Sunday, 31 October 2010

Wet and Cold Broken Hill to Mildura

So, here we are back in Victoria where we are on.... (wait for it) .... Victoria (Eastern Daylight) time! Yay finally a time zone that makes sense! Now if only my body would stop running on WA time!

It was no use hoping for a break in the rain for pack-up as it bucketed all night and continued pouring in the morning as we got ready to leave. It also got cold and I went from wearing shorts and a singlet the day before to jeans, jumper and jacket. Actually, there was a short break in the rain - just after we had finished! If only we had waited another half hour before starting we may not have gotten quite so soaked. Oh well, it made the trip in the car feel even more cozy.

Speaking of the car trip, it didn't turn out to be so cozy after all.  We came around a bend on the Silver City Highway to find a backup of cars. Up ahead was a sedan that had been pulling a caravan and must have lost control on the wet road. The caravan was still attached to the car by chains and flipped over onto it's roof which had forced the back of the car up in the air.

The car and caravan were across the road blocking traffic in both directions. There were a bunch of people queued up behind the wreck (they couldn't get past with their caravans) who were helping to jack up the car so they could separate it from the van. We stopped to see if anyone was hurt or if we could help. Luckily the woman was okay and had help on site but they hadn't been able to get through to the authorities via phone or CB.

We were able to drive on the dirt shoulder and squeeze past the wreck with our camper. We warned cars coming in the other direction and when we came to the next fuel stop, about 40k down the highway, Mike got the attendant to ring the local police.

The whole thing was so upsetting to see. I found myself getting emotional, especially thinking how terrifying it must have been for the driver. Sheesh - I am clearly useless in a crisis. The woman wasn't hurt, and I don't know her, but I've found myself periodically thinking of her ever since. The thing is, if it was a couple or a family with a caravan of course I'd feel badly for them, but I'd assume that they had lost their holiday van. Awful, but the loss would amount to dollars and an aborted holiday. In this case, because it was a woman on her own I've managed to convince myself that she was probably a full-timer living in the van and has lost her home.

At least we haven't seen any locusts so far. It's just as well too, because if I remember my Passover story correctly the next plague is darkness. The cold and the rain are bad enough, thankyouverymuch. Darkness might just send me over the edge. It might be interesting to see the parting of the red sea though .. or the pink lake as the case may be.

We arrived in Mildura and set up our wet camper in the rain. We managed to get our large awning erected during a rain break so at least we have a dry area to sit outside. It pretty much poured all night. Today is a bit better. Still cold, but only occasional showers and we've seen a bit of sun. We're in a nice spot on the Murray River, which is fuller than I've ever seen it.

Mildura is in the midst of a food and jazz festival so we headed out to Trentham Winery to listen to some jazz and sample some food and wine.

It was a lovely afternoon and we left with a couple of souvenier glasses and a half dozen bottles of wine. 

The perfect antidote for a cold and gray afternoon.

Someone has clearly had too much!
We were planning on staying in Mildura for three nights, but as of now are undecided.  I don't think we dare head any further south than we have to.  Brrrr!!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Broken Hill

Broken Hill is an interesting town. It's primarily a mining town - silver mining to be specific. It's also the birthplace of the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton.

Mad Max2 was filmed here and Mad Max 4 will be as well. The latest movie may have to wait until Broken Hill goes back to being it's usual dry and dusty self. Apparently the film has been delayed due to rains in the area leaving Broken Hill looking too lush.

There's also a large number of artists in residence resulting in loads of art throughout the town both indoors and out, in galleries and public spaces.

Yesterday we had a good look around the town.  In the afternoon we visited galleries and shops.  In the evening we went with Jill and Steve (the "lovely couple" I mentioned in my last post) to the Broken Hill Sculptures & Living Desert Sanctuary.

In 1993 the town conducted a "Sculpture Symposium" where twelve sculptors from various parts of the world were invited to work for six weeks on sculptures on Sculpture (Sudown) Hill .  All work was done with hand tools.  There were no power tools at all.

