A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Farhorizons

19: Abandoned rocket range and waterless lakes

Coober Pedy - Port Augusta - Menindee

sunny 20 °C
View Hinchinbrook and Centre on Farhorizons's travel map.

South from Coober Pedy the scrub continued at mid-calf height and the land quite flat for a few hours. I was excited to see the first of many Emus seen on this leg of the trip, as so far we'd only seen one being rounded up among a herd of cattle somewhere back near Erldunda. We stopped to boil the billy at Lake Hart, fighting off ants and flies. We had turn off to see Woomera of course, and fancy being allowed to drive in there! It is a bit of a ghost town now, but has really good exhibits of the history of the sites, including both real rockets (some busted by impact) and models. We spoke to Roger who maintains the display and was practically inside one of the rockets checking details for someone in America who is writing a book. Len Beadle did a lot of the surveying for the site, and there was a lot of stuff about him as well - another icon of the 1950's.
After the Woomera turn off, the land fell away, becoming hilly and the scrub higher until we could see the Flinders Ranges in the distance, and Spencer Gulf - the first time we've seen sea since the Gulf of Carpentaria.
We got into Port Augusta as evening was falling, moved into our apartment at the Majestic Oasis on the foreshore of Spencer Gulf. From our room we could even see a bit of Spencer Gulf with effort. We walked through the old part of town, past many substantial old stone buildings to dinner at the recommended hotel in Gibson St.
We left Port Augusta early, heading towards Broken Hill. We wound through green hills on Horrocks Pass Road and drove 7 km through paddocks up to Hancocks Lookout with great views back over Spencer Gulf and Southern end of Flinders Ranges. Breakfast was bacon and eggs in a cafe garden at Wilmington with a caged magpie for company. Down as far as Peterborough, then a flattish drive through low scrub to Broken Hill where we refuelled with petrol before heading south again to Menindee.

Posted by Farhorizons 22:04 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

18: Opal town

Yulara to Coober Pedy

semi-overcast 19 °C
View Hinchinbrook and Centre on Farhorizons's travel map.

Looking over Old Timer's and other mines, Coober Pedy

Looking over Old Timer's and other mines, Coober Pedy

At Old Timers mine

At Old Timers mine

Juhn and Yurgen at our sunny breakfast table

Juhn and Yurgen at our sunny breakfast table

John and our luxurious living room

John and our luxurious living room

Fabulous underground B&B, Coober Pedy - from outside

Fabulous underground B&B, Coober Pedy - from outside

After our free breakfast of bacon and eggs and tomato and too many croissants, we left Yulara by 8.30 for the long 734k drive to Coober Pedy, catching a last glimpse of Uluru in the morning light as we left. We retraced our steps through scrubby sand dunes past Mt Connor and met the Stuart Hwy again at Erldunda where the premium unleaded was almost as expensive as at Yulara - well it comes a long way to get here.
I drove the rest of the day as John is coming down with a cold after all the temperature changes lately. We've worked out how to set up my Ipod in the Ipod compatible connector in John's car so we can play the thousands of tunes on my ipod from the radio console. Wow! Modern technology! Anyway, I love long distance driving and the vast open skies, vivid colours and possibilities of interesting wildlife to some of my favourite music. The country got flatter and flatter, and the vegetation shrank to mid calf height over the next few hours until we got to an area that seemed to have been invaded by some species of underground rodent - umpteen thousands of them - little pale conical mounds from 1-5 metres in height as far as the eye could see! This was one of the outlying opal fields of Coober Pedy - which is supposed to mean "White man in hole" translated from Aboriginal. It really must be the weirdest place in Australia. The Underground B&B we had booked was very highly recommended in tripadvisor.com, but you'd never stay here if you were choosing accommodation on outside appearance. Like many homes in Coober Pedy it looked like a couple of sheds against a dusty cliff among piles of rubble on a very dusty treeless road. Inside, our accommodation was spacious, luxurious and tastefully appointed with everything you'd expect in a luxury hotel. The bedrooms were excavated well into the cliff so that with the door closed it was hard to tell whether it was morning yet. John found this a bit disconcerting, but it was perfectly silent and dark - ideal sleeping conditions. Our bedroom opened onto a beautiful, large sitting room with enormous TV, and this in turn to an open-to the air living space which had a large, fully appointed kitchen attached. All the spaces but our bedroom were potentially to be shared with the occupants of a second bedroom, but it was all ours! We loved it so much we stayed an extra night, which gave John a chance to rest and get over his cold. We loved sitting out in the sun to eat our breakfasts, and made good use of the free bottle of wine and lovely home-laid eggs our hostess provided. John was able to watch Hawthorn triumph (again) on the biggest of our 3 TVs, and of all the places we've stayed, the wifi was not only "free", but actually worked - really well! As accommodation was fabulous and John didn't feel so well, we stayed an extra day and did lots of washing which dried quickly in the warm sun.
We had dinners at the Greek cafe and at John's. Like a lot of places here, neither of them looked up to much from the outside, but the food was pretty good. We went down the "Old Timers Mine" and quickly discovered why we had to wear hard hats! The Old Timers Mine included the long-term underground home of one of the old timers. We also met and went to visit Yurgen and Gabbie - modern opal miners, in their underground home. Extensions are just a matter of digging further into the cliff. Of course you occasionally run into an old mine shaft or something. We are told that only about 16 miners still operate at Coober Pedy, all of them over 60. "Coober Pedy" is supposed to be aboriginal for 'White man in hole".

