Wednesday, 28 May 2014

KKK No 4 Alice Springs to the Red Centre

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce & Audrey)

No: 4     Alice Springs to the ‘Red Centre’

 Day 40: Thursday May 15 finds we “Triple ‘K’ Adventurers” up in the dark at 6:15am, a half-hour before sunrise, doing final packing and heading out of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway bound for Erldunda, some 255km south, the turnoff for the Lasseter Highway, nick-named the Red Centre Way.

Here in the centre of the world’s (scientifically) oldest, flattest, driest and almost hottest continent on earth, the countryside is so lush, so awash with green feed comprising prolific Buffel Grass (introduced species) and other natural species, that it should be renamed “The Green Centre”, rather than the Red Centre.

Lush Buffel Grass
In any case, the contrast between the warm red hues and the bright green pasture is quite colourfully striking as our 2 tonne rig glides effortlessly over the excellent bitumen of Lasseter’s Highway which runs all the way to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), and on to The Olgas. . 

We stopped at Mt Ebenezer, 56km west of Erldunda turnoff to check out an Art Gallery there, featuring many small works on canvass by local Aboriginal women artists, all very ‘touristy’ and pricey, but now regret having not purchased the singularly only piece that I liked of the entire gallery offering, and regrettably, we’re not returning that way.

We photographed distant Mt Conner from the roadside lookout, a flat topped monolith of Uluru ilk and proceeded on to Curtin Springs Wayside Inn and cattle station with a view to over-nighting in their well appointed free campground. Curtain Springs was named for then Prime Minister John Curtin, and the water from its namesake natural spring 6km distant is said to taste like Epsom Salts; one wonders if there’s some political connotation? 

Mt Connor
However our Camps Book listed another roadside camp area much closer to Yulara, the service village for Uluru, so we drove the 60km and were rewarded with the excellent (and popular) Sandy Way Rest Area, up and over a low sand ridge, hidden from the road and into the quiet, shaded area with 10 others already there in residence, and only 28km from Yulara. 

Sandy Way Campsite
We enjoyed a glass of champagne and red wine under tonight’s full moon, in anticipation of tomorrow big Uluru adventure, and our friendly camp-fire reminded us of our good fortune in being here.

The Lasseter Highway traverses open rolling red soil downs, interspersed with moderate height red sandhills, lightly timbered, principally with Desert Oak, a member of the Casuarina family, plus areas of Mulga, Beefwood, Gidyea and Desert Bloodwood.

Desert Oaks, by far the most numerous, are an interesting species is as much as the juvenile trees grow in thin pencil-like columns and depend on rain for survival until reaching maturity, when they spill out into a spherical canopy, their root systems now deep into the watertable, and they no longer depend on rainfall, hence their prolific survival throughout the desert. 

Low Red Sandhills
The Ubiquitous Desert Oak
Up again next morning at 6:30am in the dark to a fine but cloudy day; we leave the K K’van at the Sandy Way campground in safe company with several others and drive off  to the service village, Yulara, with its Airstrip, up-market Resort, Campground and Shell Service Station, our destination “Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park”, the latter being the local name for The Olgas. 

The Olga's
There is a singular entry point to the NP where a fee of $25 per person is collected for a three-day multiple-entry pass. We decided to see The Olgas first, a 48km sealed road drive farther on past Yulara, stopping enroute at the Kata Tjuta dune viewing site before arriving at the Olgas themselves. 

Valley of the Winds

Walpa Gorge Viewing Platform
Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) is a contiguous formation of several large monoliths, having a much larger footprint than Ayers Rock. There are three different short walks which we did, particularly enjoying the “Valley of the Winds” and; “Walpa Gorge” scenery, snapping off digital photos by the score (as you do) as we went. We also met a Melbourne based Sri-Lanka couple, Amos and Mary, whose all too short company we enjoyed.

The Olgas

Having lunched here on our usual fare of picnic sandwiches, it was time for the big one, Uluru, where we visited the Cultural Centre, a ‘walk-thru’ display featuring all aspects of local cultural and historical information on well documented displays, and a colourful video presentation as well; as you might expect, all very well done, and included in the Park entry fee.

It was mid afternoon and becoming increasingly overcast as we did the 10.6km drive around the base of Uluru, which while softly lit by the high thin cloud, did not distract from its stunning appearance, though did suggest its sunset viewing would not be as spectacular as it otherwise might be.


