Monday, July 28, 2014

Week 3 – Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Mt Isa – Camooweal – Barkly Homestead – Devils Marbles – Alice Springs
Kilometres          3119 – 4673 km

As week 2 finished we were stranded out in the bush with a broken van. So bright n early on Monday I headed into Mount Isa in an attempt to repair the drum brake on the van. With a little luck and a lot of cash we ended up  with a new hub and drum which is pretty good for such an isolated town. After 150km and a lot of blood, sweat and tears we were on the road again and heading to Mount Isa and our trip was back on track. We chose to only spend 2 nights in Mount Isa as this kept our plans on track, get the washing up to date and take in a few of the local attractions. The “School of the Air” being the highlight of our time in Isa. The school teaches 160 students from prep through to year 10. We got to sit in on a year 6 lesson and got a greater appreciation of the remoteness some families are faced with. One family in particular live 250km from their front gate!
Running repairs for the van
Leaving Isa we drove to Camooweal, which is just inside the QLD/NT border. Here we visited a Drover’s Camp museum and learnt the dying art of cattle mustering. Its a trade that is all-but extinct due to road-trains and helicopter mustering. That night we headed out to a beautiful billabong and enjoyed a night under the stars. The serenity of the spot made it our best overnight location to date. The birdlife was amazing with brolgas, pelicans, ducks, eagles, finchs, budgies and kites all feasting on the billabong. To our surprise we witnessed some traditional people come to the billabong where they fished for a few hours catching their night’s dinner.
School of the Air - Teacher delivering a Year 6 lesson
WWII Underground Hospital
Our location on the billabong was too good to leave but we had to press on and we soon crossed the border into the Northern Territory. As with all our border crossings we stopped for the obligatory photos and time to reflect on the vast emptiness of this area. Back on the road and with some 300km to our nights destination we were amazed to come across 2 separate pushbike riders who were taking in the scenery at a much slower pace than us. By mid-afternoon we were setting up the van at the Barkly Homestead, this oasis for travellers swells each afternoon as people like us make it home for the night. A welcome sign greets everyone but it also reminds everyone that the prices are inflated as you are in the middle of nowhere. Here we paid $2.09 for fuel but with little option you just cop it on the chin. The weather was nice enough that the kids had a swim in the pool. We were pleasantly surprised to catch up with our friends Greg & Judy who were on the homeward stretch of their WA holiday. We shared plenty of stories and laughs over a few drinks that night.
Camped by a billabong
Kids on top of this roadtrain at Barkly Homestead
Pushing further west the next day we got to the end of the Barkly Hwy and then headed south down through Tennant Creek and onto the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) where we spent the night in a somewhat crowded campground. The marbles which weren’t what we expected, sit precariously atop one another are very impressive and the changing colours at sunset were a photographer’s paradise. We heard howling dingos throughout the night and by early morning we seen our 1st dingo. The overnight low temp of 16deg was very balmy.
Some of the Devils Marbles
The busy campground at Devils Marbles
On the road again, we had some 450km into Alice Springs which passed by easily. The roads were good and we stopped regularly for highway geocaches. At one of these stops we were surprised to learn that we were over 750m above sea level, hence the cold nights Alice Springs experiences. Once in town we quickly restocked on essential items before the shops shut for the weekend. We setup camp in one of the many van parks in town and enjoyed a relaxing night with modern facilities. We are constantly drawn to the amazing views of the MacDonnell Ranges which seeming butt right up to the edge of town.
Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges
The Todd River
As expected, Sunday Alice style is at a much slower pace and we took the opportunity to do the same. We took in the sights of the town from the ANZAC lookout. The kids struggled to grasp that the dry sandy parkland that snakes through town was actually the Todd River. We saw “The Ghan” which was in town and a few of the other sights. Late in the day we caught up with some old school friends who I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. We laughed and chatted about old times and digested what we’d done in recent years.
We finished week 3 by going out to dinner with a few local geocaching teams.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Week 2 - Purposeful Meandering Around Oz

