Back at camp, we had a change of neighbours. A younger couple with a kid, camper trailer and HiLux. Rehearsed, they were set up in no time. After the hot walk I opted for an early solar shower, taking advantage of the additional warmth.
As the sun sunk towards the ranges, a few more campers showed up. We gained a neighbour who promptly left their slide off camper, presumably to explore. Re-energised from my shower I put together vegetables and took advantage of the gas cookers again. This time, sharing the outdoor kitchen with our neighbours, we got into a conversation with a fellow LandCruiser driver, hailing from Melbourne, he was making is way back from Darwin towing their Expanda caravan on its debut. He wasn’t particularly impressed with it, saying it was only as offroad as the decal on the side of it and had sustained significant damage on his travels, including water tanks and brakes on the Oodnadatta Track.
Having travelled the Track ourselves, we empathised with him, his rugged caravan hadn’t coped with a fairly good road. He wasn’t done there though, he wasn’t happy with his 200 Series LandCruiser either, namely efficiency. It wasn’t long before he and David were into a spirited debate about VDJ engines, tuning and maintenance over the hiss of the gas burners. His kids eventually came looking for the now well-cooked sausages and he was ceremoniously dragged back to his underwhelming caravan.
Dinner cooked, we retreated to our patch also and enjoyed dinner under the dwindling light. The camp now hubbub with chatter and laughter. There were no fires, just the glow of each camp’s lights and the long shadows cast by the few remaining kids paying last homage to the bathroom before bed. Our new neighbours had gained their own new neighbours and they were proving to be the chattiest campers we would overhear on the whole trip. Their banter and camping tales didn’t keep my eyes open for long, we retired reasonably early.
Above our camp, a sweet pair of Major Mitchells were crooning and chattering as only couples do, whilst they dug out the hollow of a gumtree. The chunks of wood, worm-eaten I think, filled with holes proving no match for their strength and finesse. Dropped without apology onto our camp deck-table-thingy, there was a collection before long and they held no sign of stopping anytime soon. They didn’t, we had the pleasure of their sweet mutterings, and comical thunks of refuse all day. Regretfully I never did grab the camera for a half decent photo, but without a zoom lens it would have been a fruitless exercise.
Today was the day were would hear of our fuel tank, so with the swag rolled we farewelled our stunning Major Mitchell hosts in the Finke Gorge and departed for Hermannsburg. We didn’t meet a single tour bus today, or anyone, and enjoyed the river cruise on our own. At Hermannsburg we were obligated to buy more pastry and their espresso before making our way east.
It was seemingly no time at all and we were back in Alice. Third time’s a charm. We checked back in to G’Day Mate, the neighbouring cabin to our first visit. Unpacked, we promptly headed into town. The ambient lighting and music drew us into Epilogue where we ordered maybe the best nachos we had ever eaten. Vegetarian, no less. Perhaps it was the month’s abstinence prior but they were just amazing, washed down with a naughty Coke we were only interrupted by some colourfully dressed folks selling their traditional paintings. Inebriated as they were, we could barely converse with them before a staff member promptly escorted them out to the Mall’s benches.
Feasted, we walked the Mall before driving back to the cabin, struggling to get comfortable on the bed but eventually falling asleep.
TJM could not fit us in so we found ourselves free for cafe lounging and urban exploration. After a lingering brunch at the Botanical Gardens we explored on foot before checking out the shops for camping and auto paraphernalia only Bunnings and Jaycar can satisfy.
We headed over to the Desert Park and booked in for the night tour before heading back to the cabin for dinner and shower. We wanted to be presentable for any night-jars we hoped to encounter. Unfortunately we failed to meet any. By the red glow of headlamps were introduced to the magnificent and the nimble marsupials, monotremes and mammals of the underbrush. A thoroughly enjoyable night, I think, for the dozen of us. With cake and hot chocolate supplied afterwards we chatted with the enthused conservationists. Eventually we stumbled off into the dark to find our vehicle and make our way back to the cabin.
Perusing the brochures in the laundry, we decided we would drive to Chambers Pillar. It looked an interesting day trip with a photogenic highlight to shade a picnic lunch.
