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The Red Centre Way

Days on the Road 13

KLMS Travelled 4,103

Back on the tarmac we headed to Uluru – another long day at the wheel but realising that the next day was Anzac day, we were keen to attend the dawn service there. We’d never been to an Anzac dawn service and felt it was something we should do before we left Australia. We arrived late into the Uluru camp resort – have driven in the dark from Curtin Springs – this time  dodging the wild camels rather than Kamikaze roos – they reckon there’s around 30,000 wild camels living in the centre of Australia! The Uluru resort is just one huge complex catering for the masses whether you’re looking for exclusive suites or just a camping spot it’s smartly done and the facilities are great – considering it’s remote location we found the prices were pretty reasonable too.

Alarm call at 5am the next day for the Dawn Service – which could have done with being slightly later – as it was still dark when it finished! However, it was good to go and the service was very moving. In true Aussie style, the solemn remembrance service is swiftly followed by a day of celebration and Bundy was being served with coffees by 7am!! The 2UP tournaments started straightway, making the most of the only day you can play it in a pub (apart from Broken Hill, where they have a special license to allow you to play it all year round!)  Got to love the Aussie spirit for finding any opportunity to booze & gamble! The rest of the afternoon we went to the Olgas, another spectacular rock formation west of Uluru, before heading back to the big rock for sunset. Watching the sunset at Uluru is on most people’s bucket list, which means that you also have to share this special moment with hundreds of others! We went early to get a good spot, and once parked up, we climbed up onto the roof to watch the spectacular sunset show. Despite the hoards, it was amazing to see and we stayed later than most watching as the moon rose above Uluru. In fact it was so stunning, that we got up again at 5am the next day to go and watch the sunrise followed by a walk to the rock itself. I think we both underestimated what Uluru would be like and we both quite taken aback with just how stunning it all was, combined with the Aboriginal significance we both felt quite moved by our time there and would easily have spent longer there to simply sit back and take it all in.

Driving on towards Alice Springs, we took the loop road through Kings Canyon and into the East MacDonnell Ranges – stunning drive through the valley spotting lots of wild horses, roos and dingos, although the unsealed road was corrugated and slow going so we didn’t make it to our intended stop at Finke Gorge. Instead we took the upper road and camped the night at RedBank Gorge. Arriving after dark, isn’t ideal as you really have no idea where you are or what’s around you and as we set up the tent, we could hear the dingos howling and wasn’t long before we had a visitor. Having both recently seen an episode of ‘I shouldn’t have survived’ where a guy got mauled by a pack of dingos, we were thankful that this dingo hadn’t bought any of his buddies along! However, as soon as we’d gone to bed, the little bugger kept us awake with his running back and forth and at one point jumping up onto the bonnet of the car and standing on his hind legs looking at us through the tent window! I can’t believe that in a few months this could be lions and elephants running around our camp – not just 1 little dingo!!

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Oodnadatta Track & Lake Eyre – 3 TIMES!!

Days on the road – 10

Kilometres Travelled – 2,502

After spending an extra in Wilpena following the previous days walk, we left the Flinders Ranges at 5:30am. We were conscious that we had to push on to make up some time as we are unfortunately on a time schedule for this part of the trip. We must make Perth by the 25th of May to meet Sophie’s parents.

It had been raining since late the previous night and although not heavy it was wet enough to make packing up that bit harder as it was still dark. I am pleased to say that we definitely chose the correct tent. The heavy-duty canvass keeping us bone dry throughout the night. We drove out through the Edowie, Byneroo, Brachina and Parachilna Gorges. They were stunning. They were all formed over 550 million years ago and even the untrained eye could see the many contrast of rock and stone formations. The gorges made for an exciting if bumpy road out, the bumps vibrating the UHF antenna until it snapped in two.

We rejoined the main road at Parachilna and stopped for a morning coffee and shared a scone, all $14 dollars worth. The smart looking outback pub is located in the middle of a tiny town that feels like the middle of nowhere. The quiet surroundings were a stark contrast to the inside of the pub which also has a very upmarket restaurant that was serving breakfast to a smart Melbournian crowd that had been there the night before for a function, a 50th Birthday I think. The owners of the bar were busy working away serving guests. They had the rugged outback charm but were also dressed in the latest RM Williams gear fresh from the nearest outlet. The place is well worth a visit and I hear the evening food menu is great.

