Destination: Uluru, Part 4

Day 9 : Wednesday 21st December : Peterborough to Louth via Darling River Road

homewardThe trip was very much one of four clear sections and now we were into the fourth and final part; our route home.

From Peterborough we headed for the New South Wales border before going on into the outback town of Broken Hill.

broken-hill-streetThe town is as far west as you can travel from Sydney before leaving the state. It is known as a mining town and was where the worlds largest mining company, BHP Billiton started; the “BH” in their name actually stands for Broken Hill. Coffee and lunch were well received before heading on. There is much to see in this small town and so it is another place on the ever increasing list of “must return to” locations.

Our destination for the night was Louth on the banks of the Darling River. The bonus of this was another section of unsealed road. At Wilcania we refueled and took a left turn out in to the wilderness again.

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louthA relatively short 223km brought us into Louth. Shindys Inn offered an ideal camping spot for the night within a small grass covered field to the side of the main building. I mention this primarily as grass had not been easy to come by at many of our previous stops, but here it was plentiful and soft, perfect for camping. A couple of beers also went down well in the bar before retiring for the night.

Distance covered; 703 km.

Day 10 : Thursday 22nd December : Louth to Mudgee

From Louth we drove to Bourke and breakfast. This small outback town is known for it’s historic architecture and it was certainly a lovely place to take a walk and explore a couple of the gift shops.

Our intention was to have a slightly easier day of driving, but as we still had a considerable distance to travel it was important to press on.

Again the scenery had changed and we weimg_3016re driving through fields and lanes not dissimilar to those in the UK, but for the variety of trees which lined the road.

We past through Dubbo with a short stop so that Maria could buy herself a proper Aussie outback hat from an outfitters that Phil knew near the end of the high street, and on to our overnight stop at a campsite in Mudgee.

img_3017As this was to be our last night under canvas a couple of bottles were opened to celebrate. After so many nights away setting up had become routine and so we were soon resting with out feet up enjoying some good food and great wine.

Distance covered; 595 km.

Day 11 : Friday 23rd December : Mudgee to Sydney

img_3021More treats and traditions were to be fulfilled along the route home today.

Packed and ready to go, I just needed to sort out the driver!

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wineFirst stop was Logan Wines. A nice bottle of white, cheese and biscuits made for a wonderful breakfast. We also tried a couple of their reds with both Phil and I buying some to take with us. It was interesting to taste two wines made from the same grape but different locations, Mudgee and Orange; the taste being very different.

img_3023Not normally one for spending so much on wine, they were exceptional, even to me, so that coupled with the incredible location and the very interesting back story to the name “Ridge of Tears“, saw me part with some cash! Just need that special occasion to open them.

img_3031From Logan’s we took a short detour to Windamere Dam. A good opportunity to stretch our legs before pushing on.

It seems that when ever we head out towards Lithgow for a day on the tracks our meeting point is McDonalds. It therefore seemed appropriate that we call in on our way back to grab a coffee.

As you drive out of Lithgow up into the Blue Mountains you pass through a point which would have been the highest of our trip. While I can’t recall the exact elevation I know when I check previously it is higher than the majority of the mountains in the UK, with the exception of those in Scotland.

Our second traditional stop in this area is for apple pie and ice cream in Bilpin; it would have been awful to have missed out. This area of the Blue Mountains is known for its apple production. Not only are pies in abundance there is also a well known cider producer located here.

And so finally at about 5pm we arrived back where we started; Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North.

Distance covered; 270 km.

img_2559After over 6500km the trip was done. Our destination, Uluru, had been reach and so many amazing places visited, both on the way and way back. We had traveled sealed roads and unsealed ones. Motorways and country lanes. Seen kangaroos, camels, dingos, emus and more. Viewed salt lakes and pink lakes. Driven through mountains and deserts. We had even taken our cars below sea level while in the middle of this great continent of Australia.

img_3033It was a whistle stop tour which provided magnificent views on every stretch of road we traveled, as well as a long list of places to revisit and dwell in a little longer.

And memories – so many wonderful memories.

We started at Cafe Geo and so it seemed only appropriate to finish there, 6673 km and 11 days later.

Now to choose the next destination and plan a whole new adventure.

TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED; 6673 km / 4146 miles

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Destination: Uluru, Part 3

Day 7 : Monday 19th December : Erldunda Roadhouse to Williams Creek

It is safe to say I had no idea what to expect on this part of the trip. While I am well aware of the nature of the iconic Outback tracks, I am not one for studying them in detail and I certainly wouldn’t be able to name any beyond Birdsville. So when we decided to travel back via the Oodnadatta Track it didn’t mean a whole lot to me, other than dust. While today’s overall distance wasn’t as great as some others, the unsealed section was certainly going to slow us down and so an early start was needed.

img_3068First stop was Marla, a roadhouse on the edge of the Stuart Highway and the perfect place to grab some breakfast, a coffee and to contemplate the track to come. This was a 255km section of nice smooth tarmac, the last we would see for a couple of days.

