Saturday, August 26, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 7

Distance traveled = 2270 km

Week 7 dawned to our chilliest morning of our trip, our swags had a good coating of frost while the car temperature registered 1deg at 7am…. Thankfully the sun soon provided some warmth and we could slowly pack away our ice covered camping gear. After grabbing a few more pics of the Farina ruins we were soon on the road. It was a short drive into Lyndhurst where we fueled up and some phone reception minded us civilisation was looming before heading out along the Strzelecki track. We found the track to be in remarkably good condition which allowed us to chug along at a good pace. We made a few stops at various icons which included the “dog fence” and a “thermal bore” however the track offered little else to see and by early afternoon we were driving past our intended overnight spot so we pushed on towards Innamincka. The oil n gas fields of Moomba rose as an oasis on the horizon. We stopped for a brief look and were surprised to get full phone reception at such a remote location, continuing further north we finally arrived in Innamincka. We had a quick look around town before heading to the common area for a lovely night by the creek under the stars.
Innamincka Trading Post and pub

Montacollina thermal bore
Sunday dawned well before sunrise as the local feathered fauna providing us with a beautiful chorus of early morning squawks and chirps. With such an early start, we were packed up and over at the pub in time for breakfast... All too soon we were back on the road and retracing our trek back down the Strzelecki track. A few kilometres south of Moomba we turned off towards Cameron Corner (NSW/SA/QLD border). The track into the corner was windy and narrow with plenty of rolling sand dunes that made the trip feel like a ride at Luna Park. Getting out at the corner, the first notable change was the drop in temperature which ensured a frantic dash for warm clothes. After the obligatory photos with us in 3 states we had a warm corner meal before pushing east into Tibooburra for our first night back in NSW since leaving home. There was no respite to the chilly conditions which reminded us "it was still winter" even though we’d been living in t-shirt, shorts n thongs for the past 6 weeks….. With it being one our group’s last night before heading home we enjoyed a night filled with plenty of nostalgia and some bush cooked brownies.

Just after breakfast on Monday we bid farewell to Mike (captain Gyro) as he headed for home, for the remaining families we had a quick look around town before heading south towards Broken Hill. Strong winds buffeted our progress all day which made getting out of the car unpleasant but we stopped at the historic town of Milparinka and the Packsaddle Roadhouse, the latter being known in SES circles as one of NSW’s remotest SES Units…. By mid-afternoon we’d made it to Broken Hill where a quick stop for some much-needed supplies were obtained before we decided to head out to the historic town of Silverton for a few nights. Checking in at Penrose Park the kids fell in love with the place as they went off feeding the array of animals and playing on the yesteryear playground equipment while the oldies enjoyed another well-earned ‘happy hour’. Our night concluded with another campfire under cold skies.
Tool tree

Domestic chores and minor maintenance on the car filled our Tuesday morning, we’d developed an infrequent noise in the front of the car which couldn’t be pinpointed but after tightening and checking a few bolts/bearings etc we hoped had been fixed. Mid-morning we headed out to a few attractions around Broken Hill. Pro Hart’s home/gallery, the Line of Lode Miner memorial and the “big picture” to name a few. By mid-afternoon we were back at Silverton for a look around, the art galleries seemingly out-numbered the tourists so we didn’t stay for long. Another stop was the Mundi Mundi lookout, where it’s said you can see the curvature of the earth’s surface (clearly whoever said that has better eyes than us). Once back at our campsite R&R consumed the rest of our Tuesday.

