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How to travel across the top of Australia for $5 a day

Table of Contents

3,200km, nine days, two women and one motorhome relocation across the top of Australia. What could possibly go wrong? Follow Fiona and Carolyne’s adventures as they relocate a Maui Motorhome from Cairns to Darwin for just $5 a day.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Fly nets proved to be essential fashion accessories at the Devils Marbles. Image Fiona Harper

Fly nets proved to be essential fashion accessories at the Devils Marbles. Image Fiona Harper

With so many travel adventures curtailed due to the pandemic, road trips have rarely been more enticing. The irresistible attraction of the open road is hard to resist. All the unknowns that come from a long distance journey combine to create an appealing adventure and a magical journey. Add in a bargain basement cost of $5 per day to relocate a luxe motorhome from Cairns to Darwin and I’ve strapped myself in for the ride across Queensland and the Top End of the Northern Territory

 

When a friend invited me along as co-driver to relocate a motorhome from Cairns to Darwin, I jumped at the chance to hit the road. Carolyne and I have never travelled together before, but we’ve known each other for years through our work as travel writers. Her infectious smile and easy-going nature make her the perfect companion to share a space little bigger than my bathroom for nine days.

 

At least that’s what I’m hoping as I drive out of the Maui parking lot and head to Cairns Airport to meet Carolyne’s flight from Adelaide. I’d previously taken a motorhome road trip with another friend where tension built in the confined space. But, with the wide open spaces of Australia ahead of us, the attraction of heading into the Outback is deliciously appealing and we’re laughing within moments of leaving Cairns behind.

 

We’re on a tight deadline to cover over 3,000km in nine days so there’s little time to linger at some of the places along the way. Still, it’s a great opportunity to take note of places to return to when we have more time (Innot Hot Springs, who knew you’d be such a delightful treasure!).

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Innot Hot Springs are a couple of hours drive west of Cairns. Image Fiona Harper

Innot Hot Springs are a couple of hours drive west of Cairns. Image Fiona Harper

Day 1 Cairns to Innot Hot Springs (QLD)

The check-in briefing by the Maui crew is so brief that it’s over before I’ve grasped the essentials. Though in actual fact, a motorhome is not too complicated, with the only tricky part involving the onboard toilet and how to empty it without upending the cassette all over me (spoiler alert: it never happens).

 

We’ve been allocated a 4-berth Maui Cascade through Drive Now to be relocated from Cairns depot to Darwin depot. Equipped for 4 people, the sleeping arrangements utilise clever use of the space. The rear section is furnished with a U-shaped settee around a table with panoramic windows on three sides providing plenty of light and ventilation, with inserts to make up a double bed. There’s another double bed up top which lowers down from the ceiling at the press of an electric switch, creating two separate comfortable sleeping spaces.  

 

We leave Cairns behind and ascend the Kuranda Range bound for the Atherton Tablelands. Stopping at Barron Falls to check out the waterfall after unseasonable rain, after stopping for the obligatory photo opportunity at Ravenshoe Wind Farm, we pull into the somewhat dishevelled caravan park at  Innot Hot Springs. We pay for our site at the Hot Springs Hotel, dodging the bras hanging for the ceiling which are part of a fundraising drive for breast cancer.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Ravenshoe Wind Farm sits atop the Atherton Tablelands. Image Fiona Harper

Ravenshoe Wind Farm sits atop the Atherton Tablelands. Image Fiona Harper

Day 2 Innot Hot Springs to Cumberland Chimney

The delightfully relaxing hot springs lured us into their tepid waters late into the evening last night. With three outdoor pools and four indoors, after trying them all, we settled on one outdoors beneath the stars and soaked for an hour or more. Chatting quietly, it was an exceptionally relaxed evening that definitely helped to send me into a deep sleep.

 

We awoke to a magical morning draped in fog. Long before the sun broke through the mist, we soaked in the pools again before walking to the adjacent river where the hot springs rise up through the river head. Digging a ‘bath’ in the coarse granite sand, we luxuriated in the steaming water, mesmerised by mist rising through shards of sunlight.

 

Next stop was Mt Garnet where the annual rodeo was underway (no time to stop and admire the action) and onto Mt Surprise where we found some fabulous op shops like Val’s shop called Rumours & Whispers. If you’ve got time (we didn’t unfortunately) order a coffee to sit down & Val will dish up a side of home-baked sponge cake or lamingtons.

