Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Outback Way

Hello again from the middle of Australia. We are now in Western Australia sitting in the enclosed camp kitchen of a mining community caravan park - avoiding the rain. We plan to eat out in the "Mess" tonight ($15.00) with the mine staff. There is 3G phone reception and hence Internet service.
This is quite a change from the desert we have just come from, where the daytime temperatures are in the mid 20's C and nighttime temperatures of 4-6 C, with red sand and dust everywhere. But isn't this why we travel? To experience all the varieties of life on this planet - continent by continent. Enough philosophy!
Red Bank Gorge

Ormiston Gorge
From Alice Springs we went out to the West MacDonnell Ranges and spent 6 days visiting the various gorges, walks, and waterholes from our base at Red Bank Gorge NP. Most of the gorges here have permanent waterholes of some sort. See the pictures above.
Bobbie - Gorge rafting
Bill - Gorge rafting

In one gorge we took our Li-los (air mattresses) and paddled up the gorge thru the freezing water pools between the gorge walls, until stopped by a very narrow step, where we could not feel the bottom of the pool under foot, and did not like the look of the frayed rope required to lift you into the next pool.

From the Gorges we went on to Palm Valley.
Here we did some REAL 4 Wheel Driving along the river bed and through it in some places into the valley itself. Four kilometres took 30 minutes driving. Both the driver (Bobbie) and the Toyota HiLux survived.
Palm Valley
Next we played tourist at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) where we walked around the Rock and watched a sunset over these remarkable natural landmarks. Feral camels were encountered on the way to the Olgas. Pictures below again.
Feral Camel
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Feral Camels

Uluru (Ayers Rock)
By then we had had enough of the cold desert nights and barren landscapes. To escape, we decided to take a shortcut. However this involved even more desert. The shortcut is called "The Outback Way". It goes from Cairns in Queensland to Perth in Western Australia, in an almost direct path. Unfortunately the segment we needed involved 1,100 kilometres of unsealed road (gravel/sand/rock) .
Great Central Road -The Outback Way
We crossed this in 3 days of busy driving, staying at the road houses (Warakurna and Tjukayirla), along the way. The highlight of the trip was a tour of the Meteorological station at Giles (next to the Warakurna roadhouse) our first stop. Here we saw the 9:00am weather balloon launch (done 2x daily - soon to be computer automated) and the remains of the first ballistic missile (Blue Streak) launched from Woomera, Australia's WWII missile range. We also purchased another aboriginal dot painting there (we have a small collection) See proof of our visit below.
Blue Streak Rocket wreck
Weather Balloon launch - Giles WA

Bobbie was reminded again today of her theory that the geology of Australia consists of two kinds of soil:
1.  Deep, soft sand which will not hold tent pegs, or
2.  Half an inch of gravel or topsoil, overlaying solid rock or extremely compacted rock and gravel which bends nearly all tent pegs to pretzels.
The only place we have ever been that dealt properly with this problem was a caravan park in Denham,
WA near Monkey Mia. They provided a drill to make holes for tent pegs. Leinster soil (where we are camped this evening), is half inch of gravel with solids underneath. 

State Hotel - Gwalia
We came out of the desert at Leonora. Here we spent 2 days recovering and cycled out to Gwalia (Sons of Gwalia goldmine) which was initially opened up by Edgar Hoover (later president of USA) in 1895 when he was in his 20's. The mine town was abandoned suddenly in 1939 and much of the contents of the town and mine have been restored or retained for the curious. Very interesting "museum town". The mine has re-opened (with the increasing value of gold) and we also saw mining activity in the large open pit.
Gwalia - Gold mine pit
Today we left Leonora and are headed north to the warm weather. We have booked a caravan park in Broome for July 5-12 for some R&R and will work our way towards Broome via Newman, and Millstream Chichester NP. Till then...

Friday, 1 June 2012

Oodnadatta Track to Alice Springs

 I think our last blog finished about Kangaroo Island.  Bill wrote it and I think he missed a few of the choice things that happened, so I will fill in a bit.

We had some trouble with out airbag suspension system on the truck before Kangaroo Island, which took about 2 days to sort out in Adelaide.  It was complicated by the discovery that some dodgy repair work had been done on the system in Sydney that we were not aware of.  Being on the road makes it very difficult to follow up on these things;  you just have to get it fixed and pay the price.

Then we had a service done on the truck after we got back from Kangaroo Island, and the Toyota dealer thought there was a problem with one of the fuel injectors.  They were supposed to send some computer information about it to Toyota, but they didn’t do it correctly.  We had to have the same thing done in Whyalla, and it turned out they couldn’t send the file to Toyota for some unknown reason.  We finally got this sorted out in Alice Springs, three weeks later.  Toyota Service in SA has been somewhat less than optimal.  The service in Alice Springs seems better.

