For the last couple of months we've
been living in the Landcruiser and it has been great. While
not exactly hot, the weather has been quite nice, and we've
been so comfortable that we've started to wonder why we need
a motorhome at all.
That was until we got into central
Western Australia and encountered freezing temperatures and
howling winds. All of a sudden the Cruiser isn't so comfortable,
and we pine for Wothahellizat with its lounge chairs, its
indoor facilities, its deck that allows us to sit above the
mud, and most of all, its heater.
Till next time then, and remember,
Don't Dream it, Be it!
Tue 11 Jul 2006
Shortly after leaving Rocky Pool we encounter
a Boot tree, we've seen plenty of Bottle trees and Can trees over
the years, but never a tree adorned with footwear.
The "Boot Tree", some of the boots are actually in pretty good condition.
Just a couple of hundred yards down the road we
find another footwear tree, this one is decorated with thongs (flip
flops) and sandals.
We drive all day to get to Meekathara, getting
slightly lost again because of a combination of incorrect maps and
lack of attention.
Still it only cost us about 50 kilometres, and
we get to see a different part of the country.
At first I thought I'd seen a solar powered fridge in the
middle of nowhere. It turns out to be just a convenient housing
for the controller and battery of the nearby electric fence.
While still about 200k from Meekathara the rain
returns, at about the same time the well-graded road degrades into
a goat track, and we are well relieved to hit the main track after
It's still raining though, and the track gets
wetter and more slippery by the minute.
We're also running out of fuel and have to siphon
from the jerry cans in the rain. I put enough in to get us the remaining
distance to Meekathara, but don't allow for the extra needed because
of the difficult driving conditions.
At about the 30k mark we run out of fuel again,
it's still raining and a real pain to access the large jerry cans,
so I just siphon from the 10-litre can as it's much easier to get
to. Ten litres should get get us to town.
Wrong, with the lights of Meekathara clearly visible
just a tantalising two or three kilometres away the engine splutters
and we have to siphon again, a process that requires us to half
unpack the back of the car in the pouring rain to access the inner
Eventually we arrive in town, it's still raining
and there's a freezing wind, we haven't got the energy to camp,
and so drop into the pub for a meal and a bed.
The meal is great, a little expensive for our
taste, but then what isn't?, we are card-carrying tight arses after
The room is expensive as well, $95 for a double,
and it somehow seems even more expensive when we see it.
In Meekathara $95 gets you a cold fibro room with
lino floors and a heater the size of a hair drier. Needless to say
we immediately plug the heater in, but it has little effect. At
least the showers are hot, and after a very long dowsing in steaming
water we finally thaw out and feel warm.
Wed 12 Jul
While standing around the Hotel car park, freezing
our bums off, I ask a local if it's always like this, "No"
he replies, "just for the last couple of days".
For some time now there's been an infrequent squeaking
somewhere under the car, it sounds suspiciously like a universal
joint. Several days ago I had a quick look, but things seemed OK,
so I didn't do anything about it.
Today though it's getting worse, so I elect to
drive in 2WD. That stops the squeak, so it's almost certainly a
uni joint on the front tail shaft.
At about five we pull into a mustering area 67k
out of Carnegie Station. The shelter is already occupied, so we
find a partly-sheltered spot in the lee of a large pile of dirt.
As we pull up one of the other campers walks over.
Apparently the road to Carnegie is too difficult, three people tried
today and turned back. Maybe we need to look at another route.
After a quick meal we hit the sack, it's way too
cold to sit around.
For the first time in ten weeks or so we miss
the motorhome, we could be sitting inside with the heater on.
We later learn that today was the coldest on record,
and they've been recording the temperature around here for 48 years.
Somehow I'm not surprised, the summer we spent in Tasmania was the
coldest for 20 years. There must be somewhere in this country that's
warm, or at least not freezing.
Thu 13 Jul
It rained a little bit last night, but we hope
not enough to make the road condition worse, so we head off towards
For the first 40-odd kilometres the road is just
fine, but then it does get a bit slippery, with long sections under
We're running in 2WD for the most part as I'm
trying to lighten the load on the bad uni joint, however on about
five occasions we encounter long muddy under-water sections, and
I engage the front axle just to be on the safe side.