Posted by Farhorizons 22:34 Archived in Australia Tagged hinchinbrookandcentre Comments (0)

17: Big Rock

Alice Springs to Yulara

sunny 19 °C
View Hinchinbrook and Centre on Farhorizons's travel map.

Henbury Metorite Craters (Ernest Giles Rd)

Henbury Metorite Craters (Ernest Giles Rd)

Ernest Giles Road and Allocasuarinas

Ernest Giles Road and Allocasuarinas

Mt Connor from the Lasseter Hwy

Mt Connor from the Lasseter Hwy

Uluru Cultural Centre

Uluru Cultural Centre

Uluru, trusty Subaru and John

Uluru, trusty Subaru and John

Corny and it takes a bit of elbow jostling!

Corny and it takes a bit of elbow jostling!


Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) at dawn

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) at dawn

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk, Kata Tjuta

Valley of the Winds walk

Valley of the Winds walk

Cave on Mala walk at Uluru

Cave on Mala walk at Uluru

Kantju Gorge, Uluru

Kantju Gorge, Uluru

John has got the colours right! Uluru

John has got the colours right! Uluru


We had hoped to get to Yulara from Alice via King's Canyon as it's another of those places you have to see if possible. Advice was mixed about the Mereenie Loop route and it would have made the trip about 9 hours with no sight-seeing time, so we reluctantly decided to miss it. About 100k south of Alice we turned off the Stuart Hwy on to Ernest Giles Road to see the Henbury Meteorite Craters. The meteorite broke up and fell about 4,000 years ago and the craters are very clearly delineated still. The dry desert climate I guess. We had come 10k along Ernest Giles Rd, and it seemed pretty good for a dirt road, given that it hasn't rained for a while and the ruts are smoothed over by traffic. You'd probably prefer not to drive it when the mud is soft though. Anyway, we decided to keep going along it rather than go back to the Stuart Hwy - only another 90k. It was a good drive and we felt very adventurous, although Jane the GPS kept appealing to us to turn back until we were more than half way along! We stopped along the way to boil the billy and have a lunch of Vita-wheats and tuna. The atmosphere was slightly spoiled by encountering the only other travellers from the ACT for the whole trip so far.
The vegetation changed quite dramatically about half way along the red dirt road. Allocasuarinas of varying stages of maturity gave a very prehistoric look to the landscape.
Eventually we met the Luritja Road and headed south towards Yulara and not north towards King's Canyon (sigh). The day was wearing on as we joined the Lasseter Hwy, the main road to Yulara and Uluru, and like a lot of travellers before us no doubt, we were distracted by Mt Connor looming to the south. The Big Rock isn't the only thing which stands out in the landscape out here. The landscape continued as red as it is supposed to, but wasn't as flat as I had expected. Scrub-covered sand hills make it hard to spot anything in the distance, including Uluru and Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas)
At Yulara, we almost checked into the posh "Sails in the Desert" before realising that we should be at the more down-market "Pioneer Hotel". There is nowhere but Yulara to stay for hundreds of miles around, and even the cheapest accom. is very expensive - ours was $275 per night and you have to book well ahead even so. This rock better be good!
We had time to pay the park fee and drive in to the Cultural Centre near Uluru itself. The Centre is very well done we thought, with lots of explanation of the cultural significance of the place and the local flora and fauna. We drove around to the Kuniya carpark and walked right into the waterhole - very atmospheric in the late afternoon and I must say the famous monolith is pretty spectacular close up. On the way back to Yulara we stopped at the "Sunset car park" to take the iconic photos - along with dozens of others all lined up beside the road (sigh).
The Bough Restaurant at our hotel did a pretty good dinner featuring some of the local wildlife and vegetation but with a free dessert buffet which was not such a good idea.
Next morning we arose in the dark to drive the 50k out to see Kata Tjuta by sunrise. We climbed the sand dune and found a smaller crowd of photographers gathered than last night. Everything is purple and blue in the soft dawn light.
At Kata Tjuta we set out on the "Valley of the Winds" walk. What can I say? We think it ranks near the top of half-day walks in the country. The Olgas are arguably more spectacular than Uluru itself, especially as you can walk right into and through them. The view of and from the gorges is breath-taking, and the walk long enough that at times you feel that there's nobody else there. We loved it.
Back at our hotel we were told that we'd need to change rooms as they needed to work on ours. In return we got a free bottle of bubbly and breakfast for tomorrow. Actually our new room was better. The TV worked and the outlook was more peaceful.
By the time we got back into action it was too late to hire bikes to ride around the big rock. Instead, we drove around it again and did the Mala walk into Kantju Gorge, with rock paintings and interesting caves, but we felt no urge to join the crowds taking sunset photos.
Dinner was at the same restaurant again pretty noisy tonight.
All in all, you HAVE to go there, but Uluru or Ayer's Rock seems a pretty much over-loved icon.

