Thursday, October 13, 2011

Monday October 10th

Off to Katherine Gorge which we briefly visited last race.  We were enchanted and wanted to see more this time than our 30 minute hike had allowed.  Driving in, bush fires were the main stay of the landscaping. 
 We choose to do the tourist thing and take a boat ride up into the first 2 gorges, there are 13 gorges in all.

During the dry season they are broken up by rock dams.  During the wet season the water can rise 12 meters and flow at 60-70 knots…yes I did say knots.  Consider that the Rogue River flows about 10 knots on the average rapid.  

 One of many trees well suited to arid life.

When the water flow connects the gorges the “Salties” (Salt Water Crocodiles) come into the gorge.  They have traps to capture them and make the waters safe for swimming.  They leave the “Freshies” (fresh water crocodiles) since they only eat small fish and birds.  Salties get up to 7 meters or more, Freshies just up to 2 or 3 meters. 

Kookaburra, happy to steel food if you let it.

Wallabies are accustomed to humans and are willing to lets us get close.  The babies are great fun to watch, leaning out of the pouch just enough to graze and have a look around or thrashing around all tucked inside.

Drove just 700 kilometers today Dunmarra to Darwin.  On arrival to Darwin we headed straight to the track and went to work.  Job number one was applying the large sponsor stickers to the trailer…it takes a crew to get them on straight without wrinkles everywhere.

Sunday, October 9th

Sunday, October 9th.  Left Uluru.  The original plan was to tour Kings Canyon National Park taking the “unsealed” (dirt track) to Alice Springs.  A local advised against this due to the bush fires that have burned through that area.  And the guide book said only a heavy duty 4 wheel drive should attempt the unsealed road and to expect heavy corrugation.  After our experience in the Flinder’s Range with the dirt track, we decided to keep to the “sealed” (paved) roads.  Our four wheel drive has low clearance and seems to tend toward 4 wheel drive.  It was just as well since we needed to get some 2000 more kilometers behind us if we are to be in Darwin on Tuesday morning.

Traveling the Stewart Highway is pretty much a straight shot with a slight bend every 10 to 20 kilometers to keep the drivers attention.  It was completed just in 1987.  They tell the story about the road superintendent Art Baker who was known for his bushman skills.  He would get a few kilometers ahead of the road crew, light a bonfire of old tires, giving the bulldozer operator something to aim for making the rough cut and the grader would follow to “tidy up a bit”.  Each year there are accidents and deaths from foreign drivers forgetting which side of the road they’re supposed to inhabit.  The long empty stretches of the road lend to lapses…so an occasional sign is the answer?

 The Stuart Highway is also infamous for the road trains. These are the triple trailers we have on the interstate except that each of their trailers are twice the length of one of ours.  Whether they are passing you coming from ahead or behind, they generate a well felt air push.

This year we came across the old style road train.  Much slower, less laden and it has no problem with wet roads.

One of our duties as we head north on the race route is to do a bit of reconnaissance.  Things like weather, road conditions and possible camps.  Our first few days had such heavy dark cloud cover it could make solar collection interesting.  We also had a lot of steady rain something we had none of last race. 

Now further up north we are running into a lot of smoke from all the fires.  Since before Alice Springs both sides of the highway have been or are actively burning.  Sometimes the burns go on for many kilometers without a break…finding a camp site could prove tough.  We are required to stop each night promptly at 5 PM give or take only 5 minutes. 
Road conditions change drastically, in places they are what we expect asphalt to be, then in the blink of an eye, they become extremely rough, having been covered with “chip seal” essentially tar and three quarter minus rock.  The solar car has thin tires meant to reduce friction losses, they don’t take kindly to rough and sharp pavement.  Flat tires are an issue of safety as well as time lost. 

Between the clouds, rain, smoke and burning the race could have some real challenges.

The rental car we have is proving to have a short range, something of a problem when fuel stops are infrequent.  Seems the gauge is often close to “E”.  We had hoped to make it to a fuel stop at Tennant Creek but were a few liters short so we pulled into Wycliffe Well.
They claim that UFO’s fly over on a regular basis.  I can see why they don’t stop since the fuel was $7.50 a gallon.  We put just enough in to get us to Tennant Creek where we found the cheapest gas since Adelaide at $6.00 a gallon.

Stopped by the Devil’s Marbles just at sunset. 
This was one of our favorite stops last trip.  Actually it was our only “tourist” type stop on the Stuart Highway as we raced south. 
Like before we only had time for a short exploratory visit.  It was fun to revisit my post from two years ago.

All along the road we saw what looked like apples and watermelons.  We finally stopped to have a closer look.

The desert was a bloom and producing wildly. 

We managed to fly along at 140 KPH throughout the day but once night hit, we slowed to 100 KPH.  The kangaroos have an odd inclination to run alongside a car and without warning dart in front of the vehicle.  There are also free ranging cows, dingoes and assorted large birds all of which can cause fatal accidents if hit.  And the little critters that won’t hurt us, don’t appreciate our flattening them and we don’t like it much either.

We counted 1300 kilometers good enough for the days run, ending up in Dunmarra a small road house.  These are found all along the highway as “all in one” stops with the all important fuel, food, coffee, showers, camping and etc.

