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!

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