The beard has to go …

Well the skies have cleared, the rain has gone and the sky is blue. The big thing is that there is no wind – that is a huge win.

As usual I was the last out of the caravan park, but that is OK, I only have a couple of hours down the road to home.

The trip today took me through Port Wakefield and no trip is complete without a stop at the Kiplings Bakery. This place has been going for ever and I remember stopping as a kid.

Soon I was home with only the dogs here to welcome me.

Apart from emptying out the van, there was one more job in preparation to return to work. That job is to scrape the face and remove 7 weeks of beard growth. I may have got carried away a little as the mustache of 3 years came off as well. Wow, does it look and feel strange. I guess it can always grow back.

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The Trip is nearly over …

I am getting closer to home. There are a couple of options. Option 1 is to drive the 500 kilometres to home today but then I would have the peak hour traffic to contend with and that is not a fun way to finish a 7 week holiday, or Option 2, do about 300 kilometres today giving me a couple of hours drive tomorrow into home and with only the lunchtime traffic to contend with.

Given that I awoke to very cold temperatures and a strong head wind, I opted for the 2nd alternative of taking 2 days from Woomera to home.

A mate who works for the Woomera Emergency Services had just finished night shift so Colin called in to say hello. These annual catch-ups are becoming a tradition.

The wind was taking a toll on fuel consumption with numbers of 21-22 litres / 100 kilometres instead of the usual 15. Apart from the fuel, it was a an uneventful drive to Crystal Brook. Even the Garden Grove road trains behaved when overtaking.

After setting up in the Crystal Brook Caravan Park, I headed out around the area grabbing geocaches and eventually ending up over in Gladstone. I worked here for Elders Pastoral for 3 months in 1985. I could pick the house I was renting OK (one of the warders homes at the Gladstone Gaol) but I couldn’t pick which was the Elders building. Elders are no longer here and the building could have been knocked down for the Perry’s yard.

One of the caches was at the Gladstone Pioneers Cemetery which I never knew was here.

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No Track for me …

With it raining through the night, the chances of the Oodnadatta Track being open today was going to be remote but it was worth one last look.

After checking online and then driving to the start of the Track, everything was still all red. So once again I have been thwarted doing the Oodnadatta Track on the return journey from the Darwin V8’s. That is now 5 years it has been closed at this time of the year.

It was still raining as we left Marla and continued on and off until we arrived at Coober Pedy. There was evidence of heavy rains here with large lakes of water on the streets.

After filling with fuel, and grabbing a geocache on the truck in the sky at the entrance to the town, we continued south, finally getting some breaks in the clouds and some blue sky peeking through. The temperature even snuck up to 18C.

Not far from Glendambo, I came around a corner to find a convoy of caravans on the right side of the road (that is the right spot for them) but there was a truck bearing down on me on my side. Hitting the anchors and driving off the road, the truck finally got onto his side just in time before hitting me. This is not the first time this has happened on this journey.

We filled up again at Glendambo in sunshine but this was short lived as we were soon in rain again with the wind picking up.

After a 600 kilometre drive from Marla, we stopped for the night at Woomera Travellers Village. It happened that a mate, Railways Mike was in town so we caught up with him for a chat.

Hopefully the wind lets up tomorrow or the journey will be interesting towing the caravan.

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Water, water everywhere …

It is time to head back to South Australia but we were not expecting the welcome we got today. There had been some rain overnight but it wasn’t heavy but there must have been more further south as a couple of the roads on the Oodnadatta Track were already closed.

The Painted Desert Road was closed and the Oodnadatta to Coober Pedy had a “no towing” restriction in place. Of course I had planned to use both these roads.

It was overcast and about 20C when we left Alice Springs but an hour down the highway and the temperature had dropped to 12C and the rain started. As we crossed the border into South Australia the temperature still hovered around 12C with the rain getting heavier.

Arriving into Marla and phone coverage and there were some more roads on the Oodnadatta Track closed. There goes my plan to head that way home.

After a 450 kilometre drive and arriving with around 4 litres of fuel left we decided to stay the night here at Marla. It was amazing the difference a wet road makes to fuel economy. On the dry road it was around 13.5 litres / 100 km but on the wet road it increased to 16.5 litres / 100 km.

After setting up, we went for a walk down to the Oodnadatta Track sign which still had some green on it but by the time we had returned to the caravan, everything was red. There was certainly enough water lying around to justify the closures.

