Back on the road
We are still waiting for the gear box to arrive. We hope, that it is not the only problem and that they do not discover that more parts are needed which are not locally available. Meanwhile we are trying to fill the time enjoying ourselves as well as taking care of things we have no time to attend while moving on. Last night we went to the Outback Pioneer Hotel for BBQ. I went for more exotic meats – emu, crocodile and kangaroo while Jo preferred more conventional beef fillet steak. The salad bar was wonderful. It was the first cooked meal with fresh salads and veggies we had eaten for many weeks. We were so full we could hardly walk back to the camping ground.
Today is 29th, Friday and we have just found out, that the gear box has not arrived yet. The truck from Adelaide goes to Alice Springs and from there it will be transported by another truck over here, hopefully on Monday-that is what they are telling us. I have been still trying to get my googlepages working for me and post the story and the pictures. Well, life wasn’t meant to be easy! Jo used the opportunity to have her hair cut and I am keen to make a trip to Ayers Rock and claim it. But will have to leave it for another day or two for the weather to settle down. It was raining over night and at the moment there is another storm coming over. Perhaps we are lucky to be stuck here!
The days are passing one after another and there is no sign of the gear box. Meanwhile our friend Sally Todd from Somerset in Tasmania offered to upload the latest report “Out of Civilization” onto my googlepages. I could not get it working for me from here. I am very grateful for that. Everything seems to be very difficult. Michael French meanwhile got all the details of the shipment including the consignment number to enable me to find out where it actually is at this moment. It should have been a simple task. But when I rang the company and gave them the consignment number, they could not find any information. So it was back to Michael who had to make a lot of calls to finally discover, that apparently someone made a mistake and instead of consignment number they register it under the quote number. It is now second day of phone calls and conflicting information. I have been told that it could have gone directly to Yulara where we are, or it could have gone to Alice or even could have been sent by train to Alice. I am now waiting for them to call me back. Nobody has any clue about its whereabouts. It looks like we need Sherlock Holmes to sort it out. It is almost like a comedy and I am not sure whether to laugh or to get upset. But that sure would not help so I am trying to remain calm.
There was a good news too. On Sunday, after few days of rain the weather improved and we made the trip to Ayers Rock. It was windy though so it did not come as surprise that the claim was closed. The fine for claiming it while it is closed is $5,500 so any thought of doing it anyway was quickly eliminated. I decided to jog around the base of the Rock, almost 10 km, towards my daily quota of about 20 km to maintain some condition. Most people would know, that Ayers Rock is the largest monolith in the world but I wonder how many know what it really looks like from close up. I have seen many pictures before, all taken from a distance and imagined relatively smooth, even face of it. Instead I was amazed with the beauty and variety of shapes of the Rock face, the little caves with aboriginal paintings, water holes and many other unique features. Even better news was waiting for me when I completed the lap. I could see people claiming the Rock! The wind dropped and the claim was re opened.
I do understand that some people would prefer if nobody claims the Rock and I respect their wishes, but I want to claim it so I hope that they would respect my wish too. The claim is not too easy but for a reasonably fit person it is no problem. The first part is steep so there is a chain to hold onto to assist in claiming and to make it safer. I can imagine that without it someone could slip and fall which could be very serious. I am not sure though why the chain is so low – perhaps 40 cm from ground so one has to be bent very uncomfortably to hold onto it. When you get to what you think is the top, there is another 1,600 m of up and down claim over small ridges to the real top. The treck is marked with white lines so no one can get lost. The view is fantastic. One can really marvel how flat the country side is apart from the majestic Olgas and the Rock itself standing out. I was very happy to have the chance to get there and to enjoy the beautiful views.
The next day I called The North Line again and was promised to be called back. After waiting for three hours for someone to call back as promised, I called them again. This time the lady who answered the phone promised to call me back after finding out what is going on and she surprisingly kept her promise. The news was great! The gearbox was delivered this morning to the auto workshop. When I rang them, they confirmed it and tomorrow morning we are taking the van there. Knowing about our desperation one would think, that they would call me immediately with the good news knowing my phone number. Well, at last it is here and now we have to hope that it is the correct one. We will not be able to relax until it is all done and all works. Some kind people camping in the park offered to tow us to the workshop to save us $60. It was very nice of them.
All the time I was worried, that there could be something else wrong, apart from the gearbox, so it as a very nervous wait, after they started working on it. We were not even sure, if it was the correct gearbox! It did not take long and I received very mixed news. The first one was bad. The clutch is gone too! Immediately I could see ourselves sitting here few more days before the parts arrive. But the next one was wonderful. The lady from the office happened to be in Alice Springs that day and was returning on the afternoon flight – with the parts! I could not believe our luck. The manager used this opportunity and had her to pick it up before flying home. Looks as our luck is changing, though in fact we have been lucky to be able to make it here and have Michael to organize the gear box and mechanics who did a marvelous job. We are so grateful to all of them. It could have been much worse.
Without wasting any more time we are on the way again. We are few days behind schedule, but we had planned a very short day after Ayers Rock and still have 53 days left before finishing at Byron Bay. Not a huge problem to catch up.
