Motorhomes Australia

Robbo's Rambles Part 3
The travel adventures of Ian (Woody) & Julie Robertson, whilst they journey around Australia
CMCA Member V18544


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Sept 12th:
We stopped for tea at a rest area that was once an old main roads camp. Whilst having tea another bloke pulled in and started to put his tent up. Knowing what it is like being on the road by oneself I asked if he would like some sausages as we had an abundance that I (note: I) was cooking. He said no thanks as he doesn't eat at night but would join us in a cuppa.

As you can see I live by the "Motorhomers Code" that all inside is Julies domain while outside is mine, BUT, a peculiar thing happens when Julie goes shopping. She purchases all this stuff that is best cooked in the "Cobb" or done on a barbecue. This means that it is my domain that has to do the catering. I will have to talk to her I think.

This bloke has a job that every motorhomer or traveller would love. He is contracted as a location locater for Lonely Planet, Getaway and a few other lifestyle shows. Hard life but someone has to do it I s'pose. He had notes galore on old main roads camps, railway camps and aboriginal sites etc., I asked if I could get copies but I would have to buy the books. I did try Laurie.

We move on into the night after a nice chat, turn south (thats left) down "the track" towards Alice. We pull into a rest area 23K north of Elliot at 10.00pm. Bad blue. Now you all know that I hate things mechanical that aren't working right and that I really hate to chat. Right!!

Ensconced in the area is an American and an Aussie couple travelling together around Australia. The Yank is playing with a portable forge and bellows and can't get it to work properly. I, like an idiot offer to help and after yakking,cutting, yakking, taping, yakking and modifying the valves on the bellows get it going. The time 1.30a.m. but a great night. I retire and sleep the sleep of the dead.

Sept 13th:
We move on and fuel at Elliot. Our intention was to try to get to Tennant Creek yesterday as our mail is awaiting us there. Our mail is forwarded on by Julies sister and brother in law who are living in our house while we are absent. Damn fine job they are doing too, pity I can't get it right. We hope the Post Office is open Saturday (today). It ain't so we continue on towards Alice. We have lunch on the roadside as every rest area we saw was filthy. After lunch we found one 5k up the road. Murphy doesn't visit, he lives with us!

The wind has come up to about 30 knots and is straight from the blast furnace of Hell. It is hitting the truck at about the right quarter and driving is like being the helmsman on Australia 2 sailing across the wind. The motor temperature has risen (not alarmingly) because it can't get enough air into the radiator. The cabin temperature is akin to being in the furnace room at Port Kembla. Approaching road trains and vehicles are floating in mid air (eat your heart out David Copperfield) on a sea of "water" and the tyres are nearly melting and sinking into the bitumen. Get the picture? IT IS HOT!!! DAMNED HOT!!

We stop at a rest area 130k north of Alice at about 3.00pm for a cuppa. Another couple pull in with a Winnie. After exchanging pleasantries he asks about engine temperature as his is getting higher by the mile (kilometre). We decide to act like normal motorhomers and stay as the surroundings are pleasant, the company good and because we can. Alice can wait.

Sept 14th:
The wind has abated considerably overnight. After having a leisurely breakfast and saying our goodbyes we move on. We arrive in Alice at about 10.30am and check out the Temple Bar caravan Park as it was recommended by a couple we had met at Cooktown. It is too far out of town for our purposes which I will explain later. We then head for the Todd Street Mall, the mecca for craft hunters. We have lunch and Julie does her "thing". Increase the wealth of the stall holders.

As stated earlier, the truck has been running perfectly but there are some things that I did not have a chance to do before leaving and they are really starting to irk me. So while Julie kept the stall holders happy I went in search of a woodworker whose space and tools I could hire.

I don't have my whole workshop with me!

I meet one and not only can I use his gear but he will help. Great fraternity, woodworking. A mutual time is agreed to and the deal struck. Will only take a while, hmmmmmm....famous last words.

