Monday, 23 May 2016

Episode 49 Road Trip Part 2 SA to NT

Lorelei’s Sailing Outback Adventures

Welcome to Episode 49


At the end of Episode 48, we had finished Lorelei’s refit, flown to Sydney and joined Paul’s parents George and Chez on a 7 week, 7500+km road trip from Sydney to Darwin covering the 3 states of NSW, SA and NT.
The NSW leg was completed at it was on to South Australia.

Our route for this Episode of the Blog.

We left NSW beaming after a great experience at Silverton NSW where Paul was able to get some fantastic night photos of the old buildings.

From there we crossed the border into South Australia.

We had to go through a quarantine checkpoint and the not so friendly guy took all of our fruit and vegetable.
He said he had to take anything with seeds but still took things like cut pumpkin that we brought with the seeds removed, spring onions, etc…
We were a bit unhappy as we had just stocked up at Woolworths the day before and now it was all gone.
Stupidly enough we drove 200km, walked into the next Woolworths a few days later and brought exactly the same produce, for the same prices, with the same stickers on them, etc, etc….
It’s not like we are against quarantine and are very used to it when transiting between countries on-board Lorelei but this was completely silly…..

The first overnight stop in South Australia was Burra.

On the way into Burra we stopped at a well-known house on the side of the road.
It is referred to as the Midnight Oil house as it appeared on the front cover of the iconic Australian rock band Midnight Oil’s famous album Diesel and Dust.

The area also had stacks of Wind Generators which look huge up on the ridge line.

The train also came along at the same time.

Burra is an old Copper Mining Town that started its first open cut copper mine around 1870.
Since then mining has stopped and the town is vastly reduced in size.

It was a trip down memory lane for Paul and George.
George was sent here in the early 1970’s to oversee the building of a copper smelter. It was to take many months so the entire family moved to Burra from the NSW Central Coast. Paul was 4 at the time and still has some memories of the place.

We spent a day walking around the old abandoned mine and visiting the towns attractions.

The open cut mine is now filled with water. 
It is very green in colour from the copper leeching.

We went to have a look at the old railway station and found a couple of wild Kangaroos which we got very close to.

 Due to the freezing overnight temperatures we decided to hire an old renovated Miners Cottage.
It had loads of old school charm. The walls were stone and about 2 feet thick!
 If only the walls could have talked about the history….

A couple of Cook-A-Burras!
Sorry that’s an Aussie Joke……

That night Paul hiked back up to the abandoned mine to attempt his first star trail photo.
He had brought all the equipment necessary a few months prior and was itching for a chance to try it all out.
The most difficult thing was the photo had to been taken looking exactly due south to get the circle of stars right in the middle of the photo.
It was a little unnerving for Paul walking around the mine site in pitch blackness with single digit temperatures at all hours of the night and using a compass app on the IPad to try and align a due south photo.
Eventually he settled on an old smoke stack built in 1875.
By fluke he got the stack and star circle just right and the 2 hour long photo turned out great. Beginners Luck!!!

The next morning it was very cold and we took off early to head towards The Spencer Gulf.

Frost on the ground and foggy conditions leaving Burra

Once at Spencer Gulf, we drove along the coast visiting the 3 ports of Port Pirie, Port Germaine and Port Augusta.

Port Pirie is a very industrial area that is a town in trouble with scaling back of large business and many vacant shops.

The Port Pirie Yacht Club had only 1 yacht and 2 old power boats

Port Germaine is famous for Sand Crabs!
It has the longest timber jetty in Australia and the tourists flock there in Crab season (the summer months) to catch Crabs.
There are places that will rent you a cart with crab pots so you can walk out to the wharf and put them in yourself.
The caravan park across the road has huge boilers and steamers for general use so you can cook them up straight away.

Port Augusta is the largest of the 3 towns and has a nice foreshore area and quaint feel about it compared to the more industrial Port Pirie.

Once we left the water, it was a long and very windy drive to Woomera.
The head wind kept speeds (and fuel efficiency) well down.

It was quite flat for most of the way with red earth, salt pans and salt bush.

To say Woomera is an interesting place is a large understatement!!

Woomera was established at the end of WW2 when the Germans developed the V2 missile. It was the first intercontinental rocket and it decimated London as it could be launched unmanned from The Netherlands, was undetectable by radar and carried a large 1 tonne bomb.
The UK had no answer for it and nothing to match it.
So after the war they wanted to develop and test a similar missile to the V2 and with the help of modern day Aussie pioneer Len Beardell, chose the area at Woomera as a rocket range.
Over 4000 missiles were tested and fired from the range from 1947 to 1980.
The site was then used to launch rockets capable of reaching outer space and to carry satellites.
It is still in use today as a testing range for all types of aircraft and there are rumours it will become a joint US/AUS air force base.