So the new plan is to head down the Stuart Highway to home but it is still 1100 kilometres so it will take 3 days. Lucky I got another day off work, so return to work is now Sunday.

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At least the sun is shining …

An easy day today, taking in some geocaching around Alice Springs. No travelling big distances today. We will save that for the next 4 days with 1500 kilometres to cover to home.

Back in Easter this year, an Australian Geocaching Event was held and in the lead up to the event, a large number of caches were hidden that I had not found from passing through Alice Springs last year.

It was a mixture of urban caching and some 4WDing with some walks.

It was back to the caravan park in time for happy hour and once again as the sun set, the jumpers came out. This will probably be the last day for shorts and t-shirts.

Tomorrow will be a 450 kilometre drive down to Marla in South Australia and provided there is no rain, I will head out on the Oodnadatta Track. I have tried to do this bypass for the last 5 years but have been thwarted by rain each time.

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It is getting cooler …

A few days ago it was 32C each day but as we move further south, the maximums are getting lower. We are now down to 28C and it is starting to feel cooler after getting used to the temps in the 30’s.

From Devils Marbles Hotel, it is a 400 kilometre drive down to Alice Springs and should take around 5 hours pulling the caravan.

It of course took a lot longer. We were on the road around 9am but didn’t arrive in Alice Springs until 430pm. About 90 kilometres to the north of Alice Springs, we found a geocaching power trail of 50 caches that had us stopping every 1.5 kilometres.

Arriving at the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park well before sunset, it appeared that the online booking system has some problems as my booking went through OK but Garry and Deb’s didn’t. With a little bit of mucking around and we ended up with large drive through sites that adjoined each other.

Once set up, we settled into happy hour before heading into town to do some re-supplying for the next part of our journey.

It is definitely getting cooler as we all grabbed for jumpers tonight.

Tomorrow we will be taking it easy around Alice Springs.

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Now they are some marbles …

As there was only 200 kilometres to drive to our next stop, Devils Marbles Hotel, there was no rush to get up or get away. At around 830am, we all got out of our vans to find the main grassed area which was full with about 50 caravans last night, completely deserted and our neighbours in the overflow were all but one gone as well. The strange thing is that none of us heard them leave. There was an advantage of having the gentle hum of the generator nearby overnight.

Before leaving ourselves around 9am, we checked out the camels and donkeys on the property and then headed south. Along the way there was a reminder of when things go wrong with a caravan destroyed on the side of the road. No indication of when it happened and the tow vehicle was not with it but there were some corresponding skid marks coming from the south.

A quick stop in Tennant Creek to refuel at $1.419 a litre and we continued on towards a huge pall of smoke. It appears that a fire had started by the Stuart Highway and was headed westward and building up steam as it went. Later while we were eating dinner at sunset you could see the smoke plum from where we were camped for the night.

After passing the Devils Marbles or Karlu Karlu, it wasn’t far for our final stop for the day at the Devils Marbles Hotel. This is another one of those places I have driven past over the years but never stopped. This year we stopped and camped out the back.

Apparently an ex-firefighter from work owned and ran this outback pub. We met the current owner, Greg and he certainly didnt look like an ex Firie. I asked about whether an ex Firie had owned the pub and he said that was about 4 owners ago and probably 10 years ago. I guess that stories never age in the fire service as I only heard about 6 months ago at work about “you need to stop and say hello to …..”.

It was a relaxing afternoon sitting under the shade watching all the late comers jostling for position. Glad we got in early.

The meals have a good reputation here or so we have been told. This story is correct as I had the best barramundi yet on this trip and it was a good size and just melted in the mouth.

A largish drive tomorrow of 400 kilometres through to Alice Springs with a stop for a couple of days.

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Its Station Life time …

For years driving up and down to/from Darwin, I have passed the Banka Banka Station and have always said that I will stop one time and stay the night. This year rather than drive past, I was going to stop and spend the night. A retired workmate, Geoff had stayed there a week ago and recommended it.

Usually on the up journey, I continue onto Mataranka and on the down journey, continue to Tennant Creek or Wycliffe Well. Even though it looks inviting, there is no power available but it always seems to be packed each time I have past.

I got up a little early, so that a morning soak was in order, getting into the warm water at 7am. It was hard to get out, not because it was going to be cold but as it felt so good. This morning was unusual with high humidity, cloud cover and ground fog.