Wednesday was moving day but little did we know that we wouldn’t get nearly as far as we’d planned. We fueled up in Broken Hill before heading towards Menindee Lakes, however by the time we arrived at the town of Menindee the noise in the front of √≥ur car had returned and was getting worse all the time. With too much distance and rough roads ahead we chose to return to Broken Hill where parts and support would/should have been more readily available. The trip back to B-Hill seemingly took forever as the noise had reduced our driving speed…. What could the noise/vibration be? my mind was in overload with various possibilities and Leonie frantically googled ideas that I’d throw her way. I finally narrowed the issue down to the independent live axle, dust and grime had chewed out an idler bearing..... Back in town my first port of call was the Holden dealer but they were as helpful as an umbrella in a cyclone so we tried a few other mechanics where an array of options were tossed our way. The least favoured being “our holiday could be over as parts could take a week to arrive from Melbourne”. Thankfully option 74 sounded the simplest temporary fix – install an aftermarket free-wheeling hub kit which thankfully one mechanic had on the shelf. Some 3 hours later we were on the road again and heading south towards Mildura. However, with light fading fast and the wildlife coming out to play we decided to just head out of town for a roadside rest area for the night, but not before we played “chicken” with the many kangaroos, goats, sheep, cows, rabbits and an echidna that wanted to walk the lonely road…. By 8.30pm on what was a very exhaustive day we were tucked in our swags hoping never to repeat the days’ events again.

Murray & Darling Rivers
Thursday started with another icy frost and temps hovering around zero. Our overnight roadside camp had been relatively quiet with minimal vehicles stopping throughout the night, we were soon packed up and on our way towards Mildura. The car hassles of yesterday seemed a distant memory with no apparent impact on our current driving. An hour down the road we’d arrived in the town of Wentworth, which is where the Murray and Darling rivers join. We took a bit of time to look around witnessing the art of “river locks” before continuing onto “Orange World”, this had been a favourite with us on our last trip so it was a lot of fun to return where we enjoyed a laugh with the host Mario and Maria. By mid-afternoon we’d crossed into Victoria completing a small feat of visiting every mainland state within 8 weeks. Taking time out we checked out the luxury houseboats which dock along the river, at one point we had a tour on one of the luxurious boats on the assumption we’d be making a booking down the track – yeah right!........ The remainder of our day / evening was spent relaxing around the van park, getting regular updates on the NRL as the Eels smashed the Broncos.

Friday saw us on the move once again but not before another chilly start to our day. Winter in a swag in Victoria was becoming a struggle, our warm nights of WA seemed so far ago…. Changing our driving plans, we continued further up the Murray River towards Swan Hill, the following 2-hour drive weaved its way along the side of the river offering picturesque views of the river and surrounding Mallee. Just after lunch we’d setup in Swan Hill, our campsite adjacent to the jumping pillow and playground was perfect for all the kids which in turn was perfect for us as we didn’t see the kids again for hours. Late in the day we headed out to do a bit of sightseeing of the area. Our night saw temperatures drop to chilly levels forcing us to spend the evening in the TV room watching Friday night footy….. dam shame!

Week 7 on the road had been somewhat of a challenge, car troubles and chilly nights.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 6

Distance traveled = 2245km

Week 6 started with us pushing further south, our overnight stay at Banka Banka had been a lot of fun for the kids with them feeding and patting a lot of unusual animals. Once on the road we only had a relatively short distance till we were in Tennant Creek, here we were able to grab a few supplies and refuel before heading further south to Devil’s Marbles. Our early arrival allowed us the luxury of a relaxing afternoon around the campsite. The kids enjoyed spending most of their time exploring the huge rocks while the adults waited for the setting sun before going out to explore the amazing colours of the rocks. With the amazing colours fading into the darkness we had a lovely night toasting marsh mellows by the fire.

Sunday saw many of our group having different plans for the coming days, some were heading to Uluru while others were going to Chambers Pillar while we’d planned to have a couple of days in Alice with friends. Saying our goodbyes, fate would soon have us reunited on the side of the road 100km down the road. The sidewall of a tyre had de-laminated on one of team’s vehicles, thankfully the highway emergency hadn’t been too serious and we were able to change the tyre and have them back on the road pretty quickly…. Continuing south, it was another 5 hours of driving at NT speed limits before we arrived in Alice Springs. We checked in at the park where we’d previously stayed before heading out to grab a few things which included a visit to the ice-creamery. The remainder of our day was spent chilling around the campsite.