From Marla we took a left turn and headed out into the unknown on the Oodnadatta Track.

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What an experience; what amazing views; hard to contemplate just how remote we were; how far from any form of civilisation or even other human beings.

Even with lowered air pressures traction was often hard to find sending the car sliding or snaking. Breaking and corners were contemplated with extreme care; you are always on the lookout for a cattle grid, floodway or pothole which could cause damage if taken at speed. When this remote you really don’t want any damage.

While we have UHF radios in both cars so can scan the airwaves and call for help, these only have limited range. No mobile signal or satellite phone and so extra care was taken to avoid any need to make an emergency call.

210km of gravel track took us through to the small town of Oodnadatta. The town grew around a water hole as a stop over for the Afghan cameleers as they worked their way from the south up through to Alice Springs and beyond. In 1890 it became the terminus for the Great Northern Railway and remained a stopping point when the railway was extended in 1929.

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After the railway was dismantled in the early 1980’s the town became a centre for the indigenous population.

Many remnants of the railway still exist as you drive the track. Stations, workers cottages, bridges and watering points, complete with desalination plants.

I love history and so was perhaps a little disappointed that time didn’t allow us to stop and explore all of the structures along the way. The heat was also a factor which simply emphasised the harsh, remote and extremely dangerous work the railway workers undertook.

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Afghan Express : Having returned home I have read up a little about the railway which was originally called the Great Northern Railway but become known as the Afghan Express and later, and even to this this day, simply as The Ghan. The story goes that one of the cameleers was in a hurry to get through to Oodnadatta and so the name “Afghan Express” was born.

On YouTube I found the following program which was recorded back in 1980 as the original Ghan railway was coming to its end. While dated in their appearance they do provide a fascinating incite into a bygone age of the railways and how the towns we traveled through looked back in their day: The Ghan is Going, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

I have read somewhere that Australia has the largest mob of wild camels anywhere in the world. These animals are not native to the continent but were imported from the middle east, along with their handlers, the cameleers, in order to move goods, assist with construction of the telegraph and then the railway. As mechanisation increased with the railways and then trucks the need for the camel reduced. With no work there was no money to feed them or to pay the licenses that government imposed. The Afghans named every camel as they were far more to them than simply an animal and so when they could no longer feed them they simply set them free to run wild and survive if nature allowed. It was from these beginnings that the wild camels of Australia grew.

track-and-fliesAt one point a long the track we thought it had begun to rain. You could hear the rain drops hitting the windscreen. Not rain but flies – millions of them pelting into the car as we drove!

We continued on the track to our overnight stop at Williams Creek. A remote roadhouse hotel and the permanent home, we were to discover that night in the bar, to just two people. The following day the owner was flying out on business and so the official population would be just 1! The town, settlement, hamlet – not really sure what to call it – is made up of the hotel, camp site, petrol station and air strip. They are very proud of the fact they have a sealed landing strip as well as a grass one and are part of the emergency search and rescue network. When an emergency beacon is triggered in this part of the world they would be dispatched to fly out and establish the nature of the incident.

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While the food was interesting, we were warned by the cook that she wasn’t very good, the drinks were cold and the stories about the area and way of life fascinating to hear. A storm blew through as we were in the bar, the noise of the rain hitting the tin roof deafening, followed by the lose of the television picture and then failure of the generator. The owner reestablished the power within a few minutes but the isolation was compounded at that point.

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Post Script: Generally when I’m traveling I like to try and write the outlines of my posts at the end of each day. Sometimes this can just be notes, other times it’s complete bar the addition of pictures and links. The reason for this is the amount I forget as time goes by. So much can happen during the course of a day it’s too easy to miss a detail if I try and catch up later. Destination: Uluru was written after our return, several weeks later for some elements, and as such some small details were missed.

One such item was the story of the “Second Best Outback Pub“! For several days prior to visiting Williams Creek Phil kept telling us that he had read an article which listed the Williams Creek Hotel as the second best pub in the Outback. The second best! Not for us the best, but only the second best! This became a standing joke leading up to our visit, and continued as a source of amusement after, mainly at the expense of those on the rest of the list. if Williams Creek was the second best, just what are those on the rest of the list like!

Well it turns out that number three on the list is The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta. We had tried to get a drink here as well but it was shut! Perhaps if it were open it may have been number two!

Update: 21 January 2017

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Flooding : During the week after Christmas heavy rains affected both Uluru and the Williams Creek areas. Pictures of waterfalls on the rock were posted by every media service, particularly here in Australia, but also around the world. During our drive along the track we commented many times about the size of the riverbeds and the rocks that were littered within them. They were dry and dusty as we pasted through. It was impossible to contemplate the amount of water needed to fill them.

