Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday 24.04.11 Rainbow Valley - Yulara

We awoke to the temperature inside the camper being slightly colder than the fridge! 4.8 degrees compared to the fridge temperature of 5. Once up just after dawn, the temperature slowly came up. Bacon, eggs and baked beans was the way to refuel, and we did another walk towards Mushroom Rock and more photo opportunities. We packed up and were away at 11am and stopped about 1pm for a quick lunch at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse after the turnoff to Yulara at Erldunda.

We also did a quick stop further on at the viewing area to get some photos of Mt Connor, which is an impressive monolith in its own right. The expected desert ochre colours are actually hard to find right now - we were surprised that this stretch of road has many trees looking a bit like pines - tallish skinny ones (desert oaks, I think) and then shorter squat trees as well, and plenty of pale green/cream grass.

We continued on to Yulara, arriving after 4pm, quite amazed at the size of the resort and campgrounds and the number of people already here so early in the season. We did a slight choke on the camping fees - $72 for two people for two nights! And the advertised "Sounds of Silence" dinner excursion prompted an even bigger sound of choking at $165 per person.

We went to the viewing area at the campground to see the sun go down over Uluru - unfortunately it is impossible to get photos of it without resort buildings in the foreground. Some judicious cropping will be required. Once back to our camp, we were met with a sense of foreboding of the raucous sound of our immediate neighbours with no volume control. Rachel had a quiet but friendly word with them to tone it down a bit, however their half volume was still intrusive, and became even more so with the addition of further alcohol.

With no letup to the noise at 11pm, an hour after the campground's 10pm noise curfew, another more sterner visit was required in preference to Paul going over there with his axe. That option is still available to us, and may well still be required. We shall claim justifiable homicide.

Dinner was very tender vacuum packed scotch fillet and salad, washed down with a De Bortoli shiraz or three to keep the chill away.

Monday 25.04.11 Yulara - Uluru - Kata Juta - Yulara

5am seemed to be the start of stirrings for people to go to The Rock for sunrise, plus the fact that it is Anzac Day prompted Paul and I to get going too. Might as well, we were awake, and a sense of duty and national pride helped us along on this special day. We managed to get to the viewing area just in time for the first rays to hit The Rock, along with hundreds of others. It really is a magnificent sight, and photos just don't do justice to its size. Albert Namatjira also got his palette amazingly right, especially in his sunset paintings, the varied hues of purples, violets and blues don't sound right for rock, but they are.

The walk back to the car saw Rachel blow out her second pair of boots - the sole came apart from the upper on one shoe as it did on the Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls walk. What a place for it, looks like I have to walk everywhere now in Crocs, otherwise Yulara is no doubt the most expensive place in the universe to get a replacement pair. I'm too frightened to check.

But check we did at the Yulara IGA, where a pair of sneakers went for $60. Oh damn, not in my size. Paul and I did the Mala walk at the base of Uluru as the climb up the top was closed and I didn't trust my boots not to fall apart, then we went back to the campground for lunch.

Afterwards, Steve, Lucy and Sophie went to climb Uluru while Paul and I went to see Kata Juta and went to the first lookout. By this stage, we were fairly jaded about the commercialisation of both places - the outrageous camping fees, the requirement to get a three day pass minimum to get into the National Park, and the fact that there are no other options in the area to camp. Even the walk to the first lookout at Kata Juta is like a four lane highway for the bus loads of tourists.

We got back to the campground to find our noisy neighbours quite subdued, no doubt from a busy day, and for which we were supremely thankful. We had previously seen the Hema Navigator Patrol with an older model Aussie Swag, and an even older one about 4 campsites away, and had also seen another couple with an Aussie Swag setting up. "Wendy's husband" (we forgot the niceties of introductions) came over to check out our set up, and was impressed with the new stainless kitchen splashback, as we were with their soft and supple canvas that allowed them to keep their side awning attached to the camper, which we haven't been able to fit in as yet.

We managed an early bedtime, and had a good night's sleep with few disruptions.

Sat 23.04.11 Alice Springs - Rainbow Valley

We didn't have to rush on Saturday morning as we had until 10am to put the boys in the kennel, and Steve, Lucy and Sophie were leaving the Devil's Marbles for Alice Springs, and weren't due in until lunch time. We dropped the boys off at Paws n Claws, refuelled, went to do our final shop, until Rachel realised she had left her credit card there, so back to pick it up. We then went back into town to park up, whereupon Rachel couldn't find the keys for the trailer. So we re-traced our steps back to the kennel again, but we couldn't see them en-route, nor were they at the kennels. It would have helped if we checked the centre console, which was where they were all along. Hmmmm.

