A road trip around Australia opens up so many possibilities when it comes to where to park the van. It could be a free campground in the middle of nowhere, a clifftop spot with the ocean below or a sprawling cattle station where the sheep have the best views. Some of our most memorable stays were those outback stations, out in the middle of nowhere. In some cases, miles and miles from anywhere.
Don’t expect five star luxury, although you could get five million. That’s up in the heavens of course. This is big sky country where the night skies will dare you to dream. During the day it’s a dusty, red earth, pack your white clothes away kind of landscape. But it gets under your skin, in the best possible way. It’s wholesome, soul cleansing and it may leave you yearning for more.
Here are five of the best we stayed at on our travels.
Edeowie Station in the Flinders Ranges was one of our first stops, within the first week of hitting the road. It’s on the western side of Wilpena Pound near Hawker and is a typical station with powered and unpowered sites, bush camping and shearer’s quarters. BUT there’s so much more too.
The serenity was palpable. The mountains magnificent. Can you see me hugging the tree above? The backdrop looked like an artists easel. At night we dined under starry skies, warmed ourselves by a campfire and listened to the sound of nothing. The next day we got a mud map to the 23kms 4WD loop, exclusive to the property, and the adventures continued.
This is part of what I wrote in my journal that night. “... It’s so beautiful here. We have power, water, awesome views of the Flinders. Drove to the ruins of old Edeowie township, which is only accessible from this station. We saw eagles, sheep, kangaroos running wild, had a big fire tonight, a gorgeous sunset, steak and red wine for dinner. Life is good and I feel infinitely grateful.”
Farina was our next stop after the Flinders. It’s an outback station which is more like a ghost town with its streets of ruins with stories to tell. It’s fascinating to walk these dusty lanes and read of how life once was here. I wrote about it in July last year, both here on my blog and in the RV Touring Guide.
And did I mention the underground bakery? It’s the most remote pop up bakery in Australia, only open eight weeks of each year. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Farina is Latin for flour.
We loved the ruins, the atmosphere, reading about its history and the peaceful ambience in the station campground. And as for that bakery …
From my journal “The bread looks delish, but so did everything. We bought a wholemeal chunky loaf and two huge apple turnovers.” And then the next day “we started our day with breakfast of egg and bacon pies and coffee at the Farina bakery.” Nothing beats supporting local bakeries, especially when they’re only open for eight weeks in a year!
BARN HILL STATION
Barn Hill is basic and rustic, a working cattle station located on the west coast not far from Broome. The owners are casual and welcoming and off peak you can park where you like. There’s guinea pigs and goats and the shower and toilet facilities are genuine Aussie outback, i.e. you can see the stars from the showers, so be prepared. Pizza night is always popular and we enjoyed long walks on the beach and met some memorable characters, like the happy, tipsy guy up on the cliffs and Glenda the retired nurse from Bairnsdale, who we sat with whilst eating our pizza. We still keep in touch.
From my journal: “Although we don’t have a view from our van it’s a short walk to a truly magnificent beach, backed with red cliffs. This place has a great vibe, it’s very rustic, it’s busy, its a farm but we’re on the coast. Had a swim, a long walk on the beach and a fun chat with a very inebriated bloke up on the cliffs at sunset.”
That’s the thing with station stays. You’ll meet the most authentic people. At the Barn Hill market the following morning I caught up with Glenda again, bought a hat I didn’t need and chatted with the stallholders, many of them regulars to the market. One woman had sold up everything and been on the road for five years. She said she’d never been happier.
BIG VALLEY HOMESTEAD
Big Valley is just ten minutes from Margaret River, nestled amongst the hills of a family owned working sheep farm. It’s so friendly and we were welcomed with a buggy full of freshly made scones and jam. On some nights there’s live entertainment and various food vans that visit. It’s a great base to explore all the wineries and attractions of the area.
The sites are huge and they have the cleanest and quirkiest shed amenities. And the best outdoor camp kitchens. The drinking water was so fresh and there’s green hills for miles.
We made friends with our neighbours, that’s me and Mary above holding a chicken that was hanging around our vans. That night Soul Cocina food truck was at camp so we ditched the idea of cooking the local roast chook for dinner (only joking) and enjoyed a night of Latin inspired soul food.
MT IVE IN THE GAWLER RANGES
Remember I mentioned those places that are miles from anywhere. Well Mt Ive is one of them. It’s remote, really remote. And it’s a slow bumpy corrugated road to get there. You’ll know you’re getting closer when you spot the submarine.
On arrival we meet Sally and Panda, the young couple running the place. The vibe is super casual and we find out they’re looking for more workers. “We do everything here” Sally says, “from reception to cleaning to serving drinks in the bar”. The offer is tempting.
For three days we devour the red earth and big outback skies. We camp near the outdoor gazebo, perfect for alfresco dining. And every night we’d head to the Spinifex Bar for drinks with the staff and other travellers.
During the day we explored the epic four wheel drive/mustering station tracks on this massive property. A highlight was a visit to the spectacular salt Lake Gairdner. I wrote a feature article on this area which was published in the August 2022 edition of 4×4 Australia Magazine.
From my Journal ” Love the red earth, the big skies, the landscape and the vibe. And I’m oh, so very tired tonight, I can hardly keep my head upright.”
Funnily enough, although we didn’t take on the work at Mt Ive we were later offered another station job at Merna Mora Station in the Flinders Ranges. There are jobs everywhere throughout Australia for those willing.
Now we’re at Halls Haven in the Grampians. It’s not a station stay but it has a warm welcoming vibe, cosy self contained units, outdoor fires and it’s surrounded by mountains and wildlife. Winter has been unpredictable these past three months we’ve worked here, so we never quite know what to expect when we wake up. Sometimes it’s cloud covered mountains and rainbows that lift the spirit and other mornings we’re dazzled by a glowing sunrise that reminds me how precious life is.
Outside Coco the cow stands waiting and there are kangaroos everywhere. You can tell by all the roo poo outside our van. Gotta watch out for the piles of emu shit too! But hey, that’s life.
There’s nothing pretentious about life in the Australian countryside. It’s as authentic as it comes. Whether you’re travelling or just thinking of a getaway, why not experience the real essence of this vast land and and stay at a station or two.
Wherever you are, look up and bask in the gifts given to us by Mother Nature. They’re bountiful, timeless, uplifting for the soul and free to us all.