The following pictures were posted on the Williams Creek Hotel facebook page and show clearly what happens when the rains come. Without doubt we would have been cut off if this had happened while we were there.

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Distance covered; 665 km.

Day 8 : Tuesday 20th December : Williams Creek to Peterborough

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img_2878We packed and headed out of Williams Creek reasonably early. There was a lot more gravel to drive today and it is essential on these surfaces to drive to the conditions.

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About 100km along the track from Williams Creek you get your first view of Lake Eyre, or the south lake to be more accurate.

The lake has a number of claims to fame – it is the lowest point in Australia at 15m below sea level (where we pulled over to have a better look we were 12m below sea level), when full, which doesn’t happen very often, it is the largest lack in Australia, and perhaps most interesting to an Englishman, it was the site of Donald Campbell’s 1964 land speed record,a YouTube video of which can be seen here. Note the series Land Rover doing its bit!

The view out over the lake was, like so many things we have seen, incredible. It simply went on as far as the eye could see. It is only when you look at a map you realise that what you can see at this point is only a small part of the lake as a whole.

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We pushed on.

Our time on the Oodnadatta Track was coming to an end. After 547km we were about to turn right on to Borefield Road, the name doesn’t seem appropriate for a track in the middle of no where, and head for Olympic Dam, one of the largest mines in Australia.

We had thought this to be an open cast mine, but chatting to a conservation ranger we found out that it was all underground, with tunnels big enough to drive the huge dump trucks down into the center of the earth. After doing our right turn we had noticed a large pipe running alongside the track. At one point what appeared to be a huge pumping station had been constructed. The ranger told us this was for taking the waste water away from the mine where it was pumped deep under Lake Eyre. You have to hope that this is done with the best possible precautions as Olympic Dam Mine has the largest deposit of uranium in the world!

Now back on tarmac we pushed on for our overnight stop in Peterborough, skirting the Mount Remarkable National park.

Distance covered; 665 km. (Amazingly the same as yesterday!)

Destination: Uluru, Part 2

Day 4 : Friday 16th December : Coober Pedy to Uluru

We had another long drive ahead of us but our destination was now very much in sight. A few days before we had booked ourselves a special treat for when we reach Uluru and so we had a deadline to achieve.

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Having left Coober Pedy we headed north on the Stuart Highways for 490km before turning left on to the Lasseter Highway for the final 260km into Uluru. Had we not had a couple of breaks along the way this would have been our only turn!

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One of our stops was at the Northern Territory border, the forth state we would enter on this trip. After this I only have Western Australia before being able to say I have been to all the states in Australia!

Not sure why but it seemed like an amazing achievement to have reach this far!

Continuing on our next short break was to check out the amazing sight of Mount Conner which appeared off to our left.

img_2640So far I had been happy just to push on and reach our destination, but increasingly there were places I would have liked to have visited. Unfortunately when time is limited you simply cannot stop and admire every sight; but you can note them and go back. Mount Conner is one such place that is on my list.

As you approach Uluru the rock slowly comes into sight. It is without any doubt an amazing sight. After such a long lead up to this trip and an incredible drive over the preceding fours days our destination didn’t disappoint. Uluru is truly one of the wonders of this world; impossible for me to describe or for my photo’s to do justice. All I can say is if you haven’t already, go visit. Everyone needs to see this place!

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As we were slightly ahead of schedule we headed straight for the national park to get a closer view. When we arrived the temperature was 40C+ and so while we did take a walk to get up close and personal, it was a short one.

Uluru, as most people are aware, is a sacred site for the local indigenous population. I had heard before going that while climbing the rock was still possible it was discouraged as a point of courtesy. When we arrived the climb was closed because of the extreme temperatures. A sign near the climb entrance stated that the park was working towards closing it on a permanent basis. While not wishing to cause controversy, I really don’t understand what there is “to work towards”; just close it. You don’t need to climb this place to appreciate its size, magnificence and wonder!

img_2655Our campsite for the night was at the Ayers Rock Resort; this wasn’t a difficult choice as there are no other camp grounds any where nearby. We setup, had a much needed shower and header off for the evening.

uluru-1As mentioned previously, we had decided to treat ourselves for reaching our destination. We booked “A Night at Field of Light“; watch the sunset while drinking a glass of the sparkling stuff – or beer as my companions preferred – followed by dinner under the stars, a talk about the constellations and then a walk through the the Field of Light, an art installation by Bruce Munro.

It was a brilliant experience and the prefect way to end the first leg of our journey; too much to drink, amazing food in the middle of nowhere (not sure how they managed to produce such good food in such a location), good company, both my fellow travelers and the other guests around our table, and an incredible view of both the rock and the stars.

Distance covered; 750 km.

Day 5 : Saturday 17th December : Uluru to Kings Canyon

After a late night and too much fun it was a very early start!

