Day 54—Sunday, July 20, 2008 Day 11 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Full day in Broome, nice resort, short tours of the town. Not much else to say. We mostly enjoyed the resort—including en suite washers and dryers. When you camp a lot, that becomes the most important amenity!
The restaurant isn’t the best and the acoustics are terrible! There is nothing soft in the dining room so everything echoes. Maybe that’s deliberate so we won’t spend too much time in there and they can turn the tables more often. They ran out of cups and then the coffee maker broke. It’s no wonder, there is only one coffee maker, it makes coffee one cup at a time, and everyone gets their own coffee. Needless to say the line can be interminable!
But we’re storing up all this luxury in preparation for three days in a row of camping, including “primitive” (no showers, no toilets) camping in the Bungle Bungles.
S 17° 55.696 E 122° 12.984
Day 55—Monday, July 21, 2008 Day 12 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
After two days of relaxing in a great resort hotel, back to travelling a lot and three nights (THREE!) in a row of camping. But this camping will be in Purnululu NP, home of the Bungle Bungles. And no, I don’t know why they are named that.
The bus has a DVD and big screen TV that we normally just have on the camera mounted on the dash and we watch the upcoming road. Pretty boring, actually, but at least everyone can see straight ahead if they want to.
Today was the first day we got to see entertainment. If you can call it that. We watched two episodes of “Bush Tucker Man,” which I would have thought would be a cooking show as “tucker” is food. But, no, it’s stories about escapes in Australian history. One was about a man who escaped from a serious prison and ended up eating all his companions who escaped with him. Yuck. I’d rather watch the road ahead.
We rotate seat location every day and our seat today was possibly the second worst on the bus, seat #2. The seat pairs are not in order, which is a good thing; we move randomly around the bus, alternating sides each day. Richard put stickers on the windows so we know what number our seat is. Seat 2 is the front passenger (left) side and has no foot room. Our sleeping bags are now overhead and we stuff our daily packs under our seats. The two back seat pairs are probably the worst if we are travelling on dirt roads because they are the bumpiest; they’re not too bad on bitumen (paved) roads.
We’re back in termite country and the termite mounds are everywhere but these termites seem, from the appearance of their mounds, to be seriously disorganized. Most termite mounds (that we’ve seen) are fairly smooth and even streamlined. The magnetic termites even align all their mounds in the same direction so they look like knife blades sticking up from the ground. (Maybe that’s where Jason and the Argonauts legend came from? Probably not.) These termites make mounds that look like ice cream sundaes gone wrong. Imagine six or eight scoops of ice cream all plopped on top of one another every which way and then partially melted. That’s what these termites build, only four feet high. And light brown.
Richard told us that the mass of all termites in Australia is more than the mass of all other living things in Australia. Hmm.
The world up here revolves around The Wet. The amounts of water are absolutely staggering. Our tent site, for instance, which is on fairly flat ground, will be under four meters of water in The Wet. We have crossed the Fitzroy River at—drum roll, please—Fitzroy Crossing and the river can be 25 kilometers wide in The Wet; right now it is about 25 meters wide at its widest.
Our campground is the Fitzroy River Lodge and the lodge itself has a happy hour every night. Exactly 13 of our 26 went up for happy hour. The rest drank their own liquor at the campsite.
I’m sort of enjoying the camping although it’s better if we stay for two nights. It gets pretty old having to break camp after only one night. It only takes us two hours to break everything down—tents, stretchers (Aussie for “cot”), air mattresses, sleeping bags, and pack the luggage—have breakfast and completely load the bus and trailer with tables, luggage for 26 people, chairs for 26 people, and wash (if one can call what we do “washing”) all the dishes. Hotels are better.
And Cherry has yet to repeat a meal! Plus, I just learned, she cooks a separate meal for two vegetarians on the trip.
S 18° 12.454 E 125° 35.011
Day 56—Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Day 13 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Today is the first of our two nights camping in the Bungle Bungles.
