2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 1 – Canberra to Alice Springs

Thursday, Oct 24, 2002 at 19:39


Our trip in 2001 to The Red Centre was so enjoyable that we were determined to do more trips, and to go even further afield. Thus enthused we planned a two month adventure taking in Kakadu and the Kimberley and all manner of places in between. Our guide in this pre-GPS era was a national roads atlas and some Hema and Westprint maps of specific areas. We borrowed an extra SLR film camera from our son the better to record our adventures. Troopy’s set up for last year’s trip had worked pretty well but we devised a different system of roof bars to carry a second spare tyre.

So with house-sitter installed and after the usual flurry of packing, squeezing, sorting and repacking we set out in early June 2002. Our intention was to travel fairly quickly over the first stage of the trip, to Alice Springs, since this was almost "familiar" territory. We have no firm itinerary and will find a camp wherever we are each day about 4pm. So in fine and cool weather we headed west via Jugiong, Cootamundra and Temora to Cocoparra National Park (NP), which is NE of Griffith. Signs suggested a camping area, but we could not find it, so we spent the night at a picnic area – with no company except for a good fire. Before the sun set we took a short walk through uninspiring trees, mainly cypress and mallees, and much rock. When night fell it was very cold.

Next morning we went down to Griffith for petrol, fruit (being a fruitfly exclusion area we carried no fruit and veg), and a sharp knife (the first essential to be not packed!), then down to Darlington Point, then west. We lunched beside the Murrumbidgee River on the outskirts of Hay. The river was fairly clear, with lots of beautiful big river red gums. Then on to Balranald where we stopped at the "I" and were nearly persuaded to go up to Lake Mungo instead of further downriver. We were hoping to camp in the Hattah Wackerie NP or its equivalent on the NSW side of the river, but by he time we reached Robinvale we were tired and a riverside van park looked inviting. We set up camp and walked along the River Murray, which here is over 100m wide. We heated up our final prepared meal and ate it watching the sunset reflected on the river. We had a welcome shower in the very good amenities block, talked to other travellers before settling down for the night.

In the morning there was a spectacular sunrise over the river. There were ducks and pelicans fishing and a few small fish jumping. A light breeze had come up during the night, but not enough to necessitate taking the tent down. Cloud is building up and it is quite cool. Checked out the roof rack, which had developed an annoying rattle and found one section badly cracked. After leaving the van park we found a very cooperative welder who repaired and strengthened the brackets, though the job took most of the morning.

We were back on the road just before lunch and headed for Mildura - we didn’t stop except to buy fruit at roadside stalls. Then on through intensive agricultural country - vines and citrus around the towns and vast wheat areas east of Mildura, towards Renmark in South Australia. Just before Renmark we had to stop to declare fruit at a SA fruit fly checking station. Their rules weren’t what we expected and we lost the mandarins and grapes bought earlier in the day, plus onions and garlic. Rather annoying that, despite researching the situation we were still caught out. In Berri we stocked up again - surely we are past all the checkpoints now.

We had just about decided to find another small riverside caravan park when we saw a sign indicating a National Park - after some searching we found the Murray River NP with "campsites" down a creekline to the river, down a freshly graded loose sandy road. We selected our site beside a billabong - it has a barbecue and there is wood. Not far across the river are houses and orchards but otherwise we could be miles from anywhere. It's quite wild and the fire is good and cheerful.

It's been something of a mixed day, better to get Troopy right before we go into remote places, and we have been fortunate in having the support of helpful people. The new battery regulator has got very hot due to being situated not far from Troopy's exhaust manifold, but the fridge is working well.

From the Murray River NP we headed west to Waikerie, then NW to Morgan through vast areas of grapes, many still on the vines though dried out. Are these are destined to feed the big distillery we passed at Berri? There were also huge areas ploughed for wheat, the loose soil blowing away in the rising wind. We had glimpses of the river and houseboats near Morgan. On to Burra, then we headed west towards Port Pirie before going north to Port Germien, where we walked the length of the 1500m jetty, once a busy venue for sailing ships. Shortly after, a front came through and high winds made for difficult driving. (We later learned that the winds did a fair amount of damage around Adelaide.) We reached Port Augusta and booked into the caravan park before tackling a huge meal of fish and chips and luxurious showers.