It is essential to see Uluru at both ends of the day and while our alarms were set it was still a struggle to get up and going after the night before. Rather than pack all our gear we simply emptied the back of my car – currently I only have the two front seat – and set off on a mad dash to make the viewing point in time. It is safe to say my car isn’t made for quick corners and so Phil had a rather uncomfortable journey.

However we made it, just, and what an incredible sight.

The Outback is amazing in the way that it transforms as the sun moves across the sky and the light patterns change. Uluru was truly spectacular in the dawn light. Every bit as magnificent as it was during the sunset the previous evening.

An amazing experience. An amazing adventure. An amazing destination.

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img_2702Having had four long days in the car, today was to be a little easier; if you can call 320km in +40C temperatures an easy day!

img_2704We left the Ayers Rock Resort after a leisurely breakfast and headed for the Red Center Way and our next stop, Kings Canyon. A much steadier progress giving plenty of time to enjoy the views.

Once at the canyon we took a slow walk. The temperature hadn’t let up; there was a storm in the air which increased the humidity and discomfort further.

At the canyon car park there is a sign giving details of the various walks. One was around the rim of the canyon itself. Without doubt it would have been incredible, but there was an almost vertical 100m “staircase” climb to get to the top! Thankfully, due to the extreme temperatures, the walk was closed so we didn’t actually have to bottle out.

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Instead we took a gentle stroll along the canyon floor which provided spectacular views up the almost sheer walls. The sights were just amazing adding to the ever increasing list of incredible, spectacular, sights we had seen so far on this journey.

One negative however, were the bloody flies! They were everywhere and extremely persistent.

Camp for the night was at Kings Canyon Resort. Hot showers, cold drinks and very tasty pizza’s. A quiet and relaxing evening.

kings-1We hadn’t seen that much wildlife on our travels so far. A few kangaroos as we left the campsite in Baroota and emu’s on the side of the road in various places but that was about it.

As we drove through the campsite there was a sign warning about dingo’s and advising caution. We didn’t take much notice other than to make a general comment, but as we walked back to the bar we came across a female scavenging for food. One more species for our list.

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Finally before bed we decided to take a walk out to the sunset viewing platform. None of us were sure we had the energy but it was definitely worth the effort. As the sun slowly descended a storm began to build. It had rattled around earlier in the day and now it was back. The clouds building combined with the lowering sun to create some incredible colours in the sky and across the hills in the distance. At one point fork lightening struck the canyon in the distance to complete the impression that the gates of hell itself were opening.

Nature can certainly beat any man made light show when it decides too.

Distance covered; 320 km.

Day 6 : Sunday 18th December : Kings Canyon to Erldunda Roadhouse via Alice Springs

Breakfast and then off. Our destination today was back down the Stuart Highway in preparation for the next step of our adventure.

I said at the beginning of part 1 of this blog that we had a destination but no defined return route. There were a number of options, one of which was to take a track north of the Simpson Desert back round to Birdsville. Well that will have to wait for another time because in the end we decided to head south and a track which, to be honest I hadn’t heard of before, that would hold a whole new set of memories and destinations to which one day I would like to return.

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From the campsite we hit the first proper dirt road of the trip heading for Alice Springs. While we had seen plenty of red dirt over the past few days this was our first experience of really being part of it. The proper Red Center!

It is true to say I am beginning to run out of different ways to describe just how incredible the scenery is. I have used “incredible”, “amazing”, etc., so many times but still this journey and this country continued to give new views, new scenes and new memoirs. If you are reading this and can’t get your head round what I am trying to describe then get on a plane, hire a four wheel drive and get out there. If you don’t drive anywhere else in the Outback do the Red Center Way. You will not be disappointed and I have no doubt you will end your holiday knowing that you have experienced a real Australia adventure.

camelsSomewhere along this section we came across some wild camels. Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world, but more of that later. I have included a picture which unfortunately isn’t the best as we were too far away, but it does go to prove their existence.

glen-helenAs we continued towards Alice Springs we crossed through the West MacDonnell Ranges. img_2788So much to see but no time! However we did make a couple of stops. First at the Glen Helen roadhouse, sorry Homestead Lodge to be correct, for a cold drink and a short break in the cool and then at the Ellery Creek Big Hole where one of our number was brave enough to go for a swim – she was warned about the wildlife but we decided if the worst happened one less passenger would increase my cars fuel economy.

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As today was Sunday it turned out that Alice Springs was shut! Well that may be a little unfair but we did try and get something to eat in a bar but they didn’t server food. We tried to get some beer for the evening stop but all the bottle shops in Alice Springs are shut on a Sunday – this apparently being due to a considerable problem with alcohol abuse in the area. Woolworth’s was open, just, so we stocked up on provisions, found a McDonalds to grab some lunch, they never close even in the very center of Australia, and headed south to our overnight stop.

