Tag Archives: Outback

South Australia road trip day 4

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I feel I should start this post with “Forgive me reader for I have sinned. It’s been two days since the events in this post took place and I’ve not made time to blog”. But I’m still going to write it as though it was that afternoon because it’s easier for me that way.

We left Collarenebri before breakfast because we had decided just to drive home today. The rain was still falling steadily so there was not much point delaying the 700km trip home. We wouldn’t be able to camp anywhere due to the ground being too boggy and country pubs really aren’t something you go out of your way to stay in. Sure, they are comfortable enough but they aren’t exactly a resort. The  early morning fog made the outback feel oddly moorish and, therefore, for me, British. Quite appropriate given that the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations were taking place in the UK (for those not familiar with Australia’s constitutional monarchy – the Queen of England is also the Queen of Australia).

For the first few hours we traveled through cotton country. Most of the fields had been harvested but the rain must have come too soon for some farmers so there were still some fields of white fluffy cotton hanging on prickly bushes waiting to be harvested. Cotton is one of those deceptive crops: it looks pretty but is quite destructive to the soil and environment. We pondered this for a while and ultimately decided it’s probably better to have cotton farms than to rely on plastics factories to create the same types of products. Such is the conversation when driving all day long through the rain. There’s no solving the world’s problems going on; we just mulled over the scenery and past holidays during which we’d traveled through similar country.

Most of the day passed without incident. We made good time traveling the outback roads through Moree, Goondiwindi and Warwick. Dad again indulged my desire to find geocaches; something that was becoming simpler now that I have downloaded the free C:Geo app onto my android phone. The app allows me to both locate and navigate to geocaches by using my mobile internet and GPS. I enjoyed some successful geohunts despite the rain.

Then, at the top of Cunningham’s Gap, our quick and easy run came to an abrupt end. A truck hauling a massive piece of mining equipment had broken down on the range and was blocking the road. The truck’s load reportedly weighed 80 tonnes and was 9 metres wide. Three huge tow trucks were attached to the uphill side (back) of the truck to stop it slipping down the mountain while another tow truck was attached to the front. The tow trucks weren’t small either; you can see two of them in the third last photo above. Cunningham’s Gap is a major truck route connecting Brisbane to the other Australian capitals and the southern major cities so having it closed caused a long line of trucks to be backed up in either direction. Fortunately, the police were able to escort cars through a narrow gap between the broken down truck and the edge of the road so we were able to go through after a relatively short half-hour delay. However, the Gap was closed to trucks for about 9 hours; that’s a major inconvenience given that it takes truck drivers only about 11-12 hours to drive from Brisbane to Sydney so many truck drivers would now be a full day behind schedule. For us, though, it was an impressive final hour of our whirlwind trip.

Cunningham’s Gap marks the entry to the coast country. It’s one of two places west of Brisbane where we can cross the Great Dividing Range that separates the bush from Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The views from the range are the last chance to really enjoy stunning scenery before we hit the Ipswich and the long final push through built-up suburbs. And it therefore represents the end of our long drive. Dad had driven 4,100km in six days. I had been with him for 3,050 km in four days. I am glad I went along for the ride because I had a grand time.

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South Australia road trip day 3

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Well, the rain thwarted us again today. It’s great for the farmers but not so good for us travelers hoping to get off the major highways.

With the Silver City Hwy closed due to rain, Dad and I had no choice but to retrace our steps back down the Barrier Hwy. But all was not lost; the Outback never looks the same twice and the same country looks different depending on whether you travel west or east.

And so it was that we drove across the flat plains, over the small hills and past the salt bush. The rain started to fall around 9am and we could feel the flora sigh with pleasure. The dust washed off the salt bush and grass, intensifying their colours, and we could almost see the leaves uncurling to drink in the precious droplets.

We stopped for breakfast at the Little Topar Hotel. The bacon was plentiful and the sunny side up eggs perfectly cooked. There is no town, just an isolated 90-odd year old hotel that seems to be a major truck stop.

The 540km from Little Topar and Nyngan were uneventful. The rain fell steadily and the landscape closed in as more trees grew along the roadside. We saw some emus, kangaroos, feral goats and livestock.

