A–holes, angels and ordinary folk

A–holes, angels and ordinary folk. Caravan related forums and social media posts have many stories about “a–hole” truck drivers while truck-related media has plenty of referrals to “a–hole’ caravanners.

Back on the road again!

A taste of the road again.

Life in a caravan is not everyone’s idea of living the dream.

If you’d asked us about our ultimate goal in life 3 years ago, we’d probably have painted a picture of a plot of land, a nicely furnished box to sit on it and plenty of familiar people and places within easy access – that’s what we thought our lives would eventually look like.

Now we’re not so sure!

The first night we slept in our brand new AussieWide caravan two and a half years ago in Melbourne we fell in love with it and since then there’s never been a night we didn’t look forward to our mini palace on wheels, our Rolling Home.

We’ve fallen in love with life again since being on the road and the long stay at Koramba Cotton Farm has only added to the sweetness of the experience.

Kerrie and I seem to laugh more together, we almost never argue and we seem to have a bond that has been moulded by a shared and mutually satisfying experience that few others can understand.

The sheer simplicity of day to day living is perhaps the most surprising aspect of our current lifestyle. The lack of “things” to maintain and the contentment of knowing that not only do you have everything thing you need but everything you WANT.

So, it was easy for us to decide to “take the long way” back to the farm after our last visit to Brisbane and the catching up with family and friends.

After navigating through the city and heading south on the Pacific Highway it wasn’t long before all the familiar pleasures of being on the road again kicked in.  The Nissan’s effortless humming as it smoothly towed the AussieWide over hill and dale, the view of the Rolling Home in the rear view mirror, the easy conversation with Kerrie, and the ever changing landscape made one feel as if life couldn’t get any better.

After pulling off the highway and stopping for lunch in a peaceful bushy surround somewhere in the Bundjalung National park, we headed on to Yamba where we opted to stay in a caravan park for a night.

We parked up at a Van Park, right beside the bay and took the opportunity to walk around the cliffs and beaches of Yamba.

Yamba is a very popular beach spot.

Yamba is a very popular beach spot.

Yamba is beautiful and we will be back.

Yamba is beautiful and we will be back.

What a wonderful spot to stay! Neither of us had been here before but it’s a place we’d definitely come back to.

These seaside towns and their history always fascinate us.

After an early morning walk down to the end of the long sea wall stretching out into the Pacific and another stroll along the beach we hooked up again and headed for Grafton.

We were going to stay a night in Grafton before turning inland and heading west to the farm but we decided instead to head to another place neither of us had been to, Emerald Beach.

Here was another seaside treasure we found tucked into the coastline surrounded by a sparkling, crystal clear ocean.

After again opting for a van park we set up in the Big 4 and found it to be easily the best Caravan Park we’d been in in three years on the road. Right beside the sea its facilities and friendliness easily take our caravan park first prize.

 

As it was still early we decided to head down to Coffs harbour for lunch and leave exploring the beaches till later.

Kerrie wanted to “go back a few years” and experience again the frozen chocolate bananas that the Big Banana at Coffs is famous for and where numerous stops had been made over many years on past holidays.

Guess where we are?

Guess where we are?

We had lunch at the Coffs Harbour Yacht club and then walked all over the harbour including over Muttonbird Island where hundreds of thousands of Shearwater nests were inhabited by young mutton birds awaiting the evening return of their parents with food from the ocean.

What a lovely way to have lunch Seafood and Steak over looking the ocean.

What a lovely way to have lunch, Seafood and Steak over looking the ocean.

Heading over to Mutton Island.

Heading over to Mutton Island.

A walkway over the Island keeps the nests protected.

A walkway over the Island keeps the nests protected.

Looking back to Coffs Harbour

Looking back to Coffs Harbour

 

We could see the flocks of millions of Shearwaters fishing out to see, like great clouds moving across the water as they followed the pelagic bait fish schools.

The white line near the rock is the Shear waters feeding.

The white line near the rock is the Shear waters feeding.

This island was once separated from the mainland and there are photos around showing the construction of the wall that now connects the island with the mainland. One can’t help but marvel at the challenges that were overcome in building this structure.

My focus and fascination was drawn to the group of islands standing in isolation out to sea off the coast, The Solitary Islands, especially South Solitary Island with its lighthouse.

Solitary Island.

Solitary Island.

I have an unsatisfiable interest in wild, lonely places swept by wind and sea and uninhabited, especially when there’s a lighthouse involved.

What is it that draws me to these lonely lighthouses?

