Monthly Archives: June 2017

Day 55 – Daly Waters Pub to Bitter Springs, Mataranka

Again we woke to another day of clear blue skies and sunshine but it is still windy.

We left Daly Waters at about 9.15 am – leaving the car park can be very interesting when over 100 rigs all try to exit at roughly the same time through 3 exit gates – but somehow everyone does.

Our first stop was the Daly Waters WWll Aerodrome about 3km down the road.  It is an amazing place and in reasonable condition – a bit like a movie set.  Interestingly it is still pretty much intact, and with no signs of graffiti or vandalism!  It was obvious that several travelers had used this area as a freecamp overnight.

Daly Waters Aerodrome

Daly Waters Aerodrome

Back on the Stuart Highway we noticed that the road surface was deteriorating and there are lots of warning signs near pot holes and damaged edges.  Not sure if it is flood damage or just wear and tear and a lack of maintenance.

We stopped for coffee at the Alexander Forrest Memorial Rest Area about 45km north of Daly Waters.  This is quite a large area and overnight freecamping is allowed.  There is a covered seating area, rubbish bins and a water tank (not drinkable), but no toilets.  It is just off the road so it would be quite noisy.  The memorial itself is not actually accessible from the rest area, which is a bit strange.  We assume that Alexander Forrest is an ancestor of ‘Twiggy’ Forrest of Fortescue Metals.

Alexander Forrest Memorial Rest Area, and plaque

Further down the highway we turned off the main road and stopped at Larrimah to have a look around.  There is the Historic Larrimah Hotel and the iconic Pink Panther Pub and Caravan Park.

Historic Pubs in Larrimah

We actually decided to indulge in a Devonshire Tea at Fran’s Devonshire Teahouse back on the highway.  It was the strangest Devonshire tea that we have ever had – warm whole meal scone with jam and clotted cream, plus 4 slices of frozen cake!?!   Fran served interesting food including camel pies ($12 each) with a friendly but direct “Basil Faulty” approach.  It was like a side show with her brow beaten husband George!  A great double act and we’re still not sure if they are for real or if it’s just put on for the customers.  Everyone definitely had a great laugh!  We weren’t game to ask questions about the food though!  We will definitely chalk this experience up as one of life’s truly weird experiences!!  If you’re intending on visiting Fran, make sure you ask for prices before ordering!

Fran’s Devonshire Teahouse in Larrimah

Most of the way up the Highway today the undergrowth on the western side of the highway had been burnt or was still smoking.  Over 100 Kms – amazing really.  It appears to be planned but why only one side of the road?

Scenes along the way; lots of burning off

As we travel further north, the termite mounds are growing noticeably taller.

Ant hills in and near Mataranka

At this point we might comment that our Coddiwompling approach to travelling has caught us a little unstuck.  Our destination has always been Darwin, and we have thoroughly enjoyed rambling and meandering along the way; visiting interesting places; staying for as long as we felt like; and so on.  No bookings – just turn-up where-ever!  Yesterday, with Darwin only perhaps a few days away, Ann tried to book some accommodation but couldn’t.  The V8 Supercars are on in Darwin this coming weekend and there isn’t any accommodation anywhere.  It’s not a major problem as there are plenty of places we can stay and/or visit until we can move on to Darwin, but it is something we perhaps would have anticipated if we weren’t quite so casual about our travel. Ce la vie!

Having said that, it was quite a thrill to see a number of V8 racing team trucks pass us on the highway!

Off to the V8 Supercar racing in Darwin

We arrived at Mataranka at about lunch time and Ann picked up a few items at the supermarket before we headed out to Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping on PK’s recommendation.  This park has a lovely tropical feel.  We were given a park map and told to drive around and pick our site.  This sounds great but there are no site numbers and there is thick tropical vegetation so it was not long before we were very lost.  People here were very helpful and we are now settled in our site of choice and have worked out where everything is located.

Bertha at Bitter Springs Caravan Park

Bitter Springs Caravan Park

It is such a lovely setting that we are feeling relaxed already!  I am now in shorts and t-shirt after weeks of feeling cold and wind-blown and wearing long trousers and jackets.

Tomorrow the plan is to head off to the springs and actually go for a swim! Maybe.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 54 – Elliott Rest Area to Daly Waters Pub

Last night about 8.00 pm, in the dark, a large converted coach complete with trailer loaded with SUV and boat came rumbling in and only just missed some of the campers here before coming to a stop.  Two people got out and seemed busy checking something by torchlight.

This morning it seems that they have an electrical issue.  Typical traveller camaraderie, all the boys were out ‘helping’ with generators, battery chargers, etc – nothing like a project to create ‘male bonding’.

Male bonding at its best!

The winds picked up again overnight and rocked us to sleep.  We woke to clear blue skies and sunshine and wind again this morning.  Bertha told us that it was 11 degrees outside and 19 degrees inside at 7.30 am, so the cold problem appears to be solved leaving us with a wind problem.  Hopefully that will go away soon too!

We headed north past Newcastle Waters rest area/free camp, which was bituminised and had a toilet but was very close to the road and very crowded, even at 9.00am.  We are very happy that we chose the gravel pit rather than stay here.

Further up the highway we went past the Sir Charles Todd Memorial which also seemed to be a free camp, although it isn’t listed in Camps 9.  It looked to be better than the last place.

Sir Charles Todd Memorial & rest area

As we continued up the highway we were passed by 5 Trakmaster caravans in a row; we suspect that they were travelling together and had camped at the Memorial free camp.

We later stopped at the Dunmarra Wayside Inn for thermos coffee in Bertha, and topped up the fuel ($1.76 per litre).

Dunmarra

We timed things perfectly and arrived at Daly Waters Pub just before lunchtime.

Arriving at Daly Waters Pub

Welcome to Daly Waters Pub

The caravan park was starting to fill up even then, and the chap who took us to our site said that recently it had been chockers by 4.00 pm. This is an interesting park in that the vans are parked in rows, so in the morning you can potentially be stuck if the people ahead of you don’t want to move as early as you might like.  We’re second in the row so we should be OK.

