2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 2 – Alice Springs to the Bungle Bungles

Tuesday, Oct 29, 2002 at 21:38


The first part of the Tanami Track was easy - single lane bitumen with very little traffic. Then came wide gravel, loose and corrugated but we covered it at around 80 -90 kph without discomfort. We fuelled up at the first opportunity, paying $1.30 per litre, 30% higher than in Alice,

At one point John came to an abrupt halt, quickly reversed then leapt out of Troopy clutching the camera. He had somehow spotted a tiny Thorny Devil in the dust on the road. It sat totally still while we examined and photographed it, scarcely believing our good fortune. Then we were pressing on again, raising huge clouds of dust. Oncoming traffic sent up clouds hundreds of feet into the air, so there was plenty of warning of their approach. On this track there seemed to be very few road kills ( 'roos) as the traffic is so light - we encountered only about 6 cars, a bus and a couple of road trains (one a huge 4 tank Shell tanker) all day. But at one road kill we saw 7 wedge tailed eagles sharing the carcass!

About 45 km out of Tilmouth Roadhouse we stopped to examine some boulder covered outcrops said to resemble the Devil's Marbles near Tennant Ck, before moving on again in search of a campsite recommended in the ExploOz track notes, about 60 km from Tilmouth. (We later learned that Tilmouth offered excellent and inexpensive overnight facilities.) We found the recommended site - a track leading a few km into Mt Doreen Station, past old abandoned sheds and habitations, including one very well constructed hut built from local stone – but the roof was long gone.

We followed a barely discernable track up the hillside to abandoned diggings where a cleared area provided a good, if rocky, campsite overlooking the surrounding plain with a 180 degree view to a distant range of impressive hills. Apart from a few cattle making their way (presumably) to a watering point, we seemed very alone. It was a beautiful spot, and we noted that, in spite of our elevated site, there would be no humans but us to see our camp fire - this must be the most remote camp site we have ever had ... and it felt so good!

In the morning we spent some time exploring the mine area. There were open shafts and drives and the remains of some headgear made of rough local timber. Much of the hill seemed to have been dug over. Further down the hill we examined the old stone building and further on the remains of a big workshop area where a lot of old equipment including trucks, skips, pumps etc had been left. There were remains of what appeared to be living quarters with kerosene fridges, fuel stoves and bedframes.

Back onto the main road we passed two graders working together and making a huge improvement to road conditions. Further along the road we were flagged down by a small group of aborigines including 2 women and a small boy. They said they had no petrol and that they had been there for 2 days. We weren’t inclined to give them petrol, even if we had any other than what was in the vehicle tanks (which we didn’t) but we gave them a loaf of bread, a bottle of water and a few apples. The bread ended up being dropped in the dust, but they did thank us very politely. We weren’t sure that we weren’t being “had” – but then we weren’t sure either about what the right thing to do might be in such a situation.

Further on we pulled into a roadside stop and were joined by another couple who had passed us while we were talking to the aboriginal group. They had passed several such groups before Mt. Doreen and were rather wary. They suggested that we might camp together tonight which we readily agreed to.

The country around here is fairly uninteresting as it is mainly flat with just the occasional stump of a hill. A few wattles are out but there are very few other wildflowers. Where there are hills there are or have been mines. We drove up to Quartz Ridge that is just past The Granites mine. The Granites appears to be a large operation with a large plane on the airstrip – but it is not open to visitors. The Quartz Ridge is aptly named being quartz rocks covered with spinifex and a few small tough eucalypts. From it we could look across a huge flat landscape covered with low scrub and spinifex. We glimpsed a mouse sized animal running between spinifex clumps. A lot of the country here has been burnt and as we traveled we passed close to big fires sending up huge plumes of black smoke.

The country near Rabbit Flat was flat and open but we managed to find a shallow quarry area just off the road, which provided a reasonable campsite. Here we set up camp with Barry and Jo who are from Terrigal. We collected a lot of dry acacia sticks (there was no wood to be had) and had an enjoyable evening around the fire. As we set up camp we became aware of a fire front a few kilometres away and burning pretty fiercely. By the time we turned in it had died down considerably, so although the flames looked spectacular we decided that it didn’t pose any threat to us.

In the morning we made an early start and headed into Rabbit Flat Roadhouse, said to be one of the most remote roadhouses in Australia. Petrol there cost $1.55/l, and the pumps had signs warning drivers to check the price before filling up, as the price shown was for HALF a litre. The roadhouse is run by a French woman and her Aussie husband who have lived there for over 30 years. It was intriguing to talk with her and hear such a strong French accent after all that time. [ See comments by Marc in the follow-up below. He refers to the closure of the roadhouse at the end of 2010.]

The road here is variable in condition; some stretches are good while others are very corrugated. The country is still flat with not much visibility outwards as the scrub grows up to the edge of the road. There are lots of bright red grevilleas that add a splash of colour, and at one stop we tasted desert tomatoes but they were very bitter (we latter learnt that only some are edible). We are now seeing large numbers of termite mounds, some small and some up to 2 or 3 metres high.

