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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Some more Darwin exploring …

Today was our last full day in Darwin and with Jenny back home, I could spend it exploring via Geocaching. And that’s just what we did.

We headed northeast of the city doing some 4WDing following tracks and roads that were barely marked on the map. Some of the areas visited looked like they would be perfect spots for crocodiles but none were spotted.

We continued until dark and then called it a day as tomorrow we hit the road again, slowly heading south so that the acclimation to the cold is not too severe.

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Relaxation and Re-cooperation …

Well I didn’t quite get to midday but I did manage to sleep into 1030am. It would have been later but the air conditioner decided to stop cooling and start heating about 130am.

So the AC was turned off and a fan was turned on with the van getting warmer all the time. At 1030am, the van was already at 27C. I checked out the AC and it appeared the filters were due for a clean. After cleaning the filters, the AC was back to its old self and cooling the van very well. A little too well as it got down to 12C while we were out and about all day and into the evening.

The caravan next to us offered massages but only neck and shoulder. A massage would be great. Managed to find a Chinese massage place over at Parap and booked in for an hour at 100pm. After all today is all about R & R. The massage was great until he grabbed my right foot which is still not recovered from the gout. I didn’t need to scream but he knew something was wrong from the rest of my body cringing.

The afternoon was spent exploring around Darwin by means of finding Geocaches.

We ended up at Stokes Hill Wharf to check out the Bombing of Darwin experience and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Museum. This was not your normal museum with use of Virtual Reality movies, holograms and other effects to bring both the bombing of Darwin in World War 2 and the history of the RFDS to life.

Since we were already at the Stokes Hill Wharf, it was time to have another feed of Barra and feed the fish swimming around the wharf the bits on the plates we didn’t feel the need to eat. I am sure there was 3 kg of chips on the plate but the fish and the seagulls made short notice of them.

It was cooling down which was perfect to do some urban geocaching around Darwin. There is not as many people around and you can spend a little more time looking for those tricky hides. I even managed to spot our first cane toads for the trip. We finished back at the caravans at 1030pm.

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Last Day of the V8’s …

The third and final day of the Darwin V8 Supercars always seems to come around too fast but the saving grace is that it is also the last day that I have to get up at the other 5 o’clock that I don’t see too often.

The smoke from the fire was still hanging around and there were still trees and logs burning as we headed into Hidden Valley Raceway.

It had been a fairly quiet weekend on the track and the third and final day was going to continue that trend.

All the races went off without incident. At it must be a first for a V8 Supercar race in Darwin to start and finish with all the cars and have no Safety Car. I cant recall one.

It was that quiet, when a punter walked into the medical centre with a blood nose, he was descended upon by 5 medicos for treatment. I would like to see that in a hospital.

To finish the day was the Officials Dinner with plenty of cold beverages and it seemed a never ending supply of eats including pizza, fish, BBQ, hamburgers and I think there was some salad as well.

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the caravan for a well deserved shower and a long sleep. You may see me before midday tomorrow but don’t count on it.

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Another early start to the day …

Another early start. I thought there was only one 5 o’clock in the day and that is in the afternoon. At least I had a decent sleep last night.

A quick shower and coffee and a farewell to Jenny (she flew home today) and it was time to head to the Hidden Valley Raceway for Day 2 of the V8 Supercars. I am sure Jenny was snoring as I walked out the door.

The gate procedure was a bit more organised this morning and we were through in 5 minutes as opposed to the 15 minutes yesterday. Once again the Army APC’s were in the front of the queue.

Today was mainly qualifying with 6 races today and it was relatively quiet with no major incidents, well at least until the V8’s had their race. It almost seemed that the V8 Ute drivers had migrated over into the V8 Supercars. There was plenty of biffo in the first few laps although they eventually did calm down as the race progressed.

The big excitement was seeing huge palls of smoke coming up from over near the caravan park. I couldn’t ring Jenny as she was at the airport ready to fly home. There was a fire in the grass and scrub adjacent to the caravan park, dropping ash all over the caravans. Luckily the wind was blowing the fire away from the park.

When we finished at the track, the fire was still burning and sending smoke and ash over the caravan park. Luckily the roof vents were closed except for the shower one so the van did smell a bit.

For dinner, we headed into town to Fiddlers Green for a feed of NT Barra followed by some icecream from Trampoline before hitting the hay in readiness for the final day of the V8 Supercars.

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