Posted by Farhorizons 21:49 Archived in Australia Tagged hinchinbrookandcentre Comments (2)

16: Alice

Tennant Creek to Alice Springs

sunny 22 °C
View Hinchinbrook and Centre on Farhorizons's travel map.

A couple of Devil's Marbles

A couple of Devil's Marbles

John at Devil's Marbles

John at Devil's Marbles

Some of the Devil's Marbles

Some of the Devil's Marbles

At Devil's Marbles

At Devil's Marbles

Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station

Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station

Hopeful Pied Butcherbirds at cafe of Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station

Hopeful Pied Butcherbirds at cafe of Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station

In Alice Springs Desert Park

In Alice Springs Desert Park

Obligingly posed exhibit at Alice Springs Desert Park

Obligingly posed exhibit at Alice Springs Desert Park

We left Tennant Creek bright and early and about 90k south we came to the Devil's Marbles, another of those well-known outback sights we're seeing for the first time. The big boulders did look pretty spectacular in the sunny morning light and we got carried away taking photos. The campground here gave spectacular views and banned generators so would be peaceful - we noted for future reference.
I was expecting the road to Alice to be more deserty than it is. The vegetation continued scrubby and the terrain flattish, the Stuart Highway unfenced with cattle grids and signs warning of wandering cattle. Not everyone had taken notice and there were more dead cattle than wildlife by the road, in one place four together. By mid-afternoon we could see the MacDonnell Ranges ahead, and the drive into Alice Springs took us close to rocky multicoloured ridges,
Jane the GPS took us by a strangely circuitous route through the town to our accommodation at the Quest Apartments - ranked no.1 in Tripadvisor.com. The apartments were very comfortable, and even provided ground coffee and plunger! The only downside was the shade bars across the windows which partly blocked our view of the Todd River - which was dry as usual. Following Tripadvisor again, we had dinner across the river at Hanuman Restaurant in the Hilton. The advice was good. We loved having good Thai again - in fact we'd rank it higher than any of the Thai in Coolo!
Katy had told us to stay 2 days in Alice. We had given it 2 nights, but she was right, it really needed another day. In the morning we went to the Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station with exhibits of the ingenious devices they used to survive and travel out there in the nineteenth century, and stories of aboriginal and early european occupants. Until 1933 the town itself was known as Stuart, I confess I was more fascinated to find a whole squabbling family of Grey-crowned Babblers, not to mention Ringneck Parrots careering around. Next we drove the 2.5k south to the Alice Springs Desert Park. This is a really well thought out and well presented wildlife park with the spectacular backdrop of the MacDonnell Ranges. We hiked for a couple of kilometers in the growing heat of the day through the Desert Rivers, Sand Country and Woodland environments, occasionally coming to exhibits of various birds, mammals and lizards. While I'd have preferred to see them in the wild, we saw White-winged Fairy Wrens, Banded Lapwings and many others, the best fun being the well-named Chiming Wedgebill. This little guy had discovered the point in his enclosure with the best acoustics, and sat there emitting peals which rang so loudly that you could hear them all around the Sand Country habitat. The Nocturnal House was brilliant. Once our eyes had become accustomed to the semi-dark, we could see Bilbys, Bettongs, Mala, Phascogales and Quolls scuttling around, and many snakes, lizards and even bats, all in their separate enclosures. I also saw Variegated Fairy Wren and Western Bowerbirds unenclosed.
We had a look around town in the afternoon and were sad that we wouldn't have time to drive or hike out in the MacDonnell Ranges. Maybe next time. We couldn't resist dinner at the Hanuman Restaurant again.