Back into town was where Paul had a chicken burger and Rachel had the best kangaroo burger ever. By the time we had shopped, Steve and Lucy were in town, so we caught up with them before arranging for us to go on ahead to Rainbow Valley, in the hope we would secure two of only seven camps sites. We got there at about 3pm, found only one camp set up and 2 other vehicles, and the perfect site for two vehicles.

Steve and Lucy arrived shortly after and we got all set up at the only section on the grounds that permitted two vehicles side by side.

A steady stream of vehicles and tour groups turned up in time to get photos of the rocks at sunset, all of which disappeared soon enough once the sun went down. And this is what they were after, as were we.

We also found this little fella, who was quite inquisitive and not at all fearful.

One the sun went down the temperature dropped quite quickly. We put some warmer clothes on, reheated some pre-cooked chicken curry and cracked open a couple of beers. Perfect. Apart from multiple and fearless mice benefitting from the recent rains and abundant food supplies. With no ambient light, the stargazing was amazing, and we went to bed to single digit temperatures.

Friday 22.04.11 Attack Creek - Devil's Marbles - Alice Springs

Friday morning gave us a beautiful sunrise, and without rushing we were away at about 9am. We were delayed somewhat by the mother of all spiders sitting in wait to get inside the car - it didn't (as far as we know), but after a bit of a chase we never did find out where it went to.

Another fuel stop at Tennant Creek, then lunch at the Devil's Marbles where a few people had already called it a day. We took a few shots of the rocks - they are not as spectacular in the midday sun as they are at sunrise or sunset, but still they are pretty impressive.

From there it was all the way to Alice Springs, stopping briefly to stretch the legs. We were slightly bemused by one of the GPS's wanting to send us to Alice Springs via Ali Kurang, and then the Plenty Highway, not getting us in to Alice Springs until at least after 11pm! We ignored that one, and the other GPS was pretty accurate, getting us into the Heritage Caravan Park at about 5.30pm.

The Caravan park was surprisingly not fully booked, and we got 4 sites to ourselves. It was quiet, and the amenities were very good too, and pet friendly as well. We had a fennel, chestnut and truffle oil risotto for dinner (as you do), hot showers, and an overnight temperature inside the tent of 8 degrees.

Thursday 21.04.11 Darwin - Katherine - 5km north of Attack Creek

Paul had been flat out over the last week with doing some final preparations - servicing the car, installing the new 130W solar panel and ARB air compressor, and removing the fridge slide from the back of the canopy, as well as mowing the lawn so it didn't look quite so neglected while we were away.

In the mean time, Rachel was still working morning shifts starting from 6am, which left afternoons to get a few supplies in dribs and drabs, rather than one enormous shop, and sorting out the clothing requirements.

We made a late decision not to head for Katherine on Wednesday afternoon so we didn't feel quite so rushed. We set the alarm for 5am Thursday morning, and were able to get away at 6.40am, making it to Katherine by about 10am for a second breakfast at Paul's Dad's place. We topped up the fuel, then continued south, having a late lunch at Elliot Roadhouse. We had enough supplies for our own catering, but the lure of barra burgers proved too much.

Our final destination for Thursday was meant to be Banka Banka Station, however, 5km from there was a sign saying it was closed, so we had to push on. We went down the Old Stuart Highway detour where there was a bit of a range and views across the plains, providing some good sunset and/or sunrise photos. We found a gorgeous spot right on sunset where a telecoms repeater station was located about 70km north of Tennant Creek, so hopefully we don't die from cancer as a consequence of spending the night under it!

Here are a couple of photos of the views from this place, one at sunset and one at sunrise. Pretty ordinary place, eh? And it was FREE!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yet another change of plan - this time for Easter

Finke National Park has been planned for Easter, however Paul rang up the Rangers and they got bogged there over the weekend, and the website says the tracks are currently impassable. So unless things dry up, and quickly, it looks like Boggy Hole and Palm Valley will have to be visited another time.

So...what to do! There's plenty of places to check out in the Alice Springs region, and what better time to see Uluru and Kata Juta after the most rain in years, so it's likely to be bloomin' good! Paul is itching to get his hands on his new camera - a Nikon D3100, so there's no excuse for ordinary photos.

Word is the Red Centre is actually the Green Centre, and watching the current temperatures, Alice Springs is getting single figure nights, so some thermals and flanny jammies will be the go.

8 more sleeps until an overnighter in Katherine, and then our second visit of the Devil's Marbles!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stone Stomper fitted

Here's the latest addition to hopefully stop any damage from travelling on dirt roads: the Stone Stomper, installed today.