The drive in is rough and they don’t allow 2WD vehicles, nor caravans, only 4WD vehicles and trailers. There is a difference, I learned, between caravans and trailers: trailers carry things, caravans carry people who can live in them. The park (the Bungle Bungles are actually Purnululu NP) does allow “off-road trailers” but not caravans so if you camp, you do it in a tent.
The road is so rough that the sleeping bags were raining down on people from the overhead bins. We’ve switched from sleeping bags under the seats and day packs overhead to the other way around. And I’d much rather have a sleeping bag fall on my head than some of the packs these people carry!
We started at 5:30 in the morning for several hours’ drive from Fitzroy Crossing through Halls Creek (we’ll be back in two days to stay in a hotel here) and then an hour and a half north on paved road to the entrance to Purnululu NP and then 2 hours to go 53 kilometers on that very rough road. We didn’t really need the 4WD but Richard believes in using all the equipment he has so he did put it in 4WD. He doesn’t want to get stuck because he didn’t use his capabilities.
We are back in not only termite country but spinifex country. Spinifex is a kind of grass-looking plant that is diabolical. It looks very innocuous, all grassy looking and tufty. It grows in almost perfectly round tufts about 1-2 feet across and 10-12 inches tall. They grow so close together that the tufts almost touch one another. But they are sharp and have lots of silica in them and will slice your legs if you walk among them and your legs aren’t covered. It’s a really nasty plant with a soft, sibilant name: spinifex. There is soft spinifex and hard spinifex. If you walk bare-legged through hard spinifex your legs will be cut and bloody; if you walk bare-legged through soft spinifex, your legs will be cut a bloody. At least we name some of our nasty plants with nasty names: Shin Dagger comes to mind.
The Aussies do name some of their venomous snakes with venomous-sounding names: Death Adder for one. Lest you think you’ll know which are dangerous, think again; the Brown Snake is one of, if not THE most venomous snakes in the world. Australia, by the way, has I believe, either nine or ten of the top ten most venomous snakes in the world. Not to mention the spiders and venomous fish!
This park supplies firewood! We tried to introduce the Aussies on the tour (everybody but us is an Aussie) to S’mores but they don’t have Graham Crackers! We substituted some other biscuits (cookies and crackers) and they tasted pretty good. The S’mores seemed to be a big hit with everyone. But then who can turn down marshmallows and chocolate?
Tonight and tomorrow night will probably be the only fires we will have. Bummer.
Tomorrow will be the day we have really gone on this trip for: a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles.
S 17° 22.972 E 128° 20.025
Day 57—Wednesday, July 23, 2008 Day 14 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Where did the Bungle Bungles (actually, it is the Bungle Bungle Range) get its name? Nobody really knows but some of the theories are:
· It is derived from the name of a common Kimberly grass: bundle bundle grass
· It is a linguistic corruption of the Aboriginal name Purnululu which when spoken sounds like burnululu
· Or, Sam Muggleton was mining salt at a place called Date Palm and he bungled the operation so the area became known as the “bungle bungle”
None of those sound reasonable to me but I love the name anyway!
Purnululu NP and the Bungle Bungles are an area of eroded sandstone and conglomerate from 360 million years ago. It has been uplifted and eroded over time so that now there are the classic “beehives” and rib-like structures that tower over the surrounding land. Some of the domes are over 250 meters high. Many of the eroded structures have dark grey bands interspersed with the red or orange bands. The dark grey indicate the presence of cyanobacteria that grows on sandstone layers with higher clay levels and an ability to hold moisture, conditions that are conducive to the growth of the bacteria. The sandstone bands without the bacteria oxidize to form a rusty orange colored band.
Fancy ways to say they are spectacular and beautiful.
The best way to see them is by helicopter so that is what we did. Actually only 21 of the 26 of us did helicopter flights. Eighteen minutes of a flight of two helicopters soaring over the Bungles at an altitude of 1800 feet; the terrain is about 800 to 900 feet—and yes, they do use feet for elevation rather than meters. Our pilot was Cristian, had an accent I thought I recognized, thanks to my daughter-in-law, and I was right; he spent 40 years in Amsterdam (although he is Romanian by birth). We got a wonderful narrated tour by Cristian of a small part of the Bungles. There are also up to 48 minutes helicopter tours but we certainly got the flavor of the Bungles with our 18 minute flight.
