Monday, April 26, 2010

West MacDonnell Ranges

Meneenie Loop, Crater, Redbank Gorge, Ormiston Gorge

Today we travelled through Aboriginal land on a terribly corrugated road – where many cars had lost tail lights due to the bumpiness. We walked through a comet crater– Gosse Bluff, saw the comet crater from a distance and met a swiss cyclist named ‘beat’ who was currently cycling throughout Australia (and had been for the last 2 years)
We then stopped into 2 amazing gorges – we weren’t expecting the beauty that we saw! Redbank Gorge was a short walk through a dry river bed so we were not expecting the waterhole at the end to be full. We were able to swim through the gorge (without any crocodiles) by ourselves and enjoy the tranquillity within the walls.
Ormiston Gorge was the next stop – another amazement! This is a permanent waterhole and is quite full at the moment due to the large amount of rain this year. We decided to camp two nights here to fully enjoy the surrounds.

Ormiston Gorge – swim and pound walk, Glen Helen Gorge swim

We headed off on the 7km pound walk around the gorge, expecting a few river crossings but not expecting our path to be cut off by a deep waterhole! Lucking out camera is waterproof so we were able to swim across the waterhole, getting shoes and clothes wet but camera safe and sound! The water is cool and clean with many fish and yabbies swimming about. We were again lucky to only come across a few people so it was a very peaceful experience!
After we hung up our wet clothes and sandshoes we headed off the Glen Helen Gorge prepared for a swim. We swam across the waterhole with our Swiss cyclist friend in order to see a rock formation called the ‘Organ Pipes’ – formation was disappointing but the swim was fantastic! As we hopped out a tour group came along and one Swiss girl saw a snake swimming in the water. Rather than scream or move away from it she picked it up by the tail and asked if it was dangerous, she picked it up and threw it a few times, laughing along!! Luckily it was only a baby and it ended up only being a legless lizard – crazy!

Serpentine Gorge, Ochre pits, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Standley Chasm, Simpsons Gap, Alice Springs

Sad to leave our campsite but the need for more adventure was on the cards so we headed off towards Alice Springs. Along the way we stopped into Serpentine Gorge – a tranquil gorge where no swimming is allowed due to some rare animals and plants being present in the area. The Ochre pits were another stop where Aboriginal people of the area used to gather their paint for different uses.
Soon after we arrive at Ellery Creek Big Hole with the intention of staying there the night but the campground was terrible and many people about (long weekend) so we swam through the gorge – about 200m long (Jamie did 3 laps – go Jamie)
We continued along the Larapinta highway, stopping in at Simpsons gap and then arrived in Alice Springs

Kings Canyon

Following the grey nomads in their large vans, we journeyed onto Kings Canyon. This gorge is amazing. We did the rim walk which involved a very steep ascent but magnificent views of the canyon and a swim in the ‘ Garden of Eden’. The place was absolutely amazing but I don’t know how they wore stilettos up here when filming Priscilla!
The night was spent in the campground in ‘Kings Canyon Resort’. We had a few beers, escaped the terrible ‘entertainment’ by the racist and old nomads ‘outback roadies’ and had some beers amongst the workers in the resort – all young, mostly foreign and drunk. We then retreated back to the tent only to find ourselves not alone but accompanied by two dingoes staking out the campground. The dingoes travelled stealthily through the campground checking out what food was lying around and then disappeared off into the distance. However, at about 2am they returned – in a bigger pack and began to howl and bark around the campground – not the best sounds to wake up to in the middle of the night especially when the howls are right next to your tent! This area is quite well known for the dingoes coming close to humans due to people leaving food out for an easy feed for them.

The painted desert & Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP

Driving through the Painted Desert.
The Painted desert is situated north of Coober Pedy and is quite similar to the ‘Breakaways’ in formation but gives off more colour and the range is longer. We spent quite a bit of time driving there, looking for fossils and enjoying the scenery before we headed off for a night in Marla.

Amazing Uluru!
We made it to the Ayers rock campground around lunch time and headed straight to Uluru after pitching the tent. The photos you have seen of Uluru do not show how huge this monolith is or how complex its walls are. We spent the afternoon walking around the northern face of the rock and in the cultural centre before watching the sunset – amazing colour changes.

