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Down and back again

2, 3, no I think maybe 4 times I’ve crossed this country North to South this year and a couple of trips half way for practice! So many fossil fuel miles.

This most recent trip was a quick one. I had just over a week to spend a few days with family for my dad’s 80th birthday, then drive the old ute I bought 4,000km home to Darwin. I was looking forward to the journey but hoped to be on my way a lot sooner.

Big tray small engine

Rather than heading off on Monday morning I found myself camped at a mates place in Central Victoria unable to leave until after midday on Tuesday. He needed the ute to collect the motor for his own machine. In my mind’s eye I imagined that engine filling the tray. In truth it fitted snugly tucked up against the rear of the cab.

I now had one and a half days less for meandering, but plenty enough to get home for work.

Day 1. Melbourne – St Arnaud. (248km). Driving in the night there was rain, it was cold. Had a good yarn with my old mate. We arrived in the night under the light of a full moon. It occurred to me while I was driving. Last time we saw each other neither of us even had a license.

Town Hall St Arnaud

Day 2. A slow start. St Arnaud to Robe via Mt Arapiles. (366km) I’d toured a fair bit of Victoria in my 20s but had never been to Mt Arapiles. It was a pleasant drive heading west from St Arnaud, through Horsham, to the quiet hamlet of Natimuk and beyond toward a rocky outcrop that could be seen in a sea of canola and wheat, not too far in the distance. Mt Arapiles!

Droving sheep through canola fields

The Pines camp ground was full of rock climbers who had set up a semi permanent base camp, I imagined it buzzing with chatter and singing at night. Comfy cushions for chilled out debriefs. I wanted to stay but had to keep moving. On this particular day the area was full of emergency vehicles. Maybe someone took a tumble.

It was a hard decision to continue. Something inside me said stay, but the clock was ticking and I wanted to see Robe… Why the hell I wanted to see Robe, I have no idea! Because I’d heard of it and had never been? I guess, that and I thought a mate from Darwin might be there…

Wrong on both counts! I had been there before! It just didn’t impress me. And… my mate wasn’t even there! He’d left weeks ago! My decision cost me half a day of extra driving… Nice scenery though.

Trusty old tent.

What of Robe in September? Cold, wet and a bit windy. Gets dark early. Perfect weather for a cosy tent. The one I brought with me was cozy as they come. My 35 year old, top of the line DMH Trendsetter! Cotton inner tent, designed to stand in all kinds of weather, using a record breaking 27 steel pegs! To think I used to carry it hiking! With the wind blowing hard outside I was snug as a bug in my sleeping bag.

Day 3. Robe to Cambrai. (327km) I drove the Coorong, it rained a bit, I called in at a few beaches on the way. An important point to remember. If you read a sign in the Coorong that says Beach, it literally means Beach… You will likely find yourself on a track that leads not to a car park by the beach but directly onto the beach! Cool but potential bogging is immanent. Nice country, plenty of water… Had to keep on moving.

Picked up some CDs at a second hand store in Meningie which lead to a bizarre case of synchronicity! (No need to tell it… But it was) Saw pelicans in flight and possibly the left overs from an ex Prime minister’s cricket kit. R.J.Hawke came from a town not too far away.

Caught up with a mate and his partner in Talem Bend. Named after a cyclonic weather event the bloke I’d known appeared to have slowed down a bit… ever so slightly. After a decent cup of coffee and a butter soaked banana bread (toasted) I scooted off to my cousin’s farm in Cambrai. Good company, dinner and a warm bed after a very therapeutic afternoon tending to farm business. This family visit was the highlight of my trip.

Day 4. Cambrai – Coober Pedy (874km) Got up at 4:30am, house was still warm from the Kanara wood heater, cat glaring at me from it’s superior position on a comfy chair right beside the fire. I made myself breakfast, had a coffee rugged up and launched once again into the cold morning air for another epic drive.

