Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Across the Tanami and into WA

We had been given horror stories about Alice Springs, but were very pleasantly surprised to find a very clean city, with beautifully kept public gardens. There was a very high police presence. The "mounted police", on bicycles, pedaling around all the malls and back allies. Other police with horses and in vehicles. We only saw one drunk in the public garden outside the library. Public toilets were all manned. They were free, but you could pay for a hot shower - $3.50, or $6.50 for a hot shower plus towel and soap. Security is an obvious priority. We saw security guards around all the supermarkets, checking car parking and entrances to shops. Peter went to the bottle shop and was not allowed to purchase anything without having his photo identity - ie licence checked and scanned through a machine to ensure he wasn't one of the banned drinkers!

We needed to jettison the water from our tank as it had become badly tainted! It took some time. The service station allowed us to refill, which was a godsend! So we left Alice Springs quite late. The first part of the Tamani Road was a single strip of tar, which went as far as Tilmouth Well. We have been constantly reminded of the remote areas of Kenya on this trip. Some areas have looked like the journey to Voi, and now we are on a road that is reminiscent of the old Mombasa road - red dirt, steep sides and very corrugated. We stopped at Tilmouth Well, a beautifully maintained establishment at the start of the gravel road. It had the feel of an elegant old safari lodge, with local stone pavers and cool shelters made from local tree trunks with thatch roofs, green lawns and the local creek just at the edge of the property. It would be a great place to stay!

Last night we camped beside Floodout Creek. No one here at all! So Laurance, I think we might have reached "woop woop"! We are in the middle of the Tanami Desert, we were visited last night by a wild dingo and had a herd of wild camels scampering past our camp. There is no sign of habitation anywhere and the closest place to us now is about 560klms away! The air is clean, dry and cold at night. Wild birds abound around us, crested doves, huge variety of finches and other acacia seed loving birds. We used to camp oven last night to cook up all our vegetables before we reach the Western Australian border where no fruit or vegetables are allowed in.

We continued on the Tanami Road, which was dry and not too bad until about 50 klms to the WA border. Then the potholes and corrugations were enough to shake not only the fillings out of your teeth, but the car chassis to bits. The metal holders for our PVC pipe were literally rattled to pieces and we had to use strapping to fix the damage.

The Tanami Road at this point, resembled a deep channel graded through the red earth and sand. So there was no way of getting off unless you found a road or track leading to some remote station or community. We were unable to drive faster than first or second gear, so every kilometer seemed to drag by. We still hadn't found a spot to pull off for the night by 6.00 pm, so were starting to get quite worried. The corrugations had really got to Sue by this stage, who was hanging onto the steering wheel with all her might. The light was fading and the ruts became impossible to see with the sun setting right in front of us. Soon we were into the last bit of daylight. Suddenly Peter saw a very faint set of tyre tracks leading off into the scrub and we headed onto it. We found it had been used only once as a route to taking geological samples for mineral exploration as we found some small round plugs of stone with a marker besides them on the track. There was just enough room for us to set up the camper for the night and far enough into the scrub for no one to see us there. The scrub was very thick and theme met grasses well over head height, lots of magnificent wildflowers all around. The stars are truly at their best way out here. The Milky Way shows it's "clouds" of stars that are never visible in suburban areas. Daybreak was magnificent with the most amazing sunrise and chorus of birds. Light was shining on all the desert flowers!

Today we travelled to Billilluna, only meeting one other vehicle on the Tanami Road all day - an off road tourist camper bus. The road improved somewhat, but still we met with deep sandy patches and rocky outcrops, all made to test the vehicle and driver! Billuna is a "dry" Aboriginal community where we stopped to refuel. At $2.60 a litre, needless to say we bought a minimal amount. Billilluna is also the beginning and/or ending of the Canning Stock Route. Sue went into the community store to buy some drinks. The queue, which snaked inside the shop was 20 people deep, so she chatted to all the local kids and their parents. Some of the children went to boarding school in Perth! After year 7 they have to go elsewhere to learn. They had to fly to Perth because of the extreme distances. One child told me his sister had been expelled because she had been teasing another Aboriginal student there. Anyway the Aboriginal people here seem all very friendly and happy. All look well and were purchasing sensible things to eat. The Variety of fresh goods in the store was remarkable. Apparently it's even better when the truck arrives! There was a good feel to the place. And at least around the general store and office, was very clean and tidy. One elderly Aborigine makes it his business to clean up every morning, so the managers were very grateful.