The Bungles were a cattle station until about 1985 when a documentary was done on the area. Within just a few years there was so much interest that a national park was created, Purnululu NP.
We also hiked into Cathedral Gorge and the Domes, about a 4 kilometer return walk/hike and into Echidna Chasm, about 2 kilometers return into a gorge/canyon/chasm that is so narrow in places that you have to turn sideways to get through. Pretty awesome.
After all the hiking we came back to watch from our campground while the sun set on the Bungles. Quite a sight.
Then Richard gave us the good news/bad news. The good? Champagne and cheese and crackers. The bad? The air conditioner on the bus has broken. Again. So we have to get up really early to get to Halls Creek early where the same mechanic who fixed it last time will attempt to fix it again.
Richard is now using shorthand to tell us what time to get up, what time brekkies will be, and what time we will leave. He used to tell us exactly: Get up at 5, breakfast at 6, and we’ll leave at 7. Now he just says, “5, 6, 7.”
S 17° 22.972 E 128° 20.025 (same)
Day 58—Thursday, July 24, 2008 Day 15 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Up and out at 5, 6, 7. Actually left at 6:48, arrived in Halls Creek with the bus smelling like a gymnasium (no A/C) at about 10:30, hotel (such as it is) after lunch at 1. Between 10:30 and 1 we had a shopping opportunity, then ate lunch at the hotel (our normal sandwiches) and lolled around on the grass until our rooms were ready.
Pretty boring day, as will I suspect the next two and a half days be as we drive 900 kilometers to Alice for our last night of the tour.
S 18° 13.732 E 127° 40.150
Day 59—Friday, July 25, 2008 Day 16 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Long day driving across the Tanami Track, punctuated by a visit to the Wolfe Creek meteor crater, the second largest in the world. I don’t know what is first but I am assuming it is our Meteor Crater because it is so much bigger than Wolfe Creek.
I stumbled and fell, scraping my knees, on the climb to the rim of the crater. I think that is six down and 20 to go on accidental falls! Nobody, including me, has been even close to being seriously hurt.
After that interval we resumed our 1040 kilometer trek from Halls Creek to Alice Springs. The Tanami Track is dirt all the way from Halls Creek to Alice and it is occasionally quite rough.
As we travel across the endless (well, to us it seems endless!) Tanami Desert I am definitely reminded of our Arizona desert. Australia doesn’t have cactus—except as an unintended consequence of introducing an invasive species, namely, prickly pear cactus— but they do have lots of legumes. And the expanse of Tanami Desert has the same gray-green color that the Sonoran Desert has and it has the similar small, small-leafed shrubs that we have. I feel as if I am home.
We drive for hours and hours and I stare across a seemingly limitless expanse of foot-high termite mounds stretching to the horizon with only an occasional scrawny tree to break the straight line of that horizon.
As we drove, we saw not just the limitless termite mounds but also the occasional animal. One poor young camel, his hump sashaying back and forth, ran down the road in front of us. Richard slowed down and tried not to stress the animal but the young camel persisted in running in the middle of the road. Eventually we stopped for lunch and presumably the young camel disappeared into the wildness next to us.
Our usual lunch—mystery meat, bread, tomatoes, beet root, and lettuce—was had by the shores (?) of Sturt Creek. Sturt Creek is, of course, absolutely dry. And Mr. Sturt never set foot anywhere near where we had lunch. This was definitely local knowledge: Richard stopped here for lunch because it was the last large tree for 400 kilometers.
At about 4:30 Richard pulled off the road. Just that, no parking area just a short road disappearing into the distance. This was home for the night. Our next to last camp. No water. No toilet. No electricity. Richard has brought out the shovels.