Parked in Rows at Daly Waters Pub/Caravan Park

We were here in 2013 and most things haven’t changed much, although we did notice that the toilet facilities had been slightly upgraded and more toilet huts have been added.  They are all mini-ensuites and have a toilet, hand basin and shower, which is a nice change from most places.

Interesting amenities at Daly Waters Pub/Caravan Park

Booking into the caravan park we also booked and prepaid for dinner.  We’re both looking forward to a delicious BBQ barra and salad dinner, and a few cold beverages.

After a very light lunch in Bertha we went for a walk around Daly Waters and the pub to explore.  This is certainly an interesting and quirky place!  There is a shop and a servo (of sorts) and there are other shops and museums under some of the old Queenslanders.

Daly Waters Pub

The township of Daly Waters

Caps, knickers and bras are all around the bar in the pub, and there was even a fire going despite the weather being in the mid/high twenties.  Our walk was so exhausting that we had to stop and have a cool drink in the bar!

Inside Daly Waters Pub

Daly Waters Pub Beer Garden

Refreshed, we returned to Bertha for a quiet afternoon, saving our energy for dinner and entertainment tonight.

There is a For Sale notice outside the pub and apparently the pub and some surrounding shops etc is available for around $3 million.  This would be a great family business and way of life!

Daly Waters Pub has a great system – it worked like this.  Happy Hour was from 5.00pm to 6.00pm and the drinks were very well priced.  Entertainment started at 5.30pm and dinner was served in batches at half hourly intervals starting at 6.30pm.

So, like many others we headed over to the beer garden area around 5.00pm and ordered drinks.  The first entertainer, a country and western singer named Tom Maxwell, started playing at 5.30pm.  Tom comes from Tamworth and has been nominated for the Golden Guitar award 5 times, but has yet to win one.  The couple we were sitting with were from Horsham and we mentioned that had been at the Horsham Country Music Festival in March – it turned out that they were both country music fans and the wife, whose name I have forgotten, is actually a DJ at a Horsham radio station and hosts a regular country music program.  She knew Tom Maxwell and had several of his 13 CDs.  He played mainly original country music with a few covers – he was certainly very good and great entertainment.

We were in the first round for dinner at 6.30pm and were both served huge barramundi steaks and we were able to help ourselves at the salad bar.  Needless to say dinner was absolutely delicious.

At 7.00pm the second act came on.  He was ‘Stevie Still Rocking’ and we saw him when we were here in 2013.  Stevie sings mainly gentle rock ‘n roll, with the likes of songs from Ricky Nelson rather than the Rolling Stones.  Many of his songs invoked sing-a-longs with the audience and he had quite a few people up dancing.

Tom Maxwell (top) and Stevie Still Rocking at Daly Waters Pub

We didn’t have a very late night but we had a delicious dinner with a few accompanying drinks, enjoyed some great musical entertainment, made some new friends, and overall – it was great fun!

Still living the dream!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 53 – Tennant Creek to Elliott

We woke to blue skies and sunshine but quite strong winds which had howled through the night.  Ann even got up at one stage and wound down the TV aerial.  After packing up and giving Bertha a bit of a clean we headed north.  This has been a good stopover to catch up on things, including communications.

Our first stop was at the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station some 11 kilometres up the highway.  The Telegraph was an essential communications line before central Australia opened up and we have seen many restored telegraph stations on this journey to reflect this.  This one was especially remote and was, in effect, a mini-village with most needed service, like butchers, food storage etc on site.  The Tennant Creek Telegraph Station closed in 1935 but the property was used by linesmen until 1950.

Tennant Creek Telegraph Station

Tennant Creek Telegraph Station

Tennant Creek Telegraph Station

From Tennant Creek our next stop was at the Three Ways Roadhouse.  Three Ways is so named as it is the intersection of the Stuart Highway with the Barkly Highway which heads east into Queensland.  The roadhouse was extremely busy with very long queues for fuel so we had coffee in Bertha.

Three Ways Roadhouse

Sometimes we know exactly how these guys feel!

Another 50 or so kilometres along the highway we stopped at the Attack Creek rest area (Camps 9 #84) for a quick look around.  This is a big space with a drop toilet and other basic facilities for travellers.  There were several travellers happily set-up here, with washing lines and one van had a generator going.  This would a good place to stop overnight.  There is also an interesting story about this place featuring our old friend John McDouall Stuart and his various expeditions.  This place is the site where the native Waramungu People attacked Stuart’s expedition party and successfully defended their traditional lands.  The stories continue with gold being found in the area and later with the Warumungu People’s fight for native title.  An interesting place to visit but you probably wouldn’t make a special trip just to get to Attack Creek.

Scenes along the way

Attack Creek

Further up the highway we slowed down to have a look at Banka Banka Station (caravan park).  This is a very popular stop and we stayed here in 2013.  It was very rustic and not very organised then but things appear to have changed. We did see some new facilities and they are really packing the vans in now.

Scenes of Banka Banka Station

We continued up the Stuart Highway – this highway is also known as ‘Explorer’s Way’ because of the way that McDouall Stuart and his several expeditions trekked from the Southern Ocean to find the ocean in the north.

Scenes along the way

Large cattle yards along the way

Sunday lunch was at Renner Springs Desert Hotel/Roadhouse.  Being a Sunday we thought that we would treat ourselves to a roast lunch, but there were no roasts on the menu so we settled for a steak sandwich with the lot.  They were huge and we could possibly have shared one between the two of us.  Absolutely delicious though, and not overpriced for what we were served.  This is an interesting place with a large collection of caps on the ceiling in the shop.  We also had a friendly peacock come to share some lunch with us as we watched the constant flow of travellers and truckies coming in to refresh themselves and refuel their vehicles.  There is also a caravan park out the back.

Renner Springs Desert Hotel/Roadhouse and caravan park

Sunday Lunch at Renner Springs

Friendly peacock at Renner Springs

We skipped their coffee after lunch, as they only had instant, and continued north through the town of Elliott, which was pretty dead given it was Sunday afternoon.  We did notice a sign to an historic WWII Staging Area, which we assume is associated with the Staging Area at Barrow Creek – we weren’t game to follow the dirt road this time!

