Alice Springs to Sydney

Journey                 # 3

Time:                      July. 2010

Overlooking Alice Springs from the RSL memorial lookout.

Thursday July 8 - Got a lift to the airport at 4.30am this morning and flew out to Alice via Melbourne. Had a lay over at Melbourne for an hour and changed flights for the last leg to Alice.
We arrived at the airport and caught a cab to the Toyota dealer in town, to pick up the car. It was interesting to see surface water in patches beside the road. They had heavy rain a few days prior to our arrival and the cabbie was saying some of the causeways across the Todd River were impassable.
It was also a surprise to see how much housing and industrial development has taken place. Where we saw bushland in 1975, was housing and shops, industrial parks and new roads. Anyway, we found our hotel and checked in.
Walked around town for a bit and got our bearings. The ‘locals’ were still living under bridges and in small camps in the Todd river and hanging around in parks near local ‘watering holes’. Not good to see.
We had a drive out to see the caravan park we stayed in for 3 months, back in ’75, and it was still there. Surrounded by fences now, and the bush setting we used to enjoy and see fantastic sunsets from, is now streets and streets of housing and subdivision. We used to go to the Telegraph Station for picnics, back then, as it was the only place that had grass, and we found it to be much the same, apart from the fact you had to pay to go and see the buildings and historic areas. There was water running in the Todd here as well.
We decided to eat our meals in the Casino restaurants, as they compared within a few dollars, to the restaurants/cafes in town. The rooms had no cooking facilities, so we didn’t have a lot of choice.

         Ormiston Gorge.

       Glen Helen Gorge. All of the Alice Springs surrounds were getting lots of rain.

Friday July 9, 2010
Had a huge breakfast this morning and decided to show Bob and Sylvia some of the gorges in the West McDonnell Ranges. Drove out to Ormiston Gorge first and came to the first obstacle. The car in front had pulled over and was unsure of the fast flowing water spilling over the floodway. No problems for the Landcruiser. Had a few more of those before we got to the gorge.
It was amazing to see the volume of water in the usually dry rivers. Fast flowing and icy cold. Saw loads of dead fish, apparently due to the icy water. There was flood debris in the branches of the river gums and other trees, some 3 metres above the current level of the river, so it must have been a doozy of a flood. I recall reading reports of that, a couple of months ago.
From Ormiston Gorge we went to Glen Helen Gorge, a few klm up the road. Again, it was water flowing all around. There was a bunch of caravans and tents set up here, with cabins also available for rent. Droves of people. Headed back towards Alice, and stopped off at the Ochre pits. Warning signs that a $5000 penalty was waiting for those who were caught taking any ochre samples. No-one around to check though. The literature all says that the aboriginals came to collect their ochre from this area, and still do, but it is a long way from Alice. Of course, there may be groups living in the vicinity.
From there, we by-passed Serpentine Gorge and drove to Ellery Creek Big Hole. It was certainly different to what we remember of the area in 1975. All of Alice and the surrounds was. When we used to drive out, there were dirt roads and you wouldn’t see too many people at all during the day. Today, there are amenities set up, parking bays, toilet blocks and camping/caravan areas and loads of tourists (including us). I recalled trying to wade across the pool in ’75 and after a few paces had to climb onto the rockface as it was so cold that it was painful. Today, it was a river running through there.
Onwards to Standley Chasm. No this was very changed to what we remembered. Loads of people, gates across the entrance, camp sites, van sites, a kiosk and an entrance fee. None of us wanted to cope with wall to wall people and a photo shot without getting mobs of them in the picture, was out of the question, so we didn’t even stop to have a look.
Continued on to Simpsons Gap, and it was also very tourist geared, with toilets, visitors centre, parking bays etc. Not as bad as Standley Chasm, but we were there late afternoon and the crowds may well have thinned a bit. The wind was really chilly, but it is a lovely place to visit, so close to Alice.
Back to Lassitters Hotel to get cleaned up and partake of the seafood buffet that night. Turned out to be a lot less than I expected, but the food was delicious and plentiful. It was a very warm, mild evening, which was surprising. A threat of rain for tomorrow.

