Big Question Marks

Monday, December 29, 2008

Highlights from the Centre

It would probably take ages to take you through all of our road adventures of the past few weeks, so we'll just skip to the best parts. Driving in Australia is quite the adventure in itself!

* Driving the Oodnadatta Track: After a few days soaking up the nature in Flinders Ranges in SA, it seemed the unsealed road ahead open and ready for Daisy (we looked the other way from a few of the "4WD only" warnings, tee hee). Life was more and more remote as we headed north along the route of the old Ghan railway-- the new Ghan, which connects the country north to south, takes a more direct and definitely less scenic route. As town populations went from 1000 to the 100's and less, fuel became pricier and fruit more difficult to find (we raided one truck stop for all of its 4 apples and 6 bananas!). We spent a night in dusty Marree, where the Oodnadatta Track splits off from another famous Outback Track to Birdsville, QLD-- a place where the only residents are hanging out at the pub, and the only life on the street is a lonely wandering dog-- and wondered, if this was the beginning of the Track, what would the middle of it look like? The flies were getting unbearable but the sunsets were gorgeous. The next day we went further into nothing, where you'd wave excitedly to passing vehicles (if there were any) and the roadside was littered with rusted-out car wrecks and hardly a brushy plant. We hopped in and out of the car, exploring deserted rail stations, giant salt lakes, mysterious springs to swim in, and then the scariest moment ever-- we were almost at the legendary William Creek, town of population 10, on the biggest cattle station in the world (size of Belgium!) when we crested a hill and had to hit the brakes-- a river was crossing the road! We measured the depth with our ankles, and found it wasn't super-deep, but it was about 4 road lanes wide. Cold and with a bit of a current though-- and we had no idea how Daisy might fare. It was only 30 km to William Creek past there (to gas!) or another 150 km back to a detour. We were debating this problem-- we certainly didn't expect a flooded road in the dustiest, driest Outback ever-- when we heard the hum of a distant engine, and a big 4WD Landcruiser crossed the river easily toward us. The couple, a sweet older pair from near Sydney, inside assured us it would be no problem for us to cross, and if we did get stuck, they'd pull us out. With a bit of coaching to Adrian, he crossed the "creek" with no problem! There was lots of cheering and we left our separate ways-- though we don't know what we would have done without those people turning up at the very right moment. It was an easy cruise to William Creek, where we had a much-needed beer at the pub (of course a town with 10 people has a pub-- it's Australia!). And then our dusty detour was finished... it was back to the main highway (relieved!) to opal-mining capital Coober Pedy.

-Coober Pedy, SA- Opal mining town where half the population lives in dugouts (underground homes) while they mine for their fortune! The whole place looks like some sort of disaster zone... mounds of dirt everywhere from digging and many signs saying "watch where you're walking" so you don't fall in a hole!

- Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and Kings Canyon: The big natural rock wonders of the centre were awesome when seeing them up close-- despite the hype! We did lots of hiking around them, though we didn't catch much in the way of beautiful sunsets. Our first night in Uluru rained and our subsequent sunsets and sunrises were pretty cloudy. Amazing to get to see these sights in person though. Check out the photos on Flickr.

-Etc: Chasing herds of feral camels grazing at the roadside (they're fast!). Dodging toads hopping in the road after dark in the rain while trying to get to our next stop en route to Darwin. Getting beaten by a knee-deep and very muddy river near Kings Canyon (Palmer River) while trying to take a shortcut to Alice Springs (we had to drive an extra 250 km instead). Would it really hurt to just pave a few more roads, or even build a bridge or two?


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