Trucks and the Tanami.

Alice Springs, NT. 25th August 2015.

There was still more to interest me in Alice Springs, so I wasn’t leaving just yet. I don’t know what a Festival of the Desert entails but I could easily work out what a Truck Reunion might involve. That was the one for me.
Alice Springs is home to quite a few vehicle based events. These include quad racing, motocross, speedway (cars), motorcycle racing and karting. Biggest of these is the Finke Desert Race. It caters for bikes, cars, buggies and quads and runs over two days across the desert, from Alice to the small Aputula Community, way out in the desert. It’s reckoned to be about the toughest race of its kind in Australia. It seems that Alice is quite a petrol head.
But the biggest event, in terms of weight of metal, if nothing else, is surely the Truckers Reunion, held every five years and centered on the National Road Transport Museum.

White Star, in white of course.

White Star, in white of course.

Mack B615 V8. A very popular truck.

Mack B615 V8. A very popular truck.

A later Mack. Also very popular.

A later Mack. Also very popular.

On Saturday morning I rode out to the edge of town where the Truckers Hall of Fame can be found. The reunion seemed to be taking place on the dirt roads that surround the site and there were hundreds of trucks of all shapes, sizes and age. Mostly they were Artics (semi-trailers), but there were many rigids too. There was a fair number of British trucks, from Bedford and Atkinson for example, along with other European makes.

A very pretty 1960s Mercedes.

A very pretty 1960s Mercedes.

Far and away the greatest number were American. Macks, Kenworth, White Star and Peterbilt. These were the prime movers that hauled the road trains across the vastness of outback Australia and it’s no surprise they were so popular. They were all right hand drive and that says, to me, that American manufacturers regarded Australia, and NZ, as an important market.

A modern Kenworth with patriotic ANZAC theme.

A modern Kenworth with patriotic ANZAC theme.

In response to their popularity Kenworth opened a factory in Australia and have been developing and manufacturing vehicles suited to the Aussie haulage industry since the 1960s. They tend to be bigger, stronger and more powerful than their American counterparts. Inside the hall of fame there’s a Kenworth Dealer section. If, like me, you enjoy heavy, powerful, nicely painted machinery, then this is the place to visit.

A Rotinoff Viscount. A piece of British truck history.

A Rotinoff Viscount. A piece of British truck history.

The story of the Rotinoff.

The story of the Rotinoff.

Fabulous vehicles, beautifully restored. Very impressive indeed! My apologies to non truck lovers, but here’s a few photos to drool over.

A Diamond T, owned by a fan of the Monarchy.

A Diamond T, owned by a fan of the Monarchy.

I can't leave Pete out of things.

I can’t leave Pete out of things.

A White Star recovery truck. Comin' right at ya Baby!

A White Star recovery truck. Comin’ right at ya Baby!

Osh Kosh. One of the more obscure American makes.

Osh Kosh. One of the more obscure American makes.

A couple of Fodens, just to keep the British trucks in the picture.

A couple of Fodens, just to keep the British trucks in the picture.

I remember seeing these three wheelers running around Woolwich, delivering goods from the trains.

I remember seeing these three wheelers running around Woolwich, delivering goods from the trains.

Sunday saw me at the side of the road, along with many others, for the truck parade. They were all going to drive along the Stuart Highway where it ran through the town. They came along in fits and starts, taking three hours to complete their drive by. I enjoyed it immensely. A trucking great way to spend a weekend.

Bedford, on parade.

Bedford, on parade.

Kenworth Prime Mover. Doing what it does best.

Kenworth Prime Mover. Doing what it does best.

Clipper coach.

Clipper coach.

Ignore the sign, it's a Big Mack Drive Past.

Ignore the sign, it’s a Big Mack Drive Past.

Finally, some more British Truck history.

An experimental AEC truck, designed for very heavy haulage.

An experimental AEC truck, designed for very heavy haulage.

Information on the truck.

Information on the truck.

On the way back to the hostel I filled up my bike and all the spare fuel cans, ready for tomorrow’s long run. 15 litres in the tank and 19 litres in the cans. That should be enough. I spent the rest of the day chilling out and chatting to a couple of young bikers who were staying at the hostel. Reed, Canadian, riding a Kawasaki KLR650. Very popular bikes in Nth America and as good as the Suzuki DR650 that’s so common in Aus. Morton, Danish, had a Honda650 Dominator, another excellent mid size trail bike. They’re currently working in one of the Aboriginal communities but stay at the hostel at weekends. They’ll be going on some long trips too, eventually.

Good news.

Sign by the roadside. Good news.

So Monday dawned,I got organised and set off for my cross-desert ride. Let’s not talk this trip up too much. I’ll be on a graded dirt road once I leave the bitumen, so no big dramas and nothing different to what I’d ridden before. Just longer. Alice to Halls Creek, the town at the other end of the Tanami Track, is about 1050kms. It wasn’t a dramatic ride, in the end. The first 250kms were sealed. I arrived at the Tilmouth Well Roadhouse and had coffee. One of the spare fuel cans had split near the top so I had to put the fuel in the tank. Luckily I’d covered sufficient distance that the tank had room for it, but it left me short of spare fuel capacity. So I asked around for another can, but no luck. My first refuelling stop was to be the Aboriginal community of Yuendumo so as I rode there I kept my eyes peeled for a can among all the rubbish lying at the side of the track. Second time lucky, and I had what I needed. I cleaned it out and filled it up, along with the bike. OK, back to having 19 litres and all good for the next 600kms.

Vital information.

Sign by the roadside. Vital information, although not completely accurate.

As the afternoon wore on I came to a truck rest area beyond which was a large, cleared area obviously related to recent roadworks. I followed a wide track off into the bush and found a nice place to camp for the night. I had time to go a bit further but it’s not always wise to pass up a good camping place. Day one done and dusted. Especially dusted. My tent zips worked a little better after their clean, but not by much. The track had been OK but was heavily corrugated in places. I was expecting more of the same tomorrow.
It rained on and off during the night. Hang on, isn’t this supposed to be a desert? It had all dried up by morning but had clearly been heavy in some places. Further along the track I saw three Emus bathing in a puddle in the middle of the road. They ran away as I approached, so no photo to share. I came to the border between Northern Territories and Western Australia. It seemed like a good place to pour in spare fuel, eat some lunch and put my watch back an hour and a half. Yes, Australia is big enough to have three time zones and I was heading west. But the sun doesn’t have a watch and I knew I’d have to stop earlier now, so nothing gained really. I also realised that the wind had picked up and was blowing straight towards me, exactly as had been forecast. It was just as well I had plenty of fuel as I was going to need it.

Not something you expect to see in the middle of the desert.

Not something you expect to see in the middle of the desert.

And here's the reason why.

And here’s the reason why.

The rest of the track through to Bililuna, my next fuelling stop, was rough in places. Stretches of deep sand, and the wind, were sapping my power and I had to drop a gear or two to maintain a decent speed. Ride too slowly and the effects of the corrugations were far worse.
Eventually I came to Bililuna and found the general store and its fuel pump. ‘Sorry, can’t sell you any fuel, the satellite link is down.’ Eh, what? Why does a fuel pump need a satellite? She didn’t know, only that it wasn’t working, so no fuel. They hoped to get it up and running soon so all I could do was wait. She sold me a cup of coffee and I sat outside to drink it, chatting to the Aboriginal kids.
This was at 3pm and the shop closed at 4pm. Not long after the shop had closed she came out and said she had some fuel in a can in her garage which I could buy if I wanted to, at $25 dollars for the ten litres. Oh, that’s actually ten litres less what it took to fill the lawnmower, which isn’t much. Apparently. Good enough. I was running very low.
I had had hopes of getting further down the track but with the sun now going down all I did was to go a short way out of town and find a track that led into the bush, where I found another good place to camp. As with the previous night, I heard Dingos barking in the distance. In fact it wasn’t uncommon to hear small animals scuffling around the tent. Lizards? Mice? Maybe small kangaroos? Who knows, and they didn’t trouble me.
The time change had quite an impact on the day from here on in. The sun was up by 05.30 and set around 17.30. I was north of the Tropic of Capricorn once more, and 12 hour days and nights now seemed to be what I could look forward to. I’m not used to early starts but I think I may have to learn to like them.

Justin and his BMW.

Justin and his BMW.

I went back into town next morning and filled up. The satellite link had been restored (router problem it seems) and I knew the (almost) ten litres may not have been enough to get me to the next refuelling stop as I wanted to make a 90kms diversion off the track to visit Wolfes Creek crater. At the shop I met an Aussie biker called Justin, from Perth. He was riding a BMW800 and was heading to Alice, having come from Halls Creek, my destination. We chatted and swapped trail information, just like cowboys used to. Well, we were in the West now.
A few kilometres after leaving Bililuna I stacked the bike on some loose sand. I could see corrugations on the track but not the sand on top of them. I came off at about 70kph and this time it hurt! The front wheel tucked under, I flew over the bars and jarred my shoulder as I hit the ground, chewing sand at the same time. Deep joy! I broke the screen as I flew over it and when the front mudguard tucked under it tore my fender bag half off its mounting. I’d just filled up so fuel was leaking out too. Lost fuel equals money in the sand so I picked the bike in double quick time and assessed the damage.

That old, familiar, forgotten feeling.

That old, familiar, forgotten feeling.

Although split, the two parts of the screen were still firmly in place so I pushed them back together a bit and left them. The fender bag was OK once I’d done the straps up again, so I left it. I now had some jobs to tackle. Nothing left to do but carry on, so I did. My shoulder was stiff and sore but it didn’t stop me riding.
I soon came to the turn off for Wolfe’s Creek, went through the gate and rode the fairly rough 45kms down to the car park.
Wolfe’s Creek Meteorite crater is an amazing place. It was formed about 200,000 years ago when a large meteorite landed. The crater is about 900 metres wide and was originally about 120 metres deep. Since then it’s filled up with sand to the extent that the bottom is now about 20 metres below the level of the surrounding plain. The effect of the rim is to make it look far deeper. It’s the world’s second largest, the biggest one being in Arizona.

From the crater rim.

From the crater rim.

How it happened.

How it happened.