 

Our second night on the road found us at a free camp beside a lily-filled lagoon at Cumberland Chimney, sipping G&T’s beneath a star-filled sky well after the horizon had turned from dusk to inky blue.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Val runs a fabulous vintage treasures store at Mt Surprise. Image Fiona Harper

Val runs a fabulous vintage treasures store at Mt Surprise. Image Fiona Harper

Day 3 Cumberland Chimney to Bang Bang

Cumberland Chimney campsite sits beside a lilly-filled lagoon which attracts an extraordinary range of birdlife. After breakfast near the lagoon watching magpie geese forage for their own breakfast, we continued westwards. At Georgetown we met Jo & Joe at Bedrock Caravan Park Georgetown, poked around historical buildings at Croydon & tucked into a delicious steak sandwich at the Club Hotel where we pulled up a bar stool besides  weather-worn local called Tom who does some station caretaking work & likes a yarn.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Cumberland Chimney is a glorious free camp site next to a lagoon that attracts vast birdlife. Image Fiona Harper

Cumberland Chimney is a glorious free camp site next to a lagoon that attracts vast birdlife. Image Fiona Harper

After an obligatory stop at the Purple Pub and a photo opportunity at the Big Crocodile Krys at Normanton we turned south onto the  Bourke Developmental Road. Out here in Gulf Country, the road swiftly turned into a goat track, with road kill and birds of prey are our constant companions, along with cattle and a steady stream of caravan nomads heading north and south. Road trains are now oversized, with three-trailer rigs standard.

 

Overnighting at a roadside free camp called Bang Bang, its only feature was a composting toilet, but the real highlight was a star-filled sky again. Who needs TV when the sky puts on such a performance?

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Road trains take up much of the road and should be given a wide berth. Image Fiona Harper

Road trains take up much of the road and should be given a wide berth. Image Fiona Harper

Day 4 Bang Bang to Mt Isa

We fuel up at Bourke & Wills Roadhouse, possibly one of Australia’s most remote roadhouses before calling into abandoned Quamby Pub before hitting the three-way junction at Cloncurry. Eastwards lies Townsville, westwards lies Tennant Creek (where we’re heading) and Normanton, where we’ve come from is to the north. South of here there’s a whole lot of nothingness until civilisation rises from the dessert again at Birdsville, population 140.

 

Wide open spaces are occasionally interrupted by a mob of cattle, often grazing verge-side who raise their heads, eyelashes fluttering curiously as we slowly pass by..

 

Today we’re heading back into civilisation briefly at The Isa, where we’ll restock with fresh supplies, charge our gadgets and luxuriate in hot showers at a caravan park.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Quamby Pub is in need of refurbishment. At least the public phone works if you need to call a taxi! Image Carolyne Jasinski

Quamby Pub is in need of refurbishment. At least the public phone works if you need to call a taxi! Image Carolyne Jasinski

Day 5 Mt Isa to Barkley Homestead

After 1,500km through incredible country, meeting intriguing Outback characters, crossing savannah plains, through cattle stations larger than some countries, camping out beneath jaw-dropping star-filled night skies we said goodbye to QLD & helllooo NT.

 

The town ( a very loose term in these parts) of Camoweal lies just east of the state border, which appeared with little fanfare or forewarning. Because of COVID requirements, we’d had to register our intentions to cross from QLD to the NT days prior and were advised to have our paperwork ready for inspection.

 

Beyond a mob of horses in a far paddock who seemed totally disinterested, we crossed the border unseen.  No matter, it was a significant moment in our journey, passing the halfway mark while being acutely aware we still had a long way to go to reach Darwin by day 9.

 

Barkly Homestead overnight provided a virtual oasis, with a roadhouse pub with live music, palm-fringed swimming pool and a massive caravan parking area with very welcome hot showers

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Crossing the QLD NT border was momentous, even if there was no one to witness it. Image Fiona Harper

Crossing the QLD/NT border was momentous, even if there was no one to witness it. Image Fiona Harper

Lets Keep in Touch

Day 6 Barkley Homestead to Tennant Creek

Now deep into the Territory’s endless landscape and cloudless skies, we headed south on the Stuart Hway to Tennant Creek and the Devils Marbles before the final run north to Darwin.

 

If we had more time, the Marbles are definitely worthy of a couple of nights stopover as there are plenty of walking tracks and terrific photo opportunities as the ochre-hued boulders change colours as the sun passes through the sky.

 

At Tennant Creek we enjoyed live music at sundowners as singer/songwriter Chris Callaghan was playing in the bar at the caravan park. A real Aussie character pumping out country tunes, Callaghan cracked corny jokes in between songs, providing a highlight of the road trip to date – not what I expected from Tennant Creek!