Sue met some people who had just finished traveling down the Canning Stock Route, who told her about their lovely stay at Stretch Lake, a lake within the Paruka Indigenous Area. You need permission to enter, obtainable from the community store/office/petrol station. We are restricted as to where we can visit, but the lake is allowed. Anyway here we are beside Lake Stretch. We have both had a swim in it, a hot shower (bush style) afterwards, washed the clothes, and had dinner.

This is beautiful! A long stretch of lake, abundant with water birds and other birdlife. There are two other camps besides us, with ample space between, so we feel like we are here alone.

We liked it so much we stayed for two nights. On Sunday the community manager, Arthur (Dutch) came down to the lake to show the new replacement managers this serene and peaceful place. The new managers were Yarpies, (South Africans), who had only lived in Australia for 4 years, but who had lived most of their lives in Namibia. The job of running one of the Indigenous Communities is massive. It will be their task to make sure that the ranch and community become self sufficient - a very hard ask given that most inhabitants don't want to do anything. They had a few different ideas about running the place, so it will be interesting to see how they fare. Arthur told us the ranch was capable of making at least $1m per annum, because of the abundant permanent water.

We went back to the office on Monday to pay our extra money for staying the extra day. Inside the community centre were Indigenous artworks, some a part of a heritage collection. Many different fruit trees had been planted around the community centre and all were thriving thanks to the daily watering given by the manager's wife.

Back on the Tanami Road! Bone shaking rattling, but still better that the 50klms before the WA border.

We arrived in Halls Creek, expecting to find a dump of a town. But instead it was clean, green, tidy and well organized. Very strict liquor laws are in place in the town, the liquor store being able sell only a maximum 2.8percent, ie light beer and nothing else. We were desperate for a meal, and visited the local pub - The Kimberly Hotel. A really lovely place, reminiscent of Voi when you leave the desert to pull in for a break. Sparkling pool, shady and green with cool verandahs and mango beer on tap! Very tasty and thirst quenching. Again not able to purchase spirits or wine, unless between the hours of 5 - 8pm And it had to be consumed on the premises, nothing could be taken away. We are told these liquor laws hold true for most of the towns in the Kimberly except for Derby!

Last night was spent at Larrawa Station Bush Camping. This property is a working station of 120,000 hectares, with 5,000 head of cattle, on very marginal land. There is a creek that runs through the property, but flows only in the " Big Wet", but had two water holes still left from the huge rains this area has just had! The owner thought it was therefore still flowing under the sand. This is a very peaceful place, no one here but us, some cows and horses and the farm house dog, Daisy.

The station hands were all girls and packed their swags at 5.30am and loaded the horses ready for another muster to collect the strays that had been missed in the first round up. It was going to take them 11/2 hours by truck to get to the other side of the property, where they would sleep out under the stars in their swags.

We sought the advise of Priceless Campsites for our next stop, which turned out to be Lake Ellendale. Thanks to the station owners this campsite is free on the understanding that rubbish in is rubbish taken out. No facilities but clean with a small fresh water lake. About ten others camping there at the same time. We moved to the furtherest end of the lake, so were pretty secluded compared to the others. We still has "absolute" water frontage. The paddock was filled with cows who were obviously quite used to many visitors.

Here we met a most interesting character, Neil, who up has been "on the road" for the past fifteen years. He could talk the "the hind leg off a donkey"! He lives from pension cheque to pension cheque. How far he travels depends on how much fuel he can afford to buy. He was very knowledgeable, especially in regards to engines and vehicles. As he travels, he helps out other travelers who have car problems, as a good Samaritan. He is a qualified mechanic, panel, beater and spray painter. He had owned his own business, restoring vintage cars, but had broken his back losing three discs in a very unfortunate accident. He had been unable to get compensation, so as a result couldn't continue running his own business or get a job.