I walked up the short but steep track and was quite taken aback by the view inside. Right in the centre is and area of salt pan, with some plants growing on it. Around the edge of that, in an almost perfect circle, is a ring of paper bark trees. Between those and the rim is just sandy plain, same as that outside the crater. It looks amazing. It seems as if someone has laid it all out, a bit like a garden feature. But no hand of man has ever touched it, just nature. It was unknown to the European population until 1947 when a geological survey plane spotted it. I thought it was great.

What's in the middle?

What’s in the middle?

This is.

This is.

Back in the car park I got chatting to a guy who’d arrived in his fourby. Hughie is a friendly guy and it wasn’t long before he was telling me about himself and how God had helped him through a serious illness. Oh dear! That would once have been my cue to beat a hasty retreat but I was quite taken by his chattiness and the way he weaved God or Jesus into everything he was telling me. None of it sounded forced. Eventually he asked me if I believed in God and I had to tell him that I didn’t believe in any Gods. It made no difference to his friendly attitude as we chatted away. Come the time for me to go and he asked if I’d mind him saying a prayer to help me on my journey. Not in the least, working on the basis that every little helps. So he said a brief prayer and I went on my way.

Hughie, with his good news.

Hughie, with his good news.

With no further dramas or mishaps I arrived at Halls Creek. I had been planning to just refuel and ride on but I felt the need to stop. Apart from my sore shoulder I now had some repair work to do. In the end, I stayed there for three nights all told.
I was just putting my tent up when Hughie pulled in and parked fairly near to me. When I’d finished I went over to him and we chatted some more. He’s been to Britain, likes Poms and our country too. He was full of praise for Doris and my trip. How could I dislike the guy? As before, JC got dropped into the conversation occasionally but that really didn’t bother me. With some people it does, especially when they seem to be using a chat as a cover for proselytising, but Hughie just wasn’t like that.
A couple of Ibuprofen and a hot shower eased my shoulder nicely and I went into town to collect the pizza I’d ordered from the bakery earlier. It was burnt to hell, just to stick with the religious theme. But I was hungry and ate it anyway.
Hughie left the next morning, after we’d had another nice chat. He gave me his contact details, with an invite to stay. I’ll take him up on that.

I'm always pleased to see solar thermal being put to good use. A no-brainer in a climate like this.

I’m always pleased to see solar thermal being put to good use. A no-brainer in a climate like this.

It was interesting to note that the night had been much warmer then those in Alice, and the day was hotter too. The effects of a lower altitude but also those of being further north and west. Very pleasant.
So how was the Tanami Track? Pretty much as I’d expected. The surface was about two thirds OK and the rest was poor, and occasionally bad. I camped out twice, as I thought I might have to, and the fuel consumption wasn’t all that good. The headwind killed off any hopes of a decent return. But it was another challenge completed and I always enjoy that feeling of achievement at the end of rides like that. The only disappointment was in coming off. I should have done better. But even those incidents carry their upsides. I’m getting very good at repairing screens, tool bags and pannier bags. My ability to stitch something back together with needle and thread or cable ties and glue is improving all the time. The challenges of self reliance are a pleasure all to themselves.

All fixed up once more. It's just as well I don't have to look through it.

All fixed up once more. It’s just as well I don’t have to look through it.

I felt a reward coming on for all my hard work and it took the shape of a walk across the road to the Kimberly Hotel. Because it was Tight Arse Thursday there was a menu of reasonably priced (for Australia) meals. Sausages, mash and onion gravy, a real taste of home. I was getting a bit fed up with all the foreign food I was being forced to eat – steak, pizza, fish and chips etc. ‘Give us a bash at the Bangers and Mash my Mother used to make’ seemed an appropriate tune to hum myself to sleep to that night.
My 500th day on the road dawned warm and sunny. OK, that figure includes twenty eight days back in the UK last April, but let’s not be picky here.

Old Halls Creek Post Office.

Old Halls Creek Post Office.

I’d planned a ride out along the Duncan Highway to visit a bit of local history. This highway cuts across country eastwards then loops north to join the Great North Highway at Kununurra. The road pre-dates that highway and originally served the gold fields and the cattle stations. On it can be found Old Halls Creek, the original town. It was occupied from the time of the first gold rush in WA, around 1885, through to the 1950s. Then the town was relocated to the new north/south highway. The town had barely been built by the time the gold ran out but it became an important trading and commerce centre as the cattle stations sprang up and the land was settled.
There isn’t much left of the old town. The only building still standing is the Post Office. It’s now been fenced off to protect it but a fair amount of the original walls are still standing, including a rather nice looking fireplace. The building material which has stood the test of time so well is crushed termite mounds. The walls were made of mud slabs and the mud was made from mounds mixed with water. This method was very common, especially for making floors. Let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of raw material. The other buildings have all gone but there are markers to show where they stood. The cemetery is still there though, always worth a walk around. It’s surrounded by disused trucks and other machinery, although I’m not sure whether that was deliberate or coincidental. Rest in peace and rust in peace.

Last resting place at Old Halls Creek.

Last resting place at Old Halls Creek.

Charlotte’s Pool and Palm Springs were two very nice permanent waterholes, which town residents used to visit during day trips out.It still surprises me how many delightful little places there are to be found. The terrain looks to be nothing but sparsely vegetated sand and red rock. Clearly exploration brings its rewards.

Palm Springs. Cool and inviting.

Palm Springs. Cool and inviting.

The last place I visited was the China Wall. A bank of white quartz rock breaks out of the ground and its colour and shape really is reminiscent of the Great Wall of China.

Natural Quartz outcrop, making the Chineses feel at home.

Natural Quartz outcrop, making the Chineses feel at home.

Afterwards I took a walk around the town. There is a kind of village green, outside the community centre. On it are a couple of statues, one of Russian jack and the other of Jack Jugarie.
Jugarie was a well respected Aboriginal Elder who, at over seventy years of age, took part in the 350km ‘Human Race’, from Halls creek to Wyndham. He was up against two much younger competitors but beat them using only his bush knowledge and ability to navigate by natural means. He was quite a character and an important man within his community.

Jack Jugarri.

Jack Jugarie.

Russian Jack (Ivan Fredericks) is commemorated for his determination and ‘mateship’. He used a wooden wheelbarrow to carry his belongings to the gold fields. En route he came across an exhausted fellow prospector and put his load into his barrow and pushed them both. He also once pushed a mate a long distance in his barrow so he could get medical attention.
These, and other stories are beloved by outback Aussies and are always worth a statue.

Russian Jack and his wheelbarrow.

Russian Jack and his wheelbarrow.

One display that really fascinated me was about the Canning Stock Route. It is a 2,000km long drovers road running from near halls Creek all the way south to Wiluna. It was driven through the Great Sandy Desert between 1908-1910, and a series of wells were dug at about 30km intervals. Many of these were water sources used by Aboriginals and there was friction between them and the cattlemen. Canning used to capture local Aboriginals, hoping they would lead him to water. In 1908, acting on accusations from his cook, a Western Australian commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the cruel treatment meted out by Canning, including water deprivation and the inflicting of various injuries, including on women. When the first mob of cattle was driven through in 1910 a drover was killed by a spear near one of the wells. The port of Wyndham was established soon after and was found to be a much cheaper and safer way of transporting cattle.

All about the Canning Stock Route.

All about the Canning Stock Route.

But the route is beloved of fourbys. It is now a real challenge, not just of driving but of organising too. It’s necessary to arrange fuel and supply dumps at the Aboriginal communities close to the route and several permits are required, as the route passes through Aboriginal land. It’s the kind of challenge I’d love to try but it’s just not practical.

The route of the Route.

The route of the Route.

My shoulder felt fairly good, everything was repaired, time to move on. Not far though. 150kms northwards lies the Purnululu National Park wherein can be found the Bungle Bungles Range. About 360 million years old, it is noted for its geological splendour. For the last 20 million years the effects of erosion have been working on the landscape and have left an incredible legacy of gorges, domed, multi layered hills and a series of rivers. The park has World Heritage status and getting around has been made easy, as access tracks to all the best areas are provided. This network of roads and paths is well signposted and has plenty of info boards. The Bungle Bungle Range is renowned for its banded domes, the worlds most exceptional example of cone karst formations. The bands occur when cyanobacteria grows on layers of sandstone where moisture accumulates. The orange colour is oxidised iron compounds which have dried out too quickly for the bacteria to grow. Erosion has done the rest.

Just to give you a sense of scale. Here's Doris next to a road train.

Just to give you a sense of scale. Here’s Doris next to a road train.

From the Great North Highway it’s fifty three kilometres of twisty, windy, stony, hilly, difficult riding. It was great fun! Four creeks to cross, unusually with water in. One was just a splash but the other three were deep enough to warrant wading across first, to test depth and find the easiest route. For two of them I took my luggage off, just in case I found a deep hole or fell off. In the event, nothing to worry about, just boots full of water.

One of the four creek crossings.

One of the four creek crossings.

Arriving at the visitor centre I paid my National Park fee, having already booked the camp site on-line. The VC had information about helicopter flights over the park and I put any thoughts of budgets to one side and gave in to temptation. The VC arranged for a 7am flight, thirty minute for ‘only’ $379 – £180. Ouch, but I’m worth it!
The park has a north and south section. I was camping in the south, close to the airstrip so the sensible thing was to explore the north that afternoon and then the south after my heli-trip.
The camp site was another 12kms into the park and once all was set up I headed back to the northern section to enjoy the rocks. There is a 2km walk into the Echidna Gorge but I didn’t have to do that. I went to Stonehenge, which was nothing at all like its namesake. It’s a loop walk showing the Aboriginal uses of various trees and plants. Plenty of info boards to explain how a given plant became food, tools, weapons or medicine. Often more than one of each. Seeing this reinforces why Cook and Banks were so impressed by the Aboriginals they met when they first landed in Australia. They were expert in using what was available to them to live a comfortable life. A couple of examples follow.

Spinifex Grass.

Spinifex Grass.

Spinifex Grass.

Spinifex Grass.

Red River Gum.

River Red Gum.

River Red Gum.

River Red Gum.

