i've just returned from a four week road/bush/camping trip not quite halfway around australia.
the plan this time was pretty mininal: let's travel to and through central australia! (off the boring main roads where possible.)
the idea was that i'd go at least as far as alice springs following the outback way, and bail out there if i didn't enjoy the trip; otherwise to continue on to WA via the great central road, and back from there somehow, either via the australian bight or the far north. clearly not an exceptionally precise plan; more an example of making it up on the go.
as you can see on the map above i did reach WA eventually, then opted for looping via the far north and got to broome and the timor sea, thus covering both sunrise and sunset beaches.
read on for some musings from my travel diary and some photos.
friday, gold coast to tara
friday saw me finishing the car pack-up that i had started the day before (40l diesel in canisters, 45l water, second spare wheel, portaloo, drifta camp kitchen box, fridge, general camping kit and so on) and head out towards warwick and dalby, avoiding the boring motorway and toowoomba. that's all cruise control country, i've been through there numermous times so nothing to report except strong headwind. i'm keen to see some new places.
after a bit of top-up shopping in dalby, i camped in tara at the settlers park which was very nice and cheap; tara had a camel race event on the weekend before and i must say i'm glad i missed that: would have been too many people for comfort. everything is working well, the new solar panel wind deflector frame works well and no loosening of the bolts yet.
saturday, tara to charleville
day two started windy as well, and quite cool. driving on the back roads to roma was nice, but that was followed by more not-so-especially-interesting country between roma and charleville (also because more BTDT).
it's interesting how the signs of civilisation diminish: from big power poles (steel or concrete) to single wire earth return to nothing whatsoever; from mobile phone reception everywhere to zip except a few microwave relay towers, from normal fm radio to scratchy am and then nothing, and so on.
i stayed at the red lizard campground, a small campground nestled in the bush a few km outside of charleville, whose owners manage to make rustic tin sheds feel inviting and nice - not a small feat, and very welcome. the hot shower in the morning was utterly luxurious - the drying off afterwards wasn't: the night temperature had dropped to about zero degrees and the morning was cold. my light/backup/second sleeping back served as an extra blanket and i slept very well.
during the night i discovered that silk sleeping bag liner plus poly thermal shirt equals lotsa static electricity, which made the leds in my tent light up like aurora borealis whenever i waved something charged in their vicinity. very weird.
sunday, charleville to windorah
day three was cold but not as windy; i had a bit of coffee and breakfast in town at heinemann's bakery (recommended) and continued on my way west. no problems, except that reaching the nice little town of quilpie at lunchtime on a sunday means that almost everything is closed. i arrived just in time to get a coffee before the cafe closed as well.
after that i (re)visited the bald knob lookout a few km away, which provided just as lovely a view as it had in 2013.
the road towards windorah is relatively plain, but the last 45km or so i found quite interesting as it enters the cooper creek basin. upon reaching the cooper creek bridge i selected a nice campsite along the creek bank where there were lots of birds, pelicans and smaller avians.
it wasn't cold for once so i experimented a little with my camera and hand-held night photos. not too bad for a few minutes experimentation.
the whole day i had seen lots of raptors. wherever there's a dead roo on the road there are numerous smaller raptors (kites? hawks? no idea) and heaps of crows - and also quite a few wedge-tailed eagles. the smaller birds seem smarter and usually leave when you approach; the wedgies are not smart and wait until after the last moment, and then almost always take off in the wrong direction. i braked for wedgies quite a few times during the whole trip.
monday, windorah to bedourie
finally i left the bitumen for a while: windorah to bedourie on the diamantina developmental road. this passes fairly empty countryside almost all the way to bedourie where the scenery gets interesting again.
almost but not entirely empty: no, that's not uluru but mt. henderson. it has a hole.
i found bedourie and its surrounds unexpectedly green: the council workers told me that that's not local rain but the leftovers from the cyclones and big floods in february that happened further north. with water come flies however, and they're pretty thick. i bought a fly net for my hat; looks dorky but see me not care.
fun little facts: the diamantina shire is quite a bit bigger than all of austria (95000 vs 83000km²) and has whopping 350 inhabitants (vs 9 million). bedourie itself seems to remain about as sleepy as it was 2013, but it's got an artesian hot spa and swimming pool which i enjoyed greatly.