Charleville – Longreach – Winton – Cloncurry
Kilometres          1715 - 3119 km

Our 2nd week started with a 6am start from Charleville, we had over 500km to cover on our 1st day plus a heap of sightseeing before we’d reach Longreach and a 3 night stay. Our early start meant that we saw a lot more wildlife. There were Kangaroos, sheep, wild pigs, donkeys, hares, echidnas, emus and heaps of wazza-roos littering the highway. Pushing north we were amazed by the transformation of the ever changing scenery. One minute we’d have limited views due to the heavily wooded eucalyptus forests, next it would be the barren harsh outback with nothing but flat paddocks. It was through these areas that we saw our first Boab tree, the kids reminded us that these are the upside down trees, apparently referencing a book they read at school. We stopped at Blackall where we visited a fully restored Wool Scouring facility with it’s own artesian bore…. We all thoroughly enjoyed this place.
Wool Scouring
We stopped at the “tree of knowledge” in Barcaldine (which had no effort on me) before arriving in Longreach late in the afternoon. The first thing you notice arriving in Longreach is the huge QANTAS 747 plane that sits beside the highway. Wow! We booked into a van park for 3 nights and quickly settled back into the “slow n steady” pace of nomadic travellers and “happy hour”.
Not what you expect to see in the outback
Our first full day in Longreach started slowly, we got a handle on the tourist attractions and planned our days accordingly. Heading into town for some essential items a funny story unfolded. We were shopping at one supermarket thinking that things were pretty dear, so we opted to try another supermarket, only to realise later there wasn’t any other choice. So we ate humble pie and paid the elevated prices which the locals pay daily. We completed our day by spending a few hours at the QANTAS Founders Museum where we learnt about the early beginnings of Australian aviation.
Stockman's Hall of Fame
This guy put on an amazing show
On our 2nd day in Longreach and we visited the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame where we walked through the displays before taking in the Outback Stockman’s Show. We were all in awe of the way the horse handler controlled the various animals beyond belief. It was here that we bumped into a work friend of Dave’s and after some small chat we organised to meet up for drinks later that afternoon. We met Murray and Leanne at our van park where we shared many a story of both our trips so far. It felt uncanny seeing friends from home over 2000km away.
Drinks with Murray and Leanne
 Our time in Longreach was soon over and we headed to Winton, along the way we stopped at the Australian Age of Dinosaur exhibit where we saw various dinosaur bones reportedly to be over 90 million years old. Once in Winton we saw Arno’s junk wall and the very popular musical fence which had all of us belting out a tune on the junk instruments. The home of Waltzing Matilda is supposed to originate from these parts and we took in some of its history. We spent a lovely night free camping down by a water lagoon. It was here that woke to see our coat-of-arms eating and drinking only metres from our van.
Part of Arno's Wall
Sam belting out a tune at the Music Fence
The dusty environment and rocky roads have impacted on everything we own, our clothes, our 4WD, the trailer connections and even Leonie’s pushbike has given us grief, but its all part of being on the road.
Capturing this harsh land
Our 1st wild Camel
 On Friday we stopped for a pub counter lunch at McKinlay. This one-horse town has no ordinary pub, it’s the “Walkabout Creek Pub” that was used in the Crocodile Dundee movie. Plenty of memorabilia adorns the walls but sadly Hogs was nowhere to be seen. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived in Cloncurry which is an outback mining town, we seen some of the biggest road-trains here, with most of them being 4 trailers long. That night we headed out of town to a place Murray and Leanne had recommended, Clem Walton Park which is on the banks of the Corrella Dam. We spent 2 relaxing nights here where the kids got to catch up on some school work and by night we were mesmerized by the campfire.  
Now thats a road train
On Sunday we packed up for the drive to Mount Isa only to see our day buckle before us. The drum brake and bearing on the van collapsed. The shock of the situation soon gave way to the realisation that we had to fix it as we were in the middle of nowhere, but breaking down in the bush on a Sunday isn’t a good thing as nothing opens in the country on a Sunday. So we unpacked the van again and got stuck into the repairs and spent another night camped in the bush.
Bush camping near Cloncurry
Week 2 didn’t finish the way we expected but the week was full of excitement and lots new adventure. Once again we been been blessed with fantastic weather for this time of year. The nights have still been cool but the days have been averaging 25-deg.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Week 1 - Purposeful Meandering Around Oz

