Wednesday 10 left our camp on the Heather Highway to meet up with the Great Central Road and then head east until “make camp time”. We normally like to start early and make camp early so that we can have a fire going and the meal well underway before sunset. We had been travelling through lots of spinifex, up to a metre high through most of the desert and it it is always prudent to regularly check underneath the vehicle to make sure no spinifex has become caught as it has been known to catch fire with disastrous results.
It was only a run of about 30 kilometres to the Great Central Road but this road was even more corrugated than the Heather Highway. However after about 15 kilometres we left the worst of the corrugations behind and it was only a further 15 kilometre run to Warburton. Like a lot of these communities the roadhouse is on or near the highway and the community some distance away. Our permits only allow us to call at the road house, we are specifically prohibited from visiting the communities. The Warburton Roadhouse is a bit depressing, all fuel bowsers are in locked cages and “photographs prohibited” signs everywhere. Banning photography in communities is common but this is the first time that I had come across a ban on photographing a roadhouse.
Had a bit of an issue getting fuel at Warburton as the community generator was playing up. We had to wait for it to come back online and then only got half a tank before it failed again. We eventually got all we needed. Warburton has no mechanical services yet punctured and destroyed tyres are common so like other roadhouses in the same situation they have adopted a novel way of dealing with situation. Secured to the front of the store by lengths of chain is all the equipment necessary to pull a tyre off a rim. The roadhouse sells new tyres and patches and it is up to you to affect the repair. We purchased some frozen kangaroo shanks to cook up in the camp oven later. The locals enjoy kangaroo and emu but since the introduction of rifles, game is a bit short around some communities so it is brought in processed and frozen. This is one reason for burning off as the new green grass will attract game. There is mobile coverage at Warburton so I was able to publish the blogs about the Gunbarrel before moving on.
It was then on a further 230 kilometres to the Warakurna Roadhouse where we would stay the night in their campground. Arriving in the roadhouse they informed us they where just closing “What at 3:30 I exclaimed”. No, 5:00PM they explained pointing to a clock. We had just moved from Western Australian to Northern Territory time. I had only just got used to sunrise and sunset on WA time now I had to adjust to them on NT time!
In the morning, together with about ten other campers we visited the Giles Meteorological Station for a tour. The real interest in this station lies in the fact that Len Beadell marked the spot for this station as part of the infrastructure for testing of the atomic bombs. There is a plaque on the exact spot he marked. They have a small museum of items from these early times including some original murals by Len. Also the original grader used in the making of these thousands of kilometres of roads has been rescued from the desert and given a home on display at the station. The meteorological side was also interesting, no predicting is done here they purely gather data for forwarding to Melbourne where all the forecasting is done. We watched the launch of a hydrogen weather balloon that in the course of half an hour would rise to 36,000 metres whilst transmitting such things as temperature and humidity whilst it was tracked with radar to determine wind speed and direction. These balloons are launched at the exact same time all around the world so that a global weather pattern can be plotted.
Did you know that there are estimated to be one and a quarter million camels in the Western Deserts. Some time ago the government decided to do a cull so using helicopters they herded huge numbers into a remote area and then in the course of a week three shooters using automatic rifles shoot eight thousand of them. It hardly made a dent in the population. Camels are a real menace, they push over fences to get at food and water in local communities, they have fouled and made unusable many water holes. They even push over buildings by using them to scratch their backs on. They cannot be used to make pet food as if they have recently eaten a certain bush their meat is toxic to dogs. The locals won’t eat them and even if they could be trucked to an abattoir for slaughter there is no abattoir set up to handle them and virtually no market for the meat. Sure there are some camel farms that breed a small number of camels for tourism and export but the wild camels just go on multiplying and becoming more of a threat to local communities. Mind you they also have to cope with brumbies, goats , donkeys and rabbits to name a few other imports that have gone wild.
We then headed east 90 kilometres to a campsite near the Docker River Community. Just before this campsite we crossed the WA/NT border and the road immediately turned from pretty good to bloody awful. This Great Central Road from Leonora to Uluru is promoted as the Outback Way and is marketed as a road joining west to east through the centre. Pity the poor tourist that ventures on it without knowing what it is really like. We are limited by our permits as to where we can camp and there is only one authorised camping spot between the border and Uluru. Had a great cook up that night with both camp ovens being used. Vicki cooked our kangaroo shanks, they were huge but very tasty. Darkie reckoned the bones where pretty good! Had a dingo come into camp that evening, perhaps he also liked kangaroo shanks?
Friday morning we had a 230 kilometre run to Uluru. First though just after Docker River we visited Lasseter’s Cave. This is the cave that Harry Lasseter sheltered in for almost a month before setting out to seek help. He only managed 50 kilometres before he died of starvation on the bank of Irving Creek. Lasseter’s Reef of course remains one of Australia’s great unsolved mysteries.
First 100 kilometres of road was severely corrugated but then we caught up to the graders and it became a good run. These grader drivers working the outback roads are often so far from any communities that they take all they require to live with them. You see them towing large trailers with living quarters, fuel, freezers and cars behind them to set up camp whilst they work the next section of road. Because of distance it is just not possible for them to return to a permanent camp each night so they take the camp with them. A far different job than grading a suburban road.
Once back on the bitumen we stopped at The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) to pump up tyres. Before I knew it I had a busload of tourists looking at me. I suppose I must have looked a bit of a sight as I was covered from head to toe in red dust, as was the car and van. Anyway it was then along the black sealed road, full of traffic and tourists. We made camp that night at Curtin Springs Roadhouse 85 kilometres east of Yulara. If you don’t need power camping is free, they make their money from the bar and restaurant. As Bob and Heather leave us and set of south tomorrow we had a meal at the restaurant to celebrate Heather’s forthcoming birthday.
Saturday Bob, Heather and Darkie set of south and we joined the traffic flow to Alice Springs. I drive between 80 to 90 kilometres per hour on the bitumen with the van on behind. This is a comfortable and economical speed but as the speed limit in the Stuart Highway is 130 (remember we are in the NT) cars came flying past. Have made camp for the night at Finke River Rest Area. Just a pull off from the road but it will do for the night. Strangely for this time of the year the Finke River actually has some water in it. Not much but enough for us to cool down in, marvellous!
From here it is only about 120 kilometres to Alice Springs.
Finke River Rest Area, Stuart Highway, NT – Saturday 13 August 2011