Winter Holiday

Finally back from the annual winter holiday in Northern Australia and as they say ” the best laid plans…..”
A great itinerary was planned, but the weather had different plans and due to unseasonable rains, many of the roads that would normally be open, were closed.
So, Plan B and then Plan C was put into place.
Travelling north from Melbourne was fine, but dark clouds began to appear just north of Farina in South Australia.
We headed to Lake Eyre and travelled in to Halligans Bay, just south of William Creek in the far north of SA, keeping an eye on the clouds. It was very windy here, few birds except some hardy seagulls (some call them the rats of the air) and the wind had pushed what water was this far south, back into the lake, so that the water was some 400m from the shore.
Next morning we headed into William Creek, past Pussy Willow where the feral cats used to hang out, and re-fuelled at an exorbitant price for diesel. Some delicate souls objected to the culled feral cats being displayed like this and they were removed, but it must be remembered that they are a major cause of the destruction of native wildlife.
Some time before Algebuckina Bridge (a magnificent engineering structure for the Old Ghan railway), it started to rain. Not heavily, but enough to start to feel the dirt road get a bit sticky.
Just after a late lunch in Oodnadatta and after a quick phone call to home to say we were OK, we headed out to Dalhousie Springs. Then the rain came down…….. after sliding along the road a couple of times – which seemed to have more water on it than was in the marked creek crossings, we made the decision to turn back.
Going back into the rain meant that the road was wetter, muddier and more slippery, but we didn’t want to tempt fate and get bogged. So we turned around and made our way back to stay in the Pink Roadhouse Caravan park…… and supper at the Oodnadatta Pub.
Next morning was still pretty damp and we set off for the bitumen with a couple whom we had met at Lake Eyre. We parted company at Marla and after we had lunch, we set off for Kulgera planning to rejoin the dirt if the weather let up.
No such luck and dark rainclouds loomed on the horizon, so after a night at Kulgera we headed up the bitumen in the rain to Alice Springs – arriving on one of their coldest May days.
A brief stop to purchase a new inverter and fuel up, then we headed out to Gemtree via the scenic route (Binns Track).
It was hard to tell if anyone had been through the track – sometimes there were tyre marks but often they looked as if they had turned around. We did really well getting through the water over the road – but would you believe it! the last lot of water over the road…….yes, we took the wrong line and got bogged.
No photos – we were busy digging and putting rocks in the ruts to get out. Just as we had nearly got out another vehicle came past and offered help.
We met up with them again at Gemtree as well as another couple in an Ultimate.
Next day we set out on the Binns Track again. Varied scenery, drier road and eventually blue sky. However the track was quite rough in places and the daylight was running out with the next planned camp to be at the Old Police Station Waterhole in the Davenport Ranges National Park.
We arrived just as the sun slipped below the horizon and set up the camper in the dark.

Having rushed to get here, this was the first spot that we camped at for more than one night and we spent the next day exporing the ruins and rambling around the waterhole. We met some interesting people camped here and had the first of our roast meals done in the camp oven.
After setting off from the waterhole, we detoured to another further up the track, but not as pretty and the campsites were quite a distance from the water which was already turning stagnant.

Late afternoon saw us arrive at the Devils Marbles.
Very spectactular and we took lots of photos and video, both at sunset and sunrise. The next morning we set out, well after the grey nomads had left, for Tennant Creek hoping that the grey/black sky to the south wouldn’t catch up with us again.
We had a night in Tennant Creek and an enjoyable evening with the people with the T-van, who were waiting on a part for their Landcruiser to be delivered. All sorts of problems getting it there, firstly with the wrong part being sent, then the truck that had the correct part didn’t stop to unload it and all of this on the long weekend of the Finke Desert Race.
We continued to head north and again our plans had to be changed as the Gregory National Park, the top end of Binns Track was closed and not due to re-open until after our holidays were finished. We had a short stop at the Devil’s pebbles although not as spectacular as the Devil’s Marbles, were very interesting.
We stayed at Dunmarra, where we provided the entertainment for the caravanners, putting up our muddy Ultimate. At least it provided the stimulus for some conversations. Most of the caravans and motorhomes we were seeing were in pristine condition and a large number of them had their satellite dishes, which meant that they all retreated inside at night rather than socialize!
Up the highway to Mataranka. We utilized the grapevine and went to a smaller caravan park near Bitter Springs, which were far more natural than the more well known springs south of the town. There is quite a fast flowing current and steps are provided to get in and out and the caravan park hires out “noodles” to guests. The water was crystal clear and with the exception of some occasional slime from the reedy area upstream, very pleasant to be in. Small fish inhabited the spring and the signs assured that the water was unable to sustain anything that freshwater crocodiles would be partial to. After an afternoon in the spring, we returned to our campsite on the banks of the Douglas River. Some people were catching Barramundi further down from where we were and they were a decent size. Not being into fishing, I decided to put up my feet and read the latest Paolo Coelho book.

Something made me look down and I saw a black headed yellow -green snake slithering under my legs………. now I really know the meaning of being “rooted to the spot”…. but even so, saw the beauty of this creature. It had obviously checked me out and had decided it was OK to proceed. It headed off and then climbed up the nearby trees in search of sunshine or prey.
Next morning we headed back down south for a bit and went to the original Mataranka springs where there was also a replica of a hut built for the movie “We of the NeverNever”. A boardwalk into to the spring around which had been built concrete stairs and seating. Such a contrast to the other springs.
We headed back north again through Katherine and this time set the GPS for Daly Hot Springs. This trip had gone from being traversing Binns Track to the Hot Springs tour. Fortunately it was the last day of the long weekend and there was a bit of traffic on the road heading out. Unfortunately the campground was a pigsty. Rubbish piled up next to the bins and in the fireplaces. The hot spring here comes out of the ground at about 60C and where it meets with the cooler water of a river, is where you get in…..very pleasant, although quite shallow and depending on where you sit, the experience of hot and cold running water in a natural setting is delightful. We had a post travel dip, a pre-dinner dip and in the morning a pre-trip dip!

