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Tales of the travels, trials and triumphs as we explore Australia in a converted bus

Motorhome Travels - November 2004


The Ghan - just south of Alice Springs, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
The Ghan - just south of Alice
Springs, NT

We have been undergoing a full brake system rebuild for the last two weeks. And with just a little luck we will be driving out of the workshop yard around midday tomorrow.

Sadly, that is not the end of the repairs, we still have the broken suspension to sort out. We have decided to fit airbags to the rear axle to assist the sagging (and now broken) leaf springs.

Tracey decided to visit the local hospital to see if they had any work for a few days/weeks. She was asked to start work that same day!

I have been keeping myself out of trouble by doing little bits of repair work on the motorhome and honing my 'Rise Of Nations' skills.

The photograph above is of the famous desert train - The Ghan. This spectacular train visits Alice Springs twice each week as it travels between Adelaide and Darwin. The panoramic photograph below attempts to show just how long this train really is. The hills are the McDonald ranges. The natural gap to the left is where the highway and the train pass to the south (thumbnail only). The red arrow points to the Ghan's first engine (there are two), the blue arrow points to the last carriage near the northern end of Alice Springs. The Ghan is truly one of the great trans-continental trains of the world.

This photograph Of Alice Springs is made up of five 35mm frames taken with a 14mm lens - [Click for a Larger Image]
This photograph Of Alice Springs is
made up of five 35mm frames taken
with a 14mm lens


We are very pleased to have now left the yard of Alice Springs Brake & Clutch. More than two weeks after we arrived here we very gladly drove out of the driveway and stopped! (yes the brakes work much better now).  We were hoping to go directly to have the suspension repaired, but there was a delay in getting the parts up from Melbourne. We will therefore have a few days to ourselves before starting that work next Monday. We might just head out of the city for a few days to find a little solitude.

The weather here in Alice Springs at this time of the year is quite strange and not really ideal for motorhomes without air conditioning. Some days reach a pleasant 26 degrees while other days see the mercury spiralling past the 40 degree mark. We are told by the locals that as the year progresses, the latter becomes the more common.



Almost ready to make a move out of Alice Springs. The broken spring has been replaced and today the last of the air-bag work was completed - we can raise and lower the back of the motorhome now. The old girl looks a lot better without her ample butt sagging (yes, I'm still talking about the motorhome).  Tomorrow we head back to the brake and clutch yard to have the compressor re-looked at (it is leaking air). Once that is sorted we will be heading south.

A large wasp takes a drink, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
A large wasp takes a drink, NT

Last weekend we took the opportunity to head out of town. Just east of Alice is the Ross highway, it follows the MacDonnell ranges and took us out to some fairly spectacular scenery including Trephina Gorge. This national park features some amazing desert landscape and quite a reasonable camping area. The whole area is so incredibly parched at this time of the year that we quickly noticed the array of critters that were attracted to a small amount of water we had spilled from a tap near the motorhome. All manner of insects, birds and lizards appeared to take advantage of the tiny pool of water.

A small lizard waits for his turn at the tiny pool, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
A small lizard waits for his turn at
the tiny pool, NT

An opportunity too good to miss, we spent several hours sitting in some nearby shade photographing the various critters as they arrived. The images here have been (as always) reduced for display on the web and lack the clarity and detail of the real images - but I am sure you get the idea.. 

While at the park we saw a sign seeking volunteers to work in many of the Northern Territory National Parks. We think we might just look into that a little bit more and perhaps spend a couple of weeks working at King Canyon. There is however a high likelihood that they will not like us because of our small furry four footed travelling companion - we can only ask.



We left Alice Springs on the 20th. We decided to head west along the MacDonnell Ranges then south around the Mereenie Loop Road through Aboriginal land to Kings Canyon. Most of the journey west was through the West MacDonnell National Park.

A Dingo looks over Ellery Creek, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
A Dingo looks over Ellery Creek, NT

This section of the park features a number of spectacular gorges carved by rivers and streams, some have permanent waterholes that are a haven for birds and other wild life.  While at Ellery Creek we were lucky to see several dingos (or the same dingo a several  times). This is a quite remarkable part of the country and well worth the time to visit.

When we left the ranges and turned south the road climbed to a pass at the top of which was a lookout providing great views of the Tnorala Crater.

The Tnorala Crater and our track past it, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
The Tnorala Crater and our track
past it, NT

This is the site where 140 million years ago, what is thought to be a comet, hit the earth. The 3d satellite photograph shows our path (in orange)  past the crater. The original crater is estimated to have been over 26 km in diameter. 140 million years of erosion have reduced this to just 6 km as the height of the earth in the area has dropped by 2km.

