Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gorges, gaps, valleys, canyons, chasms, big holes and a big red rock

Our first month on the road has concluded with a frenetic tour of the MacDonnell ranges (East and West of Alice Springs), down to Kings Canyon and then to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). We've found some beaut camping spots which we've had mostly to ourselves (apart of course from the wildlife). As an aside despite the birdlife on Dangar I don't think I'd ever really appreciated how beautiful magpie songs can be.

The MacDonnell ranges are essentially red sandstone mountains with stunning cut throughs from water erosion every 10-15kms (although each seems to have it's own elaborate aboriginal creation story attached to it). We've walked into almost all of the gorges, canyons etc. Some like Ellery Creek (left) have wonderful cool waterholes at the end. Most unfortunately however do not at the moment. With the shade temperature up around 40C most days we've now learned the hard way to try and get the walking done early or late each day or not at all. In one day we covered I think 7 gorges between 10am-5pm, walking conservatively around 15km (with me in the thongs I've had on since we left Sydney) on fairly stony dry creek beds. The outcome for me was pretty damaged heels - a bit like the SCG wicket on day 5 with plenty of room for Tony Greig to get the keys in - and a sunday slab of coopers green headache. Some moisturiser and utilisation of my walking shoes has thankfully fixed things up over the last week. There goes my no shoes challenge for the year.

The highlights really for me apart from the beauty of the surrounds have been the wonderful bush campsites we've found or been tipped off about and some of the people we've met. At Owen Springs we basically drove around 20kms on a roughish track past a ruined homestead and camped in a creek bed. This was the debut for our new mosquito dome tent which we picked up at Barbeques Galore Alice Springs for the knock down and incorrect price of $99. It worked a treat. There was also plenty of wood around in the creek bed so I was able to maintain a decent fire til almost midnight which was my latest night of the trip. Palm Springs was a similar distance off the bitumen south of Hermannsburg and was wonderfully quiet one night (with just a pair of adventurous poms Peter and Tracey for company) and very noisy the second night, but well worth it if you ever make it up this way. Being on a bit of a tourist trail now we've since caught up with Peter & Tracey at Kings Canyon and now also at Uluru. They've been great company and we'll both miss them when they make their way over to Cairns and we turn back south for the Flinders.

On the way to Palm Valley we stopped at Gosse Bluff, site of a meteorite explosion around 140m years ago. This picture is taken from a nearby lookout. It was absolutely stunning and I'm looking forward to taking in some more over our trip (including Henbury which we'll be at tomorrow). The aboriginal story about it's creation involved ladies dancing across the milky way and knocking over a baby in it's carriage which fell to earth causing the crater - which is pretty close to the mark.

The rim walk at Kings Canyon was a real treat. We started around 7am and finished around 9.30am before it got too hot. The walk climbed steeply up out of the valley and we basically walked along the top of the Canyon walls which had bungle bungle like sandstone domes all over them and in places ripples in the flat section floors from the dunes which were originally crushed by the inland sea to form the sandstone.

Yulara is a much nicer resort than Kings Canyon resort which is just as well as it has an effective monopoly in serving tourists wishing to see Uluru at sunset or sunrise. While certainly not cheap relative to most of our stays (beer is extortionate) the facilities are good and we've been able to relax by a pool during the hot parts of the day. Our first attempt to see Uluru at sunset was foiled by a storm coming in - lightning and rain with a windstorm - pretty exciting as we'd already decided to sleep in the truck rather than on top of it so we could make an early start in the morning.

Last night was more successful and today we got up at 4.30 to see the sun rise and walk around the base.

We have now travelled something like 6,400kms (which on our general 1:1,000,000 scale map means we've travelled 6.4m of map). The most we've paid for diesel so far is $2.22 at Mount Dare (in hindsight fairly reasonable as it is South Australia's most remote pub). Generally though it's been under $2.00 which at our 8km/l works out around 25c/km. What has been of more concern has been the extortionate price of beer in NT in particular. Generally we've been able to pick up mid strength XXXX Gold for about $35/case but lately the going rate has been $62/case. Perhaps we could redirect FuelWatch efforts to a BeerWatch initiative? Here at Yulara you can only buy 6 take out bottles per day at a ridiculous $5.60 per bottle. $67 for 12 bottles is a national disgrace, although I did get RBTd coming back from the Uluru sunset last night and would have been a lot closer to the 0.05 if we weren't on such a tight budget.