i spent one rest day there, doing a bit of laundry but otherwise mostly just enjoying things very lazily. from bedourie it's about 900km to alice springs but about 550km are 'somewhat cut-up' (according to a fellow traveller) dirt 'highways' so i was planning about 3 days to that first major milestone.
wednesday, bedourie to georgina river
on day six i headed north to boulia and then straight west towards the nt border at tobermorey station. that nice but somewhat cold morning started at around 7 degree celsius, but a lovely hot shower took care of those cold fingers very quickly.
boulia isn't a great place. bigger than bedourie but much deader and less welcoming; but it's got a small supermarket and a motel/hotel/cafe and fuel and that's all i needed. the donohue highway towards the border was unexpectedly sealed further than i had expected, up to the georgina river crossing.
just west of boulia there are a few flat areas that are so big and empty that both of my cameras refused to take a panorama.
i decided to be lazy and stay at the georgina river crossing which was simply too inviting to push on; quickly looked for a nice spot for the car and found one complete with suitable trees for my hammock. the afternoon was very pleasant except for the flies (as the georgina river had some water), so i was swinging in the hammock with hat and net on.
looking at the map i realised that i had now passed north of the tropic of capricorn, ie. officially into the tropics. alas no lush wet rainforests.
thursday, georgina river to zircon fossicking fields
day seven was originally planned to be short one as well, about 350km to jervois station in the NT. however, my camping neighbors (3 familes with kids each) and the road workers near the river crossing were all up at 0630...therefore so was i.
quite some years of lugging around my portaloo in pristine unused condition came to an end this morning; no more shall be said of that except that it was a loo with a view.
starting relatively early suggested that i change the inviolable plan, which i did; and eventually i drove a much longer stretch of corrugated gravel and dirt than planned, to gemtree, just 150km short of alice springs.
the plenty highway has plenty dust holes, plenty pesky dust plus plenty corrugated sections but also plenty reasonable ones. i kept it slow and easy with 2.5 bar in the tyres and cruise control on 65km/h (for the really crap section) or 85 (for the good ones). it worked, no punctures, no unexpectedly horrible experiences but after 520km of dirt i was tired of it. the car's tray isn't especially well sealed so all the stuff in the back was quite dusty. touch anything, open anything, just brush against anything and you're dirty, too. sigh
this day the countryside wasn't especially impressive except for the 75km around harts range where the hills to the south rise quite high above the plains; those looked beautiful and really inviting for hiking (but i think they're mostly aboriginal reserve lands, so no go).
i reset my clocks to the odd NT timezone (gmt+9h30m) and briefly explored the zircon fossicking field in the setting sun. there's plenty space and lovely mulga firewood to collect there - no idea about how fossicky that area is, though - and enjoyed a quiet evening with a little fire in a steel ring.
friday, zircon fields to curtin springs
day eight started early and cool. the spot gps messenger wanted new batteries; not bad for 7 days of 10 min interval tracking. first there were 150km on bitumen to alice springs, on the stuart highway which is very boring, carries lots of traffic and has a high speed limit (130km/h) - high for australia. i puttered along more sedately.
20km before alice mobile reception returned (hello civilisation!) and i sorted out the two aboriginal council travel permits required for the NT to WA crossing and the great central road, then a refuel, a tedious hunt for a parking spot near the shopping centre (hello civilisation! sigh) and a quick bit of shopping at a busy woolies...and then i left alice, quickly.
not my place: i'd guess it has 60% tourists, a few locals, 30% unhappy/confused/aimless/hopeless aboriginal people. not a nice place, not a good atmosphere. i saw just one happy aboriginal guy, he was doing hwy rest stop maintenance and laughed about his work and how it keeps him active. not surprisingly alice made it on my avoid-if-you-can list and so is the yulara/uluru area itself (that has only droves of tourists).
so i drove on! another easy but utterly boring 350km down the stuart highway saw me briefly try out the 130km/h speed limit but it's not restful with this car and that kind of load and just guzzles extra diesel; then on the lasseter hwy towards yulara/uluru.
after consulting my maps and wikicamps i finished this day camping at a roadside rest area about 20km short of curtin springs (or 90km or so short of uluru), which was quite pleasant (if w/o facilities).
the plan for the next day was to mostly ignore uluru, briefly visit kata tjuta (aka the olgas) and then drive onwards to docker river and the WA border. then it'll be just around more 900km of dirt and then i'll be in laverton...where i will take a short break, even if only to do more laundry and decide where i want to go next.
