simspon desert
The turn off from the French Line
lone gum
The Lone Gum Tree
red sand
Red desert sand
big red
On Big Red
big red
On top of Big Red
A guy and his camel
A dingo at Coongie Lakes

The Simpson Desert

With the Nissan fully serviced, meticulously checked and even some paint touched up it is as good as new and we are ready for a trip that has been on our list for a long time. After spending the night in Coober Pedy, a visit to the Dalhousie Ruins and a soak in the Dalhousie Springs we start the crossing of the Simpson Desert. The track to the actual desert is so corrugated that there's no way you can stick to the 40 km speed limit.
Instead of just following the French Line straight across we take a few turn offs, a route that will take us past a few points of interest. Most sand dunes on the French line are pretty chewed up but when we turn onto the Rig Road we have a much smoother ride between the dunes. The colour of the sand alternates between yellowish brown and orangy red, depending on the direction of the sun light. The days are beautiful but the nights are freezing cold. A few times in the morning there's frost on the car. Despite our thermals, it's hard to stay warm some nights. We camp just off the tracks along the way and every time we have great spots.

The Lone Gum is actually a Coolabah tree that usually grows in flood plains. It is unknown how it got here but the good news is that there are new Coolabah off springs so the tree is not lone anymore. There's lots of other vegetation throughout the desert so the landscape doesn't feel that desert-like. Apart from the many sand dunes we cross a number of salt lakes. They are all dry so easy to cross.
The Large Eagle's Nest wasn't easy to find as due to storms it has decreased is size quite a bit. We follow the Knolls Track to the Knolls, 2 large whitish hills next to an enormous salt lake consisting of Gypsum Rock.

The next stop is at Poeppel Corner where Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory meet. Throughout our trip we cross those borders a few times. Then we follow the K1 Line back to the French Line and towards Birdsville.
Just before Birdsville is Big Red where we arrive late on the day. It is the biggest sand dune of the area and located on a private property just outside the Simpson Desert Conservation Park and a challenge to drive over. We get up all tracks but need to deflate the tires till 8 psi. Afterwards we hang around for a bit. It's a magical place with the sun setting and a full moon with beautiful coloured sky.

We spent two nights in Birdsville where the hot showers can warm us up instead of our thermals. Birdsville has two shops, a hotel and of course the famous Birdsville Bakery where I have the famous camel pie for lunch. We haven't seen a single camel so far by the way, apart from some camel remains somewhere along the track.
After the desert crossing we take the Birdsville Track to Innamincka. On the way we see our first (and last) camel. It's a domesticated one and alongside him walks his owner. We slow down the car and he asks for chocolate or whiskey. He's been on a long journey of about 800 km with his camel named Warratah Kid and is heading home to Charlottesville. We give him an open bag of mars bars and I now feel guilty of already having eaten some earlier on the day.

We stop at the Cordillo Downs 1883 stone woolshed which is a bit disappointing as basically only the outside walls and roof remain. The inside is empty. A bit more interesting is Arrabury Pastoral Company, a deserted home stead with some 60's buildings and animal yard that we encounter along the way. The fresh water in the trough and hay bales indicate that it is still being used for cattle. The rest is all deserted and dilapidated.

And then we arrive at the famous Dig Tree. We have heard, read and seen a lot about the history of the Burke and Wills expedition and it is very special to now finally be here. Beautifully located on the bank of the Cooper Creek it is an amazing place.
It was funny to notice that the signs at the Dig Tree (in Queensland) displaying information about Burke and Wills did not mention the many mistakes they made at all. They talk about 'daring human exploits' and blame the harsh environment solely. The signs in South Australia, at the site where Burke died, are more honest and state that Burke's 'all-or-nothing attitude made him a dangerous leader'.

The Innamincka Trading Post (shop and fuel) has a problem. The diesel truck was due to arrive 3 weeks earlier and there's still no sign of it. Their storage tank is about to run empty and every morning they measure what's left and there's long lines of cars wanting to fill up while they still can. Our loyal Nissan is a petrol and there's plenty of that but this is the reason we always top up along the way.

The Coongie Lakes National Park has been closed for long periods of time nut now it's finally open. It is an amazing place with 2 large lakes and so much wildlife. We see the first dingo's of the trip and our very first black dingo! We also see a young (but big) Wedge tailed Eagle in a nest and some beautiful water birds. It is a super relaxing place and we spent some time in front of our tent just watching the bird life in the water.
The road towards the lakes is filled with turn offs to gas and oil extraction rigs and some of these machines are located almost alongside the road. It's weird to arrive to these pristine lakes (to the eye anyway) through a landscape filled with rigs.

Via the Old Strzelecki Track (the sign says it's an unmaintained 4wd track but within 10 minutes a big semi trailer comes our way in a big cloud of dust) we drive back. At the end of the day we see the Flinders Ranges in the distance with dark storm clouds above it. It's a beautiful sight and also a warning for us to spent this night at a motel instead of our tent. That turned out to be a good choice.
(Claudia, July 2014)

mt wycheproof
Sunset view from Mt Wycheproof

Mount Wycheproof

Having climbed Australia's highest mountain, we thought it would be fun to do the same with Australia's smallest mountain.
Located in Wycheproof, Victoria, the mountain is 43 meters above the surrounding plains and the world's smallest registered mountain. On top of the mountain is a large round iron artwork. The view is great, especially at sunset and sunrise.

