Blog #23 – The Last Leg(s) – Days 190 to 208
Finally, after ten days in Alice Springs all repairs were now complete and the replacement solar blanket had arrived. The tally in damages from the Tanami Track was another $1500 but I have never looked at the expenses this way but more the price of the adventure into places less travelled. I had blown the door seals on the driver and passenger sides plus the rear door seal which allowed the red dust ingress into the vehicle coating everything. I imagine it will take me years to get the final traces out.
Whilst I was waiting, I travelled around the town hunting more bird species with no luck. However, I did find something that was fascinating at Alice Springs Airport. Due to the impact of COVID on all airlines with the virtual crash stop of airline travel the airport aprons had become a storage space for 94 of Cathay Pacific’s aircraft plus A380s from Singapore Airlines and domestic carrier Jetstar. For the plane buffs out there, these are the types of aircraft in storage – Airbus A380s, Airbus A330-300s, Boeing 777-300s, Airbus A320-200s and Airbus A321-200s. Currently there are 140 aircraft stored for a long term in this facility and it is a sight to see if you fly in or drive along the approach roads.
The weather had started to turn with rain developing and my good fortune for the past 6 months had ended. What I didn’t expect was high winds which appeared before I was packed and creating a dust storm in the park bringing down trees close-by. It was time to move on. Finalised, packing that night apart from the awning due to the winds but that would be easy enough in the morning. Fueled up, including the 3 jerrycans on the roof, for the trip south the next day.
Up early and finalised the packing and was on the road by 8am. It is 1261 klm to Port Augusta from Alice and my plan was to break this into a 3-day trip. Plan was to drive to Marla that first day which was 454 klm away. I was so busy packing that I forgot some sage advice from cousin Greg very early in the trip – make sure that you put the winding handle for the jockey wheel back in its home in the driver’s door side pocket. I didn’t discover I had not followed this advice until I camped up that night. Multi-grips will do the job but just not as efficient I discovered that night (I have ordered 2 as soon as I reached home as I am sure I will forget again at some stage and lose another).
Surprisingly, the distance was gobbled up quickly and I pulled into Marla just after 11am. Being too early to camp up I just had a loo break & refueled and departed for Coober Pedy another 234 klm down the line. Again, the next 3 hours went quickly so again I fueled up and had a late lunch before pushing on. Glendambo was going to be my night stop another 274 klm further down the road. Just on dusk I nearly had an accident when a flock of sheep darted out onto the highway in front of me (note that none of the properties along the highway fence off their stock so they can be a real hazard). After coming to halt in a haze of burnt tyre smoke I decided to not be too foolish and would stop at the next layby with a toilet. This happened to be at Bon Bon Reserve 84 klm north of Glendambo. A big driving effort that day as I had covered 878 klm in 10 hours of driving. I had already stayed at both Marla & Coober Pedy and seen what I wanted to see which was why I had pushed on. The wind was still blowing and it was quite cold (for me after 3 months in the Tope End & Wyndham) but at least it was not raining.
Due to my very late lunch I didn’t worry about dinner and started setting up camp for the night. That was when I discovered I had no winch handle for the jockey wheel – Bugger!!! Thankfully I was carrying a well-equipped kit of tools and a set of vice multi-grips became the new temporary winch handle. It can be convenient when you are doing quick overnight stops just to leave the chains & cables hooked to the car and just wind up the jockey wheel to even out the trailer. Here is where the design of the DOT trailer comes to the fore. Once I had leveled the front it was an easy job to use the airbag suspension to drop one side to even out the side elevation. Drop the stabilizer legs and height adjust them so that the trailer would not rock too much in the wind – once before I had not used the stabilizer legs and the wind rocked the trailer all night which kept waking me up (lesson learned).
Next was to setup the rooftop tent and set its awning out (another lesson learned from the Tanami Track so that the poles did not bang on the trailer all night). By now I was quite good at setting up camp for the night and all was done inside 15 minutes. Now for a good night’s sleep. No such luck. Within the next hour a group of young tourists setup just in front of me and banged and crashed around for an hour and a half before settling down. Ah, peace again. Then at 3 o’clock in the morning a terrible racket woke me up when a car with a broken muffler rattled and banged its way next to me so someone could go to the loo – inconsiderate swine! Finally, they left so I could get back to sleep until the alarm woke at 7am. Hurriedly packed up but not before observing the 4 young tourists who had slept in bedrolls on the ground – to cold for me to do that anymore especially with a cold wind blowing all night – I must be getting old!!
