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.

Everything we do at Sandrifter is wrong!

This post about our departure from Sandrifter has caused offence to the Sandrifter owners. Since we have no wish to offend anyone on this blog we have removed this post.

No contact with the world!

Here we are again after nearly 3 weeks without contact with the outside world.

Trephina Gorge has no phone reception and even the satelite phone only works occasionally.

How quickly things can change our ideas of where we’re going in life.

Our broad plan was to work for Sandrifter Safaris for 3 weeks, head on up to Darwin and Kakadu, back to Alice and Sandrifter for another 3 weeks, then Ayres Rock and fly home for a fortnight.

I suppose, when I look back, this changed the first day we arrived at Trephina Gorge with Sandrifter Safaris.

We set up camp at “The Bluff” beside a dry river bed that was thickly lined with River Red Gums.

The set up

The set up

The beautiful white trunks and green foliage of these trees contrasted with the rugged red sheer cliffs that surrounded the Gorge camping spot creating an overpowering visual impact and making us understand exactly why artists would come here. The colours and the beautiful forms seem to cry out to be captured on canvas.

Unpacking the trucks, setting up the water and shower unit, erecting the 20 tents for the soon to arrive guests and setting up the kitchen was good, hard work but we became more and more aware of the preciseness of the hundreds of little tasks required to make the camp run and a small but niggling concern began to mount as to our ability to get these jobs done correctly first time, especially with nothing written down, no “Running Sheet” of all these tasks available for the newbie.

We set these concerns on the backburner and prepared to do our best and also to take in all we could of the magnificent scenery.

We parked the Aussie Wide in a separate place to the Sandrifter camp so it required us to commute to and from the campsite for each meal and when something was to be done.

It was cold at Trephina Gorge – Very cold. It got down to 1 degree at night but of course the Aussie Wide was always cosy and the bed welcoming.

We were able to take a walk down the riverbed of Trephina Gorge with its remaining trickle of water and we wandered amidst the magnificent river gums, the awe inspiring cliffs of ancient red rock formations stained black in places with eucalyptus oils dripping from the gum trees.

Walking around the edge of the gorge give you a whole new aspect of the place.

Walking around the edge of the gorge give you a whole new aspect of the place.

We examined the only known aboriginal paintings in the area and generally took in the unique formations of our surroundings. We were later to be fascinated by Gerry’s intricate knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area as well as his understanding of how this can be used for food and medicine.

The water still around after the heavy falls in the new year.

The water still around after the heavy falls in the new year.

Over looking the East McDonald Ranges

Over looking the East McDonald Ranges

 

The colours of the Ghost Gums against the blue sky and red rock was breath taking.

The colours of the Ghost Gums against the blue sky and red rock was breath taking.

We took a drive to the John Hayes water hole about 10 km from the camp and walked the scenic “Chain of Ponds” bush walk. This was an incredible walk along the rim of an ancient gorge and then down to the river bed below.

John Hayes Rockhole was rough going in some places but was well worth the walk.

John Hayes Rockhole was rough going in some places but was well worth the walk.

 

Ghost Gums grow from anywhere they can get a foot hold. Do they last...not all

Ghost Gums grow from anywhere they can get a foot hold. Do they last…not all

 

To see this under full rain would be a great sight.

To see this under full rain would be a great sight.

The water holes were clear and very cold

The water holes were clear and very cold

The walk took us along a route lined with those beautiful white trunked gum trees growing from wherever they could find the smallest root hold and into totally secluded rock pools so deep it’s hard to imagine them ever drying up completely. We explored caves dug out of the sheer cliffs by the actions of weather and water and all the time we felt completely dispatched from all human activity except our own.

Caves that would hold a family.

Caves that would hold a family.

Rocks that were from the ocean bed.

Rocks that were from the ocean bed.

Pity it was too cold to swim in these beautiful rock holes

Pity it was too cold to swim in these beautiful rock holes

 

Wasn't the easiest walk you needed strong ankle boots.