Monday started at a leisurely pace around the van park as we caught up on domestic chores before an impromptu text message had me jumping with joy. 30min later I was sitting in the co-pilots seat of a plane as we headed to the remote aboriginal community of ‘Ernabella’ in SA where we needed to do a patient transfer. The 50min each way flight provided spectacular views over the countless mountain ranges that litter the area around Alice. However, all too quickly we’d returned to Alice Springs but the smile and buzz I was feeling lasted all day…… Back with the family we headed out for some more sightseeing to finish our day. To conclude our time in Alice we enjoyed catching up with friends over a lovely chinese feast.

Tuesday was one of our biggest days on the road. We made the mistake of not getting away as early as we’d hoped, this was compounded by an ongoing headed wind that buffeted us for the whole day. By late morning we’d passed the turn-off to Uluru but there was still many miles ahead for us. The countryside offered little to keep the kids amused but they took the opportunity to catch up on school work while Leonie and I shared the driving. We had lunch literally on the SA/NT border, the kids took great delight in jumping from one state to the other, but with the temp nudging 34deg we needed to be back in the car and enjoying the air-conditioning. The towns slowly come and went, throughout the day we’d managed to tick up 10000km and 5 states in a little over 5 weeks of traveling. As the time, neared 6pm we finally arrived in Coober Pedy but typically of our lifestyle we didn’t stop to relax, the van park doubled as an underground Opal mine and the daily tour was about to start. Downing a quick dinner, we were able to join the very informative tour which explained the history of Opal mining in Coober Pedy….. Surprisingly, upon returning above ground a severe wind storm had moved in causing us to have uneasy night as the area was buffeted by severe winds.

Wednesday dawn with no sign of the previous nights’ howling winds. All of our group were back together again and we set about sharing a day together around Coober Pedy. We checked out a number of the speciality opal shops and a number of the local tourist attractions, we even tried our hand at noodling in an attempt to strike it rich…. Needless to say we’re not giving up our daytime jobs. We did another underground tour highlighting the dug-outs which many of the locals live in. By late afternoon and with the sun setting we headed out to a place called the “Breakaways” which is renowned for its majestic orange, red and white soils that form mesa’s high above the ground. Returning to town we all enjoyed a meal at the local pizzeria before spoiling our kids with a nights’ accommodation in an underground motel. The novelty of such an experience was not lost on them as they got to have their own room and bed for the first time in 6 weeks.

Thursday saw us leaving Coober Pedy for another stint of dirt tracks, our first track being the Oodnadatta track but not before we checked out the ‘painted desert’ located in the Arckaringa Hills. Getting there proved difficult for us as we lost comms with our group at a critical point resulting us taking an alternate route to the others and thus giving the impression, we were lost. After some anxious moments and lengthy delays, we eventually were all back together. Pressing on towards Oodnadatta we were again flagged by tyre issues, one of group had another tyre de-laminate (their 2nd in a week). After another tyre change we finally reached the pink town of Oodnadatta. With a new tyre sorted we pressed on towards William Creek. The old Ghan railway hugs the Oodnadatta track and on many occasions, we stopped to look at various historical rail bridges and ruins…. With nightfall upon us we finally arrived at William Creek where we found a bush camp for the night. Our long day in the saddle and plummeting temperatures saw us all in bed fairly early.

Friday started with a bitter chill in the air, after packing up we had a gander round the one-horse town of William Creek where amazingly the aircraft outnumber the vehicles…. Back on the road our next stop was the thermal pool at ‘Coward Springs’. Many of us choosing to jump in the thermal waters even though the outside temperatures weren’t conducive to swimming. Further down the track we got our first glimpse of ‘Lake Eyre’. We’d soon stopped at a vantage point overlooking the vast salt lake…… It was at this point of the trip we bid farewell to two vehicles in our group as they need to return home for work. For the rest of us we continued along the Oodnadatta track to Marree where we marked the end of another dirt track experience…. Refuelled and with fresh supplies we pushed on to the historical town of Farina where we completed our 6th week of holiday travels around another campfire and clear skies.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 5

Distance traveled = 1372km

Week 5 started with a lazy morning around the van park, there was an ere of excitement amongst us as today we were off to the rodeo which for all of us was something outside the norm! We filled the morning with a walk to the local markets, some shopping and a bit of sightseeing. By mid-afternoon we were at the rodeo where the action was soon underway. Watching these people who culturally live a different lifestyle herding and working cattle was awe inspiring. Even the kids who do schooling, help around the farm and then learn riding and roping skills was a pleasure to watch. For 5 hrs we sat laughing with and at the riders and clowns who made the night a great spectacle. The ultimate buzz being a short period when Ethan and I sat on the fence watching the ‘open bull riding’ where 1 tonne animals tried to outwit their rider…… Needless to say the bull won more often than not!

