It was quite hazy the day we did the Kings Canyon walks and by late afternoon we noticed ash falling from the sky, you could actually smell smoke. The next morning there was a layer of ash covering our things and the visibility in the canyon area was quite limited. What we hadn’t realised was just how many fires there were in the surrounding areas and were surprised to find out that the road into the campground had actually been closed for a few hours the previous day. Apparently some amazing fire crews were battling the blazes for days after we left. If we had have chosen to do the walks a day later the outlook would have been completely different and no doubt would have impacted the experience. I have since wondered if the helicopter flights over the canyon would have been operating on this day.
From Watarrka National Park we had toyed with the idea of taking the back way to the West MacDonnell Ranges via the Mereenie Loop Road. A permit is required to use this road and after some research we learnt that the last time the road was graded was in 2009 and that the corrugations were quite horrific in some places. As much as we love Patricia and Stanley we knew that they wouldn’t make it through without some trouble and no doubt some battle scars.
So, we decided to take the long way round back to Alice Springs (450km) and then start heading towards the Queensland border. The added bonus was that we could have a quick stop at Erldunda to check out the freaky looking Echidna and Lizard once more! The diesel was also 30 cents cheaper here than Kings Canyon.
We had an overnight stay in Alice Springs and got to catch up with the lovely Mcleans again (who we originally met in Darwin) and also met Brenda in person, another online travelling friend. We did a grocery shop and filled our tanks with diesel at the much nicer price of $1.669L (less 4c voucher).
This was the weekend of an AFL preliminary final and Bens team (West Coast Eagles) was playing. Ben loves football and as he hadn’t seen many games this season and as it could have been the Eagles final game of the season (it was) we were determined to find somewhere to watch it. After racing back up Stuart highway, through Aileron, Ti-Tree, Barrow Creek and Wycliffe Well we pulled into the Wauchope Hotel, about 11 km from The Devil’s Marbles.
After convincing the landlord that it was indeed an afternoon and not an evening game, as he was insisting, he proceeded to pull out his big screen TV and set it up on the bar, making Ben a very happy boy. We grabbed some toasted sandwiches, with the intention of watching the footy and then carrying on to The Marbles to stay overnight. But after a couple of icy cold beers and then finding out we could park out the back of the pub for $20, we didn’t quite make it to The Marbles! There was even a pool to cool off in and a nice little beer garden with green grass – something the kids had obviously missed because they just sat on it and chatted for a while!
It was also very cool to watch a helicopter land in the car park of the hotel, the pilot jump out, walk into the pub – buy a carton of beer and then jump back into the helicopter and take off again. A couple of hours later another, bigger chopper landed out the front of the hotel, where it parked up for the night. It was a police helicopter and was involved in a search for someone that had gone missing while on walkabout. The things you see in the middle of nowhere!!
The next morning, about 9km down the road from Wauchope, the kids and I were just starting to settle into doing some schoolwork when all of a sudden Paul said “the car has died”. I looked up to see him steer Patricia off the road, as well as he could, before coming to a complete stop. I decided to get proactive and jumped out of the car and ran into the van ready to grab hi-vis gear and markers to direct traffic around us. It was a really awkward spot – there just wasn’t enough room to get right off the road, the shoulder of the road was quite steep, there were double white lines and it was on a corner, see what I mean? Awkward!
Well, as I was rustling through the cupboards Paul also came into the van and I said “I wonder what happened” to which he replied, “oh, I know what happened – we ran out of diesel”.
Although we were carrying plenty, my husband had decided to see just how far Patricia could get on a tank of diesel! Needless to say, he now knows how far she gets and exactly what HE might get should he do that again!
After a frantic hour of trying to get the car started while listening to very large semi-trailers whistling by we then trekked about 150km back up Stuart highway and turned east onto Barkly Highway for our last stretch before reaching the border. After almost 200km we reached Barkly Homestead and had a quick look around before intending to set up at the next free camp we came upon. Paul was a bit weary, so I took over the driving. The kids were absolute champs again and every time we came to a potential campsite they said “keep going, keep going’, so in the end we had another long day in the car and ended up stopping at Avon Downs, which is a free camp just 50km from the QLD border.
The camp site was quite close to the road but also right opposite a police station – which gave us a reassuring feeling. It had shade, a couple of picnic tables and long drop toilets. We felt quite secure here and were very happy with our spot – not too far from the toilets (but not too close to the smell either), under some nice shady trees, near a table and next to friendly looking GN couple. After having some dinner and playing a few games we settled down to what turned out to be one of the longest nights on the trip so far. The nice looking GN’s were running a generator, which is not unusual, with the general etiquette being that generators are turned off by 8 or 9 pm. Well, 8 o’clock passed with the generator still running, and then 9 and then 10 and then 11…….. it stayed on ALL night!!! It wasn’t a very quiet generator either and it kept on cutting in and out, in and out, loud then louder, loud then louder. It was pretty awful and at one stage I was tempted to go over and flick it off but as neither of the couple looked particularly healthy and knowing my luck, the generator was probably running some kind of breathing apparatus or other machine keeping them alive! (or yes, maybe just their air-con)
With lack of sleep headaches and eyes feeling like they were full of sand we clumsily packed up and headed off. Our mood improved dramatically when we reached the border. Another milestone reached!
With the coffers starting to dry up a lot quicker than we hoped we then made our way to Mount Isa where we had heard there was plenty of work. Paul started making a number of calls and although there was some work around, the longer we hung around the more we felt that we didn’t really want to stay here for an extended amount of time.
There were lots of signs around promoting Mt Isa as being the rodeo capital of Australia and I can imagine that when there is a rodeo on it would be quite an exciting town but unfortunately there was no rodeo while we were there and the town just felt a little sad and tired. It was impossible to drive through town without sighting two massive smoke stacks on the horizon. The Isa (as the locals call it) was established as a mining town and Mount Isa Mines which is adjacent to the city is apparently still one of the most productive mines in the world.
We spent a number of days here, while toying with the idea of whether to stay or not and managed to have a fairly decent look around. There are mining tours run at the visitors centre where you can actually go underground and have a look. We watched visitors coming out with their boots, hard hats and orange jump suits on and it did look interesting but something we chose not to do this time round. We did, however, visit the information centre based Isa Experience, Outback Park, and Riversleigh Fossil Centre. These combined, cost around $70 and took up half a day. There was lots of information about Mt Isa and its history and it really was very interesting. We spent ages reading all the information and watching DVD presentations. The fossil centre was also very informative and the kids enjoyed ‘digging’ for a dinosaur but I would probably give Outback Park a miss – it was touted as a lush Garden of Eden type setting but it took less than five minutes to walk around and wasn’t really worth the extra $$$.
The Underground Hospital was another place we visited and although interesting less than an hour was spent there. The entrance price was $18 for our family and it is run by local volunteers. As well as the underground tunnels there is also a large selection of medical apparatus used over time, as well as bio’s of some of the main players in the areas medical profession.
A short amount of time was also spent at Lake Moondarra, an artificial lake, which provides The Isa with water as well as being a recreational area – a good place to catch a barra apparently.
Having decided we weren’t going to stick around after all, we decided we could put finding work off for a little while longer. Instead heading off to check out The Walkabout Creek Hotel, as the final part of our Crocodile Dundee experience and then journey north to visit The Gulf of Carpentaria, before checking out some volcanic rock and lava tubes.