Views of Elliott on a Sunday afternoon

We eventually stopped in a gravel pit about 20 kilometres north of Elliott and did a basic set-up.  There are no facilities here but we are fully self-contained so that’s not an issue.  We even have 4 bars on our phones.  There are about a dozen different caravans and even a huge Winnebago Nullarbor A Class motorhome.

Gravel pit outside Elliott

We’ll just have a relaxing evening and catch up on some reading as we don’t expect to have TV reception.

Ann found some beautiful wildflowers

Another of Ann’s wonderful sunset photos!

Wonder where we’ll be tomorrow night?

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure, Free Camping | Tags: , , ,

Day 52 – Barrow Creek to Tennant Creek

We woke to sunshine and clear blue skies but still needed the diesel heater to warm things up before starting our day.  It was so peaceful at our freecamp, other than the millions of birds there, that we had thought about staying another day. But then it was only 1 degree overnight so we decided to keep heading north in search of warmer weather.

We left the Barrow Creek freecamp at around 9.30am and noticed how narrow the exit gate was as we went through.  It seemed bigger yesterday for some reason.

Narrow Gate from the freecamp

Back on the Stuart Highway, about 5 kms from where we had stayed, was Taylors Creek and a crowded freecamp.  It did have a toilet and it was bituminised but it would have been very noisy as it was right beside the highway.

Scenes along the way

Scenes along the way

At the recommendation of other diners at Gemtree we stopped for fuel at Wycliffe Well.  Diesel was an amazingly cheap $1.279 per litre!  This is an interesting place to visit as it bills itself as the ‘UFO Capital of Australia’.  The buildings and caravan park are all covered in UFOs and similar themes and the roadhouse has a huge range of UFO souvenirs etc.  Fuel was all that we purchased.  We never got to understand the UFO link.

Wycliffe Well Caravan Park

Wycliffe Well – UFO Capital

Wycliffe Well – UFO Capital

Next stop on the highway was the Wauchope Hotel and Caravan Park (also sign written as the Devils Marbles Hotel) but it looked deserted.  We assume that business would pick up later in the day – it is Saturday after-all.  We stopped for coffee in the rest area outside the hotel.

Wauchope/Devils Marble Hotel

Rest Area at Wauchope/Devils Marble Hotel

From Wauchope we drove to Devils’ Marbles – one of our ‘bucket list’ places to see!  Pulling off the highway there were signs to the day stopover and the camping area.  We chose the camping area as we had contemplated staying here for the night.  It would have cost $3.30 per person!

Entrance to Devils MArbles

On the road into the Devils Marbles

Bertha at the Devils Marbles

The marbles themselves are spectacular and seem to be miraculously stacked on top of each in weird and wonderful ways.  The photos just don’t do them justice.  Visitors can wander around at will but are requested not to climb on the rocks as this is a sacred place to the original inhabitants of the area.

Plenty of interesting information

The Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles

The camping area has great facilities including toilets, BBQs, seating, etc.  In the carpark we caught up with a couple who we had crossed paths with a couple of times this week.

We walked for what seemed like hours and took lots of photos, which was a bit of a challenge given the quite strong winds.

The Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles

All of the carparks became very crowded at lunchtime so we had a quick lunch in Bertha and decided to keep heading north.

Scenes along the way

Bonney Well Rest Area

Most of the road kill are cattle

We continued up the highway to Tennant Creek and as we already had a map of the town we took a scenic route around town.

Welcome to Tennant Creek

Views around Tennant Creek

Not much seemed to be open so we booked into the Tennant Creek Caravan Park at the north end of town.  We had intended driving further today but the time we spent walking and talking at the Devils’ Marbles meant that we arrived in town later than we had anticipated.

This is a very nice caravan park with friendly new owners in a lovely garden setting and great security at night.  It is Saturday after-all.  After showing us to our site and making sure we knew where everything was, the owner asked if there was anything else he could do for us.  We had 2 empty gas bottles which he took away to refill and then delivered them back to our site very promptly.  He should do well here with service like that!

There is very much an international feel about this place.  I had a great chat in the camp kitchen while using the BBQ with a young Finnish couple and an older couple from Tasmania sharing stories about our travels, places visited and still to visit, and so on.  For the first time in a while there were also several other motorhomes other than rentals.

Finally we have power, gas and water, and more importantly mobile phone coverage, TV reception, and internet access!

We look forward to a relaxing evening with all mod-cons before heading off tomorrow.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 51 – Gemtree to Barrow Creek WWII Staging Area

It was cold but not freezing last night, although a strong South-Easterly wind blew up overnight.  We woke to clear blue skies and warm sunshine but the wind-chill factor made being outside quite uncomfortable.

After packing up Bertha and a quick stop at a very rural dump point we drove back 70 kms down the single lane Plenty Highway.

Track to the Gemtree dump point

Just love single lane highways!

We were surprised by the number of SUVs and caravans heading east so early in the morning but had no trouble moving off the road so we could pass each other safely.  This stage of our journey was quite uneventful except for a small mob of cows that casually sauntered across the highway.  We had plenty of warning so there were no dramas.

Cattle crossing the Plenty Highway

We stopped for thermos coffee at the junction of the Plenty Highway with the Stuart Highway, before turning north up the Stuart Highway.  There was quite a lot of traffic on the highway; caravans, trucks, SUVs, etc, but pretty well zero motorhomes or campervans other than the hire variety.

Coffee stop at corner of Plenty and Stuart Highways

Some roadworks sent up huge clouds of red dust as they were grading the sides of the road.  This makes great sense as it reduces feed for wildlife so close to the road, and assists with drainage should storms arrive.  Having wide edges also makes it a lot easier to see other traffic on the road.

Roadworks means lots of red dust

Nice wide edges to the highway

The speed limit on most of the Stuart Highway is 130 kmh so it did seem a bit strange to be asked to reduce speed to 100 kmh, then to 80 kmh and 60 kmh.

Scenes along the way

Ant hills have started to appear on the roadside in this stretch of our journey.  Occasionally they are dressed up with hats, singlets, and so on.  Hopefully the ant hills are a sign that the weather will warm up soon!  Today the winds are keeping temperatures down a bit.

We’re starting to see bigger ant hills

We took a minor turn off the highway to Aileron where there is a roadhouse and some very impressive sculptures, but we didn’t stop.