Then things got interesting.

We decided to cut through from Nyngan to Walgett. The road was open. A lengthy stretch was gravel and clay. It was beautiful, slippery and slow. We engaged 4 WD and took our time as mud spun up from the wheels and spattered all over the vehicle, including the windscreen .

We ran out of daylight just as we hit the narrow bitumen Warren-Carinda road. With the help of our spotlights, we made good time, and spotted some huge wild pigs and roos.

The Carinda-Walgett road is now sealed, wide and in good condition so it was easy to cover what we thought would be the final 70km of the day. Unfortunately, when we got to Walgett we discovered a town where every building entry was covered with metal bars. There were a lot of heavily intoxicated people on the street and the smell of fear in the air. We stopped at one of the three motels in town to ask about accommodation and I think we were both relieved to hear there was nothing available at all in town.

So we drove another 75km to Collsrenebri, which has a pub with accomodation. We arrived a Collie just as the cook closed the kitchen but she still cooked us up a huge plate of chicken schnitzel, vegetables, chips and gravy as we settled in for a beer before retiring to our simple yet acceptable room.

I have to give a special thanks to my friend L who phoned us in Nyngan to give us some local knowledge and directions given she used to live out here. It was both helpful and thoughtful.

South Australia road trip day 2

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We set off from the Best Western motel, Broken Hill at 5:30am. We returned exactly 12 hours later after driving 800km.

It wasn’t meant to be an out-and-back trip. We had to drive to Crystal Brook, 400km away near Port Pirie to pick up a camper trailer. Then we were going to drive north through the South Australian Outback to Innamincka. However, while the road had been open two days ago, 30mm of rain yesterday resulted in a total road closure today. We had no choice but road backtrack the 400km to Broken Hill. Such is Outback travel.

Our drive was still glorious. We drove through tiny towns with little more than a pub and picnic area, barren rolling hills and flat channel country. We crosses dry river beds coloured bright red from the dust that has long replaced the water. The rivers will run again when the water from the rains up north make their way south.

Down around Crystal Brook we entered farming country again. The fields have been harvested, leaving us enjoying the sight of furrowed red-brown paddocks contrasted against the unarmed yellow-green hills. I pre that there’s such colour contrast in the land. It makes me feel alive.

Rain clouds followed us all day. The steel grey skies creating a blue filter for for the sun’s rays. It brought out the contrasting red soil more strongly than the yellow light of a sunny day would. Given that I love red soil, this was fantastic.

Dad again indulged my desire to geocache today. We found four caches, including one near some pretty cool dice. They are just blockage that someone has graffitied. I like this kind of humorous fun.

We had a successful day picking up the camper trailer and both enjoyed the Outback scenery along the way. Soon we will go to the pub where we ate delicious, perfectly cooked steaks last night. They were huge and tender (and only $12 including salad, chips and sauce).

South Australia Road Trip Day 1

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On Monday, Dad invited me to join him on a drive to Adelaide to pick up a camper trailer. I jumped at the chance to take another drive through Outback Australia. This time the trip would take me about 4,000km south-west through NSW, South Australia and south west Queensland.

There was, however, the slight matter of a midweek business trip to Melbourne but it was only for one day. And so it was that yesterday I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne for work, then to Sydney from where I caught a prop plane to Dubbo to meet Dad. He’d driven down from Brisbane to pick me up.

This morning we left Dubbo and drove north to Nyngan where we stopped for coffee. I also tried to find a geocache but had no luck. The road to Nyngan had taken us through fields of cotton. They’ve finished the harvest so there were massive white bales of cotton standing in the fields. The yield looked impressive but then, we use a lot of cotton in our society.

We spent the rest of the day driving due west along the Barrier Hwy to Broken Hill, leaving the cotton fields behind as we entered red dirt country. Scrubby trees stood as windbreaks along the road and dotted the dry yellow grass paddocks.

We stopped briefly in Cobar to buy a phone charger for my phone and some groceries. Then we drove further west for lunch at a roadside rest area.

The rest areas here are pretty. A carpet of bright red dirt covers the ground while scrubby trees provide shade.