Over the next two days we walked around the base of the rock (10km) and walked through Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas). Both these formations have huge cultural significance to the indigenous people who were really only effected by ‘white’ man in the 1940’s. Up until then only explorers had come through, named Ayres rock(Ernest Giles -1873) & The Olgas(Gossamer? -1872) but deemed the area to hard to get to and desolate so no one really bothered to come through until a dirt road was cleared. Up until the 80’s you could camp and drive right up to Uluru and walk over the top. Now the campground and resort are 24km away and climbing up the rock is discouraged. (35 people have died climbing the rock)

The area is beautiful and green, with small springs flowing in both areas. It is hard to imagine how big both formations are until you walk right next to them. We are also very lucky at the moment that it is not peak season so we often have had times next to Uluru or within Kata-Tjuta when all you can hear is the wind, the birds or the water. It is a very special place until the tour buses arrive!

We have also seen some local reptiles – a thorny devil (Vanessa swerved to avoid the poor creature and Jamie chased it off the road), a legless lizard, a dingo (no baby in its mouth) and many birds.

Happy underground in Coober Pedy


Coober Pedy was the next stop – another opal mining town (This town supplies 85% of the world’s opals) where everyone lives underground, was never cool in school but is happy underground.

We decided to camp underground this time and set up our mattresses in a camping space before we explored the town. Tourism here is either mine tours or opal shopping so we decided to have a look at the desert cave hotel, the underground Serbian orthodox church and the catholic church.

We then headed off towards the nearby rock formations called the ‘Breakaways’ this was a great find that we didn’t know existed until we were told by the underground camp accommodation. The Breakaways are rock formations dating back 80 million years and the photos don’t do them justice. Included are the moon plain and the dog formation (It is a sacred area for the local indigenous people who used the area to teach the young men the ways of the world before opal was discovered around the 1840’s.

Big John’s pizza was on the menu for dinner – coat of arms after an underground tour mine where we learnt how to use two sticks to find water or opal. Watch out, we can get rich now with the use of two copper rods….


Lake Eyre & William Creek

Knowing that the roads were still flooded we knew we wouldn’t be able to drive to or camp near Lake Eyre so we decided that the next best thing (maybe better) was to drive to William Creek – another town (only 3 ppl pop.) set up because of the Ghan railway and now exists because of its quirkiness and the small air field. We passed through the Dingo fence along the way – fence runs through QLD to WA to prevent dingoes travelling south into sheep country.

The flight over Lake Eyre was amazing. It is in flood at the moment and the hour we spent up in the air only took us to the south western corner (that’s how big it is) but it was spectacular to see the salt pan covered in water (only about half a metre deep) with bird life living around it. The area around the lake was very green and you could see where recent creeks had flooded and flowed into the lake. Part of this flight also took us over Anna Creek cattle station – the world’s biggest cattle station (about the size of Belgium) There will be lots of happy cows wondering around these parts for the next couple of months.

That evening was spent in William Creek Hotel, drinking some South Australian coopers, XXXX beer and talking to drunken people on tours and the locals (yes all 3 were present – 2 run the pub and the other owns the planes & pub). Vanessa happened to be wearing her Balmain Waterpolo t-shirt which has a logo on the front with wings (not sure why) and a drunk woman on the mail run tour came up to her and said how it was fantastic she was doing her pilot hours up here, ‘good thing to do for you young ones’. Vanessa just smiled and said ‘yes, it’s great’. The pub owners and plane owner were great to talk to – the pub has only just been taken over by them - 5 months ago. It would be a great place to own as it has a lot of history and character (every wall and ceiling in covered in hats, business cards, identification cards and photos of people who have travelled through)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Port Augusta, Eyre Peninsula & Woomera

We took off on Sunday morning back down south to Port Augusta as most roads leading to Lake Eyre were closed due to flooding and destroyed roads.
The rain was a blessing in disguise - we were arriving in Port Augusta when a light cam on in our car that told us something was wrong with the engine - nothing major in the end but it was Lucky we were in Port augusta to get it changed!
Since the car needed fixing we spent a few days along the Eyre Peninsula while we waited for the part to arrive
During our time on the Eyre Peninsula we cruised around the bay of Port Augusta – Spencer Gulf and saw Dolphins swimming near the coal power plant – how lovely. We also cruised up to where the Yorke & Eyre peninsula’s meet.
As our car needed repair we spent two days in Arno Bay and surrounds – sleepy fishing villages. We didn’t meet Old Gregg or the man that puts shells on everything but Jamie thought he saw a rocket and the pub made lovely fish cakes.
We drove back to Port Augusta on Wednesday morning, had the car fixed and then sped off to Woomera.

We were quite surprised by this town in the middle of nowhere. The main people who live here are involved in tourism, mining or military activities. Knowing this we thought it would be a quiet place with not a lot going for it except the missile park. (This park displayed replicas of missiles that were tested in the area since the 40’s and still done today for NASA and other military operations.)
We were wrong – this place has had a lot of money pumped into it, most probably for the army officers who would stay here for lengths of time but really – the greenest oval we have seen ever (grass greener than Sydney), an Olympic size swimming pool and….A 6 LANE BOWLING ALLEY. It was a proper bowling alley though you had to get your own shoes and only one lane was working properly – but hey it was fun!