Prior to beginning work the sculptors were taken to Mootwingee National Park to view Aboriginal art carvings dating back up to 30,000 years.  The result of  this experience along with their individual ethnic backgrounds can be seen in the final works.

My favourites are:

Motherhood by Badri Salushia of Tbilisl, Georgia. 
The artist was unable to contact his family during the period he was sculpting due to the war in Azerbigan.  His sadness is reflected in his work.  He said "The Child is a portrait of my son and the fine details are left to your own interpretation"
Bajo El Sol Jaguar (Under the Jaguar Sun) by Anotonio Nava Tirado of Mexico City, Mexico
The sculpture is based on the music of Jorge Reyes "Bajo El Sol Jaguar".  The sun and moon depict duality.  Night is represented by Venus.  The mouth of the Jaguar takes the sun into it's mouth at night to protect it.  Day is represented by the circle created by the sun.
Angels of the Sun and the Moon by Valerian Jikiya of Rustiva, Georgia
The artist worked all night under the full moon several times to work out the planes and shadows for his sculpture which he described as a "device to measure time and light".  The eastern face reflects the moon, and the western face, the sun.  The shadows moving continuously over the sculpture change it from season to season.  There is a sundial at the back which casts a shadow that falls in the triangle each year at the time that the artist was at work on the sculpture
Horse by Jumber Jikiya of Rustavi, Georgia
At the time of the symposium the artist was President of the Georgian Sculpture Society.  He was very impressed with the sculpture site and said "My first thoughts were that the stone arrangement was so powerful in itself, that the symposium was already complete and we could go on holiday!".  His work is a tribute to horses.  "People must be aware of the nobility of the horse.  At Stalin's request all the Georgian horses were slaughtered."
Tiwi Totems by Gordon Pupangamirri of Tiwi, Bathurst Island
The Tiwi people of Bathurst Island have a tradition of carving burial poles.  The sculpture represents a typical burial pole with motifs of birds, fish and tortoise.
Bajo El Sol Jaguar looked especially impressive at sunset.  It's a good thing too, as I was starting to wonder if all the recommendations to see various tourist attractions at sunset were perhaps a way to keep people from leaving the town.  :)

Mike did a great job with this photo (as he keeps reminding me!).
The views at sunset were lovely as well.

Speaking of views, we went to the most bizarre restaurant for lunch today.  Well, the restaurant itself was quite nice, but the location, sitting atop a "line of load" (the waste heap from over a century of mining operations) was certainly bizarre!

The restaurant is the building on the right
Here's what the front of the restaurant looked like.  I told you it was unusual!

The disused mining equipment adds a nice ambiance.  Don't you agree?
The food was nice though, and the glass walls provided views over the town.

Plus, they had a nice comfy chair waiting for me before I even got to the restaurant!

"Park Bench" is actually a public art installation by a Canadian Sean O'Keefe who now lives in area. His aim was to confront adults to sit as children.

We also visited Silverton which is a ghost town of sorts (population 50) located approximately 24 kilometers west of Broken Hill.

The town is full of art galleries and arts and crafts shops.  It's also a popular destination for movie makers.

Mad Max memorabilia

Population:  50 people and two donkeys.

A highlight of the day (not) was going to the automotive parts shop to buy a screen to put over the grille of the car.  Apparently there is a locust plague building in Victoria and everyone is buying screens to protect their car radiators from invading locusts.  Oh joy.

When we got back to the camper tonight the wind started picking up.  Mike has battened down the hatches and the rain has started.  Lets hope that we get a reprieve in the morning so that we don't have to pack up in the rain.  Tomorrow we move further south into Victoria.

P.S.  Have I mentioned that although we are in NSW, we are on Adelaide time?  These random time zones are confusing and just a little insane.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Kings Canyon to Broken Hill via Coober Pedy and Port Augusta

When we made our decision to go across the Great Central Road to Uluru, one of our considerations was whether we had left it too late.  We were afraid that we would arrive at Uluru to find it too hot to be able to tour comfortably.  It was warm during the day, but dry with cool evenings.  We were very lucky, and probably shouldn't have pushed our luck.