Maybe it’s the imaginings of how life was when these places were manned by keepers and their families and the challenges they had to overcome to exist. Perhaps it’s the wonderment of living in splendid isolation with the perpetual mood changes of the ocean.

Much of this stems back from when my father lived alone for years at the old Keepers cottage at the Godley Head lighthouse at the tip of Lyttleton harbour in New Zealand. I used to envy him as he struggled to grow his vege gardens in the fierce winds and as he slept with the sounds of gales howling and the ocean pounding on the rocks far below.

If I was born a generation earlier I could easily have chosen lighthouse keeping as my ideal vocation.

The South Solitary lighthouse is particularly fascinating as it was one of the few true island lighthouses in Australia, most were placed on isolated headlands or coastlines.

It’s a place I just MUST visit one day.

The island is forbidden ground to the public and it’s only possible to get out there by helicopter one weekend per year. Kerrie is trying to organise this for a gift for me.

After a wonderful few days beside the sea it was time to head back inland again and head for the farm. It was back to Grafton and then turn left on the Gwydir Highway towards Inverell.

We found a host of superb free camping spots along the way all of which we marked in our book for future reference. One spot particularly took our eye when we stopped at the bridge over the Mann River at the Jackadgery rest stop.

A nice spot to stop over night.

A few van's already were enjoying this quite spot.

A few van’s already were enjoying this quite spot.

 

This little chunk of paradise would be perfect for a couple of days stay.

Next it was lunch at Glenn Innes and on to Inverell before pulling off the highway down a 2 or 3 kilometre dirt road in to the Cranky Rock reserve about 8 kilometres before Warialda.

Picnic areas and camping area.

Picnic areas and camping area.

There is a superb bush camping area here with hot showers and even power for dirt cheap.

What a superb spot this is. This is easily a week or more stay for us when we’re on the move again.

Peacocks happily visit around the van.

Peacocks happily visit around the van.

Set beside the peaceful Warialda Creek this place is teaming with birds and other wildlife and is set amongst beautiful natural bush and huge granite boulders. The bushwalking is enjoyable, especially down beside the quintessential babbling brook with the huge boulders towering overhead.

A short walk from the camp area to the river.

A short walk from the camp area to the river.

The viewing platforrm shows off the river.

The viewing platform shows off the river.

The story of how the place got its name is also fascinating. We really were sorry to leave this beautiful spot so soon but after a gloriously peaceful sleep and a bit of breakfast it was on to Warialda for coffee and then the course was set for “home”.

 

We arrived back at the farm just after lunch which left us plenty of time to get the caravan set up under the shelter and this time we’ve jacked the wheels off the ground to protect the tyres since we won’t be taking the AussieWide on the road again till after the next cotton harvest.

It was wonderful to experience this amazing little trip but we had no regrets about coming back to the farm either. Ingrid and Merlin, our two Estonian girls who took over the kitchen duties while we were away did a first class job and we returned to the place clean and organised.

How could we be more content?

Bourke To Brisbane

The town of Bourke was bathed in brilliant early morning sunshine but was still quite cold as I went for a walk around the town. It’s great to obtain these little snapshots into the past and present of the thousands of little towns that dot small populations of people right across this huge country. Walking the town is a good way to do this as it allows us to see the information boards of historic places as well as get a “street view” of everyday life.
Many times I find myself wondering how some of the businesses in these towns survive but they do – and some of them very well.

This town used to be a major port. The Darling River runs through the town and a stream of paddle steamers would collect wool and grain from the farms that lined the river and ship it to Bourke from where it would be transported to Adelaide and Melbourne.

The river hasn't changed much over the years.

The river hasn't changed much over the years.

An interesting observation was a photograph of activity at the port in 1860 which shows the level of the river exactly the same as it is now – so much for all the propaganda about how we have destroyed the Murray Darling river systems and how we need multiple billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to make it right.
It also seems that the farms that take irrigation from the river have not changed the level in over 100 years. The age old cycle of dry and wet that is the signature of this country still seems to confuse boffins and self styled “experts”.
There were once 3 wharves in the central area of town, each one with a steam crane to unload the produce from the river boats.

One of the old Jetty wharfs left.

One of the old Jetty wharfs left.

We commenced or journey about mid morning, again captivated by the ever changing landscape, and wound our way through Brewarrina and then Walgett.
We found it sad to see a lot of shops and businesses with boarded and barred windows and wondered what makes some inhabitants of these towns have so little respect for their surroundings.

Eventually we arrived in Lightning Ridge and after a quick drive around the town headed for the Opal Caravan Park where we would base ourselves for the next couple of days.
We then took a couple of self drive “Car Door” tours around the town.

