Travels with the Winnie: Guest Post by Stephen

Impressions of the trip

For three months, starting in late May, 1017, I spent 96 nights withStephen (1 of 1) my wife in the confined space of one room, known as our motor home. Certainly a blue-ribbon test of the marital bond.  We were doing our big “trip around Australia”, the retirement trip that grey nomads often talk about, particularly before they get grey hair. We drove over 13 000 km, purchased over $2000 of diesel and visited SA, NT, Qld and NSW. We had originally planned to go over to Adelaide and then up through the NT as far as Katherine, and then turn west, back towards WA, making it an anticlockwise loop. But almost on a whim, at Three Ways (just north of Tenant Creek) we turned east and did a big clockwise circle though Queensland and NSW before closing the loop by returning to Horrick’s Pass, in the Flinders ranges just north of Adelaide. I did have the possibility of visiting a cousin through marriage in Qld so this influenced the decision. It’s a lot of driving and when we did stop for a few days, this was always very welcome.

Susan introduced me to free camping on this trip. Here it is necessary to be completely self-contained, though some stops did have a drop toilet, with such facilities varying in their level of agreeable presentation. Dealing with toilet matters, if I may be slightly indelicate, is in fact a significant part of the daily routine. Fortunately I am an after breakfast mid-morning man and was able to 100 % able to avoid internal visits, relying on road houses and the not so occasional trowel and behind a bush visit, affectionally called “AL frescos”.

Before setting out I was looking forward to seeing a variety of eucalypts. My guide to Eucalypts by Dean Nicol showed me the geographical region where particular species grew naturally, and I realised we would pass through a number of these. So there were the ghost gums of Alice Springs, the river red gums of the Finke river (and many other rivers), the coolabahs along the Darling river (NSW) and the Matilda highway (Queensland) and the desert oaks along the Larapinta highway (NT on the way to Uluru) have now become cherished memories. The river red gum, appearing in seven subspecies, is the most widespread of the eucalypts. The coolabah is perhaps the most iconic, as it is celebrated in the lyric “under the shade of the Coolibah tree” in the poem waltzing matilda. On the trip I also became aware of the dig tree, a coolabah, where Burke and Wills found buried supplies left behind by the waiting party that left 7 hours before they returned from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Two books were my happy companions on this trip (apart from my Eucalypt guides). The first was “The Singing Line” by Alice Thomson, which tells the story of Charles Todd and the telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin. This tale fleshed out the details of the enterprise that I was vaguely aware of. As we travelled up the Stuart Highway we could see the type of terrain the early explorers and pioneers had to contend with. We visited two telegraph stations. The excellent museum in Alice Springs and the more undeveloped one at Tenant Creek were visted. But Todd had to wait for Charles Stuart to complete his explorations and this in turn lead me to discover the rivalry between Stuart of South Australia and Burke and Wills of Victoria.

I found my second book, “The Dig Tree” by Sarah Murgatroyd, at the shop attached to the roadhouse / restaurant at Barkly Homestead. What a wonderful find this book turned out to be. Firstly in the forward, Geoffrey Blainey lists all the other attempts to tell this tragic story (so lots of reading to follow up). The book is a very well researched narrative of the story by this BBC journalist, who tragically died from cancer just before the book was published. Apparently she drove along the path of the expediton three times, often in extreme discomfort. As I’ve already mentioned we weren’t able to visit the dig tree, as our motorhome is not up to extended travel off the bitumen, but otherwise we tried to connect with places where our trek crossed theirs. This occurred the first time on the Mt Isa to Cloncurry road. At Cloncurry there is a good museum that has a facsimile of Wills’s diary, as well as Burke’s water bottle. (Though the national museum of Australia in Canberra also claims to have it). In Queensland we free camped by the banks of the Barwon River, which flows in Coopers Creek, so we got a feel for the countryside. Several weeks later, 100 km south of Broken Hill, we visited Menindee Lakes, on the Darling, where Burke and Wills set up their first base camp, on the edge of what was then the extent of European settlement. Coming to realise what the first explorers and pioneers went through in those first years is one of the chief benefits of the “Round Australia” journey.

 

 

Travels with the Winnie: Day 96

Meckering to Home Base

We arrived home at about 1.45 p.m. Safe and sound. The house seems nice, we left it fairly clean and tidy and the dust doesn’t seem to be too bad. We feel a bit disoriented. The Subaru started up first thing and Stephen has taken it for a run. He is now sorting out the mail as our mail redirection doesn’t end until the 29th.

There are lots of things to be done, but arriving home safely feels like a big achievement just at the moment. We are both thinking of other trips we would like to do, some local and the next big one – probably going around the other way – up north and then across to the Northern Territory.

But for now we need to settle in a bit and try to remember that all of the unpacking doesn’t need to be done today!

The featured photo is from the beginning of our trip, but I went across there this morning and bought a flat white to have with breakfast. It was supposed to open at 9.00 a.m., but I didn’t check the time before going and was happily served at 8.30 a.m.