    A termite mound in the red sands of the red centre.

Saturday July 10, 2010
Had a late start today, as we were going to spend a few hours at the Alice Springs Desert Park.
The Tourist Information centre had given us a 2 for 1 voucher, so we happily obliged. There was a talk by a local Arrernte tribal man and he was really very good, explaining weapons and hunting/gathering tools and methods in this local, desert area. After showing us the tools, he also spoke about bush tucker and medicinal plants found around the area. He explained the relationships between the various skin names and kinship marriages. It was quite intriguing as he explained how they protect the gene pool regarding marriages. Being such small tribal groups, this was and is, very important. He did the same talk some years back, when Prince Charles was in the audience, minus the gene pool discussion and marriage of first cousins. We walked around the park for the next few hours, and after exiting the nocturnal house, it started to rain. There were some great exhibits and walk through aviaries with the most gorgeous fairy wrens and bright red robins and chats. Well worth seeing and on the cards for a repeat visit.
Had a coffee in their restaurant, and Sylvia managed to spill a full cup down her top, on her jeans and all over the floor. Oops!!
We went back to Alice and did some shopping, then up to Anzac Hill for a sunset shot. Wasn’t very good, however. Had a big dinner again at the Casino Samphire restaurant and went back to get a good sleep and an early start.

    Kulgerra Pub.

Sunday July 11, 2010
Woke up to drumming rain, so we packed up and had a big brekkie before taking off. Heading south along the Stuart Hwy, we saw heaps of vans heading north to an already packed Alice Springs and Darwin. I was planning to get a container of deep red sand from the centre, but just didn’t get a point to stop, until such time that I realised that the deep red colour had gone. Still very red but not the same. Saw a big camel walking across a red clearing, but missed a photo opportunity. Some great country and scenery was driven through, before we got near Coober Pedy. The rain stopped after a couple of hundred kilometres out of Alice, so it was pleasant driving weather.
We stopped at the Kulgera Roadhouse for a coffee and toilet break. Lots of travellers pulled in here, and they all talk to each other (and us) like long lost friends. Kulgera was also the kickoff point to Old Andado and other 4wd treks to places far away.
Went through Marla (which had 37cm of rain a few days later) and the start of the Oodnadatta Track. Maybe another adventure for another day.
Coober Pedy outskirts was pretty amazing, with the sun low in the west and the different pastel hues of the conical mountains of mullock/siltstone. We went on and checked in to the Underground Motel. Amazing place, as are a lot of the underground buildings in Coober Pedy. We were a bit concerned it might get cold during the night and the rooms didn’t have heaters. Needn’t have worried as the rooms remain a constant 20-25C year round. It was also strange to wake up to no daylight and with little sense of what the time was. Saw a nice sunset from the yard of the hotel and after dinner at the local pizza restaurant, turned in for the night.

Lots of emu around Lake Labyrinth, S.A.

Monday July 12, 2010
Left the hotel and checked out the Umoona Opal Mine, where the girls just had to buy some opal jewellery. Bob and I tried to find a fishing tackle shop to spend some money as well, but there is no need for fishing tackle shops in the centre of Australia, and we didn’t have any money in any case. Had a kick around an abandoned mullock heap, about 80klm out of Coober Pedy and our luck held. Shame it was bad luck......
Stopped and took a photo of Lake Labyrinth and also saw a few emus foraging along the roadside. Went and had a look at Woomera and it was an eye opener in regards to Australia’s early history of space exploration and nuclear testing. Hit Port Augusta around 6pm and booked in to Fullers View Cabins at Nth Stirling. Cooked our first meal for the trip and turned in for yet another day.

      Pulled up in a rest area on the way to Broken Hill, for morning tea.