Sunday saw us all going in different directions for the day, some went back out to El-Questro, one family headed to Katherine while we opted for a relatively relaxing day around the van park. We took the opportunity to catch up on some domestic duties before heading out to see some local sights. The Sandalwood factory was a big hit with the girls while the magnitude of Argyle diversion dam was an impressive sight. In a rare show of weakness I took to the car with a sponge and bucket washing away many of the great memories we’d accumulated….. Our night concluded with us going out for a belated chinese birthday dinner for Sam.
Monday was moving day and as luck would have it, it just happened to be one of our biggest days on the road. Our destination was Katherine (NT), some 510km eastward. The black top and white line proved a novelty for us after the countless days of dirt roads we’d done. The only exciting thing in our day being the WA/NT border crossing and the 1.5 hrs we lost in time difference. By days end we’d checked into the Manbulloo Homestead on the outskirts of Katherine. The ambience of the evening and live music ensured a mellow end to our days driving.

Tuesday saw us on the road again but not before the 1.5-hour time difference impacted on our sleep patterns resulting in us having a slower than normal start to the day…. Our first stop was the hot springs of Katherine where we swam and relaxed in the 33deg thermal waters. By chance we got chatting to a chap who happen to be the old SES Controller of Broadwater (it’s a small world we live in). After a few hours and with wrinkly skin setting in the urgency to be at our next destination finally got the better of us and we headed off. After grabbing a few supplies in Katherine, we heading to Edith Falls and our overnight destination. However, our promptness was our downfall and we were unable to secure camping spots for all of us as it was booked out. Instead we chose to have a refreshing swim at the falls before deciding to make a late afternoon dash south to Mataranka where we grabbed the remaining sites available. After a day of swimming and driving our night concluding early with a well-earned ‘happy hour’ and a few games of cards.

Wednesday started at a semi relaxed pace, the fact we’d made up a day in our schedule allowed us to have an easy day. We had to change campsites due to us needing a powered site, with this done we walked to the hot thermal springs (Bitter Springs) where we bathed in the crystal clear warm waters. The water current and pool noodles allowing us to float downstream for 100m. The most exhausting part of our morning swim was the short return walk to the head of the stream where we’d once again jump in the warm spring and do it all again…… By early afternoon our ‘not so’ hectic pace and temps in the mid 30’s ensured we all partook in an afternoon siesta. Feeling a little more refreshed we thought another swim in the hot springs was needed to sooth our bodies. So, with pool noodles in hand we joined the crowd of like-minded travellers who were all enjoying the hot springs…. Back at camp dinner was soon underway and a novel approach to making a cheesecake was unfolding, the need for cake beaters was quickly overcome by a makeshift egg whisk attached to a battery drill. Our day ended with a few beverages around the campsite.

Thursday started at a leisurely pace, it was time for another travelling birthday celebration. Jeanette was sharing her 30th birthday with us. The timing of the location couldn’t have been better – Mataranka with its hot thermal springs. We spent the morning around the camp before enjoying a swim at the springs just before lunch time. With the water temp nudging the same temp as the ambient temp there was little to no relief from our time in the water…. Once back at camp and with lunch consumed we set about designing our floating eskies for our afternoon ‘happy hour’ at the springs. Combining a pool noodle, a washing up tub and some cordage we had the perfect floating esky. The plan was to have birthday drinks while soaking in the hot springs. Armed with a bag of ice, beverages, biscuit n dip, chips and a few drinks for the kids we were set. 3 hours later and with all our beverages consumed we made a wobbly return to camp basking in the success of our floating eskies…… Our day was far from over, a group dinner party to celebrate Jeanette’s 30th birthday was just starting, we spent the remainder of the evening feasting, laughing and celebrating around the camp kitchen. Our night culminating with bush cooked cake and perfectly prepared cheesecake.