We farewell Uluru and au revoir Peter and Tracey tomorrow and it's back off the beaten track - a fairly round about way down south to the Flinders via the Painted Desert (more gibber I expect), a big night at the awesome William Creek hotel, and hopefully avoiding another visit to Adam at the Pink Roadhouse (as we've ascertained now that ARB have misfitted the back step so it's impossible to get to our second spare from under the vehicle without some major work - something they'll have to sort at Christmas but leaves us a little bit exposed in the meantime). Love to all and if you want to just see pictures rather than read my crap I've put a load on facebook.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

East MacDonnells & Alice

After spending the afternoon & night in Alice Springs recharging we headed out the Ross Highway towards Ross River Station (and yep the mozzies LOVE me!)

There are about half a dozen sights along the 240km round trip including gaps, waterholes, gorges and aboriginal sites. We stopped along the way keeping our eyes peeled for the best camp site for the night.

*A smoko stop on the road. Double click to enlarge to see Andy's beard.

NT national parks seem to be run differently to NSW - you don't pay a vehicle fee, you can't get an annual pass, you just pay the ($3.30 ea) camping fee and the facilities are incredible - loos, free BBQs and burners, tables, seating, shade and drinking water ( a rare commodity out here people, you are supposed to treat it or boil it first but we seem to be OK)

*This rock was lovely and cool and in the shade.

*Caterpillar Dreaming rock paintings. These were very impressive as they were over a metre high.

*The waterhole at Trephina Gorge. No we did NOT swim in it. It has been incredible - we visitited these gaps and gorges obviously created by water action however there was nary a drop to be seen. All rivers are dry too. It must be something when the rains do finally come and fill all these waterhole

*Our lovely shady camp at Trephina Gorge Bluff. As there is very little permanent water in this reserve the only animals we see are birds and insects. We did see a Perentie a little way away which was a bit exciting as at over a metre long he/she was the biggest living animal we've seen in a bit.

We stopped in at Ross River Station for a much needed Calippo (me), Magnum & Coke (Andy) and just to check it out. We also crossed the Ross River several times (dry). They had camp sites but we'd had enough of the city life and wanted to stay in the bush.

Andy gave me the night off last night and treated me to dinner at Alice RSL. We figured it'd be a bit more real than touristy type joints in town. Correct. Our timing was perfect - the bell rang for happy hour as we signed in. Chicken parmigiana and a steak sorted us out and we only waited half an hour for our taxi cab.

I take back what I said about Andy being Mr.Fix-it. He fixed the radiator guard before we headed for the hills. By the end of the day it was gone. Admittedly the roads in some parts were pretty bouncy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Good times in the desert

Almost 3 weeks in and I am really unsure of time (due to state changes) and day. Life on the road has settled into a routine of sorts, with plenty of flexibility built in for sight seeing and hissy fits caused by flies, dust, wind, corrugations, flies, gibber (we hate the gibber) mozzies and stupid tent zippers that HATE the dust. These are minor annoyances and are not in any way affecting our tour of this wonderful country.

Since last blogging we have had a pretty good go at some of central Australia's remotest roads - a stretch of the Old Strzelecki Track, some real Burke & Wills country including Innamincka, Cullymurra w'hole (camped on the Cooper Creek) and the Dig Tree, Cordillo Downs Road (a wonderful bush camp by the Cadelga ruins), Birdsville track from Birdsville to Marree (good Sunday arvo session at the Birdsville Hotel of course), Oodnadatta Track from Marree to Hamilton Station, then accross the Perdika desert (worst road yet - mostly gibber, ugghhh!) to Dalhousie Springs, the French Line to the edge of the Simpson Desert (where we will go properly one day when we can persuade someone else to come along), then Binns Track to Alice Springs. We hit bitumen today for the first time since leaving Broken Hill. We've clocked 5000km since leaving Sydney.