It takes us a couple of hours to reach Carnegie
Station, but eventually we pull up to the homestead.
Faye, the owner, comes out, "Where did you
come from?" she asks, "the road's been closed". We
look around to see dozens of people camped, they're waiting for
the road conditions to improve.
We tell her that we've just come from Wiluna and
that it was no big deal. "You'd better come in and tell this
lot" she says, they've been waiting for days.
We set up camp, and, having decided that the uni
joint should be fixed before we go any further, I phone several
suppliers for the parts we need. After some confusion about whether
a tail shaft was the same as a propeller shaft (I didn't buy from
that supplier) I finally source the parts. They will be sent overnight
to the grocery shop in Wiluna where Ian, the owner of Carnegie,
will pick them up when he's in town on the weekend.
An hour later I ring again to ensure that the
order has been processed, "Oh I haven't got onto it yet, we've
been snowed under". He puts the order through while I'm on
Two hours later I ring to ensure that the parts
are packaged and ready for the courier, they are.
We spend the evening talking to our fellow campers
in the somewhat rowdy common room. At least with this many people
it's warm in here.
We get on particularly well with Peter and Paul,
two brothers from Sydney. Peter owns quite a lot of real estate
in Sydney and I try to talk him into hitting the road, it seems
that he could easily afford to.
I don't think he's convinced.
Sun 16 Jul
Still no uni joints, so we sit around the common
room drinking coffee in a vain attempt to get warm. It's not really
the coffee that we desire, it's the excuse to fire up the gas cooker
and stand around the rapidly warming kettle.
Faye informs us that Ian is on his way back from
Wiluna, and that there was a parcel for us. So far so good, here's
hoping that the parcel contains the correct parts.
Later...the uni joints have arrived and they're
actually the right ones. Bradley and I fit the new joint with the
help of the station's enormous vice, then I crawl under the car
and refit the tail shaft
We're back in business.
Overall a one-hour job took several days because
we didn't have the spare part, that's why I purchased two joints
when we only needed one, the other goes in the parts bin.
I insist in doing the job without using any borrowed
tools because I need to know if indeed I have all the right gear,
for this particular job at least. I almost do, I carry a vice and
it was invaluable in removing the broken joint, but it wasn't large
enough to press the new caps in. I will have to look into buying
a larger vice, trouble is the current one fits perfectly inside
the bull bar, a larger one may not fit.
It's too late to hit the road now so we'll spend
another night at Carnegie.
Mon 17 Jul
Finally we're on the Gunbarrel Highway, and
what a piece of work it is to. This section is about 300k long and
features some of the worst corrugations I have ever encountered.
The road is strewn with broken trailers, and every
one is a standard suburban type, presumably used to take rubbish
to the tip on the weekends and pressed into service for the big
This is never a good idea, most trailers are not
up to the hammer they get on these roads.
One of dozens of trailers we see along the road, all destroyed by the Gunbarrel Highway.
It's the same with cars really. Technically you
don't need a FWD for most of the roads and tracks in the outback,
but a FWD (a real one that is, not an AWD shopping cart) is built
a lot stronger and can, in general, take the abuse. Things still
break, but at least a proper FWD will not self destruct.
This road, and most of the others out here, were
surveyed by Len Beadell in the 50s, mostly to give access to the
area so the powers that be could recover missiles being tested at
the Womera rocket range.
Len Beadell is a legend in the Australian outback
and holds a special place in Australian history.
The Len Beadell memorial on the Gunbarrel Highway.
Here we see a party of new FWDs at the base of Mt Beadell,
one of them has broken down and they are effecting repairs.
That's the "highway" running into the distance.
We stop briefly at the Len Beadell memorial, then
continue along the track. After several hours of this I only have
PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP.
At around 4PM we reach the Heather Highway turnoff,
find a clear spot, and set up camp with an audience of camels.
Some camels watch us with almost total disinterest.