Next was Bloodwoods Lookout, at the end of a short walk from the car park. It over looks part of the escarpment which forms the northern wall of the Bungle Bungle Range. It’s a huge sandstone wall with woodland in front of it. Mighty impressive.

Sandstone escarpment.

Sandstone escarpment.

Finally I went to Kungkalanyi Lookout. After a walk up the hill I could see the whole of the escarpment, from end to end, making me wonder not only how it got there but why it starts and finishes where it does. What happened all those millions of years ago to cause these phenomena? I was thinking about all this while the sun set behind me and painted the escarpment in a variety of shades in the process. A very nice end to the day.

Sandstone cliffs in the sunset.

Sandstone cliffs in the sunset.

And again.

And again.

Up with the sun next morning, and over to the airstrip for my helicopter ride. Once booked and weighed, I had a nice chat with Heath, one of the pilots, who owns a big KTM. Our chopper was a Robinson R44 Raven. Enough room for the pilot and three passengers. Very basic. No fripperies, not even doors, but it did have seatbelts I’m pleased to say. It felt like being in a Mini Moke. Bill and Gayle, an Aussie couple, had flown in from Kununurra especially for the trip. Keen, or what! We had our safety briefing and were then directed to departure gate one, ready to board.

Departure Gate One (and only).

Departure Gate One (and only).

Robinson Raven R44. Help, no doors!

Robinson Raven R44. Help, no doors!

Helicopters never seem to be in a rush. I suppose it’s the vertical lift off that denies you the sensation of speed and forward motion. No rushing down a runway looking for lift. Just twiddle the controls and we’re airborne, moving forward at 80 knots (about 140kph). An amazing feeling.
We flew around the Bungle Bungles, with our pilot giving us commentary on what was below. The dome rocks were formed about twenty million years ago and have been eroding ever since. But some of the others are around 1.5 billion years old, among the oldest on Earth.

Gorge, dry riverbed and karst and sandstone rock.

Gorge, dry riverbed and karst and sandstone rock.

We saw the domes, gorges, river courses and hills, all looking fantastic from above. I knew I’d be walking among some of them later, which added to the moment.

Amazing landscape.

Amazing landscape.

This land was once completely flat. The effects of erosion are incredible.

This land was once completely flat. The effects of erosion are incredible.

Half an hour isn’t very long and soon we were back on Terra Firma. I was back on my bike riding the short distance to the car park for the southern walks. There are a couple of long walks that can be done from here but I opted out of those in the rising heat. Keen hikers can tackle a two day trek deep into the gorges if they feel like it. Not for me, thanks. Instead I went to look at the Domes, Cathedral Gorge and Picaninny Lookout.

Layered Domes.

Layered Domes.

The walk around the Domes was great because I could see, close up, how time had formed these peculiar rocks. The different layers are surprisingly clear in their separation from each other and I could only wonder at the forces that create them. Cathedral Gorge and Cavern was simply amazing. Water comes tumbling down over the rock face and had created a deep pool at the bottom while also undercutting the cliff at the same time. The result is a huge cavern, the floor of which is just sand and rock. Very little sunlight gets in there so there are very few plants.

Looking into the cathedral, showing how it was created.

Looking into the cathedral, showing how it was created.

Fractured rock. In years to come this may become another gorge as water works its magic.

Fractured rock. In years to come this may become another gorge as water works its magic.

In the gorge itself it’s easy to see where movement of the earth has split the rock face and over the millennia a gap will form, more rocks will tumble down and so the process of erosion continues. I wonder whether there will be visitors in the future to gaze in awe?
As I walked back towards Picaninny Creek there were info boards describing some of the plants and their traditional uses. The creek itself is wide, with a mixture of sand and rock. The rock has been worn down by the water flow so it now has strange channels in it. The heat was definitely rising so I was glad to get to the lookout where I met some travelling Brits, from various parts of the country, on working holidays. Always nice to see.

Travelling Brits.

Travelling Brits.

The heat had built up now and I decided it was much too hot for decamping and packing away. So I decided to stay another night and leave early tomorrow. I was heading to Kununurra, further up the Great North Highway, and I wouldn’t have got there before dark that day. So I spent the afternoon sweating in my tent. There was no shade outside to sit in, but at least I got some writing done.

It's a nice view. Shame about the bloke spoiling it.

It’s a nice view. Shame about the bloke spoiling it.

So, here’s a question for you. Is there such a thing as Karma, whether good or bad? Personally, I’m not sure but I don’t really think there is. Read what follows and see what you think.
I ought to have paid the $12 fee for the extra night’s stay, and possibly another $6 for NP fee, but as the camp site is unattended and is 12kms from the visitor centre, I didn’t bother. All that’s there is a tap and a toilet anyway, so I felt no real obligation to do so.
Next morning I was up early, packed and heading out of the park by 8am. The distance to the main road is 65kms, across four water filled creeks. All was going well until, after about 50kms I realised I’d left my backpack sitting on the ground at the camp site. So I turned around, recrossed the creeks while keeping up a fair old pace along the twisty, hilly, rocky track, until I got back there. It was sitting on the ground, exactly where I’d left it. The daft thing is that I’d said to myself, as I rode away, ‘Geoff, have you checked that you’ve got everything?’ My answer was, ‘Yes of course, if I’d left anything unpacked I’d have realised it.’ So was this Karma punishing me for my dishonesty, or maybe a touch of guilt skewing my thinking? Bad Karma, or guilt? Or coincidence?

Me, Nathan and Heath. Standing next to a tank full of high octane go-go juice.

Me, Nathan and Heath. Standing next to a tank full of high octane go-go juice.

But the story continues. I’d had to put my spare five litres of fuel in the tank, enough to get me to the nearest Roadhouse, about 100kms away. But now I’d increased the total distance by 100kms and definitely didn’t have enough. What to do? A light bulb moment came my way. I’ll go down to the airstrip – only 6kms away – and see if any of the people there carry spare fuel. I rode down and Heath was behind the counter again, along with Nathan and a young woman whose name I didn’t get. I’d given Heath my blog details the day before because I knew he’d be interested in the rescue pilot’s account. So some surprise was expressed that I’d managed to find my way there. But nobody had any spare petrol. What to do? Well, I can’t say too much but they found a solution and filled me up with burnable fossil fuel, and after some photos and more chat, I was on my way. Unearned good Karma or me being a lucky SOB? By the time I finally got to the main road I’d ridden that track four times; crossed each creek four times; and I’d had a ball. I rode north, with a stop for fuel and coffee, and made it to Kununurra in plenty of time.
So if it was Karma, it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to because I reckon I came out on top in the end despite my naughty behaviour. Personally I don’t believe there’s any ‘force’ that influences what we do or what happens to us. When our behaviour or events seem to be affected by unknown influences then it comes from within, that’s all. The rest is just the consequences of our own actions and how we handle the situations that arise.

Two different ways of doing the same thing. On very hot days, I'm sometimes tempted.

Two different ways of doing the same thing. On very hot days, I’m sometimes tempted.

Three things happened on the way north. It got hotter. I could feel the heat increasing, even while riding. The sun was beating down on me and I was very glad I had plenty of water, albeit warm. I came across a cyclist, a young Japanese guy, who’d started his journey in Adelaide. I gave him some of my bottled water. He looked like he needed it. I began to see Boab Trees. These are only found in NW Australia and are a direct relative of the Baobab Tree, found in South Africa and Madagascar. It’s reckoned that seed pods floated over thousands of years ago and took hold. Some of the bigger trees are over one thousand years old.

My first sight of a Boab tree.

My first sight of a Boab tree.

I spent six nights in Kununurra, although it’s hard to work out why. There isn’t much to see there but I think the heat just slows me down. I was catching up on washing and writing and also went out for some walks and a ride out. Most of the time I was sorting out some issues on my blog relating to disappearing photos. I won’t go on about it except to say that using WordPress can be very frustrating!!
I must mention something about the hostel I was at. It’s linked to the YHA but came nowhere near their usual standards. They operate a frustrating system where, instead of leaving all necessary equipment in the kitchen for everyone to use, they issue you out a kit of cutlery, crockery and pots and pans. It’s very inconvenient and I don’t like it. Far worse though, was the fact that of three gas hobs with a total of fifteen burners, only two would light. Even worse than that was that the kitchen light was operated by a push button system, which only lasted about five minutes before switching the lights off. It’s impossible to exaggerate how dangerous this is, given that there will always be people walking around with pans of boiling water of hot fat. I flagged it up to reception but I don’t think the young French woman there had the authority to do anything. It so happened that I received an email after I’d left, requesting feedback. So I gave them some. There were some things I was able to praise about the hostel too, and in fairness to the manager she responded very positively to what I said and has now had a movement sensor installed to control the lights. Much better.

Who put that there?

Who put that there?

I went out for a walk to Mirima National Park one morning. Temperatures were climbing into the high thirties so I was pleased to be able to go into Hidden Valley and escape it for a while. This is another place which has info boards describing various plants and their traditional uses. It’s long been a special place to Aboriginals too. A climb up the hill to the lookout produced a nice view over the fertile Ord River Valley, made nice and green by the dam and irrigation scheme. This particular river runs down into the Bungle Bungles, although the water doesn’t get that far this time of year.

One possible answer.

One possible answer.

I also took a ride out to Wyndham, one of the two ports I mentioned. On the way up there I called in to look at The Grotto. This is a flat, rocky cliff top from where a waterfall drops down to fill, and flow out of, a permanent pool. It’s reckoned to be 300 feet deep and is a favourite swimming location. It’s a steep walk down but worth the effort. There’s a typical display of eroded sandstone rock, with fig trees and other plants clinging on to the near vertical cliff sides. Getting back up the 140 steps isn’t quite as much fun though.

Cool and deep.

Cool and deep.

After that short diversion I took a longer one, out across some salt flats and down to Diggers’Rest Station. Here I looked at the Prison Boab Tree. On their journeys across the area policemen would utilise the hollow trunk of these huge trees as overnight lock-ups for their prisoner. There’s enough room inside for a man to sit, but not lie, down. It can’t have been very comfortable.

Prison Boab. One of several in the Kimberley Region.

Prison Boab. One of several in the Kimberley Region.

Rock art. Plane? Frog? Insect? Who knows, but probably not a plane.