We pressed on North to Leigh Creek. This was going to be the last stop in pseudo civilisation before we ‘went remote’. With remoteness comes the increased cost of fuel and the lack of decent fresh food. With it being a Sunday the supermarket was closed the finest food the servo had to offer was meat pies and tins of garden peas. The cost of fuel was steadily heading upwards the nearer we got to the Oodnadatta track. All topped up on pies and gas off we went further north.

We later arrived at the start of the Oodnadatta track. The landscape had changed from the greenish rolling hills of the Flinders to the sandy arid flats. The Oodnadatta track proper starts at Marree. This was a major stop on the old Ghan railway, the small town had a caravan park, a derelict station, a few houses (in which about 60 people live) and one of the biggest pubs I have ever seen! Oh yes there is also a yacht club. The pub still functions as the centre for the town but you can only imagine how busy it was back in the height of the old Ghan Railway. The yacht club was also an interesting place in which we met the commodore of the club. He’s was a very friendly chap who told us all about the MYC. The nearest lake to the club is Lake Eyre, Australia biggest. The problem is that the lake only floods every 20 years and for the rest of the time it’s a dry salt pan. Just as interesting is that the members live Australia wide and they all converge on the area for one regatta a year. This is held at the nearest body of water that can be up to 800klms form the club.

Cooling off after a hard day at the wheel.

Cooling off after a hard day at the wheel.

After a look round we picked up some West End Draughts form the pub and headed up the track. About two hours in we passed Lake Eyre. An impressive sight as the might salt pans stretched into the desert. It had already been a long day but we decided to push on to Coward Springs campsite, one of only a few sites on the track. This site also held the promise of being a desert oasis as it has a thermal spring. We eventually arrived at the site in the mid evening. Just enough time for a dip in the springs and put the tent up before dark. West End Draft in had we made for the spa. The spa was about 2m x 2m and made out of old Ghan Railway sleepers. The spring water was pumped in through a massive pump so not quite the natural spring I was expecting but it was refreshing all the same. WE had an early dinner that night, I fiddled with some bits on the car and then we just after the sun went down we went to bed. It was all beginning to feel like a holiday after the manic start to the trip.

The next morning I was awake well before sunrise, as I have been for most of the trip. I like am settling into the routine of getting up, making tea and not having to go to work. We packed up in double quick time before the files and the soaring heat arrived as they had been arduous the day before. As the first files showed up and it climbed to 25°C at 8am we jumped into the car. Sophie turned the key; a faint click was heard from the engine and nothing. Sophie tried it again but to the same result. I popped the bonnet and asked her to do it again but to the same result. We had broken down, properly broken down this time in the middle of nowhere and the nearest one-horse-town being 185klms.

I went through all the possibilities in my mind. OK that battery is good – check, the car worked last night – check, the power was going to the starter – check (I could hear the solenoid throwing the starter into the flywheel), so it’s the starter motor. The corrugations from the day before must have  killed it. This seemed sensible enough answer even though the starter was only 3 month old. It must be a defective one. Luckily enough Sydney City Mitsubishi had provided me with a spare, this was a must have as the car being an automatic can’t be towed easily and can’t be bump started. With this in mind I told Sophie that I will change the starter motor and we will be off in no time.  I cracked on jacking the car up and got to work. Soph went to fetch help from the quickly disappearing campers that were all trying to get off before the heat and flies arrived.

