After having had three trips with the family last year (2012) my next 4×4 adventure trip this year will be the much awaited Trans-Outback Australia 2013. This trip will cover two sectors: Sector A being Perth to Darwin via Kalgoorlie and the Canning Stock Route which promises to be quite tough, true wilderness. Sector B is from Darwin to Sydney, via Alice Springs, Uluru, Simpson Desert and Brisbane. I am doing Sector B from 2-25 October, exiting at Brisbane
I am already 74 now suffering a slight pain in my left knee. Otherwise, I am physically fit and have no major medical problems like high bp, diabetes or cardiac worries. My cholesterol is also under control. I am, of course, aware that I should not be too over-confident because “every trip is a new trip” and the challenges are different. Hence I’ve got my Medic Alert membership updated and insurance organised.
Presently 19 Sep, the Sector A people should be just about completing the Canning Stock Route and entering a semblance of civilization. It’ll be interesting to hear their stories when I meet them in Darwin on 2 Oct. We’ll be covering a lot of desert after Uluru. I am actually looking forward to it because I love deserts; the best being the Namib experience in mid-summer 2008, the worst in Sudan May 2011 when we had the sandstorm.
I arrived Darwin via Perth on 2 Oct at 1:05 pm. The motel Best Western Gateway was close by and they had a shuttle service. On arrival there the group was already there. Thomas, Linus, Atek and Patrick the Argentinian boy were there to meet me. And sure enough they told me that Canning Stock Route was corrugated and worse experience than the northern Kenya desert. Why? Because it’s 2,000 km long. Aman Yong’s Landcruiser 200 had severe damages to shocks and springs.
I was assigned to share room with the Argentinian. That was fine. Later I went to lunch with Linus and Kim, a Singapore lady, and a bit of shopping for Aussie simcard and other stuff for the trip down to Alice Spring on 4 Oct. On 3 Oct morning we had breakfast together when Thomas had the opportunity to brief us and introduce some of the new members ie the mainland Chinese and myself. Also to introduce the four Korean guys who did Sector A and are leaving us at Darwin. And tonight we’ll have dinner together when all the members are expected to attend.
The Journey Begins
4 Oct 2013.
As usual with Thomas (Tango) the journey starts with a briefing, calisthinics and prayer. We were told that the journey to Alice Spring is some 1700 km distance and will take three days. We’ll camp at Edith Falls and Terrant Creek full facilities campsites. Edith Falls was fine and was no problem for me to adjust. However, flies seem to be all over the place. Very annoying. Now I know why most people had fly nets; and I didn’t have one. So at the next opportunity, I bought one.
5 Oct 2013
Today we were not so lucky. We didn’t make it it to Terrant Creek because just before Newcastle Waters Rest Area, Tango’s Nissan Patrol developed gearbox problem. Atek and Patrick worked on it till midnight to isolate the fault which was a broken gear-wheel shaft, whilst we set up camp and Pelita prepared dinner.
6 Oct 2013
Tango took over Atek’s car and led the convoy to Alice Springs, now for a two-nights stay to facilitate repairs to the gearbox. Bro Yong’s Landcruiser towed the stricken car while Atek handled the wheel. At Alice Springs it was most fortunate that the correct model reconditioned gearbox was available for A$3,000. What luck.
The rest of us spent the time shopping at Alice Springs and I was looking for a dashcam to video the journey. I was convinced by the convoy members into buying a GoPro full HD because all of them have it. The previous night Linus Liu even showed me his aerial shots of the convoy doing the Cannon Stock Route. However, there were a few accessories missing so I had to spend a bit more to make it fully usable. Meantime I had to be satisfied with the Galaxy Note’s video cam.
8 Oct 2013
Destination Uluru (Ayers Rock). Tango’s car was not quite ready, so we left without it. Atek and Patrick to drive it to Uluru separately. We arrived Uluru before sunset and headed straight for the campsite. Very nice full facilities. Meantime, Dave and Susan Metcalfe arrived from Brisbane to join us. Dave is Tango’s Rainforest Challenge colleague and he was to guide us through the Simpson Desert.
Next day I booked a heli flight to see the Ayers Rock from the air, scheduled for 12:30 pm. I had a 50% discount on this flight. Not too exciting, nothing like flying over the Victoria Falls at Livingstone Zambia in 2008. Then in the evening it was a camel ride to see the sunset over the rock. Ah, this was fun, very well organised unlike the one in Tunisia Dec 2012.
10 Oct 2013
We departed Uluru at 0930 hrs after stopping in town for buying some food and water. Destination Kulgera, the point of entry into the Simpson Desert. No camping, we stayed at a Roadhouse.
11 Oct 2013
Into the desert at 1015 hrs. Gravel road. Crossed over the Ghan railway line to Finke with a diversion to Lambert Geographical Centre of Australia. It was a worthwhile visit which gave me ideas to suggest to our universities to do similar studies and research (as Dr Lambert did) to determine the geographical centre of Malaysia.
On the way out, the Pajero driven by David, the Beaume boss, shredded its tyre probably due to harsh driving. Then to Mt Dare hotel for complete top up refuelling. This was the last refuelling point for the Simpson desert; the next one would be when we get out of it at Birdsville some 1,200 km away. Our next destination was Dalhousie Springs and camping for the night. The ride was getting tougher.
