Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199905 Australia-SA NT

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Saturday 1 May 1999  A cold night but not as cold as we were in England last Christmas time.  Will dig the hot water bottles out later today.  A cloudy morning but this doesn’t deter the surfers who are already out in the bay.  There are lots of crows here and when Steve throws a few scraps out they come very close and one even sits on top of the opened van door.  A strange man comes and asks us how long we are staying.  He wants us to time him when he runs up the bluff and reckons he is going to get it put in the Guinness book of records – the man’s a nutter!  Fortunately we are just about to leave.  Follow the coast East visiting Port Elliot with pretty Horseshoe Bay.  Goolwa is another nice seaside town and we park up and nip into the library to use the computer.  Emerge into clear blue skies and hot sunshine.  The Murray River runs into the sea at Goolwa having travelled thousands of kilometres through Australia.  Barrages hold the water back to form Lake Alexandrina and a narrow sand bar forms the Coorong.  Drive along this and find a quiet spot to soak up the sun, read and admire the unusual birds.  The Australian "Storm Boy" about a boy befriending a pelican was filmed here.  Back to town to book an all day boat trip for tomorrow and then over on the free ferry to Hindmarsh Island where we drive to Sugars Beach to view the Murray Mouth.  Return to park on the town wharf where the paddle steamers are anchored.  A short historic walking tour familiarises us with the town and we even catch the end of an Aussie Rules footy game including a fight on the pitch.  Seek out a good parking spot for the night and finally decide on the spot by the jetty as opposed to the BBQ area which is under the trees.
GOOLWA
Sunday 2 May  Right decision about parking.  The BBQ area is full of market stalls and we would have been surrounded by them!  Jack Millers "Wetlands Explorer" boat leaves at 9.00am with a select group of 12 passengers.  Morning tea, buffet lunch and afternoon coffee are included at $59 (£24) a head.  A superb trip taking us to places otherwise inaccessible.  Jack beaches the boat and we walk over the Coorong dunes to the Southern Ocean.  Here you can wade in the sea and dig for cockles which Steve says taste great.  This whole area is a national park and has sacred Aboriginal areas.  We see aboriginal shell mounds of discarded cockle shells and fish bones dating back 3000 years.  Steve finds an otolith which is part of the jaw of the Jew fish from this era.  There is an environmentally friendly toilet here.  It is a dry pit type toilet which empties onto a metal shelf which is heated by a solar panel to dry the waste and turn it into manure.(and I thought the expression was cut the crap not cook the crap).  Return via the Tauwitchere Barrage across Lake Alexandrina and past Hindmarsh Island back to Goolwa.  All the passengers are very friendly.  Mimi is a Dutch lady touring alone mainly walking and sleeping in her tent.  She wants to hitch a lift with us from Burra up to Alice Springs so we give her our telephone number but warn her we are prone to change our plans.  Everyone wants to see the camper so they all troop off the boat for a tour of Dew Drop Inn.  Head North to Currency Creek where the Rotary Club have provided a nice parking area with toilets and BBQ at the side of the stream.
CURRENCY CREEK
Monday 3 May  Up at 7.00am as it is a glorious morning.  An early walk up the river and to the cemetery before returning at 8.00am to set off.  Heading back towards Adelaide Compass Hill is very steep and when we look behind the van we feel like the line in the song – "up a mountain road we climb with a mile of traffic stuck behind".  Willunga old town is pretty and from there we take the tourist route through the wine region of the McLaren Vale and Flats.  It’s getting really hot so we head to Maslin Beach for some sunbathing but the wind eventually gets the better of us.  Back at George and Nicole’s mid afternoon to get ready for our evening out.  Nicole drives to Glenelg and Paula arrives on the tram after work.  Pre dinner drinks are served at 7.00pm in the cocktail lounge.  We are all pretty stunned to see someone dressed in what looks like a black thong style bikini with a totally transparent black mesh dress with rips in over the top.  She has a good figure and obvious blonde hair extensions but when she turns round boy is she ugly and also quite old!!! Ha .  Not the sort of thing for a posh hotel but certainly a talking point.  The meal is excellent.  Very nicely presented and just enough so you don’t feel over full.  The drinks flow freely and we have a great time.  The Stylistics (all original members) look a bit different without the afro hair and platform shoes.  They still sound the same and our only complaint is that they are not on for long enough.  
CHRISTIE BEACH
Tuesday 4 May  Another nice hot day.  We catch up with a few jobs prior to our departure tomorrow.  Early afternoon the radio announces the weather as 23 degrees high for Adelaide with a current temperature of 24!!!  They forecast hotter each day until Friday and then clouds.  George is off and when Nicole returns from work we go ten pin bowling and I manage to catch each of us getting a strike on video (used a whole film in the process mind).  Leah joins us at the end and picks Paula up from the station. Back towards the city to an American style theme restaurant called Lone Star.  The staff keep breaking off to perform line dances and you eat shell peanuts and throw the shells on the floor.  The steaks are spot on – thick and tender and the whole evening is brilliant.  We really feel like we have found an extension to our family as we all get along so well together.  Will try to return next November when we will be in Melbourne.