 We stopped to see all Uluru’s features i.e., the Mutitjulu Waterhole, the adjacent Kuniya aboriginal rock art, Kantju Gorge and the climbers ascending the famous, if not steep Mala Puta walk up to the top of Ayers Rock, which incidentally has resulted in 35 fatalities from various causes over the years. The local Anangu owners now request that people refrain from scaling the rock for spiritual reasons, though it is not (yet) illegal, and many climbers were scaling it.

Mala Puta Walk up Uluru
There were lots of tourists everywhere, many foreigners included, and we were totally thrilled and excited to at last see such a national icon, but pretty tired after our walks on uneven stony tracks at The Olgas, going non-stop all day.

So with smiles on our faces and contented hearts we drove back to our van at Sandy Way, hitched it up quickly then drove the 60km back to the free campground at Curtin Springs, where we stayed an extra day to write this report, before departing in the morning for our next adventure – Kings Canyon, in the West MacDonnell Ranges, and no doubt a full on week ahead.

We’ve now been 43 days on the road and travelled 4356km.

Bruce and Audrey
Curtin Springs

Monday, 26 May 2014

KKK No 3 Boulia to Alice Springs

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce & Audrey)

No: 3     Boulia to Alice Springs

 Boulia is a tiny town, only a few blocks in size, with a population of maybe 100 plus and offers only limited interest to tourism. It owes its origins to being an important resting point through the Channel Country Stock Route, with Burke and Wills the first Europeans to pass through, and the Burke River beside which it’s sited was named for its explorer, Robert O’Hara Burke.

We availed ourselves, as did others, of the riverside campground 6km out of town, and it was enroute here we sighted our first Camels.

One of its earliest settlers was a storekeeper from Armadale, NSW, who had a stone residence made, the construction of which took 3 years, and incorporated a 3 metre deep room size underground cellar, famously the coolest place in Boulia and a popular refuge for mothers with young babies during severe heatwaves.

Today the town’s fame largely rests with the Min Min Light, a strange spectral light that can appear, hover, disappear and reappear with an eerie will of its own, and which remains scientifically unexplained. There is quite a good high tech sound & light show about the Min Min Light, which runs for 40 minutes, which we saw. So that’s Boulia.

Scenes from the Min Min Light Tourist attracton

True to our previous word, Sat 10th May 2014, day 35, we departed Boulia heading for the Northern Territory border some 257 km westward on the Donohue Highway, with 67km of bitumen before the dirt road began.



The first 60km of open Mitchell grass downs looked good following a welcome season and we passed by the remnants of the long abandoned old Dingo Barrier netted fence 56k out, government-erected early last century to keep western Dingoes out of the State’s central grazing lands. Despite 1080 poison baiting, graziers everywhere will tell you there are more “dogs” today than ever before.

Old Dingo Fence
New Steel Cattle Yards
Dry, sandy river channels with occasional shallow waterholes became more prevalent as we approached the major Georgina River system 134km out, driving through the large (Napco owned) “Glenormiston” run with its herd of good quality cattle. Then on past another quality property, “Roxborough Downs” with its superior black soil channels, which Bruce visited during his Primac days and put to Auction some 25 years ago.

Glenormiston Turn-off

 Driving this dirt highway was scenic and pleasurable, passing treeless open plains country and the occasional Artesian Bore and steel-built cattle trucking yards. With road graders working all along it, the road-table surface was excellent, the pasture was excellent, the cattle were excellent with shiny fat cows suckling adorable, blooming calves- such a contrast to the sad, drought stricken Central West. Days are mostly sunny and quite hot.

Welcome to the ‘Nature Territory’ read the sign at the grid on the Queensland/Northern Territory border, and the good dirt road turned poorly right from that border grid mostly for the next almost 500km! Welcome to NT’s ‘Plenty Highway’, nominated as a ‘4WD- only’ road, and named for the river of the same calling located about 220km further along.

To be fair, the Plenty Highway does have many fair/good stretches, but also plenty of bulldust, plenty of rough corrugations and plenty stony patches. Nevertheless, it saves 100’s of kilometres from the sealed alternative via Mt Isa and adds a degree of rugged adventure and varying outback scenery to the trip!

Just 4 km across the NT border is “Tobermorey’ homestead, a fuel stop with a green, inviting, watered grassy campground; ‘Tobermorey’ is a 1.5 million acre family owned cattle station that welcomes paying visitors, but our arrival there being only early afternoon, we decided to top up with Petrol at $2.27/ltr and get back on the road again.