Wasn’t the easiest walk you needed strong ankle boots.

The only negative aspect of this wonderful place was in knowing that we had to make our way back to the camp for the evening meal preparation.

After settling down into a cosy bed on the Monday 21st May, Kerrie awoke about 1:00am with a pain in the abdomen. At this point I’ll let her tell in her own words what happened.

From Kerrie…

A trip to Alice Springs Hospital:

Tuesday 22nd started off normal. Went to bed last night to sleep, the cold night outside not bothering us because with Chris beside me it was as warm as toast.

Then about 1.30am I had “Wind Pains” got up went to the toilet tried to go back to sleep but the pains only got worse. Within half an hour the vomiting started.

This of course woke Chris (You can’t keep silent in a caravan). I will be forever grateful of our ensuite, there isn’t much fun for anything over a drop toilet. I automatically thought of food poisoning and the fact I had probably killed all the oldies in camp.

But the pain never ceased  and came in constant waves even after I had rid my stomach of everything I had eaten in the last week.

Now after and hour of this Chris insisted I head to hospital. I must agree when he first suggested it half an hour ago I couldn’t think of anything worse than a bumpy 86km trip back into Alice while constantly wanting to pee and throw up all while the crushing pains are ripping out my back and side.

Anyone up for a diagnosis yet? Ahh the one’s who have walked this path before have their hands up.

So while my dear husband got dressed, I am moaning I’ll need a bucket and water and as I watch he is opening every cupboard in the van looking for something, “What” I moan “Your handbag, where is it?” he asks.

Now my handbag has been in the same place since the day we bought the van home. It has never changed place and yet every time the man has to get the damn bag he can never find it.

Finally in the car me with my bucket in hand we head to the camp to inform them of out destination. I breath a sigh of relief as the camp is not lit up with people in the same predicament as me.

Our trip to the hospital was a strange affair as Chris hung over the wheel concentrating on not hitting any wildlife, speeding beyond the limit and of me telling him to stop I had to pee. He would have to pull up race around to help me slide out, hold me while I would be peeing from one end and throwing up from the other, then life me back into the car to achieve as many kilometres as possible to reach out destination before the process starts again.

At the arrival of the hospital Chris went in first and a nurse then came out with a wheelchair. All I was after was pain relief. After the nurse buggered up the first try to get a drip in my hand which was now swollen with fluid I told her to try my “Blood donating” vein which has never failed me in 30 odd years. I really just wanted to feel the morphine surging through my body so I could go to the wonderful world of “wishy washy land”.
Well she stuck oil in that vein, enough blood shot out to cover the only thing I had on, Chris’s cotton dressing gown. This is when it hit me I’m sitting in a wheelchair in a dressing gown too big for me, slippers and nothing else, NOT even my glasses, no underwear, no PJ’s. Chris is trying to cover me up, the nurse is trying to wipe off the blood and I just wanted to die.

So to all who have guessed “Kidney stones” was the answer and this was confirmed with a CT scan. 5 of the buggers, 1 x 8mm that was on it’s way, 3 little ones that I now hold in my position which happily passed while staying there as you can see by the photo and 1 in the left kidney they say isn’t going anywhere soon.

 

Not bad sizes, sorry can't show you the 8mm one.

Not bad sizes, sorry can’t show you the 8mm one.

Then just to keep me on guard they ask me if I’m a diabetic because my sugar count hit 19. “No” I said “Oh well you look like you’re on the cusp but that can be fixed with diet and exercise”.  YEAH, YEAH. You know there are times in your life you just want to grab someone by the neck and shake them to see their eyes roll around. Well there goes my chocolates and movie nights.