The land here changes constantly. Or at least it does if you pay attention. While we started the day driving through endless flat cotton fields, we moved through low rocky hills, flat grass lands dotted with trees, and low grass covered sand dunes.

And then we came to Wilcannia and the Darling River basin. The lakes and river were full of water. Water birds sat on tree branches, swam on the water’s surface and flew over the lake and river. It was beautiful.

The land opened up after Wilcannia. We could see for miles all around across the short yellow grass. It was a fantastic way to end the day’s drive.

I love traveling through the Outback. It’s so wide and wild. It’s always beautiful and never boring. Every season and year are different to the last, making the landscape ever-changing.

I found three geocaches today. And even here, in the.middle of nowhere, someone else had signed the light of.one of the caches today so I.wasn’t the only cacher out here.

Julia Creek Trip Day 7: Julia Creek to Torrens Creek

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Both Mum and I are unwell this morning. Mum has an ear and throat infection that she picked up swimming in the pool. I have still got the diarrhea that came on last night as a side effect of racing in the extreme heat. But we pack up camp and hit the road back east.

Our first stop is a rest area midway between Julia Creek and Richmond. It’s the only place to take shelter from the heat in the 145km between the towns. We’re still in the 180° sky country we’ve been in since Winton and, despite my body’s protests I’m loving the ride.

In Richmond we stop at the dinosaur cafe and shops. They are doing a roaring Sunday morning trade with travelers and locals alike. I’m grateful to be in the airconditioning with my jacket off. But I still find the energy to climb into the dinosaur’s mouth for a photo. The dinosaurs are significant here because their fossils have been found in this area.

From Richmond we continue the 105km to Hughendon. As we approach the township hills start to appear in the distance. It’s the first sign that the scenery is going to change soon.

Mum and I both need a long break in Hughendon. Our bodies are struggling to keep up with the effort of driving  (for Mum) and riding (for me) so we find shade near the tourist information centre and lay down to sleep for an hour or so. After our sleep we eat a tasty lunch at the FJ Holden Cafe. The lemon-orange drink is particularly refreshing. It is fresh lemon and orange juice mixed with crushed ice; just what I need.

Shortly after leaving Hughendon we climb a jump-up and the land changes significantly. Trees grow along the roadside and the soil is red. The air feels cooler, making a welcome change to the stifling heat of the past two days.

By the time we reach Torrens Creek, just 90km east of Hughendon, both Mum and I are feeling chirpier. The pub here has a campsite out the back with shady trees in it. It looks pleasant enough for the night so we pay the barman and set up camp under a huge shady tree. We’ve only driven 350km but are glad to enjoy the afternoon snoozing, reading and playing cards. I even squeeze in a geocache hunt, which is successful and takes me through the tiny town.

It’s quiet here in Torrens Creek. The few houses are eerily silent though I saw people or cars at then today. It’s so quiet it feels like we are camped out in the wilderness, not next to the highway in a town. There are millions of stars above us in the sky and the only sounds are our voices and the insects chirping in through night air.

It’s been a good day and I feel recovered from my exertion at the triathlon and from the culture shock of being at such a big and noisy festival. It’s a little ironic that I’m a city bloke but felt suffocated by the crowds at a festival in one of the most far-flung Outback towns in Queensland. I had a fantastic time but am happy to geocache back on the road traveling.

Julia Creek Trip Day 5: Kyuna to Julia Creek

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Dawn over the Outback plains was stunning this morning. I set up a table and chair to act as a desk before the sun rose and worked ny headtorch light until the sky changed colours. It was the best office location I’ve had to date (and I’ve set up office in some fabulous locations).

We took it easy this morning because we only had 120km to Julia Creek. It was a nice change from our usual morning rush.

The Kyuna-Julia Creek road was long, straight and flat. It was narrower than the highways we’ve been following here. It ran straight north, following the bright hot sun’s path towards the centre of the sky. Fields of grass stretched to the horizon, cut only by the long straight ribbon of road.