We book into Heavytree Gap caravan park. We learn that the Henly on Todd is on the following Saturday after we have booked in and as Julie has never seen this we will stay until Sat night. That was our intention. Best laid plans etc, etc.

A piece of advice. If intending to stay longer than a week any where, ask if they have a weekly rate. It can save heaps. We didn't and didn't, but they do give CMCA discount.

If I have to work on the vehicle I like to be close to a town as it makes getting materials and parts easier. I normally stay further than 30k from towns if I can so as to avoid the local lads giving us a hard time. It hasn't happened yet but who knows.

Things that needed to be done were: A decent computer desk as this one is too small to hold the T.V.(more on that later) and a radio/cassette (more on that too). Gutters above the cab doors, house door and the door for the toilet. Head lining reglued. Water control cupboard sealed against dust and water. The exhaust welded. The overhead console modified. Computer fixed as it had decided to lose all the operating files. Reinforce the tropical roof. Radiator cleaned out. Was advised to do it before I left but didn't have time.

Sept 15th-27th. Because I can't recall what day I did what.

The reason that I chose Alice to do this work is that it has nearly everything I needed. Past experience in Darwin has been: no mate, don't have that but I can order it and the next camel train in will have it.

On Monday I organised having the steel frame to be made for the computer bench. This has to also hold the T.V.. The bracket for the T.V. has been a constant annoyance since leaving. It has been in the way and is constantly working loose and has worn a hole in the wall so it has to be moved. The bench also has to hold a radio/cassette player. I had intended fitting one before we left but I ran out of time. I like my wireless to listen to. We bought a portable one but have to just about do a contortion act near a window to get reception.

I also organise the hood lining to be reglued. When the cab was refurbished the old lining was put in and the new one stuck to it. It didn't work, and for quite a while now the new lining falls down and could severely restrict my forward vision. Not good at 100KMH.

The exhaust had an extension added by me at Brisbane but it was only screwed in. It has rattled loose and needs welding. I have that done and another bracket added just to be safe.

The hood lining is done the next day after we rip out the old one and reglue the new one direct to the roof. So far things are going well but remember Murphy? He is still alive.

The desk can't be done until Thurs, no probs.

I enquire at 3 computer shops about having the computer fixed, prices range from $400-$900 and leave it here for a week or so. I am ready to buy a cheap laptop but I remember that all my work stuff (plus Red Alert) is on here so it is not an option. I let my fingers do the walking and ring a mobile computer fixer upper. He comes straight out, has a cuppa, hum's and ha's, has a cuppa, scratches his head, another cuppa (I always trust people that like a cuppa while they think), says we'll try this and hey presto, all fixed. Total cost $100.00 and 3 cups of tea. I can highly recommend Michael from Mobile PC's.

The overhead console has been a pain in the head (literally) since I fitted it. Again no time. Every time we are on a bumpy road my head comes into contact with the edge of it causing lacerations to the forehead. I made a mistake, oops, um, er. I don't make mistakes but this was a severe error in judgement and I made it too big. It is removed and I like the space gained so much that it isn't put back. The UHF set is remounted and the radio/cassette player is going inside the van.

Second error of judgement and Murphy really kicks in. I examine the radiator and think that it looks ok. We had it drained and refilled in Mareeba, it was still running at the same temperature it had always run at, so working on the principal of; if it ain't broke, leave it alone, I did. Bad, bad blue as you will read later.

I fit all the gutters in and reinforce the tropical roof.

I visit Bruce whom I had teed up to build the radio/cassette box and we chat about his workshop and I give him a few hints on finishing and we make the box. A pleasant fruitful evening spent with a nice bloke.

I go to an internet cafe and "talk" to the boys and girls on The Motorhomes Australia site while Julie increases the wealth of Lasseters Casino.

We also visited the Transport Museum and the Date Farm. The transport Museum is growing all the time and is far better in my opinion than 2 years ago when I first visited. I have to doubt their sanity though as they have 2 Jeep Gladiators there. If any one thinks that sleeper cabs are new they should look at a Rottenoff from the 60's. You could hold a ball in them. My favourite vehicle though is the AEC road train. You have to see it to believe it and it is very hard to describe in text. The driver would not be able to wear any loose clothing as the cooling fan (about 3' in diameter) is right behind him. The noise alone would send you barmy.