Because I was living so far away they agreed to keep me overnight, now remember I have nothing to wear. So off Chris goes to buy me some more PJ’s of which I really don’t need another pair. It wasn’t till I got up to my room that I was able to get into my PJ’s and by this time Chris had left to go home and cook. So how do you think I felt when I put my top on to look down and have “Precious” written across the front. Chris had done it to me again. The last time he bought me PJ to hospital he said he couldn’t find them at home even though I had given exact directions to the cupboard and shelf. The pants were covered in bright coloured lips and the top read “Luscious” in sparkly sequins. MEN…

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.

Prowse Gap to Alice Springs

We awoke early from the peaceful night at Prowse Gap and were packed up and on the road well before sun rise. We wanted to be at Aileron early to meet Vicki and Rick as we didn’t want to hold them up if they arrived early for our breakfast date.

We pulled into the roadhouse just as the sun was casting its magnificent blanket of orange colour over the eastern plains just prior to peeking above the horizon.

Sun just peeping over the horizon.

Sun just peeping over the horizon.

We had time to look over at the huge statues at the roadhouse before a distant rumble broke the silence of the early morning. It was Vicki and Rick’s truck announcing its arrival before we even saw it. It looked awesome as it made its way off the highway with its 3 refrigerated trailers in tow and rumbled up to us as Rick drove right next to the Aussie Wide.

A large statue at the back of the road house

A large statue at the back of the road house

Another statue on the ground

Another statue on the ground

It was so nice to see them and also nice to know that even here, so far away from home there was someone we knew.

The Aussie Wide wasn't even the length of the truck and first trailer.

The Aussie Wide wasn’t even the length of the truck and first trailer.

We had breakfast in the dining room of the roadhouse with its walls adorned with beautiful outback paintings, some of which were painted by Albert Namijira, the great Aboriginal painter who grew up in this area.

We could easily have talked to Vicki and Rick for hours but they were on a schedule that would take then into Darwin by about 1:00am tomorrow morning.

We said our goodbyes and waved as we watched as Vicki took the huge, beautiful Kenworth slowly out of the roadhouse grounds and out to the highway, gathering speed all the time.

Rick and Vicki on their way to Darwin

Rick and Vicki on their way to Darwin

We took the equally beautiful Nissan and the Aussie Wide in the opposite direction to complete the last 170 kilometres of the trip into Alice.

As we approached the outskirts of Alice Springs there was a hint of the red centre scenery, (crumbling red rock hills framing stands of white trunked Ghost Gums and small rocky waterholes), that would be our home for 5 months.

After a quick ride around the town we drove to the Sandrifter Safaris headquarters in Sergeant St where we found Corinne and Gerry, our new bosses, working and preparing for the forthcoming seven safari camps that we’d be a significant part of.

We had a great catch-up chat for an hour or so before a tour of the yard and the mobile camp which would be ready for setting up at Trephina Gorge in one week.

We looked over the all-terrain mobile kitchen and food prep trailers, the showers, toilets and the bus that would take the paying gets from Alice Springs out to the camp.

What struck us most was the ingenuity of the set up. It’s all solar powered and fully self contained with large freezers, refrigeration, hot and cold water tanks and toilet facilities.

You don’t go out and buy this sort of stuff; it needs to be put together piece by piece over years of trial and error. Gerry has done this himself from a workshop which is packed full of every conceivable tool you could think of as well as timber, steel, nuts and bolts, car and truck spares and mechanical pieces of every kind.

All the vehicles, both the ones that are currently used and ones that are no longer used regularly, are housed here.

In addition Gerry’s yard is like a museum in itself. It’s full of fossils that he’s collected from all corners of the Australian Outback (and he can tell you the history of them all) along with collections of bottles, axes and picks, tanks and a myriad of other fascinating bits and pieces. Old mining sites and settlements have provided many artefacts from 40 years of living in the outback.

We saw some of Gerry and Corinne’s photos of the various campsites we’ll be staying at. They are wild, beautiful and often remote and some are never visited by white folk.

