Thursday, August 17, 2017

Back to the cold

A shot of the Murray River just on the border of Victoria and NSW.

The same river further down.  Note the warm clothes I am wearing.  The 30 degrees of Coober Pedy is but a distant memory.  It is more like 12 degrees here in Victoria and rain is forecast too.

But the wattle blossoms make up for some of the pain of the cold.  They are so very pretty along the way.

One of Australia's finest streetscapes of Victorian architecture is Ballarat's Lydiard Street where impressive buildings line the way.

The city was built on gold and like its neighbour Bendigo, it is a very historic town.

It is quite fitting that we started one of our other blog books at Bendigo and we end this blog book with Ballarat.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Heading south

We are now headed homewards and in a blink of an eye (approx 700 kms on and an overnight stay later) we are one day in Alice Springs and the next day in Coober Pedy.

A camel on the way at a camel farm.  Camels were imported into Australia in the 1840s-1860s and were used extensively in central Australia in the building of the Overseas Telegraph Line.

What a contrast between these two towns.  Alice is a sophisticated, cool little town whereas Coober Pedy is a dust bowl, hot and dry.  The temperature today is 30 degrees and it is winter, albeit a very hot spell right now.  The town is solely based on opal mining with a lot of underground dwellings which are popular because of the extreme heat in summer.  There is an underground church which we visited when we were last here.  And the camp ground we were staying at then had underground facilities as well as above ground.

A frequent sight as you approach Coober Pedy, of the sand mounds, which are the byproduct of the opal mining and fossicking around the area.

The Big Winch in the middle of the town, symbolising the opal mining industry.

We are doing nothing touristy this time we are here at Coober Pedy as it is hot and windy.  We have found a nice spot to camp for only $5 which has fresh water and a toilet plus wi-fi.  I am sitting in the shade doing this blog posting. Nothing else on the agenda for today.

On the way from Coober Pedy to Yulara we came across this vast salt lake, Lake Hart.  It is a pure white salt plain and very spectacular and also attractive to look at.  People were camping on one side of it which is a designated rest area.  Here is Maxi walking on the salt lake.

Then in another blink of the eye we are in lush wine country around the Clare valley.

Not only is it green and lush, unlike Coober Pedy in the same state which is hot and dry, but the temperature, which was 30 degrees yesterday, is a cool 16 degrees here.  What a land of contrast this country of ours is!

We went to a lovely winery and restaurant at Sevenhills called Skillogalee, which we had never heard of but which was recommended by Lonely Planet as their favourite in the Clare Valley.  We had a wonderful meal and a lovely shiraz to go with it.  The restaurant was heavily patronised by the knowing locals so the suggestion was obviously a well-founded tip.  Our lunch was a celebration of sorts - of the ending of a wonderful trip, just short of four months of travel, and also an early celebration of Andrew's birthday in late August.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The West MacDonnells continued

Travelling life with a dog is not the same as without a pet.  No national park in Australia allows dogs although we do leave Maxi in the van with an air vent and some windows partially open for a few hours while we do some walks.  We contemplated tying her up at one of the legal campgrounds but we have been warned that dingoes will come in and take small dogs, even during the day, so that option is not feasible.

While we were travelling with Rob and Denny, this was less of a problem as we could take turns minding the two dogs but we had to say goodbye to our travelling companions in Alice Springs.  Denny has been suffering increasingly from a painful back which has necessitated their stopping in Alice Springs to seek medical advice and some manipulation.  Sadly, our delightful shared holiday has had to end.  It is even more sad for Denny, who had to cancel her painting course at Arkaroola that she had booked in for at end of August.  We both now have to face going back to cooking daily for two people.  The shared cooking and meals was enjoyed by all four of us while we were together.

This is a view of majestic Mount Sonder, the highest peak in the West MacDonell Ranges.  Last time we visited, six years ago, Andrew climbed it.

The Finke River and Glen Helen Gorge where we spent the night camping in the campground. Andrew went across the waterhole in a rubber tube, as he did last time, and then he climbed the peak to the right.

The wonderful red cliffs above the water.

This rock formation is known as the organ.

The view that Andrew was able to capture and share from the cliffs above.

Free camping along the Finke River.  We took this shot from the Mt Sonder lookout.  We would love to have joined these campers but it is national park and Maxi's presence is, sadly, once again a prohibitive factor.

We next visited Ormiston Gorge, again.  This gorge is considered one of the finest in the West MacDonnells and one of the most beautiful gorges in the country.  In my opinion Ellery Creek Big Hole is more spectacular and the gorges in Karijini in WA are more beautiful but Ormiston is lovely.

Ormiston Gorge was the subject of several of Albert Namatjira’s paintings.  The towering red walls of the gorge and the splendid waterhole certainly provide spectacular scenery.  This time we only did the walk up to the lookout.  Six years ago when we were last here we did the 7 kms around the rim of Ormiston Pound.  Instead, now I drove the van out to Mt Sonder lookout while Andrew walked approx 13 kms of the Larapinta Trail to meet me at the lookout.  I am now getting quite confident driving Winnie around.

Below is the waterhole at the bottom of the gorge near the picnic ground which is a short walk in.