From Uluru (Yulara) we drove 300 kilometers north to Kings Canyon.  When we arrived it was hot.. very hot in fact, and the flies were out in full force.  Having originally planned to stay for two nights, we decided to just spend one and wait to visit the canyon in the cool of the following morning on the way out and spend what was left of the afternoon updating the blog.  This, as you may recall, posed a whole new set of difficulties.

We packed up and headed out early the next morning looking forward to the rim walk over the canyon.  As we drove the mercury rose sharply and our enthusiasm began to take an equally sharp dip.  It was over 30 degrees and not yet 9am.  As we stepped out of the car we were assaulted by both the heat and the very persistent flies.

Holy heatwave, Batman!
It was at this point that we decided to forgo the hike.  We took a couple of photos of what we could see from within a short walk of the sanctuary of our car and called it a day.  I suppose we have to save something for next time! :)

Heading south, we stopped at Eridunda for fuel and lunch where we learned that this section of the Stuart Highway had been recently flooded by rains not usually seen in the area.

With the road closed people were stranded at the roadhouse for several days and the roadhouse had run out of food.  Between you and me, this probably wasn't such a bad thing considering what our lunch was like.

Emus at Eridunda
A bit further along and we reached the South Australia border.  The South Australia/Northern territory border is marked by a large sign significant to us because on the other side of the SA sign it says "Welcome to the Northern Territory".  I was so excited to have reached the NT on the way through here going north that I hopped up for a picture and completely forgot about the step on the way down resulting in a spectacular face plant!  From that point forward Mike referred to the NT as "Nice Trip".

Of course I had to take a photo at the other side of the infamous sign.  This time I managed to get the job done without injury.

We spent the night at Marla and then another in Coober Pedy where it poured all night.  It never rains in Coober Pedy, which is why there isn't a blade of grass to be seen anywhere, yet it rained when we were there on the way up and again on the way through this time.

The surface was uneven and there were several groups with soft-floor campers and tents desperately trying to dig trenches to divert the water away from them.  It was useless and they eventually made their way into on-site cabins.  I really felt for them.  Our outer canvas was wet, but we stayed high and dry.  After a soggy pack-up we drove on.

We spent two nights in Port Augusta where we dried out, re-stocked the fridge, got the laundry done, and relaxed after the long drive. 

It was bittersweet being there.  We kept thinking back to the last time we were there on the way up.  We were only about 4 days into our trip, and there was so much to look forward to.  Now we are heading home and our adventure has nearly come to an end.

Broken Hill bound
We arrived at Broken Hill late yesterday afternoon (making this a 5 state trek!).  Shortly after we set up a couple that we met at Pilgramunna campsite (in Cape Range NP) pulled up next to us.  It was nice to catch up with them, and surprising since there were only 9 sites at the campsite.  Another lovely couple set up near them and the six of us enjoyed happy hour (or three).  A few drinks and plenty of road tales made for a fun evening.

Off to explore Broken Hill.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

We must have taken a hundred photos as the Olgas came into view.

Although we had been driving for three days to get there, we couldn't resist stopping for a look before making our way to Yulara where we'd be camping.

Of course we were equally excited when Uluru popped over the horizon.

We drove around the perimeter of the rock taking in the views and it's sheer size.  None of the photos we'd seen had prepared us for how beautiful this Australian icon is.

We were also really surprised at how green the area around Uluru is.  We were both expecting an arid sandy desert with a rock sitting in the middle of it.  The clear blue sky and red rock looked magnificent against the greenery.

It's easy to see how early peoples would have attributed a spirituality to this awesome place.

The following day we visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the base of the rock.  It was made up of several linked buildings which told of the history and beliefs of the local Aboriginals as well as their connection to Uluru.  It's an impressive display and it took us more than one visit to take it all in.

Unfortunately no photography is allowed at the centre.  The photo below was taken at the pathway to the entrance.

That evening we visited the rock at sunset.

As the sun sets it casts shadows and changes the colours of the rock.  It was stunningly beautiful.

Mike took a sequence of shots as the sun set.  We created this slide show so you could see the rock change with the movement of the sun.  Believe me, the movie doesn't do it justice.

