The Old Way: 4WDs take on the Ghan Railway track
So there we are having a day off in Alice Springs. Having just powered all the way through the Finke River gorge and a whole lot of places in between. That's kind of what happens with LowRange trips, we're all about checking out the back roads.
Mind you, the lads will tell you it's probably more that the bloke up front in the green truck is hopelessly lost again. Yeah, well you get that, a paper map's got a lifespan of about fifteen milliseconds on the front seat of Milo, or at least until it gets used to mop up a spill. And the VMS might be hanging in but half the time on this trip it was so dusty in the old girl you couldn't make out the screen let alone where the arrow was pointing. I couldn't find my face either. The dust was bad, as you'll see on our video.
But it wasn't in Alice Springs. In fact it was kind of liquid damped everywhere we went. Mostly because we didn't go far from the Hilton.
What's this? LowRange going soft? Well, no and sort of. We met the manager of the incredible DoubleTree Hilton out on the tracks because he's one of us. Yep, Todd was taking his family for a tour around the traps and once he found out we were heading to Alice for a rest day, he suggested the whole team should come and stay with him!
Most people say that and you know it's going to be crowded in the old tin bath, but Todd's not like most people and the Hilton isn't your ordinary shack. It blew me away to be honest, restaurants in the foyer, bars, a swimming pool so big Kenno lost his yabby net in it, and even Gleno, who knows a bit of comfort when it's lolling all around him, was really impressed. So our 'break' in Alice Springs turned out to be the absolute top end of town.
Did I mention the bar?
Yep, so it could have been a culture shock when we left town on the Old Ghan track. The first station - actually Rodinga was the last to be built being the furthest north - was a roofless concrete walled place that had about as much in common with the Hilton as Milo does with Hasbeen's new Disco!
But this was the start of a little history lesson on the pioneering of Australia's most remote country and in a way I was glad we were there in the dead heat of summer. See, it might be tough walking around swatting flies in 50 degree heat, but imagine how much harder a bloke has to be to drive in railway spikes in the same conditions? Or what about the women of the outback, hunkered over wood ovens or keeping the kids occupied when the midday temperature's roaring and the wind has dropped to still. Wow, we come from proud and tough stock!
Yep, and maybe the breeding kept a bit of stupid too. We knew the track was rough but when we met some of the local coppers coming the other way we found out it was actually supposed to be shut! No worries, with their unofficial 'OK' we kept going, stopping only to check out a nasty rattle in Milo's drive train. It turned out to be a sloppy universal, not exactly the best thing to find when you're looking at a few thousand Ks of rutted track type flogging before you get anywhere near home!
But a whole lot of help in the little Aboriginal town of Finke from council employee Pete - whose job is to do the jobs that keep the place running - we were able to fill both ends up with grease and punch on. Almost literally given the washaways left over from the last flood.
This was no time to travel at night so first clearing we saw with a bit of grass we pulled over and set up camp. It was Kenno's turn to cook which meant a meat fest - sausages, steaks, sausages, more steaks, double sauce on everything. Man it was a good feed!
There's something wonderful about the hour or so around dawn in the centre country. It's the coolest time of day and the birds all come out to celebrate the rise of the sun. The flies usually take a while to wake up and, yes, it's just very special and peaceful too! Just what you need before another day of hammering over the corrugations.
Pretty soon we've crossed the South Aussie border and it's only a few Ks more to Mount Dare. A lot of places shut down in the hot summer months in the centre country because there's no point hanging around when nobody else is! But Dave and his family were all there and it was great to catch up with them again. It was great to grab a cold drink and a meat pie too!
There's nothing that offers more contrast than the desert country. There we are, churning the dust through 50 degree heat - 55 in Milo just to make life interesting - on a track loaded with old railway spikes that might have blown lesser tyres than our Coopers, when we pulled over the hill and saw Eringa waterhole.
It was full up too, the last remnants of the floods having left their mark. After days of nothing but gidgee scrub we camped up under old ghost gums along the banks of the loveliest billabong on earth. That night we celebrated with a big feed of spaghetti and meatballs - the recipe's here - and before long we were relaxed and laughing. Kenno sure was, next thing he's flipped backwards out of his chair. He's an old surfer though, he didn't spill a drop.
Took a bit of effort getting him out of his comfy MDC the next morning. Gleno and I played tether ball on the side of his van, whacking away for half an hour or so until finally the Big K showed his face. Oh well, at least he gave us some exercise.
This country through here was all part of the route Sydney Kidman pioneered linking up the permanent waterholes through the centre so he could keep his cattle alive. It's still cattle country and the only vehicle I saw all day on the way to Oodnadatta was a cattle truck coming the other way. Turned out to be a bloke I'd met before and in the outback you never miss out on a yarn!
No fuel at Oodnadatta though because in the middle of the day the town was taking a siesta. The only person we saw was the local copper who dropped over for a yarn while we had our lunch.
But 'only person in town' in Oodna was nothing compared to our next stop at William Creek, home of the most remote pub in the world. Here I caught up with Trevor who over many years bought the whole town including the pub, the garage, the accommodation and he even owns the aeroplanes that fly out of here over Lake Eyre. He introduced us to Bert, the town's tame dingo who was following us everywhere we went after that!
Last time I stopped at William Creek, the pub had one of those wonderful traditions that usually take root when people are free to be themselves. Yep, the roof bearers and walls were covered with used undies, mostly g-strings from what I remember too. But then the Handbrake would tell you that might be all I'd notice anyway.
Trouble was the man from the government had been through. He'd decided that there was a health risk having old jocks hanging around a place where people might eat a meal and had decreed the undies had to come down. Err, I might need to rephrase that but the whole point is that here, in a place where the locals have to do everything themselves, that was our wonderful gumbynut's contribution. Good grief, save us from city-bound public servants making bush-based calls!
With Lake Eyre up from the rains we took advantage of that for a daybreak flight. This is one of those once in a lifetime experiences that we all wanted to tick off our bucket list. It was incredible. Have a look:
The Strezlecki was chewed up from too many mining trucks so I figured we'd take a short cut across the northern Flinders to Cameron's Corner.
This is one of the joys of summer touring in the outback - one of the very few joys my mates might say. With so few people around the signs are dropped and the gates are open, you can go places you might be warned off during the peak tourist season in winter.
The track we took started out as a mining road and petered out to an overgrown path through these ancient hills that hadn't been travelled in years. Yep, real adventure LowRange style!
Most of it wasn't too bad but there were plenty of washaways to be dodged along the way. Finally we popped out on the back of a property and I had to go ask directions to the road. But wow, what an adventure! I love seeing new country, and some of it was really old new country too.
Ok, so it was stinking hot and nobody travels in the outback in summer if they've got any sense. Milo's a bit on the primitive side too so most of the heat and the dust was right there in the cabin. But you know what? Somehow for me coming back to centre country in the month's you shouldn't was like opening a whole new chapter in exploration - both personal and our incredible country itself. From the personal side of things it was a trip back memory lane, to the days when seasons made no difference because it was all in a day's work.
And Australia? How lucky are we! How lucky are we!!! This country of ours is as magnificent and plentiful in its burnt splendour as it is just plain old huge.
Tsff, fftttgh, kerchoosh - err, fly anyone?