Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 3 : Yulara to Warburton

Monday, Dec 03, 2012 at 20:29

Member - John and Val

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Our progress west from Yulara was predictably slow at first. A few photo stops were required to record that we had passed Uluru and particularly scenic Kata Tjuta. We may have had just a twinge of regret that we weren’t staying for a closer look, but we have seen both at close quarters on previous trips. But we did spend a while at the big Kata Tjuta viewing platform that gives such a wonderful view of the domes. And we stopped briefly at the entrance to the National Park where our permits were checked.

And then we were off the bitumen. While John reduced the tyre pressure Val had time to look around. The view of KJ from an unsealed road seemed more authentic somehow, and the big camel prints right where we pulled up reminded us to keep a sharp eye out for big beasts lurking beside the road.

This first section of the wide road was quite corrugated, although there were a few better places where the road surface had been gravelled. There was very little traffic, just a couple of police vehicles travelling fast.

The country through which we were passing was mostly red sand tumbled into small dunes and covered with sparse vegetation, mainly spinifex and low growing acacias. There were not many trees for shade. Come lunchtime we managed to find a desert oak throwing a small shadow onto the side of the road, though the steeply sloping edges of the road prevented us from making full use of its shade. There were a few hills to add interest to the landscape.

Approaching Lasseter’s Cave there were more hills and bigger gum trees especially along the creek lines. The road became narrower with more bends. We missed the turn-off to Lasseter’s Cave and once the road straightened out we attempted to turn around. With Troopy’s enormous turning circle it was necessary to leave the gravel and go over the slight bank left by the grader onto a bare patch of firm looking creek sand. Big mistake! That innocuous looking sand was very soft and the rear wheels were soon well down in it. So, out we tumbled into the hot sun. Let the tyres down and try to drive out – we just dug ourselves in deeper. Take out the shovel and start removing sand from in front of the wheels … it was at this point that a passing vehicle stopped and offered to snatch us out, an offer quickly accepted. First though we needed to remove the trailer so we could be snatched backwards onto the road. We have travelled lots in desert sand and were feeling rather foolish at having become so easily bogged. Our rescuer was a 4WD instructor from Alice and we owe him a big thank you, especially for refraining from “rubbing our noses in it”!

Once Troopy was back on the road we reattached the trailer and headed back towards Lasseter’s Cave. As an aside, some weeks after we got home we noticed that the shovel was missing from its normal spot in the hollow cross member behind the bull-bar. We’re pretty sure that in our haste to get mobile again we left it sticking in the sand.

Lasseter’s Cave was just a short walk from a car park about one kilometre off the main road. The track to the cave follows a dry sandy creekbed with plenty of gums, but it was hot out of the shade. The cave itself turned out to be rather small – high enough to stand up in but not very deep. Not somewhere to spend nearly a month hoping for help to arrive.



Back on the road we continued through the Peterman Ranges. This was very attractive country, with rugged hills, many stands of desert oaks and plenty of gum trees including some ghost gums. Once over the WA border the road improved considerably. The border itself was marked with a plethora of signs, including signs advising of the need to be careful with the storage of petrol. We were running on Opal, but to make ourselves doubly secure we stopped and emptied the two jerries into the tanks.











Close to Warakurna we saw a large group of camels that sauntered off the road as we approached. We arrived at Warakurna campground with plenty of daylight left and time to have a good chat with some of the dozen or so travellers there. The campground facilities are basic but clean, and there is a big communal firepit where we joined others after dinner.





The next morning after packing up we drove over to the Met Station for a guided tour and to see a weather balloon launched, something that happens twice a day, every day of the year. While we were waiting for the tour we had plenty of time to look at Len Beadell’s grader, some of his original plaques, the remains of a Blue Streak Rocket launched from Woomera in 1964, and of course the amazing giant shoe.





Bruce, our guide arrived and then took us on a most interesting and informative tour. Unfortunately he also told us that we would be one of the last groups as the tours were scheduled to stop in a few more days. (Subsequently tours have been reinstated but no longer at a time to see the balloon launch).

The balloon is filled with hydrogen, a highly flammable gas, so safety precautions are required. Helium is a safer gas, but it is becoming scarce and expensive so is no longer used. Visitors must stand well back and the meteorologist doing the launch must wear a protective garment to prevent burns in the event of an accident.

The balloon rises about 1000 feet per minute and is tracked by radar. While the current radar tracking is automated the older radar that was once in use is still at the site and open for viewing. Sitting in the tiny cabin of the old ship’s radar must have been hot claustrophobic work. The dish now bears a colourful painting done by folk from the Warakurna community, and tells about “four whitefellas sitting down.”

The tour continued inside the comfortable air-conditioned offices that have a wonderful view out over the surrounding hills. We could see the computers tracking the balloon and then the interpretation of the temperature and wind data as it comes back. Apart from weather forecasting, one of the important uses of this data is to enable the aviation industry to track the jet stream, allowing flights to use this high altitude air flow to maximum advantage.

One instrument that takes pride of place in the office, and which is still in use, is a clockwork powered barograph that records pressure changes on a paper chart – despite its age it is still in use and gives the most accurate pressure readings.

Staff at the station volunteer for the 6 month placement, where everything required for day to day living is provided. They are on call 24 hours a day. And they provided a very interesting insight into their work, answering many questions in a manner that clearly demonstrated their commitment to their job.

We rounded out the tour with a visit to the small museum at the station. This records the history of the station from its founding in 1956 when it was used to provide weather information for the atomic tests at Maralinga. But perhaps the prize exhibits are the two Len Beadell cartoons done in 1958.

Back at Warakurna we had a look at the paintings done by the local community and for sale from the gallery. Some were attractive but we felt that most were quite expensive with prices up to $4,000, though all profits go back to the community.

Then it was time to get back on the road. We had an uneventful drive to Warburton although there we encountered some heavily corrugated stretches. The road passed through much flatter country so there was less scenery, but plenty of spinifex and mulga. Apart from a few camels we saw very little other wildlife, and surprisingly very few wedgetail eagles. There were however quite a few flowers on show – wattles, cassias, Mulla Mullas and bush tomatoes. A couple of times we stopped where our map showed a rockhole right beside the road – but despite searching around we found nothing that could be called a rockhole. Still, these stops usually reveal other things that can’t be seen from a moving vehicle – flowers, small animals, rocks etc. And they emphasise just how hot and dry it can be away from the airconditioned comfort of the cab.

The Warburton campground behind the roadhouse is enclosed (but not locked) and clean with green grass and functioning washing machines – Val never lets an opportunity pass to keep up with the laundry, its easier than doing it by hand.

Last night we met 2 couples, Keith and Margaret, and Noel and Kath and we are camped beside them again tonight. They are also going down the Connie Sue, and we have agreed to travel together as far as Neale Junction. Apart from good company, we had an immediate benefit from this meeting. Our HF tapped antenna had been behaving intermittently. Noel had a spare antenna and by swapping them around John was able to work out that the top section of our antenna was broken. Fortunately we carry a tuned wire aerial and that worked very well for the rest of the trip.

So after some group planning we spent a quiet but comfortable night at Warburton. Tomorrow we head south on the Connie Sue Highway towards Neale Junction.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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