Tue 18 Jul
After 36 kilometres on the Heather Hwy which,
if anything, is worse than the Gunbarrel, it's a relief to reach the
access road to the Tjirrkarli community. This track is like a billiard
table, and we make good time until reaching the Great Central Road
and turning left towards Warburton, at which time the corrugations
We fuel up in Warburton and get out of town, what
After a couple of hours driving we reach the settlement
of Warakurna, at the base of the Rawlinson Ranges. We don't stay,
just refuel and head off, we plan to camp at Docker River and it's
not far now.
A sign that we are in the outback.
Camels just outside Warakurna.
Despite the sign on the bumper this is only a semi trailer
and not a road train, but check out the dust, you have to
be very careful passing these trucks, you never know what's
in the dust, a car, another truck, or even...
As we near Docker River we drive along the Petermann
Ranges, the scenery is quite spectacular. Just after crossing the
border into Northern Territory we reach the campground, a kilometre
or so outside the Docker River community.
The camp is very pleasant, with dunnies, shade,
and great views of the ranges. What a contrast to the nearby community
which is the usual rubbish tip punctuated by derelict houses and
a boarded-up shop. It's such a shame, as you couldn't ask for a
better backdrop for a town.
The camp is very clean though, and we will certainly
return, I could spend days exploring these mountains.
We won't be staying long this time though, my
M&M supplies are getting seriously low, and besides, Bradley
really must get a new U-bolt. He couldn't source one in Carnarvon
and it's looking bad now with the spring pack tilting quite alarmingly
because it's only clamped on one side.
Tomorrow he'll limp into Yulara and hope to get
a replacement there. He has also broken a gas strut on the trailer.
The strut was one that took the majority of the weight of the boat,
so it's now a two-man job to flip the boat over so he can erect
Wed 19 Jul
Bradley heads off, his "limping"
is faster than our "bolting", so we let him get ahead while
we check out Lasseter's cave.
Lasseter became famous in the 30s for dying while
in search of the now fabled "Lasseter's Reef", a reef
of gold that he never found. You can now visit the cave in which
he spent his last weeks. It's a very pleasant spot actually, and
it's hard to imagine what it would have been like stranded here
70 years ago. In those days you may as well have been marooned on
We continue, and after some time catch a glimpse
of Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas), this is a very welcome sight, mostly
because it heralds the start of bitumen roads. We've still got a
lot of rough stuff to go before this trip is ended, but some nice
smooth bitumen would be great, even if just for a while.
Our first view of the Olgas, we're close to bitumen roads now.
We meet up with Bradley in the Kata Tjuta car
park, the broken U-bolt is useless by now, and his springs are looking
pretty sad. It's still about 70k to Yulara, but the road is good
so it should be OK.
On reaching Yulara we do some shopping (no M&Ms,
can you believe it?) then direct Bradley to the industrial area
where we hope he can get a new U-bolt.
He does find a bolt, it's not the right one but
it will do, however there's no way the local mechanic can fit it
this side of next week. Looking around at the broken cars and forlorn
tourists we understand why. Fortunately replacing a U-bolt is a
no-brainer, so we pull the cars over to the side of the road and
within ten minutes Bradley's Cruiser is as good as new.
So why didn't he have a spare? Well who would
have though it would be necessary with a one-year-old, $55,000 Landcruiser?
It just goes to show that these roads and tracks will break just
about anything given a chance.
We leave Yulara and drive to the Erldunda roadhouse
on the Stuart Highway, where we camp in the caravan park. I hope
this staying in caravan parks is not going to become a habit.
Thu 20 Jul
Our original plan was to drive south from Erldunda
and head across to Finke from Kulgera, however none of us have seen
Rainbow Valley or Chambers Pillar, so we decide to head north instead.
It's only about 120k to the Rainbow Valley turnoff,
an hour and a half in our car, and about 20 minutes for Bradley.
We get there first however as Bradley has decided to drive up to
the the Alice to buy the correct U-bolts, and then return the 70k
to Rainbow Valley.
Firewood collecting on the track into Rainbow Valley.