Rock art. Plane? Frog? Insect? Who knows, but probably not a plane.

Nearby there is some good quality Aboriginal rock art. I’d seen some at Uluru and other places too. Mostly animals as far as I could tell. How old? I’ve no idea and I presume nobody has, given that there was no information to tell me. I’d guess they were for story telling purposes.Wyndham used to have a large meat works, now closed down. Cattle tend to be exported live now. I took a ride up to the Five Rivers Lookout, which offers a fantastic view over the sea, estuaries and shoreline. The tide was out so I could see the effect that an 8-10 metre tide has on the landscape. After a cup of coffee at the aptly named Rusty Shed Café, I headed back to Kununurra, feeling ready to move on now.

Dis-ued industrial machinery from the old meat factory.

Dis-used industrial machinery from the old meat factory.

The Rusty Shed Cafe.

The Rusty Shed Cafe.

Back in Kununurra I finished my planning for the ride across the Gibb River Road. It had been highly recommended, lets hope it would live up to its billing.

Looking out across the mudflats from the Five Rivers Lookout.

Looking out across the mudflats from the Five Rivers Lookout.

Alice and Alice.

Alice Springs, NT. 17th August 2015.

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. Heading south to Alice Springs.

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. Heading south to Alice Springs.

A haircut. I desperately needed a haircut. There are a couple of salons in the town centre, an easy ten minute stroll from the hostel. After a young lady from Chingford, Essex, had tidied up my head , I felt better and got some other things organised.
I rang up a bike shop and asked if I could use a corner of their workshop to service my bike. The guy there realised I was a Pom and started moaning about the Ashes. We enjoyed a bit of banter and he agreed to help me. A job for tomorrow then.
Next was something I should have done as soon as I arrived in Australia, which was to register for Medicare. The UK and Aus have reciprocal arrangements but it’s necessary to get yourself on their system. You then get issued a card which is shown if you need to use the health service. My little stay in hospital on Thursday Island had brought this home to me. It was easy to do, at the multi purpose government contact centre in the town. They just wanted to see my passport and visa. The card will get sent to Phil’s and he’ll send it on to me.

A view of Alice from the top of ANZAC Hill.

A view of Alice from the top of ANZAC Hill.

And an earlier view.

And an earlier view.

Next was to go to the post office and get my new camera. I had to wait another day for that to arrive but it was good to get it at last. Phones are all well and good but nothing as good as the real thing.
At a camping shop I replaced the items that had been lost or damaged up on the Tele Track and also bought a collapsible mug. What a great idea. It compresses down to nothing when not in use and saves me space in my bag.
Alice Springs visitor centre organise a walking tour, for free, that leaves at 09.30 on weekdays. It’s best to book it, just to make sure you can get on it. So I did, but when I arrived next morning it had been cancelled. Very annoying but the guy there did mention a big truck festival that was taking place the following weekend. ‘And you’ll find that all the accommodation is booked out,’ he helpfully advised me. Bugger! I had plans to be away from Alice over the coming weekend but would definitely be back for the next one. Luckily there’s another hostel just round the corner and they had vacancies there for when I was due back. It seems there was a Festival of the Desert taking place at the same time as the truck festival and everywhere was booked out on the Friday. I was pleased to have got sorted out then.

You wouldn't think it during the Dry, but flooding can be a problem.

You wouldn’t think it during the Dry, but flooding can be a problem.

Having failed to get on the walking tour I decided to go on my own walk,a 4km stroll along the Todd River, out to the Old Telegraph Station. Unlike the one at Tennant Creek, this one had all the original equipment still in it. They wanted an entrance fee to this one. I’d left my wallet behind. Clearly not my day for visits.
Feeling the need for some exercise, and determined to be a tourist at least once before I left the town, I took a walk up ANZAC Hill, situated not far away from the hostel. I had my new camera in my pocket, spare battery installed as the new one was on charge. There were a number of display boards around the edge of the viewing area, detailing Australian forces’ involvement in various conflicts since the Boer war. Of course there was a war memorial. And, at that time of day, there was the sunset. Except ……. The spare camera battery didn’t have much charge in it (I later realised it was worn out). So I got a few shots of the ANZAC displays and about two of the sun as it set behind the MacDonnell range. ‘There’s always my phone camera,’ I thought. Not when the phone only has 10% charge in it. So another two shots and it was time to head back. Tell me why I don’t like Thursdays!
By the time the BBQ came round that evening I felt really organised. Short hair, serviced bike, new equipment, new camera, everything now on charge. My fuel bladder had yet to arrive but I didn’t need it for this trip and was coming back, so I wasn’t worried. Another successful job had been to locate the tiny leak in my air mattress and successfully repair it. I think I’d earned my sausages. Heidi was very impressed when I contributed a couple of cakes to the general food fest. They went quicker than the meat!

Artwork on the side of Coles supermarket.

Artwork on the side of Coles supermarket.

I had plans. Not only did I have them, I’d acted on them too. I’d booked in at the YHA hostel down at Yulara for two nights. This is the resort which is close to the Uluru National Park. I had been intending to camp but the fee was $38 per night for two people, no single bookings. The hostel was $34 per night. Easy decision really. I was going to take two days to get there, with plans to visit some of the attractions out in the West Macdonnell ranges on the way. The map showed several gorges, canyons etc, enough to keep me busy for a couple of days. The distance wasn’t too far, allowing plenty of time for visits. No need to book at the campsites en route, there’s always room for one man and his tent.
Before leaving town next morning I called in to the Visitor Centre to obtain a permit to travel on the Mereenie Road. When travelling across Aboriginal land holdings a permit is sometimes required. ‘Oh, we don’t issue them to motorcycles,’ said the nice lady behind the counter. My next question was obvious: ‘Why not?’’We’ve had drivers complaining about the condition of the road.’ Drivers? Of cars? It seems so. Why was this relevant to motorcyclists? And why do drivers complain about the condition of a dirt road? It’s a dirt road!! I asked if there was anywhere else I could get one and she suggested one of the roadhouses ‘because they’re not so concerned about the rules.’ I suggested she should tell anyone who complained to start behaving like a grown up, and then left.
The area I was about to explore is referred to as the Red Centre of Australia. Why? Well, firstly it’s in the middle of the country and secondly the landscape is red – very red. It’s all that sandstone, laced with iron ore dust. Water, algae and lichen effectively ‘glue’ the dust to the surface of much lighter coloured rock. One thing Australia isn’t short of is in-your-face geology.

First visit was to Standly Chasm. On Aboriginal land and a fee to pay of $10. It was a nice walk up there and the smooth rock on the lower part of the rock walls suggested a flood height of about eight metres. That’s high! Above that level plants get a toehold in the rock and seem to do very well. I got chatting to a family and when I said I was from London, Dad asked his young son if he’d heard of it. He said he had, it’s in Paddington. It seems he likes Paddington Bear cartoons.

The entrance to Standly Chasm.

The entrance to Standly Chasm.

Next was Ellery Creek Big Hole. It’s a big, deep, cold waterhole which never dries up. Despite the cold water, people were swimming in it. Mind you, the sun was getting very hot. In the car park I got chatting to Roley and Kaye, from Adelaide. They gave me their details and suggested I get in touch when I get there.

Big, cold hole.

Big, cold hole.

Then to Serpentine Gorge which involved a kilometre walk from the car park. Near the gorge entrance were parked a couple of Rangers’ vehicles. When I got there the three of them were swimming back across the waterhole from the gorge, having been in there checking up on some fish and frogs. This is clearly a well rehearsed routine as they had were stripped down to their underwear with their cloths packed into bags which were sat on top of rubber rings to keep them afloat and dry. The very cold water blocked the entrance to the gorge proper and none of we spectators to this little drama felt like crossing over.

The Cold Rangers. The things you have to do to earn a living, eh!

The Cold Rangers. The things you have to do to earn a living, eh!

Last visit of the day was to some Ochre Pits. These have very special significance to the Indigenous people. Ochre is, as far as I can work out, a very hard packed mud, almost soft rock, and comes in various colours. It’s used mainly for decorating the body during ceremonies but also in medicine and has various other uses too. The red ochre is the most valuable and is often used to represent the blood of their Dreamtime spirits. These pits are men only, women are not allowed in them, they have their own. However, men can give the ochre to them if they choose. The cliffs that contain the ochre are next to a creek and the sides are sheer. There are several different colours and the water has worn some amazing patterns as it’s flowed past. The photos tell a better story. I can only say it looked fabulous.

The Ochre Cliffs. Water worn patterns of colour.

The Ochre Cliffs. Water worn patterns of colour.

I reached Glen Helen Gorge camp site, filled my fuel tank and pitched my tent. They wanted to charge $2.20 for the privilege of using my credit card. I paid cash, obviously what they wanted people to do. What a scam.
I took a walk down to the Glen Helen Gorge and found, once again,a body of water blocking the entrance. These permanent waterholes are vital to people and animals, enabling them to survive on an otherwise waterless terrain. Many species would simply not be there at all otherwise. The mammals include Wallabies, Kangaroos and Dingos, and there are always many different birds around. Australia is a wonderful place for birds and I’ve really enjoyed hearing new birdsong everywhere I go.
Most of the waterholes are part of the Finke River system. In common with many others in Aus, this river never reaches the sea, simply disappearing into the sand of the desert. I read an interesting info board next to the Todd River, in Alice Springs. It said that many of Australia’s rivers are upside down. Meaning that most of the time all you’ll see is the sandy river bed but you don’t have to dig down very far to find the water that’s invariably underneath.

The Finke River system.

The Finke River system.

I was very impressed by one of the other campers here. He had a big Mercedes coach converted into a camper. He towed a small fourby around on a trailer and would tend to stay in one place for a week or two and explore the area in it. Not so unusual. But the name he gave his coach amused me. ‘Bert – the Bitumen Boeing.’ Very droll.

P1000070
I rode straight to Kings Canyon camp site next day, travelling along the $5 Mereenie Road in the process. It was easily the worst dirt road I’ve been on so far and some of the things the woman at the visitor centre said began to make sense. I’d bought my permit from Glen Helen camp site, no questions asked by them, and almost regretted it except that the alternative was a long diversion. The corrugations on this road were absolutely appalling. I kept thinking ‘My poor bike!’ I was worried about losing some of my teeth but luckily they’re firmly screwed in.