saturday, curtin springs to gill's pinnacle
the day started well, with an early pack-up and some scenic glimpses of no, not uluru but mt. connor at first. i did have to briefly enter yulara for fuel, and that's about as much as want to say about this 'resort town'. the degree of tourism and focus on commerce at all costs around uluru really really sucks as far as i'm concerned.
so, instead of flocking there with all the other tourists i spent two hours with a lot less other tourists walking through the kata tjuta (8km valley of the winds walk), which i found much more interesting than that solo lump of rock. these sandstone domes reminded me a lot of meteora in greece. (originally i hadn't planned to do any walking near kata tjuta but i'm happy that i ditched that part of the plan.)
the afternoon was then spent on reasonably good dirt driving towards kaltukatjara/docker river and the WA border. on the way i saw wild camels for the first time!
why did the camel cross the road? well, the first three didn't cross the road which made me quite happy. near lasseter's cave i saw three more camels, which also didn't quite entirely cross the road: a stretch of 200m of dirt road, three dead camels, some car window glass and related detritus told some of the story. an expensive story for somebody, as these are not small critters. lasseter's cave seems a bad spot for camel trouble, after his bolted he died around there in 1931.
but the planned overnight camping at kaltukatjara didn't happen as planned: this being saturday i arrived after the store had closed (so no fuel or campground booking) the campground they've got there doesn't seem to be quite ready and is setup very weirdly, and then there were the aboriginal locals who checked me out but didn't (want to) speak or understand any english. feeling decidedly unwelcome and this, the sole officially allowed campground before the border, i decided to move on towards WA, which was the right choice i think: i ended up camping below gill's pinnacle surrounded by the petermann and rawlinson ranges, and it was gorgeous (and felt very safe, with just one other family of four at that utterly inofficial bush camp site). the sunset was beautiful and so was the early night sky without any light pollution.
sunday, gill's pinnacle to desert surf central
being now in WA i changed my watch a lot - NT +09h30m to WA +08h is a big change - and headed further west/southwest on the great central road. i was lucky time-wise, as the kaltukatjara roadhouse (the nearest one) runs on NT time so my early arrival wasn't before their opening hours. that was very good as i definitely had to refuel there.
the great central road wasn't too corrugated (i.e. nothing broke, it was bearably rattly at 75-80km/h and the seat belt inertial locks locked up often but not on every single bump). more camels, some indeed crossing the road before and behind me. more to watch out for! it was pretty windy and quite cold.
again lots of dust on everything in the tray. the smell of bull dust in the morning...sucks.
the modern traveller naturally has to match his attire against the countryside, from head (mostly automatic thanks to bull dust) to toes. colour-coordination is vital! ;-)
things you ponder while having one of the many zen moments cruising along the road: why do almost all abandoned car wrecks in these really remote regions end up on their roofs? i can understand that they're gutted, and often torched (makes them rust faster, so they blend in more nicely with the red ground) but why the heck would you spend any effort on tipping them over? is it like a rite of passing, making sure it's really permanently dead, or like bleeding a deer before cutting it up? and what kind of tasty morsels are there to a car that you could get to only from below? inquiring minds do want to know.
after one more obligatory refuelling stop at the only roadhouse along the way i ended the day camping at a bush site called 'desert surf central', a rock break formation that looks a bit like a breaking wave. nobody around, lots of spots to pick, mulga and similar shrubby trees, firewood galore (but it was too windy to enjoy a fire anyway), very relaxing - but cold; at 1530 i was wearing a jacket.
travel in this area revolves around the opening hours of the road houses for fuel, which are roughly 250km distant from each other. camping at the roadhouses is also possible, but some of the ones on the great central road resemble war camps (locked metal cages around the fuel pumps, high fencing, barbed wire) which didn't appeal to me at all.
monday, desert surf central to laverton
from desert surf central to laverton the road improved (even including 40km of bitumen), deteriorated, then improved and deteriorated again, but nothing too bad. i guess it was mostly my bum getting a bit weary of the rattling.
most of the day was 3- to 6-finger driving (cf. 2 fingers for perfect bitumen and ranging to two sweaty firmly gripping hands on some of the crappier sections of the plenty highway east of alice).
