We left Adelaide Saturday afternoon fully loaded and driving into an awfully strong head & cross wind that destroyed our fuel consumption and made for a noisy drive to Port Augusta. Set up in gale force winds but thankfully they dropped in the evening. Steve & Kathy arrived and found their camper fridge was on 8° so freezer contents were pretty soft. A bit of swapping around in various fridges sorted it out, not a great sign for the future but better to have it happen where it can be quickly repaired.
Sunday. The fridge had decided to cooperate and 4° was great so all food back into their Waeco and off we headed with the goal of overnighting at Cadney Park around 200km north of Coober Pedy. After the gale force winds of Saturday it was a windless run up the Stuart Hwy, dodging a few wobblies (all of which thankfully kept plenty of distance between themselves) allowing faster vehicles and trucks to pass safely. Wish there were more like them. Lunch at Bon Bon stop, a quick refuel at Coober Pedy and camp setup up by 1730 after a pretty boring but event-free day behind the wheel. The Discos and campers eat up the kilometres in comfort making for pretty relaxing bitumen driving.
Monday saw us travelling to Marla for a refuel as we’d heard stories of varying fuel quality at Kulgera so I didn’t want to take on a belly full of dodgy fuel. Lunch and a top-up at Kulgera, we aired down the tyres for the first of our dirt roads and tracks before heading towards Finke and our camp at Lambert Centre. Got there with plenty of daylight to set up the solar panels and had a quick sort out of a few things before settling down for the night. The road from Kulgera was an interesting mix of sand, corrugations that range from horrendous to tolerable, a number of surprisingly sharp washouts that created a few oops moments and, of course, lots and lots of dust. Tyre pressures played a vital role in keeping things safe and comfortable. Relaxing in our chairs after dinner we all saw a light coming towards us through the bushy trees, which surround the campsite. It looked for all the world like a person wearing a headlight lurching towards us so we turned out all the lights in case he was dangerous. However, when we stood up and looked again the light was in the sky and it was actually a star. We’re still not totally convinced because then we saw another wobbly red light in a different direction. Too scary for all of us so we went to bed and read our books!
Tuesday was a slow start with minor adjustments to tyre pressures all around and on the road by 0930 heading to Finke and Chambers Pillar. The track continued to provide the drivers with enough entertainment to keep them busy but the cars and campers took it all in their very capable strides. After passing through Finke the track took a turn for the more interesting. Lots more corrugations and quite long stretches of deep, soft sand made it feel more like a Simpson Desert crossing or driving the beaches of the Limestone Coast. We were actually selecting sand mode a lot of the time to maintain momentum while towing the campers and moderate the fuel consumption that was hitting 23 litres per 100 km or more on the instant fuel gauge a lot of the time. To add to the excitement there were many old railway spikes sprinkled along the track, which could do tyres a mischief if you run over one. Lunch and a refuel at Maryvale along with a Golden North Giant Twin to finish our break.
The track to Chambers pillar is very windy and dusty and it was a slow bumpy run out. It is interesting to drive up and over the range and see the pillar off in the distance and then watch it grow closer as you head to the campsites. However, the pillar pales into insignificance when compared with Goyder’s pillar. Unlike Goyder’s, some nice people have put stairs and a viewing platform so we were able to climb halfway up and see where some early explorers had etched their names and the date. Unfortunately others have had the same idea in more recent times!! Arrived around 1400 so setup the two 108-watt amorphous solar panels to keep the LifePO4 batteries topped up. We started today with them at 68% charge (the CPAP machine really draws them down) and they were 99% full on arrival so, as the ambient temperature was around 28° and the fridges were cycling frequently it was better to get them to 100% before bed. Rob leapt up at sunrise to take some photos of the pillar in the changing light. Two other cars had camped in the same area, two men in one, who joined Rob at the viewing platform, and a family with six kids, in the other.
Wednesday. We were on the road by about 0900 heading for Alice Springs. The road improved past Maryvale but there were still the ubiquitous railway spikes to dodge. Arriving at Alice was a shock to the system. We went in search of a shower; the Shell truck stop on the northern edge of town doesn’t offer showers to travellers now so we went into town to the council chambers. $5 well spent! Went to the supermarket, refuelled, aired up and a bit of other shopping and then set off for the Devil’s Marbles. The noise of civilisation was confronting and a good reason to leave but great to have a brief catch-up with Matty Wyatt at the ARB store to hear about his adventures and how the business is growing in this not-so-remote part of Oz. However, we left our run a bit late for the Marbles so pulled stumps at Ti Tree which had a nice little caravan park behind the roadhouse and only $25 a night! Didn’t want to go on to Barrow Creek!!