Feral Feast

Day 13 – Sat 10th April
Blinman Pools – Back to Hawker – Parachilna
We awoke knowing we were going to have to back track due to most roads in the area being flooded so rather than worrying about our waylaid plans we headed off on a walk to see the ‘Blinman pools’ water holes that are usually filled all year round but we were lucky enough to see the whole creek in flood.
We then headed back to Blinman for another steak pie and a quandong pie.
We then decided to make our way to Parachilna for the night so we could re fuel on a ‘feral plate’ at the Prarie hotel.
Many hotels exist in this area because of the Ghan railway line that used to head through quite regularly picking up passengers as well as wheat from surrounding farms. This rail line ran from the late 18’s until 1980’s?? So there fore there are many abandoned towns and buildings along the road towards Alice Springs or Adelaide. The Prarie Hotel is one of those pubs that existed to serve the passengers getting off the train for a meal or for farmers in the surrounding properties. Rather than becoming a run down pub they have done it up and offer a fine dinging restaurant.
It is a pub that everyone should try to stop at not only to watch the coal train run by from Leigh Creek but also to try the Feral Plate.

This plate consisted of Emu, Kangaroo, Camel and goats cheese. To top ot all off Quandong pie was for dessert!

Escape from the Flinders!

Day 12 – Friday 9th April
This morning we are waiting for the Brachina East Gorge to subside, today is definitely a lay day (surfing competition speak for “do nothing” due to conditions), as you see last night at 2pm it began to rain & continued with heavier rain at 4pm. Around that time Vanessa awoke to claim that she heard water flowing in the previously bone dry gorge/creek bed, Jamie thought Vanessa was sleep walking/dreaming again. She was right.
By 8am the water flow was a raging torrent (& the rain has ceased) and we had decided that we would wait the waters out – there was no other choice!
However, some other campers has different ideas and we decided to follow them out around the mountain rather than stay another night just in case in rained again.
We came out of the Flinders at about 2pm – after coming across many four wheel drives that couldn’t pass through the rivers that were gushing through the gorges. We had to come out the scenic way and were surprised at the amount of cars that were still driving though – we found out that the park rangers hadn’t done their research and had told drivers that the roads were passable. (It wasn;t until the following day that they closed these roads for the next week!!)
We decided to head to Blinman – as per our original plan, with the hope to get through to Parachilna….
We arrived at Blinman for a delicious Steak and onion pie and Quandong icecream! YUM! We were told be the lady in the general store that the road to Angorachina/Parachilna had been closed so we started to work out what to do for the evening….until we had a chat to the Blinman publican who told us the roads were fine..
We decided to take his word for it and travelled on with the plan to stay at Angorachina and move onto Parachilna the following day.
It was a hairy drive – Large rocks were all over the road, some roads had crumbled by the side and deep rivets had formed due to heavier trucks driving through the mud. However, being the troopers we are we got through to Angorachina only to find we could go no further.
We were a bit upset by this news seeing as we had driven over all the rocks and rivets….and hoped the river would miraculous dry up over night but alas, it did not.

Check out the before and after shots of the creek!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Flinders Ranges

Day 8 – Easter Monday 5th April
Flinders Ranges
We didn’t have a long drive on this day so we took our time checking out towns we drove through – Orroroo & Hawker. These towns service the local pastoral and farming lands as well as the tourists who pass through the area.
20km West of Orroroo is the famous ‘Magnetic Hill. We followed the instructions to leave the car in neutral with no handbrake and wait for the forces of nature to pull your car miraculously up the hill. - BIG disappointment -, maybe our modern car has too much plastic. Anyhow seconds after Jamie thought about relieving himself next to the fake magnet he saw the police turned up & try the trick themselves. Obviously not much police work to do around here, we bet that they try this every day.
We arrived on a very rainy day in the Flinders – a strange sight at this time of year. They have had a lot of rain for summer so we are lucky to see the area so green and full of wildlife.
Flinders ranges National Park became a national park in the 80’s when the families that owned the farm land in the area gave it over. The land has been used by ‘white man’ since 1870 for wheat farming and sheep grazing, but was never successful due to unreliable rain. Wilpena Pound is the main centrepiece of this region – an amazing geological sight that every Australian should see! The shape of the pound (i.e. an enclosure) has been formed over millions of years( and still continues to do so) due to earth movements and changes in the climate.