We offered to share our meal with him, which happened to be curry. He declined saying he had had a bad experience with curry when working in the kitchen at Long Bay (jail). We didn't ask, " As an inmate or employee"!

It was shortly before Ellendale Lake that we spotted our first boabs!

We have been shocked by the gung-ho approach by the off-road four wheel drivers. They drive too fast and try to be as dirty as possible either with mud or dust. So we have seen many camper trailers destroyed by the corrugated road conditions. On the other hand if you have stopped by the side of the road they always stop to check that you are ok. The truck drivers are courteous and very well behaved!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Survival kit

Thanks to Mal and Kel Cole for the fabulous survival kit. Been invaluable ! On the drive to Malacoota, we lit the eco billy for a cup of tea at Numerella to have with one of the home made meusli bars I had made ready for the trip. You guessed it - I had left them in the deepfreeze at home. So out came the packet of hazelnut biscuits. After the first night we lost the firelighter, so the matches were used. Next after a VERY cold night at Port Pirie -out came the "gin and tonic". Another cold night later and the Scotch was attacked. So many many thanks, Kel, we are really appreciating you wonderfully kind gift!

Keeping in touch

This is a message for Mum and maybe anyone else. we can't get messages sent through the blog site, but we can read comments in the comments section.

Desert Oak Ranch

We drove out of Kata Tjuta National Park after our big walk yesterday, meaning to camp at the meteorite craters. But it got too late, so we reluctantly pulled into Desert Oak Ranch. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Everything was spotless and very well maintained - great showers and green grass!

Today we will stay in Alice Springs in a motel, we think! Time to wash clothes, air damp bedding etc. We need more provisions and a bit of a break.

Yep!,,, a motel!  It took almost 2 hours to remove the mud from the vehicle -well almost all of the mud! Then we refilled with provisions and purchased 2new drink bottles.  We had managed to puncture both our other ones. How we have no idea! 

Dinner at the local club was too much!!!!  GIANT sized schnitzel built for a Titan -Far too much for me! We assured that we could go back for more salad. No way - filled to the brim after only 1/3 of the meal!

We will now be out of touch for some time as we start our travel down the Tanemi Tack tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Desert Oak Ranch

Feeling very tired tonight after an arduous (for us) walk around Kata Tjuta, (the Olgas). This walk is even more special and spectacular than walking around Uluru. Amazing water courses, pools and vegetation. Again the wild flowers and birdlife were magnificent. The path was difficult in places because our shoes did not have adequate grips on the undersides.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cadney Park Roadhouse

Stayed the night in the paddock beside the roadhouse. We were the only people in the paddock, so we had a wonderful campfire that night and cooked our first lot of jaffles for the trip! We are really enjoying our camper. It is warm and cosy in it at night and packs away relatively quickly! Sue has nearly mastered the gas stove!

Stuart Highway long and tedious! Not too much traffic however. Some 50kms from Coober Pedy, we drove past hectares and hectares of water. It looked like a swamp. But here we were in the middle of the desert!

We turned off the main highway towards Uluru and stayed the next night at Curtin Springs Homestead - again in the paddock.

Yesterday we drove into Kata Tjuta National Park to visit Uluru and the Olgas. This park is spectacular especially with all the rain that's been had. Wildflowers in abundance and a beautiful light pervading perfume. We have been lucky enough to spot a Thorny Devil as well as two small herds of wild camels. 

We didn't climb the rock but walked around it instead.  A most magnificent walk with amazing rock formations and natural sculptures. Again plenty of water everywhere, so the base of the rock had small streams, ponds and waterholes. Beautiful tall trees and very lush vegetation.