finally i saw some (live) kangaroos again, also a single dead one, a dead steer and one dead dog, likely a dingo. strangely i didn't see any roos at all in the NT or west of boulia.
after 426km of dirt i stopped at the caravan park in laverton and enjoyed a really welcome hot shower. 6 straight days of bush camping left me and much of my stuff quite dirty.
i spent two nights in laverton, which is small but has lots of interesting history, mostly related to gold. laverton is situated in the WA goldfields, and there are quite a lot of prospectors. even at the caravan park there were a few stacks of brochures related to prospecting, there are prospecting courses run in leonora (the next town) and so on. just for fun i picked up the 'seven golden rules for prospecting' flyer and the 'prospecting in WA - your rights and obligations when prospecting' booklet (20 pages a5), both governmental publications and both actually interesting even for a total layman like me.
at the caravan park i talked to a youngish guy and he showed me his months' worth of gold - maybe 30-40g. he says he does this almost every winter all winter long, and it usually pays his expenses plus a bit, but that it's a lot of walking and digging (and predominantly of junk first).
laverton's tourist info centre is excellent and inviting, has good coffee and a great selection of both the usual free info brochures and maps as well as good topo maps for sale.
i spent a relaxing day doing laundry, some minor bits of maintenance, a bit of shopping and a lot of thinking about where to go next. not being fed up with the trip so far i was already leaning towards going north towards broome, the kimberleys and so on.
then i chatted to some fellow travellers from WA who strongly recommended visiting mt. augustus and karijini national park (in the gascoyne and pilbara regions), which are sortakinda along my route - mt. augustus requires a 400km+ dirt detour to the west, but karijini is pretty much on the route. over another nice coffee at the info centre i pondered the next days...
wednesday, laverton to karalundi
an early cold morning, a good hot shower, and a fresh coffee - what more do you need? well, i absolutely had to empty the portaloo and that's not an overly pleasant exercise. eventually we're minus the crap but plus some fuel, and on we go!
i believed one of the tourist brochues i had picked up and looked for a few of the 'scenic' things around laverton, except they weren't there or behind mine fences or not scenic, so i went back to the boring main road, northwards: laverton leonora leinster...are all mining- or prospecting-oriented, and all are somewhat dull. leinster is a bhp-billiton company town, and its supermarket was very well-stocked. my plan had been to stay overnight at the caravan park there, but i reached leinster before lunch already and really didn't feel to call it a day that early.
on i went to wiluna (yes, mining) and then 150km of dirt to meekatharra (more mining). WA is full of mines. many are massive eyesores, but on the other hand mining makes for good infrastructure (read: roads are maintained and there's good to great telstra coverage). as the goldfields region is quite flat and has lots of mulga and similar scrubby bush, you don't see too many of the mine pits from the road.
it got a bit late and meekatharra would have been a good stopping point but the caravan park in town was uninviting, so i ditched the oh-so-well-laid plan (again) and drove on into the sunset. about 40km north i found a small neat inexpensive caravan park, run by the 7th day adventists. i must say i found the propaganda leaflet that they handed out quite funny, but the facilities were very good and nice.
overall that day was a bit too long at 686km, but then it got me past these somewhat boring parts of WA.
thursday, karalundi to mt. augustus
once again i got up pretty early, at 0630 - when travelling i somehow tend to rise with the sun, but also go to bed with it. another cold morning, another hot shower, another quick coffee, another departure.
i left the bitumen towards mt. augustus, for 350km of not-very-rutted, mostly comfy dirt driving. apparently recently graded these roads weren't too rocky or worrisome, different from what i had read online earlier - very good.
that day i saw a just three cars and very early on one 4-hopper mining road train (he gifted me with one clump of something onto the windscreen, fortunately not breaking it) on the road.
apart from those mining and station vehicles this was fairly empty country - but not lacking in scenery! first things started out flat and boring but then came the area around the gascoyne river, turner creek and similar which is quite beatiful i think: the contrast of predominantly rocky gibber plains with the sandy river beds, lots of floodways and dips, then chains of high hills and minor mountains appeared on the horizon and the road follows the flat plain and winds its way around some of these rises - and eventually you see mt. augustus, an inselberg poking up 700m from the flats.
one day i'd love to hike up mt. labouchere which i drove past that day. there are cattle scattered in this area but personally i don't know what they're raised on as the plains seem to be too rocky to support anything. so, this was a day of dark browns mostly.