Scenes from Aileron

We soon stopped at the Prowse Gap Rest Area (Camps 9 #26) for lunch beside Bertha.  This rest area has drop toilets and allows 24 hour overnight camping.  It also has a mobile phone ‘hot spot’ so Ann called our son Phil to assure him that we were fit and well and would update the blog as soon as we had proper mobile and internet coverage.  Ann was also able to download email on her phone.

Prowse Gap rest area

After lunch we drove another 45 kms to Ti-Tree Roadhouse which we had thought would be our overnight destination.  There were caravans everywhere, including the truck parking area so we decided to keep driving up the highway.  It was still early so we had plenty of time.

We continued up the Stuart Highway to the McDouall Stuart Memorial Reserve rest area (Camps 9 #24) for a stretch in the sun.  This is a quite large area and overnight camping is allowed although there are no facilities other than a Telstra ‘hot spot’ which was getting quite a workout from a car full of young people.

McDouall Memorial Stuart Reserve

There are also two memorial plaques here.  One is for Ian Dahlenburg who founded Ti-Tree Grape Farm and Red Centre Mango Farm in the early 1970s.  We had passed the farm earlier at Ti-Tree and had commented at the size of the vineyards and the fact that they were here in central Australia.  At one time Ti-Tree farm was the second largest horticultural business in the Northern Territory.

Memorial Plaque

The second memorial monument and plaque is for John McDouall Stuart who ascended and named Mount Sturt in April 1860 – the mountain was later renamed Central Mount Stuart in honour of the explorer.  Tennant Creek, where we will arrive in a few days, is located in the McDouall Ranges, also presumably named in honour of the explorer Stuart.

Back on the Stuart Highway we headed for Barrow Creek Roadhouse as another option for our overnight stay.  We drove through what seemed to be endless mulga scrub until we came across some roadworks for line painting.

Scenes along the highway

Not unexpectedly we had to stop at the Stop sign where the road reduced to a single lane until the flag-lady waved us through.  What we didn’t expect, and have never seen before, was a pilot car escorting us along the 3 kilometres with a flashing sign asking us to follow the pilot car as there were wet lines.  Quite amazing!

Roadworks – line painting

Roadworks – line painting

Arriving at Barrow Creek we were a bit disappointed.  The entire place looked run down other than the restored heritage Telegraph Station, and we couldn’t see any caravans or motorhomes anywhere, so we decided to continue on our quest for overnight accommodation.

Barrow Creek Roadhouse & Caravan Park

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station

Is this Coddiwompling?  We are certainly “travelling purposefully toward an as yet unknown destination”.

Camps 9 came to the rescue with a reference to a rest area at the Barrow Creek WWII Staging Area (#22) some 20+ kilometres down the highway from the roadhouse.  Turning off the highway we were completely in the hands of our Garmin GPS as we headed down a dirt track in reasonably good condition into the unknown.  After about 1 km we came across a sign and a number of caravans and a motorhome came into view.

Welcome to Barrow Creek WWII Staging Area freecamp

We soon found a great site on a nice wide concrete slab, with a fire-pit nearby.  Most other vans here are also parked on slabs so after setting up Bertha we went for a walk to understand more about this place.  The sign we had seen explained that this was one of the military staging areas for troops moving north from Alice Springs to Darwin in WWII.  According to the map on the sign, Bertha is currently parked on the site of one of the original mess halls.  There are other slabs that have the remnants of walls and fireplaces, but we do wonder where all the bricks and other materials went after the war.

Parked at freecamp

Back in Bertha, we settled in for a night of freecamping.  Ann cooked up a delicious dinner, only popping outside quickly to take a beautiful photo of the sunset.

Sunset at Barrow Creek WWII Staging Area Freecamp

Yet again, no mobiles, no TV and no internet.  Updating the blog will have to wait another day.

Still thoroughly enjoying The Motorhome Experience!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure, Free Camping | Tags:

Day 50 – R&R at Gemtree

Today was always going to be an R&R day at Gemtree so we didn’t have to hurry getting ready for anything this morning.  It was cold but nowhere near last night at Ross River – we are a bit higher up and a bit further north which should make some difference.

Lookin’ Out Our Backdoor!

Once up and having fiddled around a bit in Bertha, we headed off to the Gemtree Café for their legendary Devonshire Tea, served in the sun under the verandah.  It really hit the spot, that’s for sure.  After that we went into the Gem Room to have a good look at what was on display.  They have a great range of local and imported gems on display and for sale; some made up as jewellery pieces.  They also have settings available for visitors lucky enough to have found something precious on their fossicking tours and would like it made into jewellery on the spot.

By now it was getting close to lunch time so we bought a couple of Aaron’s beef pies from the shop and took them back to Bertha for lunch.  Aaron really is a talented cook!

After lunch we knew that we really needed some exercise so we took off on the Gemtree Nature Walk with a handy guide we picked up at the office.  The nature walk is about 3.5 kms overall, and has well marked trees and other interesting landmarks, all of which are well explained in the guide.

Rear of the Billabong Bar

Scenes on the walk including a disused golf course

There is also a rough map which at least gives you some idea as to where you are in relation to the camp ground.  The Australian bush won’t look quite the same again, now that we have seen different variations of the many species of trees and shrubs, etc.  The guide also gave some interesting details about different mountain ranges visible from different places on the path.  We even found what had at one time been a bush golf course, complete with ball washer!

Extracts from Gemtree Nature Walk guidebook

Our only regret about going on the nature walk was that we hadn’t applied enough insect repellent – the flies were terrible.

Back at Bertha, having well and truly had our exercise for the day, we settled down to some fresh fruit and coffee, and to catch up with a bit of reading.

Sunset at Gemtree

There is no mobile or TV access here, but there is limited free wi-fi internet courtesy of the NT Government.  Unfortunately it is slow and very limited and we have been unable to connect at all.  We spoke to many others who were also unable to connect, despite huddling outside the laundry area where the ‘hot spot’ is.

With so much to see and do it really hasn’t been a problem for us.

Tomorrow the plan is to get back to the Stuart Highway and start heading north, towards the warmth.  Hopefully we’ll have both mobile and internet access where-ever we end up for the night.