I think I should embellish the flat tyre story a little as Andy seemed quite dismissive. It was the gibber that ate the tyre (not the 90km/hour). One second we're just flying along and the next we're struggling to get the troopy above 40kph. And poo did that hot rubber smell! Followed all the instructions loosening nuts etc and then the jacking began. There was surprisingly little panicking, just a sense of resignation and getting on with the job. Andy spent half an hour almost under the vehicle on a relatively soft surface jacking for his life - the troopy went up and then when he stopped she went down again. I found this quite humorous especially with all the cussing. The flies were not helping - he actually ate 2. It was the middle of the day and we were pretty much equidistant form the two closest centres for assistance. Andy was very hot and sweaty and a bit desperate when I suggested using the toyota jack. Voila! As a couple of camper trailers we'd seen at Coward Springs that morning pulled up to ask if we were OK I quickly hid the offensive trolley jack. After the jacking fiasco the whole thing was done in ~20 mins (not only faster but much much safer) and then we limped to Oodnadatta where we got a talking to about tyre pressures (it's all about equalizing the footprint) and spent an unscheduled night camped out the back of the famous Pink roadhouse. We even treated ourselves to dinner at the "Transcontinental Hotel" - a yummy lamb korma for me.

With the tyre changing under our belt we had a new lease of confidence ( we are still alive) and decided to take on the track up to Dalhousie Springs and Purni Bore on the western Simpson Desert. The desert has surprised us both I think, the space is a cliche but that's the sense of this place. There are plants and animals trying to make a living out here. Apart from the red dirt and the blue sky it's the flowers and the birds that add splashes of subtle colour to a bold palette. Dalhousie was lovely, a soak in the 2-3 million year old water with the desert breeze to dry you off is a very refreshing way to spend your time. The bird life around the spring is also astounding. I was afraid we woudn't get to Purni Bore due to being scared of more bad, bad road unless we went immediately. We were not sure if we could cop the 70km (please note this is at least a 90min drive) with 20km of sand dunes at the end and despite being road weary we pushed on.

Purni Bore is the site so far. An artificial lake created by the oil people between 2 red dunes in the middle of nowhere. Again the bird life is super - the rainbow bee-eater being the special one. We did a nature walk just before sunset and saw a dingo coming for a drink. The real show began after the sun went down which we watched from the top of our dune (no one eles at this site - we had the desert to ourselves) with a cold XXXX. Dark sky before the full moon rose and the camels started coming to the waterhole for their drinks. The next morning there were dingo & camel prints within 25m of the troopy. We lucked out with the full moon but it's truly an amazing place and if it hadn't been so hot we probably would've stayed another night - Dalhousie Springs was calling. The drive out was mostly OK but the last 20km of sand driving was the best. Andy drove out and I drove back - such fun! Driving on sand and sand dunes rules.

The dingoes at Dalhousie were braver - they were VERY interested in the mince I was cooking. At one point one came within about 15m which gave me a fright. Spent a very pleasant day dipping in the spring and reading - mostly in the tent to be away from flies and heat of the day.

From Dalhousie we took Binns Track which incorporates some of the Old Andado Track (just words I know people but you can look at them on a map). Some wheel ruts with a bit of bulldust is what the man said! Jeepers! I had the first leg and was a very happy girl indeed when my hour was up in a safe place to stop - and I hadn't got us bogged. I gladly handed the reins to Payniac who instantly sprouted upper lip sweat (he'd been teasing me for look of fierce concentration). Without a doubt the most challenging driving we've done. It took us 2 days, 9-10 hours driving to go 420km! I'd love to have taken some photos of this fabulous piece of road however it was just not cool to stop the car for fear of being stuck til the next car passed to drag you out, traffic is light, it coulda been days. Apart from the ruts and the bulldust (like quicksand for cars) the road was super and the scenery was lovely and it sure beats belting down a highway.

We overnighted on Binns Track at a pre-used campsite on Allambie (I think) station which was a great bush camp with large sandstone bluffs and hills that changed colour as the sun went down.
*Bush shower somewhere on Binns Track

Alice Springs today for a bit of a recharge, our batteries as well as the electrics before heading for the hills tomorrow. We're off to the East MacDonnell Ranges, the less visited of the East and West on a recomendation by some SA's we met at Birdsville during our beer drinking frenzy. Then back to Alice for supplies before taking on the West MacDonnell Ranges and the Mereenie Loop road to Uluru via Kings Canyon. Haven't really had a look about town today as we've been resting - sounds silly now that I write it.