Next morning after consulting the maps and one of the other campers who had travelled up this way, we decided to take the short cut up to Litchfield National Park.
On arrival at the turnoff for this track we were confronted with a “Road Closed” sign and that was that.
We had to go the long way around.
It was still very scenic and we turned off the bitumen to find a secluded camping ground with a little waterfall.
We continued on to Litchfield National Park and found a 4WD camping spot which was pretty ordinary and walked in to the waterfalls, then back again and out to find a better camping spot. We had one night at Buley Falls, which was really spectactular, and then in the morning moved on to Wangi Falls – beautiful, but the noise of the generator for the kiosk was quite intrusive after the bush camping. We did lots of walking and drove partially down the road which had been closed at the other end, only to find it was now open. The road in took us through three 1metre deep river crossings which gave the car a good underbody wash and saw the mud on the sides go to a 2-tone effect! Good thing there was a sign at the start of the track to say that the river bed was good and solid as there were also signs warning of crocodiles and neither of us wanted to ‘walk’ the river to check the depth.
We saw an old homestead and another waterfall …with another long walk in. Disappointment on reaching the waterfall to find a backpackers tour there – and to see them applying sunscreen before going into the pristine waters.
We also drove in to the Lost City which was visually stunning. Natural rock formations that looked like ancient statues and temples.
Wangi Falls camping area had just been refurbished and re-opened for the long weekend, so the facilities were clean and new. Hot showers beckoned and we were renewed.
In the morning we saw a bowerbird nest in the bush behind our camp and this distracted us from the packing up for a while. After packup, we headed north along the dirt road and to Bamboo Creek Tin mine.
We motored into Darwin and stayed in a Big 4 caravan park. We headed into town for the night markets, which everyone raved about, but not being a enamoured of the crap that they generally sell in these places, I really didn’t enjoy it at all. Loved the sunset on the beach though.

Next couple of days we headed south, passing lots of caravans heading north. Later we found out that Darwin was totally booked out by the influx of grey nomads – not that we class ourselves as these as we are about 20 years younger than most on the road!
Further south, we ended up camping on the side of the road near Barrow Creek. People kept pretty much to themselves around here, probably because of the Falconio murder.
Eventually back down to Alice, a quick top up with fuel and food and on the road again to head to Dalhousie Springs, via Santa Theresa, Old Andado and Mt Dare.

The desert was green leading into Santa Theresa and not with green grass, but empty green VB cans. The communities are “dry” but the roads leading into them are littered with bottles, cans and empty boxes. The closer you get to the gate, the more rubbish. Just glad we didn’t meet anyone driving under the influence on the way.

We kept going past Santa Theresa and ended up camping before getting to Old Andado. Not many people on this road at all and some interesting scenery. On the way, we stopped at the Mac Clarke Conservation reserve to look at a stand of Wadi trees. Quite remarkable.

We got into Old Andado in time to celebrate Pat the caretaker’s birthday. She supplied the tea and we cut up the fruit cake to share. It was amazing to be able to go through the old homestead and see everything left there just as the owner had left it. Pat had got there a few weeks earlier to help with the caretaking. Some low life had stolen the batteries over the summer season which meant that day to day was a little difficult for Pat until the replacements arrived.
We headed off to Mt Dare and encountered bull dust like we had never seen before. Some of the holes were really big enough to swallow a car and the dust coated everything in the car. Photos and video just couldn’t show the extent. That combined with an interesting slalom through a treed area all added excitement to the trip, particularly as nothing went wrong! One car passed us, we stopped for a brief chat after working out they were travelling without a radio.  With the abundance of wood, we stopped to gather some, knowing that pickings are lean between Mt Dare and Dalhousie Springs.

Eventually we got to Dalhousie Springs and set up camp. Once that was done, the water beckoned and we soaked ourselves in the delightfully warm water. We had a couple of days here and then headed back to Oodnatta. Would have loved to stay longer.
On the way out we could hear a lot of radio chatter and it seemed like there was a convoy of rednecks headed for the springs. Hi Guys! It always pays to keep yourself nice when you are on the radio as you never know who is listening!
We took the opportunity to have another look at the old Dalhousie Ruins and stockyards. The rails were all hand cut and were an amazing feat for such an isolated place. Each year that we have visited there is less of the stone homestead standing, and I suppose this is partially due to souveniring as well as weathering.

The road was pretty chopped up, but not as rough as we thought it would be and you could clearly see where people had slid and got stuck in the rains of a couple of weeks prior. 
Continued down the track to Beresford Siding, having picked up a sleeper on the way and camped at the back of the dam, observed by a couple of dingos.
The scaling tank here is really photographic and I have lots of fun getting interesting shots each time I come here.
The remainder of the trip was pretty uneventful. Coming back into mobile reception was interesting and there were lots of saved messages, including one to ponder seriously….. work….. do I go back to teaching at all?
Rather than arrive back in Melbourne late at night, we decided to stop off at Hattah Lakes. This enabled us to clean out the Ultimate, stow the food boxes and organize the car for easier unloading, and of course give us a reasonably civilized hour of return.