CHRISTIE BEACH 2
Wednesday 5 May   Away just after 9.00am but a couple of kilometres down the road we hear a strange rattling/banging noise when we brake.  Pull over and by chance we have pulled into the RAA (Aussie version of RAC/AA) offices.  A mechanic arrives 1 hour later and takes a drive with Steve but the problem doesn’t show up.  Think it may have been the brakes bedding in as George’s neighbour Rob tightened the handbrake for us on Monday and this is our first trip out.  Head up to Mount Lofty summit at 727m.  The Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 caused severe damage here but the area is now green again.  Magnificent views over Adelaide and up and down the coast for a good few miles.  By mid day it is 25 degrees as we stroll up and down the streets of the German village of Hahndorf.  It seems strange as the leaves are all falling off the trees as Autumn sets in.  The cake shop beckons and I indulge in a traditional Black Forest Cake – or should I say slice of, although if I had my way I could probably polish off a whole cake.  The Onkaparinga River Valley is really pretty and we stop at the Melba chocolate factory where you do a self guided tour and get quite a few samples – much better than the one in Adelaide.  The toy factory at Gumeracha has a Rocking Horse outside which is the biggest in the world.  Climb to the top before looking round the factory shop and watching them making the beautiful wooden toys.  They are all reasonably prices and we would love to buy the big rocking horse for Daniel but common sense prevails and we settle for a wooden clock puzzle instead.  Mannum on the River Murray is very pretty with houseboats and paddle steamers on the shores.  Merate Allora (aboriginal for naked in a swamp area) near Purnong is the home of Rob and Vikki.  They are fellow naturists who like to share their 12 acre homestead.  Park by the backwaters of the River in readiness for the hot day forecast for tomorrow.
MANNUM, MERATE ALLORA
Thursday 6 May  A glorious day.  Explore the area and find a small island with playground, volley ball court, man made beach, club house and toilet.  A bush trail leads off from here and we explore further.  Stop for a wee on the way back but as I flush the loo I am surprised to see a "log" floating (me thinks it’s the ghost poo in action) but as the froth dies down I realise it is actually a frog!!!  Late afternoon Rob hitches the "tinny"  (all tin small boat which can be rowed or used with an outboard motor)  to the back of the car and we tow it to the boat ramp.  The Murray River is beautiful with weeping willows along the banks and other areas with orange cliffs rising sheer from the waters edge.  The paddle steamer "Murray Princess" comes past and we get a good view.  Return in time to have an early BBQ tea before dark.  The stars are outstanding tonight just too many to count.  Rob and Vikki have both learnt Swedish massage and we are both treated to one.  I will return the compliment tomorrow with Aromatherapy.
MANNUM 2, MERATE ALLORA
Friday 7 May    Well the forecast was right.  The clouds move in but it is still quite warm.  Rob and Vikki ask if we would like to go with them to the naturist swimming session in Adelaide.  The drive of over 100kms takes about  an hour and a half.  The baths are good with an excellent Jacuzzi, sauna, table tennis and fitness room also.  Leave after 11.00pm, only too pleased that Rob is driving. Can’t believe that they think nothing of travelling so far for a swim.
MANNUM 3, MERATE ALLORA
Saturday 8 May  A lazy day snatching a few sunbathing spells between the clouds.  Watch a video on New Zealand naturist clubs and then I give Rob and Vikki Aromatherapy back massages.  The Swedish massage is much deeper and more aggressive but Steve prefers the soothing Aromatherapy ones (or maybe it’s the little extras he gets with it!).
MANNUM 4, MERATE ALLORA
Sunday 9 May  Head North up the river and take the ferry across at Walkers Flat.  The lookout above gives great views of the river and surrounding countryside.  Head East at Swan Reach but stop just before Loxton as all the warning lights and a buzzer have come on.  Think it may be because we are low on diesel but emptying the jerry can in doesn’t help.  Drive slowly into Loxton and find that the problem stops when Steve accelerates hard.   The historical museum $5 (£2) is good with lots of old buildings transported and rebuilt here.  Pressing buttons inside each ones sets a tape recorded story playing.  Head on towards Berri which is a bigger town with more chance of us finding a garage tomorrow.  Martin Bend just outside town is a pretty picnic spot by the river with the local water ski school providing entertainment.  It’s mother’s day in Australia today and quite a few families have come here for a BBQ.  There are some unusual birds with long yellow beaks and they take great delight in sitting on our wing mirrors and pecking at their reflections.  Steve can’t see any obvious problem with the van but thinks the alternator is at fault so will have to wait until tomorrow.
BERRI, MARTIN BEND
Monday 10 May   At an auto electricians a quick check reveals a problem with the alternator and they send to Adelaide for a part.  This will take some time so they give us a lift to the library and say to call back after 4.00pm.  Work on the computer and then walk into town.  Another pretty town on the banks of the Murray River but they are all so similar it is a bit like "seen one seem them all".  Nothing inspires us on the restaurant menus so we buy a hot roast chicken and crusty bread and enjoy a picnic on the grassy river bank.  Glad the weather is good.  Return to collect the van and get a bill for $363 (£145).  It’s strange that even though it is Fred’s bill we still feel frustrated by it.  At least we are unaware of any bills being clocked up on our van.  Back to Martins Bend as it is getting dark and we don’t want to drive further.