Andy is proving to be quite handy and we now have spare screws & nuts'n'bolts to replace all the ones we've shook out over the last week or so. Have also managed to scramble half a doz eggs in their shells, apart from the number plate the only real casualty of corrugations that we're aware of. There is always the risk that the whole engine might just drop out - fingers crossed.

Hope everybody is happy and well. Welcome home Dave Nelson! We miss you Millie and Moppet-bug. And Mum & Dad if you're reading this hope you're having a great time.

Back (temporarily) to civilisation

Well, we’re finally back in mobile and interweb range. And I have to say the benefits have been short lived and I’m already looking forward to getting back off the bitumen and back to some proper bush camping. My podcasts have updated and it does give us a chance to literally recharge our batteries and stock up on some vitals but other than that it’s amazing how quickly you can drop out of and feel a bit alient to the rest of civilization. Vitals included some nuts and bolts to replace ones that had been shaken off on the corrugations, including the ones holding on the back rego plate. More worrying to us is whether the whole engine will fall out. I wiggle the hoses and check the clips etc under the engine each day but if we’re losing things off the tent and the wheel carrier we must be dropping stuff from the engine too I’d imagine.

Since we left Oodnadatta we’ve stayed at some simply amazing sites, two nights completely on our own and the middle night we caught up with some people we’d met in Birdsville who’d come across the Simpson rather than coming round it like we had.

The road conditions from Oodnadatta once we turned off the big track were appalling and it was over four hours of driving over rocks with the whole car shaking. We couldn’t even talk to each other it was so loud. We stopped for a swim at the natural hot springs at Dalhousie (more later) before Nessa convinced me to get back into the car for another two hours of hell on the French line out into the Simpson desert to a place called Purni Bore. To be honest the last forty minutes or so were pretty good fun driving over sand dunes about 10 metres high but was I pretty nervous about getting stuck as the sand was really soft and the troopie is really heavy even without me in it and we’d not seen a car for hours (and didn’t until the middle of the next day).

Purni Bore is so far my favourite site. The bore was driven in the 1960s by a French oil company and has created some wetlands about 70kms into the real desert. It is just completely out of place with over 60 different types of bird and also dingoes and wild camels. It was also a full moon which came up an hour or so after dark so we also got our first proper look at the stars without any moon. We’d also brought some firewood with us from outside the national park so we had a beaut little fire going and Ness turned out another bush cooking miracle. It was just the perfect night and I reckon if I’d been looking after my personal hygiene a little better I might have been up for some.
We ummed and arred about whether to stay for a second night at Purni, but as with many places once the sun is up the plagues of flies are of biblical proportions and being by water there were mosquitoes which are rather partial to a bit of Nessa.

So we headed back to Dalhousie for some more spa swimming. The spring water comes out of the ground at boiling point and the oasis is around 38 degrees which was about as hot as the air temperature but the swimming was really refreshing. The birdlife at Dalhousie was very varied and plentiful and seemed to operate on a shift system. Cockies during the heat of the day, Flaming Galahs at dawn and dusk and Brolgas somewhere in between with swifts darting over the surface all day snapping up mosquitoes. Another top camp spot. Highly recommended.

Yesterday we set off for Alice Springs via Mount Dare and then Binns Track (Old Andado on our maps). We checked road conditions at Mount Dare and in typical Aussie understatement we were advised things were a bit tricky in spots with a bit of bull dust around. The map had a warning that said the Finke river crossing could be a little soft at times. All was well until we crossed into the Northern Territory and the road was absolutely beautiful following the Finke River flood plain with beautiful trees overhanging the single lane road (with grass growing between the tracks, becoming a bit of a feature of our route). Ness was driving when we hit the first bull dust and she struggled across each time to get on the ‘chicken runs’ – side tracks that are supposed to take you around the worst of it but really there is nothing between them and the old station tracks so you don’t really know where you’ll end up. Bull dust is quite good at hiding itself, particularly when there is no traffic to disturb it, so you’re driving along and suddenly you lose power and you’re driving on the finest powder and sink if you lose momentum. It’s great fun in hindsight but you’re always relieved to get through it. I had some stretches this morning that must have gone on for 200-300 meters and you drop down into second and the engine is working really hard and you’re just crawling along praying you don’t stop and sink!