When Uluru was returned to the Aboriginals it was done so under the condition that people would still be allowed to climb.  Today climbing is allowed, but is considered an act of disrespect by Aboriginal people.

Park rangers are working hard to educate people and convince them that Uluru has so much more to offer than a climb.  There are various requests and explanations throughout the Cultural Centre asking visitors not to climb, and the sign below is at the base of the rock at the climb site.  They close the climb if it is too windy or hot for safety, but otherwise it is left up to each person to decide for themselves.

Before we saw the climbing area Mike and I had decided that we would respect the wishes of the traditional owners and not climb.  Once we saw the climb we were more than happy with our decision. :)

There's a chain that starts about 100 meters from the base.  We saw many people struggling to even get that far, and saw some turn back.

The people below have not yet reached the chain and it is already extremely steep.  The climbers to the right of the photo are on all fours.

We took a walk around the base of the rock that was beautiful.  There were a few sections that are sacred sites where we weren't allowed to photograph.

That evening we went on a dune walk to reach a lovely vantage point from which to view the Olgas at sunset.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Great Central Road

We arrived at Coober Pedy this afternoon to find that we have telephone and internet access!  We are only staying for the night since we already toured the area on the way up north a few months back.

Mike is busy chatting with a couple camped next to us.  It's a conversation we've had many times during the course of this trip, and has led us to some interesting people and places.  "How long are you traveling?  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  Where have you been?" Anyway, I thought I'd take advantage of the quiet afternoon to finally update the blog.

The Great Central Road is 1147 kilometers across the center of Australia running between Laverton in Western Australia and Yulara in the Northern Territory.  It's all unpaved road in varying condition depending on the weather and whether or not a grader has been through.  It runs through several Aboriginal communities and there is the occasional roadhouse where where you can buy food and fuel but other than that it's you and mother nature.  We set off from Laverton with permit in hand along with two spare tyres, extra diesel, tools and plenty of water.

Off We Go!!
Red dirt road - nice and smooth though.
We stopped  about 100 km down the road to have a look at Murray's bore mill and tank, which is supposed to be a good place to spot animals.  We didn't see any animals as we approached, but as we stood quietly I thought I heard hoof-beats.  Sure enough there were a group of wild horses eying us cautiously and waiting for us to move on so they could come have a drink.

The road had changed from dirt to crushed rock, but was still pretty easy going.

A long way from nowhere
We drove a total of 560 km with the occasional stop to stretch our legs or take in the views and only saw 2 other cars, some huge emus running across the road and lots of birds and dust.  That is, until we noticed some odd shapes in the distance.  It wish I had the camera at the ready to capture the look on Mike's face when it dawned on us that they were camels.  5 or 6 of them ran off as we approached, but one guy was intent on finishing the leaf he was eating and in no hurry to move. 

"Dude!  c'mon, there's a car coming!"
The car can wait til' I'm good and ready!
 This was not to be the only time we came across camels on the road.

Finally we arrived at Tjukayirla Roadhouse where we decided to spend the night.  The people running it were so warm and friendly, it was like an oasis in the desert.  An oasis complete with food, pristine amenities and plenty of hot water.  The truth is that you pretty much have to stop there for fuel regardless, so it was a bonus to be made to feel so welcome.

Food, hot showers and a playful pooch.
Like everywhere along the Great Central, the bowsers were behind locked cages and you don't pump your own fuel.  I can't remember the last time I've had someone pump my fuel for me (other than Mike - heh).  It's a long way to go for full service. ;)

The next morning we were treated to a few moments of bitumen just east of the roadhouse, courtesy of the flying doctor's service who use it as an airstrip.  It's a good thing we relished the smooth minute or two as the road was about to get far worse.

Ahhh ..  Smooth as glass.
But not for long
 There are an amazing number of abandoned wrecked cars along the road.  We saw at least 300.  It's nice to think that some of them may have saved lives by providing spare parts to travellers having car troubles.

This one is just an eye-catching advertisement for the Tjukayirla Roadhouse.