whenever i go somewhat off the beaten track i tend to become paranoid and easily worried: is that new noise i'm hearing percussion from the music track on the radio or an impending failure of something mechanical on the car? so far a quick mute of the radio clarified the source as benign every time.
relatively early i arrived at the mt. augustus campground (which is also the only fuel source for 350km or more - one reason why i made sure that all three 20l canisters were full before leaving meekatharra), selected a spot for my car and tent and then enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
the next morning before sunrise i quickly packed the tent up to go hike up mt. augustus...except the zipper for the tent travel cover wouldn't work anymore. zippers clearly dislike bull dust. finally after 10-15 min of swearing and tugging and fiddling i got going and drove the 25km to the start of the hiking tracks up mt. augustus.
i chose the harder but much more interesting track called the 'gully track': you scramble up bolders in a wide but quite water-polished steep gully. i started at 0705, and 3h55m later i was back at the car - not too bad time for 12km return, 700m vertical difference and an advertised time of 5h+. the views from the top of mt. augustus were pretty good, if only towards the east - the west was mostly blocked by scrub. back at the car my toes hurt as the way down involved traipsing over gazillions of big rocks, no matter which track. so i finished the scenic drive around mt. augustus and went back to camp, folded open the tent once more and had a very welcome afternoon nap.
a very windy late afternoon convinced me to turn the car and tent 90° into the wind to keep the flapping down, and i pondered the route onwards and the remainder of the trip home - mt. augustus was the furthest west that i got this time.
saturday, mt. augustus to paraburdoo
from mt. augustus the road towards the north doesn't track straight thanks to various hills, creeks and station properties, and to reach the town of paraburdoo (straight line distance of about 190km) i had to zigzag about 350km on occasionally very rocky dirt, some of which wasn't pleasant at all. the note board at mt. augustus said 'plan at least 9h for that road'. it wasn't all bad, but the first 150km were painful on my tyres...sharp gibber rock with not much sand or gravel on the road. beautiful hills around, just not relaxing driving.
i had read some horror stories about that particular road being a tyre shredder but fortunately it wasn't that bad. as advised i did let my tyre pressures down somewhat further, to about 2.1bar and drove most of the day in 4WD, but the rear tyres in particular did look quite chewed up after the extra 900km of dirt to get to mt. augustus and back out to civilisation.
the car ran really very well and i didn't even came close to needing any fuel canisters, so carrying all three turned out to be a bit overcautious (but BSTS).
in the mid-afternoon after 420km in total i arrived at paraburdoo, another company town, this time associated with rio tinto. yes, more mining again - who would have expected that!
i stayed at the inexpensive but somewhat noisy sodexo/rio tinto 'caravan park' - basically it's the miners' temp accommodation park with a few drive-through bays set aside for travellers. not expensive, good facilities including free laundry and driers, but don't plan to use the amenities around shift change.
sunday, paraburdoo to marble bar
a quick morning pack-up (the damn zipper still refuses to work thanks to all the bull dust) and a pleasant hot shower later and i left for the town of 'tom price', another rio tinto company town. the mine site nearby is huge and 'tom price' is a really crap town name.
just outside town i saw a sign saying 'mt. nameless - 4WD only' and felt the itch to drive up - i reasoned that even if i did manage to break something or break down it would be pretty close to town, hence not too much of an issue. mt. nameless certainly looks high and imposing from town with a bunch of comms towers and kit up there. so i rocked up said goat track, in 1st and 2nd gear low-range and jackrabbiting across pretty ugly rocks all the way to the top. having had the car lifted 50mm meant i didn't bash anything onto the rocks but it was still relatively harsh. but the view was really great and i had a quick bit of breakfast up there. on the way down i took a few photos but it looked uglier in reality - or maybe i'm just a big wuss ;-)
then i drove on towards karijini national park (with lots of gorges and lots of tourists). i (by)passed most of that national park and left it for a future visit, not having that much time left, and instead aimed for just one gorge on the western side, hamersley gorge.
that took about 80km of dirt from tom price, i parked, shut everything down and then pfffffffffffft: one of the rear tyres has a sharp rock puncturing the middle of the tread and is deflating as i watch.
