5.5 days and 2800km from Cairns to Alice Springs
21.03.2009 | Route: Sydney-Sydney | km travelled: 0
With the long Easter weekend only 3 weeks away and no plans whatsoever desperation settle over Martina (Markus was quite happy with the prospect of 4 days just doing nothing but staying home). Not wanting to waste the oportunity she started looking for things to do and in the process stumbled over http://www.standbyrelocs.com/ which had a car on offer for the easter period that needed to be moved from Cairns to Alice Springs.
Thus having seen fate's wink she began researching flights and routes and finally presented the idea to Markus who grudgingly agreed but cautioned her to wait with bookings till Monday and till they got permission to take leave from work.
And indeed he was able to book a camper 4WD from Maui. Permission was finally granted on Monday. But fate had decided not to wait that long and thus the car was no longer available. Martina's disappointment was so great that Markus decided he would try to get another rental car while she was to book the flights.
06.04.2009 | Route: Sydney-Cairns | km travelled: 1957
We spent the day at work, met at home at around 4pm, finished packing, cut Markus' hair, had some kind of misunderstanding and therefore missed the train we would have needed to take to catch the bus in time that we had planned on taking to the airport. Left now with the choice between taxi and airport train we decided save a few bucks by taking the latter.
Thus we arrived at the checkin counter half an hour earlier than planned which proofed to be another one of fate's winks, since it turned out that Markus had forgotten his drivers licence at home. So he jumped into the next taxi to head home and fetch his licence. And indeed he managed the trip in under 40min and returned with enough time to catch the flight which turned out to be delayed by 35 minutes then anyway.
We spent the night in a hotel in Cairns where we also already booked a taxi for the next morning. We had planned the next day (being the first day of our trip) to perfection, even choosing the location of the hotel so as to minimize time and distances. Markus was to take the cab to Maui to pick up the car while Martina was to walk the few metres to the shopping centre next door to buy food and everything else needed for the next 6 days. Markus would then pick her up from there with the rental car.
07.04.2009 | Route: Cairns-Normanton | km travelled: 728
At exactly 10 minutes to 8 we were at the front of the hotel waiting for the cab which did not come. After calling another one Martina went to Woolworths to do the shopping as planned and Markus went to get the car. Since there was not mobile reception inside the shopping mall Martina only got Markus message at around 9am where he told her that the Maui office would only open a 10am and that she should take a cab and join him.
Interestingly enough Martina had called the Maui office the week before to confirm that they really open at 8am as stated on their website just to make sure they could get an early start.
The next setback followed shortly after the office finally opened and they were presented with the final bill which all of a sudden contained about AUD 320 more than originally. Most of it being "mandatory" pre-paid fuel. After wasting another 20min of fruitless arguing with the guy there we decided to just leave and not loose any more time. We still had about 700km of driving in front of us and it was already past 11am.
Hungry and angry we stopped to pick up fast food and finally left Cairns at 11.36am. We took the Kennedy Highway past Kuranda and Atherton and then turned onto the Gulf Developmental Rd (both part of the Savannah Way linking Cairns with Broome). All along the way we could still see where the January floods had caused damage. But all the roads to Normanton where open.
Since we had left Cairns so late we decided not to make the detour to Karumba but stay the night in Normanton. When we finally arrived there around 6.40pm it was already getting dark and everything was closed. Markus pleaded for driving another couple kilometres and stopping somewhere along the road for the night. 36km later we found a rest stop and turned onto it.
08.04.2009 | Route: Normanton-Lawn Hill NP | km travelled: 395
The next morning brought a beautiful sunrise. And flies. And a broken rooftop. Our camper was fitted with a pop-top that one simply had to pull back down. Easier said then done. Since it did not budge when Markus tried on his own, Martina added her weight too to finally get it to move. Only after having moved it half the distance did we notice that the back cross instead of folding onto itself had instead pushed outwards and now did not move again at all.
After a lot of swearing, kicking stones and car tyres, hysterical fits on Martinas part and visions of driving the next 160km with an open roof at 10km/h, Markus decided to try to unscrew the broken part. An hour later he had managed to remove it with his leatherman and we were ready to go.
We reached Burke and Will's roadhouse at around 9am and from there took the road to Gregory Downs where we turned in the direction of the Lawn Hill National Park. As had already been the case the day before the roads varied between 2 lane bitumen roads, one lane strips where every oncoming road train meant driving off to the side and dirt roads ranging from as wide as a 4 lane highway to small, rocky gravel roads.