As we learnt more about the camps we realised that, from our part, very little about the forthcoming few months has to do with the actual cooking. The menu Corinne has designed over many years is simple but nutritional and interesting and it will be easy to prepare well. The main challenge is learning the system. Everything will be prepared from the camp kitchen that is highly organised to utilise the very limited space. The food must be prepped from solar power and gas which although is ample for the task cannot be wasted. The water is carried out there with us. This includes washing up, showering, drinking and cooking for 25 people. There’s no room for wastage or mistakes.

The first 2 camps will be a little more forgiving as we are close to the bitumen road and only 80 kilometres away from Alice. Also there’s water there, but once we get to Illara Gorge, an uninhabited area over 250 Kilometres from Alice on rough overland tracks, we won’t have this luxury. We’ll need to be fully experienced with the system by then.

We felt even more excited about the whole venture after talking and dinning with this fascinating couple into the night.

Avon Downs to Prowse Gap

We awoke early again with the sun rising over the silence of Avon Downs and once again, for the thousandth time we pinched ourselves at the great blessing of being able to live like this.

A slight flurry of activity was taking place as the over-nighting grey nomad population stirred slowly into life, prepared breakfast, and got underway to their respective destinations with most heading west.

Does the beauty of the outback ever diminish? We were again treated to vast ever changing open spaces, this time dotted with millions of termite hills growing in size as we moved further into the interior.

Termite mounds slowly getting larger. Can't wait to get a photo beside one that is higher than us.

Termite mounds slowly getting larger. Can’t wait to get a photo beside one that is higher than us.

The recent rains over these magnificent plains had bought a good tinge of green to the grass on which the huge Northern Territory cattle grazed in multiplied thousands. Brilliant blue sky and mild temperatures accompanied our trip ever onward across the Barkly Tablelands until we finally came upon another pocket of civilisation at Barkly Homestead.

Seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere, but conveniently about ¾ of a tank of fuel from Camooweal, this oasis has food, souvenirs and fuel – at $2.02 per litre. We met another grey nomad filling up next to us and were amused at his remark that he needed a bank loan every time he stopped for fuel out here.

It's the dearest diesel we have paid for so far, but not the dearest we've seen.

It’s the dearest diesel we have paid for so far, but not the dearest we’ve seen.

We topped up with fuel at the Barkly Homestead and made our own coffee and eats before again heading west.

By the time we made Three Ways, the spot where the Barkly Highway meets the Stuart Highway and where a right hand turn takes you to Darwin and a left turn to Alice Springs, we realised that we had only seen three houses, (The Avon Downs Police Station, and the Barkly Homestead, and the long ago abandoned Wunara Store), in 481 kilometres. There are homesteads along the way but most are many kilometres inland off the highway.

Most Grey Nomads were heading north to Darwin.

Most Grey Nomads were heading north to Darwin.

We headed south onto the Stuart Highway and headed toward Alice Springs.

Tennant Creek was our next stop for fuel; empty the toilet at the dump pit and a look around.

The dump pit was in the local football grounds and there happened to be a Sunday footy match on so we parked and emptied the toilet amongst literally thousands of Aboriginals out for the game. Being city folk we had never encountered a full community of Aboriginal people before. They were enthusiastic about the forthcoming game and hundreds of them looked on curiously as we emptied the toilet with the Aussie Wide standing out, looking rather out of place amidst the sea of dark skinned people who were obviously more at home in this unique outback town.

We stopped the other side of Tennant Creek to make a sandwich for lunch and have a cold drink before once again heading south. This was a long non stop leg of 241 kilometres to Barrow Creek with me sleeping as we passed the Devils Marbles, a collection of unique rock formations just in from the road. Kerrie decided not to wake me nor stop for photos as we will be coming back along here and in about 3 weeks time and will be stopping more frequently to explore as we travel to Kakadu and Darwin.

The landscape had significantly changed again with huge, ancient and weathered red rock hills forming a brilliant backdrop to the magnificent white trunked ghost gums that were everywhere.