Bend ahead. On the Mereenie Road.

Bend ahead. On the Mereenie Road.

The camp site at Kings Canyon charged more than last night’s, but was a whole standard above it and ‘only’ charged 1% for credit card use. Better, but still not good. Once set up I headed off down the road to see the canyon.

Rock steps,very steep climb.

Rock steps,very steep climb.

There are several walks to choose from but I wanted to walk round the canyon rim. The sign said it was a 5.5kms walk and would take 3-4 hours. That was at 15.30 and the sun set at 18.30. I’ve usually found this information to be pessimistic and I was confident I’d have enough time. The sign was right about one thing though. It said the path up to the top was steep and it was – very! Natural rock steps combined with man-made ones. I had to rest halfway up but once there all was good. The track around the rim was very rough though. I had to keep scrambling up and down rock steps to get around the various natural obstacles.

All about the domes.

All about the domes.

I was fascinated by the rock formations and there were plenty of info boards to explain things. Much of the surface was flat rock but there were plenty of high sections, not yet eroded away, and domes too. To me it’s fascinating to see 360 million year rock that’s been eroding probably for twenty million years, a bit at a time. In maybe another twenty it will all be flat, like the land around it. Personally I don’t believe there’ll be a single human being left to see it. So enjoy it while you can folks!

A canyon with some domes.

A canyon with some domes.

The canyon is a geologist’s and naturalist’s delight. There’s two types of sandstone with a layer of shale trapped between them.The shale prevents rain water leaching all the way through the sandstone so it gets released in various ways to provide sustenance for flora and fauna. It is, of course, an important place for Aboriginals too. There are various viewing points so it’s possible to see the cliff faces and learn about the significance of the various features. Initially I was walking along the north side and looking at the south wall. But when I changed sides and was able to see the north wall I was gobsmacked. The cliff face looks stunning. Where lumps of rock have cleaved away it’s possible to see the original sandstone colour, which lies beneath the coating of red dust. This makes fascinating patterns and I was happy to sit there for a while and just take it all in.

The north wall of the canyon. I loved it.

The north wall of the canyon. I loved it.

How it all came about.

How it all came about.

Near the end of my walk I met up with a young French guy, currently cycling his way around. We chatted as we walked down and I was very pleased when he asked me if I played sports as I seemed very fit. I felt complimented at the suggestion, and who wouldn’t? I get ‘em where I can these days. How long did the walk take? 2.75 hours, and I stopped often to divert and look at things. I was pleased with that.

Another of my canyon companions.

Another of my canyon companions.

I actually managed to beat the two hour deadline for leaving a camp site next morning, and was away by 9am. I don’t know why I rushed though. All there was for me to do was ride, ride and ride. I was heading for Yulara, the nearest accommodation to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, wherein lies Uluru, or Ayers Rock. This is a resort town, which means its sole purpose is to provide a variety of accommodation, dependent on taste, budget or both. The Outback Pioneer Lodge offered rooms or dorms so I’d booked a dorm bed for two nights. I arrived around 1pm but wasn’t allowed into the dorm until 3pm, so I asked the guy on reception if I had enough time to visit the rock. He said yes, so I put my luggage in the store room and headed off to the national park, about 12kms down the road. I’d already seen Uluru from the road as I rode in and was looking forward to a closer look.
It’s $25 for a three day pass into the park, which was fine as I intended to come back next day. There’s lots to see.

First view of this big rock, from about 50kms away.

First view of this big rock, from about 50kms away.

I think we all accept that Uluru is amazing. It’s iconic and deservedly so. But you can’t appreciate it until you see it close up. I went to the cultural centre first and read about the traditional owners’ culture. There was also a video about the rock’s modern history, but I didn’t have time to watch all of it. I headed out to the start of the Base Walk, as far as I’m concerned the ‘must do’one. It’s 10.6kms and 3.5 hours. Another challenge to my fitness.
There is a stairway/climbing track up the rock but the Aboriginals view climbing it as disrespectful to the rock and the culture surrounding it. So do I climb or not? The decision was taken from me as it was closed due to high winds. I wouldn’t have climbed anyway because I simply didn’t have the time.

Request not to climb the rock.

Request not to climb the rock.

The walk around was tough, on a hot afternoon, but I enjoyed it very much. There were sections where signs requested you not to take photos out of respect for local culture, which believed that certain aspects of it should only be shown to those who need to know and at the appropriate time. The rock features heavily in their Dreamtime stories and the info boards explained these. Stories are woven around many of the natural features of the rock and involve various animals. Two of the favourites seems to be the snake and the lizard. It’s quite easy to see how the features of the rock tie into the stories once it’s pointed out to you.

It looks like the mouth of an animal and will have been woven into a Dreamtime story.

It looks like the mouth of an animal and will have been woven into a Dreamtime story.

There are certain areas which were used as ‘schools’ for the children. Grandparents would take girls and boys, separately, to certain areas where they would watch and then try activities such as food preparation and cooking, for the girls, tracking and hunting for the boys. This is common in many cultures but I’ve mentioned before that it’s the role of youngsters to care for their grandparents and clearly this is how the bonds are formed. What a fascinating place and well worth the trip out to see it. Being so close to it makes it easy to understand its draw and why it’s so important to local people.

Ancient schoolroom.

Ancient schoolroom.

I finished my walk in time to stop off at the designated area for sunset viewing. The light on the face of the rock changes as the sun sets and looks marvellous. I hesitate to say it, but I was low on battery power for both camera and phone once more. I can charge both from my bike via a 12v socket but had forgotten to do it the previous night. I just about had enough for what I needed though.

Me, Doris and The Rock at sunset.

Me, Doris and The Rock at sunset.

IMAG0458

It’s impossible not to be affected by the rock, even if only temporarily.  ‘But it’s just a big rock, sticking out of the ground, right?’  Wrong!
Back at the hostel I got my gear and headed for my bunk. I couldn’t be bothered to cook so went to the bar and got a cheap fish and chip meal. The lodge was crowded with bikers who’d attended the weekend’s Black Dog Rally. This event is in aid of a charity whose aim is to raise awareness of depression and how it can lead to suicide. A worthy cause in my opinion. More details here. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au.

Black Dog Rally attendee. Well done all.

Black Dog Rally attendee. Well done all.

Once back in my room I connected to the internet, having been off grid for two days. And all sorts of strange things came at me off the web. I’m writing this blog post six weeks after the events up at Cape York, and two and a half weeks after the media storm that came my way. So I’m just going to insert what I wrote soon after that storm, having originally intended to post it seperately.

Media Madness.
Once again I’m going to have to break away from the blog timeline to talk about more recent events. The last blog post left me near the tip of Cape York but these events happened while I was out visiting Uluru (Ayers Rock). They took place four weeks and 2,000kms after my Eliot Creek misadventure.
I’d reached Yulara, the resort near the National Park, at about 1pm. I wasn’t able to get into the dorm in the hostel so I rode down to Uluru. That was lucky because I wouldn’t have had a chance to do so the next day. I’d been off grid for a couple of days so was completely unprepared for the frenzy that overtook me during the next two.
When I published my story, Swimming Against the Tide, my nephew’s wife was so taken with it she decided to contact a Sunday Mirror (UK national newspaper) journalist to tell him about it. She told me what she’d done afterwards and said that he would be emailing me to talk to me about it. I didn’t hear from him before I left Alice and as I couldn’t be contacted before his deadline he just lifted the information and photos from my blog and ran a story about a British tourist lost for two days in the Australian bush, then saved in a dramatic rescue. The story was picked up by many other UK newspapers, either in print or online.
Well, when I finally got on the internet Sunday evening I had messages, via the comments section of my blog, from all sorts of media outlets in Britain. TV and radio stations were keen to talk to me for their Monday morning breakfast shows, some offering me money to appear via Skype. It took me all evening to go through the requests and I took the decision to talk to anyone who wanted me to. I installed Skype on my laptop ready for several interviews lined up for the next day. These were to be in the morning, UK time, which meant in the afternoon Uluru time, eight and a half hours later.
I was at a loss to understand what all the fuss was about. Time and distance had pushed the events out of my mind but something about the incident seemed to tickle the media wherever it is they like to be tickled. I was suddenly very popular indeed!
That afternoon I had a fine old time talking to Sky’s Sunshine Show, ITV’s Good Morning, ITN, BBC London TV, Radios 4,5 and BBC Kent. Over the next few days I also spoke to two of my local Dartford papers, the News Shopper and the Kent Messenger. I also appeared on KMTV, which I believe is internet based. Within a couple of days the story had been repeated all over Europe, some news sites in Russia and Africa, and even in South America. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my blog as various news outlets picked up the story from it and linked to it. The traffic to my blog on the Monday was simply incredible. There were over 16,000 views from nearly 13,000 unique visitors. Normally, after uploading a new post I’d get a few dozen. Wow!
To me it was madness.
Even so, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fame and one of the nice things was that it put me back in touch with some old friends and colleagues after they saw me on the TV or heard me on the radio. I’ve also picked up a number of new blog followers. At the same time I apologise to any of my relatives, especially my children, if it brought them any unwelcome attention. There is still some media interest, with an interview lined up with a women’s magazine in Australia and maybe one or two more yet to come. I feel very grateful to my rescuers but because they are tax payer funded I can’t repay them. Instead I am going to donate any monies received to the Royal Flying Doctor Service here in Australia.

Mischa’s Comments.
While I’m catching up on these events I think it’s worth sharing the most interesting comment I’ve ever had on a blog. It came from Mischa Hadolin, the pilot of the rescue helicopter (which happens to be a Bell 412, if anyone is interested). He seemed delighted to have the opportunity to tell his side of the story. I can do no better than to quote it verbatim.

Coming into the chopper, feeling chipper.

Coming into the chopper, feeling chipper.