We hit the road around 830am and it took about 50 kilometres before the fog burnt off and blue skies prevailed again.

This section of road is devoid of geocaches to find as I have found them all except one. After finding that one 173 kilometres down the track, my GPS then indicated there were no geocaches within 180 kilometres. That is something you don’t see often.

There was one incident of note. A single trailer semi trailer couldn’t wait to get past me and past Garry in front of me. In fact he had no regard for any other road users with overtaking me and Garry when there was traffic coming from the other direction. This ended up for the vehicles coming from the south having to go off the road and Garry and I to brake heavily and steer off the road when he pulled back to the left without even overtaking us completely.

Unfortunately after checking the dash cam footage, there is no markings on the prime mover or the trailer. Hopefully I will be able to enhance the licence number on the trailer and pass it onto the Northern Territory Police.

Arriving at Banka Banka Station at 330pm, we were not able to get a site on the main grassed area but was directed to an overflow area near the generator. The noise wasn’t that bad and we were away from the lights of the main area which allowed a good view of the millions of stars once it got dark.

Garry and Deb with their cameras and tripods were having a good time taking star and sky photos. I got into the fray experimenting with settings on the phone and using the car as a tripod. I did manage a few reasonable photos. Next time I will make sure I pack my tripod.

One of the camping families were musical and put on a bit of a show singing folk songs around the campfire. We sat and listened for a while before having a great hot shower and heading to bed.

Another easy day tomorrow with a 217 kilometre leg to the Devils Marbles Hotel. Another one of those spots that I have driven past but never stopped.

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Time for another soak …

With only 120 kilometres to Mataranka Thermal Pool, we should make it before the grey nomads from the south get it all the powered sites. Once again we arrived at 10am which was the same time as 10 days ago. But instead of a queue of new arrivals going out the door of the office, I was the only one in the line. A huge difference from last time. I asked the manager what was going on and she just told me to “shoosh” as she was enjoying the quiet time.

The bonus of course was that we had the pick of the powered sites. In fact the park was nowhere near as full as last week.

It was time again to soak for the afternoon. There is nothing quite like a long soak in the 34C water of the Mataranka Thermal Pool. If you are ever going past, make sure that you at least stay one day. The pool was not very packed, understandable given the lack of campers in the caravan park.

After the average meal last visit, I cooked a meal in the van tonight but still went down to the homestead to watch the Nathan “Whippy” Griggs whip cracking show. It is now the third time I have seen the show in the last 2 weeks. He puts on a good show and worth taking in and “grabbing a stubby holder”. If you see the show you will understand the stubby holder reference.

Tomorrow is a relatively big drive to Banka Banka Station (470 kms).

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Farewell Darwin …

That finishes our time in Darwin for another year and the long journey of 3000 kilometres south begins. Today is only a short hop with 300 kilometres to Katherine. Originally the plan was to go through to Mataranka but unless we left at 6am, we would not get a powered site by the time we got there. And I am still on holidays so that is not going to happen. I was on the road by 830am so it was still early for me.

Luckily Garry rang a couple of caravan parks in Katherine as most were full. We found a couple of sites in the Shady Lane Tourist Park which I have stayed at before and is not a bad park far enough out of town to not have the highway noise. Unfortunately you still get the aircraft noise from the flyovers from Tindal Airbase.

Making a few stops along the way for a couple of geocaches I missed on the way up to Darwin, arrival was just after 3pm.

Once again made the fuel fill up at the card only 24 Fill Stop which is 10 cents a litre cheaper than anywhere else in town. Word must be out as there was a queue of caravans waiting but they were only waiting on the main pumps and had not spotted a diesel pump mixed in with the petrol pumps. So no waiting for me.

There was also a queue at the card machine, with it not working properly. I asked those in the queue whether they had pushed the help button and blank looks. They had been waiting for about 5 minutes for something to happen. After pushing the help button, someone came online and reset the machine and it was working straight away.

We believe the main reason for the sudden full caravan parks was tonight was the second game of the Queensland / New South Wales State of Origin and most of the normal free campers came in to watch the game. There was a bit of grumbling with those without satellite not being able to get Channel 9. No problems with the Thompson Taj. Satellite dish up and Channel 9 coming in strong. By the way, Queensland won the game in the last 5 minutes to tie up the series going into the final game – that is very convenient to ensure a large crowd at that game in 3 weeks.

 

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