Another interesting thing about Wycheproof is that has a railway line runing through the middle of its main street called Broadway. We heard the slow approaching freight train's horn from afar and had plenty of time to walk to the street and watch it. We thought it was fun. Not so much so when the same thing happened in the very early hours of the morning and woke us up.
We walked over Broadway (it is cool just to be able to say that), had good food at the local Terminus hotel and it was just a great weekend.
(Claudia, March 2014)

broken hill
Broken Hill lookout from the Line of Lode
burke tree
One of the locations close to the lakes where Burke & Wills stayed
minidee lakes
Menindee Lakes

Broken Hill

We have visited Broken Hill a couple of times on our way elsewhere, but now it's our destination. We're staying in our favourite Red Earth Motel, better described as new, modern self-contained apartments.

Broken Hill is not a beautiful town. Although it has a nice main street it is mainly a rough mining town. There is a lot of mining and mining history worth seeing. We visit the monument on top of the Line of Lode that commemorates all the miners of the area that have perished at work since the early days. The Line of Lode is a large ore body that has been mined throughout the years and still today, running right through town.
We see the old Junction Mine that was used as a pit stop in The Amazing Race season 18. It is an interesting wooden building built in the 1880's over a silver mine shaft, the oldest remaining on the Line of Lode.

We have a little booklet about interesting sites and buildings and it takes us to White Rocks Reserve.
At the White Rocks Reserve -yes, there are white rocks- but also a replica of an ice cream cart that was used in a attack on a train in 1915. In the reserve the 2 men involved were shot and the incident is considered the only enemy attack on Australian soil during World War 1.

On a short drive from Broken Hill is the small town of Menindee where we stop for lunch at the Maidens Hotel. It is the exact same place where Burke and Wills stopped and discussed how to continue their journey. A bit further, at the amazing Menindee Lakes where dead gumtrees and (live) pelicans are abundant, we find a sign on a big tree that commemorates that the expedition of Burke & Wills camped here for months. With all that water it seems like the perfect spot.

We drive through Kinchega National Park which is a beautiful park close to Menindee. It's a typical outback park, with the red sand, the heat and sense of remoteness. It also has the most impressive wool shed we've seen so far. Built in 1875 it's a large wooden structure and still complete. 6 Million sheep were processed here in total. It's great to wander around in. A little kangaroo had the same idea, sitting in one of the old holding pens :-)
(Claudia, March 2014)

View on Wellington from Somes Island

Our Jucy van

lake rotoraia
Active volcano at Lake Rotoraia

Giant Kauri tree

Dolphin in the Bay of Islands

hole in the rock
The Hole in the Rock

New Zealand - North Island

Wellington is beautifully located on the waterfront, surrounded by steep hills.
And as a number of people told us casually: statistically due for an earth quake any day now. Only twice was I consciously thinking of this. When I crossed a large concrete bridge on foot over a busy, multi-laned motorway and when I found myself walking under a broad and low protruding concrete ceiling kind of thing in a shopping street: If it happens now I’m going to be dead.
But otherwise I had a couple of happy and relaxing days in Wellington while AJ was working.

Those steep hills provide some nice lookouts over the city and very interestingly cosy suburbs full of character with steep steps connecting streets and narrow alleys. It also has resulted in the most beautiful, horror movie-like cemetery I have ever seen. It was a bright sunny day but the atmosphere was so eerie. Run down graves with rusty gates, half fallen down on the hill side. Broken borders, broken head stones, covered in dead leaves. Narrow steep steps that seem almost impossible to climb leading to some dilapidated grave. Beautiful in a sad way.

Wellington has a beautifully renovated harbour with lots of little restaurants serving great food. It is a friendly and lively city and easy to get around in.
I walked through Cuba Street, saw the unfortunate giant octopus in the Te Papa Museum, hiked up Mt Victoria for the best view, rode the cable car tram and discovered I absolutely love New Zealand Riesling. I took the ferry named Cobar Cat to Matiu/Somes Island where people and animals were once quarantined. I walked around the island and through the middle and saw a beautiful light house with views on Wellington, some old quarantine buildings where you can wonder around and some swooping seagulls that nested close to the track.

After 4 days AJ is done and we pick up our Jucy campervan to head North. And then we learn the best food is in Wellington. Apart from that is was an awesome trip with amazing scenery. New Zealand is green and compact. It is known for it's sheep but I saw more cows. The volcanic mountains are high and the rivers are wild and broad. It's stunning.
Since our camper van is not fully self contained we have only designated areas where we can spent the night. We had a few nice places in mind but only camp 1 night at the banks of a river and the rest of the nights at commercial campings. Mainly because most campings are located on the best spots with great views.