i'm not sure whether the mt. nameless rockhopping was the root cause (not totally certain as the rocky roads from tom price to hamersley gorge were rough and rocky, too) but it certainly didn't help those tyres.
so i cursed briefly, then walked down to the gorge first; lovely view, inviting water but i didn't feel like getting into the water myself and just sat around soaking up the scenery.
then it was back to the car and do a wheel change to the first of two spare wheels. sweaty, hot, dusty stuff. afterwards i drove northeast, past wittenoom, a ghost town of asbestos 'fame' which still has about three ghosts living there (as of 2018, according to wikipedia).
eventually i crossed the great northern highway into the east pilbara shire, which looked beautiful when i saw it: lots of nice hills, fewer mines, and after a recent little bit of rain lots of green ground cover. very very nice to look at.
fun fact: the east pilbara is the third-largest shire in the world (380000km² and a whopping 10591 inhabitants).
after 500km in total (200km dirt) i reached marble bar where i stayed overnight at the local caravan park.
monday, marble bar to broome
this day was for repositioning without much interesting stuff to report.
the marble bar road and the great northern highway are very boring. this area of WA is very very flat and home to migrant flocks of grey nomads, heaps of which were passing me leaving broome going southwest (spring, so getting too warm).
i'd guess about 80-90% of the many vehicles that i saw that day were caravans with two oldsters each. the other type of super-common vehicle in this state is adorned with flouro yellow 'go faster' stripes down the flanks...somehow all those mining cars and trucks seem to use exactly the same colour...monopoly manufacturer mebbe?
750km later i arrived in broome, which is bigger than i had expected and feels like the gold coast of the west: all hail tourism! my punctured tyre turned out to be an unrepairable ex-tyre (hole too big inside), but i got a cheap 2nd hand tyre mounted to get me home; then did a bit of shopping followed by some almost obligatory not-quite-sunset shots at cable beach. this was very nice.
i did, indeed, make it from the sunrise beaches of the gc to the sunset beaches of broome! :-) but i'm now clearly and definitely on the way home (which is merely 3400km or so in a straight line, so won't be there too soon).
after sunset i drove to the gateway caravan park 30km outside of town, which was tranquil and nice.
tuesday, broome to frog camp
after a lovely warm night the morning brought dense fog and everything was dripping wet. at least it was warm and wet, not cold. by 0815 there was no sign of the fog burning off, so i packed the tent wet, something i don't like doing much.
on to derby, a sleepy place, and off the boring highway onto the gibb river road...which is sealed for the first 80km (to the turnoff towards windjana gorge national park) and then not for about 650km. lots (and i mean lots) of traffic as it's a bit iconic and the only road that directly crosses the kimberleys.
over time the road conditions got steadily worse, more and more corrugations and rocky sections. along the way at marchfly glen i encountered and actually used the real-world 'worst toilet in scotland' (for those of you who have seen 'trainspotting').
mid-afternoon i visited adcock gorge, which was really lovely. according to the swimmers there they had seen a small croc in the gorge earlier, which didn't keep them from swimming however. i didn't see it but would have liked to.
the 5km off the gibb river road to the gorge were the worst i've driven on in a looong time; no speed worked for those pesky high rolling ridges, and it was an absolute bone shaker.
i camped at frog campground a few km down the road and had a nice pleasant night, but in the morning i saw that one of the fog lights had vibrated out of its mounting and vanished. that was the first casualty of the gibb river road.
wednesday, frog camp to saddle creek rest area
i got up early and was on my way by 0650 already. arriving at mt. barnett roadhouse at 0730 taught me that the early bird gets no fuel: they open at 0800. i should have had breakfast instead of rushing. ah well.
the road conditions around mt. barnett were pretty unpleasant, a mix of alternating heavy corrugations and rocky sections. more rattling, more shaking, my butt and back are certainly feeling case-hardened by now, and i cringe every time i can't avoid a rocky clump or an especially bad set of ruts. i found out that the uhf radio and trailer brake mount that the car's previous owner had cobbled together is woefully insufficient; the screws backed out more than once and everything rattled loose on that trip.
and to add insult to injury, the views weren't that great. the king leopold ranges on the previous day looked nice, and near the end of the gibb river road at kununurra things got scenic again, with high escarpments and jump ups and great views. but inbetween i found it to be mostly noisy misery.