Our final 200km of the day was down the Stuart Highway on nice smooth tarmac with a cold drink and dinner waiting for us.

Distance covered; 530 km.

Destination: ULURU, Part 1

While dates and routes were only finalised a short time before we set off, the destination was never in any doubt. Neither Phil or I had been to Uluru and the opportunity for me to undertake a proper Outback Adventure was way too good to miss.

img_2560While we both had our cars, me a Land Rover Defender and Phil a Land Rover Discovery, there was an awful lot of other stuff to get sorted before we could set off.

The list for me seemed almost endless and without doubt the credit card took a huge hit. Tent, sleeping bag and bed, cooking equipment, table, chairs, fridge, awning and so it went on. There were also the bits for the car itself such servicing, a new tyre, two way radio, etc., etc., etc.

Once we settled on the start date for our adventure, Tuesday  13th December, everything began to come together. We even managed to set out our first three overnight locations although the return journey was to remain undecided until we got to our destination.

By Monday afternoon pretty much everything was packed, loaded and ready to go. Maria, who was joining us for our trip, arrived from Brisbane on Monday evening and so we were set for a very early start next day.

Day 1 : Tuesday 13th December : Sydney to Balranald

6am Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North, the designated start of our journey to Uluru.

But first some breakfast!

Rigged and ready to go, we set off about 7am heading west out of Sydney through Katoomba and the Blue Mountains. Our route took us through Bathurst, past the icon Mount Panorama motor racing circuit and onward.

Today was all about distance and covering the miles, but none the less we got our first feel of the amazing scenery to come. This was particularly the case along the Stuart Highway between Hay and our overnight stop of Balranald where the land became flat and increasingly baron with a huge sky that carried on forever.

img_2565Our stop for the night, after over 10 hrs driving, was the Yanga Woolsheds near Balranald, a spot Phil had visited on a previous trip. This was my first opportunity to set up all my gear and make sure that not only was it all complete, but that it all worked. Only one minor problem was a missing part on my brand new ARB awning. Of all the things which could have gone wrong this was simply an annoyance, and easily resolved as it turned out.

img_2576As always when I go travelling my faithful sidekick Safari Bear was on hand to make sure that we didn’t get into too much trouble or lost somewhere in the Outback!

Distance covered; 875 km.

Day 2 : Wednesday 14th December : Balranald to Baroota (Port Augusta)

Again we needed to cover the miles with a good 8 hours driving ahead of us, before we added a slight detour. Maria made a couple of phones calls once we were on the road and managed to locate a replacement for the missing awning part and so we headed for ARB Regency Park, Adelaide. It seemed rather strange saying we would be there in approximately six hours but this didn’t seem to phase them. Distances and journey times are very different in this country.

Having left our camp site we soon crossed our first border into Victoria, which also meant the first time zone change. Only half an hour this time but sufficient to leave us a little confused about what the time was until we got back in to New South Wales some days later.

We continued to head west crossing through into South Australia; not only did we have another time zone change, but we also had to go through a quarantine station which required us to give up all our fresh fruit and vegetables. For one of my companions the loss of oranges was almost too much to bear!

At some point along this route, but unfortunately I didn’t note exactly where, we got a sight of one of South Australia’s pink lakes. Although I had read about them before the trip I wasn’t expecting to see one. The colour, which is very pink, is caused by an algae not minerals as I had previously thought.

The detour into Adelaide was very successful with the missing part waiting for us when we arrived as well the fly screen awning room Phil wanted. This proved a huge benefit a few nights when it was almost impossible to do anything for waving mosquitoes, and other insects, away.

For reasons I can’t quite remember Port Arthur was mentioned as a possible destination for dinner. Which was an interesting choice as it soon became apparent that Phil was actually thinking of the penal colony in Tasmania. However, on checking the satnav’s we realised that there was actually a Port Arthur in South Australia and it was roughly on our route – clearly it would seem wrong not to visit.

Although Port Arthur is available to select on our various navigational devices and is shown on Google Maps – feel free to check – there isn’t actually anything there! Not a single thing! No buildings, nothing. Just a road straight through empty fields. Have a look on street view. Having checked google while writing this section I have discovered that it is listed as one of South Australia Lost Towns! This became another standing joke of the trip – who suggested going to Port Arthur.

By this time it was getting late and we wanted to be off the road before it got dark. Kangaroos start moving about at dusk and they haven’t yet been taught their Green Cross Code; hitting one could well end our trip. As it was on our way we pulled into Port Pirie and had dinner in a local pub. An interesting experience; one of many on this trip.

img_2572While eating Phil found a camp ground at Baroota (Rodeo Campground) which proved to be an excellent choice. Although wet and muddy as we pulled of the track we were met by the owner who pointed us towards his brand new barn which provided the perfect cover for our camp keeping us nice and dry as it poured with rain over night.

Distance covered; 700 km.