We take a scenic drive (basically all drives in New Zealand are scenic) to Mt Ruapehu. It is summer but there's still snow on top of the volcano. We drive to the top, take a short walk to the unimpressive Mangawhero Falls and continue our journey north.
At Opotaka, located on lake Rotoaira, we see a bit of history with some wooden remains of a village that once housed about 200 people. The lake is full of black swans and with the white smoke coming out of an active volcano in the background it is a very serene place.

At Taupo we do the Geothermal walk at the Craters of the Moon, an interesting area full of steam and boiling mud. At Rotarua we stop at Kerosene Creek. The name seem to suggest that when you stick your toe in it come out with bones only. The water in reality is lovely and warm although a bit smelly.
On our way we come across Kiwi 360. They have a giant green and yellow kiwi so we just have to stop and take our photos with it. We now know that a kiwi plant resembles a vine. Interesting. We buy some kiwi jam at the shop which tastes very nice and continue our journey.

Our main destination is Bay of Islands for the dolphin cruise which was definitely a highlight of the trip. We saw two groups of dolphins, one with a baby dolphin. Super cute and when the boat sped up again they swam with us in front of the boat. Apart from watching dolphins the boat also drove through the Hole in the Rock. The hole doesn't seem big enough at first but of course it is and it was a nice point to turn back, see some more dolphins and return to the dock.

Another highlight is the Waipoua Forest which has a couple of extremely large and impressive Kauri trees that are between 2000 and 3000 years old. One of them, Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the forest) has a girth of 16.41 meters and has a whole eco system with plants and mosses in its top.

We don't want to leave New Zealand without having seen a Kiwi. They live in Waipoua forest in the wild but since our time is limited we drive to the Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary to see a live captive one. When we arrive it is nearly closing time, but since all we want is to see the Kiwi (and not the museum and reptiles) we are allowed in. The people behind the counter rob us of precious time by talking non-stop about things that don't interest us but eventually we can enter the dark enclosure. We can see on the CCTV that they are in their liars and we just have to hope that one will come out before we have to leave. We are very lucky because one does come out and walks around a bit, making it easy to spot in the dark. It is a very cute bird that has whiskers and looks very cuddly.

Our last stop before flying back from Auckland is Piha, a small coastal town with a dark sandy beach and a fantastic sunset. When we are in the plane on our way home we see that we are flying over this area.
In our Wellington hotel room was an information sheet with Maori words and the English translation. There are some differences between New Zealand English and Australian English as well, although most are easy to understand. Tramping means hiking, a passing lane is an overtake lane, trim milk is skim milk and a trundler is a shopping trolley (as I saw on a sign at the supermarket).
New Zealand was fantastic and I can't wait to discover the South Island next time.
(Claudia, December 2013)

SA-NT border crossing
chambers pillar
Chambers pillar at sunrise
ruby gap
Dark clouds over Ruby Gap
binns track
Water crossing
palm valley
Palm Valley
finke gorge
Finke Gorge
Kata Tjuta
gunbarrel highway
Old Gunbarrel Highway

The Red Centre (2013)

The plan was to cross the Simpson Desert with friends.
When we meet up in Coober Pedy their car has an issue and they decide to return home. To us it seems the perfect opportunity to change our destination to the red Centre. We've been there a couple of years ago with our normal car and always had plans to return with the 4WD.

From Coober Pedy we drive to Alice Springs only via dirt roads. The landscape is barren and desolate. We ignore the Simpson Desert turn off and keep heading north. We camp at Eringa Waterhole.
This place is a little paradise compared to the area we’ve been driving through. Large gum trees line the broad creek bed that is mostly dry but there is a large puddle of water left. When we arrive we scare away two pelicans. I’m hoping to see some more wildlife but apart from some ducks and numerous birds we seen only cows coming for a drink.

The landscape is barren again when we cross the border between SA and NT. There are some overturned car wrecks along the way, creating an even more desolate atmosphere. Closer to Finke there’s more scrubs and bushes and we see a large flock of Red Tailed Black Cockatoos. You see the bright red tail when they fly. It’s an amazing sight.
In Finke the fuel pumps are kept in a cage that gets locked after hours. The general store that sells the fuel closes between 12.00 and 02.00 pm. We're lucky we arrive at 11.50, fill up and are on our way again. The track follows the old Ghan route and there are some remnants to be seen although not well preserved.
In fact, the dirt road to Alice Springs follows the Finke Desert Race track is called the Ghan Heritage Trail. Sometimes you see some old sleepers on the verge in a pile of sand but that’s about it. This road is very corrugated but the race track is no alternative. Apart from the many bends it is also full of little hills.

We take the turn off to Chambers Pillar. There are a couple of beautiful rock formations with the Pillar the most historical. You can climb halfway up where the view is amazing and you can see some old and new vandalism in the form of names engraved in the pillar, the oldest dating from 1870. The pillar colours amazingly in the light of the setting sun. The weather is nice and warm. We can’t be bothered pitching the tent and roll out our mats on the large wooden table. We sleep under the stars.
The next day we arrive in Alice Springs. We catch up with friends and spent the night in luxury at an apartment. Our dusty 4wd looks out of place in the parking between the shiny sedans.