Getting busy fixin,

Getting busy fixin,

Two great gents Mike & Steve came over and leant a hand. They agreed with me that it was probably the starter. It took a bit of time and fiddling around but I got the starter changed. By 11:30 we were good to go. The heat was not at about 36°C and the files were unbearable. I was not too bothered by them but the small crowed were covered head to toe. They were very patient waiting for me to finish. I dropped the car off the jack and jumped in to start it. Click – nothing. Bugger! This was not good. We were proper stuck. Mike and I decided that I would have to be towed to the nearest town, Marree, which was 200km away! This meant removing the driveshaft as automatics can’t be towed far. We would also have to stick to 50kmph. We tied Kylie to Mikes truck and set off vary slowly back to Marree. Being towed on a dessert track has its drawbacks. No air con, lots of dust and you get showered with stones form the car in front. Our windscreen copped a hammering and we managed to pick up three large chips and on 25cm crack. That will need replacing at some point!

The towing was slow but we eventually arrived back at Marree, a town which consists of a pub, a disused railway station and a Caravan Park. I tormented myself all the way with thoughts about how we were crazy to do this trip in such an old car. I even convinced myself at one point that the engine was ceased and this was the end of the trip. Dark times. We were exhausted the tow had taken 3.5 hours with lots of stops. I thanked mike and his wife Lynne for the tow and offered him a case of beers of his choice but they politely declined.

Soph and I got ourselves together had some lunch and I decided that I would have another go at fixing the car. The few ideas I had didn’t work first up. While working away I attracted the attention of Neville the park owner. He was a rugged chap, an ex stockman. He gave me so great tips and showed me how to test the starter by bridging the solenoid and motor connections. He also showed me how to rig up a hot wire to start the car if we had no luck. He was a very resourceful guy as you would have to be in a place like Marree. The only real mechanic in town was on holiday for a month.

Fixed at last after 15 hours!

Fixed at last after 15 hours!

Sophie had been feeling a bit helpless all day and decided to help any way she could and spent an hour studying the owner’s manual and the Haynes manual for the car. Hidden in the troubleshooting section she found a section about the wiring of a starter motor. These typically have two positive connections. One from the ignition (which we knew was working) and one from the battery directly. When she read this out loud it sent a flash bulb off in my mind. That hint mixed with the effects of a few cans of West End Draft and I had cracked it! The solenoid was working but the motor wasn’t. I’d found the problem, it was simply a faulty electrical connection that had come lose during all the corrugations, after some further investigations i found the culprit wire underneath the battery terminal connection. So I replaced the original starter motor, cleaned up and tightened all the connections to the battery and bingo – Kylie was working again! It had only taken 15hours, 200km of being towed across the desert and replacing the starter motor twice to finally realise that all it was, was a lose connection. Lesson learned – go for the easy fixes first!!

We celebrated with a few more West End Draughts and then headed to bed – exhausted. The next morning we were not up early. The previous day had taken it out of me. We packed up slowly and headed off up the Oodnadatta track and past Lake Eyre for the third time in three days!

The once mighty Ghan

The once mighty Ghan

The rest of the track went smoothly as we traced the route of the original Ghan Railway line. We didn’t quite make the whole track in one day and just after passing the famous Pink Road House at Oodnadatta we pull Kylie off the track and into the a small valley in the dessert mounds. This was to be our second ‘free’ camp. With camp set up and dinner cooked we relaxed and sat back to take in all the sounds and sights of the desert in a beautiful sunset. It was without a doubt the quietest place I have ever been. Our ears rang it was so quiet. The most peaceful place.

Bliss

Bliss

Broken Hill & Flinders Ranges

Days on the Road – 10

KLMS Travelled – 2,502

Broken hill is a fascinating outback mining town -silver and zinc were discovered here  back in the 1880’s and created decades of boom and bust cycles as people made and lost their fortunes. The conditions that the miners were made to work in were horrendous, hundreds lost their lives in accidents and so it’s no wonder that this became the birthplace of  Trade Unions, created to fight the large mining corporations for better conditions. Through their endeavors they finally introduced a 40hour working week. We took a walk up to the Miners Memorial, which commemorates over 800 miners who have lost their lives here – the most recent only being in 2007.  It’s a bleak view from the top, the years of mining have cut away the landscape – but it was this town that transformed Australia from being a sleepy outback country into a global mining powerhouse.

For all it’s ruggedness, Broken Hill still has a lot of charm – lots of old (for aus anyway!) buildings and mining artefacts to explore – so definitely worth a visit. From there we took a drive out of town and went to the Living Desert Sculptures – over 3 months, 7 guys lived up on the escarpment carving out beautiful sculptures in the sandstone.