Tuesday July 13, 2010
Some awesome thunder during the night and moderate rain. Beds were comfortable and the cabin was nice and warm. One thing that we didn’t know about was the cabins are near a railway crossing and three trains passed through last night (that woke me, in any case). The crossing bells started up and then the cabin started to shake and the noise of the big diesel locos was pretty impressive. These goods trains are a kilometre or more in length. Good night’s rest otherwise.
We went for a drive into Port Augusta to look at the Wadlata Outback Centre and Tourist information centre and then to a couple of lookouts. First one was the Water Tower, which sorted out a few aches and pains in knees and thighs. It was a ladder/steps all the way to the top. Next, we drove out to the Botanical Gardens and the Matthew Flinders Lookout. After leaving there, we headed east again to the Willmington turnoff and the road to Broken Hill. The climb up the winding road through the ‘Remarkables’ was good. A change from the arrow straight roads of yesterday.
As we were driving out of Port Augusta, we got caught up in a traffic jam which took us 30 minutes to move a few kilometres. Two wide load trucks were driving along, and they took out several big trees and branches from the median strip, blocking the road. They were carting huge mining truck dumpster trays.
We soon hit the flat plains again and straight roads. Stopped for a coffee in Petersborough and had a look at the visitors centre, which was a converted sleeper carriage off an old train. The town didn’t have a bakery, so we bought a French bread stick from the Foodland supermarket and drove for another hour, having peanut butter and banana roll in a rest area. Got into Broken Hill around 4pm and had a look at a couple of motels, as we hadn’t booked. First two had no vacancy ..... hmmm. Got 2 rooms at the hilltop Comfort Inn.

Sunset over the hills, Broken Hill NSW.

Wednesday July 14, 2010 - Spent the day looking around at various Broken Hill attractions. Drove out to the Living Desert Sculpture park and the site had a great view over the town. I couldn’t enjoy it though (none of us could) as the wind was strong and icy. Saw some nice Sturts Desert Pea plants on the way out.
We then drove up to the Line of Lode Miners Memorial and had a coffee. Dearest coffee we have had all trip, but the view was good. Winds were still icy and strong. From there we went to the Silver City Mint and Art where we saw a lot of great works. They also had a chocolate factory in there and we bought a few goodies.
Out to Bells Milk Bar to sample some ’50s style milk shakes and decor. It was interesting to see memorabilia from that era and both of us remembered some of it in our experiences.
We had dinner at the Demo Club in town. Much better than the Legion Club.

Feeding the giraffes at Dubbo Zoo.

Thursday July 15, 2010
Had an early start to the trip to Dubbo. Golden Arches for brekkie and then on the road at 7.30am. It was a long drive today around 730klm. When we hit Willcannia it had lots of surface water on the sides of the road and paddocks. Everything was very green and there were hundreds of multi coloured goats all the way to Cobar. Feral goats are bad news to the ecosystems of Australia, and they are certainly alive and well out there. Lots of nannies and kids in evidence.
Had lunch at the visitors centre park in Cobar. A really neat and tidy park. One of the best visitors centres we had encountered on this trip. Went though Nyngan, which has recovered after the recent flooding, and hit Dubbo about 4pm. Dinner at the Bowling Club. It was very good and well priced. Back there tomorrow night.

The lioness was in heat, according to the keeper, but the lion didn't want to play to an audience.

Friday July 16, 2010 - Today we went to the zoo. Lots of renovation going on, but an enjoyable day. Loads of people. I got the job of driving to a parking bay, walking to the exhibits and then back to the car to drive it to the next spot. I reckon I walked an additional three or four klms and am tired tonight.
Off in the morning, after a visit to the Farmers Market. Should be back in Sydney before dinner time. Always a bit sad when the holiday ends. Another one is just around the corner though .......


Saturday July 17, 2010 - Left Dubbo and had a look at the Farmers Market before hitting the highway. Had an uneventful drive home via Bathurst and the Blue Mountains, stopping in Leura for coffee and scones. Wall to wall people and cars everywhere. Sydney traffic is the pits.


We did a tally of costs etc for the trip and came up with.
Total mileage : 4,467klm.
Total fuel used : 923lt.
Av used : 20.6lt per 100klm.



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