Saturday October 8th

Aussie camping.  The tent sits on top of the truck…used for real Outback touring.  Think the crawly things have more trouble climbing the ladder to get inside.

We headed back to Uluru to Mititjulu water hole.  Annette saw it the night before after we had separated and knew I shouldn’t miss it.  It made for a quiet picturesque breakfast setting on one the many artistic benches you see here. 

Just 50 km from Uluru is Kata Tjuta (The Olga’s) another must see. The name means many head which describes it perfectly.  It is just as awe inspiring.  

 We did the 2 mile Walpa Gorge walk and the longer Valley of the Wind.  

 Uluru is thought to be a single rock forced up by geologic folding.  Kata Tjuta was likely many rocks, compressed composite then folded and pushed up creating the huge bolder appearance of Kata in contrast to Uluru a single intact stone head.
The wild life warning signs are different here.  Instead of the usual deer or elk as we'd see, you get the Kangaroo or lizard.  We did see lizards on the Olga trails.

 The beautiful Zebra Finches flit about in large groups nesting low in the trees.

 We saw sunset on Kata Jtuta then headed back for another meal.  Same menu for us and ditto on the Ibuprofen, shower and bed.

Friday October 7th

One of the must see places in Australia is Ayers Rock.  It’s one of the most recognizable landscapes in the world.  The land was given back to the aboriginal peoples who changed its’ name back to the original Uluru.  There are over a half million visitors a year but no overnight accommodations in the park.  A nearby well developed service village provides all needs for the visitors.  It has become the 4th largest city in the Northern Territories.  There are campgrounds available for the budget travelers since the hotel rooms are $400+ a night.  It was a good night to break out the tent.

I’ve seen plenty of postcards of Uluru and was sure that the red hue was digitally enhanced.   As we approached the park entrance in the distance we could see the red rusted mound protruding from the desert floor.  It didn’t require any color enhancement. 

Our first stop was the well designed cultural center that tries to educate the visitor how sacred the land is to aboriginal people.  They discourage climbing Uluru or removing any rocks from the park.  According to the local story of “the sorry rocks” everyday there is a package from a guilty tourist mailing back a souvenir rock with a letter of apology for the misdeed.  Some feel guilty while others feel it has brought them bad luck and want to return the rocks to change their luck. 

Parked the car where the climbing route starts.  Despite the park literature asking people not to climb, there was a steady line heading up Uluru.  The aboriginals see it something akin to climbing up the Lincoln Memorial and sitting on Lincolns head.  Interestingly, in their culture only men are allowed to climb.  They have many strict divisions of male and female roles.

We got a late start on our hike around Uluru.  It’s hard to describe or take a photo to capture.  Around every corner is another stunning view of the red rock cathedral. 

With recent rains everything was in bloom and pools of water graced the edge of the rock base.  Plenty of birds and lizards, but few pesky flies. It’s hard to frame a picture because of the scale but that didn’t stop me from trying.  Nothing like digital photography.

It’s about 7 miles around, my legs were done at 3½ and near dusk. Annette continued on while I hitched a ride from a passing car.  It was full dark when Annette got back to the car.  Her last km was hurried along after she saw 2 dingoes (wild dogs) racing by behind her.  It was a three quarter moon so plenty of light to see and be seen by the dingoes.  It also lighted the way for the last of the climbers coming down off the rock.

The resort was hopping when we dropped in to find a meal.   Live music, big screen, pool table, and hard working bar crew.  It is known for its Outback menu, any kind of meat including emu, kangaroo, alligator and crocodile.  We had pizza with pumpkin, tomato, basil and feta.  Next was Ibuprofen, shower and bed. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thursday October 6th Kulgera

Thursday night October 6th we slipped into Kulgera Roadhouse.  This is a well know Stuart Highway truck stop between the Northern Territories and South Australia.  Everything is rustic, the bar, the restaurant, the rooms. 

 But we didn’t complain since we got the last room till Alice Springs and dinner was hot, served by the usual friendly Aussie.  We’ll be back here too for a 30 minute required stop on the solar race.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wednesday night October 5th we arrived in Coober Pedy the world’s largest Opal mining area.  It has the feel of a frontier town surrounded by a lunar landscape.  It’s a strange town of 3000 interesting and colorful residents where half live underground to escape the extreme 


summer heat and winter cold.  It was the film location of Mad Max 3 and other end of the world science fiction flicks because it looks like it.

Annette made reservations to stay at the Desert Cave Hotel.   

Nice room but not sure of the cave part until we toured the town and saw how the locals dug into the hillsides creating caves that opened to street level. They then build the face front wall with an entry door and windows leaving the rest of the ”house” as cavern.  


 We visited a Greek Orthodox church that was completely underground except for the front door and stain glass windows.

There seems to be no science to opal mining.  Just throw your hat and start digging where it falls.  The mining equipment looks home built, but that’s how it’s done.  Every other shop was selling discount opals or places for tourists to “noodle” …look for opals in the tailings of mines.

We’ll be back soon since this is a required 30 minute stop on the solar race.