Flat for hundred of kilometres then unusual rock outcrops.

Flat for hundred of kilometres then unusual rock outcrops.

Barrow Creek was an interesting stop. Although its appearance today is that of a small wayside stop on the highway, Barrow Creek was originally an important telegraph station. It was also the site of an 1874 punitive expedition against the Kaytej people by police after a telegraph station master and linesman were killed during an assault by 20 Kaytej men. This attack is the only known planned attack on staff of the Overland Telegraph.Now It’s a small roadhouse with $1.93 per litre diesel and is a strange collection of buildings that has evolved into a shop and a bar.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.

This is where Joanne Lees, the girlfriend of the allegedly murdered Peter Falconio ended up the night he disappeared. His body has never been found.

We fear that the owner may get ripped off frequently because the fuel pumps don’t register amounts inside at the cash register and you must remember the amount you took so you can tell him what to charge you.

From Barrow Creek we rolled on to Ti Tree where we stopped at the roadhouse there to ask if we could have some water. We have gotten into the habit of filling up with just enough water for the next day as nobody has ever refused us a half a tank of water – except here at Ti Tree!

We did find another store over the road which was closed but had a tap close to the road. We couldn’t find a living soul anywhere so we filled up with some water – just enough for showers and toilet etc for tonight and the morning as we would be in Alice tomorrow at about lunch time.

We found we had phone reception at the Barkly Homestead so we’d phoned Vicki and Rick in Adelaide to see if they were on the road yet on their weekly run in their truck from Adelaide to Darwin and back.

They were just hooking up the trailer in the yard in Adelaide and we arranged to meet for breakfast around 8:00am at Aileron about 130 kilometres north of Alice Springs. They leave Adelaide with one trailer and then stop at Port Augusta to pick up two more before heading up to Darwin and they always stop at Aileron for breakfast on Monday morning, so it would be a great opportunity to meet briefly.

We decided to stop for the night at Prowse Gap a free camping area only 7 kilometres north of Aileron.What a great, peaceful little spot with good water available and toilets. About 15 other caravans and motor homes were parked up for the night by the time we got in. It had been a big day with 770 kilometres travelled between about 7:30am to 6:30pm when we pulled in.

Again the moon created the best evening visual display at it rose, big and orange over the outback Spinifex. Wild dingoes? wailed at it as we settled into the peace and quiet of our wonderful home on wheels again and were thankful for the faultless and comfortable performance of the Nissan for another 770 kilometres.

The moon is spectacular on the open roads

The moon is spectacular on the open roads

Kynuna to Avon Downs

We awoke early from our peaceful night the Wanora Downs Rest Area to find a truck and 2 cars had joined us during the night. After a hot breakfast we made off toward the tiny hamlet of Kynuna just as the sun was rising.

The colours of the wide flat plains take on fascinating hues in the early morning sunrise and as the eagles and other birds soared all around us the hundreds of kangaroos and emus were searching for morning food.

We stopped at Kynuna amongst a fleet of huge cattle trucks, perhaps the biggest users of the roads in these parts, and tried to get some air to increase the pressure in the air shocks to ease the affects of the road condition but alas air hoses were not available at this tiny truck stop.

3 Carriage's long and double storey. A lot of cattle.

3 Carriage’s long and double storey. A lot of cattle.

On we went in the still of the early morning to McKinlay.

Now I worked at McKinlay some 30 odd years ago when I was an Operations Controller for SHRM. We had a camp here at the time for a road gang housing and feeding about 35 – 40 men working on an upgrade to the road. We had received urgent complaints from the client about the running of the camp and I flew to Mt Isa and then drove out here to sort things out.

I remember walking into the kitchen at evening meal time to find no meal had been prepared and the two cooks sitting at a mess room table too drunk to stand up and a bottle of Johnny Walker, mostly consumed, on the table between them.