Not hard to tell which "Car door tour" this one is.

Not hard to tell which "Car door tour" this one is.

These are routes marked by car doors, each one with a number denoting a place of interest. There’s a blue, green, red and yellow tour. One tour took us to The Big Opal where we descended deep into the shaft of a working opal mine. We were able to explore the many shafts and tunnels on our own and we could see the immense amount of work that went into digging opal out of the ground here.

Hard hats and a torch. Luckily he had some electric lights fitted down here as well. This is still a working mine, but I bet he makes more money from the tourists than from opal.

Hard hats and a torch. Luckily he had some electric lights fitted down here as well. This is still a working mine, but I bet he makes more money from the tourists than from opal.

It was fascinating to be 30 feet below the surface in a cacoon of ancient sediment that would have once been a sea bed alive with living creatures. Little cracks and voids formed in this sediment by natural faults or decomposing fossils after whatever cataclysmic disruption took place to bury it and remove the sea forever. These little pockets produced opal from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. The water ran down through the earth and picked up silica from sandstone, and then carried this silica-rich solution into the cracks and voids. As the water evaporated, it left behind a silica deposit which eventually formed the precious Black Opal that Lightning Ridge is famous for.

Depending on how soft the ceiling is it is supported by tree posts.

Depending on how soft the ceiling is it is supported by tree posts.

The fascinating “Lunatic Hill” was another stop we made and friendly local was happy to chat to us and give us the history of this place and huge hole that we were looking over.
In the late 1800’s this hill was not mined. Opal was being extracted from mines much nearer ground level and the locals knew that much more digging would need to be done to get from the top of the hill to where the pockets of opal lay. However in the 1930’s some miners tried and they were hence known as Bloody Lunatics. The hill did in fact reward many of those who mined it even though much more work was required. In the 1960’s the hill became unsafe for mines. There were three miners still holding leases at the time so they pooled their leases together and got the mines department to give them an open cut license. The license required a 5000 pound deposit from each miner for repatriation work after the mine was finished with.

Halley's Comet was found in one of those mines holes you can see.

Halley's Comet was found in one of those mines holes you can see.

These three characters ended up taking $100,000,000 dollars worth of opal from the open cut and into the bargain found the Halley’s Comet Opal, the largest uncut black opal in the world. It is so named because it was unearthed in 1986, a year when Halley’s Comet could be seen from Earth. It is the third largest gem grade black opal ever recorded, the largest one extant, and the largest specimen ever found in its region.

The Haleys Comet Opal

The Halleys Comet Opal

We took a 100 kilometre drive out to Glengarry where we heard we could fossick or “noodle” for opal. There are three pubs out here in the absolute middle of nowhere, the Glengarry Hilton, The Sheepyard and the Garwin Opal Miners Club.
We loved driving around the rough dirt roads that crisscross the area, and taking in the extraordinary collection of humpys and all manner of weird and wonderful structures built to house the hardy souls that were there for one reason – OPAL.

Their "Camps" can be anything from old caravans to tin houses, but you can tell their there by the mullock heaps around the camp.

Their "Camps" can be anything from old caravans to tin houses, but you can tell their there by the mullock heaps around the camp.

We spotted two large hills of the white clay sediment that seems to send out a message – “OPAL COULD BE HERE”!
These hills contain thousands of tonnes of the white clay, dumped here after being removed from the many mines hereabouts. Many people come here to fossick through this huge hill to find opal that still remains in the dumpings and there certainly IS opal here.

Don't worry about the closed sign, thats for the trucks.

Don't worry about the closed sign, thats for the trucks.

A Jeweler in town told us about a recent visitor to his shop that came in to get a piece of opal that he had found in this hill valued. The Jeweler valued it at $6000 but told the owner to get it cut as it would be worth a lot more. The owner did this, returning some days later to show the Jeweler. It now had a wholesale value of $20,000 but could retail for as much as $50,000.
It’s these stories that seem to intoxicate the noodler into spending hours, days, weeks or even years in the search for the precious opal.

We "noodled" but only got potch.

We "noodled" but only got potch.

We began to fossick with a few others amidst the white clay feeling that sense of handling the remains of an ancient seabed. Kerrie asked a couple of the others what exactly we should be looking for and as usual the people were friendly and helpful. They showed us the opal they had found just in the last hour and how it was imbedded in the black “Poch”, a substance that is technically opal but without the fiery colour of the silica molecules that makes it valuable. They even gave us some opal bearing clay with the tiny flecks of brilliant colour that were traces of opal.
I think if we’d have stayed much longer we would’ve caught the Opal Bug. It’s fascinating knowing that at any time, and in any piece of clay could lay a substantial fortune.