Day 3 : Thursday 15th December : Baroota to Coober Pedy

From Baroota we headed north on the Stuart Highway for our next overnight stop and a place I have wanted to visit for some time; Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world.

But first we had a long distance to travel.

There were three things that we experienced while driving this section of our trip which will stick with me …..

The long straight roads! Several times we stopped just to look at where we were heading and where we had come from. The roads were straight heading off in to the distance with nothing around but hot, barren earth.

At one point the main highway had been widened and signs posted at each end of the section to designate it as an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Its when you see things like this that you begin to realise just how remote the area is.

Following this link to see exactly where the RFDS planes are flying in real time.

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img_2599Next came our first Road House. As with any long, remote, trip you always have your eye out for the next fuel stop, in my case I generally had to refill twice a day. Spuds was one such stop on the junction between the Stuart Highway and Olympic Dam Road.

Not far on from Spuds, out of the right hand side of the car, you will see Lake Hart. A shimmering white salt lake which appears to go on for ever. My picture doesn’t do this incredible natural wonder any justice. In the heat and bright summer sun it was just truly amazing to behold.

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img_2606We pulled off the highway and stood on the railway track to take in the full wonder of the view. This proved to be our first proper “off road” driving of the trip, albeit just a few hundred yards.

coober-pedy-outback1Coober Pedy was exactly as I expected, having seen it a number of times on the the TV.

coober-pedy-outback2You know you are getting nearer as the number of man made earth piles increases almost to the point were the entire landscape is disrupted by mining. The process, as I understand it, is rather simple. You did a shaft, lower somebody in and if there is an opal you keep digging; if not you start again. And so it goes on. The evidence of this is everywhere you look as you approach the town. Clearly some people have struck lucky, or simply got better organised, as their spoil heaps are considerably bigger.

img_2614The town itself is very functional, dusty and as I would image mining towns in the Outback have looked ever since man started digging holes. It is a small town with only the necessities, grocer, bank and of course a bottle shop. There are a few concessions to visitors such as the Underground Hotel, working mines to be toured and an underground church. All except the church were shut when we arrived.

As the summer heat is extreme in this part of Australia many people choose to live underground where the earth maintains a manageable ambient temperature all year round.

The Stuart Range and Highway were named after John McDouall Stuart who was the first European explorer in the area. He was the first to complete the South to North crossing of the continent which he achieved in 1862. The plaque in the photograph below commemorates this achievement.

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Distance covered; 600 km.

 

Road Trip, December 2015

For reasons I cannot start to explain I have so far failed to write up my first Australian road trip and so, while it is rather late, I thought I would make an attempt so there is some record of this momentous event.

December 2015 and Lauren was coming over to join me for my first Christmas in Australia. As part of her holiday we planned a road trip to Brisbane. Two days up, a day there and then two days back getting us home in time to complete the final arrangements for our Christmas in the sunshine.

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Safari Bear has accompanied me on all my major adventures from my trip to Nordkapp in Norway, the most northerly point of main land Europe, to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco, and so as he had arrived in Australia with Lauren it seemed only appropriate that he should be part of this journey as well.

 

 

Saturday 19th December

Packed and ready to go, we headed north out of Sydney with a view that we wouldn’t make our first stop until well past Newcastle. From the Pacific Highway our first detour from the main roads was towards Mungo Brush and the ferry across the lakes blocking our way towards Seal Rocks.

 

IMG_0803On the way we saw a sign which just needed to be investigated further – The Tallest Tree in NSW! The Grandis, Eucalyptus grandis (flooded gum), near IMG_0802Bulahdelah, New South Wales. Circumference: 10.07 metres. Height: 70.5 metres.

Next stop was Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse at Seal Rocks. Readers of my blog will be aware of my fascination with these buildings and will not be surprised to know that this was the first of many visited on this trip.

In fact, while we made many stops and detours on the way, out next location was another lighthouse, this time Smoky Cape Lighthouse in Hat Head National Park. It was while here that Lauren had her first sighting of wild Kangaroos. A small group were grazing in the picnic area near the car park.

IMG_0846Lauren had found all our accommodation via Airbnb.com which meant that not only were we staying somewhere different each night, each location was somewhat unique. Our first night was spent at “Nestled in the Treetops” in Valla, a truly magnificent house up in the hills completely away from the world.

Distance traveled : 700km

Sunday 20th December

ChristmasBefore continuing our journey we took a short detour to Valla Beach in order to take our Christmas family photo. It was already extremely hot that morning and so we got a few odd looks from the locals. This wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously although many people seemed too.

From Valla we followed the coast road as much as possible through Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga before heading inland to Grafton and following the Clarence River back towards Byron Bay.

IMG_0854At Woolgoolga we stopped to admire the Sikh temple.

A short stop at Byron Bay confirmed immediately we needed to go back and spend more time there. Plans were made to come back on Tuesday before we headed to our overnight stop Tugun. Having dropped off our bags we took a drive to Gold Coast – not a place we will be rushing back to.

