to one of the best, and toughest, 4WD tracks in the Kimberley, the Munja Track. It runs 220km north to the coast, takes several days and is pure adventure all the way.
6. MARY RIVER, NT
There’s some great croc-spotting opportunities all over the Top End, but the one that made the most lasting impression on us was on the Mary River, roughly halfway between Darwin and Kakadu. One particular spot — Shady Camp in Mary River National Park where a barrage across the river has freshwater one side, saltwater the other — is famous for its barramundi fishing, but it’s also home to the densest population of saltwater crocodiles in the country. We camped nearby and after dark we set up watch with our spotlights during high tide. We lost count of how many crocodiles we watched haul out of the water and cross the barrage. It was one of the most amazing wildlife moments in my life — both terrifying and exhilarating.
7. ARNHEM LAND, NT
Getting to eastern Arnhem Land by road takes a bit of effort — it’s a two-day drive from Katherine, 4WD only (no caravans allowed) and you’ll need to organise two permits online before you go — but it’s worth it. Motel accommodation is available in Nhulunbuy, but the permits include some of the best beachfront camping I’ve seen anywhere in Australia, the fishing is legendary and the Yolngu art centre at Yirrkala is extraordinary. Spending time in Arnhem Land is a deep immersion into our indigenous culture that you just don’t get to experience anywhere else in the country.
8. CAPE YORK, QLD
Driving to the top of Cape York is close to the top of most bucket lists. This was my first time on the Cape, and I’d mistakenly thought that the allure of the place was all about the adventure of getting here. Now I understand that it’s the destination itself that gets under your skin and why so many make the long haul up here year after year after year. Think beachfront camping and beachside bars where you can watch the sun slip into the sea, fishing, wild national parks with rainforest, wetlands, WWII ruins, waterfalls, plunge pools and rock art galleries.
9. MACKAY HIGHLANDS, QLD
Eungella National Park (pronounced yun-galah) in the Mackay Highlands tends to get overlooked by a lot of people seduced by the tropical warmth of the Whitsundays, but it was one of our favourite spots. The park is split into two sections, above and below the ranges. Up the top are lots of rainforest walks, lookouts and Broken River, one of the best spots to see platypus in the wild. Down below is Finch Hatton Gorge, which features delightfully icy swimming holes fed by waterfalls. We camped, but there are plenty of accommodation options.
10. THE GRAMPIANS, VIC
I’d been to the Grampians in western Victoria a few times before, but never really explored beyond the big-ticket attractions like Mackenzie Falls and was keen to do a few bushwalks. The sealed road between Dunkeld and Halls Gap (65km though the middle of the Grampians National Park) is one of most scenic mountain drives on sealed roads in the country — we based ourselves in the friendly little caravan park in Dunkeld just so we could drive to Halls Gap, where most of the walks are, twice a day. (The fine food at the Royal Mail Hotel may have also had an influence.) Favourite walk? The five-hour loop from Halls Gap around the spectacular Pinnacle Lookout, past the high-walled Grand Canyon and the Venus Bath Rock Pools.
Lee Atkinson’s latest book, Explore Australia by Camper Trailer, is published by Hardie Grant Travel and is available from all good bookstores. RRP $39.99.
Read more of Lee’s tips in the Escape Camp & Caravan special issue, on sale in Coles, Woolworths and newsagents nationally from Monday, September 24, 2018. RRP $9.99.