It was only 84 klm to Glendambo so breakfast at the roadhouse was in order. Just my luck that the town was hosting its annual gymkhana so there was a fair queue for brekkie. Finally, my brekkie order was fulfilled with a very large cup of coffee to fortify me for the day. Plan was to get to Port Augusta early afternoon then pick up my medication and head for Streaky Bay. Compared to the previous day this drive would be fairly short – only 383 klm. The countryside on this part of the trip was fairly boring with low shrubs and scrub and no interesting features. As it was still blowing a gale the birds would be hiding as well.
Made it into Port Augusta around 2.30pm and let google be my friend to find some accommodation as the chemist was now closed. This was not in my game plan as I was expecting that they would have similar hours to the chemists in Wodonga ie open to 7pm at night and also open on Sundays. No such luck so now I was stuck here for two days. Found a caravan park with reasonable rates for a powered site close to the water for the next two nights. Had camp setup relatively quickly as I could not put out the awning due to the wind. It was good to have a hot shower and put on some fresh clothes.
I had been here a few times before but the places I wanted to visit to do some bird photography were a dead loss because of the wind which had actually increased in velocity and had also brought some rain with it. This is one of the downsides of living in a camper trailer on the road as your only shelter is under the big 270-degree awning with all the walls up to block the wind. As I was only here for 2 nights and the weather was not pleasant it would have been risky setting up the cover so for the first time in one these caravan parks, I was forced to use the Recreation Room. It is not that I am anti-social but more that these places lacked any sort of character and were not really comfortable.
So, the alternate was to just go for drives into the countryside around the town. At least it was warm and dry in the car. Overnight the weather worsened with wind really howling now with gusts up to 60 klm/h. The forecast for Streaky Bay was worse for the rest of the following week so I abandoned that part of the plan and decided that I would head to Gluepot over near Waikerie on the Monday.
Up early on Monday morning I was down in the supermarket to stock up on fresh fruit & vegetable for a planned 4 day stay at the Birdlife Australia sanctuary at Gluepot. It was given this name due to the fine red clay dust on the property that when it gets wet it turns to clag (a gluepot by another name). The forecast showed that I should be Ok until at least Thursday so that made me happy. So, car was now stocked and the Chemist had opened and had the medication I had ordered. Time to drive back to the park and hitch up for departure. Left town at 0930 starting on my 380 klm trip.
The countryside through to Taylorville from where I would turn north onto the dirt again was very picturesque and made for a pleasant day’s driving. I stopped at Burra to fuel up and have some lunch before continuing on. I had also been to Gluepot a number of times before so knew how to get there and where all the turnoffs were which did make it easier. Once I turned north onto the dirt, I was lucky enough to meet one of the rangers heading back to Gluepot from a shopping run. This makes doing the gates much easier as she opened them and I followed and closed them – there are 4 gates on the 55 klm drive into the station on a fairly rough and dusty road. At least the sun was shining here and there was only a light breeze. Arrived into the visitor centre with another coating of fine red dust on anything, selected a campsite and filled in my paperwork for 4 day stay. It was another 12 klm drive to my campsite at the Bellbird Campsite from the visitor site so I said farewell to the ranger and headed off again.
By now it was getting late in the afternoon so I setup camp before heading off to my favourite hide on the property – Froggy Dam. Previously I had many idyllic hours sitting in the hide photographing many species of honeyeaters, parrots, ravens & pigeons. This reserve is one of my truly happy places where the only sound is the soughing of the wind through the trees and the birdcalls. Maybe I was lucky but I rarely saw another person when I visit here but I do know they are around from the entries in the visitor’s book. When speaking to the ranger she had given me a list of recent siting’s of fairywrens on the old airstrip. I was keen to get photographs of the Splendid, White-winged & Purple-backed Fairywrens all known to inhabit this open woodland.