Distance traveled : 440km

Monday 21st December

IMG_0876Today is all about Brisbane.

In many ways Brisbane is all about its river of the same name, but what amazed us was just how quiet it was – I guess having become so used to the continuous hustle on Sydney’s harbour a waterway with so few boats seemed very strange.

 

IMG_0915We parked the car under South Park and surfaced next to the Christmas Market and a short walk from the famous “beach” which was packed with kids of all ages having a brilliant time. Crossing the river via the Goodwill Bridge near Queensland’s Maritime Museum, we walked up through the Botanic Gardens and past Old Government House which is now part of Queensland’s University of Technology.

IMG_0890This part of Brisbane is full of magnificent old buildings, some still used for the purpose with which they were constructed, others converted for modern needs but retaining their original facades. One such building I wanted to visit was the IMG_0908Commissariat Store Museum, but unfortunately it is closed Mondays! One for another day.

The Museum of Brisbane was not only open but extremely interesting and so we sent a good couple of hours out of the heat learning the history of the city and surrounding areas.

Tonight’s accommodation was in the Mullum Hills, Wilsons Creek, back towards Byron Bay and near the small town of Mullumbimby – remembered for its magnificent name!

Distance traveled : 268km

Tuesday 22nd December

We had promised and so it was to be ….. An early start saw us back in Byron Bay.

First we headed for Cap Byron Lighthouse before the crowds descended. The views out over the bay were truly magnificent. Breakfast next and then a long walk around the town looking through the eclectic mix of shops. A friend of mine, Steve, had traveled to Byron Bay back in the late 80’s and had said then there was little more than a back-packers hostel and pub – how times have changed. An amazing town with an a great atmosphere. Having visited I can understand why it is so popular and has been been for so long – although I’m not sure I could exactly explain it if anybody asks.

IMG_0933IMG_0938Next we headed south to Yamba and the Clarence Head Light and a replica of the original Clarence River Lighthouse which was in a style we would see again; several times.

IMG_0945Having had wonderful weather for out trip so far, it decided to change as we arrived at Tacking Head Lighthouse and so this was a very brief visit – just enough time to tick the lighthouse off my list and take a few photographs.

Our final stop of the day was Port Macquarie and so a steady drive in grotty weather was the order for the afternoon.

Distance traveled : 755km

Wednesday 23rd December

IMG_0961There were two sights we wanted to see in Port Macquarie. First was the Koala Hospital, the nearest either of us have been to these lovely creatures, and the second was Roto House which happened to be right next door. IMG_0972The house was occupied by the same family from when it was built until 1979 and houses a fascinating history of the family, their life and expansion of the area.

 

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Time for one final lighthouse, this time at Crowdy Head, before heading home.

Distance traveled : 440km

A trip to remember …… first of many I hope!

 

 

 

New Home

I have written before about how different the process of choosing a new home is here in Sydney, with the agents telling you when they will be at a property and giving you just a few minutes to make up your mind before they move on. During that very limited slot you have to decide if the place you are viewing will suit you for the next 6 or 12 months of your life while also dealing with the many other people doing exactly the same thing!

After viewing many places the last one was by far the best. Although I wasn’t too keen on the shared stairways and access, the apartment (they don’t have flats!) was a good size and ideal layout – and so I made the decision after my 10 minutes of viewing!

Next comes the paperwork. Forms to complete, documents to copy and send across to the agent. Proof of identity, income, credit history, etc. Again Melissa was a huge help in this process as she knew what I needed to do and what to say to the agent to give me the best chance of securing the place. One possible issue was the need to prove details of previous rentals in Australia – not only am I new to the country but I haven’t rented anywhere in 20 years and even then I didn’t have a rent book or lease agreement.

Paperwork complete, you then wait. Wait for the owner to decide who he is willing to rent too. It seems that you will never be the only one wanting that apartment in Sydney and so the landlord gets to choose who he thinks will be the best tenant. I had some advantages; single, no pets and recent arrival. As you have to prove your employment status and income level to get a visa this helps when opening a bank account, applying for a credit card and renting property.

After a nervous wait I received the good news that the place was mine.

I arrived in Sydney with two suit cases and some hand luggage; hardly what you need to set-up a new home. With just over a week before moving day I needed to get myself at least a little organised.

Following a trip to Ikea after work, complete with notebook and camera, I had a good idea what I needed. I wasn’t going to fill the whole place, just enough to get me started.

So what do I need to do? Book a van; I will need to collect some reasonably large items from Ikea. Arrange electricity – the agent arranged for somebody to call me. Book a day off work!

Wednesday evening I picked up the van and headed off to Ikea. On arrival I hit my first problem of the moving weekend – the van was too tall for the multi-storey car park! So I spent 20 minutes trying to find somewhere to park before giving up, some what disillusioned.