Today is sunny, with a cold wind. We have really enjoyed driving down past Northam and other familiar towns through the jarrah forrest. We stopped at the bakery in Mundaring for soup and coffee and a shared cake. We stocked up on loaves and rolls which have gone straight into the freezer.

 

Travels with the Winnie: Day 95

North Road Parking Bay to Meckering

We had a good nights sleep and set off at about 9.15 a.m. We stopped briefly to refuel, and then to have morning tea in Kellerberin, and then lunch in Cunderdin. There is parking off the highway near the Pump museum. Stephen spent some time in the museum whilst I had a rest and then a cup of tea at the pub. We have passed this pub a few times now and I’ve taken photos of it, but this was the first time of going inside. The cup of tea was $2.00 and I was able to sit on a sofa near the fire.

Meckering is only 22 kms from Cunderdin so it was worthwhile to spend time in Cunderdin, arriving in Meckering to settle for the night. We have access to flushing toilets, a dump point and water taps. The cafe was still open when we arrived as it closes at 6. p.m., but doesn’t open until 9.00 a.m. in the mornings.

This morning, for the first time on our trip, the diesel heater has had problems. It was going for a while, then the light started flashing. We suspect that the fuel lead is blocked. Something else for our list of things for Ken Peachy to have a look at when it goes in on the 25th September. It has been such a blessing on our trip! We are glad that if it had to fail it has chosen to do so on our last morning before getting home.

We tried again after about 20 minutes and it worked perfectly. An intermittent problem?

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at North Road Parking Bay yesterday morning

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and Meckering yesterday evening
 

Travels with the Winnie: Day 93 and 94

Widgiemooltha to Boondi Rock and Dam, then Boondi to North Road Parking Bay (actually on the old road nearby)

We woke up to clouds yesterday morning, but by the time we reached Coolgardie it was mostly sunny. We tried to get our gas bottle filled, but no joy. We had morning tea at a roadhouse and refuelled.

Coolgardie Tourist Information Centre and Museum (1 of 1)

We arrived at Boondi Rock in mid afternoon. We had a short walk around the dam and a longer walk up on the rock until nearly sunset. We gathered wood and lit a fire in the large firepit provided. There are seven campsites, each with a firepit and picnic table. Using the firelighters there was no difficulty in getting a good fire going. We didn’t try to large pieces of wood because we didn’t intend to keep the fire after dark. I took some photos.

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us at the fire (1 of 1)

We particularly enjoyed all of the small birds singing. Hard to see, but they make their presence felt. On our walk Stephen rang Geoff to catch up. The featured photo shows Stephen about to make the call. We had a good 3g signal out on the rock.

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water holes on the rock
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Our campsite at Boondi Rock. We are just below the dam and had to climb a few steps to see it. There were only two other vans there and we met both couples when we were out walking.
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Good reflections on the water when we had our afternoon walk
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Detail of some of the flow markings and lichen on the rock.

It was a very cold night, and I wonder how it would be to free camp with no heating. I think it would be quite tough, although we have camped overnight in reasonably cold conditions in the caravan without power. We were warm in bed, but it felt very cold on my face and head.

Our internet was very slow and I did not try to blog, it was important to just enjoy being there. In the morning we went for another walk around the dam and general area before heading off at about 10.00 a.m.

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sun rising over the dam
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Setting off on our morning walk.
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morning reflections
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a zoomed in shot showing the rock behind the dam

We found the driving difficult, with a very bumpty road. It is more difficult than a gravel road because you have to maintain a much higher speed (say 80 kms), which makes the bumps worse than if you could go a bit slower. When we arrived in Southern Cross we were finally able to get the gas bottle refilled. We bought some bread and had lunch.

We were feeling oddly tired and out of sorts, probably partly grieving that our journey will end soon. We contemplated a few options. Southern Cross provides a dump point and coin operated tap for filling RV tanks. We thought of going to the caravan park, and nice as it is, it felt a bit of a comedown after our lovely bush camp. We thought of going to the free camping on the edge of town, but we looked at it on our way here three months ago, and it wasn’t that inviting. We could have stayed in town for the day, then gone there around sunset.

After quite a long rest, we decided to push on a bit and find a spot further down the road. We missed the one we were aiming for because it was on the opposite side of the road. We then used my ipad with Wikicamps to find a spot which is about 25 kms from Southern Cross. We are now about 330 kms from home.

We are not 100% sure that our spot is legal. The rest stop did not have places away from the road, so we went a little further and found a way into some bush. We can still see the highway. The Telstra signal is sufficient for blogging, which is important.

 

 

 

Travels with the Winnie: Day 92

Norseman to Widgiemooltha

We woke up to a cloudy, windy morning yesterday and stayed in bed for some time reading on our iPads. We decided to push onwards rather than have a rest day there. We wanted to cook up some mince and vegetables in the pressure cooker, for which we need electricity and had two possibilities in mind, Widgie or Coolgardie. By the time we arrived in Widgie it was lunchtime and the wind was still pretty strong. According to the forecast today will be less windy.

