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We live in Adelaide, South Australia and enjoy travel in the Australian outback in our Oka 4WD motorhome, hence the blog title.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

2008 Outback Trek

So we got back from our travels on a fine Sunday afternoon in late September. It was nice and sunny and things were green. We haven't seen that colour in South Australia for far too long, certainly not in our garden. However the reason for the greenery made itself readily apparent the next day, when it rained most of the day and was really quite cold, struggled to reach 15º in fact.

We didn't see rain (or many clouds) the whole 3 1/2 months we were away and we spent a lot of time in the warm tropics, so we're really feeling the cold too. I have a good tan and have lived in short shorts (to hell with my age!) for months, but everything is covered up now!

We went west first of all from Coober Pedy along the Anne Beadell Highway, terrible corrugations (real sports bra stuff!) visited the 1950's atomic bomb sites, very briefly I might add. It's a weird feeling being at ground zero and seeing lumps of molten glass all around you where the sand was heated to incredible temperatures.


The Anne Beadell, although fairly straight, is a very long track (nearly 1500 kms from Coober Pedy to Laverton), with almost no water and only one fuel supply stop, at Ilkurlka just 170 kms west of the state border WA and 700 kms from Coober Pedy.

The track is also very narrow and corugated for most of its length so breakdowns are common and should be anticipated. There are a few winding sanddune areas to add interest but it's no place for trailers and certainly shouldn't be tackled alone. Fortunately we were in the company of the Hallandal family with their Oka and Craig with his Patrol. This proved invaluable when the inevitable breakdowns occurred, which we all suffered to some degree.


I did say it was corrugated didn't I?

Water is available at 3 rest areas on the WA side of the border (assuming rain has replenished the tanks), but there is NO water available on the SA section.

There are a number of original Len Beadell markers along the track. This one is pretty remote, 1000 km (600 miles) from Coober Pedy, but still 400 km (250 miles) to go to Laverton.


We had one small puncture, near Dingo Claypan and a broken bolt on the bull bar. More seriously, some bolts came loose from the universal joint on the front drive shaft. This caused the drive shaft to flail around, damaging the transfer gear linkages, but fortunately nothing more critical and we soon had the shaft off the car, repaired using a spare UJ and back on the road again within an hour.

When we eventually reached Laverton, after about 11 days constant travelling due west, we headed down to Kalgoorlie and met up with an old friend at the Oka company there. After a week in Kalgoorlie, we then sort of turned around and headed back up the Great Central Road, eventually landing back in Alice Springs.

The chart below shows our speed along the Anne Beadell Highway. Around 25 kph for most of the first 900 kms after leaving Mabel Creek, but definitely slightly faster in the WA section, up to 50 kph plus in sections. Wow!


The dip in speed at 950 kms was when we visited the site of a Cessna aircraft which crashed in 1993 about 10 kms off the track. There were a lot of sanddunes to cross in that 10 kms.



From Kalgoorlie we spend a day exploring around Lake Ballard and then northeast up the Great Central Road, which is a wide gravel track and not all that inspiring, through Warburton to Giles where we had a tour of the Met Office.


This is not a photo of the fuel pumps at Warburton because it's not allowed.

From there we went up the Sandy Blight Junction road and across to Alice Springs. The Sandy Blight road was much more difficult than we were expecting. On the map it doesn't look very long, a tad over 200 kms, linking the Great Central Road near Giles to the Gary Junction Road which runs west from the Tanami Track just north of Alice Springs. However, while it is quite scenic, the track was much more difficult and, at nearly 400 kms, more protracted than we were expecting.

The first 70 kms or so of the track are quite rough but reasonable since it leads to an Aboriginal community at Tjurlka. Thereafter the road becomes a 2 wheel desert track which winds through hills and sanddune country for a further 300+ kms.

It is alternately very rocky and rough, or deep corrugated sand. It's the sort of track for which a sports bra is recommended! The 400 kms took us 3 days and I was quite looking forward to reaching the end, especially during the final 25 kms dead straight section which seemed to take forever.

We met up with Tim and Brenda Greenish and their Oka at Ormiston Gorge for a couple of days and then went up to Darwin via Litchfield National Park with Charles and Fred, some UK friends we met up with in Tennant Creek. After a week in Darwin, we drove across the Roper River Highway to Borroloola and then down the Savannah Way to Mount Isa via Doomagee.


This is National Highway #1 but it doesn't look at all like the Port Wakefield road up there.

It's a creek crossing-cum-road junction and there are several creek crossings like the one along this section of Highway #1.

The rest of the trip was very interesting but technically uneventful. We did have to replace the gas regulator in Katherine since it shat itself and we couldn't cook anything. And one of the collapsible chairs collapsed. But that was about all.

We did have an scary crocodile experience at the Mary River east of Darwin. We stumbled across one and it took off with frightening speed right in front of us. A bowel loosening experience!


This movie is not very good, but put yourself in our place as we came upon the croc on the side of the river. It was closer than it appears through the camera viewfinder and could have come our way...



Boulia, Bedourie and Birdsville

From Mount Isa, we turned south towards the 3 "B"'s, Boulia, Bedourie and Birdsville.



The level of detail on the Boulia Shire road signs was extraordinary, considering how little there actually is out here in outback Queensland.


You'll need an overnight stay to read that one.