About a 3 hours drive east from Alice Springs is Ruby Gap, a 4WD track that follows a creek bed into the Ruby Gap Gorge. The track to the Ruby Gap is part of the Binns Track. Our friends who have a Hilux are tagging along. The weather is fine with just a few clouds in the sky.
The actual track starts at the Ruby Gap Nature Park. About half an hour into the track through an alternate sandy and pebbly creek bed the clouds are becoming darker. When we hear thunder in the distance we decided to go back.
Despite a low tire pressure the Hilux gets stuck at a sandy patch. The driver has a set of Max Trax that get the Hilux going again within 2 minutes. It then takes us about 20 minutes to recover the Max Trax that have been buried surprisingly deep by the spurting sand when the car took off.
It starts to rain and the dirt road back to Alice has transformed from dry and dusty into a road full of flood ways with large puddles. There’s even water in the creek alongside the road and some creeks are flowing over the road. Amazing to see how quickly the condition of a track can change.

West of Alice Springs is Palm Valley. This 4WD track follows the Finke Creek bed to a campsite. From the camp site the track leads over rocks and past waterholes into the gorge. On the way you see some palms, but when you park at the end and walk a bit further the palm vegetation gets denser and more impressive. We spent the night and get to see this beautiful valley both at sunset and sunrise. The next day we drive to close by Hermannsburg to top up on fuel.
When we turn into the community’s main street an aboriginal funeral procession is just leaving. The first car is a Ute and has the casket on the tray surrounded by flowers and two men sitting on each side. There is a long line of cars and a few buses and one excavator following slowly. Two dogs are barking and running between the cars.

The turn off to the remote Finke Gorge National Park is not sign posted. Away from the main road there is a large sign, consisting mainly of warnings. This track starts as a large dirt road and passes the cemetery where the cars from the funeral have gathered, but then turns into this beautiful and serene track through the Finke River bed. Before we enter the gate into the park we see a few Brumbies galloping through the trees in the creek bed. This remote track winds through the creek bed consisting of sometimes loose sand but mostly river pebbles. The scenery is amazing. Large river gums, some waterholes (one with dead fish alongside the edges, one a bit healthier with 2 swans swimming in it) and impressive red rock faces. We have a look at the police station ruin here in the middle of nowhere, used to imprison aboriginals that killed cattle (cattle drained the waterholes because of their large numbers).

On the map we have seen that this track connects to another track leading south that is marked as “experienced 4wd”. We are not sure what to expect and brace for the worse. This large dirt road must have been graded recently because apart from corrugation, there’s nothing special or hard about this track. Then the last 6 km it turns off into the dunes and becomes this narrow, adventurous track. Just before we reach the main dirt road, we get a flat tire. No biggie, we’ve got a spare and within 20 minutes we’re back on track. We turn right on Earnest Giles Road (and no sign here on this side either) until we reach bitumen again.
Our destination is Curtain Springs, a working cattle station were we will stay 2 nights. This gives us the opportunity to visit Kata Tjuta and do the Valley of the Wind walk. The only thing we didn’t have time for during our previous visit. And it turns out to be well worth a return visit.

At Curtin Springs the unpowered sites are free. The cows at Curtin Springs are not very visible, but very audible. You hear them all night. Makes you wonder what they’re up to. The campsite also has an emu that is quite tame. I sliced an apple to give it a healthy snack.
Our last day in the Red Centre we drive East over the Mulga Park Highway which is the old Gunbarrel Highway. I heard of the Gunbarrel Highway 20 years before I came to Australia thanks to one of the Midnight Oil songs :-). This broad corrugated dirt road roughly follows the SA-NT border. There are mostly large scrubs but sometimes the track narrows and leads through a surprisingly colourful dune area. The combination of the red sand, the pale yellow grass and the small green scrubs is amazing. The whole track is filled with animal foot prints, but apart from some cows we haven’t seen any wildlife here. The one dead camel not counting.
When we hit the Stuart Highway we inflate our tires again. We consider this the end of our trip as we have a two day bitumen drive back to Adelaide.
(Claudia, 6 October 2013)



The federal elections of September 7 were probably the last in a long row of "firsts" for me in this country.
The lead up to Election Day is filled with campaigns from the different parties. The main focus is on the two leaders of the biggest parties, Tony Abbott from the Liberals and Kevin Rudd from Labor. To me it seems to be a very childish process. Instead of focussing on their own programs they attack the opponent's. They waste a lot of money on doom commercials. "Don't vote for this party, otherwise....". "If you vote for this party, you'll end up with...". The commercials are accompanied by doom music and black and white shots for the opponent, where their own message is accompanied by sunshine and happiness. Apparently neither leader has enough faith in their own party/program that they can focus on just that. They all need to point fingers at someone else.
I also found that a lot of emphasis is on the leaders as a person instead of on the party they represent. They both - as persons- did not appeal to me.