We stayed here on our way through to the east and rather like the odd little caravan park behind the roadhouse. There are cheerful young backpackers working here. We got our spot and hooked up the electricty, then went to the roadhouse to have soup.

The featured image shows examples of things we get up to in our ‘tiny house’ Winnebago.

We will be back in the city quite soon, so staying out of town was also an attraction of being here. We had enough of a phone signal to chat with Matt on Facetime.

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Sometimes we have all three levels with fruit, or we use one basket for our ‘stuff’, hat, scarf, mobile phone and glasses case.

We have planned three more overnight stops on our way home. Tonight (Monday) we will be at Boondi Rock and Dam, which is off the highway in a national park. Our neighbours here at the caravan park have just spent a night there and recommend it. The next night (Tuesday) will be at Burracopin Centenary Park Rest Area, and then Wednesday night at Meckering Memorial Park (where we stayed for our first night of the trip). That’s the plan and we will see if it works out. Of course, we could actually get home in two days, but we are not in a hurry. Stephen wants to be home for the 28th for a WASO choir rehearsal and we are well within that deadline.

Travels with the Winnie: Day 92

Afghan Rock to Norseman

It rained overnight yesterday, and when we woke up in the morning we were worried about being able to get out to the road along the 3km track. Part of the track was very good, but there were areas that had obviously been very boggy after rain. We had our cup of tea and washes, then headed back to the Ayre Highway to the rest area where we had our breakfast. The rain didn’t become heavy at any stage yesterday and we would probably have been OK. We really enjoyed being well away from the road in a quiet setting overnight.

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the dam and windmill
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a bit of blue sky
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rays of sunlight

As we drove to Norseman the landscape changed. It became hilly, and the trees became taller. We went through an area of intense dieback where all of the tall trees had died. Internestingly, there were young trees growing thickly in the same area which appeared to be completely unaffected. I imagine they would have to thin out a bit.

We stopped at the Fraser Range Rest Area for morning tea. We had two slices of toast with our cuppa, which is where things started to get a bit odd as we then didn’t get hungry for lunch until about three. I had been suggesting that we had dinner at a pub, but we couldn’t imagine being hungry for an evening meal.

We arrived in Norseman early afternoon with a few chores to do. We refuelled, then went to the information centre where we used the dump point and refilled our water tank. We had to get a key for the dump point and a tap for the water from the information centre, so it was a bit complicated. We got into conversation with a man dressed in colourful tutu and tights. There was a market in town this morning which we sadly missed. I was too shy to ask him if I could take a photo. We then did some shopping at the IGA and were glad to restock on fruit and vegetables.

Our last chore was to get our gas bottled refilled, but there we ran out of luck. The BP station didn’t do refills, but we had some lentil soup anyway. The Caltex didn’t do refills and when we tried the caravan park they said they were too busy at the time and if we stayed the night with them they would do it overnight. We gave up and went to the free camp site. It is nicely located on the edge of town with a view to one of the salt lakes. It was quite bleak when we arrived, with wind and driving, light rain.

However, after our rest it didn’t seem so bad. We walked to the centre of town to a pub we had looked at earlier where they served meals. We had a drink and settled in next to the fire. Eventually we decided to have something to eat and ordered a steak sandwich with ‘the lot’. It was good value and we were so full that we couldn’t fit in any fruit when we got back to the van.

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our spot, Norseman
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the view
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we weren’t the only ones
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the Norseman pub
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the clouds
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the other pub where there was a yoga retreat happening this weekend
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there were two fires in the room. We sat at the other end which was more comfortable and there was an open fire right next to us.
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It was very quiet for a Saturday night. The woman at the bar said that maybe people found it too cold to go out.

It sometimes feels quite odd that it doesn’t matter where we are, once night falls and we draw the curtains, our little home is the same night after night. Cosy and spacious enough that we can each feel we have some privacy. We think that we have lived in small spaces often enough that we can be together or separate no matter what the circumstances.

Travels with the Winnie: Day 91

Rest Area just East of Eyre Bird Observatory turnoff to Afghan Rock Camping Area

Today we went through the ’90 mile straight’ – fairly easy driving today, sunny and not too much wind. We were the last to leave our campsite this morning, but still managed reach our desired campsite. Instead of being just off the highway, we are actually on private property, close to a dam and windmill. Thanks to Wikicamps for information on this site. The comments section was very helpful about the condition of the track leading to the dam, including another motorhome owner who said it was OK taken very slowly.

We have our little circle of RVs and even though it has been dark for a couple of hours there are a group still sitting outside around a campfire. If Stephen and I wanted our own campfire we realise that we don’t have matches or any other way of lighting a fire. I am thinking of getting a small metal firepit that we can take around with us. It would mean we could have a very small and contained fire – only in season, of course.

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Our nomad village for the night. You can’t see the dam in this photo as it is smallish and rather low lying.
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Stephen exploring the rock

We had morning tea at Caiguna and lunch at the Baxter Rest Area where we stayed on our way to the East.

We are now 180 kms east of Norseman and finally back in the WA timezone.