Anyway, none of this stopped us, and after Kangaroo Island we travelled to Mt. Remarkable National Park in the southern Flinders Ranges.  This is a lovely park with good-sized campsites and hot showers!!  The weather was comfortable but the nights were cool.  We stayed a few days, got to know the friendly emus, and did some hiking to Hidden Gorge and climbed Mt. Remarkable.  The climb is not difficult or technical, but very tiring as it is one continuous upward climb.  The view at the top is obscured by trees, but the views on the way up are excellent.
View From Mt. Remarkable
Friendly Emus Mt Remarkable
From there we spent a few days in Whyalla, relaxing in a caravan park, recharging batteries, buying food, waiting for forwarded mail and doing laundry.  The Caravan Park was on a nice looking beach on the Spencer Gulf, but it was extremely shallow when the tide went out. The sand was only on the edge and the rest was mud and weeds.  I didn’t swim.  We did, however, get to meet the Whyalla dolphins in the harbour.   They follow all the sport fishing boats into the dock, and laze around so close you could reach out and touch them from the pontoon.
Camping on Spencer Gulf at Whyalla 
 Short diversionary note about the trials of life on the road -- it is surprising when you travel how your standards of cleanliness change.  Clothes that would hit the laundry bag at home are examined carefully, and if they pass the smell test and don’t stand up by themselves, are declared clean.  Unfortunately, “clean” clothes do eventually run out and laundry must be done.  Clean is relative, of course, as most laundry done in caravan parks gets about 30 minutes in a lukewarm wash (if you are lucky) in a washer of dubious quality and vintage.  I never thought that my washing machine would be one of the things I missed the most about home.

From Whyalla we headed north the Flinders Ranges National Park, where we camped for 2 very cold nights and did some more hiking up the Bunyeroo Gorge.  Not difficult hiking and not the best gorge or hike in the park, but still very pleasant scenery.  The last time we were in Flinders Ranges was October 2010.  There had been a lot of rain and everything was green.  This time it was very dry and the red dust was everywhere. 

We headed north from Flinders Ranges and stopped at Leigh Creek.  If anyone is planning to travel the Oodnadatta Track, this is the place to stock up as they have the best selection of food and you can fill up with good drinking water. Diesel prices are fairly good -- $1.78/litre.  (If you think that is bad, wait ‘til you get to Oodnadatta where diesel is $2.27/litre).  We found the flies becoming a nuisance here, and fly nets are the order of the day if you don’t want flies crawling up your nose and in your ears and mouth.  They are horrible.

Following the advice of some a couple we met, we spent a night north of Leigh Creek at Farina, a private campsite on a station.  In the early to mid-1900s it was a bustling town of 350;  now it is an abandoned ruin.  Some of the old stone buildings are being restored by volunteers and much of the history is presented in information bays.   Camping is in a grassy, treed area, with showers heated by a wood burning donkey heater.  All this for $5/person/night.  Excellent value and interesting history.

From there we made our way north to Maree up the Oodnadatta Track past Lake Eyre, following the route of the old Ghan Railway.  The railway went from Port Augusta to Alice Springs.  Along the “Track” (which is really a good gravel road) are numerous abandoned railway stops, bridges, bores, old settlements, and mound springs.  The mound springs are artesian water that forces its way up through the earth and builds up a hill or mound around itself.  The rail line followed a line of these springs, as they were the only reliable water sources through the desert.  It is a sad story, however, as this great engineering feat lasted for a relatively short time, and is now disappearing into the desert again.
Mound Spring along Oodnadatta Track

Beresford Bore Siding, old Ghan Railway Oodnadatta Track
Roadside Art at "Planehenge" along Oodnadatta  Track

Desert Sunset

Campsite at Algebuckina Bridge, Oodnadatta Track

We did a 2 day side trip from Oodnadatta to The Painted Desert and the Copper HillsillasHH, two beautiful areas west of Oodnadatta that have sand hills of cream, red, grey and ochre colours.  They seem to change as the light changes, and are very picturesque.  We did a short walk along the tops of some of the hills and the views were spectacular.

Painted Desert, West of Oodnadatta

We also learned about the “scent of the desert”, the Gidgee Tree which is a stunted, black-barked tree that grows in the streambeds.  It has a distinctive scent, which people associate with the desert.  Unfortunately, that scent smelled like bat guano to me, or as one of the locals put it, “dog piss”.  The tree is also known as “The Stinking Wattle”.  It is very strong, as the scent permeates the air far from the trees themselves.

We spent 3 days at Dalhousie Springs, which is the jumping off point for people crossing the Simpson Desert.  It must be desert crossing season, as in the few days we were there the travellers increased every day.  The other drawing card of Dalhousie is the spring, which is fresh water and varies in temperature from 34-46°C.   The spring is a giant natural hot tub, lovely for a quiet soak, but a bit warm for swimming.  Still, I hope the Green Prawns and Dawnbusters think of me in the 38° water as they swim at Mona Vale through July and August.

Dalhousie Springs

Dalhousie Springs natural hot tub 38 degrees C
 We did not go across the Simpson Desert as the track heads back east to Birdsville, and our next move was north and west via Mt. Dare and Finke to Alice Springs and Uluru.  After Mt. Dare and Finke we had planned to continue through the desert along the old Ghan line to Alice Springs.  Two days of very rough roads and corrugations changed our minds, however, and from Finke we headed out to Kulgera and the (paved) Stuart Highway north Alice.  On the way we camped one night at Lambert Centre, the exact geographic centre of Australia.  This is a marker in a clearing in the middle of nowhere, with a dunny of questionable vintage as the only amenity offered at the camping spot.  Still, it was an interesting and offbeat stop.

Lambert Centre, Geographic Centre of Australia

We are now in Alice Springs, in one of the 6!! Caravan Parks within a kilometre of each other near Heavytree  Gap.  This is also near the Todd River where all of the aboriginal “long grassers” sleep in the open.  I guess they like to keep all of us undesirable transients in one place.

Until next time.