Sunday, August 2, 2015

2 August - Longreach Qld

We left Winton early this morning for the relatively short trek (180km) to Longreach. After hours of driving through some of the most desolate country in the grip of drought, coming into Longreach is a pleasant surprise. It's a beautiful little town which has catered really well for its caravanning visitors. Once we had set ourselves up in the Longreach Tourist Park our first planned visit was to the Australian Stockmans Hall of Fame. This fantastic architect designed complex, houses a wealth of information and artifacts tracing the settling of this outback region of Australia by sheep and cattle farmers. Some of the local cattle and sheep stations are larger than many European countries and have always endured very harsh conditions to raise cattle and sheep.
The Hall of Fame is beautifully presented and it would be easy to spend a couple of days here to do it justice. After a quick lunch at the Hall of Fame we then visited the Qantas Founders Museum. QANTAS or the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service was founded in 1920 by three Australian airmen returning from WW1, right hear in Winton and the first services flew from here in Longreach. The original QANTAS hangar and workshops form the basis a terrific museum commemorating those early days of aviation.
The DeHavilland aircraft featured here was the first plane ever operated by QANTAS.
The company also owned and operated Catelina flying boats and the museum features a beautiful example of this iconic plane.
The museum also has a complete Boeing 747 (Bunbury) the first one purchased by QANTAS.
The aircraft in this photo was the first to feature a toilet. Note the pilot is located in an open cockpit at the rear and the passengers are in an enclosed cabin at the front. Once again, a very interesting destination and well worth at least a half day visit.
We finished the day by attending a show/dinner evening featuring lots of horse riding and whip cracking. Our trip  back to the coast continues tomorrow.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

1 August - Winton Qld

Left Mt Isa this morning at 8:45 to continue our trip back to the coast at Rockhampton. By 3:15 we reached Winton and called it a day. Winton is famous for a couple of things. About 300 million years ago an asteroid struck the area releasing an amount of energy equivalent to 650 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Also a number of important dinosaur fossils were discovered here including that of 'Elliott' a sauropod. Since then the finds have been so numerous that Winton has become known as the Dinosaur Capital of Australa. Tomorrow we have a much shorter run to Longreach where we want to visit the Qantas museum and the Stockmans Hall of Fame.

Friday, July 31, 2015

31 July - Mt Isa, Qld

A very relaxing day here in Mt Isa. Finally took the electric blanket off the bed, plenty of warm weather now. This morning we visited the Mt Isa underground hospital. When the Japanese bombed Darwin in 1942, there were great fears that Mt Isa would be the next target. During World War 2, Mt Isa as well as producing a lot of metals for war construction, also served as a major transport hub with a constant flow of trucks travelling some 2,500 miles to supply material to Darwin. A decision was made to provided underground hospital facilities to which patients could be moved in case of a bombing raid. This emergency hospital provided surgical and natal facilities but was never used in anger. After the war the excavations fell into disrepair and it is only recently that a restoration was carried out on the basis of photographs taken in 1942.
It was a fascinating insight into the ingenuity and resourcefulness often necessitated by war.
In the afternoon we relaxed and read and then relaxed some more, in preparation for our next leg tomorrow which will probably be to Winton, the site of major dinosaur fossils discoveries.
Late in the afternoon I drove up to the lookout to get some shots of the town. It was a fascinating experience as a large number of wedge tail eagles were using the hill to soar on the updrafts from the warm ground below.
Just as the sun set in the West, a full moon rose in the east. As I pointed my camera at the moon a large eagle soared into the frame - perfect.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

30 July - Mt Isa Q

We left Tennant Creek at first light this morning (7:15) knowing we had a long trek ahead of us. The drive to Mt Isa along the Barkley Highway is 670km and the road is almost dead straight through the desert. Only two signs of life along the way, both roadhouses offering fuel, accommodation and food. The first was at Barkley Station and we filled up the tank here, because the next fuel was at Camooweal - over 250 km away. In this part of the country you really can't drive past any opportunity to fill up because there will not be another for a few hundred kilometres. The scenery doesn't change much driving through the desert but today we saw the first appearance of termite mounds - thousands of them. We arrived in Mt Isa at about 4:30 and started looking for a caravan park. The first one couldn't fit us in, and we just managed to squeeze into the second one. I think the issue is that there are a lot of people working in the mines up here on short term contracts and staying in their caravans. We'll stay here a couple of days and then continue to move east through northern Queensland. After a couple of weeks of red dust, it will be nice to reach the coast to see grass again. Hope to post some photos tomorrow after a look around Mt Isa.

