We left Broome somewhat reluctantly, as our setting, the weather, our new-found love of the place, and our state of relaxation/ contentment were begging us to stay……but our “adventure juices” won over with an exciting plan for our return home.
We travelled east to Fitzroy Crossing retracing steps from a 2011 trip, but drawn by another one of our “soul” places, so we were delighted to pull in to The Lodge CP again, right on the banks of the Fitzroy River. There are plenty of saltwater crocs here, but we were told they stick to the river, and the banks are quite high. We set up in the non-pwr area, and went for a bit of a drive ending back at the small shopping centre. “Break and Enter” is frowned upon, and the security is solid, but nothing compared to that encasing the local fuel pumps!
The following morning we were away bright and early as we didn’t really want to stay at Halls Creek again, but hoped to start our 900km Tanami Desert Track adventure by reaching Wolfe Creek Crater some 125km down the track. We expected the Tanami to be rough, so let the tyres way down before tackling it. It didn’t let us down, being heavily corrugated to the Crater turnoff…..then it got really bad, taking an hour to travel the last 23km.
It was all worth it, as the free-camp was fantastic, and the Crater awe-inspiring. Thanks to Nick-OMNI-Gange for researching and posting our whereabouts….it happened 300,000 years ago when a 50,000 tone meteorite crashed to earth here causing a 880m circular crater to be formed. It is well preserved as the very harsh and dry climate here has prevented overgrowth. It is the second largest such strike known to earth behind one in Texas.
We continued on the long and not so winding road, which improved after we crossed the border in to N.T. The scenery didn’t change much over the length of the drive…..as I suppose you may expect in an arid desert, but we finally pulled off to an empty designated free camp. We just started setting up when 2 carloads of aboriginals pulled in. We hadn’t realised that a “community” was about 10km down the road (and 5km inland as they always are). They are loud and unkempt (by our standards) and their toilet habits crude (by our standards) but I didn’t feel threatened. Denise was elated when another traveller pulled in, and they set up right next to us. The aboriginals finally left, and we shared a drink with new friends Tony and Dianne from Canberra.
We knew we would complete the Tanami Track the next day, but needed a “splash” to make it safely to Alice Springs, so pulled off the track and wound our way in to Yuendumu aboriginal settlement. I will choose my words and sentiment as carefully as I can, and my observations to Denni on the way in to the fuel stop went something like this…….”lots and lots of dogs here…..dead dog on your side of the road……can’t see many windows left in the houses…..pity about all the trash in the yards and streets……fair size community – must be several hundred homes – all trashed (by our standards)…..looks like a fair sized school over there – nice buildings and grounds……hey, where are the residents, have only seen a few stragglers!”. We finally found the very small store/ fuel stop and a few aboriginals. Denni wouldn’t get out of the car, but when I spoke to one of the locals – she was quiet, no emotion, and sort of polite, but I could see nothing in her eyes; like emptiness of life or purpose. The white owner soon appeared at the diesel pump on a lean with broken glass face and explained only he could coax it to go!! After putting in the 15l I had requested, @ $2.73/l, he climbed on his soap box and let it out (politely). This was a “dry” semi functional aboriginal community with the main (sporadic) employment the aboriginal art centre. The school had about 200 enrolments, but attendance was another issue. It catered for primary and secondary students delivering a heavily modified and generic syllabus, skewed to aboriginal culture and history, but with English a key subject. BUT, that big new building you passed on the way in is our brand new $7.6 million POLICE STATION THAT WE DIDN’T ASK FOR, DON’T NEED, AND DON’T WANT, because despite outward appearances there is little to no crime here!!!
I thanked him for the fuel and sermon and jumped back in the car and crept out of town, back to the Tanami Track. There are in fact MANY such communities right across central Australia out of sight and mind, and although I have no immediate solution to the issue, I can’t help thinking this just isn’t working.
We had about 300km to Alice, so stopped at Tilmouth Roadhouse for lunch and a look at a well renowned art gallery, plus a good place to re-inflate the tyres for the bitumen road ahead.
We had spent time in Alice and out in east and west Macdonnell Ranges in 2011, so this time it was r&r, washing, shopping, and another look around a town we really like. It has all the amenities of larger cities, but still retains a country feel.
Refreshed and refuelled after 4 days, we were ready to return to the dirt, and head 68km north of Alice, then east on the Plenty Hwy (another part of the Great Central Road) to Boulia. The Great Central Highway eventually finishes at Winton.
The road was pretty good with some sections of light corrugations…..but lots of bulldust. There were plenty of road trains moving cattle out of drought ravaged central Australia, and lots of open road.
