2001 Troopy’s First Trip to the Red Centre – Part 5 Palm Valley to Home (Canberra)

Sunday, Sep 16, 2001 at 21:38


We made an early start next morning as we wanted to reach King’s Canyon and do some exploring there. On the road out from Palm Valley we passed an incoming tourist bus in a big hurry. Then we noticed fruit scattered over the road, then some tools, a tool box and finally a battery pack. These had all literally “fallen off the bus”. We collected up what we could see and left them at the police station in Hermannsberg. Hopefully the rightful owner was able to collect them.

It was now time to use our Meerine Loop permit that we had purchased a few days earlier. The road was in fair condition with some corrugations. We seemed to have the road to ourselves, but it was an enjoyable drive taking us through stands of desert oaks and past some innovative “bush humour” road signs.

At the Kings Canyon Resort we found a phone and made contact with our family for the first time in several days. There was another shock waiting for us as we learned that Val’s elder sister had passed away a few days ago, not entirely unexpected news but a shock nonetheless. There was nothing for us to do but to continue on – this was one time when the remoteness of this area really made itself felt.

In the circumstances, and given the very high temperatures we only had a short walk up Kings Canyon and we did indeed feel quite “gorged out”. These places are spectacular and awe-inspiring but one needs time to take them in, to allow them to work their magic. Next visit we will allow more time.

After a night at Kings Canyon Station we headed on bitumen – a forgotten pleasure – towards Uluru. We had numerous stops to admire distant views, and for a while distant Mt Connor had us confused into thinking it was Ayres Rock. At Yulara we found the campground clean but dry and dusty. We booked in for 2 nights.

It was getting towards sunset so we headed straight out to Uluru to watch the famous sunset. While we waited we used our binoculars to watch people climbing the rock, ant-like against the immense red bulk of the monolith. It is BIG! The shadows lengthened, the vehicles rolled up, people arranged themselves on roofs and bullbars, many sipping champagne. Planes and helicopters jostled for positions above. Kids whinged and adults spoke in hushed, even reverent tones. Val was reminded of the Space Odyssey movie and half expected to see the rock rise up out of the ground!

There was something weird about hundreds of people focussed so totally and piously on an everyday event that happened so slowly to the point that there was no exact “sundown” moment…. then it happened. The sun started to dip below the horizon, slowly the shadows lengthened until the plain in front of the rock was in shadow. Then, very slowly, the rock dimmed and a dark curtain of shadow crept up its flanks until finally all was in shadow. All the while the colours changed, first to red, then as the light faded, to purple. We succumbed to the moment….

The cameras continued to click, flashes flashed and over all a hushed silence reigned. As the show came to a close – i.e. when the cameras ran out of light –we almost expected a round of applause!

Then it was back to camp for a late meal with the intention of rising early to do the 10km walk around the base of the rock before the day got too hot. We froze a few bottles of water to carry on our walk.

Next morning there was no trouble waking early as it seemed the whole campground was intent on watching the sunrise. When we left camp shortly after sun-up the campground was just about deserted. We started our walk about 7.30 and were astonished at just how big the rock was, now that we were close to it. [Image not found]We walked clockwise into the shadow of the rock, although the morning was cool. The rock has a scaly, rusty surface and rises up with very few cracks for hundreds of feet, sometimes sheer, often at about 45 degrees. There are caves and eroded holes, some less than a metre across, others many meters long. There are mini gorges, some with permanent water. Some of the most spectacular spots were identified as sacred areas where photography was not permitted. Having now seen the climb at close quarters we opted to not do it – the steep slope (>30 degrees), the height and rising wind firmly convinced us that the traditional owners’ wishes actually made a fair bit of sense. Our view was not shared by the steady stream of climbers though.

Carrying 6 litres of water around was arduous, especially as we only used about one litre. And the amount that we carried was less than the recommended amount! Some of the water we gave to a small group of young aboriginal children we encountered some way around the track. They very confidently asked us if we had any water or apples to give them. We had no apples, so water it was.

Finally after about 4 hours we made it around the 10km track. We were very pleased with ourselves, but also pleased to stop. We then drove around the loop road – that took about 10 minutes before heading back to camp for a rest.

The following day we set off to see the Olgas. There were masses of wildflowers along the 45km drive along a good bitumen road. Some of the flowers we hadn’t seen before. The Olgas loomed bigger and more beautiful and interesting as we approached. The whole cluster of domes is bigger than Uluru and slightly higher. First we walked into the Olga Gorge along an easy path up a cleft between two of the larger domes. The rock here is conglomerate with individual rocks up to 30cm across, giving an overwhelming sense of great antiquity. The walls of the domes rise almost straight up with hardly a crack but with quite a lot of small pock-like caves. There was water in the gorge along with shrubs like mint bush and spearwood. The strong wind was being funnelled through the cleft created quite a headwind, as well as a howling eerie sound. The visual effect was quite stunning, enhancing the feeling of timelessness and immutability.