We camped the night in Silverton – another tiny mining town just outside BH. Like so many places, the boom to bust cycle was so fast that by the time the towns had just started to establish themselves, they’d gone bust. The outback is full of ruined settlements that are less than a 100years old – something you just don’t see in the UK. Silverton is now best known for being the set of Mad Max 2 (amongst other films)- we had a mandatory beer in the pub there – the walls are filled with old movie memorabilia and photos of all the celebs that have been there. It really does feel very wild west out here and the wild roaming camels and emus also add to the feeling of remoteness – you have to wonder how anyone managed to live (continue to live) out here!!

From Silverton it was onto the Flinders Ranges – following advice from our friend Jason we took the back roads up to the mountains. It was a stunning drive – check out our tracker page for more details – and headed for Wilpena Pound. We posh camped in the ‘resort’ – which had nice facilities, but is full of annoying people and their big shiny caravans that are the size of houses – they put the satellite dish out, crack open a beer and put the telly on really loud – or in our neighbours case, still sit entranced watching ‘snow tv’ because the signal isn’t great!! I mean, what’s the point?? However, the ‘Pound’ is a great base for lots of walks through the Ranges. We were keen to get out and stretch our legs having been on the road solidly. We decided to head for St Marys Peak – 1120m – which is a fairly hard walk up to the summit – we were both still suffering the tail end of bad colds so the walk up wasn’t easy as it should have been. It took about 6hours and we were both completely buggered! But we made it and the views were well worth the slog! We’re realising now, that the overlanding lifestyle is already taking a toll on the fitness levels, which we’d been warned about, so i hope we keep managing to fit in time for walks/exercise. We would have  loved to have spent more time here and camped further up into the park. It’s an absolutely stunning area, but our itinerary through Australia is a fairly short one for the amount we’re covering – so it was onwards the next day.

Sadly during the night, my family contacted me to tell me that my Grandma had passed away – such sad news to hear when you’re so far from home. However, i know that this is where she’d want me to be, as she was always someone who made the most of every opportunity and enjoyed everything she did. I’m sorry that i can’t be with the family to say our final goodbyes, but i know she’ll understand! After-all,  in her strong Lincolnshire accent, she always said to me – ‘ Keep making the most of it duck, and keep enjoying life’.

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Rutherglen – Broken Hill

Days on the Road – 7

KLMS Travelled – 1936

Following the stressful start, we managed to get visas in Canberra and were soon on our way to Rutherglen for our friends wedding. Watching one of our closest friends get married in an idyllic vineyard setting was the perfect way to end our Sydney chapter and with all the goodbyes now finished we headed onto our first real stop of the trip – Tocumwal on the Murray River. We were so excited about our first stop that we failed to notice the slight juddering of the car and it wasn’t until we’d turned into the middle of the state forest before we realised something was wrong. On stopping we could smell petrol and as Rich got out to investigate we could hear running liquid….petrol. Only an hour into the trip we had our first ‘breakdown situation!!! With over 200l of fuel onboard, watching it pour out of the car was terrifying, had we punctured the fuel line already??? Fortunately Rich realised what it was pretty quickly, remembering that when we’d filled up the auxiliary tank pump had been left on which had continued to pump petrol through the pressurised  overflow system. Disaster averted,(apart from about $60 fuel on the floor) we continued  into Tocumwal forest to find a camp spot by the river.

LIFE LESSON#2 – Always turn off your pumps!!!

It was getting dark by this point, so dodging Kamikaze Kangaroos was quite a feat – but we found the perfect spot. We set up camp and like excited school kids got the hose out test out the water system. We pumped water out of the Murray River, then waited with baited breath to see what we would get out of the filter – pure water – amazing!!! It’s probably the only time we will be that excited about a cup of water – but after all the hard work – that water tasted sweeeeet!