BERRI 2, MARTIN BEND
Tuesday 11 May   Pop back to the auto electricians as Steve’s seat won’t lock in place.  He says he is glad we came back as his apprentice had forgotten to replace a washer and we would have had an oil leak. The Berrivale factory is where the locally grown fruit is made into juices and tinned fruit.  Watch an interesting video and then load a trolley with the heavily discounted damaged stock.  At least for once we are going to be over dosing on healthy things.  A little further along the road is the "Big Orange", the biggest orange in the world with a mural inside and a viewing platform at the top.  In Renmark we get information on "The funniest place in Australia" which we have seen advertised in a newspaper.  The girl at the tourist office says it is in Paringa nearby and a coach party is due this afternoon which should be good.  Called "The Black Stump" the first thing we see is an enormous tree root system balanced against a white wall.  We open the gate and follow the music to find Frank Turton strumming his guitar and singing funny songs.  It is a really crazy place.  As a carpenter he has made lots of things out of junk and put silly signs on them.  A mud koala which when patted piddles, an Aussie oven in which he cooks sheep except that one wasn’t dead and kicked a hole in the side.  There is an Aussie  bath tub (outside) with a log fire burning underneath.  He asks this old lady to hop in for a dip as he needs a volunteer.  She declines but Steve volunteers me so never one to refuse a bath I nip to the van to put on my costume.  I return to find Frank fully clothed lying in the bath shooting water up between his legs from a washing up liquid bottle.  My turn comes and I realise why he kept his clothes on.  I know I like a hottie bottie (hot water bottle) to take to bed but this brings a whole new meaning to the expression.  The coach party leaves and we chat to Frank.  He is really quite a serious person and travels up to Darwin in the summer entertaining people en route in the caravan parks.   He thought my jumping in the bath was great as no one had actually done it before.  Buy one of his tapes to remind us of him as we travel along.  A little further North towards Murtho is a lookout where we find the best views yet of the Murray River and a good place to park overnight.  Fred phones from Scotland with a question about our van and he complains the roads are too small!
BETWEEN RENMARK AND MURTHO, LOOKOUT
Wednesday 12 May  Back West through Renmark to Monash adults playground.  The coach party we saw yesterday are here and ask me if I have come looking for another bath.  A great place where you can go on 20 foot high swings, big slides, through a maze and along an assault course with a flying fox.  We do the lot and end up with wet bums from the slides as it rained a bit in the night.  Through Barmera and out to Pelican Point nudist beach.  Alongside Lake Bonney and a very scenic spot with lots of dead trees standing up rather eerily in the water.
LAKE BONNEY, PELICAN POINT
Thursday 13 May  Snatch a few hours sunshine around mid day then set off towards Waikerie.  The Banrock Winery is a new eco centre on the cliffs high above the Murray River with superb views over the wetlands below.  Find a good parking spot in Waikerie by the side of the river.  By 9.00pm we are having power problems and the battery is very low.  We run the engine for awhile and then retire for an early night in the hope we have put enough into the battery to run the fridge through the night.
WAIKERIE
Friday 14 May   Awake before 7.00am with no power at all.  Quickly dress and hit the road.  We still have no power as we arrive at Nuriootpa an hour and a half later.  The Auto Electrician says the leisure batteries are old and worn out and he will order some from Adelaide to be delivered this afternoon.  The Barossa Balloon Regatta is being held here this weekend and fortunately we had planned to stay at the caravan park.  $15(£6) a night seems reasonable for a powered site and a grandstand view for the Regatta which actually starts here.  The laundry is a bargain at $1.40 (56p) a load for a hot wash in an industrial size machine.  Must cost them more than that in electric.  It starts raining mid afternoon which is not promising for the balloons tomorrow.  Back to the garage at 4.00pm but they have send the very expensive version of the batteries.  Settle for one big one which is less powerful than the two small ones but also a lot cheaper.  It’s difficult when it is someone else’s money at stake.  Heavy rain through the night.
NURIOOTPA, CAMPSITE
Saturday 15 May  Up just before 7.00am to catch the first flights but the wind is strong and it is also too cloudy for them to go up.  Back to bed.  The 3.30pm flights go and at very close quarters we watch about 20 balloons being inflated and take off.  In the evening a dozen tethered balloons gather on the oval and once all inflated they put special gas in to make them all glow.  It’s an amazing sight and they even do a Mexican type wave. 
NURIOOTPA 2, CAMPSITE
Sunday 16 May   Up again at 7.00am but this morning the winds are coming from the wrong direction so they take the balloons elsewhere to launch them.  Give the van a good clean which usually means that we are due to go on a dusty dirt track.  Mimi is joining us today and her friend from Adelaide drops her off at 10.30am.  First stop en route is Kapunda an old mining time where the Cornish people came.  Map the Miner is a huge memorial statue overlooking the town.  It’s the Clare Gourmet weekend so we head to the valley and start at Mount Horrocks Winery.  Jazz music is playing and tables are scattered on the lawns under the clear blue skies.  For $5 (£2) you buy a special glass and take it around with you for tastings.  Each winery offers a different menu at $8 (£3.20) main course and $5 (£2) dessert.  Start with barbequed minute fillet steak on crisp mushroom and leek risotto cake – well it does say gourmet weekend.  Pete Scott would be in his element.  By the fourth winery I become the designated driver as Steve is getting into the swing of the wine tasting.  Call back to the Wilson winery and get a few goodies for Claire with the Wilson Vineyard written on them.  The owner is very chatty and has a 22 year old son called Daniel.    Steve sticks to trying the main courses and I go for the desserts.  The toasted chocolate dipped waffle cone with Cointreau parfait, chocolate cigar and Toblerone sauce is yummy.  The roads are heaving with cars and mini buses.  We have never seen so many stretch limousines in one place before.  Thousands of people must be here and lots have come from Adelaide especially.  Some places are so full they are turning people away.   There are 20 wineries taking part and we visit 7 and feel like we are on a treasure hunt.  The event finishes late afternoon and I drive us out towards Burra and we find a nice lay by at Hanson to spend the night.  It’s dark so Mimi sleeps in the van.