Home – Dubbo – Bourke- Charleville
Kilometres          0 – 1715 km

It took us 5 years of planning and 3 years of saving but the day had finally come for us to head off on our trip around Oz. After a restless night’s sleep and with some friends on hand to bid us farewell, we left right on 10am. As we headed towards the Blue Mts we couldn’t grasp the concept of what lied ahead, driving over familiar roads and through towns that we often visit made it feel like any other trip out west for us, but after a long days drive we arrived in Dubbo for a 3 night stint. Our first night was dogged with errors. Our preferred caravan park was booked out, we had issues with our mains pressure water and to complete the trifecta our TV antenna chose now not to work.
Sam, Aj & Ethan at Mudgee
Dubbo reminded us of what winter’s supposed to be like with early morning temperatures plummeting to -2 deg before warming to balmy temps of 15deg. We spent our time in Dubbo adjusting to the lifestyle of “slow n steady”. We managed to repair our minor van hiccups in between a visit to the Old Dubbo Gaol, a dose of retail therapy for the girls and we squeezed in a visit with Aleesha-Jayne, our last for the next 6 months.
Kids at Old Dubbo Gaol
By Thursday we were on the road again, heading NW towards Bourke and into un-chartered waters as we’d never been north of Nyngan before this trip. A steady stream of highway caches kept all of us amused as we laughed and chuckled at each of the tiny one-horse towns along this section of the road. The caravan mirror flying off the car at 110km provided some much unwanted angst to what was a rather boring day on the road. By mid-afternoon we’d setup camp at the Bourke caravan park.
Crossley engine in Bourke
Keeping up the “slow n steady” pace we had a lazy morning around the van before heading out to see some of the local sites which included a ride on the paddleboat PV Jandra which cruises the Darling River, a visit to the Back O Bourke exhibition centre, the old wharf and an educational lesson for the kids on Fred Hollows as he’s buried at Bourke.
PV Jandra from Nth Bourke Bridge
 Another chilly night with subzero temperatures made us grateful of our powered site in Bourke, but as the first rays of Saturday dawned we soon thawed out and were packing up for another day on the road. We left Bourke via the old North Bourke bridge which is a spectacle to see and I’m sure would have been impressive fully operational in its day. The road north was flat and boring but we couldn’t believe the amount of road-kill which dots the highway. We learnt of a new animal which can be found in these parts, it’s called “Wassa-roo”. It comes in many shapes and forms but the most common is the pancake variety. All of which provide for the best fed Crows and Eagles you’ll ever see.
The big "Fella" at Cunnamulla
At the border crossing we stopped for the obligatory photo and the kids raced to see who’d be the first one to go interstate. Pressing on as we still had over 300km to travel we headed into Cunnamulla where we had lunch with the big “Fella”. By late afternoon we’d arrived at Charleville where opted for some bush camping at the Red Lizard. With a full moon providing the natural light we sat around our first fire toasting marshmallows.
Our setup at Charleville
Sunday dawned with a hearty dose of bacon n eggs and a lazy morning around the van. Our bush setting was very conducive to our relaxed approach. By late morning we headed into Charleville where we quickly realised that the country way of life means that nothing opens or happens on a Sunday in the country. After checking out some of the sights in town which included these crazy weather cannons we returned to the van for a lazy afternoon and another night by the fire.
Welcome to Charleville
Our first week on the road has gone very quickly. The weather, whilst being cold at night has been beautiful throughout the days.