Friday, 11 July 2008

The Real Hema Map Boy

We spent another night in a roadside rest area near the access road to the Bungle Bungles, some of these areas are quite nice and campfires are sanctioned, just sometimes the generators some people use to power their fridges or air-conditioning or ovens or I do not know what can be a bit intrusive until they are switched off. The next day we trundled into the metropolis of Halls Creek. Another quite pleasant outback town with everything we could want; mainly fuel and groceries but also a tyre repair service, but more of that later. We stocked up on some very expensive groceries - we are quite a long way from anywhere, also despite having heard about global increase in food prices over the last year on the radio, as we are still working in UK prices from 12 months ago.

Our plan from Halls Creek was to drive east to Old Halls Creek, a few kilometres along the road and site of the first old rush in Western Australia, then find a track marked on our map which would take us south to the Tanami road. This is a 1000km gravel road across the Tanami desert from Halls Creek to Alice Springs. After stopping off to view the “China Wall”, a six foot high and two foot wide perpendicular strata of white quartz poking up out of the ground, we found what we thought was the track, but this ended up at the bottom of a rather deep quarry now full of water. So we tried the next track. This just became more and more rough and after making slow progress that required the odd bit of marshalling by myself travelling at an average of 5km/hr it was just not worth the short cut. So we turned around. A few miles down the road we found a delightful place to camp, in fact my favourite camping spot so far in Australia, at Sawpit Gorge, where some river (actually flowing) cuts through the hills (or mountains if you are Australian). In the morning we enjoyed a wonderful wash, well away from the water edge, and a cool bathe before heading back to Halls Creek.

Unfortunately, just as we pulled into Halls Creek we heard the pshhhtttt of a tyre going flat. Oddly enough so far in Australia the car has caused quite a bit of attention. This is even more surprising given the large numbers of 4WD vehicles around and many highly customised and a lot more flash than ours. This occasion was no exception. As we were trying to quickly get the wheel replaced without being too obvious, a chap who turned out to be the local bobby turned up, very interested. By the time we were round to the other side of the car there was another admirer. However this was no ordinary admirer he was Hema Map Surveyor. He was very interested to hear about our fruitless endeavours the previous day. He had been trying to find the southern entrance off the Tanami road (where we would have popped out) the previous day and had given up. He then proceeded to offer us his complete collection of maps of Australia to download onto the laptop. How very useful. Thank you.

Having repaired so many punctures already we decided that Gavin should have a break and we would take it to the man with the equipment. Maybe alarm bells should have started ringing when he said that with these types of wheels (not split rims) the inner tube often tears when it comes out. None of Gavin’s have. Needless to say our fairly new inner tube ended up with a really big hole in it so it also had to be replaced. While he inspected the tyre for the cause of the puncture saying “well bloke I can’t see anything to cause a puncture here” he cut his finger on the bit of metal that caused the puncture, this did nothing to boost my confidence. However, it was soon all repaired and we were on our way again. The repair lasted for two days. The culprit of this subsequent puncture was bits of metal between the inner tube and the tyre from his workshop floor. Great job blokey, so Gavin got to be manly again after all repairing more punctures. Only this time he is sporting some very stylish headgear in honour of the large number of really pesky flies.

That night we camped at Wolfe Creek crater, not only was a particularly gory horror film based there (and no we have not seen the film, everybody asks) but it is also the world’s second largest meteorite crater. Although there is not really much to see, it is believed that it was originally 120 metres deep 300,000 years ago, we found it to be pretty impressive.

The following day we turned south off the Tanami road back onto the Canning Stock Route, the northern end where we would have come out. We carried on down for another day and a half just to see a bit of what we had missed before turning back at the Breadon Hills. It really is not the isolated track we had anticipated. During the first day we saw at least ten other vehicles and a similar number the next day. They are all travelling at twice the speed we are over the corrugations, one chap asked us why were driving so slowly toady, we just replied that we always travel so slowly, “oh”. I think it just means that we can appreciate everything so much more, after all we are not planning to return to the outback in a hurry so we may as well make the most of it. It is interesting because we can see what animals are around by identifying their tracks, we can see the birds more clearly and the plants. We took some of the sweet water from well 49 on board and headed back out.

We had seen a few bush fires in the distance and the glow from one quite close on the first night was quite exciting but one chap who overtook us, they all overtake us, said that he had just skirted round one that had seemed quite close to where we had lunch, luckily the wind was in our favour and was taking it away. A couple of hours later we came across the same chap who had zoomed past us, in the middle of the road, broken down. Lucky for him we drive slowly and had not overtaken him because the way his mind was thinking he was not going to fix it. Anyway, my boy Gavin tactfully diagnosed where the fuel line was blocked and we were soon chewing his dust again.

Back onto the Tanami road and Australian corrugations. We rather vainly hoped that the corrugations might change after we crossed in the Northern Territory. Yes our hopes were in vain. During a lunch stop Gavin noticed a wet patch on one axle, hmmm, we had not been through any water. It turned out to be fluid from our brand new Monroe heavy duty adventure shock absorbers. Oops there was a hole in it and so not much good any more. It must have just happened, how very odd we heard nothing, especially the speed at which we travel.

We carried on rather cautiously the final 400km to Alice Springs making a beeline for Repco, we had bought the shocks from a branch in Perth. We were a bit surprised and disappointed at the response to our problem and now have the address of the factory in Brisbane where we will be paying a visit with our useless shock absorber and make a nuisance of ourselves (the shock absorbers were really expensive).

Tonight we are staying in a caravan park. It has been a while since we enjoyed running hot water and are planning to explore a little more of the red centre before our dash, or rather bumble, towards Brisbane.