Sunday, August 20, 2017

Alice Springs

We have spent the past week relaxing in Alice Springs, and several days after arriving we have fellow Bushtracker owners Narelle and Gordon who we met at Birdsville camped next to us at the caravan park.

The following photos were taken from Anzac Hill which overlooks Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges. The gap in the centre of the picture is Heavitree Gap and is the start of the East and West MacDonnel Ranges.

Our original plan was to head across The Gary Junction Road to Marble Bar which we did in 2007, but we have decided to do Great Central Road with Narelle and Gordon. We last crossed this way from Yulara to Laverton in Western Australia in September 2013. Total distance is 1050 km of dirt.

The Ngaanyatjarra aboriginal council here in Alice Springs issue any permits required to travel across aboriginal lands which also includes WA on the same day. 

Unbeknown to us the Henley-On-Todd River Regatta was being held on the weekend during our stay. Its a series of boat races held along the dry Todd River bed. This year was the 56th running of the regatta.

The vast majority of the events are team based but events like sand shovelling where men must fill a 44 gallon drum with sand, and the budgie smugglers run for men and women are individual events. The organisers estimate there will be well over 4000 attending. We purchased our tickets days beforehand from the information centre. We were in place at 10:30 to watch the parade with the actual races starting around 11:30 and finishing around 4 pm. The events are many and varied and include

These two guys are crossing the estimated 1100 sand dunes in the Simpson Desert to raise money for Beyond Blue. So we were more than happy to donate some money to such a worthy cause.

They have four support vehicles coming along and we were lucky enough to see inside of the smaller one. The owner said there wasn't much change out of half a million dollars. The other two are much larger so I'd hate to think just what they were worth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Alice via the Donauhue and Plenty Highways.

We spent our last night in Birdsville having drinks with fellow Bushtracker owners Narelle and Gordon and their travelling companions Desley and Rod.

We headed north towards Bedourie on quite good roads with just one stretch of 10 km that was very ordinary and consisted of very rough stones protruding through the surface. The remainder of the 185 km consisted of strips of bitumen and dirt.

Our cuppa this morning was at the site of the Carcory Homestead ruins. The homestead was built in 1877 by Hector and Norman Wilson. Years of drought and the loss of over 4000 bullocks led to the property being abondened by Sidney Kidman in 1906. Carcory is now part of Rosberth Station.

We stopped opposite the pub in Bedourie and had our lunch before pumping our tyres up for the remaining 190 km of bitumen to Boulia.

Our campsite tonight is on a tributary of the Georgina River about 60 km south of Boulia. Best of all we had the whole place to ourselves so we backed down as far as we could go without damaging the van. When we arrived at 3:15 the temperature was 31 degrees, so after setting up camp we enjoyed a cold beer sitting in the shade and staring at the water.

A little after 6.00 I lit the fire while we enjoyed a rum and several red wines. After dinner we sat outside to well after dark then ventured inside for a shower and a coffee with the vans temperature still at 20 degrees.

There was no need to run the diesel heater this morning with the vans temperature at 14 degrees. There was also no real rush to head off with just 60 km of bitumen to Boulia. All the important jobs were taken care of when we first arrived like fuel, water and changing our cassette.
Then it was off to the Min Min Centre to have coffee and cake at their café we visited ten years earlier. The coffee and cake were to celebrate my birthday so you can just imagine being told the café was now closed but we could get one from a machine in the next room.

So not to be deterred we headed across the road to a café that sold the most dreadful coffee and cake we have ever experienced.

Its now ten years since we drove west to east along the Plenty and Donohue Highways so we were surprised to be told at the information centre that the bitumen now extended to the border. Our campsite tonight was just above the dry bed of the Georgina River not far from Glenorminston Station and 123 km west of Boulia, so we were surprised to come across 18 km of dirt before we reached the river and we still had 141 km to the border.

We celebrated my birthday dinner with a lovely bottle of red wine and we enjoyed steak, eggs and onions cooked over the fire. What more could anyone wish for....

I asked a fellow camper who I had seen come from the direction of Alice Springs about remainder of the road to the border and he informed us the vast majority was dirt. So before leaving I reduced all our tyre pressures for what lay ahead. So much for getting correct information from a visitor centre.

We pulled in briefly at Tobermorey Station which lies just inside the territory border. They have a very nice camping area with beautiful green grass but I think $25 a night is a bit rich.

We have driven all the major dirt roads in Australia and this is our second crossing of the Plenty Highway but we have never experienced road conditions like we had today. The majority of the road from the border to our campsite on the banks of the dry Arthur River which totalled 163 km was very ordinary and very hard driving where it was impossible for me to see anything but the road surface. The majority of the surface had rocks of all sizes protruding through the surface with the added bonus of corrugations and bulldust holes. Our total trip for the day totalled 276 km and took us over seven hours to complete.

Our meal tonight was simple after such a harrowing day and we enjoyed ham, red onion and cheese jaffles cooked over the fire. It never ceases to amaze me how something so simple to make tastes so good.

Another cold morning where the diesel heater was turned on yet again. We left after 8:30 on our way to fill up at Jervois Station. Fuel was $1.89 Cpl and the property covers over one million acres and runs ten thousand head of cattle. Camping fees are much cheaper than Tobermorey at just $5,00 per night.

The road surface did improve although we did experience similar conditions to yesterday from time to time.