Hi Geoff,
My name is Mischa and I was the pilot of the Rescue Helicopter that afternoon.
I saw your blog as part of the News article and was very interested to read your side of events; it is not one that we usually hear.
I thought you might also be interested in our perspective too; the winch Rescue we conducted was a challenge.
For our Helicopter to be tasked to conduct a winch rescue means that no other practical means of recovery is possible. This was certainly the case that day.
On our way down to your position, we went through a full mission briefing that included planning for scenarios that could potentially take place during the task. You’ll be thankful to know we were equipped to do that same recovery at night should it have been required.
After discussing our plan with the SAR Co-ordinator on the ground (Brad) both Helicopters lifted off to your position. After we confirmed where you were located, we moved in slowly until Matt, the Aircrewman and Winch operator spotted you: ‘Visual! 2 o’clock low before the bend’ he exclaimed. At this point, I handed over what is called the ‘con’ to Matt. As the Helicopter is quite large, it is not long before I can’t see you anymore and I am focusing on the tops of the trees as my hover reference. The ‘con’ allows Matt to verbally tell me what to do and where to go. ‘Height good maintain, move forward 10. 3,2,1, Hold. How’s your reference’ Matt asks? I reply I have good reference, however we are using 85-90% of the aircrafts power, which means we only have 5 minutes to spend in this position before we have to transition to forward flight to ease the requirements.
Matt, moving with the methodical deliberation that stems from his career crewing Helicopters in the military, brings his eyes inside the cabin to confirm that Chris, our Rescue Crewman is ready to go ‘down the wire’. A final thumb up confirms this process is complete and we are ‘clear to winch’.
Our main concern at this point was the downwash, and the havoc it was causing below. We had already seen some tree branches break and the re-circulation was causing Chris to ‘swing’ from side to side of the ravine. At this point, Chris is powerless to the events taking place around him; he is relying on Matt above to make the right decisions to place Chris in the intended area, only a few metres wide.
As Chris feet touch the water, a quick disconnect is followed by Matt advising ‘Rescue crewman on the ground, retrieving the hook. Hook is housed, clear to roll’. ‘Roger, rolling’ I reply. We then move into a holding pattern above to discuss the events that took place as well as checking in with Chris on the ground.
Matt and I ran through a short de-brief of events to clear up any concerns we have prior to continuing. Our main trepidation is that of the downwash; Matt thinks it has the potential to either knock you both of your feet and down the river, cause a branch to break onto you or swing into the side of the Gulley. All concerns Chris also felt on the ground. Chris continues to give us updates of his situation as we hold overhead.
’20 minutes to Bingo’ I tell the crew: the call to advise the time remaining on scene before we have to re-fuel and try again. Chris and Matt are busy devising a plan for a new winching position that will reduce the possibility of our downwash hampering our efforts of recovery.
Finally, the radio comes to life again ‘Rescue 700, this is Rescue Crewman, safety checks complete and ready for double winch extraction’. ‘Roger’ Matt replies, ‘Inbound in 30 seconds’. Chris has assessed the scene and chose the best possible place to conduct the recovery; Matt and I were both very proud of his judgement and decision making under pressure at the moment.
It is always a surreal feeling when it is all over and I look back to see the person, you in this case, being pulled into the aircraft. It is a mixture of elation and relaxation that is hard to compare to anything else.
Most of all, we were just thankful that you were alive. I believe the comments from the crew the day prior were ‘Lets hope he is just sitting under a tree at a campsite wondering why all these helicopters were flying everywhere!’
All the best with your travels,
p.s We also have some pictures and footage of the event should you require it.
Mischa.
On behalf of Rescue 700.

Me and the crew. Mischa, Dean Carroll (Paramedic), Chris Muffett (Rescue Crewman) and Matt Dobson (AircrewmanWinchOperator)

Me and the crew. Mischa, Dean Carroll (Paramedic), Chris Muffett (Rescue Crewman) and Matt Dobson (AircrewmanWinchOperator)

So, back with the story once more.
I didn’t have time to visit the Kata Tjuta section of the NP because I was kept busy on the internet. So I headed back to Alice Springs on a day that had become sunless, windy, cold and eventually wet. I stopped at a roadhouse for fuel, coffee, a pie and a warm up. I also put on some warmer clothes. Really, it was very cold. The wind was in my face most of the way which affects the fuel consumption. Down to under 50mpg (17.5 kms/litre). Easily the worst of the whole trip so far.

Seen at the Servo en route to the Truck Reunion. A 1950s Clipper Coach, now a camper van.

Seen at the Servo en route to the Truck Reunion. A 1950s Clipper Coach, now a camper van.

I’d had to book a different hostel in Alice as the previous one was full, and it turned out they’d messed up the booking. As things stood I had nowhere to stay on Friday night. The town was full, as predicted. A busy weekend in Alice then. I was now at Alice’s Secret hostel but after a day or so a room became available back at Alice Lodge, so all was well. I booked to stay there until Monday so I could prepare for the next stage of my trip.
I visited Heidi at Alice Lodge as soon as I got back and she handed me my newly arrived fuel bladder, then insisted I attend the Thursday BBQ, even though I wasn’t staying there. How kind, but now I needed to buy cake!

I met Den at Alice's Secret. He's cycling his way around Aus.

I met Den at Alice’s Secret. He’s cycling his way around Aus.

Some preparations had to be made for when I left Alice and these included a new rear tyre and the hunting down of some cans for fuel. I already had one, as well as my 5L fuel bladder, but I needed more. I was going to ride the Tanami Track and had over 600kms to cover with no fuel supply, so I had to be self sufficient. With a bit of asking around here and there I eventually got what I needed. Researching fuel and water availability led to my decision to stay in Alice until Monday as the supply places had restricted opening at weekends. A wise decision in the end.
Over the next couple of days I replaced my rear tyre, the other one having covered 7,000kms. That doesn’t seem like much but it was a lumpy dirt tyre which had seen some hard use on both sealed and tough dirt roads. It actually did quite well. I spent some time trying to clean the zips on my tent. Constant use in very dusty conditions seemed to have jammed them up. Time would tell if I’d been successful. I got a map of the Tanami Track from the visitor centre and then checked at the police station that the information was up to date. Everything was coming together nicely.

One of a whole complex of buildings at the Telegraph Station. They had to be self sufficient in many ways.

One of a whole complex of buildings at the Telegraph Station. They had to be self sufficient in many ways.

Last time I was in Alice I’d failed to succeed as a tourist so this time I was determined to get it right. It’s an interesting town and was founded because of the new telegraph line. It was originally called Stuart but adopted its new name in 1933. The original Alice Springs was the name given to some waterholes south of the town near where the telegraph station was built. The station came to include a post office and police station while the nearby town grew off the back of prospecting, gold mining and cattle. A railway to Adelaide was built and the motorised road train was first developed here. The town’s attractions include a National Road Transport Hall of Fame, truck museum to you and me, which reflects this heritage. The truck reunion takes place every five years. I was looking forward to seeing that.
I walked down to the Old Telegraph Station once more, remembering to take some money this time. It was interesting to learn how the line was built, the role of the repeater stations and what was involved in running them. The original equipment was on display with plenty of info boards to explain how it all worked and how it was used.

Power for the signal. Ever heard of one of these? Me neither.

Power for the signal. Ever heard of one of these? Me neither.

Eventually the line was replaced with telephone cables, the post office and police station moved to the town and the telegraph station was used for other purposes. Shamefully, one of these was to house children who had been, literally sometimes, snatched from their Aboriginal mothers. Because they had fathers who were European, or half European, it was deemed unsuitable for them to be brought up in an Aboriginal family. This appalling act of racist social engineering is one of Australia’s most shameful episodes, as you can probably imagine. I’ll write more about this topic another time.
Two other places I visited were the Royal Flying Doctor Service HQ and the Alice Springs School of the Air. Both of these are services which came about because of the need to care for and educate outback settlers and their families. They both started in the 1930s and have grown to meet the needs of remote settlements and cattle stations. They use the best available technology and are hugely successful.

Very comprehensive medical kit, and instructions, issued to cattle stations and small settlements.

Very comprehensive medical kit, and instructions, issued to cattle stations and small settlements.

The RFDS provides medical kits to cattle stations, with full instructions on how to use them, as well as being able to give medical advice over the radio in the event of emergencies. The idea is to keep a patient alive until a plane can get there. Doctors and nurses fly into communities on a regular basis to provide clinic services to small settlements. The service also provides Air Ambulance transport when patients need to be moved from one hospital to another, if necessary. I’ll be very pleased to donate the media’s money to it, if any is eventually forthcoming.

RFDS live status.

RFDS live status.

In the same vein the School of the Air educates children who live too far away from towns to attend school. Parents are heavily involved in their activities and the national curriculum is used. Having started with pedal powered radios (PE and school work at the same time), the service now uses a private, satellite based system and will provide equipment to the families for the duration. Tutors hold sessions with small groups, broadcasting from the HQ in Alice. The children visit their nearest town for activity weeks three of four times a year and will usually go to boarding school for sixth form. There are a number of such schools around Australia but this is the largest because Alice is in the middle of such a vast, unpopulated area. Both services prove that necessity is the mother of successful invention.

School of the air, growing fast.

School of the air, growing fast.

I took another sunset walk up ANZAC Hill, with fully charged batteries this time, and got some nice shots. The walk up from the main street involves steep, rocky steps and I was quite surprised to find several not so young women running down them. They ran back up the hill via the access road to the car park and then ran down again. I saw this at least three times. Some kind of race I suppose. Tough Mothers though!
At the hostel I had great conversations with two different groups of people. The first were around my age and had been in the area to walk the Larapinta Trail. This is a 223kms track which goes through the West MacDonnell range. It’s an iconic walk for Aussies who like that sort of thing and is hard going. This group had walked it the hard way, carrying all their gear with them and camping out. I was impressed. I also got more contacts for when I’m in the south, from around Sydney this time.
The second group was a French family, a couple and their two daughters of around 10 and 8. They were taking a year out to travel Australia and had just hired a camper van for a few weeks. Their daughters were loving it and who could blame them. They were, however, keeping up with their school work via the internet. Great to see.

The sun goes down over Alice.

The sun goes down over Alice.

I’d come to like Alice Springs a lot. Plenty to see around and about and it works brilliantly as a base from which to explore. There was a good shopping area and all the support a traveller could need. There’s still one event to write about before I leave the town though. More soon.