We went to the museum and info centre which was very informative and well laid out.

The Woomera Caravan Park was a wild scene that afternoon!!!
It was brown and desolate with a crazy cloud pattern in the sky and very strong winds.

We elected not to put the tent up after seeing other tents nearly being destroyed in the wind.

 Instead we hired an onsite cabin and the 4 of us cooked and ate in there and watched the Friday night AFL game.

The next morning Paul rang his Mum Diann for mother’s day and she says “Have you heard about the huge storm? It’s heading your way?”
Well we did know about a storm but not about the severity of it.

Over the next few days it dumped water all over the central desert area.
Many roads were cut including the main highway and the road to Ayers Rock/Uluru.
Hundreds of Caravans and Motorhomes were stuck unable to move towns and there was a graziers/livestock alert across the area.
We left in a hurry and made our way 300klm north to Coober Pedy planning to outrun the vicious storm which was hopefully going to track south of us.

On the way north we stopped at Lake Hart for a look.
We also walked along the train tracks for the famous Ghan Railway.

We found this destroyed Wicked Campervan at the base of a 
4WD track where it certainly should not have been…..

By the time we arrived in Coober Pedy it was blowing Dogs off Chains and the windmills were spinning very fast.

The self-contained units were very expensive and the caravan park owners said we could pick any caravan/tent site we wanted. We drove around until we found the wind blowing over a large colourbond fence and set up camp in the reasonably protected lee of the fence.
That’s the sailors influence coming out in us…..

The wind slowly dropped on dusk making for a red sunset.
Paul was able to take a star trail shot after dark when the wind dropped right out.

We found lots of Grasshoppers in the park and on our tent.

Wespent a full day exploring town.
Coober Pedy is the Opal capital of the world.
Whilst there are many Opal fields in outback Australia, Coober Pedy has the largest amount of Opal mines and produces the most amount of Opal.

In the morning we went to the lookout and had a drive around the town centre.

70% of the town’s 2500 people live underground and it is evident when you look from the lookout and see the front facade of a house only on a rock face. The ventilation tubes up the rock slope are the only indication of the rest of the house being underground.

In the afternoon we went on a tour with Stuart Outback Tours.
It was run through the caravan park and we were the only 4 booked on so it was very personal.

We went to see some new underground houses being built.

We had a laugh at the sign on the 18 hole golf course.
There was not a single piece of natural grass to be found.

The whole of the outskirts of town has thousands of piles of Mullock heaps (discarded piles of rocks & earth) from the Opal mines.

We saw lots of birds in the scrub area around the Mullock heaps.

We visited an underground church which had a huge main room and lots of smaller rooms.
The shape of the cuts in the roof looked great and made for an excellent design.

We visited an underground museum that was once a full working mine.
It was huge and a terrific experience.

On dusk Paul went into town to photograph some of the old machinery using time exposures and light painting with a powerful torch.

The Greek owner of the caravan park makes a fantastic (and huge) Satay Chicken Pizza.

The next day we went 20km out of town to view The Breakaways which are a series of amazing rock formations.
It was supposed to be included in the tour we did the day before but the road was closed so we couldn’t get there in the bus. We did find out though that with caution you could travel the road in a 4WD so we took the chance.

The view from the top of the escarpment was just incredible.

Note Lisa on the edge at the left in the photos above and below

There were small caves with kangaroo tracks in them.

We went to another lookout area facing another direction.
 The scenery was different but still amazing.

We carefully took the 4WD down to the valley floor and drove across the plain to view the area from below.

After 4 fabulous days in Coober Pedy we took off north for a large 450km drive to Erldunda in the Northern Territory.

We had to stop a few times for food and driver changes.

We arrived at Erldunda at 3:30pm and made the decision to push on the last 250km to Ayers Rock/Uluru rather than stop and get out all the gear for only a quick overnight stop.
A phone call to the Ayers Rock Resort revealed that the caravan area was fully booked but seeing as we had a 1 week booking starting the next day they said come anyway and they will try to fit us in.

On the drive in we could see Mount Connor - many think it is Uluru when they first see it.

