Saturday, November 8, 2008

Heading back down south

After four days of relative luxury (and associated cost) in Yulara it was time to head back. We farewelled Peter and Tracey again over a couple of beers and some technology swaps. Their legacy to us was around 12gb of talking books, ranging from a 48 lecture series on the history of ancient rome (we're looking forward to the bit about the christians and lions), the history of america through to more fun stuff like a roald dahl collection. (I'm starting to feel more and more like Mr Twit at every meal, wiping the food from my beard with the back of my hand and then my hand on my trousers!). Ours to them was the entire Melvyn Bragg 'In our time' podcast collection which for the uninitiated is absolutely top notch.

I'd done my research and wanted to stop at the Hensbury Meteorite site but when we got there it was too hot and had no shade or protection whatsoever so we headed back to the Stuart. Big decision point was whether we went left or right and sat there for a while in silence unsure what to do. Pretty cool to have those sorts of decisions to make. Left and North would have taken us back to Alice and then over to the mid Queensland coast for a hot return back to New South Wales. Right and South would take us back into South Australia and to the Flinders before a fairly straightforward diagonal back up to Northern New South Wales though Scone to catch up with Ken, Jean & Mik (and some wonderful home cooking no doubt) and see the Millie dog. We decided to head south having been damn hot for about 5 weeks.

We got about 100kms down the road before we saw the first real rain of the trip. Luckily VJ the learner driver was at the wheel as we drove straight into a thunder/rain/wind/dust storm with almost zero visibility. More boxes for me to tick off in her RTA learners book. She coped pretty well but I've decided not to post the picture of absolute terror on her face as a road train hurtled out of the dust towards us.

At the first opportunity we pulled off the road and stopped at Kulgera, first and last pub in the Territory for some beers and yarns with the locals and transients. The storm continued unabated throughout the night and once again we were convinced we'd wake up in the other Oz.

We made an early start and carried on South - not even a chance of reaching the 130 limit the territorians enjoy in our truck - and soon crossed back into South Australia. We stopped at Marla for some diesel and to replace the fruit and vegies we'd bought for a kings ransom at Yulara the day before but had to be dumped at the quarantine station on the border. Doh.

The rain had been really bad here too so unfortunately the painted desert road was closed so we carried on to Coober Pedy. We made it out to the Breakaways which were incredible, the dog fence (longest in the world at 5,500kms, which is almost the length of the US-Canadian border if you exclude Alaska and use a fairly long measuring stick if any mandelbrot readers are reading this) and also some wonderful signs that told us not to walk backwards.

Coober Pedy was an interesting place - basically a load of holes in the ground where (mainly) eastern europeans have been eking out a living digging (by hand in the main) opals. The nature of the sandstone means the mines are all stable so most people live in holes and even the hotels and some pubs are underground. We stopped for some cleansing ales to watch the wallabies go down to the all blacks and I got to talk commodities with a local miner.

The dirt road from Coober to William Creek was surprisingly still open so we took the chance and enjoyed a fairly smooth ride over. The rain seems to soften the corrugations. [Corrugation factoid: the corrugations in the road are I've learned the same as waves on the top of the sea. That is their frequency and amplitude depends on the material of the road, and they actually move over time. ]

The lady at the William Creek hotel was surprised to see us arrive as the Oodnadatta track north had been closed so there no other punters around. She asked us if we minded running some beers down to a guy in Marree but when she called him he couldn't wait an extra day and we wanted to stop at Coward Springs for a night on the way down.

We got to Coward Springs just as the heavens opened again. We were half unpacked (or still half packed depending on your perspective) but rather than get everything safe away from the rain we instead ran and jumped in the natural spa bath to enjoy the thunderstorm. For a place that gets like 125mm of rain a year we were there for 25% of its annual drop in the space of an hour. The benefits of the rooftop tent were clear when an older french couple came to set their tent on the now flooded clay based campsite ground. The storm cleared and we were blessed with a wonderful sunset (that's the Coward Springs dunnies in the foreground).

After a great night at Farina ruins we continued south to the Flinders stopping for the obligatory photo op of our big truck against one of the coal mine trucks at Leigh Creek. I quite liked the graffiti inside one of the other machines they had on show.

After a short stop to refuel on food and diesel we headed into the North Flinders ranges. We stayed for three nights in Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges NP and spent our time walking, 4WDing along some awesome tracks and trying to shelter from some serious storm action. Arkaroola was also a top visit.

As we'd both not had a shower since Coober Pedy we were starting to get a bit whiffy so we also had to pull in for a bush bucket shower. My first one and very successful and worthwhile it was too (nudge nudge).

Last night we stopped at Parachilna to experience the famous Prairie Hotel and the epic Parachilna sunset. The land is so flat to the west of here and about 30kms away is Lake Torrens (salt lake) so the sunset is even better than one over the ocean. Even the moon set sets the sky on fire. Doug and Andi from Sunbury had mentioned this place and it did not disappoint. An outback legend of a place! Now we're off to the South Flinders for what looks as though will be another cool and probably wet day. Maybe we should have turned left after all...

* some of the 4WD action at Arkaroola

* Paralana Hot Springs; naturally heated to almost boiling point and apparently slightly radioactive

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