Glowing in the Dark …

It was a different day today for a couple of reasons. The sky was overcast, the winds had abated and the temperature had dropped 10 degrees from yesterday was the first. The second was we were headed out to stand on the Ground Zero’s of a number of atomic tests from the 1950’s and guaranteed that we would not glow in the dark at the end of the day.

Maralinga was the site of over 700 tests in the 1950’s and 1960’s by the British Government on Australian soil. Seven of these tests were big and even though they left physical damage, the radiation was only minor in comparison. It was the other 700+ tests where they made dirty bombs and blew up anything else they could think of that caused the environmental damage.

A number of cleanups over the years and a lot of money has now rendered the area “safe” which now allows tours to be made of the various sites. The tour guide, Robin, had a radiation meter which we hoped was calibrated right and the area is surveyed each year by ARPANSA to ensure that nothing is leaking from the burial sites.

First stop on the tour is the water retention dam. This dam is fed from the parking area at the airport with the water flowing through a number of drains and aqueducts. The water is then treated before it is deemed safe and drinkable. I still used my own water though.

Onto the Airport with the largest runway in the Southern Hemisphere which is still able to be used as an emergency runway for commercial jets and was an alternative landing site for the space shuttle. Interestingly the water runoff from the runway was never added to the water retention system due to the chance of radioactive material off planes that flew through the bomb clouds getting into the drinking water.

The landing area at each end of the runway is 4m thick concrete with the bitumen for the rest of the runway being 6 inches thick. The runway is still in very good condition for 60 years old and not been touched. It is surveyed every year to ensure that it is still able to be used as an emergency runway.

Off course there was an opportunity to run amok on the runway and we achieved 141kph in the Pajero (I am sure the Colorado could have done better if I had taken it) before running out of the 2.4km runway. There was some interesting bush tucker growing along side the runway in “bush bananas“. Apparently they taste similar to passion fruit.

Even through we are hundreds of miles from anywhere, there is 250 kms of bitumen roads in the Maralinga Zone, still here and in reasonable condition even after all these years. The tour took in 93 kms of these bitumen roads with 2 kms of dirt. The British apparently had a thing for bitumen and concrete. It would have been a good contract back in the day.

It was onto the “Taranaki” bomb site for lunch. This was the biggest of the tests carried out here with a 27 kiloton bomb suspended from a balloon. And here we are eating lunch within a couple of hundred metres of Ground Zero. The area has had $108 million spent on cleaning it up and making it safe or so we have been told. We overlooked 3 burial pits. The first is where they turned the ground into glass using a very expensive and time consuming process. The second pit is where the topsoil of 2.5 square kilometres was buried and the third one is where all the machinery used in the cleanup is buried.

The machinery was driven into the pit, oil drained and the engines run unti they seized. A D11 dozer was then run over them to crush them before covering them over. This will stop anyone thinking about digging them up in the future and using them.

The obligatory photo on the concrete plinth at Ground Zero before heading to the “Breakaway” bomb site. This bomb was let off on the top of a tower and it caused all the sandy top soil turn into glass. We passed a radiation meter over the glass and it was giving off less radiation than being in a modern office. That was good to know.

The final ground zero was the “Marcoo” site which was a bomb that was placed in a cellar which caused a 45 metre crater when it let loose. The crater has been filled in and a lot of machinery including double decker buses was placed in before covering it over. Prior to its remediation, an aboriginal family was found living in it. They were decontaminated and moved onto Yalata. There has been radiation related problems with this family but talking with Robin the tour guide, who is related, the problems were more related to the process of decontamination than the radiation.

There was one more location we visited which was going to be the “Tufi”bomb site but a Treaty was signed with the US and Russia before it was used so it had to be dismantled. It was going to be another tethered balloon and the anchors and concrete to hold the balloon was going to ensure that it would not blow away to Queensland.

The weather had been building through the day with the expectation of thunderstorms during the night. As we were enjoying some beverages over tea reflecting on the days tour, the skies to the south were getting darker and the lightning and thunder were getting more frequent but were still 20-30 kms to our south. This certainly lived up to the meaning of Maralinga being “fields of thunder”.

Those that were sleeping in swags decided to move into the shed as the radar showed another line of thunderstorms heading our way. It was probably a good thing as we would find out later in the night. It wasn’t going to worry me too much, being in the Taj.

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It is Winter all over again …

You could have thought that we were back in winter with overcast skies, fog and the temperature sitting on 2C. First order of the day was to pack everything up and vacate our room. This didn’t take too long and we were soon up on the lift to the top of the mountain.

It was certainly winter conditions with a cold breeze, light snow showers and limited visibility. We decided that we would stick to Highway 83 as it was the best groomed slope and with only about 10 metres visibility, I didn’t want to break something on the last day.