These people were much better at it and ended up giving us a piece with colour in it.

These people were much better at it and ended up giving us a piece with colour in it.

We went back and had a delightful lunch at the Glengarry Hilton before heading back the 100 km to Lightning Ridge.

The "Glengarry Hilton" you have to look up at night to see how this pub rates on stars.

The "Glengarry Hilton" you have to look up at night to see how this pub rates on stars.

Back at “The Ridge” we went into the John Murray’s art gallery.
This was a truly fascinating experience. John Murray is an artist who came to Lightning Ridge many years ago and stayed. His paintings are unique and they exquisitely capture the spirit of the outback using humour and whimsical characterisation.
There are a couple of paintings in this gallery that we would love to hang in our future home – wherever that may be.

John Murray's style is realistic with a touch of humour

John Murray's style is realistic with a touch of humour

How well he captures the outback road

How well he captures the outback road

We think he should do this same concept with a kangaroo!

We think he should do this same concept with a kangaroo!

Anyone travelling the outback in a van can relate to this one!

Anyone travelling the outback in a van can relate to this one!

Lightning Ridge had the same effect on us as Coober Pedy.
It epitomises the randomness and lack of organised order that comes with freedom. True freedom is seldom tidy and neat. The Ridge and Coober Pedy are probably one of the last vestiges of freedom left even though the ever extending hand of government is well entrenched here as well. You get the feeling that the locals distain the intervention into every aspect of life that signifies today’s governments.

We needed to get away from Lightning Ridge by 4:00am if we had any chance of getting to Brisbane to watch the second State Of Origin match with Jennie, Ashley, Lish, Riley and Emily, something we looked forward to immensely.
Leaving at this time of the morning means playing dodgems with kangaroos. There are multiplied thousands of them casually and unconcernedly dicing with death as they bounce across the road in front of the traffic. The second one we hit, a big bugger, actually bent the bull bar and the front guard.

We saw the sun rise as we stopped for fuel in St George before heading the 120 km to Koramba Farm. We made the farm at about 8:30am. It was good to see the farm again; in fact it was a bit like coming home in some ways. We parked and unhooked the Aussie Wide where we would leave it for four days while we travelled the 5 – 6 hours to Brisbane to catch up with precious family and friends. We would return here Sunday to take up work for the next couple of months or so while I try to get this backlog of work completed.

 

To Broken Hill and Bourke

After fuelling up at Dublin, just a few kilometres up the road from Parham, we were heading off in the frosty cold of the early morning.

As the heater warmed up the car we settled back into enjoying the surroundings as we meandered through the South Australian countryside turning east at Port Wakefield towards Balaklava. As usual there’s an always fascinating new landscape to ensure that each kilometre is packed with interest.

As we passed Auburn and the beautiful little town of Saddleworth the scenery changed to lush rolling hills lined with vineyards, in which the countless acres of grape vines had been neatly pruned for winter.

Saddleworth - South Australia

Saddleworth – South Australia

At Burra we turned on to the Barrier Highway which would take us the next 812 kilometres to Cobar in New South Wales.

The little town of Mount Bryan was our stop for morning tea, we had stayed the night here last time amid the many windmills of the wind farm that seemed to overpower and pollute the vision of the surrounding beautiful rolling hills.

We again marvelled at the beautiful farms most of which still had the ruins of the old stone homesteads on them.

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

The landscape changed gradually to vast, sparsely populated outback country again as the miles rolled by and we progressed closer towards Broken Hill.

Red dirt, scrub, blue sky and seemingly endless space was interrupted only by the dead straight Barrier Highway reaching so far into the distance that it disappeared as it became one with the far off horizon.

Ribbon of highway to the future?

Ribbon of highway to the future?

There’s not much on the way to Broken Hill but we did stop for lunch at a tiny store in Manna Hill where there was a welcoming roaring log fire to keep out the chill that still hung in the air.

On making Broken Hill we decided to treat ourselves to a night in a van park where could turn on the electric heater and the electric blankets. This was to be a real treat after not being able to do this while free camping. Our solar power is wonderful and generally gives us all our electricity needs but alas it doesn’t extend to heaters and electric blankets.

So we spent a wonderfully comfortable night, warm and snug and felling like no one on earth could have been happier than us cuddled up and thoroughly content.

We got away from Broken Hill fairly smartly as it would be another 620 kilometre day to get to Bourke.

