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 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.

another with Stephen and fire (1 of 1)

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.

water holes on the rock (1 of 1)
water holes on the rock
Campsite Boondi Rock (1 of 1)
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.
dam reflections (1 of 1)
Good reflections on the water when we had our afternoon walk
flow markings2 (1 of 1)
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.

dawn over the dam (1 of 1)
sun rising over the dam
morning walk (1 of 1)
Setting off on our morning walk.
morning reflections (1 of 1)
morning reflections
bridge (1 of 1)
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.

fruit bowls refreshed (1 of 1).jpg
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.

Afghan Rock dawn2 (1 of 1)
the dam and windmill
Afghan Rock dawn3 (1 of 1)
a bit of blue sky
Afghan Rock dawn4 (1 of 1)
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.

Norseman (1 of 1)
our spot, Norseman
Norseman2 (1 of 1)
the view
Norseman3 (1 of 1)
we weren’t the only ones
Norseman5 (1 of 1)
the Norseman pub
Norseman6 (1 of 1)
the clouds
Norseman7 (1 of 1).jpg
the other pub where there was a yoga retreat happening this weekend
Norseman9 (1 of 1)
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.
Norseman10 (1 of 1)
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 86

Streaky Bay to Penong

It was cloudy this morning at Streaky Bay, so not as difficult to leave as it might have been. We enjoyed the beautiful amenities one more time, I even did another load of washing in the splendid laundry.

We stopped at Ceduna for lunch, shopping and refuelling the Winnie. Ceduna has a very good Foodland store, which is fortunately open on Sundays. We had our lunch on the foreshore. This is a last opportunity to shop at a big supermarket before the gap until we reach Norseman. We decided to buy ingrediants to do a pressure cooker meal, lots of vegetables and chorizo sausages. It has worked out reasonably well, but I put too much water in and it has turned into a soup rather than stew.

It was around 3.00 before we left Ceduna and we aimed for the caravan park at Penong because we would need electricity and internet – it’s Sunday – time to talk with Matthew.

There were wildflowers on the way. We don’t know the name of the flower in the featured image, but it is very interesting in a closeup (taken with my iPhone).

embraceable SA litter bins (1 of 1)
you know when you are in SA when you see these cuddly litter bins
windmill museum (1 of 1)
We don’t remember this Windmill Museum just opposite the caravan park
Penong Caravan Park (1 of 1).jpg
The caravan park also features a windmill.

This caravan park isn’t fancy looking, but the facilities are very clean and two years ago I was amazed by the new front loading washing machines. They look just the same as the ones at our very upmarket Streaky Bay Islands Caravan Park. Well done Penong Caravan Park for putting effort into good facilities.

As it was low season at the beach in Streaky Bay we only paid $30 a night there. It is $27 a night here at Penong. Apart from being able to cook enough food to last for a few nights and talking to Matt on Facetime, we were glad to be able to use our air conditioner on the fan only setting to bring cool air into the van. Rain is threatening, but not happening, and we found it quite oppressive until after sunset when the temperature has gone down quite a lot.

We hope to have a good night’s sleep and make it to Head of Bight for tomorrow night. We can free camp there, then check on whether the whales are running the next morning. Nullabour Roadhouse is fairly close to Head of Bight and I’ve read on Wikicamps that we can fill our water tank there – we have to pay for the water, but it’s not very expensive.

I was using Geowiki  exclusively for the first weeks of our trip, but I find Wikicamps is much better for giving information on where we can free camp and where we can get water. We don’t mind paying for the water – it’s still inexpensive compared with buying water in supermarkets.

Travels with the Winnie: Day 84

Kimba to Streaky Bay

We arrived at Streaky Bay at about 3.30 p.m. this afternoon. After a bit of time on the foreshore in town we made our way to Streaky Bay Little Islands Caravan Park. We are very impressed. It is well laid out and appears to try to give everyone a view of the ocean. At the moment there are lots of free bays and we chose one away from other vans to maximise our views. All of the facilities are lovely, a beautiful campers kitchen that is like the family room of a house, all of the showers are private ensuite style (shower, toilet, basin) that would look good in any house, and the laundry even has laundry baskets and trolleys. The front loading washing machines are all new.