All the schools in the area were polling stations and I decided to go to my boys' high school. I went early because I didn't want to wait in line and because voting here is compulsory, I wanted it over and done with and have the rest of the day to myself. I read up a bit about the process and felt prepared enough. Near the entrance of the polling station campaigners were handing out leaflets from different parties. I had my mind made up already but accepted some out of politeness.
There are 2 ballot papers to fill out. One is for the House of Representatives and the other one for the Senate. The ballot paper for the House of Representatives is a short one and you have to number the boxes of the different parties in order of your preference.
The Senate's ballot paper is a bit longer. You can either tick 1 box for the party of your choice (and I saw in one of the leaflets that some parties ask you to do this), or you can vote on persons of all the parties, which are 73 boxes. I decided to make the most of it and gave everyone a number in order of my preference. Which at the starts is easy but when you get around 50 the parties get more obscure (like the Smokers Rights and Sex Party) and it's harder to decided the order of choice.
After I'd done all that I realised I had used my blue pen instead of the pencils provided but was told that wasn't a problem. (In Holland you have to use a red pencil/pen otherwise you vote is invalid.)
I must say I felt pretty good afterwards and appreciated my new right to at least have the feeling to have a little bit of a say in this country's future.
(Claudia, 8 September 2013)

Beautiful historic Dordrecht
Dutch highways
Busy Old Dubai
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
The monorail over Palm Jumeirah with Dubai Marina in the back ground

The Netherlands / Dubai

It was great to be back.
The weather was perfect, family reunions were awesome and the food we had missed and ate was plentiful.
It was funny being a tourist in your own country. Struggling with identifying the value of the different Euro coins that have been introduced over 10 years ago while also speaking Dutch perfectly, resulting in some strange looks. We felt we needed to explain ourselves a bit when we were obviously amazed at the different supplies found at the local snack bar.
I had forgotten how wide the rivers are and the large selection of fresh cheeses in the supermarket. I had forgotten about the quality of the multi lane highways and that the highway signs are blue.
The landscape was green and leafy. We loved the historic town centres (real historic town centres) and the eye for detail at the Efteling, our biggest fairy tale based amusement park. Lucas noted that here, he wasn't the tallest person, in fact, a lot of people were taller :-)

We visited Rotterdam and Amsterdam, mainly for the boys who were curious about the coffee shops and the red light district. So when they, as I have been asked many times, get asked: ‘is it true what they say about Amsterdam’, they can say: yes! We had an absolute awesome time and I felt right at home again after a day of adjustment (mainly to do with the busy roads where everybody seems to constantly change lanes, and crowded cities).
The most time we spent in Dordrecht where the boys grew up. The visit wasn't long enough to see everyone or eat everything we wanted, but we all agree that the next visit will be sooner than the 8 years it took us now.

On the way back we have a stopover of a few days in Dubai to break the long journey. A very interesting city with a mix of desert and countless high-rise buildings and constructions everywhere. Basically there is desert anywhere there's no buildings. The taxi driver tells us repeatedly, pointing out the window when we drive to the Dubai Marina where we stay: 10 years ago this was all desert.
It was hot and humid (and I guess because of this) hazy skies and no clouds. The mirror in my camera fogs up on a couple of occasions when we're outside. There are old souks and huge modern shopping malls and the air conditioning is on full blast in every shop and building. And, people are very friendly.

It is the month of Ramadan. Ramadan Kareem it says on every shop window. Happy Ramadan. No eating, drinking or chewing in public between sun rise and sunset. This means that restaurants and bars are closed during the day and that we can only eat and drink in our apartment or in a resort during the day. We are cool with that but when we stroll though the old Dubai one morning, through the old souks (markets), the heat and the humidity make it very hard on us. In order to get at least a drink of water we resort to sneaky visits to toilets where in the closed stall we can take a quick sip from our water bottle. Makes you feel almost like a drug addict.
But this is what I love and have missed in those 8 years in Australia: different cultures with different habits and values. Different food, money and languages.

Another afternoon we actually go to a resort affiliated with the Beach Tower were we stay. We swim, eat and drink out in the open. The pools are nice and interestingly, the water in the Gulf is warmer than in the spa which the sign said was 32 degrees. However alcohol is not served because of the Ramadan. And it is not sold in shops either unless you own an alcohol licence, as we found out when we found this obscure anonymous bottle shop behind a big wooden door down at a dark parking level in a mall.

The Ramadan has a couple of advantages as well. It is very quiet - no rows in Sega Republic or at Ski Dubai, and the yummy iftars (sweet nibbles you eat after sunset to literally "break the fast") we had. The unexpected iftar we were given after sunset at the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world and the most beautiful modern building that I've ever seen. We get a chance to see all the high lights like the Burj al Arab and Palm Jumeirah (which we can see from our apartment balcony) although sometimes it almost feels like a task to go outside in this weather. It is not much better at night because it doesn’t cool down, it’s just a bit less hot.
I would definitely go back, but in a different season.
(Claudia, July 2013)

Lakes entrance
Lakes Entrance

dargo hotel
In front of the Dargo hotel

high country
Mountains and rivers

river crossing
Crooked Rover crossing

road block
Road block

caledonia river
Caledonia River

caledonia river 2
Another Caledonia River crossing

dingo hill
One of the many switch backs on the Dingo Hill Track

An eagle soaring over the Pinnacles

Victorian High Country

The road to Bairnsdale (Vic) is full of road works, both in SA and in Victoria, adding a bit to our already long travel time. It takes us about 14 hours, devided over 2 days to reach Bairnsdale. On the map the Gippsland Lakes resemble the SA Coorong a bit and we have a few days to explore the region before we meet up with friends for the High Country 4wd trip. It's not much like the Coorong. First of all, beach driving is prohibited in Vic (which explains why the Victorian 4wd club that pulled us out on Robe-Beachport do that trip on a yearly basis). Second of all, these lakes are fed by 6 major rivers, instead of just the one in SA. It is a truly beautiful area.

