The Australian Outback is a big patch of arid, empty land inhabited by nothing more than a few groups of Aboriginals and wild animals. To see this part of the country, we decided to do a road trip on a campervan along the famous Explorer Way. It’s the only motorway that links Australia’s top end to the far south, cutting through the country vertically crossing swathes of desert and some of the most remote areas of the area. It’s lauded as one of the best road trips in Australia, so we knew we had to drive that route to really get to know this part of Australia. Thanks to Britz Campervans, we had the enormous 6-berth Renegade as our comfortable home for the week.
Our journey started from Alice Springs in Northern Territory, from which we explored Uluru/ Kata Tjuta National Park as well as the West MacDonnell Ranges. We covered over 1,500 kilometers (930miles) to get to Adelaide in South Australia. Here’s an account of our road trip including details on our expenses and kilometers covered to help you plan your Australian road trip.
Table of Contents
Driving from Alice Springs to Adelaide
Day 1: Leaving Alice Springs
In the early morning, we picked up our motorhome for the week, the Britz Renegade. It’s a big-scale campervan designed for six passengers and extremely spacious for just the two of us. Besides the driver’s seat, the cabin area is equipped with two seating lounges, a kitchen (with microwave and stove) as well as a toilet and shower.We literally had a home on wheels and all we needed to spend on was fuel, campervan parking lot (from time to time) and food.
To stock up for the road trip, we stopped at a supermarket in Alice Springs before starting the journey – it is usually cheaper to shop in towns than at the roadhouses along the way. This part of Australia is very expensive, especially as compared to the south. We packed our campervan with some basic food, enough for the next few days, including pasta, bread, tuna, water, sausages and beef steak (to treat ourselves) and spent a total of $55.
The drive was easy and relaxing (you can’t go wrong along a straight road), passing through the rugged terrain of Central Australia. Red plains studded with spinifex and Eucalyptus trees flanked both sides of the highway. Along the way, we passed several dead kangaroos on the road – this was something we were particularly careful about as we’d been warned by many about the danger of driving at night because of kangaroos hopping out onto the highway. After just three hours of driving, we spent the night at a free parking just across the South Australian border. A few other Australian campers were out watching the sunset just as we arrived and they warmly welcomed us with a glass of wine. By nightfall, we were tucking into our grilled steaks with wine under the star-lit skies.
- Distance covered: 300km
- Expenses: Petrol – AU$80; Groceries – AU$55
Day 2: Exploring Coober Pedy
The next day, we headed off early to cover more ground and spend some time exploring Coober Pedy, an opal mining town that seems like quite an interesting stop. The landscape along the way had transformed quite drastically from flat, reddish brown desert plains to colorful rocky hills. Just before arriving into town, we took a lunch break at Breakaways Reserve where we made some quick sandwiches and relaxed to a view of the multi-hued hills in the distance.
By late afternoon, we rolled into Coober Pedy and headed straight to visit the Catacomb Church, an underground church dug out in the mid 1970s. Many of the houses and buildings in this area are built underground, with their interiors made of natural rock and drill holes that open to the sky. The Desert Cave Hotel, in particular, has a cool exhibition on the mining and underground housing history of the area. Before sunset, we drove over to the Moon Plain,16km northeast of Coober Pedy, so named for its resemblance to the surface of the moon. This was once an inland sea, and is now rich in fossil deposits. It has been used in several Hollywood blockbuster movies including “Mad Max” and Val Kilmer’s “Red Planet” as a lunar setting.
To recharge our campervan’s battery, we checked into the Stuart Range Caravan Park to park for the night. The park charged an additional fee for almost everything, from water to WiFi.The only thing we enjoyed at the caravan park was the swimming pool; other than that, we felt that it was a waste of money ($30 per night). We did enjoy a nice dinner in our comfy campervan and had a good night sleep.
- Distance covered: 380km
- Expenses: Petrol – AU$120; Groceries – AU$29; Caravan park lot – AU$30
Day 3: Heading to Port Augusta
From Coober Pedy, we hopped back onto Stuart Highway and made our way towards Port Augusta. With our gas tank almost three-quarter full, we figured we would have enough to get us to the next roadhouse which was 250 km away. As it turned out, we were obviously wrong. Just 20km away from Glendambo, our fuel tank ran dry completely and we had to pull away to the kerb and call for help. Thankfully the Aussies are a helpful bunch, a couple gave Alberto a ride to the gas station where he picked up some petrol and hitched another ride back to our campervan. It got us through the short trip to the station and soon enough we were back on the road again.
On our way to Port Augusta, we saw several salt lakes, out of which Lake Hart was the most easily accessible from the highway. We stopped over at a lookout point with shade and a water tank for lunch, where the shimmering white salt lake sparkled in the distance. With the desert behind us, the landscape transformed from dry, dusty desert to slightly greener pastures. At the Arid Land Botanical Gardens, we saw the whole landscape covered in greenery and water. The impressive Flinders Ranges loomed in the distance while Port Augusta sprawled beneath us. By the time we closed in on Port Augusta, the sun was setting. We found a comfortable free parking spot next to the port and warmly welcomed the sea breeze.
- Distance covered: 540km
- Expenses: Petrol AU$150
Day 4: Entering Adelaide!
We awoke with an urge to hit the road, since we were so close to our final destination. We were just approximately 3.5 hours away from Adelaide, so we quickly finished breakfast, packed, and headed down the coastal highway and straight to Adelaide. The scenery this time was even more drastically different from what we’d left behind. Rolling green hills with vast swathes of yellow wheat fields flanked both sides of the highway, resembling the Tuscan countryside. We meandered past wineries and agricultural lands, exploring a very different side to Australia.
It was only noon when we drove into the big city, overwhelmed by the traffic, tall buildings and basically the bustling activities – we had been in the outback for two weeks and it was oddly strange yet refreshing to be back in civilization. Looking back at the distance we covered, it felt like we had come a long way though yet another journey was awaiting.
- Distance covered: 300km
- Expenses: Petrol – AU$90 + $130 (fill up tank to return)
Driving a campervan in Australia is a brilliant way to see the outback, especially in a part of the country that is largely unexplored. Here, towns are few and far in between; we spent much of our time camping out, meeting Aussies on the road and sleeping under the stars. There were no tall buildings, nice hotels, or fast food restaurants – just caravan parks and gas stations along the way. While it was a journey worth taking, it was also quite an expensive one. As we were driving a huge 6-berth campervan, we spent a lot more effort and time maintaining it and definitely way more money than we usually would spend. Would we do the journey again? Hell yeah (but perhaps with a smaller campervan next time!).
- Total distance covered: 1520km
- Total expenses: AU$679 (approximately US$700)
- Total cost of campervan hire and insurance: AU$1,130 + AU$360 for one-way fee = AU$1,490 (US$1,540)
Sleeping under the stars
Disclaimer: This experience was made possible by Tourism South Australia and Britz Campervans, but all opinions expressed above are our own.