Tobermorey Campground
We’ve now entered Central Time Zone and wound the clock back 30 minutes. The first 100km or so into the NT was well grassed dark soil grazing lands but then the sandy, red semi-desert country started, with its stunted shrubby growth and clumpy Spinifex grass, and the sunken road with its high table-drains deteriorated to corrugations, bulldust holes, and long tracks of gripping bulldust furrows.

Corrugations with red bull dust
The next settlement was ‘Jervois Station’ a further 219km mix of poor to good dirt road where we arrived beside the dry Marshall River in the late afternoon. We stopped here overnight in company with 3 others (having seen barely a few cars all day) in the dusty, un-grassed red soil campground, our first stop at a “dedicated retail” Caravan Park (this one absolutely only bare basics) since leaving Brisbane 35 days ago, and a welcome stop after the day’s 465km bumpy, taxing drive. Fuel was available here but we chose not to top up, hoping for cheaper pricing further down the track.

Jervois Camp Site
The days have been quite warm but early mornings are becoming quite fresh, but certainly not down to winter temperatures yet, but the one constant is flies; the small ‘bush flies’ are a constant menace, no matter where one stops, flies in your eyes, ears, up your nose, and sometimes down your throat when you’re eating, from sun up to sun set; thankfully we have hat fly veils, and mercifully the flies disappear at sundown.

After our Sunday ‘religion’ of an Eggs & Bacon breakfast, the intrepid KK travellers depart “Jervois Station” on the next 202km leg, ever westward. About 5km out we cross the very expansive Plenty River, with its wide, attractive, dry sandy bed, artistically peppered with big river gums, but showing evidence of its flowing torrent in flood, and the biggest river by far draining this entire region.

At Harts Range 120km further along we came to the Atitjere Aboriginal Community, a small settlement of perhaps 40 basic modern houses and a few shops 185km east of Alice Springs, clearly government provided, and typical of other such settlements we’ve seen. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t much activity, but the general untidiness, old discarded cars, malnourished dogs and unkempt litter-strewn house grounds sadly reflect the lack of any community pride, something which seems regularly synomonous with aboriginal welfare.

The next stop was Gemtree Campground, gateway to the gemfields, a Fuel stop where we bought Petrol for $2.30/ltr, with a shop and accommodation, and the centre of a fossicking area for semi precious gemstones. The previous 150km travelled this day was over the roughest and least interesting desert terrain along the Plenty, with its bad corrugations, bulldust holes and areas of hard clay road table, sending clouds of dust billowing high into the sky, where the dust cloud from oncoming vehicles can be seen from a few kilometres away.

All this semi arid desert country is red soil having occasional outcrops of big Anthills and we passed many such areas, with the biggest one right beside the road, which is shown here. A feature which struck us was the virtually non existence of native wildlife with not a single sighting of a Kangaroo or Emu, and little birdlife since leaving Queensland, where kangaroos especially were in plague proportions, as evidenced by the large numbers of road-kill along the highways.

4 metre Anthill
By now it was late afternoon, we were back on the black tarmac so all eyes were scouting for a overnight camp spot, preferably up any track off the road, and 2km before the junction of the Plenty & Stuart Highways we followed a road side-track to an abandoned road works quarry which proved to be a wonderful overnight camp spot.

Here we discovered that our 12v ‘Engel’ drinks fridge in the Land Cruiser was not running today after its Plenty Hwy shake-up, so that’s repair job #1 in Alice Springs.

Next morning, with the Plenty’s dust behind us and sweet bitumen under the tyres, we cruised the 70km into Australia’s iconic centre, our first ever visit to Alice Springs. Ever since I read Neville Shute’s novel “A Town Like Alice” and saw the movie of the same name, ‘Alice’ has held a special attraction for me and we were not disappointed.

A bright, clean, modern city of 25,000+ people including many aboriginals, Alice Springs nestles prettily amongst the red rocky hills of the MacDonnell Ranges with its wide divided streets lined with mature Gumtrees; it’s an oasis in the desert on the banks on the dry Todd River, and is so unexpectedly green and lush following good recent rains.

(By way of interest, the Northern Territory has had such a good “wet” this year that Kakadu National Park remains presently closed to tourists, being considered too wet).

The annual gathering of the national Ulysses Motorcycle Club is currently being held here in Alice Springs, with 2600 motorcycles converging on the town. There are bikes everywhere, a never-ending procession of bikes and 3 wheeler trikes, many towing mini camper trailers, here around Alice and on the highways since back at Roma. Their Showground’s venue is literally a ‘sea of tents’ and a blaze of multi coloured motorbikes.