12 Oct 2013
Dalhousie Springs is a hot spring and bathing in the lake was very pleasant, water at 30C or so. There’s also the Dalhousie Ruins, Mr Dalhousie being a pioneer in the opening up of Central Australia for pastoral farming. Drive getting rougher with corrugated sandy tracks and dunes every 100m or so apart. We arrived at the French Line and Tango decided to camp there.
We are now right in the middle of the Simpson with dunes running parallel N-S. Since we were driving W-E that meant some 300 km of dunes before Birdsville.
13 Oct 2013
In spite of the cold and windy night I had quite a goog night’s sleep. I must have been quite tired with all that bumpy driving. I also didn’t feel like a big job in the desert hoping that at the lunch break the environment would be more conducive. Alas, this was not to be. So back to basics.
14 Oct 2013
We arrived at Poeppel Corner (where the borders of NT, SA and QLD meets) at 6.45 pm; already dark. Still windy and chilly; pitched my tent hurriedly. Pelita did a good job with preparing dinner under the circumstances. Had my dinner and went to bed. Another miserable night.
15 Oct 2013
Early departure this morning 8:30 am. Birdsville (and civilization) about 170 km away. The famous Big Red dunes that stands about 35m above the plains would be the last challenge for the drivers and our 4x4s. Well, all of us made it up the dune except for Linus’ Nissan Patrol. He tried several times without success; the car had turbo problems since Alice Springs anyway. So ok-lah. Everybody had a good time and great photo shoots. Finally a drive to Birdsville some 33km east. No more dunes. 1100 of them in the Simpson desert was enough.
Please download this pptx file to play a video of the challenge of The Big Red
The remaining one week
After Birdsville we were supposed to drive out east to Fraser Island via Windorah, Charlesville and Miles. Apparently this drive wouldn’t be exciting or educational, so after consultations with Dave Metcalfe, Tango decided to detour north to Winton where there’s a Dinosaur Research Centre. So off we went along nice tarmac and gravel roads over vast plains with (sometimes) scenic views. We camped at Hamilton. The next morning we made it to Winton and the Dinosaur Centre by 2:30 pm. The Dinosaur Centre was certainly interesting and the scientists and staff there were a dedicated lot. However, in their enthusiasm they got a bit carried away with their scientific explanations. Anyway we spent about two hours there. Winton is also the birthplace of QANTAS (Queensland and Northern Territory Aviation Services) the Australian National carrier. But we didn’t stop at the Qantas Museum there.
The next stop was a Caravan site in Longreach. I thought we were camping again, but fortunately the place hired out caravans. Very comfortable with flush toilets, hot bath, kitchenette; the works. Really, this is a good way to travel on the cheap. Longreach is a typical Outback town with quint shops and jewellery stores; their speciality being opal. We then set off to Emerald a town where prospectors still roam the hills panning for gems. And we had a touch of panning also with the Chinese members quite serious about trying their luck. That night we camped at a full-facilities campsite called GemAir Village. Great place obviously catering for a lot of travelling prospectors!
Just one more night of camping; at Eidsvold. Then it’s Fraser Island for two days of R&R.
A short ferry ride from Inskip Point took us to the shores of the island. A row of 4x4s were waiting to board. Only 4x4s allowed on this island since it’s all sandy but with rainforest kind of vegetation. Apparently with plenty of dangerous wildlife too like snakes, dingos and crocodiles both freshwater and saltwater types. That puts me off from exploring and decided that R&R means R&R.
Our stay at Eurong Beach Resort was lovely, inspite of sharing the room with three others, and two of them are great snorers. Something new for me; never knew that one could snore that loud. But it was a nice two days nevertheless.
On the way out, we had great fun driving on the 75 mile beach with the tide still out. Didn’t see any saltwater crocs though, only a couple of dingos not knowing what to do with an overturned turtle.
At Dave Metcalfe’s Residence
Monday 21 Oct. After a good car wash at a coin operated high tech DIY washing facility on the mainland we drove off to Dave Metcalfe’s place north of Brisbane.
We arrived around 5:30 pm. Dave was waiting to show us around his place which has a large compound at the back. This was where the group was to set up camp. Aman Yong and I had earlier decided that we’ve had enough of camping so we got permission from Tango to stay at a motel in the village. But we’d be back for the BBQ that night. After a nice shower at the motel, Aman and I drove back to Dave’s place at 7:00 pm. The BBQ already started but not everybody was there yet. Soon enough it got crowded with everybody having their choice of food including kangaroo meat. Dave was the cook.
Towards the end of the BBQ evening Dave gave us a surprise. He presented each one of us a Certificate of Participation in the Trans-Outback 2013 and a DVD of photos he took of us during the trip as a memento. How kind. We then dispersed but a few diehard late-nighters still stayed on to chat and karaoke. Aman and I left for our motel.
Next morning we left for Dave’s place at 8:00 am for breakfast. On arrival, most people already had their breakfast. They were already busy sorting out their cars to leave most of the stuff at Dave’s. The cars are also to be done up. Apparently Tango will ship the cars to Kuala Lumpur for the trip next year, which will probably be NE Asia.
Around 11:00 am we were ready to depart Dave’s place for Brisbane. But on the way we were to stop at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It was a good thing we did because we were able to see all the Australian wildlife there besides the koalas. The place was quite big and quite tiring to visit all the various enclosures. There were dingos (tamed), kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles, platypus, Tasmanian devil, all kinds of snakes and birds and of course koalas. No camels, though. During the trip through the desert we hardly saw any wildlife worth mentioning.