halfway through the day the d-shackle fixing my winch rope to the bullbar had vanished, the radio antenna needed retightening a few times and i don't recall how often i reattached the suction-cupped car gps.
finally, better views and lovely vistas, just one more really shitty rocky section and then the start of the bitumen. and a suddenly very wobbly car: the last few rocky km cost me another tyre, as some sharp rock sliced clean through the tread and some of the tyre plies. it was hot and dusty and i was not amused. that was the second casualty of the gibb river road, and i'm down to one working spare wheel again.
kununurra looks quite inviting, lagoon, ord river (and heaps of caravan parks) but i couldn't be bothered to hunt for a tyre shop (and this tyre was certainly not repairable anyway), so i rolled on across the border back to the NT and camped in a lovely spot called saddle creek rest area...to find casualty nr. 3: 3 little plastic yoghurt tubs had burst and messed up my fridge big time, and casualty nr. 4, two (noncritical) screws are now missing from the roof top tent and there are some badly worn spots on the tent base thanks to the ladder banging up and down.
i must say that i was somewhat disappointed by what i saw of the kimberley area, which was of course very little as there are lots of coastal magic and areas like the mitchell falls that i didn't have time for on this trip; but the gibb river road itself wasn't much fun to travel on and the views were much less interesting than what i had soaked up in the gascoyne and pilbara regions.
thursday, saddle creek to mataranka bitter springs
i woke with the morning sun rays in my face, after a starry warm pleasant night with all three tent windows wide open. this was to be a transit day with lots of kms, but the victoria river region around timber creek turned out to be unexpectedly lovely: varying escarpments, the victoria river itself wide and windey (but even that one is seasonal) and the road often following the river bends and generally going up and down a bit. enjoyable travelling.
now back in the NT i realised how many termite mounds/spires/daleks that country has: lots! and quite a few of these are dressed in shirts and skirts and hats and what have you. i think that may be the territorian's way of compensating for the lack of opportunity to build snow men?
in katherine i was lucky to get a near-new near-perfect-match replacement tyre for not much cash, but otherwise nothing drew me particularly to stay there.
i stayed at mataranka about 100km further south, in the bitter springs caravan park which is set along the roper creek in fairly tropical surrounds - and some tropical flowers must have been blooming because it smelled extremely nice there. i couldn't pinpoint the source of the lovely smell but i'm not good with plant identification anyway, so i just enjoyed it after smelling bull dust for many days.
friday, mataranka to bush camp near the tablelands highway
even though mataranka is just 380km south of darwin and quite definitely in the tropics, the morning was very cold. for the first time on this trip i used my gloves for the tent pack up, and at 0800 my car thermometer showed a measly 8°C. refreshing but a bit unexpected.
the plan was to move closer to the QLD border on that day so as to reach camooweal on the next, which necessitates some travel on the stuart highway - which is mind-numbingly boring.
at least i had the choice to head east on the carpentaria highway first and then south on the tablelands highway instead, and i gladly made that choice.
the carpentaria tracks through some quite interesting 'savannah'-type countryside, again with termite mounds every few metres.
those smaller, windier and usually bumpier highways are usually much better for me, because the view is better (most of the time); they're not slower for me either, because i tend to cruise along at 85-95km/h anyway where the driving isn't stressful, where i can look around a little instead of just staring at the road, and where my car's fuel efficiency is good.
the classification as 'highway' for the carpentaria and the tablelands highway is interesting though, as they're almost entirely single-lane with dirt shoulders. the speed limit for these is 110km/h and i certainly wouldn't want to go even that fast. (the stuart highway limit is 130km/h, ditto for the victoria highway of the day before.)
after about 600 relatively relaxing kilometres i bush-camped a few hundred metres off the road and enjoyed a lovely quiet evening and night. at that point of the trip the vague idea of making a detour to the carnarvon gorge on the way home firmed up into an actual plan to do so. otherwise the most interesting parts of the journey were over.
saturday, tablelands to camooweal
the day started pleasantly after a starry night at that bush camp in the middle of nowhere. the first 250km of the day on the tablelands highway were fairly unpleasant, because while it's a sealed road the condition is really rotten with 15-20cm deep ruts, potholes and generally a roller coaster ride.
there also was a large number of oncoming road trains (gee, i wonder where those ruts come from!), each of which required that i stop and vanish off the single lane asphalt until they rock & roll past. at least they were all very polite.