HANSON
Monday 17 May  Burra is an old historic mining town. There is an open cast mine with the sides reflected in the blue waters -very picturesque.  Drive to the lookout and then walk around the old mine buildings.  In  Peterborough we picnic in Victoria Park by the lake.  One black swan is so friendly that Steve hand feeds and strokes it.  Orroroo has a good rotary park by a duck pond and has toilets, picnic tables and BBQ’s.  The town golf course is here and the fairway actually crosses the car park.  The 2.9km walk goes along the creek where we see aboriginal carvings, the reservoir which doesn’t have any water, a look out over the town and a poem over 100 years old carved in a rock.  Settle down for the night and the frogs start croaking in earnest and are only silenced when the rain starts.
ORROROO
Tuesday 18 May   Up again at 7.00am and away for 8.00am.  Stop in Hawker to do some E mailing.  North in the Flinders Ranges lies Wilpena Pound a great oval 20km by 8km, with 1,000m high walls sloping steeply to the park like interior flat floor with rare trees and flowers.  Wilpena Pound resort campsite costs $17 (£6.80) for a powered site but you have to pay $5 (£2) extra as national park admission fee and $3 (£1.20) for an extra person.   It is just outside the pound where you enter through a narrow gorge cut by the creek.  Set out to sunbathe under the hot blue skies but shortly after the clouds roll in.  Mimi says it may rain and she doesn’t want to put her tent up so we reluctantly agree to let her sleep in with us again.  Turns out she hasn’t slept in her tent at all since arriving in Australia in March!  Get the impression that she is looking for rather more than the lift that she asked for as she has been eating with us as well.  Take the mini bus into the Pound and walk to the old homestead and then to two look out points.   It’s like another world inside and very tranquil.  After a shower back on site we emerge to hear bagpipes accompanied by a man on a didgeridoo.  Fellow campers playing music together.
WILPENA POUND CAMPSITE
Wednesday 19 May  No more rain but another disturbed night with Mimi snoring loudly.  Set off for St Mary peak at 8.00am.  Loose count of the number of kangaroos we see and we are even spied on by some mountain goats when we stop for a drink.  The views as we climb are breathtaking (or could it be our lack of fitness).  The walk is actually graded as level 9 and difficult.  The 17km loop should take 8 hours and involves quite a lot of sheer rock climbing to the summit.  We’ve taken 4 litres of water in an empty wine box bag but you can still taste the wine.  The steep outer wall to Tanderra Saddle is where we gain about 250 metres vertical height.  The higher we climb the more impressive the scenery and even steeper the gradient.  Saint Mary peak itself is very difficult and without Steve to haul me up I can’t reach some of the ledges.  We reach the peak feeling very exhilarated and settle down to enjoy an early lunch.  You can see the whole area of the pound and then the Flinders Ranges carrying on North and views for miles and miles in every direction.  As we descend we make our first encounter of other people who left at 10.00am.  Meet a few more people at Tanderra Saddle but most are turning back.  We could return the way we came making a 12km / 6 hour walk but choose to go the whole hog.  Wrong decision and the going is tough and there is nothing to see and no one else to be seen.  Arrive back at 4.15pm and find Mimi has been back since 3.00pm as she did the short walk but not along the recommended path.  The hot shower is wonderful but parked up further down the road the foot soak is even better.  Feel pretty chuffed with ourselves and realise we are maybe not as unfit as we thought as apart from sore feet we are in great shape.  Mimi suggests that the trip to Alice would be too long to be with us and she will catch the bus in Port Augusta – no objections from me.  Although she offered to share costs on fuel etc she has never once put her hand in her pocket and I reckon she is a bit of a free loader.
WILPENA POUND AREA, ROADSIDE
Thursday 20 May  Up early yet again as Mimi snoring and her early morning routine don’t make for long lie ins!  Quorn with original 1800’s buildings has been used for many movies including Gallipoli. A hot day with highs of 28C forecast for Port Augusta.  We drop Mimi at the bus station and Steve mentions about a contribution towards costs as we have spent over $100 on fuel and camp site fees without food and beers.  He suggests $30 but she says she only has $25.  Looks like my intuition was right and we are better off without her.  Wish we could find someone to transport, feed, supply beer and put us up for £10 for 4 days.  Next time I will keep my mouth shut about giving strangers lifts!   A big filling up day as from here on prices for everything will rise.  Food, diesel, water, gas and booze are loaded onboard.  The wind is getting strong and it seems like a dust storm is blowing in.  Decide to hang around town today and set off North tomorrow so the photo’s are dropped in for developing and new film bought.  Time to spare so we call at a special radiator garage to get the van heater fixed and find we have leaking radiator hoses again.  Some are totally rotten and need replacing.  $65 (£26) and 2 hours later we have some heat and the leaking hose problem is hopefully sorted.  The guys at the garage and just closing and insist we stay for a beer.  They have a tame galah bird which we thought was like a dove but must be like a parrot as it has remarkably clear speech.  Drive out to "our spot" on the edge of town by the lake.