We camped by the side of the track around 170kms south east of Alice Springs for an another beautiful camp . We’re not far from the Ross River and Ness was feeling a bit shitty from all the mosquito bites she has (dozens over her back, legs and arms and she seems to be mildly allergic to whatever it is they’re injecting her with) so I went for a climb up a nearby hill to take in the late afternoon sun and the wonderful view and to give her a bit of a rest. It was a good climb up but tricky coming down what with me having my best Aussie climbing boots on. Every time I put my hand down to steady myself I picked up several bindis of a type I was not previously familiar with. When you pull them out of your hand they leave at least one burr in your hand and one in the thumb and forefinger of the hand you used to pull them out with, it seems ad infinitum.

Anyhow, not to worry, it was worth the pain and we had another top night. I’m really quite relaxed at the moment I have to say!

After nearly three weeks on the road it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge my appreciation of the Engels for their well designed fridges that have kept our XXXX Gold so good and cold. I'm not sure if they're related to Karl Marx's mate but they certainly know refrigeration and how to keep my opium (being an atheist) at a refreshing temperature.

Oh, and finally as of yesterday I am officially no longer married. While the ex-wife has agreed (but not signed off legally) to a financial settlement, the way things are going with house prices on Dangar Island and my whole Aussie equities superannuation portfolio I'm thinking that by Christmas she might be owing me money ...

To Birdsville and beyond ...

We’ve been without phone reception (and therefore internet) since we left our first camp in Sturt National Park (endearingly named ‘Dead Horse Gully’) last Thursday morning. That was a few kms outside of Tibooburra, population only around 150 but being in civilized NSW they’d thought to put up a mobile phone tower. It’s now Thursday again and still nothing in the 2000kms and counting of South Australia and SW Queensland which we’ve made our way across since.

Upshot is I’m woefully behind updating the blog and I am therefore resorting to typing something in Word for upload later on. They must have reception somewhere in South Australia so will hopefully get this up on the weekend. By which time we will have returned to the desert proper and more than likely come a cropper. Having bottled ‘Big Red’ near Birdsville it looks like we’ll take on the sand dunes of the western Simpson desert to reach Purni bore about 70kms past Dalhousie Springs and Mount Dare (somewhere Ness promised our 4WD teacher we wouldn’t go but of course we’ve got a week’s more experience now).

Five days is by far the longest I’ve been disconnected from the world wide web for quite some time. We even had a reliable connection while we were in remote parts of Indonesia in March. That meant I could enjoy watching the value of my Challenger shares halve in the space of two weeks (having already halved once already in the prior 3 months). Anyhow, I could tell I was missing a broader problem this time when we were in the Birdsville Hotel for a bit of a session on Sunday arvo and David Koch had a primetime crisis special on some weird channel 7 franchise that was showing ‘local’ adverts from as far apart as Adelaide, Darwin and Townsville. They’d turned the volume down at the conclusion of the Bathurst 500 and I didn’t want to ask them to turn it back up for city folk stuff but Kevin Rudd looked like he was actually shitting himself and they’ve apparently guaranteed bank savings for three years so things must be pretty bad.

Anyhow, it’s been quite an adventure since we left Trilby Station. After another two-day camp by the Darling River at Kinchega NP and a day at Silverton (including an exciting underground tour of the disused Daydream silver mine and the best scones I’ve ever tasted), 4WD school in Broken Hill was great fun and we put the Troopie through her paces and picked up some useful training. The only obvious damage was losing the back right mudguard which isn’t all bad as there is now red dirt on the back side of the truck making it look a lot more authentic. Probably the most useful (and used) thing we learnt was how to shut the wheel carrier and jerry can holder locks with our feet. It was good though to try out our recovery gear and learn how to fix a puncture. At our instructor Mick’s recommendation we also picked up a trolley jack.

After Broken Hill we turned North to the delightful Mutawinji NP and then further up the Silver City ‘Highway’ to Sturt and into the desert proper. After two hot, dry and fly infested windy days we headed across the border through Cameron Corner (NSW, SA and Qld border) and started the roller coaster ride over the dunes to the start of the Strzelecki Track.

Just as I was thinking about complaining about the state of the road we passed an older guy climbing the sand dune towards us pulling a loaded cart. Turned out he was walking across Australia and was by no means taking the easy route. He looked hot and was obviously crazy so after asking if he wanted some money we quickly wound up the windows and headed off without looking back.