We arrived at the resort at 6:30pm – just on sunset. The fantastic staff of the caravan area told us of a cancellation about 5 minutes after we initially called so they fitted us into to a small but permanent site and we were very happy.
We had driven 700km that day (towing a van and using 3 different drivers) so it was a big day and we had dinner and were soon in bed.

The next morning we went and booked our activities for the week.
Thank goodness we did because there was a special event on called the “Field of Light” which was on for a limited time and the main reason the place was so packed with tourists.
We were lucky to get a booking for it on our last night in Uluru – 5 days away.

We also booked some other fun activities and brought our national park passes.

We headed out to Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) and drove right around it to get a feel for its immense size.

We went for a small 1km walk called the Mala Walk which goes into a remote pool of water at the base of the rock.

George wanted to go left, Lisa wanted to go right. 
 Chez didn’t know who to follow…….

There were stacks of caves and cut-ins we could walk into.

 There is even Aboriginal Rock Art at Uluru.

At sunset we returned to the National Park and went to the sunset viewing area.
Paul had walked the length of it that morning and worked out the exact spot for the best photos.
Fortunately when we got there the car spot was empty so we took it.
Paul set his camera tripod up on the roof cage on the car.

Like always, as soon as the sun set the masses of tourists left and we were the only ones left in our area to view the terrific colours after sunset.

The next morning just the two of us went and did a walk around the rock whilst George and Chez had the morning off.
We started early when the sun was low which was great to beat the heat but not so good for light and photography.

That afternoon Paul searched around the outside of the National Park boundaries (because the Park shuts at 7:30pm) for a location to do a Star Trail photo.
To do the shot properly he should have faced the camera due south but it was hard to find a hill or rise facing due south, but he got reasonably close within 15 degrees.
It was a little far away from The Rock and the result was not perfect but OK.
About ½ an hour into the shot the buses started to run along the dirt road at the bottom of the photo as they transited into “The Field of Light”.
It made for an interesting foreground as their headlights illuminated the trees and road.

We took a break from Uluru and did a full day trip to Kata Tjuta or the old name of The Olgas.
If we thought Uluru was great, then Kata Tjuta was incredible!!
We stopped at a viewing platform about 10km from Kata Tjuta to get an early morning panoramic shot.

George and Chez did the 4.5km lookout walk whilst we did the extended 7km loop walk.

On the walk we saw a lot of small Lizards on rocks basking in the morning sun.

Our last day at Uluru turned into a HUGE day and we ended up doing 4 activities which spanned over 16 hours.

Just the 2 of us woke at 5am and drove out to the Sunrise viewing platform.
We were the first ones there by 40 minutes and took some great pre-dawn photos.
It got very busy when the buses arrived but we had the prime position – with a thermos and hot cuppas which was the envy of many people.

To the left of Uluru we could also see Kata Tjuta in the distance.

As soon as the sun was up we went to the main car park so Paul could climb Uluru.
There is a lot of controversy regarding climbing Uluru.
It has been climbed by tourists for many years but the Indigenous people are trying to close the climb.
Prior to coming to Uluru we googled info about it only to find out part of the climbing chain was removed and the climb was closed indefinitely.
Even 1 week prior it appeared to be closed and when we arrived at the Resort/Campground, there was a sign in reception saying it was closed.
However when we drove around Uluru the first day, we spotted loads of people climbing up the chain.

Paul spoke to a National Park Ranger and he said go for it as it was open.

So on the last morning Paul decided to do the climb.
Due to the steepness, Lisa chose not to do it.
The chain stops about 1/3 of the way up but is there to help people transit the steepest section.
There is a series of white painted lines from the end of the chain which you can follow for about 2km to reach the summit.

Paul on his own at the top of the chain section

On our first day at Uluru we booked a Helicopter flight with Professional Helicopter Services.
There are 2 Helicopter companies operating and we chose the wrong one!!

We were due to do an afternoon flight on our second day and the company called us with only 2 hours to go before the flight and cancelled.
They offered another option but wanted to charge us an extra $500+.
We were not happy and they never called back or gave us another option for the initial agreed price.

We contacted Ayers Rock Helicopters and explained how we had been let down by the other company and they were very sympathetic and offered to help.
However they were very busy and couldn’t fit us in for a few days.
On the night before our last full day Julio the manager of Ayers Rock Helicopters rang us to offer us a fantastic deal for the following day (our last day!!).

Whilst they couldn’t fit all 4 of us at the same time, they agreed to take Chez (in an R44 4-seater (3 tourists and a pilot)) on a flight with another lovely Aussie couple who had also been stuffed around by Professional Helicopters.