PORT AUGUSTA, PINK LAKE
Friday 21 May  Some wind and rain in the night and then the dustbin lorry arrives early in the  morning – so much for a quiet night and a lie in without Mimi!!!  Forgot to mention before about the dustbin lorries here.  You put your wheelie bin on the kerbside facing the road and the lorry comes past and a mechanical arm picks the bin up and empties it into the top of the truck.  Very fast and efficient.  Collect the photos which have come out very well.  Developing is not expensive here at around $7.50 (£3) for 24 so we are taking loads of pictures.  Join the Stuart Highway heading North out of town.  On the outskirts the Arid Lands Botanical Garden has all the different plants found in the outback.  The road signs warn of cattle and sheep but we see emu’s and sheep in large numbers.  Pimba is the first sign of civilisation 170km North and we phone Coober Pedy to book the mail run tour $75 (£30) for Monday.  The girl asks me where we are and tells me that at Roxby Downs where we are heading they are doing a live radio broadcast from the school.  Tune in and listen to local people being interviewed.  It is a very new town which sprung up when minerals were found in the area.  Uranium, Copper, Gold and Silver are mined here in the biggest and most high tech operation for mining and processing in Australia.  The average age of people living here is 27 and they say if anyone old is seen in town they presume it is someone’s Granny come to visit!  Wages are 50% above normal and young families and single men come here to work hard for a few years and then move on elsewhere.  There is a cemetery on the edge of town but no one in it.  As we pull into town the radio announcer invites people to come to the school auditorium to watch the show being broadcast.  We pop round and end up being interviewed on the radio.  Drive around the small, basic but smart town which seems very small for 5000 inhabitants.  The mine is out at Olympic Dam and massive.  You get an idea of the size of the operation when you see the number of cars in the car parks.  Drive back through the town and to a lay by on the main highway where we spotted two caravans on the way in.  Ray & Marie from Queensland and Dave and Gwen from Perth are old friends and travelling up North together.  They invite us to join them for a chat around the camp fire.  They tell us about the last years national caravan rally where a man of 92 booked and paid for a place at the next rally in 3 years time!
NR ROXBY DOWNS
Saturday 22 May  Andamooka is a bit of a shock to the system.  The Queen has opals from here and they are said to be the finest in Australia. The mining techniques are as ancient as Roxby Down’s are modern.  The main street is a creek bed with "dug out" houses build into the banks.  The side roads are all bright red dirt tracks with shacks scattered all over the place.  A real eye opener.  Return on the same road and stop at Woomera.  This is the place where Britain and Australia did the rocket testing.  The Americans are here now but planning on pulling out next March when the Russians are coming.  Check onto Traveller’s Rest campsite $10 (£4) un powered site as Steve wants to watch football on TV tonight.   Get the washing done, shower and have lunch before strolling the short distance to town.  Although smaller than Roxby Downs they seem to have more facilities, a lot provided by the American forces.  The Heritage museum $4 (£1.60) is excellent and we watch videos about the rocket site and road making in the outback.  Lots of old rockets and memorabilia and we end up staying until 4.00pm.  At the leisure centre ten pin bowling is a bargain at $2 (80p) game (league games are even cheaper at $4.50/£1.80 for 3 games).  Emerge at 5.00pm to very heavy rain which shows no sign of stopping.  Arrive back at the site wet through and with wet washing to be put in the tumble dryer.  Steve goes out at 7.30pm to watch a film before the football and returns at 2.00am with the news that Manchester United won (as if I cared).
WOOMERA, TRAVELLERS REST CAMPSITE
Sunday 23 May  Lie in and finally leave at 9.00am.  Just North of Pimba we are surprised to see that Lake Hart has water in it.  Almost all the lakes in this area and dried up salt lakes so this is quite unusual.  Further East from here is Lake Eyre the biggest lake in the world but it has been dry since 1989.  It is where Donald Campbell went for the world land speed record.  The terrain here is very much like the Nullarbor with flat scrub land as far as the horizon which makes  the clear blues skies appear to surround us.  Spot a road sign advertising a caravan park 500km away!  Can you imagine seeing a sign in London advertising a caravan park in Shropshire?  Glendambo is the last fuel station in fact the last anything before Coober Pedy 252km further North.  Lots of motorcaravans and cars with caravans are pulled in here to tank up.  All the oldies are now migrating North for the winter (us included I guess).  About 15 km South of Coober Pedy we pull over in a rest area with a plaque to commemorate the first opal found here in 1911. 