Gee this Coddiwompling is fun!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags:

Day 49 – Ross River Resort to Gemtree

Last night was the coldest night we have experienced so far on this trip.  At 7.30am Bertha’s thermometer showed -1 degree (yes, negative one degree).  We’re sure that it was colder than that earlier on.  We figure that being in a low lying river flat the cold just settles in.  The power went off at about 8.30 am so the diesel heater was turned on immediately – that’s one investment we definitely don’t regret!

There was another glorious clear blue sky and by 9.00am the thermometer was showing 5 degrees – a little more pleasant but unfortunately we haven’t packed clothes for the snow on this trip.

Morning at Ross River

Morning at Ross River

After packing up we headed back down the Ross Highway through the spectacular scenery of the East MacDonald Ranges.  Our first stop for coffee was at Emily Gap (how could we not given that we have a grand-daughter Emily).  This is a beautiful, peaceful place with a walk along a dry riverbed amongst amazing rock structures.  In places it almost looks as though you are walking through walls made from stone blocks.  A feature of Emily Gap are some aboriginal rock paintings relating to 3 caterpillars.

Scenes along the Ross Highway

Welcome to Emily Gap

Scenes at Emily Gap

Rock Paintings at Emily Gap

Scenes at Emily Gap

From Emily Gap we continued our journey into Alice Springs.  After a quick stop at the showgrounds public dump point we continued on to IGA for more supplies.  We tried calling the Tourist Information Centre to see if there was somewhere we could top up the fresh water tank but couldn’t get through, so we soldiered on!

For lunch we stopped at the Old Telegraph Station carpark.  From there we were back on the Stuart Highway for nearly 80 kms. At one stage we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn.

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn

Eventually we turned east down the Plenty Highway for another 77 kms to Gemtree Caravan and Tourist Park.  Ann had actually made a booking from Alice Springs while we had mobile reception.  The Plenty Highway actually goes through to another 745 km to Boulia in Queensland, but Gemtree was far enough for us.

Sign on the Plenty Highway

The last 70 kms or so are single lane which keeps the driver on their toes to say the least.  You never know what’s coming around the corner or over the hill when you will have to move off the road!  We met several trucks and SUVs and all but the largest truck moved to the side of the road so we could pass comfortably.  The big fellow wasn’t moving for anyone, especially not a motorhome, so we were fortunate to find a wide strip of roadside where we could stop while he passed us.

Look who we met on the single lane Plenty Highway

Road widened at the rail line but narrowed again after

Nearly there!

Gemtree Caravan and Tourist Park is a 250 acre family run tourism business run by Aaron and Kate McMaster, and they do it extremely well!

Welcome to Gemtree

Historic Cottage at Gemtree – they have a grant to restore this cottage

The brochure describes it as “Genuine Outback Hospitality”, and it really is.  Gemtree is a very spacious campground/outback experience.  We were shown to our site by a chap on a quadbike.  We have power, and although the water is artesian, it is drinkable so we hooked up.  There is a handy mulga tree which the grey water hose is watering.  We even have a fire pit if we want to light a fire.

Plenty of space at Gemtree

This place is a mixture of on and off-road caravans and campers, with only one motorhome (Bertha) and we think only one campervan.  There are some very serious off-road rigs here – many are happy to have an un-powered site, have their solar panels out, and have a campfire going most of the day.

There are plenty of things to do here at Gemtree with the main attraction being gem-stones.  They offer long half-day (ie 8.30am to about 2.00pm) guided tag-along fossicking tours – garnet on one day and zircon on another, or you can buy a bag of rocks and wash and sort them in more comfort at the caravan park.  They will sort and classify any treasures that you find as part of the deal.

Kate and Aaron’s sons Mac and Tom are third generation students with Alice Springs School of the Air.  Schoolroom tours can be arranged and you can even leave your own kids there for a couple of hours!  There are 5 students at Gemtree and with Kate being a teacher it doesn’t look as though they miss out on much by being remote.  Technology has changed a lot in 3 generations and schooling is now all internet driven.

Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturday, they have a camp-oven dinner by the billabong (which is (currently totally dry).  Fortunately Ann booked dinner for us from Alice Springs which was just as well as there were no vacancies by the time we actually arrived.  ‘Kate’s Campoven Kitchen’ won the 2010 New Tourism Innovation Award for Central Australia, and it is amazing what they do and how they do it.  They have won a variety of other tourism awards since.

Kate’s Campoven Kitchen

A tour of the Campoven kitchen is included as part of the ‘5 million star dinner’.  They can actually feed up to 300 people from this kitchen!  Dinner under the stars with kerosene lanterns on the tables was absolutely delicious, and we made some new friends.  For dinner we had roast beef, roast potatoes (cooked in repurposed beer kegs), roast pumpkin, roast onion, broccoli and cheese sauce, cauliflower and cheese sauce and a secret recipe gravy.  The serving sizes were generous!  There was also the Billabong Bar, which definitely wasn’t dry, with a variety of beverages available to have with your meal.

Billabong Bar

After dinner Kate showed and helped narrate a 1963 movie which featured her great-grandfather and her uncle Charlie Chalmers as an 8 year old.  It was actually a promotional film for the first boarding school in Alice Springs and Charlie was the first student.  Until this school (St Phillips) existed remote students had to do their senior schooling in Adelaide, at great expense and inconvenience.  Kate was able to add extra details to the film and explain more about the 5 generations of the Chalmers family and their association with the area (Kate was Kate Chalmers before she married Aaron).  A pleasant end to a great evening.  Although it was only about 8.30pm it was starting to become cold so everyone hurried back to their accommodation to warm up and settle in for the evening.

On Friday nights Gemtree offer Baked Potato dinners with paddy melon bowls, and on Sunday they offer Karaoke and fish and chips.  If you can’t be bothered with that they also offer take-away meals delivered to your site.  Not bad service for such a remote place!

No TV, mobile or internet here, but we’re still living the dream!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 48 – Glen Helen to Ross River Resort

After another freezing cold night we woke to a cloudless blue sky and glorious sunshine reflecting on the magnificent sheer rock face.  After packing up we drove back down Namatjira Drive for a few kilometres to Ormiston Gorge.