Innamincka had been one of the places I’d been really looking forward to. It looked pretty big on the map (bold writing) but when we got there it turned out to be population 30 and had no phone reception. On the upside the beer at the pub was cold and the diesel was under $2 a litre.

Ness had done her research and sorted us out with an amazing site alongside the Cooper Creek about 20kms out of town and we were able to take in some classic Australian history visiting Burke’s grave and the following day we visited the ‘Dig Tree’. The Burke & Wills story is certainly an interesting one but is already starting to wear a little thin. It’s the most milked tourist story I’ve ever come across - we’ve been seeing references almost everywhere we’ve been over the last 2500 kms.

We stopped at the Cadelga Ruins for another awesome bush camp by some mosquito infested brown water before reaching Birdsville for a powered site and a well needed shower at the central caravan site. It was hot hot hot and the flies were really terrible but the pub was sensational. People from South Australia are definitely a bit odd but apart from Europeans they seem to be the only people we get to talk to. Conrad and Chris (Patrol owners with Landcruiser envy issues) were particularly south australian but did give us some good tips on places to camp elsewhere on our trip which we duly noted (and have since found to be bang on the money so fair play to them).
We made the trip out to look at ‘Big Red’, the biggest sand dune in the Simpson desert, but didn’t risk the big dune crossing to get there in the Troopie and clambered up on foot instead.
We then turned south and took the ‘inside’ Birdsville track (unmaintained and pretty exciting stuff following an unmarked track which for most of the way was just two tyre tracks) and then joined the main Birdsville track and continued on down stopping at Mungerannie Hotel and then camping at Cooper Creek. The Birdsville track was a bit of a shocker. After 400kms of badly corrugated road our eggs were literally scrambled.

At least we got a change in the weather overnight at Cooper Creek. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees but the change was accompanied by a six hour southerly and we had absolutely no protection on the floodplain. A fitful night’s sleep with all the windows open on the tent to allow the gale to blow through. Amazing that the tent withstood so much movement – we were surprised that the top didn’t blow off. Fortunately the wind didn’t blow all the flies away and breakfast was another quick affair.

We next headed into Marree via the delightful Clayton Wetlands to fill up with more diesel and turn north west to take on the Oodnadatta track. The track is far more interesting than the Birdsville track as it follows the old Ghan (‘Afghan Express’) railway line. There are heaps of ruins of old stations and watering points and bridges along the track.

We also got our first look at Lake Eyre (South). It is absolutely MASSIVE. Water coming out at the bores here have drained through the Great Artesian Basin from rainfall in Queensland that fell two million years ago. This is almost two million years before young earth creationist crazies like Sarah Palin believe god kick things off (4500 BCE).

We camped at ‘Coward Creek’, a campsite set among various gloriously restored Ghan railway buildings. The owners in residence were brother and sister (being SA they might be sharing one of the bedrooms but we thought better than to ask). Their mother was born in the old hotel in 1923 and they have definitely injected a lot of passion into their work. They’ve done an amazing job with the restoration and the site features a wood stove heated shower and hot spa from one of the bores. We got a good night sleep in good shelter which meant we were both feeling a bit more chipper yesterday and I’m also smelling a bit better after a hot shower. I am though starting to look a bit sinister having not had a shave for about 10 days.

It was just as well we were feeling revived as we had our first tyre blow out yesterday afternoon. I was driving and was probably going too fast over the horrible gibber but according to Adam at Oodnadatta’s ‘Pink Roadhouse’ it was an accident waiting to happen. Everyone has their own theory on correct tyre pressures for the roads out here. Our experienced 4WD tutor had drilled into us 38psi on the back and 34psi on the front. The troopie has a lot of weight in the back so had been leaning back at about a 15 degree angle since we made the adjustment in Broken Hill but hey an ex highway patrol officer with 20 years on the clock has told you it’s right it gives you the confidence to push on, and top up the tyres where necessary to stay in range. Adam‘s (owner of the roadhouse and tyre repair shop) theory is that we should be 34 psi on the back and 20psi on the front. We figure he has repaired more tyres than Mick so $260 later we’re going with that. And the troopie is now level which should also make finding a flat spot (so the bed in the tent is level) much easier.