15KM S OF COOBER PEDY
Monday 24 May  Early drive into town.  As we approach we begin to see lots of mine warning signs telling you that many shafts are open and you shouldn’t step backwards etc.  We pull up on the hill to park behind the book shop and a lady comes out and tells us we are actually on top of her lounge as she lives in a dug out below.  She says we are OK to stay there and shows me around her home.  80% of the population live underground because it gives you a year round temperature of between 23 and 25 degrees.  The only electricity needed is for lights and bills are around $100 (£40) a month for everything.   Most buildings here started out as disused mines but with the popularity of cave dwelling rising they are now being dug out mechanically.  The walls end up being a mixture of white and sand coloured rock and all you need to do is spray a varnish on to seal them. We are off on the mail run and meet the rest of the tour  group in the underground book shop.  John rolls up at 9.00am with the mail bus and a dozen of us hop aboard for our 660km 12 hour plus dirt track adventure. Heading East towards Oodnadatta we first cross the dog fence.  Originally around 9000km long it is now shorter but still preserved to keep the dingo dogs away from the sheep in South Eastern Australia.  The featureless lunar like moon plain sparkles with gypsum sharp resonant rocks and fossilised shells and really does look like the moon.  John’s a comedian and tells us lots of funny stories including one about an 83 year old man who came up to him one morning when he was about to leave and decided to join the tour.  He says he was the life and soul of the trip and they got back after 10.00pm so John dropped everyone off at their accommodation.  The old man was staying at the camp site but said he wouldn’t be popular.  John asked why and the man said that when he went out at 8.15 in the morning his wife was only expecting him to be half an hour collecting the newspaper!  With the longest name in Australia Lake Cadibarrawirracanna is a beautiful spot where the piece and quiet enjoyed by a couple in a campervan is shattered when we all arrive.  We see some dingo dogs and John obligingly stops for a photo session.  This region is covered in homesteads which run the beef cattle stations.  Anna Creek is the biggest in the world at over 20,000 square miles (that’s a 1/4 the size of England).  Call in to drop off the mail and groceries etc and get the news that the woman who lives there is in Adelaide having just given birth to a daughter.  She already has a son and the school room here is where he is educated on the School of the Air Outback programme.  He is the only pupil and his mother is the teacher.  Next stop William Creek where news of the birth is quickly spread as the town population is only 11, officially the smallest town in Australia.  Despite it’s size it has – an airstrip which also happens to be the main dirt road through town (handy as the pilots pull up in the street right outside the pub) – a golf course where you would permanently be in the rough – the most remote and expensive solar powered telephone kiosk ever installed in Australia – a parking meter with the money going to the Flying Doctor Service – a basic campsite with an above ground swimming pool with the decking made of railway sleepers – and most importantly the pub which doubles as the petrol station, restaurant and shop.  The Ghan railway line used to pass through here but since it was relocated the small town has dwindled and remains in it’s present form as a rest haven for travellers along the Oodnadatta Track.  The next nearest "towns" are Marree 204km South and Oodnadatta 202km North.  The pub is brilliant with clothing that people have written on, business cards, bank notes and other travellers donations filling every space on the walls and ceiling.  The dining room at the back has walls made entirely from the old railway sleepers and in the evenings is said to be full. An hour for a beer and lunch before heading North.   The famous Oodnadatta Track follows the original ancient aboriginal trade route along permanent springs.  The great overland telegraph line from London to Sydney used this route along with the Ghan railway.  Over the next few hours we pull into 3 stations each different in size and the type of homestead buildings.  John only calls twice a week and is their main link with the rest of the world so everyone wants to keep him talking.  We see lots of Angus beef cows (spell checker suggested I change Angus to anus!), horses, kangaroos and emus.  Pull over to a billabong (an ox bow lake) where we take photos under the shade of the coolabah tree!!  It’s getting dark as we reach Oodnadatta but Max the local dog comes out and amazingly leads the bus on the town tour.  70% Aboriginal population and considerably bigger than William Creek the life here revolves around the Pink Roadhouse where we sit and eat our infamous "Oodie" burgers.  The local museum is housed in the old railway station and it’s amazing to find one of the ladies in our party recognises her Auntie in one of the photos.  An aboriginal boy of about 10 smoking and walking down the street asks if we want to buy some pieces of meteorite.  It is completely dark as we head the 195km back towards Coober Pedy.  Last stop is Mount Barry station where we take a look inside the school room.  Two boys of 9 and 11 are educated here but it looks like a miniature classroom for about 12 people.  They have a computer on the internet and the radio set to link them up to the School of the Air.  One of the ladies on our trip is currently working here for 6 weeks as a teacher to relieve their Mum.  Back into Coober Pedy just after 10.00pm after a most interesting trip making us much more aware of the hardships and vast distances involved in life in the outback.  Reckon I’ll be seeing red bull dust in my sleep.