Then George, Paul and Lisa did a 1 hour, doors off Photographic charter covering Uluru, KataTjuta and Lake Amadeus.
It is uncommon for the lake to have water in it so we were very excited to see this rare occurrence.

Julio was sooo helpful!!!
He organised it all, picked us up, was our Pilot and dropped us home.
He was professional yet a lot of fun and it made for a very enjoyable experience.
We have nothing but praise for Ayers Rock Helicopters and nothing but bad things to say about Professional Helicopters.

First we went over Yulara and the town area before going to the rock.

From Uluru we went to Kata Tjuta.

In this photo we could see Kuta Tjuta, Uluru and Mount Conner all lined up.

From Kata Tjuta it was a 10 minute flight over to Lake Amadeus.
The water was slowly evaporating leaving pools of water surrounded by salt pans with amazing textures and camel trails in them.

On the way home we went over the airport’s main runaway surrounded by red dirt.

Late that afternoon we were picked up for our night at The Field Of Light.
The Field of Light is a light show in the desert that is on for a limited time.
It is constructed from 50 000 solar powered led lights connected by lit fibre optic cables.
There is over 350km of fibre optic cabling!!
We were able to have drinks and canapés on the hill overlooking the site and Uluru for the sunset.

We were then able to go down into the field and walk around the lights.

It was a fantastic experience and we got home after 9pm.
It had been a huge day and we were exhausted.

The next day we packed up camp and headed north to Kings Canyon which is now called Watarrka.

On the way we stopped for lunch at a small roadside stop and were very excited to see 2 pure bred Dingos (wild Australian Dogs) coming up close to the caravan.
The white markings on the tail was evidence of their pure breeding.

Paul chasing the Dingos around for a good photo turned out to be a bit in vain as when we pulled into the Kings Canyon caravan park we found heaps of Dingos roaming freely through the park.
In fact they were very bold and one day we even found one inside our tent when we left the door open for only a few minutes.

This mangy old Dingo was very brazen. He would walk right through people’s campsites looking for food.
He got up on the next door neighbours table one night and stole some dinner and would sniff around our tent at night time, sometimes waking us up with his snout up against the flyscreen and only inches from our heads.

After the huge day only 2 days prior and a big day of travelling, we decided to do the 2 smaller walks for our first full day at Watarrka.

We went out to Kathleen Creek and did the 3km walk into the valley.
The area is an old stockyard and there is evidence of cattle pens and watering facilities.

We found some large spider webs glowing golden in the sun.

In the arvo we did the Kings Canyon valley walk which was 2km.
The floor of the valley had some stunning Ghost Gum Trees which made for excellent photo subjects.

That evening the sunset looked great over the caravan park.

Early the next morning Paul was in the tent editing photos when George comes in and says “Come and check out the sunrise……”

George, Paul and Lisa decided to tackle the Kings Canyon Rim Walk which is the premier walk in the area.
They left early to avoid the heat and with photo stops it took them 5 hours to complete the steep 7km walk.
It was just spectacular and Paul took over 800 photos.

There are a few sections were you can get very close to the cliff edge.
The issue is you don’t know whether it is a slope below, a vertical face or even an overhang and you are standing on it!!!

In one section we could lie down and crawl right out onto the edge and look over.


Above and below are the same photo just zoomed in above and wide angle below.

Can you see Lisa and George on the edge??

On top of the rim we saw some fantastic Ghost Gum trees and unusual rock formations.

There was a series of bridges and steps leading down into the valley.

At the end of the valley there was a pool that made for great reflection photos.
We were very fortunate to have the “Garden Of Eden” all to ourselves.

Overall Kings Canyon was great.
From a travelling point of view it is out of the way and requires long distances to get there but it is worth it.
The dingos in the park, the sunsets & sunrises all helped to round out a fantastic few days.
We were very fortunate with the weather and it was the warmest location yet with high 20’s in the day and as low as 12 or 13 at night, unlike the single digit overnight temperatures we had experienced everywhere else.
It was so good to be running around in shorts, shirts & bare feet again…..

There is a dirt road called The Mereenie Loop that is around 250km stretching from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs – our next stop.
We talked to many caravan owners and most were electing not to do the dirt road leg as it was ungraded after the rain and heavily corrugated.
The issue was then to get to Alice it meant travelling 270km south back to Eldunda before doing a U-turn and going 200km north giving a total days run of 470km.
Sadly we (along with everyone else at Kings Canyon) didn’t have a choice.