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-People we meet are without exception, friendly. Image Fiona Harper

People we meet are without exception, friendly and happy to have a chat and share their views and advice on places worth stopping further along the road. Image Fiona Harper

Day 7 Tennant Creek to Daly Waters

I was keen to view Aboriginal Art and we spent a couple of hours at Nyinkka Nyunyu gallery before I decided upon an Edible Seed Story canvas by May Wilson. The Stuart Highways cuts a swathe through the Tanami Desert, broken up by the odd roadhouse amidst cattle stations the size of some countries. With little landscape diversions we started counting road trains (losing interest after 20), and trying to stimulate our minds by figuring out how many tyres these mammoth monster trucks roll with.

 

Daly Waters is one of the NT legends where the hype is more interesting than the place itself. The caravan park was jam packed but we managed to secure a patch of grass, conveniently close enough to the toilet block that we could keep track of who was (or was not) washing their hands after their ablutions.

 

The grubby pub too was overflowing and we lined up for a less-than-memorable pub meal washed down with a couple of enjoyable G&T’s. Still, when in Rome…. I can reliably lay claim to having visited the ‘legendary Daly Waters’ and see little need to revisit again.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Daly Waters Pub comes with plenty of memorabilia hanging off every surface. Image Fiona Harper

Daly Waters Pub comes with plenty of memorabilia hanging off every surface. Image Fiona Harper

Day 8 Daly Waters to Edith Camp

Early in this 9-day journey we hoped to follow a hot springs theme after starting out with a bang at Innot Hot Springs west of Cairns. But it’s been a long time between dips since then! Today we got back in the hot pool, with Mataranka, Bitter Springs and Katherine Hot Springs all literal ‘hot spots’ to soak our dusty, road-weary bodies in.

 

We also found another quirky pub – the Pink Panther at Larrimah, termite mounds that look like cathedrals, and easily met our daily ‘target’ road train count of 20-plus before losing interest in the numbers again.

 

Our last sunset on the road was a cracker with the cliffs at Edith Falls bathed in an orange glow as the sun hovered like a scarlet pendulum above the road as we pulled into a free camp near Edith Falls.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Mataranka Hot Springs is just one of many south of Darwin that are NOT to be missed. Image Fiona Harper

Mataranka Hot Springs is just one of many south of Darwin that are NOT to be missed. Image Fiona Harper

Day 9 Edith Camp to Darwin

Sadly, our roadtrip comes to an end way too soon! The laughs have been many and the friendship forged on the road with Carolyne has been priceless. And, as we drive into Darwin to deliver our Maui to her new depot 3,229km after departing Darwin, we reminisce upon the many highlights:

 

  • Soaking in the warm thermal waters of Innot Hot Springs

  • Listening to the enthusiastic magpie geese babble at dawn & dusk at free campsite at Cumberland Chimney

  • Watching the graceful wedge tail eagles as they launched themselves off roadkill feasts as we approached

  • Admiring star-filled skies by night and cloudless blue skies by day

  • Meeting country folk who welcome visitors to their remote outposts and like to have a chat

  • Enjoying the freedom of the open road with a great travel buddy

But there’s been a purpose to this adventure, as we road test a relocation deal for $5 a day.

 

But this is just the starting point, with other costs to take into account. Carolyne Footloose Jasinski has done the math and the real cost was $114 ($57 pp) after adding accommodation, fuel and insurance. It’s still a bargain!

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-Cattle were our constant companions. Image Fiona Harper

Cattle were our constant companions. Image Fiona Harper

Here’s the cost breakdown from 9 days on the road:

 

  • 5 nights powered sites in caravan parks = $194

  • 3 nights free camping (yes, they really are free, and can be found all over the place)

  • Fuel = $474.04

  • Maui 4 berth Motorhome 7 days @ $5/day relocation deal = $35

  • Maui 2 extra days hire at $75/day = $150

  • Insurance = $20/day to reduce the excess to $0

We could have brought the cost down by not staying in caravan parks, as the motorhome is full equipped for free camping. But we enjoyed the luxury of pulling into a powered site to charge our gadgets, enjoy (relatively) long showers and pick up mobile service which is intermittent outside the main towns.

 

Overall it was a fabulous adventure, is highly recommended and we can’t wait to do another relocation!

 

Find a relocation deal from sites like Drive Now or go direct to Maui Motorhomes.

her-holiday-travel across the top of australia-We made it! Image Fiona Harper

We made it! Image Fiona Harper

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