COOBER PEDY
Tuesday 25 May  Move off Jenny’s roof and up to the big winch lookout to have our breakfast.  Superb views over the town and surrounding area.  It is a very bleak town with red dust along the edges of the main street and making up most of the side streets.  Mullock heaps are everywhere and the place looks almost derelict and abandoned except that for every tin shed roof that you see there is a house going into a rock cave behind it.  Very little water here so almost no greenery but plenty of dust.  The Anglican church is built like a catacomb cut into the rocks and even the Best Western Desert Cave Motel has cave rooms but very posh ones. The main street is crammed with opal shops and opal shops masquerading as museums!  There is a huge "Star Wars" type space ship by one which was used making a film here last year.  The old timers mine $5 (£2) gives an insight into original mining conditions and accommodation at that time.   You can visit some of the local homes and at Fay’s (the owners charge around $2.50/£1 to view so nice little earner) we are greeted by Tam the dog carrying a plaque saying "Welcome Friends". This is one of the more impressive homes and dug out over 30 years ago by 3 ladies.  The rock has been hand carved to fit pieces of furniture in and it even has it’s own swimming pool.  Crocodile Harry’s is 4km out of town in the desert and was used in Mad Max.  Harry an old German sculpture and painter has made statues as he has carved out his home.  He’s a bit of a ladies man so many of the statues have big boobies.  It is huge cavern as he is still mining for opals which in turn creates more living space which he rents out as rooms.   There is also a race course and desert golf course here and it looks strange to see the golf buggy sailing through the dust.  The Breakaways just North of the town used to be part of the Flinders Ranges but separated and now stand out in the flat desert as huge solid dunes with remarkable colours running through them.  We are told they look best at sunset and sunrise and as we chat to fellow motorhomers Craig and Sam with daughter Darcy (10 months) decide to all stay here overnight.  They are from Victoria and have previously travelled world-wide and can’t settle.  Now attempting to tour Australia in their small van (a little bigger than a VW) and find work along the way whilst hunting for the ideal place to settle.  The sunset is pretty good and afterwards we move down into the valley and light a fire.  They are seriously into camp fire cooking (partly through lack of space) and we share a curry followed by home-made muesli biscuits.
NR COOBER PEDY, BREAKAWAYS
Wednesday 26 May  Heading further north we see lots of wedge tail eagles feasting on the road kill.  We have been warned that if you get a lot of eagles on a kangaroo they can take off with them and have been known to drop their meal on vehicles!  Keep passing the same motorhomes and caravans and stop for lunch behind a couple we had previously met in Nuriootpa who turn out to be Geoff and Mavis Marsh from near Perth but originally Cheshire.  Stop for lunch and hopefully sunbathing under the clear blue skies but the flies alter our plans.  4.00pm we cross into the NORTHERN TERRITORY which feels a bit like entering a new country.  Different terrain with lots of rocks at the side of the road, different signs, different road surface but the same bloody flies.  Fuel prices are creeping up and we pay 94.5c (38p) litre in Kulgera.  Now level and about 100km West of the exact centre of Australia.  Park up in the scrub behind a truck stop having covered over 450km today and only gone through 3 named "towns" which were really just roadhouses.  It’s a big country.
JUST OVER BORDER INTO NT
Thursday 27 May  Enjoy a bit of a lie in and don’t hit the road until nearly 10.00am.  The leisure battery level is still showing low which suggests a charging problem (are we jinxed with battery problems or what?).  Stop for coffee when we meet up with Geoff and Mavis yet again.  They give us their address in Rockingham and say we must visit when we get back to Perth.  Arrive in Alice Springs at 2.00pm to 30C temperatures, clear skies and no flies – brilliant.  It’s a much bigger and more modern city than we had expected with many shopping malls and pedestrian only shopping areas.  One supermarket has just re opened and they are handing out free hot dogs which make a good snack for us.  Dash to the Post Office but as we have arrived a week ahead of schedule there are no letters for us.   It’s a real backpackers town with hostels, trip offers and food deals in abundance.  Our contacts here are Rosemary and Peter whom we met at Haslam in March but they are both out at work.  Start a bit of sightseeing at the Alice Springs which the town was named after.  A lovely spot with grassy picnic areas surround the Spring which is only spoilt by the non existence of water.  Anzac Hill is a good lookout and we take the opportunity to watch the sunset from here.  The phone is live again and we receive a very welcome call from Claire.  At Peter and Rosemary’s they make us very welcome and suggest we park in the next street at their daughter Diane’s where she has a large flat garden.  As fellow travellers they know we appreciate the offer of a shower before they lead us to Dianes.  She’s a single Mum with a 9 year old son and really friendly and helpful.  She sets us up with an electric supply and says we can stay as long as we want.
ALICE SPRINGS
        
Friday 28 May  At the backpackers hostel we book the Spinifex hot air balloon trip for tomorrow.  They discount trip prices and offer it at $128 (£52).  Rosemary has told us the best places to go for things so we get diesel at 80c and information on a good garage to check out the battery problem.  The mechanic thinks the new battery was too low to hold the charge and suggest leaving the electric charger on for a few days.  The tyre garage in the next street is giving free steak sandwiches to passers by so we detour past it to pick up our lunch.  I get may hair cut for the first time since leaving England before we return to sit in the garden and sunbathe.  Peter and Rosemary come round for a chat in the evening and we arrange to go out with them in the 4wd on their days off but to go off on our own for a few days in between.