Since the rain didn’t go away that afternoon and Vanessa again couldn’t remember the rules of backgammon, we drove to the Sacred Canyon – a sight that was a special area for the Aboriginal people of the area that contains etchings of life back then. It was a very spiritual place to be in as the rain sprinkled down.
That evening we were surrounded by drunk grey nomads who drank the afternoon away – quite a funny site.

Day 9 – Tuesday 6th April
Being awoken by locusts in your tent isn’t something that happens everyday but it was this morning due to the winds throughout the night and the shelter the tent provided for the lovely jumpy insects.
Thankfully the rain had subsided and we were able to take a 4-5hr hike/climb the mountain peak near our campsite – Rawnsley Bluff. However, being the intrepid explorers we are we decided to bush bash off the path for an extra 20-30mins and then rock climb up the mountain back onto the path that we left.
An amazing sight to see not only for the formations of the ranges but the contrasting colours – red and yellow rock, green and brown flora and red soil. The challenging hike also had a lookout of the Pound.
Afterward we headed to Wilpena (& resort), from where we hiked into the Pound to the old homestead, Pound lookout and a brush with fame – Spider Everett (an ex-AFL player) He was filming something for a caravan and camping show near the homestead (OK maybe more of a scratch than a brush with fame).

Day 10 – Wednesday 7th April
In the morning we went for another challenging 2hr hike from Wilpena up Mount Ohlssen to another lookout for a different aspect of the Pound from above.
From Wilpena we drove in to the core of the NP past Bunyeroo Gorge & on to the spectacular Brachina Gorge.
The NP is a sanctuary to the endangered yellow footed rock wallaby , being 1 of 2 main remaining areas (the other being Mutuwintji NP - they were hiding). The YFRW is an amazing creature & we were we lucky enough to see a fragile colony. In the photo you should be able to see at least 12 YFRW.
Wow, what a moment!!! They have such impressive colours & a surprisingly long tail.

Day 11 – Thursday 8th April
Camping at Brachina East Gorge again, next to a dry gorge
Wilkawillina Gorge walk – nice walk, a favourite area for YFRW (they were hiding again), saw plenty of Emus, plenty of fox footprints, a dead fox (a win for the NPs the “Bounceback Program” to rid the NP of feral animals & amazingly interesting rock formations.

Day 12 – Friday 9th April
This morning we are waiting for the Brachina East Gorge to subside, today is definitely a lay day (surfing competition speak for “do nothing” due to conditions), as you see last night at 2pm it began to rain & continued with heavier rain at 4pm. Around that time Vanessa awoke to claim that she heard water flowing in the previously bone dry gorge/creek bed, Jamie thought Vanessa was sleep walking/dreaming again. She was right.

By 8am the water flow was a raging torrent (& the rain has ceased).
We thought we would have to stay an extra night and watch the hero 4WDs take on the challenge & make mistakes first.
It is astonishing how quickly the conditions, landscape & therefore colours change in the Flinders.
HOWEVER.... we met some other campers who found a way out so we packed up and then....TBC

Broken Hill & Silverton

Day 6 – Easter Friday 2nd April
Back-to-the Future ( but not in a Delorean) to Broken Hill, it seemed like the whole town was fleeing the Menindee and checked into the caravan park that was inhabited by many grey nomads and their shiny vans. A historical car convention was to be held on Saturday & with the various older style architecture it felt like we’d gone back in time.
Not wanting to be over come by the greyness, we set up camp and then drove towards Silverton (aka Mad Max territory & Mundi Mundi Plains). Silverton was a mining area that was quite busy until the minerals boom at Broken Hill. It is now literally a town with a famous pub and that’s basically why tourist come into this area (and also camel rides) The pub is small but has starred in many movies (Wake in fright, Mad Max, Town Like Alice, The Craic, etc) and television commercials. The pub is full of photo memorabilia and good beer!
After our bevarage and pose by the mad max car, we wondered around Silverton, checking out the remaining old buildings and the famous quirky artist Peter Brown (better known for his cheeky Emus), as most of the town was systematically removed & over time replaced in Broken Hill.

That evening we headed to the Sculpture Symposium exhibit at sunset. This symposium was created in 1993 and consists of 12 sculptures created by different artists from all around the world. It was a picturesque way to view the sunset over Broken Hill and desert area.

We had a meal in the West Darling Hotel – a pub that hasn’t changed much since the 1890’s, a couple of the same locals too.