On Friday night we went for "Dinner with a Camel". I have ridden a camel before many years ago. This little soiree goes like this: you enter a bus which has been picking up guests all over Alice, you are then taken to Frontier Camel Farm about 10k out of town. You see the camels all roped together and saddled. You should guess that with the next statement from your guide that this is not good.

"Collect helmets (not bad yet) and (this is the crunch) sheepskin rugs to pad your bums in there." He points to a shed.

We collect the above items and after a safety talk he teams us with a camel. The lightest one on front. Heavier on back.

Now this is REAL bad, no accelerator, no brake and a woman driving.

We mount up and then he makes the camel stand up. Lawrence of Arabia made it look easy. You have to lean right back in classic Rodeo Bucking Bronco style and lean forward at the appropiate time or you will fall off the back. Not graceful.

We set off for our 1 hour ride at sunset on the dry bed of the Todd River. Not bad I think but why is the leader walking? I find out.

After 10 mins your legs are starting to ache from being spread so far to get around the camel. At 15 mins your bum is numb from sitting on a narrow strip of leather that they call a saddle (ok, ok, so it is "padded" with a sheepskin, Bull) and the gait of a camel is something else.

Almost all the party of 38 is thinking this was a bad idea but still enjoying the ambience and the patter of the guide. At the halfway mark the guide mounts up and makes it look easy (and makes everyone sick) but I notice a lot of the time he is almost side saddle while talking to every one. He is not silly.

We arrive back for Dinner and the fun really starts. Dismounting. Remember that any thing below the waist has now been dead for 45 mins and you have to lift your legs to get "orf". Thank goodness he helps. That accomplished, there are many "bandy legged" people that walk up to the museum. John Wayne didn't ride a horse, he rode a camel to get the bandy look!

We wash and go in for dinner and a delightful meal it is too. Everyone is seated at a long table down each side. The food was fantastic and the company was excellent and a good night was had by all.

we enjoyed it but probably wouldn't do it again in a hurry. How people can do 6 day and upwards has me stumped.

One thing that can be said of Alice is that parking for all vehicles is catered for and close to town too. Some people can't read though as I never knew that a Coaster qualified as a coach.

Saturday dawned and we head into Alice to watch the parade of floats in the mall and head to where the Henly on Todd is taking place. It is hot and dry, but the stands have shade cloth over them so it is not too bad. Only Australians could come up with an idea to have a boat Regatta on a dry riverbed and where the event is cancelled if there is water in it. It is a great event with the highlight being the "battle" between the big boats. These are "boats" built on 4wd truck chassis. They carry 1000Litres of water, numerous flour bombs and mortars that can shoot them. The crews and some of the audience are absolutely soaked through and resemble large glue pots when it's over. A great day of light hearted fun, hard to come by these days.

That night we attended the "Sounds of Starlight Theatre" with Andrew Langford on didgeridoo. I was expecting traditional type playing and after getting over the "shock" that it was contempory music composed for the Didge I enjoyed it. He was accompanied by a keyboard player and percussionist and it was certainly different. A most enjoyable day all round.

Back to the truck. The desk has arrived and I fit the plywood on, put the radio box on, resite the computer, remove the T.V. bracket from the wall and everything looks good. It sounds so easy and quick typing it out but almost took 1 1/2 days.

There are a few things I really hate. One is dust getting in and I go to great pains to stop it. There are pressure vents fitted at the front to pressurise the van and these work well but dust has been getting into the cupboard where all the taps are housed for filling the tanks. It has got to be fixed. I strip the water control cupboard and reseal it. This takes another day.

Things are looking good but Murphy is smirking.

We hire a 4wd from Budget as we want to see Palm Valley and that is 4wd access only. Our plan is to see Hermannsburg, then Palm Valley and the West Macdonnell gorges on the way back.