We found the ‘Engel’ fridge dealer and a Auto Electrician next door, and had our fridge problem solved before we even reached downtown Alice, where we booked in at the central Stuart Caravan Park whilst exploring ‘Alice’ for the next 3 days. A visit to the Post Office found our ‘Fiamma’ awning spare part awaiting collection, to repair the swivel joint broken by the “willy willy” whirlwind back in Winton. So we’re now 100% again.

We’re enjoying the luxury of Van Park living, especially having 240v power to run and charge all our systems, and the opportunity to meet and share touring information and experiences with like minded travellers. We spent a day checking out the downtown Alice Mall, the view from central Anzac Hill, visiting a great Camping Gear Shop, and general sightseeing around Alice.

But the desire to see The Red Centre’s jewel in the crown was growing stronger by the day as Uluru and The Olgas willed our coming, so we departed Alice after three full days and headed for the Rock, which we’ll share with you in KKK #4, coming your way soon.

Bruce and Audrey
Curtin Springs

Saturday, 10 May 2014

KKK No. 2 Adavale to Boulia

“K K K”

 (‘Kimberley Karavan Kapers’ - Bruce and Audrey)

No: 2    Adavale to Boulia

April 15, day 10, finds us departing Adavale on the 224km unsealed road to Blackall. The first half is hard red Mulga country, although the road surface was mostly fair, and we saw a live 2 metre deadly “Western Brown" Snake on the roadside; then we came out of the red country, across a rocky escarpment, ‘The Jump-up’, and down into the fertile Listowel Valley seeing a few Kangaroos and several Emus on the last 100km of soft well grassed Black Soil country into Blackall, where we arrived at the Barcoo River Campground behind the town at lunchtime.

Blackall (pop 1588) occupies black-soil flats along the Barcoo River , with the main street comprising three blocks, and like most western towns has a water supply from the Great Artesian Basin but, it’s different in that the town supply here  is pure drinkable water straight from the tap with no bore taste or smell.

Blackall’s other claims to fame include “The Black Stump”, which was used as a base in 1887 to rest a huge theodolite while the government was surveying the far west, and anything West of it was referred to as “being beyond the Black Stump”. The Big Ram Museum, honouring legendary Shearer Jack Howe who shore a record 321 Sheep in 7 hours here; the Blackall Woolscour is the only fully intact steam powered plant left in Australia, and in 1885 Blackall became the first town in Queensland to sink an artesian bore. 


We spent 4 nights in Blackall, and spent our time walking around the town looking at the attractions, with a few millimetres of rain making the campground black soil very sticky under foot. Met some nice people here and enjoyed Sundowners under a rising Full Moon.

Best advice was to head west to Isisford which we did on Good Friday and spent Easter camped on the shady riverbank beside the weir on the (Outer) Barcoo River right at the edge of this nice little outback town. Nearby “Isis Downs” boasted a 100 Stand Shearing Shed at the turn of the 20th century. That’s BIG!!

There’s not much to Isisford town and what’s there was closed for Easter, so we had a quite time socializing with more new friends and eating Red Claw Yabbies caught fresh out of the Barcoo a few metres away. Yum! Just like lobster.

Isisford's well known "Clancys Overflow Hotel"
After 4 days of quiet pleasure at Isisford Weir we were off to the Big Smoke ….. Longreach, armed with shopping lists a mile long, since by now we were aware of things that we’d overlooked from Brisbane or subsequently discovered a need for.
We settled in at the Apex campground beside the ‘long reach’ of the Thomson River 4km out of Longreach (origin of  the name) on 22 April; The countryside for 100’s of sq miles around Longreach is all rolling Mitchell & Flinders grass open downs, drained by the Thompson River, and in Season, superb grazing lands.

Further south, between Jundah and Windorah, the Thomson River joins the Barcoo River to form Cooper Creek, the only place in Australia where 2 rivers join to become a creek. (Thus endeth today’s geography lesson!)

By now Audrey had decided to fly back to Brisbane the next day to attend niece Krystyna and Pete’s Sat 26 wedding, leaving poor “Cinderella” to look after our travelling home, and do the catch-up shopping.

Longreach (pop < 5000) is a regional centre which has pretty much everything,  and where tourism is a major economic player including; the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, the Qantas Museum, Paddleboats on the Thomson River, authentic Stage Coach Rides, and Joy Flights, Campfire Tucker & Bush poetry, etc ad- infinitem.


News arrived that our good sailing friends Dave and Pattie Bowden (ex NSW) were visiting Dave’s brother Stuart’s “Penlan Downs Station” at Muttaburra, 150km north, so an invitation to visit was accepted after departing Longreach, a deviation enroute to Winton.