Scenery on the way to Ormiston Gorge from Glen Helen

On the way into Ormiston Gorge

Our first walk was an easy one on a well paved pathway to the waterhole.  It was beautiful scenery all along the path and especially at the waterhole itself.

Welcome to Ormiston Gorge

Scenes along the way to the waterhole

Ormiston Gorge Waterhole

Ormiston Gorge Waterhole

Scenes at Ormiston Gorge waterhole

Coming back to the carpark we decided to then tackle the Ghost Gum Walk.  This is rated as medium and is quite steep and narrow in places.  To complete this walk you are also required to walk through cold water.

Start of the Ghost Gum Walk

Scenes along the Ghost Gum Walk

Scenes along the Ghost Gum Walk

The Ghost Gum Walk takes you along the edge of the gorge and up many well-made stairs.  In places there are metal balustrades as a safety measure and something to hang onto.  We both made it to the main lookout, which is a sizeable metal structure that can only have been lifted in by helicopter.  From the lookout platform there were views across to the carpark and camping area, plus along the creek and the gorge itself.  Spectacular views to say the least!

Scenes along the Ghost Gum Walk

Scenes along the Ghost Gum Walk

Main Lookout on the Ghost Gum Walk

Scenes from the Lookout on the Ghost Gum Walk

Scenes from the Lookout on the Ghost Gum Walk

From the lookout the path continued along the rock wall and down to the creek, through the creek, and eventually back in a loop to the main parking area.  We decided to return back the way we had come and enjoy the views from a different perspective.  It is amazing the difference that the direction of the sun can make at times!

Back at the carpark we enjoyed a very good coffee at the kiosk.

Kiosk at Ormiston Gorge

This is a fantastic spot!  The amenities are great and the campground looked very good.  It is quite small and today it was packed – it operates on a first come first served basis.

From Ormiston Gorge we headed back East to Alice Springs.  We stopped for lunch in Bertha at the Desert Park which has nice big sites and is just off the road.

Scenes from Ormiston Gorge to Alice Springs

Refreshed, we headed further East down the Ross Highway to Ross River Homestead and Resort for the night.  This was another interesting drive through spectacular scenery, although the road did revert to a single lane as we got closer to the resort.  Fortunately there was no other traffic but it does keep you on your toes!

Scenes from Alice Springs

Scenes from Alice Springs

Road narrows to single lane

Narrow road continues

4WD Binns Track or Ross River Resort?

At Ross River there is a heritage homestead and restaurant, with a reception area.  This is clearly a working property and it is interesting to see the assortment of vehicles, machinery, shedding, and so on.

Arrival at Ross River Resort

Scenes at Ross River Resort

Scenes at Ross River Resort

The camp ground is about 1 km away from the homestead and is set amongst magnificent gum trees and surrounded by the spectacular East MacDonald Ranges (just yesterday we were in the West MacDonald Ranges).

Arriving at the Campground at Ross River Resort

Sites here are large and spacious.  They have power but again the water is undrinkable.  Fire pits of some description are provided through-out the camp area.  The amenities can best be described as primitive.

Parked at Ross River Resort

Scenes at Ross River Resort

We were quite tired after a long walk and then a decent drive, so after a walk around the camping area we returned into Bertha where Ann rustled up a magnificent meal.  We then settled in to watch a movie (no mobile, internet or TV is available).

Observation:  No Pets are allowed in most of the areas we have travelled through recently.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Day 47 – Alice Springs to Glen Helen Homestead Lodge

Another freezing night but we were up relatively early to get ourselves and Bertha ready for today’s Coddiwompling adventure!

After a quick stop at the local IGA for milk and fruit, we headed back into Alice Springs and turned West on Larapinta Drive.  We passed John Flynn’s Grave and Simpsons Gap that we had visited previously in the hire car, and from then on we were in new territory.

The scenery here, through the West MacDonald Ranges, with the different rock formations is truly amazing.

Scenery along Larapinta Drive

Scenery along the way

Road into Standley Chasm

First stop for the day was at Standley Chasm. The aboriginal name for this place is Angkerle Atwatye and it is described as a truly unique outback experience.  The chasm has been gouged through tough sandstone rock by floods that, over untold millions of years, have surged through a narrow tributary of the Finke River system.  The result is a deep cleft in the West MacDonald Ranges.

Welcome to Standley Chasm

There are some spectacular walks into the chasm but although the sun was out is was still very cold so we decided to forgo exercise for a coffee at the Café.  We did tramp through the Chasm last time we were here.

Walking Trail Information

The cafe is a big and welcoming place, with chooks running everywhere.  Unfortunately all the spots near the fire were taken before we got there, but we definitely enjoyed our coffee.  There are a number of powered and unpowered camping sites here but it would be definitely first in first served.

Cafe at Standley Chasm

Scenes at Standley Chasm

Back on Larapinta Drive we came to a turn-off which forced us to make a decision whether to continue to Hermannsburg or turn off towards Glen Helen.  We chose Glen Helen as we visited Hermannsburg last time we were here.  According to our map there were several more places to stop and explore on Namatjira Drive on the way to Glen Helen, with not so many options if we were to go to Hermannsburg.

Scenes along the way

The first turn-off we came to was to Owen Springs but as we slowed and got ready to turn off we could see that it was a dirt road, so we chose to stay on the black-top rather than risk any damage to Bertha. The next road, to Ellery Creek, was also unmade and looked even more like a 4WD road, so we continued along Namatjira Drive.

The Road to Ellery Creek Big Hole

Serpentine Gorge sounded interesting, but again it was a dirt road, and Serpentine Chasm was signposted as being suitable for 4 wheel drives only.  All in all we were a bit disappointed!

The next turn-off was to the Ochre Pits, and this was OK – it was a proper made road.  By now though our sense of adventure was somewhat diminished so we continued on, noting that we might come back this way and turn off then.

Ormiston Gorge was the next turn-off and it is a good made road and we definitely want to go there.  We were so close to Glen Helen though that we decided to get to Glen Helen and book in for the night.  We could decide later what exploring we really felt up to.