From there it was a short drive to the start of the Valley of the Winds walk. It is an easy walk for the first km or so to the lookout from where we could see tantalising glimpses of vistas framed by domes. Even there the country was incredibly green, to the point where it was hard to remember that we were in a desert. From the lookout the track drops down quite steeply into the valley so, deciding that we were not quite ready for further exertion today, we returned to the carpark. There we found the ultimate travelling rig to have a good look at – a large Mercedes motorhome, towing a trailer with a trail bike and a powered paraglider. No boat though!

Now it was time to really head for home. We drove out to Erldunda on the Stuart Highway where we stayed for the night. The next day we had an uneventful run down to Coober Pedy, enjoying the many wildflower displays along the way. We had to watch out for the many wedge tail eagles gorging on roadkill.

Arriving in Coober Pedy we filled both tanks with the cheapest fuel we had seen in weeks, and replenished our essential supplies of steak and beer. After a look at a few of the sights around town we returned to the caravan park eagerly anticipating a great steak meal.

Then we noticed a strong smell of petrol – actually we had noticed a bit of a smell for the past few days, but not so strong. At Yulara we thought that someone had spilt petrol on the ground. Some-one had spilt fuel – it turned out that that someone was us. On close inspection John found that we had a major fuel leak somewhere in one of the two tanks, near the drain plug. We managed to borrow the necessary tools to tighten the plug, but it was already tight. Maybe we had overfilled the tank – so we disassembled the tent and Val took Troopy for a 20km run to burn off a few litres. By now it was dark and the leak was still there. The only option was to use an empty can to catch the drips and empty the tank in tomorrows running.

Meanwhile the dinner was cooking on the gas stove, fortunately some distance from the petrol. The meal, our best one for days was served up, placed on the table and the whole lot carried over to Troopie where there was better light. Then disaster struck. A table leg snagged and the meal ended up on the ground, one plate upside down the other in a thousand pieces. Score one for Murphy! After a few choice words we just had to laugh.

Counting our blessings we realised how lucky we had been on this trip. Tyres had failed, but only when it was reasonably safe. We had a leaking tank, but now heading home we didn’t really need the extra capacity. It could have been much worse, especially as a few days ago we had been cooking close to the leaking tank.

Another long run brought us to Port Augusta, after a short detour into Woomera where there is a great display of some of the rockets, aircraft and other equipment that was tested there in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The town itself has the look of barracks, but some of it reminded us of Canberra too.

The salt lakes and Flinders Ranges were impressive as we approached Port Augusta and a welcome feed of fish and chips. We continued east the next day, up through the rolling green hills to a lookout giving magnificent views over St Vincent Gulf. The red desert is well and truly behind us, replaced now by emerald green of wheat and oats and brilliant yellow canola. Through Burra, busy with tourists, past many deserted and crumbling old stone houses, then into drier mallee country. Then the Murray River and huge vineyards and citrus groves, the air heavy with the scent of orange blossom.

Approaching Renmark Troopy started performing erratically, possibly a loose exhaust baffle blocking the exhaust (It had happened once before). We spent that night in a Renmark CP and got an early start the next morning, intending to stop at Mildura. But there was a fearful wind so we just kept driving, didn’t even stop for lunch. Mildura looked prosperous with lots of grapes and lots of wheat. But Troopy’s performance continued to be very erratic, with the petrol tank very pressurised. It was hard at times to get above 85kph. About 4pm we stopped for lunch beside the Murrumbidgee just east of Hay, then we struggled on. Finally outside a garage in Coolac Troopy gave up completely. But there was no help to be had on a Sunday night of a long weekend. So we cursed the muffler, banged it and resigned ourselves to spending the night right there beside the very busy Hume Highway.

Then just one final try – success! We were mobile again, able to gingerly trek the last 120km to home. We limped along and the traffic was now much lighter, fortunately as we ground our way up hills in 3rd gear. What a relief to finally be home after 4 weeks on the road. What an end to a fantastic, memorable trip.

A postscript : Troopy's petrol leak proved to be due to rusting in one of the fuel tanks. The sluggish performance at the end of the trip resulted from the fuel filter being choked with rust particles combined with grunge from a bad batch of fuel. But it was to be another year or more before we got on top of that problem. Lesson learned - 300000 km later we always carry lots of fuel filters!
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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