Past the WA border the road was very good until the Balgo turn-off when it became heavily corrugated. There is some evidence of wet areas not long dried up. Near Billiluna there was a wide watercourse area with white gums and green grass – very pleasant looking. [See comments by Marc in follow-up below]

Our sense of time is now out of kilter having crossed the WA border and put our watches back 2 hours. It’s hard to know when mealtimes should be, and as is also too hot to eat much, we are snacking and drinking lots of water. So it was sometime after lunchtime when we reached the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater which is reached via a very corrugated road. The crater stands up from the plains like a big flat topped hill. The walk up to the rim on a roughly made track is not difficult although the slopes are rocky. The rocks really stand out as the area has been recently burnt, as has the floor of the crater. The crater is thought to be about 300,000 years old. The floor of the crater is now about 20m below the floor of the plain, although it was once much deeper but has since partially filled with sediment washed in from the crater walls. The center of the crater is a salt depression covered with salt tolerant plants.

We arrived at the rim with 2 cameras, only to find that one of them had lost the nut which holds on the carry strap. It is inside the camera meaning that we can’t use it as there is a risk of it jamming in the winding mechanism. Put that down to corrugations. We are very thankful that we have a spare camera and that the lenses are interchangeable.

Back at the carpark we had a final chat with Jo and Barry and then headed back to the main road along the corrugations. On reaching the main road we found that the brackets of the roof rack carrying the second spare wheel was broken through. We have no option other than to put the wheel into the back of Troopy, on the bed and hope that we can get the brackets welded up in Halls Creek.

As we came closer to Halls Creek the country suddenly changed from plains to hills and quite a few cattle are about. We found an attractive little creek with a convenient shingle beach that made an excellent campsite for these hot and tired travelers. The water is too cool for a swim, but a sponge down was very refreshing. We were in bed by 6.30 local time!

We had a reasonable sleep despite being woken early by a large truck crossing the creek. After a leisurely pack up we drove into Hall’s Creek where we filled up with petrol and found someone who could weld up the racks. He added more steel to strengthen them but charged a hefty $99. We then found a phone and were lucky to find everyone at home.

While we were on the phone we noticed that Troopy was leaking coolant -–a bright green stream running into the gutter. So it was back to the repair business that happened to be the Toyota agency, but all they could do was provide a bottle of sealant for a temporary fix. They didn’t have a petrol radiator in stock – they don’t see many petrol Troopies - which was probably just as well as their charging seemed pretty high. Nor would they provide water so that we could flush the radiator as required before the sealant went in.

Finding water in this town was a bit tricky, as water seems to be regarded like gold. Eventually the place where we bought petrol was very helpful and allowed us to go around the back of the garage where there was a tap and work there. So we spent the next couple of hours finding the plug in the bottom of the radiator then flushing and refilling it. The day was hot and the surroundings less than congenial, but we got the job done. By this time it was after lunch, too late to set out for the Bungle Bungles, and anyway we were rather tired and dispirited. So we headed north until we found a side road beside a creek. There are lots of very noisy corellas but despite that we spent a quiet afternoon, catching up on washing, getting some order back into Troopy and taking photos.

We shared our camp with two road trains which might have been part of a water drilling plant and water tanks. There was very little traffic so it was quiet after the corellas went to bed. We turned in early too. The departing trucks got us up early in the morning.

Troopy’s radiator leak seemed to be OK so we headed for the Bungles. Up the road a bit we stopped in some excitement to photograph boabs growing along a creek, the first we’d seen. They are an amazing sight. There is less burned country here – mainly pastoral land. The road into the Bungles is about 53 km, and said to be rough. (There is a good camp area just south of the turnoff from the highway – we learned later that this is commonly used by caravanners who leave their vans there, one staying to babysit the vans while the others take their 4WD’s in to the Bungles).

Signs require drivers to engage 4 wheel drive from the start. The road is indeed rough! Corrugated in places, narrow, steep pinches, large rocks and several creek crossings up to 600 mm deep. The signs suggested allowing 3 hours for the 53 km although we did it in under 2 without hurrying. The road inside the park beyond the visitors centre is better, though corrugated and there are still considerable distances to be covered. We checked in to the park HQ and met some of the volunteer camp supervisors who suggested where to go at particular times of day. At the campground we had a good choice of shady sites and there are good pit toilets and water, plus communal fireplaces.

After an early lunch we headed into the southern section of the park to see the “domes”. On the way down we stopped at a cluster beside the road and walked around for a closer look. As we approach the scenery changes from massive angular cliffs and ridges to the rounded shapes familiar from tourist brochures. Then the domes come into view – there are so many of them fringing the base of the main massif. Holly leafed grevilleas covered with red flowers and wattles add to the scene.

There are 2 walks, to the Cathedral Gorge and the Domes. The Gorge walk follows a creek bed with occasional pools of water and deep rounded holes, especially where there are waterfalls when it rains, gouging out the rock. The path eventually comes to a large amphitheatre half domed over with rock, with a pool and sandy floor, and looong echoes!. Much of this walk is in shade in the gorge, so is pleasantly cool. We returned to the car park by the domes path, which loops around the base of some of the domes. The colour banding shows up clearly and the domes have a surprising amount of grass and small shrubs growing on them. There are also numerous grey termite mounds, some right at the top of the domes. The scene is very hard to describe as the domes are all around and all shapes and sizes – they dominate the senses to an extent where comparisons and similarities with familiar structures and forms just don’t register. On our walk we met up with Elsie and Ian, whom we had met previously at Wolfe Creek Crater. Together we went back to the lookout near the visitor’s centre to watch the sunset on the massif. The colours of the sandstone changed from bright orange through red to purple as the sun sank. Back to camp after dark. Today we reckoned that Troopy had gone well – no leaks. Fortunately we couldn’t see into the future!
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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