Two things immediately struck us on arriving at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge (sometimes known as Glen Helen Resort): the amazing views right in front of us, and the flies!  This place describes itself as ‘an oasis in the desert’ but it probably isn’t our idea of a resort.  There are a number of different accommodation options available, including rooms in the historic homestead.  The Namatjira Restaurant is pretty up-market and has won a wide range of awards.  There are tours available here, including helicopter flights, and there is a swimming pool.

Welcome to Glen Helen

We parked Bertha facing the views. There is only a limited number of sites here and as a result they are on the small side.  We connected to power, but the water is very salty and undrinkable so we didn’t connect and relied on our water tank.

Bertha at Glen Helen Outback Lodge

Once set-up we wandered down to the Homestead.  There is a reception area here with a gift shop and licensed café.  It looked very welcoming on the terrace outside overlooking Glen Helen Gorge and the ancient Finke River, so we stayed and had a delicious lunch washed down with a cool beverage, outside, in the sun.

Lunch overlooking the Finke River

The experience was overwhelming – we really felt as though we were as one with nature!  After lunch we just sat there taking in the views before heading off on a walk along the river bed to the swimming hole at the gorge.  The views walking along the river were amazing.  It was also interesting to see river debris left in trees over 2 metres above where we were walking, so there must have been floods or heavy rains not too long ago.  Given the width of the river banks, that would be a huge volume of water!

Scenes along the Finke River

At the gorge itself, the water is incredibly clear, and cold.  We could see plenty of small fish swimming around.  We could also see an orange life-saving ring which seemed a little out of place on first sight, but perfectly logical when we thought about it – this is a place for swimming after-all.

Scenes along the Finke River

Scenes along the Finke River

From the gorge we wandered back along the river bed to the café where we enjoyed a coffee on the terrace.

Finally it was time to head back to Bertha for a rest before taking off again to enjoy some scenes at sunset before settling in for the evening.  No mobile phone, no internet and no TV, so we will catch up with some reading and an early night.

Views of Glen Helen

Views of Glen Helen Outback Lodge

We’ll explore Ormiston Gorge tomorrow!

PS: Here’s a map which may help put where we are into perspective.

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: ,

Days 36 to 46 – Alice Springs Update No 2

Ann is back!  After a week or so in cold and wet Melbourne, Ann is back in Alice Springs.  Unfortunately she bought some Melbourne temperatures with her and we have had overnight temperatures in the negatives!  The days are cooler as well, but at least we get sunshine and clear skies.

While Ann was away, I did take the opportunity to visit the National Road Transport Hall of Fame and the Ghan Legends Museum.

Rather than pack up Bertha and drive a few kilometres out to the museum complex, I booked a Half Day Tour with the NRTHF.   This included bus pick-up and return to Wintersun Caravan Park, entry to both the Truck Museum and the Ghan Museum, access to all other features at the museum complex, a guided tour of the entire complex and a light lunch.

Jeff picked me up in the bus at Wintersun and it turned out that I was his only customer for the day.  Jeff does a lot more at the museum that drive the bus and conduct guided tours.  It turned out that after the ‘formal’ guided tour and while I had plenty of time to wander around by myself, Jeff replaced a windscreen in one of the trucks currently under restoration, and dug a 20 metre trench so a water line could be extended.  He is definitely Mr Versatile.

Entry to Ghan Museum and Truck Museum

Lots to see at the Ghan Museum

After checking in at Reception, our first destination was to the Ghan Legends Museum which features the locomotive NSU58 which was one of the first diesels to take over from steam trains.  We took a walk through the train and it was interesting to see the dining and bar cars and compare what was considered luxurious then with how we regard luxury today.  The galley is so small when you consider the number of meals that it had to prepare on its journeys.  There were some very nice stained glass windows, a bit surprising on a train!

The Old Ghan

Original plans of the Dining Car

Dining car on the old Ghan

Luxury in the Bar Car

Jeff was a fount of information with plenty of interesting facts and stories.  He pointed out, for instance, that some of the open carriages at the back of the train were used to convoy troops during the war when they were referred to as ‘cattle class’.  Sitting on open wooden benches on a train wouldn’t have been very comfortable, that’s for sure.

Looking back towards ‘cattle class’ seats

We had our own Ghan adventure in November 1993, when we travelled from Adelaide to Alice Springs in a sleeping compartment – it didn’t go as far as Darwin until sometime later.  As I recall, the dining car and lounge were a little more modern than NSU58, but perhaps not very much so.

There are also several other locomotives, carriages and other interesting railway themed items.

Some of the other interesting locomotives and carriages

There is also the actual Ghan museum itself.  The building it is housed in has its own interesting story.  Apparently plans for a station were drawn up in war time, but the project was cancelled due to lack of funds and changed priorities.  The station was then built at the NRTHF some 40 years later, to the original plans.  There are some fascinating displays including a tribute to the Afghan cameleers who opened up The Centre, plus a huge collection of photos and memorabilia about railways from days long past, including the construction of the Ghan.

Old Ghan Station – built to original plans 40 years late!

Plenty to see in the Ghan Museum

Great model train diorama of the Ghan

The Ghan museum complex also houses a small gift shop with some very different and interesting items for sale, plus the Old Ghan Tea Rooms and Garden café where I later enjoyed lunch.

The garden area includes some aviaries complete with cockatiels, an oversize chess set, a pavilion where functions and weddings are held, and other play and walking areas.  Everything is very tranquil.

Ghan Tea Rooms and relaxing areas

After a good look at the Ghan complex it was time to go over to the Truckies’ Hall of Fame. This place was opened on 30th July 1995 so it has been going for quite a while and has itself built up an interesting history.  Jeff is an ex-truckie so he was really in his element here.  As we walked through the various exhibits his knowledge about nearly each and every truck was astonishing, and I soon got into memory overload.

Welcome to the Truckies Hall of Fame

Displays include world rarities including the 1934 AEC Government Roadtrain, 1957 Rotinoff Viscounts and Kurt Johnannsens’ Diamond T and self-tracking trailers.  There is a Stirling prototype truck built in the USA that after testing was not deemed capable of registration.

Roninoff Viscount powered by Rolls Royce

Lots more trucks

The actual taxi from the Michael Caton film “Last Taxi to Darwin” is on display and next to it is a donated hire car that clocked up a total of 1,000,000 kms.