Another pleasant interlude was catching up with Bruce’s old work colleague, retired Primac Longreach Manager, George Vinson and wife Jan, who invited me home for a BBQ, to regale tales of our mutual lifelong involvement in the rural agency field, pre-dating our friendship from 1968 during our Clermont days.

Staying with the Vinson’s was George’s brother-in-law Don Rayment the manager of “Adria Downs Station” 130km NW of Birdsville, where they run up to 18,500 quality Hereford cattle on 3.2 million acres on several conjoining holdings along Eyre Creek in the western Channels. (The adjoining run contains 6.6 million acres)!! We’ve been invited to visit “Adria Stn” during next year’s outback travels.

Audrey returned following 5 days in Brisbane, so we toured the ‘Stockman’s Hall of Fame’ together, then drove 150 km to Stuart Bowden’s “Penlan Downs” Sheep Station, 85km being dirt road, west of Muttaburra.

‘Penlan’ comprises about 56 Sq miles of Open Downs country, has good waters and improvements, beautifully sweet bore water, and is principally a sheep run, as well as being home to scores of western red kangaroos. The pasture is parched dry, with little rain this season, so stock are being off-loaded.

We worked from sun-up til after dark helping draft off ‘sale’ wethers the first two days, followed by a social day at nearby “Llorac Stn” where there was a Sheep Shearing competition amongst a few locals. Audrey skirted the big wethers’ fleeces while I swept up the loose wool around the shearers’ stands. No such thing as a free lunch out here, and the BBQ lunch was superb.

Then Audrey and I did a round trip back in to Longreach to collect Stuart’s buggy from repairs, so another day gone. The next two days were spent making concrete water troughs, plus we killed and butchered a sheep for home supplies, and fed calf pellets to young weaners who’d squeeze you away to get to the feed trough.


Stuart’s sheep dog ‘Buddy’ is a white kelpie whom the sheep often ignored because he was white like them, so ‘Buddy’ under-went a colour change, being dyed with brown patches to make him more visible, and the Sheep now do as ‘Buddy’ wills them. His markings resemble those of an African Hyena!

A week later we’re back on the road again heading 170km west, including 100km of dirt road with rough cattle grids, through very dry black soil downs to Winton,  the town that gave us Qantas and Waltzing Matilda, and a lovely friendly town it proved to be.

We camped at the ‘Long Waterhole’ 4km south of town with several other fellow caravaners, and returned from town to find a freak “willy willy” whirlwind had blown our Awning across the top of the Van and broken part of it, so we’ve arranged to have a replacement part posted to Alice Springs, where we hope to arrive in a few days’ time.


Most small western country towns look similar, having a wide divided main street, with trees or grass up the centre and the usual array of shops and pubs along either side. Each has their speciality tourist attraction and in Winton it is the “Waltzing Matilda” centre. Comprising an Art Gallery with some very nice works, the story of Australia’s most recognized song is presented in life-size working dioramas of light and sound as well as static displays, and it’s all very good.

In 1999, a Winton grazier noticed a huge fossilized bone protruding from beneath the black soil in a sheep paddock, which bought about the beginning of Australia’s pre-eminent dinosaur science centre, the ‘Australian Age Of Dinosaurs’, sited 24km from Winton, where 100+ million y/o skeletal remains are being retrieved from under 1 to 3 metres of black soil. They tell us Winton is the only place in the world where original dinosaur bones can be seen in open displays, rather than in closed museum displays. 

After an exciting, touristy 2 days in Winton, we headed off west again on the 377km bitumen road to Boulia, passing through some of the most scenic areas we’ve so far seen. The further west we travelled the better the country looked, clearly having more rainfall than the central west.

But then, after Middleton – a lone solitary outback pub beside the highway, the mile after mile of flat open grassy downs country gave way to rugged red soil and fascinating ‘jump-ups’, solitary sentinels, the result of million of years of erosion, when vast inland seas covered much of western Queensland. Cawnpore Lookout offers outstanding views of these features.

It’s now 33 days and 2766km since we left Brisbane; today finds us camped on the banks of the Burke River behind the Racecourse Reserve 5km out of Boulia town. We’ve delayed here an extra day to get this KKK #2 report off into cyber space and plan to depart tomorrow on the 800+ km dirt road through ‘Tobermorey Station’ just over the Northern Territory border, and on into Alice Springs. The changing countryside is really starting to look and feel like The Outback now.

Cheers til the Alice,
Bruce and Audrey

Boulia – Friday 9th May 2014