Stuck in the middle with you: Part XIII

Headed south, the rain was putting a suitable dampener on our thoughts for a route home. We were considering taking the unsealed track from either Marla or Coober Pedy to join the Oodnadatta Track. We have driven it before, but would happily drive it again to avoid the bitumen. This rain however, was guaranteed to close the road. And predictably, signs confirmed this so we pushed on to Coober Pedy.

By the time we arrived, it was almost dark and still raining. We attempted accommodation at the best rated motel on WikiCamps without success. The rain had driven everyone indoors and this late in the day….

Thankfully, Riba’s Underground, outside of town was not full and we happiily paid for an underground room. After dinner at the Roadhouse in town. Properly underground, the quiet suited me perfectly. Despite the depth, the ventilation shafts kept the regulated air temperature fresh and I never felt claustrophobic or stuffy. Soaked and weary from the drive, we showered and then lingered in the Wifi cave for a little while before retiring to the ensemble bed. As no-nonsense as our host, the firm mattress suited us and I fell into a coma.

Without the ambient light or noise of the day to wake us, it was actually fellow campers running around that eventually roused me from my slumber. Without a swag to roll we were on the road again quickly. With William Creek Road closed due to the weather we had no choice but to continue south. Having already stayed in Coober Pedy, twice this trip. I wasn’t leaving it to chance and sticking around for clearing weather or road closures.

Stopping again at Glendambo for their coffee and fuel we had peanut butter sandwiches roadside somewhere south before taking an exit. The roads dry but distant clouds gathering, we rejoiced on the corrugated red dirt road that greeted us.

By the time we arrived in Kingoonya, the darkening sky was more above than yonder. But its beauty failed to intimidate me and I simply took advantage of the light and took photos before dinner. We had unrolled the swag, under the awning at the freecamp at the end of town. A terrific camp, where a local happily gathered deadwood for the fire rings and swept the ground. The toilet was clean and supplied.

Walking to the pub we were well met with some Tasmanians who had already eaten and after a good chinwag and some fizzy beverages, they returned to their van, their routine perpetual in retirement. We ate possibly the biggest pub meal on our record in the old fashioned dining room of the Kingoonya Hotel. Their steak and schnitzel equal in measure. We returned to our campfire before getting comfortable in the swag. Whispering about the Goog’s track and whether we could arrange a permit for southbound travel.

It wasnt to be however, as our hat trick played out. The main fuel tank had sprung a tiny weld leak and with it, the rest of our confidence.

Patched with tank putty we decided our sojourn would take us back to Quorn, where we had enjoyed a few years before. Arriving, the years had passed without evidence and we setup in almost the same grassy campsite. Being winter this time however, we purchased firewood and fought off the chill. It was a cold night for us, but we were warmed by the sun walking around town. Steak sandwiches cooked in one of the best camp kitchens that night.

Needing a walk, we drove out to Wilpena Pound and completed one of their day walks, taking in the natural age and the pastoral attempts along the way. The walk was easy and well trained, Wilpena being a lot more tourist friendly than our previous visit to Flinders Ranges but it was a lovely warm day and we got chatting to an older couple at the peak who were visiting for the first time.

Returning for a late afternoon tea at the kiosk we checked out the camping facilities before leaving for Quorn. We had heard our friends from home were somewhere around Peterborough and were headed for Quorn, northbound with their family in convoy on their Northern Territory tour.

Couple of days wining and dining, and it was time to hit the road, now sealed and civilised we made exceptional time despite avoiding the main roads and before long we arrived at Copi Hollow near Menindee. Either rejuvenated or satisfied with the familiarity of Quorn, I was again determined to bypass familiar territory at any opportunity. So lakeside, we unrolled the swag and took in the sights of fishing, pelicans and grass.

A first for us, this park offered camp delivery of firewood and had a kiosk delivering fish and chips. We partook and enjoyed butcher paper wrapped battered fish in front of the firedrum, listening to the water lapping at the bank. Hands down, better than Broken Hill town camping.

The amenities were hardcore retro and perfect. High pressure, clean and all to myself at the dark hour. We were in bed soon after.