We stay at Eagle Point caravan park. The school holidays in Vic are over and it is a normal weekday. The camping is almost deserted. A few cabins have been rented out, there's a couple of caravans but we're the only tent and we're in the far corner where the unpowered sites are. Just when we have pitched the tent with great view over King Lake we receive a SES weather warning from the manager. It is pretty windy already so we move the tent away from the nearby tree and reinforce the tent with the fly and extra pegs. After all that work the wind is suddenly gone but there already is a new storm warning for the next night.

A real storm never arrives but the next few days are cloudy with multiple showers.
Lakes Entrance is a village and the location where the water of the lakes empty in the ocean. It is a great walk to the actual mouth despite some rain and the diffrence between the calm water of the lakes and the rough pounding ocean is a great sight.
We also drive to Paynesville and take the ferry to Raymond Island. Famous for its koalas, they have an interpretive koala walk and we see so many of them that I stop taking photos. One of the best drives however is close to the campsite. The Mitchell River Silt Jetties is a natural phenomenom. It runs into King Lake and you can see the river on one side and the lake in the other.
It’s also a place where the rich people hide out. The have their boat on the river next to the road, and their houses with amazing lake views on the other side. (Made me wonder if they ever lobbied to close the road off to keep their privacy.)

When we drive to Dargo the weather is nice and sunny. We stop at the famous Dargo Hotel and store and fill up. Then we head up North for the Blue Rag Track. We see some snow on our way and AJ makes his first snow man in 8 years. He still has the skills ;-)).
The Blue Rag is one of the icons of the High Country, but because of the bush fires in January the track has been grated for fire truck access. Still a nice track with fantastic views. On the top the track is closed so we head back.
One of the other cars gets a flat just at the end of the track. As it is getting late we have a look on the map and see there's a campsite 6 ks away, on Mt Freezeout. We set up camp on the ridge top but we feel this is our best option in the circumstances. The tire gets fixed and we have a nice camp fire to keep us warm. The next morning however it's cold, raining and foggy. Tent is wet inside and out and we can agree with the mountain's name. It is cold and miserable.

We drive to the the Basalt Knob North Track. When track goes down, we drive be neath the clouds. The view is clear and we realise we have been staying in the clouds on Mt Freezeout!
Via the multiple river crossing of The Crooked River Track (our very first real river crossings which we’re all excited about), and fire wood collection we arrive at our next camp site at Talbotville, an old mining town, right next to the Crooked River. There’s nothing left of the town, but there are some mining sites in the vicinity.

The next day we drive via the Collingwood Spur Track and the Cynthia Range Track over the Wombat Range Track to Wonnangatta. The heli pads you come across not only remind us of the dangerous side of this beautiful area, but are also are great for photos of uninterupted amazing views, lunch breaks and car repairs (not our car). Ultimate bush mechanics: a pair of bushes made from a stubbie holder and Gaffa tape!

At the Wonnangatta Valley we set up camp. Two people were murdered here in 1917-1918 and the case has never been resolved. After having established at the camp fire that murdering can run in the family, we encounter a few potential suspects during the remainder of the trip.

The next morning, when the sun reaches the top of the mountain and warms the valley ground, the damp grass displays a fairy tale-like smoke screen over the ground. Having packed up yet another wet tent, we take the Zeka Spur Track to the Howitt Plains.
We stop at the Howitt Plains Hut where one of the bodies was found. The only original feature of this 1889 built hut (and rebuilt in 1920) are the roof shingles that are covered by corrugated iron. If suitable this could have been a place to spent the night but the area is very open and windy.
We find out from a man we all identify as a possible murderer that 1km in height equals 1 degree in temperature roughly.
With this knowledge we have a long look at the map and decide to take the Caledonia River Track and camp somewhere low and warm. Doubting if we should have shared our destiantion with this murderer, we start our drive, because nobody wants to experience another Mt Freezeout.

The turn off of the Caledonia River Track is close by and we start our way down. We are surprised to see fresh dozer tracks, and the tire prints of a car over them. And sure enough, after about half an hours drive we see a ute putting up a road works sign on the middle of the track. He was just about to set up camp and we have a talk to the dozer driver who is a short walk away. Turns out the track is closed and there should have been a 'road closed' sign at the turn-off. We are allowed to pass and are warned about some bad sections that they are about to repair the coming days. The track is a lot more adventurous now and we find a camp spot at the Caledonian River surrounded by high Gum trees. We all sleep well, knowing that the murderer has to pass the ute and the dozer first before he can get to us ;-).
The track has numerous mud puddles and we cross the Caldonia River a couple of times. At one point we do see a 'road closed' sign from the other direction.