After a very peaceful and sound sleep it was time to hunt down the elusive little fairywrens. They are a very tiny little bird and live in the low shrubs and without the vivid colouring of the males they are difficult to spot. Fortune was on my side as my first siting was within the first 20 paces from getting out of the vehicle. A pair of Splendid Fairywrens flashed across the path in front of me. Most bird photographers have apps on their smart phones that have the bird calls of each Australian birds. Calling them using these apps does not work for all varieties but does for the wrens. You use these calls sparingly as it can cause stress in such small birds but I only had to use it once and they came back and posed in the shrubs near me. Unfortunately, they don’t always pose where you can get the best photo but I did manage to get a few shots. I continued on my walk looking for the other varieties with no luck whatsoever. The clouds had started to thicken up and threaten rain so I thought it was time to check the weather forecast at the Ranger Station which was only a kilometre from the airstrip.
I was saddened to see that the rain had chased me from Port Augusta and would here by Wednesday afternoon so I only had one more day before I needed to pack up and leave before I was stuck here. Back to Froggy Dam but with the temperature sinking the birds also disappeared so it was not a very fruitful session with less than 20 birds sited.
That night as I was watching a movie on my laptop, I started to hear the pattering of rain on the canvas. It was only light so I went to sleep hoping and praying it would not get heavier. As dawn broke the rain stopped but the clouds looked ominous. Time to pack and get back out onto the tar. My adventure had truly come to an end and it was time to go home. It was good timing as I really needed to get home and start finalising the 2022 calendar plus prepare the final blog for this trip.
It only took an hour to pack up and start heading for the highway with the rain starting to sprinkle again. Stopped at the Visitor Centre to say goodbye to the rangers and donated my other 2 nights camping fees to the upkeep of the park. They assure me that the rain would stop soon but I didn’t want to take any chances so time to hit the road. This time there was no one to help with the gates but the old rule when crossing properties to leave the gates in the condition you found them – closed or open – in this case they were all to be closed.
An hour later I was in Taylorville, and with phone coverage, checked the weather. The adventure was definitely at an end with rain bands across all of SA & Victoria. Time to just head home. It was going to be a very long day with 853 klm to home plus the 72 klm I had already driven out of Gluepot. Victoria had lifted the need for permits to travel from NSW the previous day so it was the loop route through Hay & Deniliquin which is faster than along the Murray River.
The rain picked up as I headed for the border and Mildura. Plan was to fuel up at Mildura then Deniliquin. I still had 50 litres of diesel in the roof jerrycans if required or even save myself a fuel stop at Deni. I hadn’t been listening to the news during my travels so I could pretend nothing was wrong with the world but it did come as a shock to find that Mildura was in lockdown due to COVID so no stopping there. Buronga was just across the river in NSW and had a large fuel station as I had been there before at the start of the trip. The rain was now quite heavy and road conditions were not good but I pressed on. The drive across the Hay Plains was long and boring but at least it was at a constant speed as it is very flat out there. Got into Hay around 6pm and had a message from a friend as well my neighbour that they could not get my home gas water service to fire up so no hot shower when I got home. On the off chance I rang my local plumber, Gary Tonkin Plumbing, and was very surprised that he answered (I was expecting a message service) and we organised a quick service for the next morning. Happy to have such good tradies in our town. Time to press on with the wind now howling and rain horizontal.
Pulled in Deniliquin at 2130 hours feeling cold and miserable but knowing I was only 2 hours from home. Could not siphon fuel from the roof tanks due to the rain (I know I am a bit sooky and did not want to get wet) so fueled up at a servo which had cover over the pumps.
Final leg seemed interminable but finally reached home in West Wodonga at 2320 hours after nearly 12 ½ hours driving from Gluepot. I was too tired to be sad that this was the end of my adventurous trip that took 21,561 klms and 209 days and was just glad to be home safe and sound. I hope that you have enjoyed these blogs of my journey.
As I sit in my office finalising this blog, I am also pleased to say that my first draft of the 2022 calendar has gone to the printers. I will post up some details on that as soon as I have the proof set to ensure that I have put the best bird photos from this trip for people to enjoy. All the best to my friends that encouraged me to write this blog as it is a journey I will never forget and was a joy to undertake.