Red Dirt Wanderings

Recently, we embarked on an epic road trip to the arid red centre of Australia. Over 13 days and 5000km we searched for the variety of critters who have made this inhospitable part of the world their domain. The seven of us started in Adelaide, making our way up to Coober Pedy, then travelling to Yulara, Uluru, and then the West Macdonell ranges, before returning to Adelaide.

On the way to Coober Pedy we stopped for a bite to eat, and found the first herp of the trip – a Painted Dragon. Shortly afterwards, someone somehow spotted this wee Bearded Dragon a few meters off the Stuart Highway while flying past at 110kph. Brakes were rapidly applied, with good results: we found the beardie again, and also got to tick a distant White-winged Fairywren.

A Bearded dragon on the side of the Stuart Highway

Coober Pedy

We made it to Coober Pedy, and spent our time there in and around Kempe Road and Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park. The landscape here was disorientingly vast, with very little or no vegetation in most places.

The lost souls of Kempe Road

Despite the initial barren appearance, there was plenty of wildlife. We found our first gecko of the trip at the Breakaways lookout, a lovely little Heteronotia, and a Diplodactylus.

A Helemeted Gecko at the Breakaways

We found this Helemeted Gecko at the Breakaways lookout just after sunset. Kanku/Breakaways NP, near Coober Pedy, SA.

The night sky there is also truly phenomenal. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here’s one anyway.

The night sky from Kempe Road, SA

Northward to Uluru

From Coober Pedy we drove north all the way to Yulara. We stopped by the side of the road for lunch, and one of the party found a banded snake which delayed the journey somewhat while we photographed it.

A Desert Banded Snake, north of Coober Pedy, SA

We finally got to Yulara at some stupid hour in the morning, but we were up bright and early the next day to do the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta. We had great views along the way of Grey-headed Honeyeater, Western Bowerbird, Zebra Finch, and Crested Bowerbird, all of which I’d not seen in decades.

A grey-headed honeyeater at Uluru

We then had our first “arvo off”, resting in the shadow of Uluru during the heat of the day. We watched the sun set over Uluru, and then headed out spotlighting back towards Yulara, finding a beautiful Knob-tailed Gecko.

A knob-tailed gecko at Yulara, NT

While at Uluru, we had what was the most special moment of the trip. We were driving on the road that circumnavigates Uluru when we came across a ranger in the middle of the road. She was rescuing this Moloch (a.k.a Thorny Devil), aided by an elder of the Anangu people, the traditional custodians of the region surrounding Uluru. Both were kind enough to allow us to photograph the Moloch in their hands. A truly wonderful moment of generosity and shared wonder at one of the most iconic animals of arid Australia.

A Thorny devil in the hand of Uluru rangers

We came across this thorny devil (Moloch horridus) on the roadside near Uluru. A traditional owner was kind enough to let us take photos while she held it, which was an amazing and memorable experience.

“West Maccas is the best Maccas”

From Yulara, we travelled to Alice Springs and then west to Ormiston gorge. It was late by the time we left Alice Springs, and we ended up finding quite a lot on the road to Ormiston Gorge. Among the several snakes and geckos was perhaps my favourite animal of the whole trip, this Nephrurus amyae.

Ormiston gorge was amazing in all regards, from the landscape and of course the fauna and flora, to the facilities (which were a welcome relief after a while on the road). The gorge itself is spectacular, particularly toward sunset.

The fauna was no less brilliant, and highly varied. We had great views on several occasions of my favourite bird of the trip, a Spinifex Pigeon, as well as pythons, geckos, frogs, and a huge range of insects that congregated under the lamp outside the toilet block (including an extraordinary Neuroptera with highly elongated hindwings)

After a couple of days we bid a reluctant farewell to Ormiston, and started the long journey south back to Adelaide. One last spotlighting stop along the highway gave us a last hurrah (or several), as we spotted another species of Nephrurus, and a strange beetle that I’m told specialises on eating the keratin from the skin of dead birds (in this case the talons of a dead Wedge-tailed Eagle).

A Knob-tailed Gecko, near Woomera, SA

All in all, a truly brilliant trip. A few months later and I’m still washing the red dirt of of my clothes, and having flashbacks to Kempe Road.

With thanks to…

Thanks again to my six colleagues in dust and herps. This was a trip I will have lifelong memories of, and it was an honour to travel such a special part of the world with such wonderful folks. Thanks too to the traditional owners on whose land we traveled.


Below is a gallery of all the photos I took on this trip.