As much as we hated being stuck at Yulara, when leaving we both had mixed feelings. We almost enjoyed the time spent there, the daily watching of sunset over Ayers Rock and Olgas. One never seems to get sick of it.
There was one more hiccup which we consider as a good luck. When Jo tried to start the motor in the morning, it did not work. I immediately suspected lose wire on the motor starter, it happened to me before. But it is in such an awkward place, it cannot be seen but has to be felt. I could not find it so with some help we gave it a push and drove straight to the Uluru Motors again. I was right. It was the wire. They secured it properly so it should not get lose again and did not even accept any payment. Once again it happened at the best possible moment and place.
The weather has returned to normal which means blue sky and strong headwind. But I could not care less. We are back in business. Actually when thinking back, we have been very lucky with the weather too. After a month of dry weather which suited us while driving on dirt road, as soon as we arrived in Yulara several thunderstorms passed over next few days with a fair bit of rain. We saw a number of vehicles arriving during that time covered in mud. God knows how we would have managed on those unsealed roads with our campervan during the rain. We would have been stuck there for sure.
Soon after leaving Yulara the mobile stopped working. It looks as we will be without communication for a considerable time. This is still a real outback. The only difference is the sealed road and while it is easier for Jo, it takes away the feeling of the remoteness. We actually enjoyed it.
There wasn’t much to report on the next hundred kilometers, until on the horizon appeared Mount Conner, very similar look to our Stanley Nut. They claim that it is older and larger than Ayers Rock. Again, in the middle of vast plains, the only feature sticking well above the ground. It is located on a Courtin Springs Station, over one million acres in size which is full working cattle station as well as a comfortable tourist stop. They have some 2,500 cattle on the property, about 400 acres per head! We are used to talking about heads per acre. For change the only road kill were couple of cattle.
Soon after leaving.
One important item we were able to purchase at Courtin Springs was a carton of beer – 30 cans of it. We are not big drinkers, but after a hard day on the road it is nice to have one. It is almost a month since we could buy beer at Laverton. Since then we have been in “no alcohol” zone. Even at Yulara one needed a certificate confirming that you are a guest of one of the establishments before you could buy a drink.
After spending last night at a roadside we arrived at Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse. There is free camping if you do not require power so we settled down at the back of the Roadhouse. To our surprise we were approached by one of the staff with an offer from the manager to stay overnight in the motel room! It was an offer too good to refuse – thank you very much. What a luxury after more than fifty days sleeping in the campervan. Very much appreciated. They are also organizing a collection for Canteen. Wonderful people!
The countryside does not change much but I still enjoy looking at the red dunes and sandy plains punctuated by small shrubs and rocks. The sky is still mostly without clouds. But when there are sometimes clouds, they look very spectacular and of unusual shapes.
There is one result of an easy access for cars, because of the bitumen, and that is a lot of empty cans and bottles and other rubbish on both sides of the road. The real bushman who travel the remote roads do not do this. They take all the rubbish with them.
There was one more meeting with connections to Burnie I forgot to mention before. Peter Watkins, who works at Giles Weather Station has a brother Tim living in Burnie. If anyone knows him, give him Peter’s regards. We will do it after returning home.
After leaving behind Mount Conner there was no features above the ground apart from communication towers. In the distance on the left there was visible James Range and we were at Erlunda. This is another Cattle Station with the Roadhouse on the corner of Lasseter Highway and Stuart Highway, connecting Darwin with Adelaide. Being on the major highway this roadhouse has much more traffic and is much bigger and more modern than the previous ones. We raised some donations from the campers and the manager displayed his generosity by offering free meals – chicken with vegetables – very much appreciated by both of us. Luckily were able to tune our laptop to Southern Cross TV and to watch our beloved Sydney Swans winning their first final over North Melbourne.
From Erlunda we have turned south on Stuart Highway towards Coober Pedy. The easterly wind will nor bother me for a while, and the now cross wind is very pleasant since the temperatures started raising considerably. Yesterday we had 26 deg.C, night was mild and I started running in shorts and soon took off even the T-shirt. Obviously the warm weather woke up from hibernation lizards and other reptiles and I was very lucky to come across one today and took some nice pictures.
It is day 50 today – 7th September and I have ran so far 2,856 km. I have discovered that after all running on a bitumen is easier and quicker than in sand and gravel and without the headwind I had been experiencing so far every day, I am making much quicker times and longer distance every day without extending more energy.
Jo got a shock when arriving at the Kulgera Roadhouse when approached by a gentleman who addressed her “ Hello Mrs Skvaril!” Where do you know my name from? He introduced himself as Bill Rogers, the father-in-law of Ben Szikora of Burnie, who is our son Petr’s best friend. Bill is a paramedic and follows car rallies to look after the competitors if they get injured. This ralley is from Alice Springs to the Gold Coast. It must be very tough for everyone involved. Once again, it is a small world.