The Mereenie loop provided a good test for our new air-bag assisted suspension. Parts of the loop are extremely rough and as it turned out it was not to be the motorhome that would suffer damage ...

About half way around the loop I glanced in the left wing mirror to find that the rear external storage bin was partly open (apparently jarred open by the corrugations). When we stopped to close it we were dismayed to find that both of our hydraulic jacks had escaped! We decided to take the Moke out and go back and search for them. To our delight and astonishment we managed to find not only both jacks, but the pump handles as well. As we turned to head back to the motorhome the Moke clutch became very hard and a rubbing noise began emanating from the engine bay.  When I tried to change gear I found that we had lost the clutch and thus the ability to change gear. A quick check of the handheld GPS told us that we were still 14 km from the motorhome. We decided to stick with the gear that we had (third as it turns out) not to stop and to try to limp back to the motorhome, all the time attempting desperately to avoid the largest of corrugations that at times reached mountainous proportions. We were very aware that we were on a very lightly travelled road through desert terrain and the temperature was approaching 45 degrees - not a good place to be stranded.

The fact that we are alive to tell the story is testament to the toughness of that little British made wonder. The Moke did make it back to the motorhome but it was not a happy little vehicle by the time it arrived. It seems that one of the engine mounts has broken and the entire engine and gearbox has moved quite some distance south. We muttered a quiet thank you to the little car as we put it back into the motorhome and continued along the rapidly deteriorating road.;

The rest of the journey was comparatively uneventful (to our relief) and we arrived at Kings Canyon at 7am on the 27th. While early by our standards, 7am is a good time to start the Kings Canyon rim walk. A relatively strenuous 6km walk up to the top of and around the rim of Kings Canyon. By the time we returned to the car park the thermometer at the beginning of the walk was reading 46 degrees and we had consumed 3 litres of water each - but it had been worth it! The canyon really is very spectacular with sheer 100m high orange walls and strange rock formations everywhere. After the walk we decided to go to the (over priced) resort caravan park and sip ice cold alcoholic beverages around the pool to wile away the remainder of this very hot day.



After spending two days in the Kings Canyon camping ground trying to get some work, we headed out very early on the morning of the 29th. The temperatures here are now so extreme that we do not feel it wise to risk over heating the motorhome by travelling during the day - if the air temperature is 46 degrees, the road must be 20 degrees above that.

We spent the night at the Curtin Springs Station then set off (again very early) in search of 'The Rock'.

At this point I should say that no matter how many photos or documentaries you have seen, nothing prepares you for your first glimpse at this huge monolith. I am not even going to try to describe it - you have got to see this place for your self!

We paid out $25 each to get into the park and parked the motorhome amongst the 20 coaches at the base of the rock. We slipped through the entry gate at 7:55am and they closed the climb at 8am due to the forecast high temperature - we would be the last climbers for today.

Climbing Ayers Rock, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
Climbing Ayers Rock, NT

As we climbed we passed all of the Japanese and German tourists descending, they must have been here before sunrise.  The climb was really steep but there is a chain provided for the toughest part to allow you to pull yourself up. After about one and a half hours we found ourselves alone at the top of Ayers Rock - being last sometimes has it's advantages. The view is just breath-taking and the breeze kept us fairly cool. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the summit before heading down. The decent was quite a lot tougher than the climb (perhaps due to the heat and our now dwindling energy levels) but about three hours after we left the base of the rock, we were back on red sand. What a climb!

In the evening we parked the motorhome at 'Sunset Strip'. this is where all the tourist coaches disgorge their passengers and provide them with champagne to watch the sun setting on the rock. About an hour before sunset a storm swept in from the west and cooled both us and the rock with a good down-pour of rain. The rock instantly changed its coat from the normal glowing red to a dull grey and a lightening display provided the perfect backdrop.

After leaving the park we started looking for a place to spend the night. Out of the dark appeared a man waving his arms. Tracey's decision not to run him down turned out to be the right one. Chris invited us to spend the night in the staff caravan park. At the camp we met the rest of the team including Kerrein and George. We were made to feel very welcome and were even fed and watered!

The following day we were very fortunate to be able to experience a guided walk with Wally (the Aboriginal guide) and Ambrose (the interpreter). These guys made a great team and provided a small but very interesting window into the indigenous culture of the local people. We would recommend this tour to anyone visiting Ayers Rock.

After a visit to the Olgas we parked up again at Sunset Strip hoping to see a real sunset.

Sunset at Ayers Rock, NT - [Click for a Larger Image]
Sunset at Ayers Rock, NT

This time we were not disappointed. As the sun descended in the western sky the rock took on an almost supernatural red glow - quite a sight and well worth the second visit. Tomorrow we are booked to have our brakes looked at again (yes again!) then we will be heading south towards the South Australian boarder.

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