Murphy is grinning now.

Our unit is many things and a bit of a chameleon as the cicumstances dictate. It is a truck with a very large sleeper cab when needed, a coach at other times when parking, a car when they say unsuitable for caravans or large vehicles and a motorhome on odd occasions, BUT a 4wd it ain't and never will be, hmmmm, maybe, one day.

Any way the vehicle arrives an hour late which has put us behind. It is a Nissan x-Trail. Nice little jigger but I have to remember how to drive something so small again.

(Laurie, you may want to delete this bit LOL) The Northern Territory is the only sane state of Australia as far as speed limits are concerned, they have none outside the towns. I get into it and we cover the 140K to Hermannsburg in a tad over an hour.

We wander around Hermannsburg for 2 hours and have morning tea there. This is worth a visit if up here but it was rather sad for me as I remember it as a working mission that was alive when last up here. They are doing restoration work on a lot of the buildings and the photos and plaques give a good idea of what life was like here.

On to Palm Valley. To gain access you drive along the river bed, not too bad, a bit rocky in places but generally good. Then the sand starts. It is 18" deep and just bogs you down. The X-Trail is dragging all the underbody along in places and I am glad that I have driven in these conditions before. We arrive at the start of the Valley with the track continuing on past a very rocky shelf. I get out and examine the course and plot a track through. Julie stays out with the camera. I watch a feller in a Landcruiser go through. he muffs it and nearly rips the exhaust and back suspension out. My turn on a slightly different path and except for lifting a front and rear wheel on opposite corners off the ground, no probs. Getting out can't be done in this vehicle through here but there is another way that can't be done from this end but can the other. We rock on.

Palm Valley is certainly an intriguing place but walking in above 40 Degree heat does not agree with Julie. We have plenty of water and our hats but she is starting to show signs of heat stress. It is a long slow walk back. A rest for a while in the air conditioned vehicle soon has her right and we set off out of the Valley.

If going to Palm Valley it is probably advisable to stay in the campground there and do the walk early as the heat gets trapped in the bottom and it is like an oven.

We turn left and head up the dirt for Glen Helen. Another stupid mistake on our behalf. It would have been quicker to go back towards Alice and turned off 40 K from Alice to Glen Helen.

Murphy is smiling now.

Any way we get to Glen Helen, have a drink at the pub and go to the gorge. People are swimming but we have no time as it is getting late. On to Ormiston Gorge. Instead of walking up the creek bed like you used to, they now have paved tracks, very sensible. Quick photos and on to The Ochre Pits. It is dark, we see nothing and head back to Alice a little disappointed as we had hoped to get this out of the way.

I use the car next day to get the final things to finish the truck. Julie returns the 4wd to Budget.

"Hello, I have bought the car back."

"Oh great. did you have a good time."

"Yes, thank you"

"Where did you go" asks the nice man at the counter. It was originally hired out by a girl at the counter.

"Palm Valley..... (he turns ashen)Hermannsburg and Glen Helen," says Julie.

"But, but these smaller cars are not supposed to go out to Palm Valley" he stammers.

"You are supposed to have a bigger one for that"

"We told the girl where we were going when we hired it" smiles Julie, who pays the excess mileage and leaves.

One for us Murph!

The truck is finished so we head out to the Ochre Pits, take some photos and do all the gorges back into Alice on the West Macdonnell Ranges.

We start off for the East Macdonnells.

Murphy is starting a jig now.

We go out to Trephina Gorge about 75K from Alice. We arrive in the dark (what else is new) and camp the night at the gorge in the camping area there. We meet a nice couple and have tea with them and a bit of a chat.

All the camping areas by the NT Parks service seem to be about $3.30/person. Pretty reasonable.

In the morning we walk up to the gorge and check it out. More photos and head back to the truck. We are about to leave when a 4wd comes in to check out camp sites. we had debated about whether or not to go on another 40K to Arltunga as it is a dirt road and we had heard that it had been closed. He assured us that he had just come from there, the road was good gravel and definately open. The road to Ross River Homestead was closed. Pays to get good info.