From the Hot Tip to the Red Centre.

Punsand Bay, QLD. 6th August 2015.

I'm pleased to say I did eventually make it there.

I’m pleased to say I did eventually make it there.

Punsand Bay had been a good place to rest up for a couple of days but now it was time to move on. Scott left too and he called round to say goodbye about 08.15. Clearly a well organised guy.
I headed back to Bamaga and went to the hotel I’d stayed at previously. I wanted to use their wi-fi as I still had some time to run on the access I’d bought. Unusually, when I bought 24 hours access, I actually got 24 hours of connectivity.
OK, time for a bit of a moan here. Australia and NZ hostels and hotels generally charge for wi-fi access. To me this is simply wrong. It’s as essential these days as the bed you sleep in and should come as part of the package. You will get either a time or an amount of download in Mb’s or Gb’s. One problem with paying for time is that the system often starts the clock when you first log on and then it keeps running even if you’ve logged off. In other words you’ve bought a period of opportunity to connect rather than a period of connectivity. That, to me, is a scam. If it was free anyway none of this would matter. Some hostels are getting better, to be fair, but it’s slow work.
Anyway, I knew I had time left out of what I’d bought and the staff at the hotel were happy for me to sit outside with my laptop and use it up. When it ran out I went up the road a bit to the BP garage were they had 30 mins free wi-fi for anybody who asked for it. Free wi-fi in the middle of nowhere! Some businesses can get these things right. I bought a coffee and a roll and enjoyed an hour’s worth. The great thing was that I got plenty done and even got a blog post uploaded. A morning very well spent.
Things deteriorated when I got back on the road south. It is, as suggested, rough as guts. The section just before, and just after, the Jardine River ferry was very badly corrugated and by the time I got to my destination at Bramwell Station, I’d been shaken to pieces.
On the way up I’d camped at Bramwell Roadhouse, the station was a better place, with better facilities at the campsite. About 11kms off the PDR, it had a nice bar where I booked an evening meal. They’re renowned for the quality and amount of food served and tonight’s special was a BBQ Smorgasbord – and very nice it was too. I’d decided it was time to treat myself.

Kal and Ros's trailer. Very well equiped and tough enough for roads like the PDR.

Kal and Ros’s trailer. Very well equipped and tough enough for roads like the PDR.

There’s been a bit of a running theme with regard to my camping situation. I always seem to struggle to get up, organised, packed and away within my target time of two hours. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to do it. This particular morning I was on target to succeed until I got chatting to my neighbours. Kal and Ros come from near Fraser Island, on the north QLD coast. They were on their way back from the Tip and had stayed at Punsand Bay too. I was interested to see their camping trailer. I’d heard that these can cost over $60,000 but Kal said those were the ultra special ones, with solid floors and top quality bearings on all the sliding draws etc. The cheaper ones have a soft base and less expensive equipment. The difference in the bases affect how easy it is to set up the tent that is part of the rig. Kal enjoyed messing about with his and making improvements to it. A man after my own heart. I was fascinated to learn that trailers and caravans have electrically operated brakes. They work off the brake light circuit of the towing vehicle and can be controlled from the driver’s seat, for example, to be switched off when reversing. Most European trailers have overrun brakes, although this more modern technology may have caught on by now.
I was happy to be delayed because we had a nice chat about our respective journeys. They’d heard about my escapade so I told them all about that too.
I finally left far later than I intended but wasn’t bothered by it. Onwards, back down the PDR and when I came to the stretch where I’d lost my fuel bladder I rode down the wrong side of the road looking for it. No joy, but I owed it to myself to try.

Doug, Ben, Craig, Chris and Alfie

Doug, Ben, Craig, Chris and Alfie

Eventually I was back at Musgrave Roadhouse and set up my tent once more. While I was there I met a group of guys on bikes and a couple of fourbys, who were heading up to the tip. I gave them as much info as I could about the track, the part of it I’d ridden at least. Then I asked them where they were from and they said Gladstone. ‘Do you know Mitch Brown,’ I asked? ‘We work with him!’ they replied, in chorus. Ah well, another ‘small world’ moment. Doug, Ben, Craig, Chris and Alfie – nice to have met you all.

All the way up Cape York I’d been planning the next stage of the journey. I wanted to get to Alice Springs and the shortest route looked to be south eastwards along a ‘four wheel drive only’ track. It would save a huge distance compared to the more conventional route. I’d spoken to several people who’d used it, including Brad, and they all said it was a good road. The only problem was that it was a 500km journey with nothing on the route. No shops, fuel or anything else. It was the lack of fuel that worried me. I’d have to carry all I needed and I’d already lost my fuel bladder!

While I was at Musgrave Roadhouse all the problems resolved themselves. I chatted to the owner and he found me an empty 5 litre can. He also told me the Mitchell River, about halfway along, would have water flowing. One of Mitch’s friends loaned me a 3 litre fuel bladder which he wasn’t using. Petrol and water sorted out so any doubts I had about the route were gone and I could tackle it with confidence. It was a couple of days alone, out in the wilds and I was looking forward to it.

Have a nice ride guys. You'll be having fun.

Have a nice ride guys. You’ll be having fun.

All of the guys were ready to go so we took photos and I saw them off. But then a bizarre little incident occurred. There were a small group of people who I remembered seeing at Gunshot Creek, having fun getting their vehicles across. One of the women came to talk to me about my adventure and then she produced her copy of the Torres News and asked me to sign it for her. I was surprised, to say the least. This was only a few days after it had happened, remember. But it seemed I was now well known, among the Cape York travellers at least.

The turn off I needed was only a few kms south of Musgrave and I was soon rattling along a very good quality dirt road. 4WD only? I met three road trains carrying cattle from the surrounding stations. None of them are 4WD! So it was a pretty easy ride to the Mitchell River, where, after a bit of scouting, I found a nice bush camp. I collected water from the river and had a relaxing night before setting off next morning to finish the ride into Normanton. I reached there without having to use my last can of fuel so I was pretty pleased with how things went. It just goes to show, provided I stick with what I know I can find the places I want to get to without any dramas – or rescues! There were plenty of creeks to cross according to the map. Like blue veins across the skin, they were everywhere. Except none of them contained water, fortunately.
Normanton is a small town which tries to make as much as possible of it’s attributes. There aren’t many. But I found a good campsite and was pleased to see wi-fi included in the fee. About time too. Hostels of Australia, please take note. I pitched my tent next to a nice German couple, over here for a three month tour. Thomas and Suzi had bought a Toyota fourby from a dealer in Adelaide (I think) who guaranteed to buy it back from them at a decent price. It seemed a good way of getting transport sorted out for short visits. We enjoyed socialising during our time there and they told me of some good places to visit.

Thomas and Susi.

Thomas and Susi.

Once my tent was up I noticed that my rear tyre wasn’t. Flat, and not interested in taking air, it seemed I had a puncture repair on my hands. A job for the next morning.
Why is it that no matter how careful I am I seem to pinch inner tubes more often than not? Repairing this puncture involved the same pantomime as had happened too often already. It’s especially annoying when it’s a brand new tube that gets pinched. The puncture seemed to have been caused by the tube rubbing on the tyre security bolt, suggesting too low a pressure for the stony surface that the track became. A lesson for the future then. While my hands were dirty I adjusted the valve clearances and attempted to get my chain oiler working a bit better.
Then a few things came together regarding fuel bladders. I cleaned out and posted off the one I’d borrowed. Then I emailed Liquid Containments, the company that makes them, and told them my sad story about having lost two, any chance of a discount on a new one? The answer came straight back – $65 with postage. That’s about half price! I was very pleased with that and arranged for one to be sent to me at the post office in Alice Springs.
Despite the hassle of the puncture I’d had a productive day in the end.
Next morning I got stuck in to replacing my lost camera. It was a Panasonic Lumix waterproof/dustproof/shockproof model and was going to replace it with the Olympus version. In the end I didn’t because charging the battery involved plugging in the camera rather then using a separate charger. A daft idea in my opinion, especially if staying in a hostel or similar. Also I discovered that my Lumix had been upgraded. Better the devil you know and anyway, I already had a spare battery for it, so I ordered one of those instead, also to be sent to the PO in Alice.

Krys was a big bugger!

Krys was a big bugger!

I took a walk around Normanton, keen to see the sights. It didn’t take too long. These small towns tend to be one long street with a few shorter ones running off them. Think small American town. Normanton has an old hitching rail, just to add to the impression. I know because it’s on the list. Perhaps the oddest sight was a life size model of a huge crocodile. Krys – The Savannah King measured 8.63 metres in real life and the model reflects that. When looking at it the impressive thing to me wasn’t the length but the girth. It weighed over two tonnes and it looks it. It’s the largest recorded example of a saltie. Krys is named after Krystina Pawlowski, one of the many croc shooters operating in the area in 1957. She killed it in the Normanton River. This long pre-dates crocs’ protected status.
Another feature I enjoyed very much was the old railway station, with its museum and collection of rolling stock. It’s only a short line and in common with many others around the region was built in the gold and mining boom years. They tended to be short and therefore so did the railways. This one goes to the town of Croydon, about 90kms away. The present tense is applicable because they operate heritage journeys out there and back, over two days.

Normanton Station, now a museum.

Normanton Station, now a museum.

There are two interesting features to this rail system. The first is the engine, which uses a diesel engine to drive the wheels directly. It has a four speed crash gearbox so is like driving a vintage truck. This seems like a strange method but was common enough on small networks.

Very classy loco.

Very classy loco.

The second is the construction of the line. The engineer was very forward thinking and he persuaded the owners to let him use a different method of construction. The common way was to build an embankment and lay the line on top, using wooden sleepers. He convinced them that a better way was to lay the track on flat land using steel sleepers, hollow and filled with dirt to weigh them down. Hi argument was that although more expensive initially, in the long run it would be cheaper. During the Wet embankments tend to get washed away and have to be constantly repaired. No embankment, no problems and no ongoing costs. Simple but effective.

Earth filled steel sleepers Almost all still there 130 years after being laid. It seems like the man was right!

Earth filled steel sleepers Almost all still there 130 years after being laid. It seems like the man was right!