Last Cab to Darwin & 1 Million Kms Limo

There are some beautifully restored trucks, and others where it has been decided that they are more valuable in an unrestored condition.  Plus there are plenty of trucks currently under restoration.  There is also a ‘grave-yard’ where trucks which cannot be restored are left to die in dignity (or cannibalised for parts for other restorations).

Lots and Lots and Lots of Trucks

Plenty of trucks inside too – including 3 wheeler

Lots of Trucks

Hall of Fame & Library

The part of the Truckies’ Museum that I was really looking forward to was next – it is the Kenworth Truck Museum and the Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame.  I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Kenworth trucks, probably through their association with Bolwell.  Many readers of this blog will know of my interest in Bolwell!   Click Here  to find out more!

Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame

Walking into the Kenworth complex is amazing!  It has about 30,000 square feet of display space devoted to the history of the Australian designed and built Kenworth truck, and the dealer network that supports the trucks.  Jeff told me that there is an American built Kenworth truck in the yard that needs restoration, but Kenworth Australia won’t touch it!

Some of the signage at Kenworth Hall of Fame

Alice Springs has long been a transport hub for one of the remotest regions in the world and has a special place in the Australian Road Transport Industry as the birthplace of the road-train.  Several new Kenworth models have been launched in Alice Springs.

Some of these trucks are massive

Kenworth Trucks

The Kenworth Museum includes the very first Kenworth truck made in1971 in Australia at Kenworth’s Bayswater, Victoria factory.  There are also examples of many other Kenworths, plus displays of engines, truck seats, and other truck components.

There are details of all the Kenworth dealers around Australia, and displays celebrating the Dealer of the Year as well as Supplier of the Year (Bolwell has won this award twice).

Supplier of the Year Awards

Jeff told me that many of the trucks in both the Truckies’ Museum and the Kenworth Museum are actually donated by their owners, often after a long life on the road.  There are also trucks that have done 4,000,000 kms but looking at them on display they almost look brand new!  Some trucks are left there on a loan basis and others are purchased outright.  Many of the trucks have a special story and in some cases there are interpretive plaques to tell that story.  Many trucks were owned by characters of the outback!

Kenworth Trucks

The bulk of the work here is done by volunteers and there is an active volunteer program.  Grey Nomads and other travellers passing through Alice Springs are encouraged to volunteer for a few weeks and in return they can park their RV for free and still have plenty of time to see around the area.  When I first arrived I met one the volunteers, Bev, who is also a motorhomer, and we had a great chat about the museum complex and volunteering.

Eventually after several hours at the NRTHF complex, after Jeff’s tour and a good walk-around on my own, and lunch, it was time for Jeff to drive me back to Wintersun.

What a fantastic day.  I took way too many photos and only a few are included in this blog post.

If you would like to learn more about the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, you can visit in person, or maybe visit their website at www.roadtransporthall.com.

On Friday we took our very big car out for a drive.  First stop was the parking area allocated to RVs near to the centre of town and we walked into Todd Mall for coffee and toast in the sun.  There was a busker nearby so we bought him a cup of coffee as a thanks for entertaining us.  We then walked over to Woolworths to stock up before going back to Bertha to put everything away before heading off.

Todd Mall in Alice Springs – where’s Nana?

John Flynn Memorial Church in Todd Mall

Our next destination was the Old Telegraph Station.  It was very different to when we were here in 1993.   We parked Bertha in the large carpark and walked down new paths towards the new café/shop where we met a dingo!  This is where you pay your entry fee, and can join a free guided tour if required.  One very interesting feature at the café is an original letterbox where each letter posted there receives a special souvenir postmark from the Old Telegraph Station.

Dingo greeting us at the Old Telegraph Station

Cafe & Shop – part of the Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trail

Entry to the Old Telegraph Station precinct

Also new is the inclusion of the Telegraph Station into a very active cycling network around Central Australia.  Hire bicycles are available and during our walk around we came across many cyclists out enjoying the sunshine.  Not all of the cyclists should have been wearing lycra though.

The Old Telegraph Stations is located next to the original ‘Alice Spring’.  It was named in March 1871 by the Overland Telegraph Surveyor WW Mills after the wife of Charles Todd, who was the Postmaster General and Telegraph Superintendent.  Alice Springs isn’t actually a spring at all but a depression that collects water, and it was certainly bone dry when we visited.  This is why the actual town of Alice Springs moved!

The original Alice Springs – very dry!

We enjoyed a very pleasant walk around the old buildings and then returned to the café/shop for a nice hot toastie and coffee.  It had been -1 degrees overnight and the day was taking a while to warm up.

Views around the Old Telegraph Station

After that we followed a walking track to the old Cemetery.  There are two stone enclosures and five graves in the cemetery.  The first person buried here was Ernie Flint in 1887, but the largest memorial is for James Bradshaw who was buried in 1901.  He was the brother of TA Bradshaw who was the telegraph station master at the time.

Old Telegraph Station Cemetery

Old Telegraph Station Cemetery

Back in Bertha and a much warmer day, we went for a final scenic drive around Alice Springs before returning to Wintersun Caravan Park where we bunkered down for a forecast -2 degrees overnight.

We’ve spent the last couple of days preparing for the next stage of our 2017 Up the Centre Adventure.  Maps and tourist guides have been perused and potential routes and destinations considered.  Bertha is very clean and so are clothes and shoes.  Tanks are full or empty as required.

Downunda and Faye might be interested to see the ‘new look’ camp kitchen here at Wintersun.  It’s been out of action most of the time we’ve been here but apart from some minor electrical work, it’s all systems go.  I cooked lunch over there today!

Wintersun’s Upgraded Camp Kitchen

We head off from Alice Springs tomorrow.

We did have a question as to the population of Alice Springs.  The answer is always vague, as so much of the population is transient and we haven’t come across a realistic number.  Jeff, my chauffeur a few days ago did make the point, however, that the town population is limited to 50,000 as the water supply won’t cope with any more people than that.

Final note: we have discovered a new word – “Coddiwomple”.  It means “To travel purposefully toward an as yet unknown destination”.

So, from now we will be Coddiwompling!

Categories: 2017 Up The Centre Adventure | Tags: , , ,

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