Stopping at Wilcannia for a “driver reviver” coffee and fuel we met a couple travelling to Bowen in a Aussie Wide. They’ve had there’s for 5 years and couldn’t be happier with it. They will try and sell it in Bowen though as they want a smaller one (theirs is 25 foot and they want one a similar size to ours), but they will only buy an Aussie Wide.

On we drove through the constantly changing outback scenery marvelling at the roadside signs pointing down tracks that led to homesteads 50 80 or 100 kilometres into the bush.

Feral Goats line both sides of the highway in their thousands.

Feral goats are responsible for an estimated loss of $25 million per year. These are derived from a calculated $17.8 million net loss due to reduced stock production, $6 million contingency loss due to the threat of exotic disease and $1.2 million spent by the government agencies on goat control operations. This estimate does not include the costs associated with the impact of feral goats on the environment, of soil erosion, or pastoral degradation.

On the positive side, commercial exploitation of feral goats is an industry worth about $29 million annually. Many pastoralists in Australia now consider the capture and sale of feral goats to be an essential part of their business. Meat for export is the main product from feral goats. Some live feral goats are also exported. Goat skin is a by-product. Recently, feral goats have been crossed with the South African Boer goat to produce a heavier animal for export.

Feral goats are also used as a biological method of controlling weeds such as blackberry, briar serrated tussock, St John’s wort and thistles. They are particularly useful for controlling heavy weed infestations in difficult terrain. The Goats have a preference for such weeds over pasture plants. Control of these weeds is usually expensive and herbicides are not appropriate in some environments.

Feral goats line the highway in their thousands

Feral goats line the highway in their thousands

We’re noticing a bit of a new phenomenon. The truckies along this road all wave. Usually this doesn’t happen but here almost every one waves. It’s a good, friendly feeling. It’s as if by sharing this road, where there are precious few vehicles, we are somehow bound by our common location and therefore momentary kindred spirits.

Cobar for fuel is the next stop before finally leaving the Barrier Highway to enter the Kidman Way which took us the final 160 kilometres for the day into Bourke.

We decided on another night of luxury in the only van park in Bourke and after making friends with a really nice couple from Buddina, just a hop skip and jump from Wurtulla, we shut the door of the Aussie Wide against the cold night and settled in with the heater on again. Ahhhhhh – bliss!

East – NOT West (again)!

We’re heading east again.

We’ve been to this part of Australia twice in four months and each time the plan has been to proceed around the Ayre Peninsular and then over to Western Australia.

Last time we were confronted with a “Defining Moment” which resulted in us changing direction and heading east to work at Koramba Cotton Farm.

This time the plan was similar to last time – circumnavigate the Ayre Peninsular, eventually ending up at Ceduna and then crossing the Nullarbor Plain to Kalgoorlie, Perth and looping around the bottom of WA to Esperance.

We’d only driven down this far south (Port Parham) because we needed to take my computer into Adelaide to be repaired – the mother board failed on it – thankfully leaving all my data intact on the hard drive.

Port Parham was very convenient because it’s reasonably close to Adelaide, has water, good toilets, is by the bay and, best of all, is free with no time limits.

It took a week to get the new motherboard shipped in and make good the repair so we had little to do but walk along the beach and try to fill in the days as best we could. It was really difficult to be in a place so long and not be able to work. We met two lovely couples, both from Queensland, and one of the ladies turned out to be absolutely hilarious. She had us in fits for two days and two nights as she reiterated the escapades of her life on the road with hubby.

She told us how on the second night at Port Parham she decided to cook a roast dinner. Hubby was nowhere to be found to assist so she did it all herself. Using all the pots and plates she asked hubby to help with the dishes but he says he’s too tired and promptly lies down on the bed and turns on the TV. Of course she’s so angry she starts bashing the pots and pans as she’s cleaning up which prompts hubby to tell her to keep it quiet as he can’t hear the TV! She had me in tears of laughter at the way she told the story.

The one draw back with this spot is that it was so cold!

The nights were especially cold. Thankfully we had flannelette sheets on the bed, a warm rug and the doona and so we were quite snug and cosy until we got out of bed. In the mornings the windows of the car were covered in thick ice, just as I remember in Christchurch in the winter.

Pouring cold water over the wind screen to remove the ice.

Pouring cold water over the wind screen to remove the ice.

 

It's after 8am in the morning and the ice is rock hard and not melting yet. No wonder they move north for winter.

It’s after 8am in the morning and the ice is rock hard and not melting yet. No wonder they move north for winter.