Up early with the energising sun and waterfront noises we got talking to a bloke checking his traps, he showed off his yabby haul so far. I was impressed, he wasn’t – their taste for yabbies insatiable it seemed, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Rolling out, I had a good backroad in mind, avoiding the bitumen still, we headed for Ivanhoe. Seeing no traffic, we were enjoying a quiet, albeit rattling drive on the dirt road before David begun to feel nauseous and take on a grey complexion. Stopping for rests and water didn’t seem to improve his condition and after an hour of dozing he dramatically asked me to stop the LandCruiser. Proceeding to projectile vomit all over the gibbers, I dug out the water bottle, wet wipes and moral support. This felt familiar. The road wasn’t particularly rough or winding, so we discounted carsickness. The bitter cold, and vomit drying on the stones pushed us back into the LandCruiser and we pushed on. David dozing and groaning again. I enjoyed the empty road, and even emptier landscape, obviously pastoral but the only sign were the maintained fences.

Stopping at Ivanhoe was a little anticlimactic, small towns with little in the way of facilities are expected but this one seemed to have recently lost its will. The small grocery shop was closed down, as was one of two take away shops. Essentially only leaving the caravan park and the laundromat – which was closed on most days anyway. I went in and ordered some lunch, despite not feeling particularly hungry but figured I’d rather leave some money behind here than later on, hangry. Got talking to the nice cafe owner who said they sourced their groceries from Hay or anything bigger from Broken Hill. She laughed about the younger folks enjoying soggy KFC.

I had a terrific homemade roast beef roll and a coffee, David a sip of mineral water and a nap. I could see that David was not up for a night in the swag someplace so I turned tail for Hay, a motel room with an en suite within metres of the bedroom seemed a good idea.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed the spare tyre arm swinging about and realised, to my dismay, that I had not slammed it shut properly. Annoyingly, the force had bent the locking pin.

If we weren’t obviously and obliviously distracted by the beauty of this country we were exploring, we’d be laughing or crying at ourselves on our National Lampoon style adventure. Perhaps it was beginners luck on our previous travels and now it was truly tapped dry. That or we had the stowaway Murphy on board

Before long we were rolling into Hay, we joined one of the many queues at the motels and scored one of the last rooms. After a shower and a nap we woke up at dinner time, I was restless and David was feeling more refreshed, less crook. We walked to the pub for some ginger beer and fresh air.

Following morning, still not hungry, we left Hay and I plotted a course for Forbes, avoiding the main highway we had a pleasant drive, through true country NSW. Dry weather, albeit cold.

After a cursory glance from the owner, we paid our significant fee for our pick of the lawn by the river at the Caravan Park. The forcast was bloody cold, which might have explained the lack of custom. Their laundry was on par with Kings Canyon, hopeless, and annoyingly – ate all my gold and left me with damp clothes. Not sure why I bothered given our proximity to home but I wasn’t ready to admit that just yet. We had zigged and zagged, and maybe we would zig further still and delay the inevitable.

Their camp kitchen on the waterfront was built off the old stone bathhouse, the plaque telling how it was the town bath for  events, races and weekend frivolity. It was pretty. The kitchen was well equipped too with kettle, fridge and stove. Not to mention a huge flatscreen TV. The cold drove us to bed however and with the bumbling river and plush lawn, we slept well.

Feeling better, breakfast and a walkabout was had in town. Forbes was huge and bustling. We departed for Parkes and before long we were trying to fit the Dish in the lens. The 3D films were really good and learning the facts behind the movie was interesting.

Not sure how it happened or precisely when, but our zigging and zagging took on a purpose and we were headed home, although thoroughly enjoying the B81. In the rain we were treated to a sunshower and a truly epic double rainbow. I felt like a kid, parked up and running back up the road, trying to get them both in frame… until someone else stopped to do the same.

The landscape provided a different kind of beauty to our Centralian meandering, more obviously pastoral and diligently quaint, washed clean and green in the rain. Of which was slowly washing away our red dirt contaminate.

Wasn’t until we were climbing out of the LandCruiser in our frigidly cold driveway that same evening. Turning the civilised key of the deadlock that the realisation hit. Our adventure of zig-zag, loop-the-loop and euphoric sun-blanched dizziness was done.

Post Script: If luck wasn’t considered before, my final report of this trip is the thirteenth….


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