Of course, we didn’t just come here for the facilities, but to touch base with the ocean again after spending so long inland. We also have fond memories from our trip two years ago when we met up with Eversley. She had gone ahead of us after visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory together and arrived the day before us.

We have only booked for tonight, but may be staying another night as well.

Streaky Bay Hotel (1 of 1)
Where Eversley stayed.
Streaky Bay (1 of 1)
Foreshore of the town with clouds. The silos are in the background.

The journey here has been through lovely farmland and small towns. A highlight was morning tea at Kyancutta Cafe, where all of the biscuits and cakes were home made. We had our hot drinks and shared a pastie, plus taking some honey crackles with us to have with our lunch.

We had our lunch at the turnoff from the Eyre Highway to Streaky Bay. When we got closer to Streaky Bay we kept expecting to see the ocean over the next rise, and kept getting disappointed until, in the end, it appeared! I had forgotten that Streaky Bay is like other towns in this area with huge grain silos, which dominate everything.

When we arrived here Stephen had a bit of difficulty with connecting to the tap, but it was eventually sorted. During the afternoon clouds had been gathering and there was even some light drizzle. It still seemed threatening to rain when we were in the town, but when we arrived here at CP it turned into a mild and sunny afternoon. Of course this meant the sunset was less scenic because of the lack of clouds.

Streaky Bay sunset (1 of 1)
sunset at Streaky Bay Little Islands Caravan Park



Travels with the Winnie: Day 83

Iron Knob to Kimba

For anyone who cares we didn’t come very far today, but the wind was very strong and was forecast to continue for the rest of the day. It wasn’t sensible to keep struggling with it. The featured photo is of the facilities at Iron Kob.

We had a look at our drain pipe this morning, even stuck a couple of things up it, without being able to release the blockage. Stephen made a couple of phone calls and found someone in Kimba willing to look at it. We decided to leave the tap open as we drove so as not to cause a flood when someone was working on the problem.

As usual, we loved the scenery on our drive, and with the wind there were interesting cloudscapes. We went to Ailen’s Cafe for lunch, ordered soup and coffee and chai latte, and realised it wasn’t the right time to be there. The place was swamped with young mums and kids, it was pickup time. They forgot our hot drinks, but we were still able to enjoy the excellent soup. We reminded them about our hot drinks and asked for them to be in takeaway containers.

Our repairman was just around the corner. He and Stephen noted that there was no water dripping from the pipe (we had a light dripping, just no flow). The mechanic said that the first thing he would dry was blowing air up the pipe, so we put plugs in plug holes and clothes over that. We then ran water through all of the outlets and it came through with no problems. We are not sure if travelling with the drain open had dislodged the blockage or whether the compressed air had done the trick. He asked for $20 which we happily paid, and we went out to the recreation reserve where we stayed on our way east to refill with water.

By this time the wind was really fierce, and we decided to stay the night here. We parked near some caravans with the hope of having some protection from the gusts and making sure our fridge was on the leeward. We have had a restful afternoon, mostly staying in the van. There are good toilets here, potable water, and one shower at $1 for 2 minutes. Stephen has already had a shower, but I like to wait until before bed. We saw the cleaners here this afternoon and everything is really clean and fresh.

Of course we have our own toilet, but we mostly use it at night, and don’t do No. 2s in it unless absolutely necessary. We also like to shower in a bit larger bathroom when we can. It’s always nice to know we can fill up on fresh water in the morning and we have a dump point close by.

I’ve requested a couple of nights at Streaky Bay, a slight diversion from our route home. There is a new caravan park on the beach a little out of town (with a courtesy car to town if needed), and it will be a chance to do some washing. We are relieved that our latest water problem has been resolved without affecting our planned return date of about the 28th August.

morning at Iron Knob (1 of 1)
the view is back towards Port Augusta

I’m cooking some chicken mince and veggies which will give us a couple of evening meals.