Cape York via Simpson Desert 6 June 2015 – Day 5

Sunday, Jun 07, 2015 at 18:29

Peter Beard (WA)

We are unexpectedly in Alice Springs. Our chance visit is the result of a steering failure that could have been catastrophic, but fortunately wasn't.

We had a great night camped next to Mount Fraser. A herd of cows visited us while we were having breakfast, looking warily at the car and the people as they wandered by. They finally took fright at my apparently threatening movement towards the car with a shovel in my hand and bolted off into the scrub. Packing was much more efficient this morning, it took us just on an hour to have tea and a muesli bar, pack the tent and clean up the detritus of camping overnight in the middle of nowhere.



The rocky hills were still with us on the corrugated track heading east. Mount Cuthbert an amazing red/black rocky ridge among many of these incredible rock outcrops.

The track went north to Mulga Park station then back south towards the NT/SA border and an intersection giving us the option to go left to the Lassiter Highway and Uluru or right to the Stuart Highway and Kulgera. We turned right, looking forward to the bitumen and a coffee at Kulgera. Traffic was very sparse, two 4WDs heading east in convoy, one towing a trailer and a sedan a bit later also heading east.



The corrugations on the NT side of the Gunbarrel Highway are fairly punishing, especially on the bends where they ripple like ocean waves to a peak at the apex then slowly subside back to a gentle swell. It was in these conditions that Pete felt the steering wheel go slack, quickly pulling over to the side of the track. The tyres were fine, a survey under the front end revealed the problem - the steering arm on the passenger side was loose, one stud sheared off. We did the calculations in our heads - 60 km to the highway, another 20 to Kulgera. If it is terminal at least it is not too far for a recovery. So out with the tools, jack off the roof rack and off with the front wheel for a proper inspection. The three remaining bolts were very loose but easily tightened with a spanner. The fourth bolt completely gone, the stud sheared off and still in the hole. Pete checked the driver side in case of collateral damage but that was fine so we put the wheel back on, packed up and slowly made our way to the highway.

Corrugations at 50km/h are not fun, Pete nurtured the left front through as much sand as possible but it was a bumpy trip. Every kilometre closer to the highway was a bonus, less hassle for a recovery if it all turns bad. Our plan of attack was: if the bolts are still tight when we reach the bitumen we'll head up to Alice Springs trusting the smoother highway to keep the front end intact. That gives us access to parts, engineering shops, good accommodation and comfortable living. If they are loose, we will limp up to Kulgera and wait for parts to be sent, hoping there is nothing too difficult to deal with without access to services and also hoping the ablutions are OK. Just over an hour later we had the answer. All tight! Alice Springs it is!

A fuel and coffee stop at Kulgera; it was packed. A bus load of people plus a queue of cars, caravans and bikes with only two diesel pumps working. Complete chaos for the poor guys serving inside. They wouldn’t reset the pumps unless they had your credit card and the shop was so busy you had to stand in the queue just to hand over your credit card so they would turn on the pumps. Meanwhile the fuel queue got longer and longer. It took nearly three quarters of an hour to complete our two tasks but soon we were heading north to the Alice.



It was a straightforward trip, one stop at Erldunda to pump up the tyres (we forgot at Kulgera) and to book a Quest apartment, then just a highway drive north. The main traffic on the highway was a steady stream of off road bikes heading south and huge three trailer trucks also thundering south. Actually, the first vehicle we saw when we pulled off the dirt and on to the highway south of Kulgera was a semi with two long trailers full of smashed and squashed cars. We laughed and decided to NOT add them to our tally. They are already heading to Korea to be turned into Hyundais.

We made it to Alice Springs in time to get to Supercheap for grease and degreaser, learning from the bloke behind the counter that it is a long weekend here so looks like no parts until Tuesday - nothing open for a couple of days. On the plus side, we also found the reason for the multitude of bikes on the highway. The Finke Desert Race is on this weekend. Perfect timing! We can enjoy the races then get back to the business of fixing the car and crossing the Simpson. Serendipity is a fantastic travel guide!

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