Friday was moving day, after 3 nights in the one place it was tough to get motivated to move on, but there was still so many great things to see. Once on the road we didn’t go too far before stopping at the other hot springs in Mataranka for a refreshing dip. From there we started south with our next stop being the comical Daly Water’s pub. This iconic pub is plastered with patrons’ memorabilia which ranges from business cards, flags, bra’s and countless historical items. We enjoyed a hearty oversized meal before continuing our journey southwards. A further 3 hours down the road had us arriving at Banka Banka station where we planned to spend the night. The roadside property caters to the travellers with cheap basic accommodation which suited us nicely. After setting up we enjoyed a few late afternoon beverages before having a lazy night socialising with fellow travellers.
With our 5th week of traveling done, why does it feel that holidays always go faster than when you’re at work?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 4

Distance traveled = 1178km

Week 4 (day 4 on the Gibb) started slowly at Manning Gorge, we soon realised that our fridge problems of a week earlier had returned. Some in depth diagnosing revealed that a 50-amp circuit breaker which allowed the 2nd battery to charge had broken, we think because of the corrugated roads. Thankfully one of our group had a spare and we were soon able to fix the problem. It’s amazing how a $20 part can quickly ruin your day….. We were soon on the road again and heading east, we detoured into Barnett Gorge where we stumbled upon a picturesque billabong. The warning sign at the water’s edge informed us that freshwater crocs were present but we forgot to tell the kids who were all keen for a swim. We threw caution to the wind and all jumped in for a refreshing swim. The lure to press on was greater than the urge to be bitten by a croc so we pushed on towards our overnight destination of Mt Elizabeth Station. This remote cattle station offered a great place to relax but there was no chance of us doing that, we headed off exploring. An hour later and some low range driving saw us finding a remote waterfall and a subsequent swimming hole. It was after dark by the time we’d returned to our camp, the remainder of the night was spent relaxing with the wildlife coming to visit us occasionally. 

Sunday (day 5 on the Gibb) started with us heading towards Drysdale Station, the dirt road had deteriorated to some serious corrugations which coupled with the dust made driving difficult at times. Our plan of getting as far north as possible was well on track as we made it to the remote Drysdale cattle Station by lunchtime, the remoteness of this place became clear when a plate of chips cost $10, a hamburger was $19 and diesel was $2.05/ltr. Due to the time of day we decided to push further north and make camp at King Edward River. As soon we’d setup and with the temp nudging 35deg we made a beeline for the river swimming hole for a refreshing swim. The remainder of the evening was spent mellowing around the campfire with thousands of stars watching over us. 

Monday (day 6 on the Gibb) for us dawned well before sunrise as we were off to Mitchell Falls for the day. Feedback from returning travellers suggested we should proceed with extreme caution as the track conditions were best described as “very poor” - they weren’t wrong! Our cars seemed to rattle themselves to pieces whether we went fast or slow, there was no let-up to the ongoing corrugated track, we even celebrated the first time we got the car into 4th gear. By 9am we’d finally made the 78km to the upper NW reaches of WA, however Mitchell Falls would be a further 2hr walk for us so we were keen to get going. The walk was demanding as temps once again pushed into the mid 30’s, but eventually we topped a rise and the grandness of this 4-tiered waterfall was there to be seen. We spent some time just admiring the beauty of such a place before heading down to the water for a refreshing swim. Our time at the falls quickly passed and it was soon time to return, for Sam however the thrill of a birthday joy flight over the falls was the icing on a nice day. The drive back to our campsite was as relentless as the outward trip with some of us sustaining damage to our vehicles….. Once back at King Edward River we all agreed the beauty of the falls was spectacular but at what cost? Our vehicles had been put through hell! 