So it was in this very pleasant but cold spot that we reassessed our situation once again.

I’m a long way behind in producing two computer programs and starting to get behind in a third. I’m finding life on the road is still as enjoyable as ever and I don’t think we could easily stop but the downside is that it’s very difficult to do computer work. The work is such that you can’t just turn it on and off for 3 or 4 hours a day and it requires a level of concentration that is nigh on impossible in the van.

Maintaining the whole thing is not so bad it’s just the stage we’re at right now with the redevelopment of the programs that’s hard as it’s above my current level of knowledge and requires a very steep learning curve if I’m ever to succeed.

In addition, it’s hard for Kerrie to creep around the van in silence so as not to disturb me.

Chris has been cooking veggie damper to keep occupied. Add the homemade soup for a very warming dinner.

Chris has been cooking veggie damper to keep occupied. Add the homemade soup for a very warming dinner.

We decided that if we were ever to complete these programs and fulfil this long held dream we had to find a place where we could sit for 3 months in peace and quiet to enable me to get this thing done.

It would need to be a place preferably where we didn’t have to pay caravan park fees and somewhere that Kerrie could work, at least part time, so she doesn’t go mad sitting in one place in silence.

Martyn Morrissey, our boss at the Koramba cotton farm, had offered us a position back at the farm before we left for Trephina Gorge, so we phoned him to see if he still had anything going. As a result we’ve been offered a free van site, food and power and a job for Kerrie working around the Koramba camp and the farm. There’s work there for me as well if I want it.

This is a perfect solution and so we made a commitment to take up the offer for the next 3 months.

It means I’ll have the time and the quiet environment to get this job done while Kerrie is employed and earning as well. It also means we’ll be able to drive to Brisbane every two weeks and catch up with family and friends.

We’re extremely happy with this as it solves a problem that was starting to become quite difficult and we can head off west again in spring or early summer – by far the best time to do the Ayre Peninsular and WA.

This means turning east again from almost the same location as last time we were here and again putting on hold travelling to the Ayre Peninsular and Western Australia.

So it was with a great deal of peace and joy that we once again packed up the Aussie Wide and headed the Nissan away from Port Parham towards Queensland.

We’ll head for Broken Hill first and then from there to Bourke and then Lightning Ridge to see if we can find our fortune in Black Opal. This is something we wanted to do last time but the floods had cut the road to Bourke and we were unable to. This time the roads are all open.

From there we’ll head to St George and then down to Talwood and the farm. We’ll leave the caravan at the farm and drive to Brisbane where we’ll stay for about 4 days allowing us to see the State of Origin in Queensland – YEAHHHH!

We’ll then head back to the farm and start work.

Life does have its wonderful twists and turns does it not?

The Breakaways – Again.

We are on the road again bright and early heading south toward Coober Pedy.

Kerrie has had a good, sound nights sleep and is feeling normal again. The red road is snaking through the seemingly endless miles of red landscape ever onward south. The roadhouse at Marla is our first stop of the day for fuel and a snack before on toward Coober Pedy.

Everything out here ends up red. The road, your clothes, the car, the lambswool seat covers AHHH!!

Everything out here ends up red. The road, your clothes, the car, the lambswool seat covers AHHH!!

We make Coober Pedy about early afternoon and empty the toilet at the dump spot and get a little water. The water is 20c for 15 litres and in our view is good value in a town where it’s so scarce.

We drive back north 20km to the magnificent breakaways where we would fulfil a promise to ourselves to come back here one day with the van. We just didn’t think it would be so soon.

We parked at the top of the Breakaways overlooking the timeless land beneath. The sun was due to set soon and shadows were starting to stretch across the many hills. The immense plains stretching hundreds of kilometres east to Oodnadatta took our breath away as they had done last time we were here.

We feel like we are in a painting but I guarantee you this photo is real.

We feel like we are in a painting but I guarantee you this photo is real.

The hills stood as silent sentinels over the soundless plain oblivious to time, season or weather. These majestic hills are mostly flat topped and all the same height. If you could spread a giant spirit level over them you’d find very little variation.

The Breakaways still hold it's facination for us.

The Breakaways still hold it’s facination for us.

What caused this phenomenon?

I’m sure you could get 100 geologists to put forward a theory and there would be 100 different conclusions. Probably none would be correct.

The consensus of opinion is that they once lay at the bottom of a giant inland sea that covered 2/3 of Australia. If this is so what caused that sea to subside?

Did the land rise as is the opinion of some?

If so what caused it and did it rise as one uniform plate millions of square kilometres in area?