We reached Lawn Hill at around 12.30pm when the temperatures where just starting to blimb past the 40 degrees mark. Markus nearly got a heat stroke while he was putting up the awning to give as some shade. Fortunately swimming was allowed in the gorge and we spent some time splashing around and cooling off. The gorge is truely amazing and would have been worth spending more time there though it gets quite busy there during holiday periods. We were lucky to be just those 2 days early enough.
We had planned on doing one of the walks later in the afternoon. But the weather ruined our plans and it started to rain and storm heavily and all through the night invoking nightmares of being left stranded in the gorge due to flooded and impassable roads.
09.04.2009 | Route: Lawn Hill NP-Davenport NP | km travelled: 873
The rain had stopped eventually in the early morning hours and dawn broke over a clear sky. We left early to be able to reach Camooweal around noon and to make it down to Lake Nash by end of the day. At least that was the plan.
We took the road from Lawn Hill to Riversleigh which was in pretty good shape and showed no signs of last nights storm. Well, nearly. This little stream looked like it was carrying more than its usual share of water. But we continued on without problems.
Not till we reached the first real river crossing. Markus waded all the way through to proof to Martina that it was neither deep nor dangerous. Still she was begging him to turn around and not attempt to cross over. He instead took her by her hand and walked her to the other end where she was to take pictures from him driving through the water.
After that adventure the road again crossed a river. This time though the current was less strong and the water less deep and Martina even stayed in the car.
And to make it an even (or odd?) three they eventually reached a third river. Or rather they first reached a warning sign simply stating "Slippery surface. Strong currents". Fearing the worst we took our time to inspect it but eventually crossed over without problems. We reached Camooweal even before noon, since we had decided to take the longer but sealed road fully expecting this to be the last bit of bitumen road for the next 2.5 days. But when we started to ask about the road conditions down to Lake Nash which marks the beginning of the Sandover Highway we were told not to attempt it. The roads where either still impassable (the one via Austral Downs) or in such a bad condition that hardly any people were comming up from the small community there.
After a long debate and weighing up the risks and options we decided to do the sensible thing and approach Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway rather then cutting down through the desert. Not an easy decision. But after all that had already gone wrong during this trip we did not dare to push our luck. And so we ventured on over the highway, turning left onto the Stuart Highway at Three Ways and into Tennant Creek for refuelling and information.
Since we now had at least one extra day, we decided to drive into the Davenport Ranges with the option in the back of our minds to try and cut through from there back onto the Sandover Highway. But nightfall came before we even reached any of the campsites prompting us to drive off the road and simply make camp out there in the middle of nowhere. The night was clear with a full moon and a lot of stars.
10.04.2009 | Route: Davenport NP-Davenport NP | km travelled: 39
We started early the next morning as always heading first to the Whistleduck Creek waterhole and campsite. The plan was to either stay there for the day or drive on to the Old Police Station Water Hole. Though the water hole was not carrying enough water to go swimming we still decided to spend the day here and just relax. No one else was on the campsite but the legions of flies.
We explored the area in search of a deeper waterhole but otherwise spent the day reading, fixing the roof and dozing under the fly net. Though still tempting we decided against the track down to Ammaroo and would instead turn onto the Plenty Highway, go east and loop through the East MacDonnell Ranges back to the Alice.
11.04.2009 | Route: Davenport NP-Trephina Gorge NP | km travelled: 670
Since we were taking the highway we turned of into the Devils Marbles Conservaton Reserve and took a quick walk between the boulders. The rest of the highway was a rather boring trip.
Along the Plenty Highway we passed the turnoff to the Sandover highway.
At The Gemtree we stopped for ice cream before heading down the Pinnacle Rd to Arltunga Historical Reserve. Since camping was forbidden there, we kept going till Trephina Gorge NP passing through the spectacular East MacDonnell Ranges.
At the campsite we spent nearly 2 hours cleaning out the thick layer of red dust that had settle on every possible surface inside and outside the car.
12.04.2009 | Route: Trephina Gorge NP-Alice Springs | km travelled: 84
We got up early again on our last day to take a walk along the gorge und watch the sun rise over the mountain ranges.
Then we drove the last 80km to Alice Springs with a short detour to Emily Gap. In Alice Springs we retourned the car, took a cab to the airport and flew back to Sydney thus ending another great trip through Australia.