We pushed on toward the next roadhouse at Warburton which is a large Aboriginal community.  We were a bit unsure about staying there as we'd heard some unsavory reports.  Jeff, who we met at Pilgramunna campsite at the Cape Range National Park told us that he had stayed there with no problem.  There's an art centre there that's supposed to be quite impressive that I would have liked to see, but as we got closer to the community we were warned away by quite a few people, both travellers and locals.

There is no alcohol of any kind allowed along the road due to the high instance of alcoholism within indigenous communites.  We were also warned to hide our jerry cans of fuel as there are petrol sniffers around, and to be sure to keep any cash out of sight.  There is no petrol available for purchase along the road.  It has been replaced with "Opal" which can be used in unleaded petrol cars but is not sniffable.   Warburton was sounding less and less attractive.

I couldn't decide it the warnings were just people being wary of an unknown culture, or if there'd be petrol sniffers glomming onto our car like vampires looking for a blood fix.  We've been through several indigenous communities with no problems whatsoever.  Could this one in particular really be that different?  I suppose we will never really know for sure because as we arrived at the roadhouse a look around was all we needed to decide not to stay there.  In fact, although Mike bought diesel, I didn't even get out of the car.

The scenery as we drove through the area was lovely, but the road was extremely corrugated in places and we bounced around for quite a few kilometers.  In sections we were forced to slow to a crawl.

Definitely not the worst of it.  The camera was
too shaky to capture any of those spots!
Good road and lovely view!

We spent the night camped at the Warakurna Roadhouse in another aboriginal community.  Even though the roadhouse  is in Western Australia they run on Northern Territory time which was an hour and a half later than WA time.

The Giles weather station was meant to be one of the highlights along this route.  We'd heard it's a "don't miss" and we wanted to be there for the release of the weather balloon and tour which our map/guidebook said was at 9am.  A sign on the roadhouse indicated that the tour was at 8:30 am.

Since the roadhouse was on NT time we thought that the weather station may be as well, and to be safe we made sure to get to bed early so we wouldn't miss the tour.

We got there at 8:30 NT time, thinking if worst came to worst we'd have to wait around for an hour and a half for the tour to begin.  When we arrived we didn't see anyone.  We headed to the information area and called out but got no reply.  Then we noticed the clock on the wall.  What a disappointment!!

It seems that the Gile's Weather station is not only on Northern Territory  (Central Standard) Time, they are on a self imposed Northern Territory daylight savings time.  Huh???  The Northern Territory doesn't have daylight savings time!!  And the station is in Western Australia anyway!  Apparently people just make up whatever time zone they feel like being in, and if none suits they come up with one of their own.  Only in Australia....  Needless to say we were not happy campers. 

We crossed the border into the Northern Territory and our next fuel stop was at Docker River, another Aboriginal community located a short distance from the border.  Docker River was interesting to see.  The shop there was bustling with people, stray dogs and even a camel walking through the middle of town!

The road from Docker river through to Yulara had been closed and only recently re-opened due to heavy rains in the area.  It was rough going, and we were happy to have a reprieve from the bumping about when we stopped at Lasseter's Cave.

In 1929 Harold Lasseter  went on an expedition and claimed to find a gold reef.  When he returned to the reef in 1930 his camels bolted with his food and water supplies and he was left to fend for himself in the hot and arid outback.  He walked for 15 kilometers until he found the cave where he survived for a further 25 days.  Assisted by an Aboriginal family, he made his way East to meet the rest of his expedition party.  He died en route never having re-found his gold reef.  People are still looking for it today.  Others say it's just legend.

Shortly after he died his diary was found in the cave.  One entry reads:  "What good a reef worth millions?  I would give it all for a loaf of bread"  Fact or fiction?  You decide.

Lasseter's Cave
The road from Lasseter's cave was scenic, but started getting really bad.  Besides for corrugations, there were also areas of water across the road.

Mother nature's garden
outback swimming pool?
and another..
Suddenly, on the horizon the Olgas came into view!  Magnificent!

click me!
We finally reached the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park!!

And the end of the Great Central Road.

Doesn't that bitumen look lovely?  Oh - and the Olgas too!