Posted by Farhorizons 19:44 Archived in Australia Tagged hinchinbrookandcentre Comments (0)

15: Famous mines and Overland Telegraph

Cloncurry to Tennant Creek

sunny 25 °C
View Hinchinbrook and Centre on Farhorizons's travel map.

Gate at Clem Walton Park on Corella River

Gate at Clem Walton Park on Corella River

Water tank above campsite at Clem Walton Park

Water tank above campsite at Clem Walton Park

Outside our room at Camooweal Pub

Outside our room at Camooweal Pub

[Overland Telegraph Station, Tennant Creek

Overland Telegraph Station, Tennant Creek

Trainee tour guide at Tennant Creek Overland Telegraph Station

Trainee tour guide at Tennant Creek Overland Telegraph Station

Telegraph Station

Telegraph Station

Comfortable room at Tennant Creek

Comfortable room at Tennant Creek

This post can cover two over night stops.
We slept reasonably well at the unpretentious Wagon Wheel Motel in Cloncurry and before leaving town we visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum where you learn all about Flynn, pedal radios and School of the Air. We left Cloncurry by about 10.30. We had been told that the scenery between Cloncurry and Mount Isa was quite beautiful, and indeed it was as picturesque as any we have seen on this trip, largely due to the ore-rich, multi-coloured hills and rocky outcrops. We couldn't resist a side trip to the abandoned and deserted site of the Mary Kathleen township. These days it's just an isolated campsite with incongruously elaborate kerbing. We also checked out the Clem Walton Park on the Corella River. Tourist Info at Cloncurry had told us it was a great place to camp if you were pretty self-sufficient and keen on birds. It was much more "outback" than the name It was all true.
We stopped for lunch in Mount Isa, at the Buffs Club on a local tip. Lunch took longer than we'd have liked, having become unaccustomed to queueing. Apart from having the biggest mullock heap I've yet seen, Mt Isa seemed to have little of interest. Anyway, we had booked the night in Camooweal near the NT border. Camooweal is technically a suburb of Mt Isa, and the 188k stretch of the Barkly Highway between them is said to be the longest main street in the world. Camooweal sure feels like an isolated tiny one-pub outback town with nothing in every direction though, and our accommodation was in the pub itself, the Post Office Hotel/Motel.
Since we had time before dinner, we drove across the almost dry Georgina River and down the dirt track to the water holes. This would be the place to stay if you were camping, and we chatted with a few grey nomads who were sitting outside their vans enjoying the peaceful evening. I was pleased to spot Yellow-billed Spoonbills and Pink-eared Duck among the birdlife there.
The dinner at the pub was delicious - the best stuffed capsicum ever. The accommodation, while only $85 per night, was pretty forgettable though. While we were OK sharing the bathroom with the 2 or 3 other travellers, the rooms had the thinnest walls ever, and high internal windows with no blinds. It was Saturday night. Say no more.
As early as we could get away, we got out of Camooweal and crossed the NT border headed for Tennant Creek. The country remained flattish, scrubby, and the day warm. At Three-Ways Roadhouse we stopped heading west, and turned south on to the Stuart Highway.
Just before the modern town of Tennant Creek we came to the historic telegraph station, an oasis on a long hot trip for many a dusty traveller from the 1860s to about the 1930s and still an atmospheric place.
Our large, comfortable, octagonal shaped room at the Bluestone Motor Inn seemed like an oasis to us after the previous night, and dinner there was pretty good too. Zzzzz

Posted by Farhorizons 02:59 Archived in Australia Tagged hinchinbrookandcentre Comments (0)

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