Later that evening a couple of Germans arrived on pushbikes. We have found out long time ago, that here in the outback one meets a lot of very interesting people. They were having some problems with their frames on the bikes cracking, but when we left ahead of them, they were all packed and ready to go. They are heading in the same direction as us. Now is almost 2 pm, we are having small lunch, but they haven’t caught up with us yet. After 22 km we arrived at the Northern Territory – South Australian border where we had another interesting meeting. They were young Swiss couple, both traveling on a special tandem bicycle. They have pedaled from Switzerland to Singapore and now through Australia since Christmas, all together for 2 years and 4 months already. At the moment they are on the way to Ayers Rock. They were looking forward to meet with the German couple I mentioned previously. They had contacts with them through emails, but never met personally. I am thinking now, that the Germans are either having some serious problems with their bikes or might have turned around and joined their friends on the way to Ayers Rock. We might find out eventually through their website or they might catch up with us eventually. The Swiss couple has some concerns with their bike too – hairline cracks on the rim of the rear wheel. Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but they all looked very happy, just as us, in spite of some challenges.
I can not avoid comparison between running across Australia and riding a bicycle. On the surface the bike could seem to be the easier option. It covers longer distance quicker and one can rest legs during downhill ride. But that is where the advantages end because they do not normally have support and have to carry all their needs themselves. They have to be very choosy what to take while I can have a lot of luxuries in the vehicle. We have plenty of space for food, water, spare clothes etc. I do not have to pitch a tent every night, especially since the ground over here is not very smooth. I do not have to cook meals outside, pack up and unpack every time we stop and in the case of a bad weather, I can shelter in the campervan till the worst is over. In the case of a strong head wind it is easier to run into it than to ride on a bike. The campervan is our home – our castle. It is so much more comfortable than a tent. I believe I have it much easier than those on the bicycles.
I am spending now more time on the road catching up with lost time. By the time we get back to civilization I want to be back on schedule. I must admit I am starting to feel it in my legs, back and the whole body. Especially today is a very strong south easterly wind and when the road started to turn to south east, I had a struggle. But fortunately it turned soon again to south so it is not so bad now. I saw another little lizard but no goanna yet – I keep looking everywhere for it. But saw a couple of brumbies and got reasonably close to take some pictures.
Tonight we have the luxury of a caravan park, this time it is Marla. It is a very impressive complex with all the modern facilities. No wonder that there are many campers staying here. We have been lucky again and could stay here free of charge. It is always very much appreciated though we do not ask for it. It is most welcome to have a shower once again, though water is very hard everywhere so the soap is not working very well. Still it feels great to wash off all the sweat after running hard all day. The huge plus is a mobile reception, a very rare occasion to call family and friends.
Cadney Homestead is another stop down the Stuart Highway. It has been a very strong wind all day this time from behind. I think I broke all speed records for this run. The Homestead has all the modern facilities, variety of accommodation, restaurant, shop, takeaways, swimming pool, even pokies for those who hope to get rich but end up broke! The food is excellent, prices are very reasonable. You can even get a mug of coffee with a cake for $4! Once again we were lucky to stay free of charge. We will use the saving to buy for ourselves nice dinner. I liked the sign on the road when approaching the Homestead: STOP’N EAT! OR WE’LL BOTH STARVE!
We sure will take notice of that!
There were few thunderstorms around but all missed us. But it made for a beautiful sunset. This was also the first time we have seen in a caravan park a plug for TV antenna. We could borrow a cable and plug it into my laptop. Jo was very happy to be able to watch “Home and Away” and I watched the news. But I am better off without knowing what is happening. There is very little on news to make one feel happy. All they talk about is climate change and how we are going to set example for everyone and save the world. We must have gone all mad!
The road is not very wide and hardly any shoulder. Jo is finding hard to find a safe spot on the side of the road while waiting for me every three kilometers. The traffic is not very heavy, it is mostly tourists with caravans or camper trailers and many road trains with containers, tankers, cattle transporters and few with loads of hay. There will be a couple more roadside stops and we will be in Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy is an undisputable opal capital of the world. It was in 1913 when 14-year old Willie Hutchinson was the first to find a shimmering gemstone , known as opal in Coober Pedy. The name is derived from aboriginal word “kupa” (uninitiated man or white man) and “piti” (hole).
Since then miners from more than fifty nations arrived to find their fortune – and many have. Coober Pedy is also famous for its underground tunnels and dwellings, where the miners seek cool escape from scorching summer heat. Today you can find accommodation and shops both under and above the ground. We are going to book into The Oasis Tourist Park, where there is a wireless internet so I can update my google pages.
After that, we are going to disappear from the radar again for about four weeks so the next update is not likely until about 12th October. Even when there is an internet access at roadhouses, it is only suitable for emails without attachments or surfing the web so there is no chance for any website updates using memory sticks.
From Coober Pedy we are heading to Williams Creek, Maree, Lyndhurst and via Strzelecki Track to Innamincka, Thargomindah and further east back to civilization. Altogether more than 1,200 km of unsealed roads. We hope to emerge from there all in one piece, especially our campervan. You all can keep your fingers crossed for us! Thank you!