I asked them what was going on to which I received the reply, “And who the F*&%# are YOU!”

“I’m the Operations Manager for this camp and I’m the one that’s just sacked you both”, I replied. “Get your gear and be off the camp in 20 minutes.”

Of course the trouble was there was no-one to replace them so I had to grab a couple of ladies from the caravan park nearby and we had a meal up within 30 minutes. It was a few weeks before the company could find a couple of new cooks so I was stuck here for all that time.

I was able to clearly identify exactly where the camp had stood, next to the large water tower just a short walk to the old Walkabout Pub – where the first Crocodile Dundee movie was made – which was still there. I recall it in a slightly different location and much more dilapidated than it is now so they must have relocated and renovated it. I used to walk down to the pub just for something to do during the days that I was here at the camp.

The camp was just over by the water tank.

The camp was just over by the water tank.

We were too early to have a look inside.

We were too early to have a look inside.

We drove out of McKinlay and on toward Cloncurry, where we stopped briefly for a look at the town before heading to Mt Isa.

This was Kerrie’s first visit to Mt Isa where we found a bustling and very busy community.

Like Broken Hill the mine at Mt Isa is in the centre of the town.

Like Broken Hill the mine at Mt Isa is in the centre of the town.

The huge Mt Isa Mine is the focal point of the town and the reason for the town’s existence.

After emptying the toilet, fuelling up and buying bread and milk we headed out of “The Isa” to an old world war 2 memorial park to have lunch.

On we headed with the Nissan humming beautifully and the van towing perfectly.

The increased pressure I’d put in the air shocks at Cloncurry had smoothed the ride a lot, (should have done it 2 days ago), and as a bonus the roads were west of Mt Isa were in much better repair.

The ever changing scenery had gone through another transformation and now rugged hills with gigantic red rocks jutting from them surrounded us.

The country never ceases to be spectacular. Sometimes, when we’re not driving, we try to catch an hour’s sleep but we find the ever changing country mesmerises us almost forcing us to stay awake so as not miss some other landmark.

We finally made the little border town of Camooweal where we topped up with fuel for the long trip across the Barkly Tablelands along the Barkly Highway to Three Ways.

We crossed the border into The Northern Territory with a degree of excitement at being in yet another state to explore.

Northern Territory, every state and territory is so different.

Northern Territory, every state and territory is so different.

The first thing we noticed was the speed limit – now 130kpm – and then the vast improvement in the condition of the roads. The Nissan seemed to be floating on air compared to the last few days.

It was exciting and interesting just being in the Northern Territory and we amazed the huge expanse of uninhabited land on each side. As we looked at the map we realised even more the vastness of the country as except for Camooweal behind us and Tennant Creek some 700km in front of there was little else. For hundreds of Kilometres to the north and the south there were just a handful of cattle stations.

One of those stations is Avon Downs just a hundred or so Kilometres from Camooweal. Avon Downs has a police station, a homestead and a wonderful free camping spot. We pulled into the camp spot late in the afternoon to find it full of grey nomads. This felt good and gave a great sense of not being alone in such a vast area, although being alone is quite ok as well.

The free camping areas are now getting busy for the annual "Grey Nomad" migration.

The free camping areas are now getting busy for the annual “Grey Nomad” migration.

We again watched the spectacular sunset and moon rise and felt the chill of the night air as the sun disappeared from the sky before spending a blissfully peaceful night tucked up cosy and warm in the silence of the outback.

Dalby to Kynuna

There’s an extraordinary volume of traffic between Brisbane, Chinchilla and Roma these days. It must be the mining activity in the area as there’s just convoys of trucks and traffic of all kinds.

We’re not sure if this has combined with the recent flooding in the area to affect the roads but I have to say they are in a shocking state. The Nissan and the Aussie Wide are standing up to it well but it is a very uncomfortable journey indeed and I wouldn’t like to be doing it regularly as no vehicle would be immune to it for long.