And here's what a skid stop will do to tyres...

12 days to go...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cape York trip is now Oodnadatta Track!

As of last night, we've had a change of plans. Seeing we haven't gotten around to setting things in concrete for the Cape trip in July/August, we figured there may be a high chance the campgrounds at the Cape that require bookings would probably be booked out already. And given the phenomenal rains Australia has had recently, this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to check out Lake Eyre with water in it, and the desert in bloom will be amazing.

So tentative plans are to head south as quickly as possible to Marla at the start of the Oodnadatta Track, take that at a leisurely pace, head north on the Birdsville Track, take the side trip out to Big Red, and continue north to Mt Isa. We haven't figured out where to from there, but if we can find a way to get to Lorella Springs for a few days, we will.

There's never enough time, but 6 weeks should give it a red hot go!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First "real" camp - Douglas Daly Tourist Park

FINALLY! We get to test out the camper trailer properly, and not in our own or someone else's yard!

Rachel had scored Friday off, and by the time we had squared everything away, with beagles looking a little worried because they knew something was up, it was time for an early lunch and a bit over a 2 hour drive. Darwin was still under a cyclone watch, but we were confident we would be out of the windy zone, but not necessarily the rainy zone!

Lesson #1: When the road you wish to take has "road closed" signs blocking your way - heed the directions and don't say "Nah, she'll be right!" All was good for about 5km until we saw up ahead a very chopped up bit of road that had been seriously undermined. Paul hit the anchors and we skidded to a stop, creating a bow wave of gravel and bitumen. He checked it out a bit further and decided the verge was even worse, and did a 7 point turn to head back the way we came. Not really clever on both our parts, when the detour was only a few kilometres away!

We then came up against about a 500m stretch of road covered in floodwater. Paul did a recce, and determined that it wasn't too swiftly moving, and a pretty constant 0.4m depth. We ploughed on through with no issue to either the car or the trailer, and got some good video of the experience.

Arriving mid-afternoon, we discovered the park has well over 50 powered sites and numerous unpowered sites as well, and we were just the third set of visitors. Where we camped last year closer to the Douglas River would have easily been about 6 feet under water.

Lesson #2: When choosing a site to set up camp when rain is imminent, go for the sand and gravel site rather than lush grass. Sand and gravel is more likely to allow the all night rain to drain away, instead of requiring you to make breakfast in ankle deep slop.

We settled in to the sound of steady soaking rain with a couple of Heinies and Wild Turkey and coke, after grabbing a bag of ice from the park's pub. The camper's inaugural meal was a couple of good scotch fillet steaks cooked on the new camp cookware. Delish!

Lesson #3: When taking the boys for a walk to get a bag of ice, and you get chatting to the proprietor, take notice of what contraband Indy might be eating. It might mean that in the middle of the night he gets the urge to christen the camper in his own special way by chucking up his stomach contents. On the bed. Under the sheets. And on the floor matting in two places. Sigh.

With such a disrupted night's sleep, the stead soaking of rain ALL night, the niggling worry that the camper MIGHT leak (only a couple of dribbles along a seam or zip), and a very grey morning, we slept in until 9.30 on Saturday morning! The freshly made Aeropress coffee hit the spot, and we had bacon, egg and cheese wraps for brunch.

With a lull in the rain, we decided to head out for a drive down to Oolloo Crossing, finding quite a slushy road and some water crossings as well. Whilst enjoyable, and going down a road we hadn't previously been on, in the scheme of things it may not have been worth the two hour clean up of thick sticky red mud once we got home.

We got back to camp in time for beer o'clock, and preparations for a beef stroganoff and smashed taties. This was accompanied by a superb 2008 St Hallett Shiraz Cabernet - highly recommended for one's second night in your Aussie Swag camper.

Lesson #4: Don't drink and dry up. Or at least attempt to do it more carefully. There is the possibility someone might accidentally slice their thumb with the peeler. The upside is it doesn't hurt as much - then. The downside is it doesn't get you out of doing the rest of the drying up.

We had a good night's sleep with less rain, and awoke Sunday morning to - shock, horror - a bit of blue sky! After breakfast came the dreary task of packing up - the canvas was mostly dry, but certainly not fully dry. As we had all the awnings up, pack up time was about 1 hour 45 mins, also trying not to bring half of the park's mud with us. This time will come down with more practice.

We got away just before midday and headed home, stopping in at Adelaide River for lunch and a leg stretch and got home about 4pm to start unpacking, washing the car and trailer. The down sides to every trip, but this was a great shakedown to the next instalment just a couple of weeks away - all the way to Alice Springs and out to Finke National Park!