Later we headed to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and walked the Walpa Gorge. More spectacular than Uluru, in our minds and certainly a very spiritual place! Serene and beautiful with magnificent small birds enjoying the abundance of food. Along the way I told a man that there were some beautiful yellow birds at the top of the gorge. He said "Oh they'll be ........ " so the I asked what the small birds were with bright red beaks. "Zebra Finches", came the quick reply. "How did you know he was a 'twitter'? asked Peter. It wasn't half obvious- he had dangling from his neck the largest pair of binoculars I have ever seen and a camera with a telephoto lens that was at least 45cms long!

Coward Springs

Coward Springs is beautiful! It is a real oasis in the desrt! We found a dry spot to set up camp and then went to visit the engine driver's house which has been made into a small museum. The owners live in the old Station Master's house. Both buildings very old, made out of sandstone blocks. Unlike many of the other old Ghan railway building, which are all now in ruins, these two have been renovated and lok very impressive in their oasis surroundings. The artesian basin reaches the surface in this part of the outback, so there are many natural springs and thermal pools. A small pool has been created here where the artesian water comes to the surface. We both took a dip, despite the mud and the cold air temperature. Warm showers are available here by lighting the fire under a large water container, which feeds the showers. We loved this place. Everything constructed from disused and abandoned materials and objects collected from the old Ghan railway. So the building for the toilets and showers made from old sleepers. Hooks to hang towels etc made from ceramic insulators. Bird life everywhere as well as large shady trees!

Next morning we left because we were very concerned we main get rained in!

The Oonadata track from Coward Springs was wet in some places, mostly river crossings and floodays, but generally hard underneath, o the drive was relatively smooth. On leaving Coward Springs we drove to William Creek, where we believed we could catch a flight over Lake Ayer. Unfortunately our trip this area has coincided with the South Australian school holidays, so none available there! We were told flights would be available from Coober Pedy. But again no luck! They were all booked out for the whole week!
so we continued our journey. We hope maybe to do this flight from somewhere on the way back!



Arrived in Hawker after leaving Port Augusta.  The rain followed us! It was wet overnight, but we were told that all roads were passable for all vehicles via Wilpena and Blinman through to Parachilna. So off we set, determined to go "off road" to sightsee in the Flinders Ranges. Visibility got down to just a few feet, due to the heavy mist and rain clouds. The lookouts were shrouded in mist and visibility was non-existent, so there was not point leaving any of the main roads. The roads to all the gorges were closed to all traffic, due to bad road conditions. The road from Blinman to Angorachina was awful. Only about one kilometer in we were stopped by a woman driving a bus, who advised us that round the next corner someone has "lost" their camper trailer. Not surprising given the thickness and slipperiness of the mud. It was so wet that the normally red dirt was "black".  Dried red of course - concrete to the underside of the truck. So we had to use low-ratio four wheel drive to get through, although the road was listed as open to all vehicles! So we were a little worried by the information we got at Angorachina, which was that the next lot of roads were 4wheel drive only. It was very pleasant surprise to find that they were relatively dry with occasional wet spots. We arrived at Parachilna it time for lunch! It is the gourmet dining spot for the outback. People fly in from all over Australia to eat at the Prairie Hotel. We were not disappointed! It was really delicious - different sorts of "feral" meats. My Red Goat Curry was flavored with outback bush herbs and spices! Peter ate the National emblem :( - kangaroo and emu. 
From Parachilna, we turned onto the Oonadatta track. Road very good! But too much speed is a real issue here, with many people rushing through creek bed crossing and through slippery mud flats. Someone lost their Kimberley Camper by traveling just too fast. It rolled over and lost a wheel and broke the axle.  It is now abandoned by the side of the road.

Forgot to tell you what happened in Port Pirie. I was happily sitting inside the camper when it suddenly started to close with me inside it.  Peter had put the remote in his pocket and accidentally touched the "close" button!

Stopped the night in Maree behind the old sand stone pub.  One space left for us thanks to some very kind people from Brighton who moved up to make room. Here it started to rain again. It's generally been very cold with dark threatening rain clouds that keep following us! We have only seen the sun for a few seconds just before we left Maree this morning.
After having a very simple sandwich for dinner, we went to join the others in the pub. More to find out about road conditions ahead than anything else. What a terrible stink in the pub! A combination of the stink of a shearing shed and human excrement together. It turns out they had- you guessed it - the mouse plague! There was evidence of the publicans trying to rid themselves of the problem, with several decaying carcasses outside the neighbors' campsites!