For the non-campers reading this, shovels are used when there will be solid waste generated. You must dig a hole six inches deep for your waste and cover it over when you are done. Please note that there is not a person under the age of 60 (well, Lurleen is under 60 but I don’t think anybody else is) and most are over 65 in this group. and I think that Doug and Jan may be over 75! And they have to use a shovel to dig a pit! What a great group! There has been some minor grumbling about the “primitive” camping but by and large everybody recognizes that we can’t travel the “most remote track in the world” (Tanami Track) without a few privations.
Randy and I slept out. “Slept out” means that we set up our tent but set up our stretchers outside the tent with the air mattress (one does need the creature comforts when one gets to be a senior citizen) and the sleeping bags and just lay out there looking at the milky way. It was so stunningly beautiful!
There is not an artificial light for 80 kilometers, says Richard. That doesn’t sound like a lot to me. I’ve been to Death Valley and surely there isn’t an artificial light for 80 kilometers (50 miles) there. I don’t believe Richard. I believe there isn’t a light for at least several hundred kilometers. Regardless, the sky was dark, the stars were brilliant, the milky way was, well, milky!
There are only two “towns,” Biluna and Yuendumu (both have populations of about 100-200) and two “roadhouses” from Halls Creek to Alice.
There have been just a few things/activities we wanted to do, lying out under a sky that had no artificial lights was high on the list.
Check that off the list!
S 19° 53.271 E 129° 17.151, el 383 meters
Day 60—Saturday, July 26, 2008 Day 17 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Long day driving across the Tanami Track.
We stopped at Rabbit Flat, the most remote road house in Australia. I, of course, bought a t-shirt to celebrate. We (the whole group) also celebrated by using the toilets.
Not much to say about this day except that we have the perfect road for Randy: no traffic! In the past two days we have passed more “dead” cars than “living” cars. We can go an hour without seeing another vehicle—other than cars that have been abandoned alongside the road.
The high point had to be that we had a campground that had: water, electricity, toilets. All the accoutrements of civilization! Tilmouth Wells is our campground.
Our last night/day of camping! Dinner was rissoles. Australian rissoles are American hamburger meat with lots of spices. Delicious! Often the butcher will make his own recipe of exactly what spices are put in the rissoles. Tonight’s rissole is not the same as the rissole we had on the second night of our trip. But it is equally good.
This is our last camp. I am dirty, tired, and flies seem to love me. We had a celebratory martini after we set up camp for the last time.
None of us has been able to match the purported weight limits but several days ago Richard made our life hell: he said we were his heroes for our baggage. We have two carry-on bags, it seems everyone else has HUGE bags. We don’t make the 16 kilo weight limit, but neither do others. I don’t know why he singled us out.
S 22° 48.507 E 132° 35.914 el 570 meters
Day 61—Sunday, July 27, 2008 Day 18 of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
The drive from Tilmouth Wells was on sealed road so the bounces weren’t too bad. Interesting road: about 10 feet wide, so it’s just a one lane road with lots of dirt shoulder. The rules of the road are that smaller gives way to larger. Assuming you know the rules of the road, that is. I don’t remember seeing even one car in two hours so it didn’t matter for us.
We passed within 10 kilometers of the “point of inaccessibility,” the point that is equidistant from any ocean or sea. And we passed close to Fink which is the center of Australia: if you could balance the continent on a point, it would be there. Don’t you wonder how someone can figure that out? Do rocky mountains weigh more that mostly dirt hills? Do cities weigh more that countryside? How much more? Do they count each skyscraper? ‘Tis a puzzlement.
Anyway, we arrived in Alice Springs in mid-morning, as advertised.
Today, Sunday, was Market Day so Richard gave us a “shopping opportunity.” Now that we are released from our weight restrictions, and, to some extent, the space restrictions, I feel freer to buy stuff.
Then we drove way out of town to Simpson’s Gap, one of several spots on the McDonald Ranges to hike, to have lunch. After that, to the hotel where Randy and I will stay for two days (we’ve rented a car), the Voyages Alice Springs Resort.