We were very pleasantly surprised by Boulia and Bedourie. They are both very small, around 100 people, but very neat and well run. They also had excellent and very expensive amenities.



Boulia had a Min-Min Light Encounter show which took us through 6 or seven rooms filled with life-like animatronic figures giving us yarns and experiences by people who claim to have seen The Light, and the last and best room had a rotating stage which did a full 360 while dazzling us with a light show under a LED filled starry planetarium. It cost squillions to construct and one wonders why they spent so much in such a small town. It only cost $9 each and for another $1 we got a ticket to a marvellous museum thrown in.


This turned out to be another highlight. Not only the usual collection of olden day memorabilia and machinery, but also a world class fossil collection, with full fossil skeletons of prehistoric fish and carnivorous sea creatures excavated from the local area. The chap running the museum was also the person who found, dug up and prepared the fossils. He turned out to be a world expert in his field and had to protect his collection from big city museums which prey on these collections while their backs are turned. He did it by donating all his collection to the Queensland Museum, on condition that they could remain exactly where they were in Boulia. Smart or what?

So a very small town with 2 world class features. Great but you have to wonder why? They are never going to get huge numbers of tourists to this remote part of outback Queensland.


Now on to Bedourie which frankly, after Boulia, we didn't hold out much hope for. Especially when I asked the young girl in the "tourist office", which was a single desk in a corner of the small council office, "What are the things to see in Bedourie?" She said "Well, there's the mud hut next door, and an artesian bore which you need a key for, and a cemetery". I waited for the rest of the list but nothing more was forthcoming. So we did the mud hut in about 30 seconds, it was a former cattle station managers house built of mud brick walls during a long-ago boom in the cattle industry. We passed on the cemetery and sought out the artesian bore.


Well, what a surprise. Yes you needed a key, but some people already inside the wire let us in anyway. The bore was an ultra modern tiled spa pool, about 4m x 4m, filled with clear 40º water and a bikini-clad maiden from Canada trying to get a sun tan (Sharon or Sandra I think, it doesn't really matter) plus an electric spa pump driving 8 or 10 high pressure nozzles to give your back and legs a good work out. After a few minutes it got a bit hot so we walked across a large smooth green grassy patch to another surprise. A beautiful, full size 25m 6 lane swimming pool. It wasn't heated but that didn't matter it was a hot day anyway. But the biggest surprise of all was that it was all free, even to the local populace. The key was only to stop small children getting in unsupervised. See their site here.


THE free swimming pool and hot spa at the end of the path at Bedourie.

But it didn't stop there. Across from the council offices was a huge round shaped building called the Bedourie Community Centre. The Bedourie races were coming up the next weekend and council workers were busily preparing for an influx of race-goers to the Saturday night entertainment event. The hall would have held hundreds of people and was a smaller version of the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. This building and the aquatic centre would also have cost squillions and also in a very small rural town.

And so on to the next location.



Were we to get yet another surprise when we reached Birdsville? No we were not. Birdsville does not have the attractions of the 2 towns up the track, even though all 3 are in outback Queensland. It's a very dusty place with few things of note. The artesian bore spews out water at "over 100ºC" the sign says and it just runs away into the desert dust to form a boggy area. They've done nothing to turn it into a green, wildlife attracting wet lands.

The "famed" Birdsville Pub is nothing compared to the Daly Waters pub and in fact it's almost bare inside. We had the obligatory beer there of course, in fact we were propping up the pub all by ourselves for much of the time.


We singlehandedly supported the Birdsville pub.:

When I said the pub was almost bare inside, I did find something of interest to the 60's motoring public. It was a poster on the wall of the Australian Morris Minor Appreciation Society with all their cars parked outside the pub. It cost me a $2 donation to the RFDS to present this picture to you.


Morris Minor Association at Birdsville.:

There was a very good and clean museum in Birdsville with a myriad of memorabilia, but even this couldn't raise dusty Birdsville to the level of Boulia and Bedourie.


Birdsville museum, stacked with memorabilia.

The famed Birdsville Track was pretty straight forward, 300kms of rough gravel and rocks but nothing difficult.


Being hot and sunny made for some interesting optical effects.

Was this a mirage or water over the road?

We did experience a severe dust storm one hot night near Mungaranie Roadhouse which meant keeping all the doors and windows tightly closed and made it very stuffy.

Nearby was an artisian bore gushing boiling water into the desert, which is why nothing grows around the water course.



This informative but somewhat unnecessary sign was nearby.

Another interesting sign was this road sign covered in boots, shoes and thongs. Just how do people survive out here without footwear?


There was also an excellent campsite provided by the owners of Clayton Station near the Clayton Wetlands which was was very useful, and came with a free campsite dog, Max, to look after us.

We got back to Port Augusta a couple of days early so we went down to Cowell on the Eyre Peninsular for some R&R among the white sanddunes and found a large seal sunbathing on the beach.

And so back to cold wet Adelaide. It's very sad taking things out of the Oka at the end of a trip. I almost feel like apologising to it.

We might have a year off from long distance touring next year, Janet is keen to get the veggie patch into production again. What we might do is re-register the Oka again in the summer and do a few shorter trips, once I have worked through my 3 pages of To-Do items, that is.

We had no more problems with the Oka after leaving Manbulloo Station just outside Katherine (an excellent shady camping area in a working cattle station), where I changed the oil and did a full service, all systems have been working well, especially the new gas regulator.

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