Around midday, the slopes started filling with boarders that must have made their way from Melbourne, so it was time to head back, hand in our skis and pack the car for the long trip home.

Just after 1:20pm, we were on our way for the 12 hour trip and 980 kilometres. Even with a few stops for geocaches along the way, we were making good time, getting into Bendigo still in daylight. I could get used to skiing when there is daylight saving.

All was going well until we hit the Freeway just out of Murray Bridge. With a car on my left, we came around a bend to find a dead roo, smack bang in the middle of my lane. This may not end well. Luckily the Colorado has bash plate extending under the front, so I lined it up dead centre and over we went with the bash plates lifting the car up as we passed over at 110kph.

Everything seemed to be working OK so we continued home, arriving just after 1:00am, a little under 12 hours. Grabbing a torch, I checked under the car and except for a few bits of fur, all looked good.

Thats it for the snow for 2017. The next adventure is to the Trans Australian Railway Centenary and Maralinga, a contrast to the snow of the Victorian High Country.

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The Bubble has burst …

No blue skies this morning but overcast and raining with some winds. I guess the dream had to finish at some time. All this did was delay our departure up the mountain as no one likes to ski in the rain.

We made it to the top around 10:20am so only an hour later than normal and luckily the snow had not been effected by this mornings rain. In fact with the lack of sun and a bit of breeze made sure that the snow did not soften. Conditions were good for skiing even though seeing the surface became interesting with the overcast skies.

The rain persisted for another hour and then the sun peeked through for a little while but it was short lived and soon the skies went black, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped. By this time Jenny’s knees were getting sore so once again we were back in the Lodge by 1:00pm.

The weather is apparently going to turn into cold and snowy overnight so our last day may be a more winter ski day than spring.

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Another day of living the dream …

We awoke to another glorious day at Falls Creek. The skies were blue, the sun was shining, the temperature was heading to 8C and there was still 1.4 metres of snow.

After eventually venturing from bed we hit the slopes at 9:40am with the sweet spot for the snow being around 10:30am. Too early and it is still icy and then it starts to get soft after that.

The pick of the morning were Main Street and Highway 83 which were holding up well. We ventured over to Ruined Castle but it and Father Fosters was already soft so Scotty’s was the pick over there holding up.

Back to Towers and Nastar and Main Street were still good skiing but unfortunately the ankle was starting to remind me it was fractured 8 weeks ago and Jenny was getting weary. So with the softening snow, we decided to call it a day around 1:00pm and went back to the Lodge.

After some recouping, there was a supermarket calling Jenny down the hill (she can’t help herself). A pleasant walk down through the snow, made some purchases then got to the door service from the Shuttle.

All in all, another day if living the dream.

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Skiing in Oz in October …

Who would have thought that we would be skiing in October in Australia but with 1.5 metres of snow on offer and an extended ski season, who are we to pass up the opportunity.

With my shifts finishing on Sunday morning and getting a couple of days Long Service Leave, it gave a 6 day break, enough time to drive over to Falls Creek, ski four days and drive home before heading back to work for my two night shifts.

It was going to be a little iffy, having fractured my ankle 8 weeks ago, the doctor and physio saying it wasn’t advisable to go skiing but with 1.5 metres of snow, there was no way we were going to miss it.

Leaving home yesterday morning at 6:45 am, we drove pretty well all day except for a few stops for geocaches, arriving just under 12 hours and 980 kilometres later at Schuss Lodge. It was strange arriving still in daylight but daylight saving started yesterday to our advantage. The roads at Falls Creek had only just been cleared of snow so we could drive straight to the Lodge.

I was a little bit weary after driving for 12 hours so it didn’t take long to fall asleep, waking up at 8:00am to a glorious day in the snow.

A quick walk down to the ski hire shop and we were soon on the slopes with blue skies, sunshine and 10C, great spring skiing weather.

The pick of the runs in the morning was Highway 83, then headed over to Ruined Castle as the snow softened but Scotty’s was the best option and when it was really soft, it was back to the Nastar Race Course. We stayed out for 3.5 hours covering 37 kilometres, but my ankle was starting to get achy and Jenny’s legs were getting sore so back to the Lodge at 2:00pm.

A geocaching friend back in Adelaide commented on our photos, mentioning that his brother were in the snow as well. What would the chances that they are staying in the same Lodge. With the Adelaide Effect, it is probably 100% and sure it was. We caught up this afternoon. Adelaide is definitely a small city where everyone knows someone.

It didn’t take long for the aches and pains to disappear with the help of some medicinal beverages 😉

Looking forward to another great days skiing tomorrow.

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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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