Tuesday (day 7 on the Gibb) was Sam’s 14th birthday and moving day. We enjoyed a lazy morning treating Sam to a hearty dose of bacon n eggs and a number of presents we’d brought with us. The drive back to Drysdale Station started like any other drive but soon deteriorated to a day of vehicle mishaps. One vehicle sustained a puncture while another simply stopped dead on the track. With a number of bush mechanics amongst us we poured over the engine bay with no success, after a few hours in the boiling sun we decided to drag the vehicle 30km into Drysdale Station where we quickly decided to stay for the night. A $3k tow-truck fee from Kununurra wasn’t an option so we needed to fix our teams stricken vehicle. After plenty of fault finding the issue focused on the fuel system, specifically the fuel tank and pickup unit. With the sun setting our bush mechanic skills were put to the test as we removed the fuel tank in the Nissan Patrol. In between though we stopped to celebrate Sam’s birthday with everyone singing ‘happy birthday’ and feasting on chocolate cake and brownies cooked in the ‘weber’. Back to the repairs and it was found that the fuel pick-up and gauge system had sheared off within the tank causing the Nissan to stop. Finally, as the hours neared midnight we’d fabricated a makeshift fuel pick-up system that would see us all on the road again the following day. 

Wednesday (day 8 on the Gibb) dawned with a slight amount of trepidation, would our repairs be effective enough? There was still over 300km of driving on the Gibb River Rd to be done. Leaving Drysdale Station, we were soon heading East again and by lunchtime we’d reached the Ellenbrae Homestead where scones with jam and cream are served daily. Our bunch of dusty dirty travellers feasted on such a delicious meal so far from home. With reluctance, we had to leave the scones behind as we continued towards Home Valley Station but not before some further bone jarring conditions were encountered. As mid-afternoon approached we arrived at our nights stopover. HV8 (Home Valley Station) as it’s known to the locals had changed a bit since our visit 3 years earlier, it was no longer the sleepy hollow with many travellers now packing the campground. With us checked in for a few nights the kids were quickly in the pool while the adults enjoyed another round of ‘happy-hour’ drinks. As dusk fell many of our group enjoyed a meal and live music at the bar. There was no better way to relax after another long day of corrugated dusty roads. 

Thursday (day 9 on the Gibb) should have been somewhat of a sleep-in but those bloody crows and their early morning ‘faaark, faaark, faaark’ drove us insane so we had a somewhat early start to our lazy day….. We surprised the kids with a 30min horse ride around the cattle station which they both loved, Ethan now seems to like 1 horsepower better than motorised horsepower. By late morning we headed out for a sightseeing drive through the ranges which included a stop at El-Questro Station and a trip across the Pentacost River which looked magical with the backdrop of the sun on the Cockburn Ranges. By the time we returned to HV8, ‘happy hour’ was in full swing again so the kids migrated to the pool while we performed life guard duties with a beverage in hand… To my surprise the nights entertainment at the bar was ‘NRL’ on the big screen, this would be our first bit of NRL news in 4 weeks and it was made all the sweeter as the Eels punished the Dogs.

Friday (day 10 on the Gibb) was moving day. We’d heard whispers that a rodeo and camp draft event was being held in Kununurra so with everyone keen to take in the outback lifestyle we headed straight for Kununurra, but not before we encountered more problems with our 2nd battery and fridge again. It seems the Gibb wanted one last bite at trying to destroy our cars, this time our dual battery isolator gave up the ghost as it’d shaken itself to pieces. With another bit of quick bush mechanics complete we were on the road again. Our phones soon letting us know that some form of civilisation was just around the corner, but not all news is good news and sadly one of our group had received the sad news of a family pet passing….. Once in Kununurra we soon found the rodeo grounds where we delighted in watching the camp draft events with kids as young as 4 through to adults showing their wares in riding and steering cows through various gates…. As the day drew to an end we took the opportunity to restock our dwindling food supplies and enjoy a relaxing evening in the van park.

As week 4 came to an end, half of our ‘purposeful meander across oz’ is already complete. How time flies when you’re having fun.