We made good time as we were fresh and the road good, so we made it to Tobermorey, a cattle station on the NT – Qld border. It was like an oasis in the desert of bulldust. This bulldust is like talcum powder, and is hazardous on the road as you can’t see how deep or wide it is, and once in it, steering becomes unpredictable with loss of traction. If you don’t maintain momentum, it is also possible to become bogged, so just keep your concentration up, and drive to the conditions…..common sense is the winner. Back to Tobermorey, there was a beautiful big shaded and grassed area to camp on, and lovely hot showers, even if it was all courtesy of the Great Artesian Basin! We take power for granted, but on this station the nearby generator goes 24 hrs a day…..a clean body, full tummy, and adequate “hydration” ensured we didn’t hear a thing until the morning!!
We only had 250km to Boulia the next morning, and soon set up at the CP right on the banks of the Burke River. Boulia is 300km south of Mt. Isa at the junction of the Diamantina and Kennedy Development Roads. The town’s fame largely rests with its association with the Min Min Light, a strange spectral light that can appear, hover, disappear and reappear with an eerie will of its own. The life like recreation of sightings at the “I” was sensational, and poses more questions than answers as you would expect. There was plenty of Burke & Wills landmarks with the waterhole and slashed tree nearby.
But Boulia has more with the annual camel races so we had to visit the racetrack. It was really well appointed and the camels were out in force. And Boulia has its own “Red Stump”….We loved Boulia
But we moved on with Bedourie and Birdsville in our sights. The road was mainly sealed but narrow, so we were in Bedourie before lunch. It was a foul day with strong, hot, and gusty northerly winds. The two highlights on the road were the Vaughan Johnson lookout, and a substantial stand of Waddi trees. The Vaughan Johnson lookout was only recently completed at a shared cost of $470k, but is a magnificent highlight with 360 views to match, and is a welcome change to the vast emptiness of the gibber and Mitchell grass plains. It has a number of well- presented interpretive panels detailing the pioneering history of the area with emphasis on the evolution and importance of early transport in the far west of Queensland to today’s road trains.
Bedourie (meaning “dust storm”) is a small town of 120 people, but is the administrative centre of the huge 95,000 sq. km Diamantina Shire. It has limited services, but a camp ground, a racecourse (naturally), an old pub and a 25m/ 6lane swimming pool with 42degC artesian spa!!!!!! It seemed out of place, but who cares – we loved the hot and cold pools on a day in the mid-30’s with strong winds to maintain the namesake. Unfortunately the pub’s reputation was shattered by a shocker of a meal after a pleasant sit at the bar chinwagging.
The weather forecast from Bedourie wasn’t encouraging for our plans to do Haddon Cnr, Cordillo downs, Innaminka, Dig Tree, Tibboburra, broken Hill….home, but we had come this far so set off for Birdsville with the fall-back plan to come home via Birdsville Track rather than Strezlecki Track. Bedourie to Birdsville was mainly dirt, very bulldusty, and some corrugations which we have come to expect and handle. We came in to Birdsville to see a sign announcing population 150 + or – 7000! (for the race weekend). The 7000 were commencing the pilgrimage, but we still found a lovely spot on the banks of the Diamantina….with the obligatory surface layer of bulldust everywhere. Birdsville has one CP, 2 pubs (the old one completely derelict), a bakery, an airport with agistment for unlimited light aircraft flying in for the race weekend, and a roadhouse for fuel and very basic supplies…..and a racetrack of course! And enough primitive free camping to support the annual influx of pilgrims.
It also has reminders of the ill- fated Burke & Wills expedition identifying a waterhole camp on the Diamantina, and a “slashed tree” marking a point to return to. The weather was against our initial plans, so we couldn’t return on the Strezlecki. So it was down the famous Birdsville Track. It was smooth at first, but soon turned to the characteristic tyre destroying gibber rock road, so it was tyre pressure and speed down to reduce the risk of puncture and breakdown. The Track borders the Simpson Desert so the massive parallel sand dunes flanked us most of the way. Someday soon we hope to cross the Simpson Desert dune challenge, but for now the enormity and steepness of this endless dune system just haunted and beckoned us.
We made it to Mungaranie Hotel and Campground the first night and had a hoot of a time. The bar was packed with station hands and tourists (most on their way to the Birdsville Races), the atmosphere and meal sensational, and we just made it back to the van, when a jam session commenced and went well into the night.
We came off the Track at Maree, where we had commenced the Oodnadatta Track many weeks before, then down past the Flinders Ranges again, finishing up in Mildura for 4 nights to catch up with friends from our previous farming life. It was really cold again so we had no hesitation retreating to our home in Diamond Creek to catch up with family, friends and my fellow OMNI mates.
Safe travel everyone, and always be thankful that we live in the greatest country in the world.