Murphy is beside himself now.

We set off and the gravel road is fantastic. I forget that I am in a 9 tonne truck and a six wheel slide around a corner gets me the evil eye and "look" from the other side of the cab so I slow down a bit. Ex rally drivers can't help themselves when it comes to gravel.

We do the tour around this old gold mining town with its stone ruins and wonder how the hell anyone could have survived here. Greed must do some wondrous things to people. They had to walk or ride a bike 600K just to get here. There was little water and food was expensive. Must have been tough or stupid, maybe both.

We have lunch and as is my habit I circle the truck and look underneath just to make sure that all is well. It doesn't appear to be.

Murphy is hysterical by now.

The overflow on the radiator exits on the passenger side but there is a damp patch on the drivers side. I check but see nothing wrong. Check the level, down a bit but it is hot so nothing unusual. I file it away to keep an eye on it. We head out and do the other bits and pieces around the old site and head for Alice. Temperature normal.

We stop along the road for afternoon tea, I glance under the front and there it is, drip, drip and turning into a flow of lovely green coolant on the wrong side of the radiator.

"Golly gosh" or words to that effect I say. No phone coverage, 3 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon. Not Happy Jan!!!

Murphy can't stand up now.

I have my cuppa, lift the lid to let the pressure off a bit and examine the leak. A crack has developed around the lower radiator pipe. I start the the truck and slowly fill it with water. Hmm not to bad just down under the core. I leave the cap on the first notch and off we go to Jessie Gap about 30 k away and phone range. So far so good. We make it. 4.05pm. I dial Yellow pages to connect me to a radiator repairer in Alice. They do but they don't answer. Most businesses start early and knock off early up here because of the heat. A sensible arrangement unless you are in deep doodoo like us.

I ring AANT to see if they have the number for a repairer. They do and I ring. He answers and I explain that we were supposed to be heading for Tennant Creek (to pick up that mail). Bring it round in the morning he says.

As we have to pass Emily gap on the way we check that out, refill the radiator and head back to Alice.

We stay at Stuart Caravan park just around the corner from the repairer. No discount here but the amenities are good.

I drop Julie off near town with the mobile phone (handy things sometimes) and head to the repair feller. I am flat out he tells me but if you can take it out I will get it fixed. No probs so I remove it and he looks at it. Gonna take a while as you want it cleaned out as well. Fixing it properly this time.

A fatal and expensive place to leave me is in the middle of an industrial area with time on my hands. Hardware store, camping store and automotive spares are the same as Casino, cruise and bargain is to Julie. I shop. Sensible things mind you, like an insulated water jug, a fluoro light and 2 new driving lights to put light into the last dark spot between the high beam and super oscars.

I return to the radiator place and he tells me that it has been repaired before but that it was a patch job and should have fallen apart ages ago.

I think of some of the places we had been and then looked around for Murphy. I give him the finger.

I fit the driving lights while they finish the radiator. I fit it back in and fit the new hoses that were spares, chuck the old ones in as spares and all is well with the world.

I am buggered. Working in the heat does not agree with me. I don't feel well. I ring Julie and go and pick her up. We head back to Heavytree Gap and have takeaways.

My head is spinning and the Menieres that I have is threatening to go into overdrive. The first attack I have had in about 3 years. Fortunately it dies down a bit and I crawl into bed. We don't leave until about 11.00am the next morning after I emailed every one. I am feeling a bit better and as the day goes on I feel a lot better.

We have a strange effect on the weather patterns of the places we visit. In Alice they have had temperatures that are 12 degrees above normal and humidity that normally doesn't happen. One day was the highest September temperature on record.

We are heading North again towards Tennant Creek finally.

The wind has changed direction now and is nearly a tail wind but still from the side. The truck is purring.

We stop at the Devils Marbles for the night.

Sept 28th:
We arrive in Tennant Creek and do the tourist things we didn't do last time and book into The Outback Caravan Park for the night


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