The UHF is full of truckies complaining about the road as well. It’s not so much the potholes, it’s the waves. It’s as if the hold road from Toowoomba to the North West has been shock waved by an earthquake. The shaking just goes on and on relentlessly. The waves in the road are not long ones; they’re short and steep causing constant jarring of the whole body. I’m concerned about Kerrie’s back as the jarring is obviously telling on her.

Kerrie has packed the van well but even her diligence in storage has not stopped stuff being thrown about in the cupboards. We never have had this happen before.

The conditions cannot remove the thrill of being back on the road again.

Spinefix caught up on fence posts gives the impression of soft little hay stacks.

Spinefix caught up on fence posts gives the impression of soft little hay stacks.

As we move past Roma the traffic gets sparser and the further we travel the less general traffic there is. As we pass Blackall the traffic consists of 50% trucks (largely cattle road trains), 40% Grey Nomads and 10% other vehicles. Man there is so many caravans and motor homes out here.

We had as phone call from Martyn, our boss at Koramba, giving us an update on how things had gone for the first week after we left.

He has fine tuned the rosters a bit but there are some early danger signs of the system we left in place not being followed.

I’m hoping that the first stocktake, which will be completed next Friday, will show that it’s been profitable for him.

Heading into a storm on the way to Blackall.

Heading into a storm on the way to Blackall.

We free camped at Blackall for night 2 among about 10 other vans and we both had a wonderfully peaceful sleep broken only by the arrival of two cattle trucks in the early hours. The unsettled cattle clattering on the steel decks and the mooing kept us awake for a short time as they soon settled down completely oblivious to the fate that awaited them very soon at the abattoir.

Blackall is still pretty, maybe even more so than when we were here a few months ago, as the rains have “greened up” everything.

We were in no hurry to leave and it was about 8:00am before the Nissan hummed its way out of Blackall towards Barcaldine and Longreach.

We didn’t stop at Longreach this time but kept on to Winton. We were going to stop and take a look at the Australian Dinosaur display but it required us to unhook the van as the hill up to the display is too steep for vans.

The time and hassle of unhooking and re hooking up the van, coupled with the $30.00 per person entry fee made us decide to give it a miss this time round and so we headed on into Winton, parked the van and took a walk around the town.

There’s a lot of history in the town and we would have liked to have stayed overnight and take in a bit of it but there’s a purpose in this trip and that’s to reach Alice Springs as soon as possible so once again we headed on.

Heading on out of Winton the landscape to the west was dominated by the distant Tully Ranges framing the millions of acres of flat country between us and them.

We were thankful to stop at a pleasant little rest area called Wanora Downs about 74km South East of Kynuna. It was so nice to put an end to the constant jarring of the atrocious roads we had spent the last 2 days on, even if only for a night.

A wonderful sunset one way and the moon the other.

A wonderful sunset one way and the moon the other.

The rest area was wonderfully quiet with only a few birds and the crickets call as night approached and the roar of the occasional truck or car speeding northwest. A herd of beautifully conditioned cattle wandered close to the fence beside the area and looked us over curiously before putting their heads down into the lush grass to eat as if dismissing our presence as inconsequential.

You could hear them munching away on the grass it was so quiet.

You could hear them munching away on the grass it was so quiet.

Before retiring for the night we were treated to one of those utterly breathtaking sunsets that only seem possible amidst vast open spaces. It was spectacular as the sapphire sky turned into a blaze of orange and deep red and we were in awe of the colours and the sheer beauty of it all.

Spectacular sunset

Spectacular sunset

Then as if to complete the scene the huge silver moon that had arisen to the east lit up with the sinking sun and simultaneously a billion stars appeared.
Standing there alone, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in the silence and the coolness of the night, we felt that this display was scripted for us exclusively.

After a nice hot shower and dinner we settled down to watch a movie, a little sore but totally content with the world.