Next morning we were on the road about 9 and headed out along the highway for 25km - until we discovered that we were heading for Perth! Somehow we had missed the Stuart Highway turn-off that was just around the corner from the caravan park.

A long drive ahead – there was still some wind but much better going today although the road and cloudy sky were eerily glary. There was quite a bit of traffic, including 3-trailer road trains. We saw a few wedgies beside the road. Into Cooper Pedy about 4 – we eventually found a sheltered spot in the caravan park so we could put the tent up. Had a short walk through Cooper Pedy suburbia – lawns here are definitely out of favour. Showers here are 20c for 3 minutes.

We are sleeping better as we get accustomed to travelling. Wind, which had been a problem, dropped after dark and left behind quite a cool night. We entertained ourselves keeping warm in the tent and making up silly stories. Come morning, many of the vans had gone by the time we got up and although we didn't dawdle we seemed to be among the last to leave. Maybe the vans get going early in order to get a good site at the next stop? We called in at the shops, which were due to open at 9 o’clock but they were shut, so had a walk to see the local "sights" until they eventually opened. Bought food and a pack of cards for evening entertainment.

Then headed off for another look at the Breakaways. It was much drier than when we last saw them in September last year, but intermittent cloud today helped to exaggerate the colour contrasts. A truly fantastic landscape - from near white through yellows and oranges to browns and almost black, weirdly shaped hills, gibbers hard with brittle "tinkling", the "soil" soft and fluffy so we sank into it an inch or two. Took numerous photos to try to capture the awesomeness of the place. Regrettably, the appeal is being diminished by off road drivers who need to drive off the tracks across this very fragile landscape.

On to Erldunda, over lots of not very interesting country - much drier than when we were here in spring - no wildflowers, just long stretches of saltbush, then a few km of stunted scrub, then back to saltbush and gibbers etc for hundreds of km. There are plenty of wedgies about though. The occasional hill or mountain breaking the skyline is a welcome change of scene - interesting how quickly we lose our wonder of new experience and it becomes dulled by familiarity.

Erldunda is busy with travelers, mostly grey nomads - not many 4WD's, maybe because of a stopoff point a few km north which was well populated with them. Have to wonder at the way some people travel – we spoke to one woman who seemed to have very little idea of what there was to see - my mention of the Olgas, the Kimberly etc drew blank looks, yet they were planning to be on the road for 3 months, never having done anything like it before.

The country was much more interesting north of Erldunda, with ranges of hills of all shapes and sizes. There were large burned areas.

We went into the Henbury meteorite craters, about 15 km off the highway on a reasonable, though corrugated road. There are 12 craters in all, 4 in a cluster and 2 or 3 more identifiable. The others were too small for us to spot. The meteorite that made them is said to have been about the size of a 44 gallon drum, the craters being formed in under 1 second. The biggest crater was maybe 15 - 20 ft deep and rock strata in the rim ran in all directions, suggesting massive forces. There is a basic campground there but we didn't stay. Spent some time chatting to Mike and Margaret from Qld and swapping notes about our respective camping setups. Then on to Alice with the country becoming even more rugged.

We were able to check into the caravan park early enough to get washing done and dry before dark. We spent a while at the date farm near the CP and saw some dates on the trees, but at $10 per kg we didn't buy any! The CP was pretty busy - we spent the evening around a big fire chatting with 2 couples from Tasmania. After a cold night, we were up late in the morning. Alice Springs is a planned stopping point for a whole day!

It’s useful to have a rest day after travelling for a while. It provides an opportunity to sort out any niggling problems and purchase any essential items that didn’t get packed. So we did some reorganising of gear in the morning and discovering the cause of a nonfunctioning gas jet in the stove. We went shopping for food and a replacement gas jet, then on to the Telegraph Station museum.

The Telegraph Station site covers a large area, and the buildings have been well restored after a series of uses, including housing of part aboriginal children. Unfortunately other exhibits are poorly restored or displayed, or signage is poor. Locked glass doors restrict viewing of the residences and the telegraph equipment can only be seen through a window some 12 ft away. We walked down to the pools of water in the dry river (the original Alice springs) then up to a trig point and historic graves. From that vantage point we could gaze north west to where the next stage of our adventure would take us.

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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