Or, did the water evaporate as per other opinions? Who knows? The only known fact is that fossils of marine creatures are prolific in the area.

What of the vast oil, gas and coal fields that lie beneath the surface, evidence of an earth with many hundreds of times more vegetation and living things on it than now?

Again, the only common conclusion is that whatever happened to bury such vast amounts of living matter so quickly and make the inconceivable volumes of water disappear completely must have been cataclysmic in the extreme.

These are the thoughts that provoke us as we sit in awe staring at the impossibly beautiful sunset in the almost perfect silence high atop the ancient Breakaways 20km north of Coober Pedy.

With clouds in the sky the sunset was amazing.

With clouds in the sky the sunset was amazing.

A quick look at Ayres Rock and the Olgas!

The morning bought another change of plan as Kerrie was in pain again. This was REAL pain, more than she’d experienced since arriving at Alice Springs hospital a week ago.

It was in the same spot, her kidneys.

I go over to the shop at the cattle station at Curtain Springs where we spent the night to ask about where the nearest medical assistance may be. I was admonishing myself for not turning back to Alice Springs yesterday.

The person at the shop tells us there is actually a medical centre at Yulara (Ayres Rock Resort) about 80km away.

We got Kerrie dressed and she took one more of the 5 powerful painkillers they gave her at Alice Springs hospital. I unhooked the caravan feeling confident it would be fine left at Curtain Springs as at least 30 vans had stayed the night and a lot of people had unhooked to drive in to see Ayres Rock.

We then took a fast trip into Yulara where we found that the medical centre had a really well set up emergency room. There was a nice doctor there who thought Kerrie’s kidney stone may be stuck in the urinary tract.

Her gave her a large dose of morphine for the pain and suggested we return to Alice Springs hospital right away.

With the pain now removed we were able to take a quick look at Ayres Rock and the Olgas before we left Yulara and sped as fast as was safe back to Curtain Springs.

A quick look at Ayres Rock before heading back to Curtain Springs

A quick look at Ayres Rock before heading back to Curtain Springs

As we past the magnificent scenery and a herd of feral camels Kerrie began to feel better. It must have been the morphine but by the time we arrived back in Curtain Springs she was adamant that she didn’t want to return to Alice Springs, but instead wanted to continue south.

There were at least 20 camels in this herd.

There were at least 20 camels in this herd.

I set myself up to drive non stop the 450 km to Coober Pedy thinking that at least there was a hospital there. I topped up with fuel at $2.37 per litre ready for the drive.

A strong head wind pushed the van all over the road from Curtain Springs to the Erldunda Roadhouse causing probably the worst fuel consumption since we’d been on the road. I was so thankful I spent the money to top up at Curtain Springs as we would have run dry for sure.

At the Erldunda Roadhouse we filled up with fuel again with Kerrie not only felling better but looking better.

She urged me not to drive through the night to Coober Pedy but to stop at Indulkana on the Northern Territory South Australia border for the night. She said she was feeling better by the hour.

Indulkana was a very pleasant spot to free camp with toilets and water available.  We were accompanied by about 20 other vans, mostly heading north, and the proximity to others was actually rather comforting. We had a good long hot shower each
and settled in for wonderfully comfortable night with Kerrie feeling well.

Back to Alice then on to Ayres Rock!

On the one and a half hour drive back to Alice Springs from Trephina Gorge we were able to work out our next move.

Poor Kerrie was still crook as a dog and feeling the hit of every bump in the road.

The big kidney stone is still not passing and the pain keeps coming in periodic waves.

Into the bargain she has a good old dose of the flu and her arm is still in pain where they butchered the canula insertion at Alice Springs hospital.

Despite this we are both happy and joyful at the prospect of getting going again.

We decide not to go north to Darwin and Kakadu as we were both hanging out for an ocean fix.

We’ve been in the outback now for about 5 weeks and we’re pretty much over it.

Let’s face it we are ocean people – always have been.

It was a great experience to see this part of our wonderful land and we’ll probably visit again one day but for now we need to get near the sea and away from the dust.

We’ve decided to head south to the Ayer Peninsular with a detour to see Ayres Rock.

We can’t be this close to it without seeing it.

So we head into a caravan park in Alice Springs for the night so Kerrie can get a few loads of washing done and then rest up.

It was a real treat to be able to use 240 volt power for the first time in a few weeks and to have the heater on to ward of the freezing night air. It was also good to have a long hot shower without caring for the water usage.

Now don’t get me wrong, these things are no bother to us. It’s just nice to have these little treats occasionally.