ALICE SPRINGS 2
Saturday 29 May  The mini bus collects us at 5.20am and we head South out of town to join the other 2 tour buses.  Keep stopping to send up helium filled party balloons as a way of checking wind direction.  It gets even more high tech when they throw soil up into the vehicle lights as well.  They finally decided where to launch the balloons and it becomes participation time for us all in unloading the basket and opening out the balloon.  It’s still dark but the plan is for us to see the sunrise from the air.  Take off very smoothly at 7.00am with 12 people in each of the two balloons.  Apart from the roaring as the gas heats the air everything is very quiet.  It’s difficult to tell how fast you are travelling as you don’t feel any wind on your face.  Travel over the outback and see the sun rise over the Macdonnell ranges.  Our direction changes with the different heights which range from just skimming tree tops to 1500 feet.   At 8.00am we take up landing position and after 3 small bumps we come to a halt.  The support vehicles are with us in minutes and the task of putting the balloon away begins.  The canopy has to be rolled up and the job is nearly finished when one man spots that his watch is missing and must be inside the materiel! The whole thing has to be undone but no watch is found.   Drive in convoy to Chateau Hornsby Winery where we are greeted with champagne.  It’s genuine 12.5% champagne with pictures af the balloon flight on the front label.  However the back label reads – Bush Champagne.  This champagne was originally called all "piss and hot air".  The name was changed after numerous complaints from politicians.  In the early pioneering days of frontier Australia, luxuries such as cold alcoholic beverages were very scarce, so the ingenious substitute of bush champagne was devised.  The magic ingredients were a glass of methylated spirits and a spoonful of sal vital.  You were really pampering yourself, if you could organise cold methylated spirits.  An interesting variation known as "bagmans flush" was also introduced.  The ingredients being methylated spirits and beetroot juice".  Sniff and double check the colour of ours before drinking.   A sumptuous breakfast follows which includes cheese filled croissants, fresh fruit, chocolate cake and even more champagne.  A couple of people have birthdays so we all sing to them.  It really is a special sort of decadent trip that’s great for celebrating a special occasion and excellent value for money.  Arrive back at the van at 10.00am and fit in a couple of hours dozing before setting off to the race course.  $5 (£2) each admission and we have allowed ourselves $5 (£2) each for each of the four races as bets.  The races don’t start until 2.15pm but we park up and enjoy sitting on the grass.  A horse called Charlie is running in the first race and I impulsively put the whole of my $20 betting money on him.  Not my day as he doesn’t even get a placing.  Notice in the programme that you put you name on loosing betting slips and post them in a barrel for a chance to win a $40 meal voucher.  Steve’s 3 slips join mine but at least he has one small win.  Chat to a retired American who have just arrived and want to know about the races.  They then have a win with their first bet.  Walter and Barbara have walked here so we offer them a lift back to town.  After the final race the losers draw is made and Steve’s ticket comes out so we just about break even.   Walter asks us to join them for a beer in town so it is after 6.00pm when we finally get home.  At 7.30pm Peter and Rosemary pick us up for a visit to meet their son Peter and daughter in law Andy before going to the casino.  We both have bad luck on the roulette, table horse racing and pokies machines but Steve goes back to put his last $1 in the horse racing and backs an outsider which wins.  Once again we have broken even but had a good few hours fun in the process.  Pity there wasn’t a draw to repay the cost of the balloon flight.    
ALICE SPRINGS 3
Sunday 30 May  Enjoy a lie in followed by some sunbathing.  Rosemary finishes work at the hospital at 2.00pm.  We go out into the bush using their 4wd.  First stop if for a walking trail where we see aboriginal rock carvings next to the dried up clay pan where they used to camp.  Further along the red dusty track are building recently used as a film set.  "Drovers boy" was filmed in this area and the set remains.  Wander round and into the general store/bar which is completed building and then the land/stock agents which is just a shell and has trees growing inside.  This particular spot looks like something out of the old westerrns with lots of rocky hills surrounding the dry scrub area.  The family who owns the land asked for the set to be left and they now run tours out here,  do evening meals and camping under the stars.   Back to Peter and Rosemary’s for a meal of quiche which she made yesterday.  A drop of red wine goes well with the meal followed by a  taste of home maide "Baileys".  Shortly after my throat starts to feel very sore and I have trouble swallowing.  Shortly after this I have to do a Flo Jo to the bathroom to rech the toilet in time to be sick.  My epiglotis in enormous and I feel quite strange.  Everyone else is fine so not sure what’s the matter with me.  Peter starts work at the hotel at 10.00pm so Rosemary drops us off en route.  At 11.00pm I am sick again followed by a visit to the toilet (good job it wasn’t simultaneous).  Gargle with ti tree oil and settle down to try and sleep.
ALICE SPRINGS 4
Monday 31 May  Sleep on and off. I don’t feel sick anymore but  have the feeling of something wedged in my throat.  Call at the chemists and pick up something to gargle with.  Head out into the West Macdonnell ranges and first stop is Standley Chasm.  At noon the narrow deep chasm is filled with daylight for a short time and amid laods of other tourists our camera clicks away.  Ellery Big Hole further west has a sandy beach with a water hole but the water is freezing. Take the 3km Dolomite walking trail which highlights the very strange geology in this area.  I return exhausted and have a sleep, wake up for tea and then go to bed at 7.30pm.  Feel OK as my throat is much better but Steve thinks I may be getting flu – hope not. 
WEST MACDONNELL RANGES, ELLERY BIG HOLE    
 
              
 
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