Sunday, 21 June 2015

South Australia and the final leg back to Victoria

The huge stretch of the Nullarbor (my 3rd crossing now and still as enchanting as ever) entailed a couple of overnight bush camps and included the sighting of an escorted abnormal load of mining equipment that even by Australian standards was remarkable.
We detoured inland a little to stay at Pildappa Rocks which provided excellent camping, a good fire and sublime sunset photos from the smooth granite surface where rainwater pooled up to provide patches of lush grazing for the kangaroos. Around the circumference of the rock the farmer had created dams and walls to collect the run off for irrigation as this is still a very dry part of Australia.

Kimba saw us at the point regarded as the mid point of the run between Perth and Sydney and we eventually overnighted memorably at Mount Remarkable National Park where emu, parrots and roos had little concern over the tented bipeds.

The long pier at Port Germein provided another refreshing walk and later inland we visited Barra, a former copper mining town whose ruined engine houses and stacks were a reflection of the early Cornish settlers traditional skills.

At Morgan we crossed the Murray River on the chain ferry and camped on a tributary where pelicans watched us warily as our trip drew to a close. Indeed a final night at Baileys Rock saw the first real rain of the trip but we were rewarded by good sightings of a tawny wide mouthed owl chasing the moths attracted to the trailer lights.

Thus after 7 weeks and almost 7000 miles the trip was over - unloading the trailer and airing the tents and swags was soon accomplished before we enjoyed a meal in the local pub and for me the first pint of Guinness for a couple of months. PnK dropped us off for the Melbourne train and two hours later we were at the Alto hotel once more for a weekend of rest, recuperation and laundry. The Queen Victoria market was revisited and we also explored the excellent Royal Botanical Gardens, strolled along the Yarra and made our way back through Chinatown finding the urban vibe a huge contrast to the remoteness of most our trip.

Bargain Car Rentals lived up to their name by providing a brand new Hyundai for £10 a day that gave us a chance to return to the Victorian Alps for a week - it was winter but still warm and sunny encouraging us to spend a day with hired bikes on the Great Victorian Rail Trail starting at Yea and passing through a brick lined tunnel that reminded me of the newly opened ones under Bath back home.

Cosy cabins on campsites provided for our accommodation at Yea, Mansfield and Rutherglen with the opportunity for some local walks including to the summit of Mount Timbertop for views towards Mt Buller where the ski season was in its early stages.

After a relaxing week we returned the car to Melbourne Airport and were soon underway on a long but smooth return to the UK with a brief stop in sweltering Dubai, a crowded train from Reading and a peaceful night in the van back at Carmarthen where all was well.

At present there is a slight hiccup as replacing the rear shocks and springs has proved temporarily tiresome, however new bolts will be sourced tomorrow and fitted Tuesday freeing me up to have a nose around favourite Welsh haunts, catch up with friends and look forward to a variety of events over the rest of 2015.

The final batch of piccies for this trip can be found here and it would be appropriate to finish by thanking PnK for a memorable trip that allowed us a rare opportunity to travel to some amazing places. The stillness of the desert, its remoteness and the very nature of travel in such a harsh environment will remain with us for a very long time.

Sporadic locations via SPOT here but irregularly for the time being until we head off to South America in October. The page only keeps locations for about a week so may well be blank at times.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Down to the Nullarbor

So after some good daytime exercise at Mount Augustus and a couple of restful nights we headed south to Meekathara and before long were enjoying 'smoko' or coffee break at the old Mount Gould gaol built to incarcerate sheep rustlers who hassled the early settlers 150 years ago.

Stunning desert scenery provided the back drop to our steady progress and memorable overnight stops in the desert added to the sense of adventure. Thus the picture perfect small town of Sandstone came as a surprise with well kept streets, a cracking pub and an interesting museum - a creditable effort to the 60 or so permanent occupants of this once bustling mining settlement. We enjoyed an excellent pub lunch before heading off once more in to remote country.

In the 1960's a certain Len Beadell had been contracted by the government to push routes through these remote areas with his 'Gun Barrel' Team and his legacy is a grid of dead straight tracks named after family members that are now graded annually and permit access to very remote parts of Western Australia. The Ann Beadell highway took us south east to Leonora where we again refueled and later stopped at Yeo Lake homestead.This was a beautiful but sobering place in the middle of nowhere that two brothers had tried to establish as a working sheep or cattle station - the simple tin hut was reminiscent of some of the bothies back in the UK and had a well with a hand pump and a rudimentary bucket shower that provided us with a good wash.

The weather had clouded over a bit and indeed after a night in the bush on the Connie Sue (Beadell) track we packed up in the first rain of the trip.
However things soon improved as we headed south under clear skies which led to a chilly night as we were now well south and east.