In the morning we set off south for the 450 km drive to Ayres Rock.

About 150km out Kerrie is in pain again and we pull over to reassess progress. Should we turn back to Alice Springs now before we get too much further away? If we continue there is no doctor or hospital until Port Augusta, 1200 km away, except for maybe an emergency stop at Cooba Peedy.

It’s Kerrie’s call. Only she knows the extent of the pain and wether or not she can bear it.

She calls to go on. Her reasoning is that they’ve already done all they can at the Alice Springs hospital and most likely we would just be sitting at a van park in Alice waiting for the stone to finally pass.

So on we went towards Ayres Rock finally arriving at the cattle station at Curtain Springs where this is a wonderful free camping area along with showers, a pub, shop and restaurant. It’s a working cattle station of 1,000,000 acres but it is a really welcome stop only 80 km from Ayres Rock. We decide to park up here for the night and see how Kerrie is tommorrow.

The magnificent Mount Conner is an integral part of the landscape here and this incredible structure, rising out of the surrounding flat desert, with its red and purple hues is a sight to behold. I would love to explore around this structure some other time.

 

Even the cold, biting wind cannot detract from the beauty of this lonely, lovely place.

Yes, we are over the desert, but we are still in awe of its uniqueness and the ever present colour contrasts of the deep blue of the sky, the heavy red of the soil and the greens of the Mulga, Bloodwood and the Desert Oak trees.

We look forward to our run into Ayres Rock tomorrow.

Preparing for the Sandrifter Safaris

We felt a bit in the way in the flurry of activity to get everything ready.

Gerry and Corrine have conducted these tours together for many years and have a very well tried and tested method and so we’re trying to help and get a grasp on the way everything works while keeping out of the way as well.

Gerry has stripped down all the wheels on the passenger bus and replaced brakes, repacked the wheel bearings and put on a new set of tyres.

 

The Bus and the Landcruiser support vehicle

The Bus and the Landcruiser support vehicle

 

He has also installed a diesel heater in their motor home and completed many other mechanical repairs and maintenance to ensure the vehicles are in tip top condition for the coming seven camps.

The supply vehicle and the showers

The supply vehicle and the showers

Corrine has ordered all the supplies and she, along with Kerrie and I, has stripped down the Kitchen and store room and cleaned everything and then packed in the food stores. Everything is packed in a certain place and in a specific way as much of the terrain we will be travelling on is very rugged.

After two days of this we feel we’re starting to understand the way it all works although we realise that it’ll take all of the first 11 day camp before we’re familiar enough to be left alone with the cooking.

The food is such a big part of the business as there’s a number of special diet guests and Gerry and Corrine are meticulous when it comes to their customer’s needs. I guess this is why the majority of their business is repeat business with most clients returning year after year for many years.

The more we associate with this couple the more we are looking forward to the whole venture.

We’ve had the time to do a quick tour of Alice Springs. It’s bigger than we thought with about 26,000 people living here but the population swells as many Aboriginals drift in from outlying reserves.

The feature of the town that is hardest to ignore is the large number of aboriginals just wandering about, a great many of whom are extremely unkempt.

The significant number of well dressed and polite aboriginals in Alice signals to us that this is not a condition of race but of personal choice.

There appears to be a high crime rate here and we’ve been advised repeatedly to stay indoors after 9:00pm. Most homes and all businesses have serious shutters and bars on windows and doors and there is a heavy police presence in most areas of the business centre of town.

Having said this Alice Springs is a pleasant place with every facility anyone could want. It is unique in its location surrounded by the beautiful McDonald Ranges. The Todd River which runs through town is dry but there is a saying in town that goes “… where the rivers are dry or 10 feet high”.

Alice Springs panorama from Anzac Hill

Alice Springs panorama from Anzac Hill

It’s a harsh environment indeed with the summer temperatures often hitting 45 degrees and winter temperatures often below zero. It is, after all, a town grown up out of the ancient dessert where only the very toughest plants, animals and humans survive to prosper, but it is absolutely beautiful also especially when the rising or the setting sun picks out the red of the surrounding hills or in the midday sun when the distant ranges have a purple hue that makes the red of the closest ranges stand out even more. The spectacular ghost gums are everywhere adding their own unique colours to the already rich palette that surrounds the town.

Alice Springs appears to be prosperous although we are told that the once booming tourist industry is but a shadow of its former self. There are however convoys of grey nomads passing through the town in waves. There are caravans and motor homes of every shape and size everywhere you look.

We’ll check out the town a little more in the coming few days before we head to Trephina Gorge on Sunday for 24 days.