We called into Harts Range now know by its aboriginal name of Atitjera to ask about camping out past the racecourse. As we drove into the community everything was shut and then we realised it was Sunday with only limited trading hours.

I have always wanted to camp in the hills south of the racecourse. The site is known as the Spotted Tiger campground and is used by people fossicking for gemstones. So we headed off for 8 km on an extremely corrugated track where much of the time we were down to almost walking pace.
As we turned a corner we were confronted with an official aboriginal sign stating no entry and penalties apply.

After an eight point turn and feeling very disappointed we returned to the Plenty and continued on for another 32 km and camped in an old gravel pit which is visible from the road but more than 500 metres away so hopefully the evening will be quiet.

On our way to the pit we stopped and chatted to three Bushtrackers who where  heading east and then taking their time to reach Echuca for the Bushtracker muster in September.

We enjoyed lamb cutlets and vegetables and then sat outside while the fire died down before moving inside. At 3 am we had our first dingo encounter with one howling outside our van and then we could hear it drinking water from our shower bucket.

Our gravel pit was just 30 km east of Gemtree and we continued into Alice on single lane bitumen until the Stuart Highway intersection.

We are now camped at the Big 4 MacDonnell Range caravan park for the next six nights.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

South West Queensland Channel Country

A rather late start from Yaraka this morning. We stopped to fill our drinking tank and topped one of our non potable tanks before paying our camping fees at the hotel. $6.00 for two days camping is hard to believe. 

We were no entering the channel country. The first 36 km was a good dirt road with the conditions so good that we had no need to reduce our tyre pressures, mind you we weren't in a hurry so we sat comfortably under 60 km/h. The remainder of the trip as far as the Retreat property was 50 km of bitumen. We passed by Welford National Park where we have previously camped on the Barcoo River with its magnificent river red gums. Three quarters of the channel country lies in Queensland with the remaining spilling over into parts of South Australia and New South Wales. 

The major towns are Windorah and Birdsville and they are surrounded by arid floodplains of the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers and Cooper Creek. When the catchments of these rivers receive enough rainfall these floodplains flow into Lake Eyre.

Our drive today is less than 200 km and we are off to camp on the banks of Cooper Creek 12 km south east of Windorah. We enjoyed camping here in 2012 and have decided to spend the night here.

There were two choices at the intersection adjacent to the Retreat property. Take the better road or take the minor 55 km Hammond Downs road which was the shorter option. Of course we chose the shorter option which turned out to be a nice drive through two station properties, with cattle surrounding waterholes and great mobs of emus who would take to running in all directions as we appeared.

On arrival at Cooper Creek I parked on the main road and walked down to the spot we camped on our last visit but unfortunately there were several vans already parked with the best view of the creek so we headed into Windorah to empty our toilet cassette and then into town to purchase fuel at $1.57.9 cpl.

On our way back out to find a spot to camp we stopped briefly to chat with fellow BT owners Jeanette and Jeff who joined us later and camped nearby. After I started our fire they joined us for a drink before we were joined by another Bushtracker couple Maria and Bruce who had parked across the road from us.

Our new Easy Burn fire pit was christened this evening and we cooked our meal over the coals which consisted of fillet steak, onions, sweet potato and zucchini. We ate inside before adding more wood to the pit and sitting outside with another red wine before retiring.

A rather late start this morning after a load of washing and our farewells to Jeannette and Jeff and a toot from Maria and Bruce as they headed south towards Quilpie.

From Windorah we headed west on the Diamantina Development Road.
This road was single lane bitumen for 110 km before we turned south west onto the Birdsville Developmental Road. The bitumen ran out 10 km later so we stopped and reduced our tyre pressures before continuing on.

A couple also pulled up after driving from Birdsville this morning in a single axle supposed off-road van. He said the road was in a shocking condition but if I sat on 80 km/h I would be able to skip above the corrugations. Mind you his tyres were at 45 psi and he had already wrecked two tyres this morning. We also noted that his pipe fittings under the van were all broken and hanging free.

One of Jeff's mates drives trucks back and forth from Birdsville and he reported that the road was very rough and corrugated. Just our luck to find out that road crews would be working on the road prior to the Birdsville Races in early September but not for another week.

Well I must say his mates report was correct and the conditions for the first 100 km were not particularly nice and very ordinary. Apart from the corrugations the surface was strewn with rocks and the numerous floodway's being extra rough. 

Our plan was to camp at Deon's Lookout for the evening but the site is very exposed and the winds were almost cyclonic so we decided to leave and drive an extra 20 km and camp in the ghost town of Betoota.

Another cloud free day with 11 degrees inside the van this morning but the diesel heater soon had the temperature up to 18 degrees.  At 7:00 there was already a slight breeze as I stepped outside to take some photos so I was glad to return to the warmth. My eyes were watering from the cold so can only assume the temperature outside to be around 3 to 5 degrees.

We were totally surprised with the condition of the road for the next 40 km. It was more like a bitumen road and we sat comfortably on 70 km/h but the road soon changed and we were back to yesterdays conditions except the floodway's and corrugations were much worse.

We arrived in Birdsville just on midday and drove into the front of the hotel for a photo shoot before setting up camp several km south of town. There is another Bushtracker parked several hundred metres in front of us but the occupants are out for the day.

After setting up it was into the Birdsville Hotel for a beer before heading over to the Bakery where we both had another beer with our pies. Ros went for the chunky beef and I thoroughly enjoyed my camel pie.