There are two Ikea stores in Sydney and a quick look on Google Maps street view told me that the second one, in Tempe, should be fine. Fingers crossed.

Tempe was a little further out but had a large open air car park. Perfect. First trip round the store saw be pick up a bed, mattress, quilt and pillows. Chair and a lamp. Second trip round I picked all the other must haves; crockery, cutlery, sauce pans, ironing board …… and the list goes on. Finally loaded I was ready for moving day.

Friday morning I was up early packing everything and clearing out both what I wanted and what I needed to get rid of. Melissa sent me a text just before nine to say there was a slight delay with the keys, but by the time I arrived she was there and had opened up.

Moving day was a busy day. Carrying a van full of furniture and other belongings up three flights of stairs was tough. In between the carrying I assembled the flat pack items which was a perfect opportunity to take a break. The washing machine and fridge/freezer that I decided to rent, duly arrived. By the end of the day I was tired but in! The move had gone well.

Over the past couple of weeks, since moving into the apartment, I have added a few more items to my furniture. Purchased a heater which was a huge plus – houses here don’t have much in the way of heating or insulation, so although the days have been warm the nights can be very chilly. It has been a long time since I lived in a place with no heating!

I think it is safe to say I am settling well. It will be a while before I really call Sydney home but I am comfortable and increasingly settled. Now it is time to start enjoying this new country properly.

Lane Cove

 

Lighthouses

There are two types of buildings which fascinate me more than any others; castles and lighthouses. Both are amazing pieces of engineering developed in different times and for very different reasons, but in some ways similar in their strength, complexity and often incredibly difficult locations. There aren’t too many castles in Australia, well actually none that I am aware of, but there are an abundance of lighthouses and so I had already made it my mission to visit as many as possible, starting first with New South Wales and then further afield as the opportunity arises.

Sunday 17th May

No work today and no house issues either. Today was a day to relax and have a break. Today was a day to find a lighthouse!

When chatting in the office during my first week the guys had mentioned the prepaid Opal card for getting around on public transport. Same concept as the Oyster card in London, the difference being here you get both discounted, and even free, journeys. Previously my daily commute was costing $8, now with Opal it was less than $7. A result, but better still after you have made a number of journeys, eight I believe, the rest of the week is free and so my trip to IKEA on Friday, Chatswood and Sydney yesterday and Sydney again today havent cost me anything. But not only does this work on the trains, my ferry ride from Circular Quay and back was also free. What a brilliant system. So the lesson here is simply, if you travel to Sydney and are going to use public transport get an Opal card. You would be foolish not to.

Now back to lighthouses….

Having decided today was going to be a lazy one I needed to decide what I was going to do. I certainly didn’t want to sit around the apartment all day as the weather was just too nice and so I headed into Sydney. On the way I had a look at the map and picked a location which included a ferry ride.

As I have written previously not only are the trains great, but Sydney Ferries are brilliant too. Many people use them as a way to commute, but for me they are both a way of getting somewhere and a pleasure in their own right.

I picked Watsons Bay. A reasonable journey from Circular Quay, it ensured that I would enjoy the boat ride as well as the destination.

2015-05-17 13.07.08Once off the boat it was a pleasant and relaxed walk up to South Head and the Hornby Lighthouse. This red and white striped lighthouse was built in 1858 following the tragic loss of over 120 lives when British clipper Dunbar was wrecked during a storm the year before. It’s distinctive colouring was chosen to ensure that it wasn’t mistaken for the Macquarie Lighthouse 2km to the south.

As you follow the path to South Head you come across various concrete defensive structures as well as a large gun pointing back towards the city. My immediate assumption was that they must have been constructed during the last war to help protect Sydney from the threat of a Japanese invasion. Although they were used for this purpose, they were actually constructed much earlier, and for a very different purpose.

South Head

The first gun emplacement at South Head was recorded in 1788 and was used to signal the arrival of a vessel in the harbour. The fortifications that can be seen today were completed in 1854, although the guns weren’t actually in position until 1872. These were constructed to protect against various enemies; initially the French but then the Americans during the war of independence. Later the French were again considered the threat before they become allies against the Russians during the Crimean War. The defences were further enhanced during both world wars, but although manned constantly the lookouts failed to spot the three Japanese midget submarines which managed to enter the harbour on 31st May 1942 attaching a number of ships, sinking the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul which resulted in the deaths of 21 sailors.

2015-05-17 13.19.27Just by the lighthouse are the keepers cottages. Now fully restored these houses must have some of the best views of the harbour and city, as well as enjoying a relatively quiet location.

2015-05-17 16.41.51Returning back to Watsons Bay it was time to sit, write and generally enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. With several coffees and a bag of chips, I sat for a good few hours and simply enjoy watching the world go by. A really wonderful Sunday afternoon.

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