Anyhow, back to the blow out. This was my biggest fear for the whole trip. It was always going to happen but I’d never changed a wheel before. I even joined the NRMA (turned out to be for the second time as I was already a member) and called them out when I got a flat on the mid-lifer (Red Celica) a few months back on the Princes Highway in Rockdale.

This time we were about 75kms from anywhere in the middle of the afternoon with some inquisitive cattle coming over for a look. After much exertion on my part we gave up on the newly acquired trolley jack and tried the jack that had come with the troopie. (Our leaf spring suspension and trusty old man emu meant you had to squeeze under the car to operate the jack lying down which was less than ideal leverage and against the safe operating warning on the box it came in. I don’t think I properly locked the jack either so it was five pumps up and then it came almost all the way down again).

Anyhow the original jack worked perfectly by the way Mick if you’re reading this and Nessa was able to get the nuts undone pretty easily and we were soon on our way on one of our two spares. The only spare we knew until last night how to get off the car as there’s a bit of a trick to the one underneath the car (which Adam kindly talked me through last night).

Said spare was in bad condition and we limped our way to Oodnadatta around 60kph convinced it would blow at any time. Adam fixed us up with a new wheel which we had to put on ourselves. Second time round (and without the trolley jack) it took us about 25 minutes compared to the hour and a half first time round.

The puncture repair tuition was useless in this case by the way - the side wall had blown out so our $300 tyre is kaput.

I now deeply regret my overuse of the c-word while operating the trolley jack and acknowledge Nessa’s technical support and input into the whole process and can say that without her we’d still be out on the track...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

4WD school and beyond

It might seem bizarre but life on the road is a busy one and this is my first real chance to post.

We had a great run down the Darling River (we are now Darling River Runners!) and Trilby station was a great spot to spend a few days and really begin to enjoy this adventure. A little bit of adjustment needed on both parts to ensure smooth and safe running.
Andy did neglect to mention that he went through the pool sun-lounger with his bottom while playing with the 2 homestead kelpie pups. Riiipppp! Very funny.

We arrived in Broken Hill on Sunday to check in for 4WD school and then had a day up our sleeves to explore the Silver City and surrounds. We opted for Silverton,
an historic mining town about 25km west of B.Hill. Well worth it! The area was the site for filming Mad Max II, among other famous, and not so famous, films which should give you an idea of the landscape. The Silverton Hotel very cool with loads of images of the various movies shot there, and a Mad Max car parked out front.

Heading back to B.Hill we stopped at the 'Day Dream', a silver mine. A big encouragement was the sign "FRESH SCONES" - yum. We ended up doing a mine tour, complete with hard hat and heart in my mouth. Very dark, cramped and more than a little spooky. Glad of the hat as I reckon I donked my head about a dozen times, losing my head torch at the same time.

The real reason for coming to B. Hill at all was to participate in a 2 day 4WD academy. We were both more than a little nervous about this and didn't really know what to expect. There was one other student, Tony, a field officer for NPWS at Mutawintji National Park who had to do it before he could drive the park vehicles. Guess what he drove to 4WD school?
After a few hours of theory and safety checks we were out in the sand. Oh boy was it fun! Slippy and slidy. Up and down a dry sandy creek bed (as they all are here, haven't seen much water at all). Then some work with our hand winch, very hard work, Tony's power winch - much better, and snatch strap usage. Late in the afternoon we moved on to difficult terrain (what was the sand?) where our teacher, Mick, had us doing circuits of wash outs, steep short rises etc etc. The best part though was when we had to drive forward then REVERSE through gullies at his direction as he deliberately tried to get us stuck. Stalls; Payniac 5: VJ 0!!!
Day 2 took us into EXTREME terrain. Had a bit of dry mouth going on with the steep ascent key start but graduated with my diploma or whatever in 4WDing. A real sense of accomplishment for both of us and Mick imparted heaps of info and wisdom to us.

Yes people - that's me!

Spent last night at Mutawintji NP, a small detour from the Silver City Highway. Highway does not mean bitumen, actually it means mostly OK graded gravel road. Roadkill is extraordinary, roos, emus and wedgetail eagles, sheep and the occasional goat - by far the most common seen and a big nuisance as they are stupider than sheep and more agile. I don't believe that we've killed anything yet, but have come very close to some push-me-pull-me lizards (shingleback skinks) and some dragons who sunbake on the road in the middel of the day.