Lastly, there is a Town Bore. No, not the bloke in the pub who won’t leave you alone, but a water bore hole. The town sits on part of the Great Artesian Basin and the 2330ft deep borehole was dug to gain access to the naturally heated water below ground. It used to feed the town baths but now only supplies water to the camp site I was at. It has a lot of fluoride in it and comes out at a temperature of 65C. You have to leave the hot tap running for quite a while though, it’s got a long way to travel!
One final job before leaving Normanton was sort out my earphone earplugs. Ultimate Ear, a company based in Orpington, make custom fit silicon earplugs for motorcyclists and others. They’re great things to have as they reduce wind noise right down, thereby reducing the risk of hearing damage. They can make them with built in earphones too. Just right for sat nav, intercom or music on the move. A couple of days before getting to Normanton the left earphone had failed. I was really annoyed as the long distance riding was made much more pleasant when accompanied by music. So they got posted back to the UK for repair. As I write they’re on the way back to me, fixed and good to go.

The Burke Highway is named after the leader of this ill-fated expedition.

The Burke Highway is named after the leader of this ill-fated expedition.

My general direction of travel now was south west, towards Alice Springs, along the Burke Highway. As well as being a destination in itself, it’s also the launchpad for several ‘must see’ natural wonders within Australia’s Red Centre, chief among these being Uluru or Ayers Rock. En route from Normanton lies Lawnhills Nationa Park, a place with a famous gorge. The dirt road took me to Gregory Down where I stopped at the roadhouse to refuel. They’d run out. What? Yes, run out. Expected delivery time ‘later on’. The tanker had just left one of the cattle stations and was on the way. The problem is that he didn’t know which station. I had hoped to get to the camp site at Adels Grove, near to the NP, but that wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately there was an unofficial roadside camping area. ‘Unofficial’ enough to have a tap nearby and public toilets five minutes walk away. The conurbation of Gregory Downs consists of the roadhouse, a council road depot and the aforementioned toilets – which also have cold showers. I was getting a real outback experience here. If there’s no fuel, you wait. If you need to stay, find a place by the side of the road. If it’s likely that will happen councils will often provide facilities.
It was frustrating to have to stop only 90kms from my destination but the upside was the roadhouse and the very nice Chicken Schnitzel they served.

Sound advice. I took it.

Sound advice. I took it.

A short ride next morning got me to Adels Grove camp site. A really lovely place next to a beautiful creek. They had canoes and kayaks for rent and also provided inner tubes for swimmers in return for a ‘gold coin’ donation, i.e. a $1 or $2 coin in the box. This is a fairly common way of covering costs for these small items.
Once my tent was set up I spent a happy couple of hours trying to get the zips working properly. Last night’s spot was very dusty and I think an accumulation of dirt was jamming them up. Tent maintenance. The joys of life on the road.

Swimming at the campsite.

Swimming at the campsite.

There were a couple of very nice walks from the camp site. One was up a low but steep hill to a nice lookout, with a view of the surrounding sandstone ridges. The other was alongside the very pretty creek. Tree lined, deep pools, little cascades of water. A very pleasant and cool place to walk after a hot climb up Lookout Hill. When visiting places in the dry it’s not always easy to appreciate how much water comes along these creeks during the wet season. The creek is not especially wide but it’s course is. It’s also filled with dead trees and other detritus which is clearly washed down by the rushing waters.. Nature’s way of having a clear out I suppose. If you’re walking through a gorge then the evidence is on the rocks each side. They’re worn smooth up to the flood level, rough and jagged above that. I’ve seen that effect as high up as eight metres. The power in the water flow must be incredible.

Looking into the gorge, with the solar powered boat

Looking into the gorge, with the solar powered boat

Out in Lawnhills NP next day I had several walks to choose from. The first, and most impressive, was up a hill called The Island Stack. A steep, rocky climb took me to various lookout points from where I could see the Gregory River running through a steep gorge. The water is 26 metres deep in places and is a lovely green colour. The kayaks, which Adels Grove camp site hires out, were much in evidence here. It must have been nice and cool down there at water level, on the serene green river. The view across the gorge to the surrounding hills was excellent and the info boards explained how the area used to be an inland sea until some surface upheavals changed the landscape and created the hills. The sandstone is a lovely red colour, looking great in the sun. Mixed in with it is limestone and in places there are stratified layers of the two rock types.

Indirri Falls, from the Island Stack.

Indirri Falls, from the Island Stack.

And from a little close to.

And from a little close to.

The path back down took me too Indarri Falls. Nothing spectacular in terms of height but they are very pretty nonetheless. They have a nice shape and plenty of vegetation around the edges, with the river in front and behind it. Swimmers were enjoying the cool water. Not me though! This river never dries up because it is fed by underground springs. But its other supply of water comes from the rocks. They absorb huge amounts of rain during the Wet then slowly release it over the dry season.
I walked back to the car park then continued along another path, past some Aboriginal rock art and carvings. Reckoned to be about three thousand years old, the paintings were quite simple as were the carvings in the rock. Further on the path followed the river for a while and I saw a freshie swimming along although I needed the eyes of a young girl, out with her family, to help me spot it.

Not especially attention grabbing, in my opinion.

Not especially attention grabbing, in my opinion.

That was a day well spent as the NP has a variety of attractions but all quite close to each other. The info boards were very good and making kayaks available for hire is a great idea on the part of the camp site.They also run river trips on a solar powered boat. Eco tourism seems to be a big thing in these parts. It’s good in its own right but it also helps to protect the Aboriginal sacred sites and preserves precious water too.
There was nothing ahead of me now apart from a gravel track for about 100kms followed by some big distances on the bitumen. I stopped for a look at some fossils as I passed through Riversleigh Station. It’s a world renowned fossil site but I felt vaguely disappointed by the small size of them. I expected a Dinosaur leg at least. But it shows that big stories can be told from small pieces of evidence. If its been given World Heritage Site status, who can complain?

A couple of Aussie residents from ancient times.

A couple of Aussie residents from ancient times.

Small bones tell big stories.

Small bones tell big stories.

Outback Oz caught me out again when I got to the town of Camooweal. It was Saturday and the main shop had shut at lunchtime. The much smaller shop next door didn’t have very much. I needed porridge oats and ended up with a tin of stew. Good enough for breakfast next morning though.
At the Servo where I filled up I had a coffee, a sandwich and bought two bananas. $17! Another example of outback Oz catching me out. The two girls working there were Brummies, for their sins.
All that was left to do now was motor on. I was on the Barkly Highway, part of the Overlanders’ Way. This is one of the major east to west roads and is beloved by the Gromads. It eventually joins the Stuart Highway, which runs from Darwin to Adelaide. It was typical of the roads I’d been told to expect in Oz. Long, straight and potentially boring. Except that some people had relieved theirs by dressing up the termite mounds in T shirts, footie shirts or even, in one case, some army uniform. I was surprised to receive plenty of waves from other tourers as they drove the other way. Unexpected from fourby drivers, at first, but nice to see.
There’s plenty of roadhouses along the way and the first one I stayed at was Barkly Homestead. This place looked fabulous, with green grass – how long was it since I’d seen that -and flowering shrubs. So why the hell can’t they manage to put a mirror in the washroom? Guys, it’s the little things that count don’tcha know.
There were four other bikers staying there. We enjoyed some chats during the evening. One of them was on a BMW R1200 Tourer and his tent included a garage for the bike. You can make up your own comments here ……………………….

Any room for Doris in their, Big Boy?

Any room for Doris in their, Big Boy?

On down the Barkly Highway, turn left onto the Stuart Highway and just keep going. The free maps I got from the RAC Queensland do a great job of showing where fuel and camping exists. On these long roads they are mostly roadhouses with all the requirements for an overnight stop. I was heading for Barrows Creek but on the way I stopped to look at a couple of sights.
Near the small town of Tennants Creek is the Old Telegraph Station. This is a notable piece of Aussie history because it’s one of several repeater stations on the telegraph line which finally linked Australia with the rest of the world. There was an undersea line being laid to Indonesia, which would connect to the network that eventually ran to London. The government wanted to link the populous south of Australia into this network soduring the 1870’s  a south to north line was built. It was planned to take two years but was completed early. From that moment communication with London took hours instead of weeks. It began to change prospects of this far flung colony in many ways. I was chatting with another visitor there and, realising I was English, she commented that an old telegraph station hardly bore any comparison to the history we have in Britain. I said that it was more interesting in many ways because it’s all about the building of a nation. European history is mostly about princely egos and religious arguing. Not exactly enervating.

A bit of info on the telegraph line.

A bit of info on the telegraph line.

Further down the road I branched off for a look at the fabulous Devil’s Marbles. It seems he lost them here. Probably the heat and the flies.
Ancient granite forced up by volcanic action, and the effects of erosion on it, have left these huge boulders perched on top of each other. They look like they’ve been piled up but in fact they’ve been worn down. They do look amazing though.

Nature can do some strange things.

Nature can do some strange things.

The roadhouse at Barrows Creek is a bit of a dump and that was reflected in the camping price of only $5 for a patch of dust. In fairness the current owners have only just bought the place and are improving it, building a motel and new facilities. They do a cheap dinner so I took advantage of that and was fascinated to find, in the bar, a whole load of information on the Peter Falconio incident. It all took place nearby and is well worth reading up on.

There's no speed limit on some sections of the Stuart Highway. A very rare sign in Australia.

There’s no speed limit on some sections of the Stuart Highway. A very rare sign in Australia.

Eventually I made it to Alice Springs, the nearest big town to the centre of Australia and gateway to the Red Centre. The ride had been chilly although I noted we got as high as 740 metres at one point, so no great surprise. I had to fill up at the first servo I saw as I was running on fumes. The consumption had been very high along the open roads. There’s always a wind blowing and it had obviously been blowing at me, at least some of the time. This was worrying as I had plenty more long runs to undertake.
But on the upside I was in a town with two big supermarkets, plenty of shops and a very nice hostel for me to stay at. Heidi, from Oregon, and Patrick, from Holland, looked after Alice Lodge Backpackers and I had a comfortable bed, with wi-fi and breakfast included in the price, and a free BBQ on Thursday evenings. I had a few tasks to complete while I was in town but first it was time to clean up and chill out.