The weather is not kind to me I'm afraid, at sunset these
cliffs are usually brilliant orange and red.
Ants may be small, but they're pretty strong.
We don't plan to return to the Alice because we
can take a shortcut to the Finke community via the Hugh River Stock
Route near Stuart's Well. However the FWD gods have different ideas.
We set up camp, and sit down to relax. Then we
notice our rear shackle bushes. They are totally buggered, and the
springs are riding directly on the shackle pins. Given that we have
1000 kilometres of dirt and desert tracks yet to go, this really
has to be fixed.
Bradley arrives from Alice Springs and we tell
him of the problem. We unhook his trailer, I hop in the car, and
we drive back to the Alice.
For reasons that I'm still unsure of we drive
right past the Toyota dealer on reaching town and proceed to a FWD
shop. I think we decided that Toyota would not have the parts because
our vehicle is too old, and in fact this is usually the case.
Anyway, we buy the bushes (and some M&Ms,
thank the Gods), and drive all the way back to Rainbow Valley, getting
there fairly late, and deciding to do the repairs tomorrow.
Fri 21 Jul
It only takes a few seconds to realise that
the bushes are the wrong size. It looks like we're driving back into
This time we take both vehicles and go to the
Toyota dealer, and guess what, they have the correct parts. They're
not original Toyota, as I thought they no longer make parts for
the old Cruisers, but there are so many of them still around that
there's plenty of third-party manufacturers willing to make equivalents.
I don't care what party makes them, if they fit
We drive out to the car park at the old Telegraph
Station, find a pile of blue metal to run wheels up onto, and change
Bradley stands next to our Cruiser as we fit the new spring bushes.
We leave town and head south. It's 106k to the
Maryvale station, then another 45 along a station track, over a
very steep hill and several sand dunes, into Chambers Pillar.
We arrive just in time to catch the sunset.
Castle Rock, next to the campground.
Chambers Pillar, used as a navigation aid by early explorers.
Sat 22 Jul
Another great spot, and yet again we have to
leave. Bradley has to be back at work at the end of the month, and,
at least until Birdsville, we want to travel with two vehicles in
case of breakdown, especially when we cross the Simpson Desert.
Still, what could possibly break?
We stop into the Maryvale station again to fuel
up. While checking the vehicle I notice that the front right hand
shock absorber mount has snapped clean off.
Time to pull out the 24v MIG welder again.
Fixing the broken shockie mount.
The bottom shockie rubber has had it, and in fact
that's probably what caused the mount to break, with a knackered
rubber bush we've had metal on metal, and the resultant bashing
has snapped the mount.
I always carry a square of insertion rubber for
use in such circumstances, so after welding the mount I bodge up
a bush with some of that, and while on a roll I check the other
side. It's also worn out, so I make another temporary bush.
Having fixed everything we continue down the Old
Ghan line. The Old Ghan was a train that ran to the Alice who knows
how many years ago. It's long gone now, the tracks and sleepers
have all been removed, but you can still drive along where they
used to be. The only thing to watch out for are the millions of
steel spikes that litter the track.
Running next to the old line is the track used
for the Finke race, a Dakar-style rally held between Alice Springs
and the community of Finke. For the most part the two tracks run
within metres of each other, and initially we chop and change between
them, looking for the easiest path.
Eventually though we just stay on the railway
line, mostly because the race track is very undulating and Bradley's
trailer hitch keeps bottoming out.
An old water tank on the Ghan line.
We reach the community of Finke which is surprisingly
clean, then motor on.
As we cross the border into South Australia we
see a sign stating that collection of firewood is not allowed. There's
hardly a blade of grass or a tree in sight, so I'm not sure why
the sign is required.
Crossing the border into South Australia.
Just on sunset we pull into the Mt Dare station.
While still a working station, Mt Dare's income is mostly derived
from tourism these days, and I suspect most of that tourism is people
like us going to or from the Simpson Desert, as the station is the
last opportunity to get fuel.
We'll spend the night at Mt Dare. Tomorrow we
finally reach the Simpson Desert.
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