near the intersection with the barkly highway the countryside turned really bleak, flat, in full drought and dotted with dead cattle. uninviting.
on the barkly highway (which is bigger and in much better condition) there were occasionally whole fields of termite spires and in a few spots they encroached onto the road in an interesting manner. driving by yourself and just being in a zen-ish state i started thinking about this eerily alien invasion and that 'the salivation army is munching on' with the little critters apparently trying to reach us: 'dear travelling stranger, may we talk to you about the truth of cellulose?' i think this kind of stuff makes it clear how boring travel on the barkly highway is :-)
the day ended just over the border back in Queensland at camooweal's tiny caravan park after 538km.
sunday, camooweal to winton
camooweal tiself is in flat territory, but towards and around mt. isa the country lifts and the road winds around and over hills and the views get very interesting.
from the main road none of the mining around mt. isa is overly apparent, different from WA which i found good. what is not good at all is that both big supermarket chains are closed on sunday in and all around mt. isa. bad planning on my side means i'm now out of fresh vegies and pleasant cookable stuff. bummer!
the radio program also sucks on sundays: very little news even on ABC, just lots of mind-numbingly boring sports programs (and one numbers station 100% devoted to just racing odds...only in oz).
a short while before sunset i reached winton and its lovely but busy bush camp at the long waterhole. most of the waterfront spots being taken i retreated another 600m onto an empty quiet plain. 665km of long repositioning haul, during which i managed to not hit one lazy corvid (waited too long over a roadside snack) and one snake (why did the snake cross the road? no idea).
monday, winton to bush camp near carnarvon gorge
the distances, timing and availability of nice stopover spots conspired against me; the plan to visit carnarvon gorge meant either a few more days of little travelling (which i didn't want) or having two very long days, this being the second.
winton to longreach is boringly flat. i spotted a very rare creature: an efficient bulk carrier of...no, not ore or grain for once, but for lumps of protoplasm! :-) it's weird how little general-purpose rail infrastructure this continent has. the train was labelled the 'spirit of the outback' but i think they got it wrong - their spirit of the outback smells of diesel whereas in reality it should have the burnt smell of bull dust.
on towards emerald on the capricornia highway you get to follow the tropic of capricorn in a very straight line for many kms. that part is very green but still fairly boring. the countryside gets much nicer and interesting later, shortly before emerald where there are gem fossicking fields and then south towards rolleston (where there are also some big mines, coal i think).
after way too many kilometres (833 to be precise) on this day i arrived at my chosen bush camp site not too far from the carnarvon gorge, but somewhat after sunset which i normally avoid. the last 30km i drove much slower than usual, saw only very few roos and luckily didn't hit any.
tuesday, carnarvon gorge to surat
the morning dawned very cold, around 4°C; with beanie and gloves i packed up and drove the 60km to the carnarvon gorge. i had a pleasant 14km hike into the gorge, and around noon it was 31°C again. carnarvon has lovely views, lots of clean water burbling in the creek and numerous crossings of said creek - and lots of old tourists, and i mean old.
i'd say the ratio of over-50s to below was 90:10. i found out that there is a multi-day hike through and around the gorge which is now on my personal todo list.
at lunchtime i was back at my car and drove on to roma, where a bit of shopping was needed, then south to surat which i had passed through on the way west. i stayed at surat's caravan park which was lovely grassy and dotted with bottle trees.
wednesday, surat to gold coast
day 27: it's all over, man! except for the cleanup/maintenance/washing, that is just starting...
there's really nothing to report as i just drove from surat via dalby and toowoomba to capalaba and then home. at a friend's place i gave the car a very well-deserved half an hour with the pressure washer to get most of the exterior mess off, but lots more dust and gunk awaited my efforts.
things that worked really well this time:
- having my music on the phone and bringing a small bluetooth speaker,
- packing baby wipes for the dusty days without showering opportunity,
- using wikicamps and the camps9 book for deciding stopover points very much on the go,
- and cruise control! i used that for a good 90% of the trip, just set fairly low on more unpleasant dirt roads.
otherwise there's not that much else to share with you, beyond some bare bone stats:
- the trip took 27 days.
- i travelled 12347km in total and 3590km on dirt.
- the car used 1194l of diesel for an average of 9.67l/100km.
- the whole trip cost me just under $3000, with $2150 spent on fuel.