Dinner tonight is our last, and breakfast tomorrow is our last as a group and for breakfast, at least, some of the group will already be gone
S 23° 42.163 E 133° 53.117, el 581 meters
Day 62—Monday, July 28, 2008 Day 19 and end of Outback Spirit 4WD Tour
Dinner last night was quite nice. Instead of two long tables, we had two large square tables and that made it a bit easier to talk to everybody. Joe gave the obligatory speech and several of us also spoke, thanking Richard and Cherry. All in all a nice night to end it all.
I was SO ready to be done with the tour! I had an absolutely fabulous time, but 19 days was just too much. Although I haven’t found a cruise that is too long, I have definitely found a tour that was too long! That was probably true for several if not lots of the group as well. Putting up the tents, taking down the tents, and all the rest of the mandatory rigmarole was getting tiresome. Randy and I had it down to a pretty good pack up time in the mornings, about 40 minutes and everything was done. The group had the pack-up-completely,-eat-breakfast,-and-be-on-the-bus time to less than two hours. Pretty good, especially considering that several of the group had never camped before. And probably will never camp again!
Our last breakfast with any of the group, we ate with Lurleen, Gerald, Helen, and Joyce. We and Lurleen and Gerald went to the Desert Park and then on to Standley Chasm for a short hike and an alfresco lunch that we had bought at the Park.
The Desert Park is the Alice counterpart to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and in fact they did a staff exchange last year. Jody from the Park spent a month at the Museum and Brenda King from the Museum spent a month at the Park. The guy who did the Park’s raptor show also spent a week at the Museum.
Their raptor show is quite different than the one at the Museum but equally informative and fun. First, the spectators get to sit! And there is a covering so they don’t have to be in the sun—although today it was nice to be in the sun as the temperature at 10am was probably only about 10°C (50°F).
The narrator is also the person handling the birds but “handling” is not exactly true and he never touched the birds except to give the Galahs (ga-LAHZ) some food. We got to see black kites and another species of kite feeding in the air and actually eating in the air. They are able to grab food out of the air and bring their talons to their beak to eat without having to land, thus saving the energy necessary to get airborne again. Quite interesting.
There were a couple (breeding pair) of wild wedgies (wedge tailed eagles) in the area and they added to the show. A fascinating 25 minutes.
Day 63—Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Slept late, didn’t do much. It’s hard to get involved in anything—for me anyway—when I have a deadline and we did: 12:35 departure to Adelaide. So we pretty much didn’t do anything other than go downtown and do some gift shopping. Carlos, if you are reading this, we are bringing you a present. Ditto for Kathy & Yolanda.
Adelaide airport was a breeze except that Randy got “randomly” selected for additional screening. He got so involved in chit chat with the screener that he completely forgot that I was standing there twiddling my thumbs for 10 or so minutes. He was telling her all about out adventures. We also got to talking with an Australian who struck up a conversation with Randy, saying he thought he recognized a Tucson accent! I think he just heard us say we were from Tucson to one of the Qantas people.
After four-plus weeks without a cloud in the sky, we have arrived in Adelaide to intermittent showers and temperatures in the low teens (below 50°F). I really don’t want to complain since we have had such great weather for so long and also because all of the southern part of Australia (and other parts as well) is in a multi-year drought. The drought is so serious, several of our fellow travelers on the 4WD tour told us, that they use bottled water for drinking and cooking because there is so much salinity in the water. It goes without saying that there is NO watering of plants or lawns unless you use gray water. I would guess that, much like in California in the 70s, if you have a green lawn or beautiful flowers your neighbors will be turning you into the water conservation board!
The first panic when we arrived in Adelaide—well, it was really the only panic—was that I had left my wallet on the airplane! It’s a little thing that I carry around my neck and it was in the way so I put it on the seat next to me. Bad decision! I of course forgot to pick it up since it was the exact same color as the seats. Good news is that it really wasn’t a problem to get it; just going back through security and finding that they had already turned it in to the lost baggage people.