First camp by the Murray River

First camp by the Murray River

The next day we headed up to Balranald to get final supplies before Mungo NP. The drive up to Mungo was our first real taste of remoteness. Having been in the city for the ‘nothingness’ was unsettling  to start with – (particularly for Soph, who is ‘connected 24/7) – there is no mobile/internet connection out here!  Mungo NP, is part of an ancient lake system which dried up 20,000 years ago and the huge rocky formations left behind as the lakes dried are called the Great Walls of China. We drove round the 70km loop, spotting our first big red kangaroos and dodging wild emus that ran alongside the car. We set up camp and enjoyed one of the most peaceful evenings i’ve had in a long time …well, apart from Rich setting his head on fire when trying to reset a gas bottle on the cooker! Can joke now, but at the time, watching your husbands head go up in flames is fairly alarming, particularly when your a long way from help! Fortunately, it was just the eyebrows and fringe that suffered!!

LIFE LESSON #3 – Never lean over a gas bottle, or anything flammable while trying to light it!

After Mungo NP, we headed North for Broken Hill. The trip on unpaved roads, gave us our first real taste of corrugations and what damage they can do! If it’s not bolted down – it’s coming off. We had a few minor causalities along the way – but . With plenty of stops to keep tightening everything up, we’ll be fine- good training for Africa!

We’re now camped in Broken Hill, for those who didn’t know the mining giant BHP started right here – Broken Hill Proprietary! It’s been our first chance to do some washing and access wi-fi so catching up on everything. We’ll have a day here before heading onto the Flinders Ranges.

Racing Kangaroos

The Great Walls of China - Mungo NP

The Great Walls of China – Mungo NP

Dirty - minus eyebrows and fringe!

Dirty – minus eyebrows and fringe!

And so we left Sydney

Days on the Road – 0

KLMS Travelled – 0

Thursday 1th April, 2013, we finally drove out of Sydney. After months of planning, we had both dreamt of this moment for a long time, but despite romantic visions of fanfares and high-fives, it wasn’t the triumphant occasion we’d imagined it to be. Having only finished full time work on the Friday prior, we’d left no time for final preparation/packing or unforeseen setbacks…and there were a few! We were both stressed and exhausted.

A trip to see Daniel at the Expedition Centre to help us fit a Pelican Box to the roof, also gave him a chance to fully check over our set up. Thank god he asked us about our water filter system, as what we thought would work –in fact did not and so needed Richard to completely rebuild it. Although frustrating at this point in time, it would have been a complete nightmare had we discovered this en-route! Ideally we wanted to be able to filter everything going into the water tank, but our amazing Doulton ceramic filter meant that not only were the bugs not getting through, but the water wasn’t going to go through it either, unless we got a much bigger pump. It took 3 days of trial and error and god knows how many trips to Mitre 10, but with some expert advice on hand, the mechanical engineer nailed the art of plumbing! (Our system now pumps straight into the tank and we filter out what we use).

With water up and running, there was only the remaining packing left to do – again easier said than done. Somehow we managed to find a place for most things, but we are packed in tightly! Am sure we will need to shed things as we go, as pretty sure we’re over the load capacity of the car. The last thing on our list before we left was to organise Tourist Visas for Aus. Now that we had both finished working, our 457 had also ended so we needed a holiday visa to cover us for the next few months. Again, something that we thought would be quick and simple, but proved to be a total nightmare. We tried to complete the application online, but were informed we had to go to the immigration office. We got up early on Thursday morning, headed to the immigration office in Sydney, only to be told that we had to have an appointment – there wasn’t one for 3 days!! Arrrgh Our only option would be to detour to Canberra – we’d read about the visa dramas you’ll face in Africa, but were not prepared for this! So following an exhausting and stressful few days prior to leaving, we drove up to McMahons point for the first ‘Landmark picture’ of the trip – the Harbour Bridge & the Opera House. It was a strange moment, having expected to either feel elated about starting the trip and emotional about leaving behind a place & people that we love so much – but by this point there was little left to give and we felt neither happy or sad. We just wanted to start the journey we’d been thinking about for so long.

LIFE LESSON #1 – No matter how much preparation and planning you do – there’s always an extra 10% you need to allow for!

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Our last drive across Sydney Harbour Bridge

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