The fuel at Kings Canyon was frightfully expensive so we stopped at a roadhouse that was also a Camel farm.
While Lisa and George filled the car, Chez and Paul went and visited a baby Camel we had seen on the way in.
It took a big liking to Paul….

We stopped at the Erldunda Roadhouse for lunch to find it packed with caravan rigs refueling and having lunch.

Finally we got to The Macdonald Ranges Caravan Park in Alice Springs at 4pm.
We were so excited to find the site full of lush green grass which we had not seen for weeks.
We had a great baked dinner outside and then crashed.

For the next few days it was day trips out of Alice Springs in virtually every direction.

The highlight was a trip out to Palm Valley which was over 100km from Alice.
The view of the ranges along the way was fantastic with so many different rock formations.

We were semi expecting a paved road into a parking area and to start a walk from there – similar to most other walking sites we had visited.
However this one was very different….

We arrived at the turnoff to be greeted by a dirt road and a very ominous road sign – what does “Severe 4WD Route” mean???

The track started fine.

However soon we arrived at the first water course and there were many more after that.
Some were shallow, some long and some deeper and very tricky to navigate.

The sand got deeper and the rocky areas got steeper and rougher.
We spoke to a few 4WD owners who had turned around, but we took up the challenge and continued on.

We had to stop at one stage and let a large Perenti Lizard cross the track.

One water course was very hard with steep drop offs only inches either side of the wheels.
Paul and George walked it first and talked Chez (who was driving) through the passage.

After 90 minutes we stopped for lunch at a Red Cabbage Palm Valley.
The palms are only found in this area and not anywhere else in the world.
They are very special to the indigenous people and are well cared for.

We continued on the 4WD track until we found the walking trail.
We did a fantastic walk encompassing the rim of the gorge and also the valley floor.

It was a bit wild to find the pathway a twisted and mangled mess after what appeared to be ruined by a flood.
Yet for us it was completely dry anywhere around the walking track.

After the walk we headed back but we had no wind and the sun behind us making for awesome reflections in the water pools along the track.

Note our 4WD off to the left hand side of the photo

For Lisa and Chez it was great for them to sit with their feet in the cool water while Paul and George ran around taking photos.

It took another 90+ minutes to get back to the bitumen and then another 75 minutes to drive back to Alice.
On the way we stopped to view the amazing sunset through the trees.

Once again we arrived home late, well after dark and totally exhausted.

In Alice Springs we were very excited to see the Sturts Desert Pea plants on the side of the road.
These iconic Australian Outback plants normally only flower in the summer months when there is rain, however the recent rain had made some plants flower during the winter months.
We had never expected to see these so it was certainly a bonus!

The next day it was a late start but into it again with a 350km round trip to visit 4 walks for the day. They were all short ones but each time with something different.

The first stop was Simpson’s Gap.
The dry riverbed wanders between some stunning sloping rock walls.
There are lots of Ghost Gums in the river bed and Rock Wallabies on the rocky slopes.

We went onto Standley Chasm for lunch.
This spot has been returned to the Aborigines and you must now pay to get in.
That said – they are doing a fantastic job of building a new track with hand railing up to the area’s most famous part – The Chasm.

The Chasm is most popular at around midday when for about 20 minutes, the sun aligns with the straight chasm and illuminates it with light.

There are lots of other walks in the area too which are very picturesque.

After lunch we visited Emily Gap and Jessie Gap which are only about 5km apart.

Emily Gap had a stunning valley and Aboriginal rock art depicting Caterpillars.

Jessie Gap had some amazing bird life.
We saw Parrots and a very noisy Bower Bird.
Unlike our Black Satin Bowerbirds on the east coast, this one was beautifully coloured yellow and after a little searching, Paul managed to find its nest.
It was interesting that all the collected debris was green unlike to Satin Bowerbirds which collect Blue. There is not many blue things in the pristine outback….

So that’s it for this episode of the blog.
It’s only been 3 weeks since our last posting, but we’ve done so much and there are nearly 280 photos in this Episode.
It was hard for Paul to choose from the 12 000 photos he has taken…..

So far we have covered 5 500km since leaving the Central Coast of NSW and as of today (Monday 23rd May) we are half way through the trip, time wise.

From Alice Springs we head slowly north towards Darwin.

So lookout for the next instalment in around 3 weeks time.

Cheers for now.

Paul and Lisa Hogger
having a blast with
 George and Chez Hogger

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