We ended up on a particularly rough surface road, the Old Southern Stock Route, remnants of road building interrupted with hard packed, washed out or corrugated dirt. Often in parallel with the Finke race track, I struggled to keep one eye on the unpredictable road surface and the other on the view either side.
At some point we ended up following a fence, Hema insisting we were enroute. A quick turnabout and we were back on the main road, despite the iPhone’s opinion and headed in a general south direction. We met no other traffic.
Eventually we shook ourselves into Maryvale Station for one of their famed milkshakes; their secret is long-life milk I think. Combined with a box of Pizza Shapes, we were fuelled for the rest of the drive. The terrain different now, sandier.
This continued until we were faced with a sudden climb. Summiting the jump up, we could see the Pillar in the distance, still considerable by the eye. It didn’t take long however, and we arrived.
Only one vehicle in the carpark, clearing their picnic, a tour guide with two passengers, who quietly left the us under the supervision of the Pillar and his love. Castle Rock was a gorgeous structure, with a pair of Wedge Tail Eagles on top. Beyond the marked walking access, but the story tells she is the shamed mother-in-law Yayuwara that was taken by Itirkawarra (Chambers Pillar) against the law.
After taking in the Pillar from its base, and filtering the 20th century graffiti from the 19th century, we had a leisurely picnic of ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches, prepared at the intermittent mercy of the winter flies. Elsewise, it was perfectly quiet on our own.
The marked camping areas were flat and brooked no argument from me. I would definitely attempt to return next time, to capture the low sun on the Pillar. As we ate, the clouds darkened and we could see the intensity to the south.
We reluctantly turned tail and headed back toward Maryvale Station / Titjikala Community. Stopping only at the summit of the jumpup for a photo of the skyline and again at a glorious herd of camels, who, in the silent dunes, sang songs to each other. Most likely whinging about me and my camera but sweet sounding all the same. The rough road felt no better on the way back to Alice and eventually home, we were suitably rattled, on inspection, nothing appeared to have loosened or broken.
Finding a Pizza joint for dinner, we overate and took home leftovers to watch some Northern Territory TV.
Maybe the first morning with the aid of an alarm clock, we were up and dressed. TJM were ready for the LandCruiser. After some compulsory browsing of their large and equipped store, we were driven over to the Desert Park to honour our daytime pass purchased the day before. Backpack, camera and hats – we joined other like-minded, albeit older visitors at their cafe for some breakfast and espresso.
We comfortably were able to see all the exhibits and attend quite a few outside classes or demonstrations, the highlights being the bush medicine and of course the bird show. I probably enjoyed the Night House the most; the clear glass giving us an uninterrupted view of the animals we had seen hopping around the night before, and others we did not. Much easier for photos also.
It was also good to see a Bustard pair up close and personal, unlike in the wild where they’re promptly turning their back on you. These striking birds, somehow more menacing then an Emu or Cassowary hold your attention, even if their expression tells you to #%^@ off.
Perhaps my personal highlight was to get a kiss from a dingo. Regardless of how many he had kissed before me, their careful and quiet nature was hypnotising. The way they drink you up with their eyes, I was speechless in love. And before I knew it, he was an inch from my face, as silent as a cat. Their minders walking them about on leads, but it felt like it might have been the other way around.
It was late afternoon before we had the call to say the fuel tank had been successfully swapped over. Our lift arriving and asking all about the Desert Park, he had only recently relocated to Alice.
It was mixed relief to have the vehicle back, seemingly in one piece. Flummoxed too. What were our options now, so late in our journey. Having reset permits already before within tight constraints, I knew without looking at the dates that we were not able to attempt any westerly travel now. But if luck would hold, we may be able to meander our way south and enjoy an exploratory route homeward.
We ate at the local pub, in walking distance of the cabin, cheap and not particularly satisfying…. but cheap. Afterwards, washing done, we were ready for departure in the morning.
We met some hot-rod tourers, enroute south after their epic trip from Tasmania to Darwin.
Our seemingly last departure from Alice was subdued and uneventful, unless you count the torrential rain we met at Kulgera. Witnessing rain in the desert was a treat and we joined the crowd in the roadhouse for hot chips before continuing down the highway; Thinking, what this rain would mean for the unsealed roads?