Day 7 – Saturday 3rd April
Broken Hill (Pro Hart, Geoscience Australia, the)
Broken Hill (also known as The Silver City) is a very interesting town in that it basically exists because of the silver mine. The Silver was discovered by Charles Rasp in 1883 and since then the mining company BHP has reaped the rewards of the lode that was underneath the ‘broken hill’. The town however realises the limits of this resource thus art is also a big industry.
We were amazed by the Pro Hart exhibition gallery – a must see for anyone who visits Broken Hill along with a few other local artists galleries, unfortunately a rather stout, loud & self congratulating lady bought Jamie’s favourite piece (that was for sale), although he realised that he didn’t have a spare $2,500 in anycase.
We also widened our geological knowledge by visiting the Geoscience museum.
We had some new tent neighbours that night, 3 men who were motorcycling throughout Australia. One of them used the word ‘grouse’ in a sentence – great to see the lingo is still alive in Australia.

Dinner was at the Democratic club – Broken Hill is the place where the big union movement was pushed and the 35 hour working week was put into place. Luckily they were showing the waratahs on the TV rather than AFL which is all we will probably see as we venture further west!

Day 7 – Easter Sunday 4th April
The Easter Bilby found its way to our tent and left two Chocolate Easter Bilby’s.
After felling all pious from hearing from Broken Hill’s Bishop, we left Broken Hill and soon crossed the border into South Australia. Silly Vanessa forgot that there were salad leaves in the fridge so the border man took them, he probably ate them for his lunch, but the jokes he made about Vanessa running along side the car to make up for the salad that she’ll miss went down like a lead balloon.
The Barrier Highway we drove on was parallel to the railway line so we saw many pubs that existed because of the train stops for surrounding farm land and old railway buildings.

We ended our day in Peterborough – a cutsey town that was established because of the rail line connecting Adelaide to NSW and was also an area where many trains were assembled. SO, if you love trains and love beer (there are five pubs in the main street – the main street is about 200m long) Peterborough is the place for you!
We fell asleep that night to the sounds of the Hillbilly Hoot Festival (truly this is what it was called) playing to the locals in the adjacent park.

Mutawinji NP & Kinchega NP

Day 4 - Wednesday 31st March
On to…… Mutuwinji National Park,
After we drove along a dusty, red dirt road, saw a few emus, drove over a small curled up brown snake and men cutting the grass on the sides on the roads (this doesn’t happen very often due to lack of rain) we arrived in Mutuwinji National Park. This NP is only a small one and was created due to playing a huge role in indigenous spirituality and customs. This area was used by many tribes when they gathered together for weddings, birth, initiation ceremonies and seasonal celebrations.

The campsite wasn’t busy at all, except for the resident birds – pink cockatoos, galahs, noisy neighbours and budgiegahs. (they all stayed up very late and kept us up – probably due to the very bright, full moon). Unfortunately we were not able to see the famous aboriginal art in the area but we were able to walk through the bushland (passing a heard of wild goats) to a waterhole in Mutuwintji Gorge which was full and Jamie went for a swim!
The locusts are rampant at the moment because of the rain and the green surrounds so with every step you take hundreds of locusts fly into the air (or your mouth, body, eye), driving through the locusts is a challenge too, as they seem like a plague ready to clog up your radiator (unless you create a barrier, aka use fly screen, tie downs & gaffer tape) & change the car bonnet colour.
We spent the night sleeping under the clear sky with only one other tent nearby.

Day 5 - Thursday 1st April
Lake Menindee in Kinchega NP,
After packing up the tent again we left for the Menindee Lakes area/system via Broken Hill. The road was all red sand until about 50km before town. This is an area that was used in the early 1800’s for sheep farming thus a lot of the land was misused and the river system changed for human usage. Burke and Wills also travelled through this area, set up camp and then headed off after a few days towards ‘Corner Country’ – where they met their death due to lack of food and water.
Broken Hill (1hours drive away) began piping from Menindee for its water supply around (only) the 1950’s, prior to that their supply was unreliable.
Last year Granpa (aka Adrian Brown) stood in the middle of a dry Menindee Lake, however the system is currently being filled up due to the rain fall in Queensland and the flow through to the adjacent Darling River. The flow into this lake area is now controlled by government in terms of who gets what water, when and how much.
The amount of water is an amazing site to see. We were lucky enough to see the lakes being filled up through the weir but also parts of the lakes that are still bone dry. It would be great to head back into this area in about a months time to see the wildlife and the greenery that would be bequeathed onto this place. We also saw the “authorities” opening the weir to allow flow back into the Darling.

After we set up camp, we spent a lazy afternoon by one of the lakes that was filled up – see the picture below. As it was Easter Thursday, many locals were setting up camp or on their way down for the long weekend with their yahooing, motor boats, fishing rods and canoes. The sunset was beautiful.