A big, boring bitumen transit day to the Longreach Waterhole just outside of Elliott. Nothing much to say really. Did the Barrow Creek pub and left unsure of our immediate health simply from stopping there, interesting! Lunch at the Devil’s Marbles and refuelled the D4 using the three jerry cans we carried from Adelaide. No need for emergency fuel now until we depart Kununurra. The rest of the day was sightseeing from the car as we motored north. From Elliott, Steve led us along a dusty track until we finally came into a clearing and, lo and behold, a vast expanse of water. What a surprisingly pretty place albeit still water means lots and lots and lots of mosquitoes and every other bug known to man. Just turn on a headlight to eat your meal and you’re immediately surrounded by flying protein. We put up the new mosquito net over the bed for the first time. It was hot and much more humid than we’d felt so far which made things uncomfortable but, with a little fine-tuning, it will work. The folds were full of dead bugs in the morning which were thankfully on the outside but not bug-proof enough to read in bed! Some of us had a reasonable night’s sleep. The lagoon is teeming with birdlife; we set up the glamper near a young bird (which may have been a whistling kite by our bird book but don’t quote us on that) who wasn’t happy about us invading his territory so we let him be and he sneaked away. We could hear his mum calling him so hopefully he managed to find his way home. Someone invaded Kathy and Steve’s rubbish bag and found the chicken wings!
Friday. Cooler than when we arrived yesterday but still hot and humid although we’re getting used to it. Steve & Kathy’s Ulti fridge is on the blink again and a chassis bolt pulled through the fibreglass body creating a crack. This meant a change of plans with at least a couple of days required for these repairs. Mataranka and Katherine remain as planned but we will bypass Litchfield and head straight to Darwin. It is vital to get these annoyances fixed before the really rough part of the trip starts so we are not continually worrying about the fridge suddenly letting them down. Today was a bit of make and mend along with re-organising some of the packed items, as you do. Also set up the big awning for much needed shade along with the shower and porta-potti as we were a long way from the toilets. The ground was so hard it was impossible to put a shovel in. We laid the solar panels on the lovely grass around us and used the generator to see if some 240 volts may restart the stuffed fridge but we weren’t confident of another miracle. The screened dining dome purchased in Alice Springs was also set up to make dinner more comfortable; another thing for our Darwin shopping list. If it’s too hot inside we could sleep in it! As the second battery in the D4 ran flat we have decided to purchase a regulator for the solar panels so we can keep topping up that battery as well (something I should have done in Adelaide but ran out of time).
Saturday. A short dusty drive to the highway and north again to Mataranka which is a great place with a lot of history; Aboriginal, white explorers and WWII along with the cattle industry. We stayed at a nice park a short drive from Bitter Springs. Experience told us the other park a short walk from the springs has a much higher population of bugs and mozzies. Bitter Springs is a pretty section of crystal clear slowly flowing water which has been sensitively developed to allow visitors to enjoy it without damaging the environment. Pool noodles contribute greatly to the enjoyment.
Sunday. We visited the local markets, a great way to meet some of the local characters. Then we went out to the national park for a good look around, no swimming in the Roper River as the crocs had yet to be cleared out. The thermal pool at the Mataranka Resort which was developed in WWII by the soldiers for exclusive use of the officers which, I am sure, created some controversy. Their construction has certainly stood the test of time and is certainly the nicest pool of its kind to date. We did some pre-packing in order to get away quickly the next day as Darwin was the goal; another long day behind the wheel!
Some thoughts on issues we have found so far.
Following distance between wobblies
Sadly this issue has become quite a talking point as more and more caravans and campers hit the road for their big trip. The problem is best described as you are comfortably travelling at the speed limit when you come across a conga line of caravans all nose to tail and travelling at 90 km/h or thereabouts. They are not leaving space between each other to allow a car or truck to safely get around their mobile chicane. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with their speed, but travelling considerably slower than the posted speed limit (NT is 130kph) and trucks travel at 100kph means some attitude adjustment is required. The problem they create is one of high risk and utter frustration by their lack of consideration for other road users. Simply allowing a few hundred meters between each car and van would remove these situations and I doubt they risk getting lost as they move from one park to the next.
Packing it in and pulling it out
On a trip this long you take more of everything than you really need (including clothes). Generally this is not a problem for a few weeks on the road but for a longer trip a bit of planning each day can be a big help. For example, if you are having a BBQ dinner and the BBQ is buried under a pile of kit, take the time to make it more accessible for the evening when you pack your camper in the morning and/or the previous evening. If you have the luxury of a freezer remove tonight’s dinner in the morning to defrost in the car fridge during the day. This is simple stuff but not doing it can lead to frustration. One thing we were told was that by the time we get back to Adelaide in October we will be very well organised. Time will tell.
Despite our best endeavours things can and do go wrong so having fall-back options is always part of the larger planning that we always do. In some locations it will only be the satellite phone and credit card and in other situations, as we have experienced on this trip, some quick rejigging of the itinerary is the simplest and least stressful option. We stopped at Renner Springs yesterday and neither the fuel pump nor the eftpos machine were working so it shows that you can’t rely on all the luxuries we’re used to in the city. The woman working there wasn’t too phased so it’s probably a regular occurrence! Some other places we’ve stopped at wouldn’t take eftpos for food so it’s important to keep a bit of cash handy.