Reaching the Trans Australian Railway at Rawlinna was a milestone and we were lucky to see a vast freight train heading west with a mixed load of containers, pipes, trucks and minerals. However after following the line to Neale's Junction we struck south on a rough track once more stopping 90km north of Cocklebiddy for our coolest night yet. 

Thus we reached the Nullarbor and turned left heading east on the final leg of our 11000km journey. Huge road trains and fellow travelers were something of an oddity and the superb white dunes at Eucla near the sand smothered old telegraph station were a stark contrast to the desert scenes of the previous month. Similarly as we turned down to the remarkable cliff tops above the Head of Bight we marveled at the empty seas, distant horizons and glorious colours.

We are now off for a week exploring Victoria so I will hopefully post again before we depart for the UK next week to update the final leg of this superb trip. 

Locations will appear here 

and the latest crop of pics can be found here.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Alice Springs to Mount Augustus - the remote way.

So after a weekend of relaxation and restocking in Alice Springs we headed west in to the McDonnell Ranges with ten days worth of food, fuel and water stopping at the various access points to the lofty ridge including Glen Helen where we had called in our own van almost exactly four years to the day before. 
We stayed the night at Redbank Gorge and then picked up the Gary Junction Rd - a dirt track that headed out towards the Great Sandy Desert. 

The trusty Landcruiser easily handled the conditions and the sturdy trailer continued to perform well and provide for our needs at a range of overnight stops where the true silence of the desert was almost deafening. A good range of wildlife was spotted - wild camels, wedge tailed eagles, the odd kangaroo and most notably at Jupiter's Well a large flock of noisy galahs who crowded the trees waiting for scraps as we ate and then next morning congregated on the half oil drum we had filled from the hand pump. As a result of the good water supply we had enjoyed a rare shower the previous night courtesy of the on board gas heater and water pump and were able to top up the 30 litre spare jerry can. A puncture picked up the previous day was plugged and we set off again with the intention of picking up the Kidson or Wapet track out to the coast. A deep sandy section had us bogged briefly until lower tyre pressure provided better traction and the night out in the bush was defined by the ghostly call of numerous dingoes within yards of our camp. Huge termite mounds were also a feature of the superb desert scenery but before long a mining company sign advised us that the route was closed until further notice. 

We had called in at some of the remote aboriginal communities where dilapidated houses, numerous wrecked cars and seemingly despondent locals were a predominant and troubling sight. Fuel could be bought at a high price and we purchased the odd treat from the sparsely stocked shops that were usually heavily barred and secured. Punmu was in a similar vein and had a school staffed by young Australians who were friendly and full of hope but again there was on overwhelming sense of futility about people continuing to live hundreds of miles from any source of employment or other support. 
After passing the Teifer gold mine we emerged on to a sealed road and stayed two days at the refreshing Carawine gorge where a huge sea eagle passed overhead with a large fish in its talons, jabirus fished in the shallows and again galahs and a range of other colourful birds took advantage of this unspoilt oasis.
A night of civilisation at Marble Bar gave us the chance to go and see the eponymous outcrop of marble that straddled the river and enjoy a cool beer in the tin pub although the camp site was busy and noisy in advance of an indigenous funeral due the following day.

Thus after a week in some very remote country we pulled in to Port Hedland where again 4 years ago we had called in search of rear brake pads and a fix for seized calipers. The huge piles of salt shimmered in the hot sunshine and we were lucky to see the huge Gaia Petraeus iron ore carrier escorted in to the vast port.
After a resupply in the shopping mall we turned off the main road for a memorable night at Balla Balla Creek just a couple of miles from the sea and enjoyed a remarkable sunset.
Millstream Chichester National Park was a good stop with a couple of walks available and the old homestead to explore - most of the old farm machinery had been made in the north of England at a time when it was months by sea to get down here and these stations would have been even more isolated.
Whilst heading to Tom Price we saw one of the huge ore trains that constantly supply Port Hedland and had a noisy night on the town site as many mine workers use it and their shifts start early!

A couple more nights of peace and quiet in the bush saw us arrive at Mount Augustus,a geological oddity that claims to be the largest rock in the world and rises to over 3000' above the surrounding semi desert landscape. The station provided a rare grassy campsite and welcome showers and we decided to have 3 nights there as there were numerous walks and sights in the area - the best being a day walk to the summit following a superb gorge up and a rocky trail down. The night skies were awe inspiring as there was no moon and as usual we enjoyed a fire and dined well.

With limited battery power and internet allowance I will come to a halt for now - we are back in Melbourne in a comfy hotel after 7 amazing weeks on the road and I will describe our journey south to the Nullarbor and then east back to Victoria in a day or two - apologies for the long gap since the last post but as a look at the Spot locations here will show you we have been a very long way from civilisation. 

Perhaps the adventure can best be appreciated by looking at the bumper crop of photographs here.

Home in two weeks but a few adventures planned for the interim - regards to all for now.