A view of the waterhole from the lookout at the top.

The view of the gorge from the lookout.

We had intended to drive around to Hermannsburg which we had visited last time we were here but we were misinformed about the road being dirt rather than asphalt for 47 kms (which it now is) so we did not go. Hermannsburg was a Lutheran Mission where Namatjira grew up.  We also missed Wallace Rockhole as the 17km dirt road was an unknown factor.  Maybe next time.

Our last supper together.  Sadly it is time to say goodbye to Denny and Rob and Bella.  They are staying on in Alice Springs while we go and face the journey homeward to the cold south.  It has been so much fun travelling together.  And we hope they get an opportunity to try out over an open fire the jaffle iron they picked up and also the handle for the camp oven that Andrew fashioned together to replace the lost one.

Maxi and Bella got on but did not play with each other.  They maintained a respectful distance and left each other alone.  Bella played with other dogs but although Maxi, surprisingly, showed some interest, Bella did not respond to her overtures.  But Bella enjoyed our company as she is a very sociable canine.  We were hoping she would be a good role model for Maxi in encouraging her to sit on laps more but all to little avail.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Out toward the West MacDonnell Ranges

We are lucky to be staying with the Pringles, 17 kms out of Alice Springs at the Simpson's Gap turnoff.  Jude and Nick are Sarah Pringle's parents and we used to look after Sarah's dog Archie when she lived in Canberra.  Sadly, Sarah and Archie are now back living in the NT, in Darwin where Sarah is a lawyer.  Jude and Nick have made us very welcome.  We had two delightful meals with them in their beautiful house.

Here we are at dinner, eating Jude's delicious curry and also apricot chicken.  She used
her Thermomix and I showed her how to use her pressure cooker - a combined effort.  She also gave me several recipes as she is a good and keen cook, a woman after my own heart.

Today we re-visited the great Desert Park where all the creatures of Central Australia have been gathered and put on display in one accessible location. The predominantly open-air exhibits faithfully re-create the animals' natural environment with helpful information boards which explain seasonal changes.  The bird display allows the visitor to see owls, eagles and other birds of prey swoop for food.

This floral and landscape applique quilt measuring 145 cm x 90 cm in the foyer of the park attempts to demonstrate the rapid eruption into flower of the plants, shrubs and trees of Central Australia after rain.

A pair of bustards, the male on the left and the female on the right.  The bustard is Australia's largest bird.  The male is displaying all its glory to woo the female.

Black parrots.

                                                        A healthy young male dingo.

Together with his sister.  They are neutered as the park requested a non-mating pair for display.

A thorny devil displayed in the nocturnal house.

We then started travelling west starting with Simpson's Gap.

Simpson's Gap is just around the corner from Jude and Nick's house.  It is a very lovely gap in the ranges.

Next we came to Standley Chasm which is on Aboriginal land and there is a fee to be paid.

The rocks have been gouged through tough sandstone by the floods that over untold millions of years have surged down the narrow tributary of the Finke River system.  Today, the result is a deep red cleft crowded in either side by craggy slopes that rise 80 m above the floor.  The north-south orientation of the chasm allows direct sunlight to enter for only approximately 90 minutes each day around mid-day illuminating the walls with an impressive glow.

And this is one of my favourites, Ellery Creek Big Hole.  The water is very deep and very very cold. Last time we were here Andrew swam right across to the sandbar in the distance.  This time we only sat on the shore and then had to rush back to the motor home where Maxi was waiting for us.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Around Alice Springs

We came to Alice Springs six years ago and loved it.  It is a vibrant and cool town with nice cafes serving excellent food.  The MacDonnell Ranges provide a wonderful and picturesque backdrop for Alice Springs.  The ranges stretch 400 kms from east to west on either side of the town and this partof Alice is called The Gap where the road passes through the gap in the ranges between east and west.

The same massive earth movement that gave shape to much of Central Australia and created Uluru and Katja Tutja, also created the ranges between 310 to 340 million years ago.

We revisited the bridge club where 6 years ago we attended a marvelous party to celebrate the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  This time, it was a much more subdued session.

Afterwards, we drove out eastwards first, visiting the Emily and Jesse Gaps which are small gorges through the East MacDonnells.


Aboriginal drawings of the three caterpillars, special to this region.

Jesse Gap.

Corroboree Rock.

Then came the jewel of the East MacDonnells, Trephina Gorge where we did the gorge rim walk of 2kms which was really spectacular.  The gorge is know for its sheer quartzite cliffs, red river gums and sandy creek bed.

The gorge does not normally have water in it except for one waterhole which is at the base of a cliff and is quite deep.  On a warmer day we may have had a dip in it.

We stayed a couple of days at the Ross River campground and had dinner at the homestead, celebrating Rob's birthday.

Another roaring fire in the dining room.

Walking from the campground to the homestead for a swim.  The climate here involves pretty damn cold nights and mornings around this time of the year but swimming weather during the day.

John Flynn's memorial just 10 kms out of Alice towards the west.  Flynn of the Outback founded the Flying Doctor Service and his memory is revered right through the outback.  We also visited the John Flynn Centre at Mt Isa.