Today I would finally be on the Stuart Highway heading north… But I had to get to Port Augusta first and that took an inordinate amount of time!

After a pleasant drive through the Adelaide Hills in the dark, I joined the highway at Two Wells (stole a lemon from an overhanging tree) and set off for PA. Roadworks nearly all the way held me up a good couple of hours! There were two interesting things on the way. A mysterious Loch-Eel in the pink salt laden lake at Lochiel, and the township of Port Germein… A quiet forgotten little coastal town that just seemed to hit the spot for me.

Got to Port Augusta at midday, fuelled up the vehicle, stocked up on food and was out of there by 1pm. We’ll behind schedule. I preferred not to stay there, but I ended up in Coober Pedy at 5.30pm. Exhausted from a long day at the wheel I checked into the big 4 and had to pay for a powered site, only to sleep in the back of the ute! Try putting tent pegs into this ground!

Bed in back of ute

Day 5. Coober Pedy – Wauchope (1,062km) Up well before dawn… started trucking down the road by 5:30am. Saw blue flashing lights in the distance, figured they must be about about a Kilometer away… the land is so flat and bare out here it took me at least half an hour to reach the police diversion. I reckon I travelled 15 km before reaching their position. It was freezing cold, they had a fire burning with wood that must have been transported from some place 100s of miles away where there are trees of some description! They took my licence to read it in the light of their van and returned about five minutes later. I was beginning to worry but actually it’s probably just these crappy new licences with transparent fields where the dates are! All you see is the mottled background of whatever is behind them!

It was a very long drive north from here. Absolutely uneventful just miles and miles of nothing… except for that moment when I needed to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and a big red roo just happened to appear out of nowhere in the dark as I readjusted my vision! WOW! Slammed the brakes on and swerved right into the non existent (thank God!) oncoming traffic!…. Phew…. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!

Bearded Dragon – Rainbow Valley turn off Stuart Highway

Nothing else to report the whole rest of the way to Wauchope! Seriously Nothing. Oh except I thought I’d visit rainbow valley got 2 minutes down the track and decided I didn’t have time. On the way in I saw a few Bearded Dragons. One stopped and let me photograph him. He didn’t seem bothered at all by my presence. I grabbed fuel, coffee and lunch in Alice Springs, stopped at Wycliffe Well and decided I needed more miles under my belt if I want to get home by tomorrow night… so pressed on to Wauchope (Devil’s Marbles Hotel) Yay!

Had a decent night’s sleep at Wauchope, I recommend staying there if you’re travelling. It’s a great little pub, friendly staff, grassy tent site for just $16 or $17 per night and they have a great pool that is clean and open at night even when everyone’s off their face. I swam until the aching muscles in my shoulders and neck were totally relaxed.

Wauchope pub flying NT flag at half mast for the Queen Elizabeth II (21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022)

Day 6. Wauchope – Darwin (1,123km) Off we go… again. More road, more fuel, and now heat big one! Too much sun, too much hot air and sweat! I nearly cooked in the cabin of that ute on the way home. The change in climate is dramatic moving from Desert to tropics. Temperature goes up humidity descends brain fries!

A broad perspective on company

Just kept driving, stopping only long enough to chuck some fuel in when it was available, top price was $2.30! Maybe at Dunmurra… I can’t remember my brain was frying.

Mataranka Thermal pool

I stopped at Mataranka and went for a dip in the warm water, while the ute was parked under a tree. Swam about for a little while then jumped back in, already dry from the walk from pool to carpark! Blasted on down the road, grabbed a coffee and fuel at Katherine and made it home at about 6pm Saturday night ready to collapse!


Published by David F

Disorganised Dilettante

3 thoughts on “Down and back again

      1. Yes, I totally get that “inner journey” especially when I do road trips to my old hometown. There is a song I really love by Troy Cassar Daly called “40 Miles”. It is about your whole life in that space. Lynn


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