Coward Springs
The Oonadatta track goes past the lower end of Lake Eyre. So we could get out of the truck and walk down to the water's edge. An amazing sight! Water everywhere. It smells like the sea complete with seagulls! Lots of small  dead fish were dotted on the shoreline. These apparently are fresh water fish that have been brought in by the fresh water creeks and rivers, and of course they are unable to tolerate the salt

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Last night when we parked the truck, the clutch started to slip and made a terrible smell. It only had to back up and over a very small bump! So just to be on the safe side we drove into Port Augusta to have it checked out. We had to wait until after lunch where the local RAA mechanic test drove the vehicle and put a camera into the clutch to make sure it was safe. So we haven't got far today. We are in the very picturesque village of Hawker - beautiful old sandstone buildings and houses and the start to the Flinders Ranges.

It rained solidly all night and everything is very, very wet. Vehicles coming into Hawker from further north are covered in mud! Some roads are closed. We hope that by tomorrow the rain will ease off enough for us to explore this beautiful area. The clouds are really low, so not much can be seen. Flights over Wilpena Pound were cancelled due to foul weather.

We haven't yet figured out how to share any photos as the blog obviously runs on " flash" and iPad doesn't do flash. Also tried to download to Facebook - but again not able to. Still have to work out where my contacts are in googlemail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Port Pirie

We had the long range fuel tank installed today in Mt Barker. It took over 3 hours, so we didn't make it as far as expected. So we drove in to Port Pirie caravan park. Here the truck started to smell like it did in Tasmania when the clutch burnt out after only 11,000 kms. So we will go to Port Augusta to check it out. The caravan park overlooks the main beach, which is really a mangrove backwater. Much warmer here!

Monday, July 11, 2011


We are now sitting in the camper with the heater on and a glass of Gotham 2006 Cab Sav. So we are warm on the inside as well as on the outside. Dinner was cooked on the gas burner, so we now know it works admirably! And Sue knows how to turn it on now! We are staying in the Hahndorf Resort and camping place. It is a "run down" dive of a place - overpriced and run by the most officious staff ever!

We left early this morning from Wendy and Gordon's house in Melbourne having spent 2 lovely days with them. Thank you Wendy and Gordon!

Mum and Dad came down from Healesville to help celebrate both Nigel's and Zalea's birthdays. It was really lovely that they made the effort! Nigel, Zalea and Johnny all seemed well. We all tucked into a HUGE yum cha and then ordered egg tarts to finish with. We were still waiting for the eggs tarts some 45 minutes later. They had been shared out amongst all the other tables!

Well it's goodnight from me and it's goodnight from him!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Despite our best intentions, we didn't leave home until well after 1.00pm. So we didn't end up going to Cape Conran. We would have arrived too late. We stayed in the foreshore camping area, which was beautiful. No rain, but the wind did come up some time in the night. Very cold last night, so will need to do something about the bedding for the coldest part of our trip. Have purchased some "eggshell" overlay so will se if this helps.

Tonight we are staying with Wendy and Gordon. So lovely of them to have us stay again!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kimberley trip

Peter and I have purchased a secondhand slide on camper. We are currently packing it ready for a long safari to the Kimberley coast. We have booked a camping cruise with One Tide that leaves from Derby on August 4. We will travel first to Melbourne for the kid's birthdays. then we will go to Adelaide to have along range fuel tank installed before heading off to the Flinders Ranges. We intend to travel to Maree, along the Oonadatta track to William Creek, having first visited the shores of Lake Ayer. We hope to catch a plane to view the lake from above before traveling on to Alice Springs;Tanami Track; Halls Creek and on to Derby.

We hope to be able to keep an account of out travels on this blog. but as it will be written on an iPad, we'll see how successful that will be. It will depend on operator ability and Internet acces!