We take the Dingo Hill track. It’s a rough track with steep climbs and a lot of narrow switch backs. My absolute favourite track of this trip. The next day we drive to The Pinnacle Lookout. There is a fire watch station with 360 degrees views. We see two eagles circeling the mountains. At the parking when we’re about the leave we hear some very noisy vehicle coming up. They are off-road quads, complete with winch and everything. Super cool, never seen them in SA.
The last track of the trip is the Billy Goat Bluff Track. It is a rough track, and quite busy. It is long weekend in Victoria and the High Country is only a couple of hours from Melbourne. And then we’re back at Dargo. We have a great burger at the Dargo Store and head back to Bairnsdale to pick up some real bushes to ensure a safe return journey. Our last night we spent at a caravan park in Sale. Here we have the extreme luxuries of a hot shower and pizza delivery service.
It was an awesome trip. It's an amazing area with the mountains and rivers. We were all well prepared but we didnt have to use our recovery gear and winch. There were fallen trees over the tracks but they all had been chain-sawed out of the way already. There was hardly any wildlife, even the hunters in the area said so. It was cold and we packed up a wet tent every morning. Collecting fire wood was a daily ritual ensuring our survival ;-)
I would do it all again. Any day.
GPS log.
(Claudia, April 2013)

Rawnsley Bluff
Wilpena Pound seen from Rawnsley Bluff

Wilpena Pound seen from the Chase Range

Rawnsley Park

A while ago I won 2 $200 vouchers that had to be spent on a SA Shorts holiday and we decided to spend it at Rawnsley Park for the weekend. We have been in the Flinders Ranges quite a lot but actually never seen the famous Wilpena Pound (on the inside anyway), so this was a great opportunity.
The package included two nights in an Eco Villa (was fantastic), diner for two at the Woolshed Restaurant (was meh) and a 4wd Sunset Tour with views on Wilpena Pound (was great).

Wilpena Pound, which isn't a crater as I initially thought, is very impressive. And used for farming purposes in the past. The word Pound stands for an animal enclosure, but has also been used for agriculture.
We started with the Wangara Lookout hike which starts at the Wilpena Visitor Centre. It promises spectacular views of Wilpena Pound. This walk goes partly through the pound although you don't realise it at the time because of the trees. But when you climb to the 2 lookouts you notice it. Nice but a bit dissapointing because you can only see a small part of it.
In the evening we have dinner at the Woolshed restaurant. At a location like this you expect a lamb dish to be good but it was nothing special. The cook is probably already counting down to the end as the lease is running out shortly.
The next day we hike to the top of Rawnsley Bluff. The path follows a dry waterfall. Just before you reach the top the incline is about 80%. You go from rock to rock, like doing an extreme step class. The view on Wilpena Pound from up the Bluff is amazing. It's a good thing we didn't know beforehand that this hike was rated difficult or we might have chickended out. I consider this one of the best hikes we've ever done and I am so glad to have had this amazing experience.
In the evening it's time for the 4WD tour. This is the first time for us, we normally drive ourselves :-)
It drives up the Chase Range on Arkapena Station, just across the road. Normally a self drive property but this weekend closed due to feral goat hunting. We have some interesting company. A camera man and a photographer from the Italian TV station Rai Uno are here to film some segments about South Australia. We have great views on Wilpena Pound while enjoying a drink and some nibbles. Apart from the view we're also watching the camera man in action.
The final day, after enjoying breakfast on the deck of the villa with view on the mountains we drive through the Flinders Ranges National Park. We take the Bunyeroo Gorge Scenic Drive and after a couple of hours of beautiful mountains and gorges we're back on the highway to home.
(Claudia, 12 November 2012)

Hand stencils at Mutawintji np

View from Mt Wood

Jump-ups at Sturt np

Saddle Bronc at Tibooburra rodeo

Lizard vs Nissan GQ

The dog fence between SA and NSW

Sturt Desert Pea

Corner Country, Outback NSW

The first three hours from Adelaide up north take you through fresh green, rolling farmland this time of year. After Terowie it's only pastoral land and that's where the outback starts. After another two hours we arrive at Broken Hill were we fill up the car and drive on to Mutawintji National Park where our trip though the NSW outback begins.
Mutawintji is an interesting park with beautiful scenery, some Aboriginal and European history and a couple of walks that lead you to all these spots. We take a guided tour we had pre booked to the largest collection of Aboriginal art in the park, the only way to get access. The walk could easily finish within the hour but is stretched to 3 hours with dreamtime stories and other information which, if you had no knowledge at all, would be interesting. The hand stencils are all left hands and located on the walls of beautiful overhanging rocks. The engravings are in a different area on only a short walking distance and are even better than the stencils. They are filled in, where usually they are only outlined. And no symbols this time. A very clear emu, kangaroo, goanna and people can be seen.
On other walks throughout the park there are also engravings to be seen but on a smaller scale. The European history consists of the ruins of a hotel and some graffiti dating back from 1862. William Wright, a member of the Burk and Wills explorer expedition, has painted his initials over an aboriginal painting. The weather is warm and windy and good for walking.

