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!

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