I am writing this from Sturt NP in the far North Western corner of NSW, a semi-desert park.The bird life is incredible! As we pulled in there was a crescent moon and about half a dozen birds of prey soaring on the thermals. Have also learnt that there are a lot of emus here whose novelty still hasn't worn off. So far most of the National Parks have equal, if not superior facilities to the busy caravan parks for a fraction of the price. Even solar showers in some!

We are a bit confused about what time it is as B. Hill operates on SA time, this happened to us at the same time as daylight saving started in NSW. And we are headed for Cameron Corner(not sure which time zone this town is in) and Birdsville which is in Qld!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time to hit the road ...

The last week or two has been a bit of a blur. what with Candi coming back, finishing work, final movements of things to Dangar or onto the street for the council pick up, several (successful) trips to the casino with Steffen and plenty of farewell drinks, Monday was always going to be a bit of a funny day.

Final packing of the troopy was largely uneventful other than me losing the car keys (finally located in one of my packed bags) and hurting my back lifting the fun box into the car. A quick farewell to Ken and Jean (off to Europe) and Candi/Steffen (dealing with the real estate for us and then moving in) over bacon and egg rolls and coffee and before we knew it we were edging our way down narrow prospect street in our big truck. (Four days away from Sydney and the truck doesn't seem so big anymore as most of the other vehicles are the same size or bigger).

We headed off along the M4 out of Sydney, through the blue mountains, picked up or national parks pass at Blackheath and then stopped for some shopping in the delightful prison town of Lithgow. I'd stayed at Lithgow before when my parents were out here once as it was close to the zig zag railway which I knew my dad would want to see. From memory there was some sort of altercation in the bar next to our motel which he either instigated or got involved with. Anyhow we were pretty happy to be getting back onto the road loaded up with a week's supply of food, beer and wine.

For our first night we stayed at the hard to find but worth it if you can Goulburn River National Park. The GPS on the phone let us down a bit and the maps didn't have any of the dirt roads on them but we finally found a lovely spot next to the river and prepared our first camp.

Second day we took on about another 300 kms through Dubbo and along gunbarrel straight roads to camp at the Coolabah Hotel Motel. We got there around 2.30pm and got stuck into the XXXX gold (mid strength beer). The owners (John & Marcia) were from WA and had bought the place about 6 months ago. Some increasingly lively banter with the locals got a bit out of hand when Chris (the local postie whose wife had left him and who now seemed to be batting for the other side with his regular "visitor" Tony from Sydney) was cut off at around 8pm. He was already drinking when we got there and after a massive dummy spit drove off leaving Tony behind. Tony was in trouble for chatting to some girls.

Day three and we were off to the real outback. The landscape had been getting flatter since we left Dubbo and now things were getting more open and the trees a lot shrubbier. We stopped at Bourke to pick up some more diesel and to have a coffee and to get the latest on whether we should go to the east or west side of the Darling River for the Darling River Run. West (or more aptly described as North) side of the Darling it was and left the bitumen and onto some fairly exciting four wheel drive terrain. We stopped to let some air out of the tyres for a smoother run. We'd remembered somewhere about 20 something for sand driving but couldn't remember whether that was the absolute number or whether that was how much you should let them down. Not to worry, we took about a minutes worth out of each (noting the back tyres were already about half what they should be for fast road driving, oops) and we were off again for what was a fairly smooth if slightly slidy drive to Louth and then to Trilby station which is where I am writing this from. Unbelievably they have mobile reception (1 or 2 bars max) and that means I can also get onto the interweb. It also means work can get in touch...

We had a great night last night. The birdlife is amazing, the sunset was sensational followed by a newish moon set and then a wonderful star show. I even managed a shower this morning (first of the trip). We will stay here one more night and then head on down the Darling to Tilpa and then make our next camp at Wilga in the Paroo Darling National Park. All being well we'll find a decent outback boozer to watch the grand final in the weekend, and then its off to Broken Hill for four wheel drive school for Monday and Tuesday.

First impressions are that we're going to really really really enjoy this wonderful opportunity.

Candi is running a book on whether Ness and I are still together by Christmas and/or if one of us will kill the other (accidentally or deliberately). Get your money on now folks at