After 2 days we still haven’t seen all of the park but head up to Tibooburra via dirt roads that are in unexpected good condition. The same cannot be said of the Silver City Highway. This is mainly a dirt road with some short sections of bitumen. We have to deflate our tires a bit more to get a comfortable drive up north.
The weather is hot, windy and cloudy when we arrive in Tibooburra. It is a nice little town (and the hottest in NSW), surrounded by hills and granite boulders. It has 2 service stations, 2 hotels, motels and caravan park. We decide to stay on the Dead Horse Gully campground, because there is a rodeo in 2 days and it is expected to get busy. The caravan park has put up its prices in anticipation of this.

Sturt National Park is NSW’s only desert park and one of the largest parks of the state. We start our drive early the next day. Maybe it’s the time of day or the time of year, but I have never seen so many kangaroos anywhere else. Left, right and centre, everywhere you look they are either lying, sitting or hopping. Especially the big red, when the sun hits its fur, colours beautifully in this landscape that resembles a grassy prairie. The western part of the Middle road in Sturt National Park is closed, so we take the small detour trough the Toona Gate into Queensland to visit Cameron Corner. Here the borders of South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales come together. The ceiling at the Cameron Corner roadhouse is full of caps and the souvenirs are overpriced. We have lunch there and take a couple of photos at the 3 border point. I threw a small rock a couple of times for the roadhouse dog to fetch because it wanted me to and because I misread the sign that asked people NOT to do this. I thought the sign was about not feeding the dog which I didn’t do.

After we cross the SA-NSW border we are back in Sturt National Park and the road here is badly corrugated. We come across a trailer that has been left behind, we guess for this reason. Apart from kangaroos, the park is home to many emus and lizards. You have to find a balance between speed (because of the corrugation) and avoiding all the lizards that are sunbathing on the track. Then you have to watch the emus that for some reason come running from afar so they can cross the road just in front of your car. Thankfully we succeeded in finding this balance.
The next day we explore the eastern side of the park. We come across Mt Wood, named by Charles Sturt in 1845. To have a break from driving we climb to the top where we have a great overview of the area. A bit further down are some hills called the “Jump-ups”. Very similar to the Breakaways, but name-wise not as easily explained.
In the afternoon we visit the Tibooburra rodeo. The temperature has dropped to 21 degrees so pleasant for both spectators and horses. We enjoyed the Saddle Bronc, where the cowboy has to try and stay for 8 seconds on a bucking horse.

On our way back south we stop at Depot Glen, a permanent water hole where Sturt’s expedition stayed a couple of weeks and Poole’s grave (Poole was part of the expedition). We also climb Mt Poole where Sturt had his men pile some rocks on top of a hill to keep them busy. Now it is a monument. But still, it’s only a pile of rocks.
Anyway, we head west towards the SA border and then down south, alongside the dog fence. It is the largest fence in the world and measures 5164 km in total. The track doesn’t follow the fence all the way but we see enough of it. There is a track on both sides of the fence actually but that is only for maintenance workers (and for photo opportunities we figured:-)).
The track is on the NSW side and is all cattle station. On the SA side it’s the Strzelecki Desert and we did see a dingo there, so the fence works.
Two things that made this drive not as adventurous as we thought it would be. One: before every crest there is a warning traffic sign that says “crest”. Two: there are 40+ gates on the road across all those stations. And they are all closed.
An unexpected highlight is Lake Boolka. It is white on our map but it is filled up. What an oasis this is. Black swans, cockatoos, water birds… and all this in the middle of the desert. The dog fence runs straight through it.

We camp at Pine View Station, one of the cattle stations. There are no showers available because the bore broke, but we are allowed to collect wood so we have our first camp fire of the trip. The next morning we continue our drive south towards Silverton. This track is pretty rough and it takes us about 4 hours to reach Silverton. It is a beautiful drive with the Barrier Range in the back ground. And here we find the only Sturt Desert Pea plant of our trip. Nothing in the whole Sturt National Park, and here it just grows on the side of the road, just the one plant. It is SA’s floral emblem, an amazing flower to see in the wild.

Silverton is an interesting little town, famous for the Mad Max movies that have been shot here. There is a Mad Max museum, a hotel full of photos about the history and movies made here, and a great café where we have lunch. When we walk back to the car after lunch there is a horse standing next to our car. It walks around it to the other side and then doesn’t move again. A thing like that can only happen in Silverton where, according to the photos at the Silverton Hotel, horses also come inside the bar for a drink :-). After Silverton, it is all bitumen again and we stay at a caravan park in Broken Hill to enjoy our first shower in 4 days. The next day we start our five hour drive back to Adelaide all clean but with the car still covered in red dust, a reminder of a great trip. At the fruit fly inspection station in Oodla Wirra we are allowed to keep our onion because we bought it in SA but have to hand in some left over peppers we bought in the same store.
GPS Log here.
(Claudia, 4 October 2012)