There were two short unsealed sections of road. It was on one of these that the first of three road trains came hurtling towards us. We pulled over as the triple trailer and it’s cloud of dust approached. The cloud engulfed us as the truck thundered by, shaking my bike as it did. I had to wait about 2 minutes for the cloud to blow off the road, leaving me cake in red dust.

We saw lots of birds again today. While yesterday we saw emus, today we saw brolgas at a water hole. We also saw more hawks and falcons hunting mice and other small animals. It is magnificent to see them glide, swoop and dive through the air.

Once in Julia Creek we set about setting up camp. We’re here for the Dirt n Dust Triathlon, which I am racing tomorrow. It’s the excuse behind our 4,000km return road trip.

The atmosphere here is AMAZING! Today I volunteered as a technical official for the kids’ race. It was fantastic to see so many country kids giving the sport a go. They really got into it, and both their parents and the town got behind them.

Tonight we went to the free music concert. They had some good country musicians playing. Being a country music fan I enjoyed it a lot.

Tomorrow’s race doesn’t start until 9:30am so it’s going to be seriously tough because it gets HOT here during the day. A cattle truck will take our bikes to T1 at 8:30am then we will be taken there in buses. The 800m swim will take place in a muddy creek after which we will cycle the 25km back to Julia Creek along the hot exposed Outback Highway. The race will finish with a 3-lap, 5km run through the centre of town. The atmosphere on the run should be great.

I am looking forward to the event. I expect the field will be small and social. Yes there will be serious competitors but there will also probably be many more who, like me, are here for the experience more than the racing.

Julia Creek Trip Day 4: Alpha to Kyuna

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The caravan park at Alpha turned out to be delightful. It was quiet, relaxed and had clean facilities with excellent water pressure in the showers. I was refreshed when I woke up; ready for another day on the road.

From Alpha we climbed the last vestiges of the Great Dividing Range; all 440m in altitude that it was. As soon as we crossed it everything became drier. Where to the east the rivers and creeks still held water, here they didn’t.

We stopped in Barcaldine to look at the Tree of Knowledge. When I was a child it was still an actual tree but it has since died and has been replaced with an artist’s interpretation, which is pretty cool. As we stood there I noticed that the only buildings along the highway were five pubs and a petrol station. That’s so Outback.
After Barcaldine the country opened up even more. There was now nothing but wide open plains on all sides. The road seemed to go on endlessly in front of us.

After another 100km we reached Longreach; the birthplace of QANTAS airlines. We stopped for morning tea and a rest from the heat.

I also had a chance to take a photo of one of the road trains that have been thundering down the road towards us. These trucks generally have three trailers and can be up to 53m long. For me the worst are those that carry liquids or cattle because they displace a lot of air so coming across then at 110kph is like hitting a solid wall of wind.

From Longreach it was a long hot 180km to Winton, famous for Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda. It was 180km of almost dead straight highway under woolly skies. Not that there’s any chance of rain out here. The clouds that form from moisture taken from these soils will drop their bounty further east after they hit or cross the Great Dividing Range.

We decided to make for Kyuna; a tiny town at the intersection between the highway and a secondary road to Julia Creek. The road was again long and straight. As had been the case since Barcaldine there was little else around us but open cattle fields. The floods a few months ago have left everything green, making it beautiful riding despite the increasing heat.

I was glad to see a rest area 100km after Winton because I needed a break from having the sun burn what little skin was exposed to it. My nose and cheeks are quite sun and wind burned. These rest stops are relatively new and a welcome addition to the highways.

66km further down the highway we entered tiny Kyuna. According to the sign at the entry to town the population has decreased from 25 a decade-and-half ago to 12 a decade ago. It has a ? mark for the 2014 population. The town has a gorgeous pub, The Blue Heeler Hotel behind which we have set up camp. It looks inviting so we are going there for tea tonight. There’s a petrol station and another caravan park up the road but I have to say the proprietor didn’t seem too welcoming when I stopped for fuel so it was an easy choice about where to stay. And that’s all there is here.

I’ve had a fantastic day. We’re finally out west object the never-ending plains where towns are tiny and far-flung. It’s where I most love to travel and must make time to come more often.

Now I need a shower so we can go get a steak!