This morning while we were enjoying our first decent coffee for a while at the Barkley Homestead, a very friendly 'cowboy' approached us and took an interest in where we were from and where we were going and so on. He and his wife, his little girl and brother had just driven all night from Townsville and were on their way to Darwin (a 2,500 km trip). After a while I asked him what he did for a living, and without a trace of irony replied, I am Knackers Brooker and I'm Australia's top rodeo clown. At the age of 45, and after two broken necks and a ruptured testicle, he still rides and wrestles bulls here and overseas at least once per week. It is then we really realised we were in the 'top end'. Tonight I thought I'd Google Knackers, and I did. He's the real McCoy. I wish him luck, he is a nice guy and we enjoyed our chat with him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

28 July - Day 14 - A Town Like Alice

Today is our last day in Alice Springs, and we've enjoyed it immensely. To do it and the surrounding areas justice would take a lot more than four days but we've enjoyed the little sample we've had.
This morning we had an amazing visit to the Alice Springs School of the Air. This service was established shortly after the Royal Flying Doctor Service to provide educational opportunities for children in remote communities, initially using radio technology. Today 'school' is delivered using the internet delivered via satellite. Teachers can teach classes of 15 or 16 pupils who are located hundreds of miles apart. We were able to see one of the classroom sessions in action - a really inspirational experience.
The town of Alice Springs is located on the Todd River, and before this engenders images of quiet waters and black swans, you should know that the river only has water in it for 5% of the year. This photo is taken standing in the middle of the river.
The locals have a sense of humour about their river and once a year organise an event called The Henley on Todd Regatta, which features bottomless boat full of people running.
Our last visit of the day was the local cemetery to visit the grave site of Albert Namatjira who was once of Australia's foremost watercolour painters. Albert, born on the nearby mission of Hermannsburg and a member of the local aboriginal community has his paintings hanging in galleries all over the world, and he really captured beautifully the spirit of the McDonnell ranges landscape.
If you would like to know more about Namatjira there are lots of web sites devoted to his life and art including this one here.
Alice Springs is a major centre for aboriginal art with lots of galleries and opportunities to look and to buy. I was also taken by some of the street art.
We'll spend the rest of the afternoon preparing for the next leg of our trip, Alice Springs to Tennant Creek which will be our farthest point from home. From here each km we travel will bring us closer to home.

Monday, July 27, 2015

27 July - Day 13 - Alice Springs

As  mentioned in an earlier post, we bypassed Kings Canyon due to poor weather there and travelled straight to Alice Springs. We are really enjoying Alice Springs. It is a beautiful little city with lots of facilities and of course many interesting activities. Alice Springs was initially established as a location for a repeater station on the Telegraph line which ran from Adelaide to Darwin and which was Australia's only communications link with the rest of the world. Yesterday we visited the old Telegraph station which is beautifully preserved as a museum.

We also visited the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct and viewed the Albert Namatjira art collection - Albert was an internationally recognised watercolour artist who produced some of the most stunning images of the local area.
Another feature of this precinct is the Central Australia Aviation Museum which features many of the iconic aircraft responsible for opening up this remote part of the country.
This morning we drove out into the West McDonnell ranges to visit Standley Chasm, which is reached after a spectacular walk.

Then, after some lunch back at the caravan we visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) which from about the 1930's on provided the only available medical support to the isolated rural properties and communities. The area they cover is truly amazing and I think they attend to something like 80 calls a day.
Today services are provided in modern and fast aircraft which can operate almost anywhere, and the museum provided a fascinating insight into the amazing operations of the RFDS over the past 80 years. Tomorrow we will visit the School of the Air which provides class room tuition by radio to remote communities.

Friday, July 24, 2015

24 July - Day 10 - Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Our second full day here in the Red Centre. Our plan for today was to visit the Olgas, a group of dome shaped rocks the locals call Kata Tjuta. They are located about 50km from our campsite and visible from here. We travelled with a young couple Pat and Katie who arrived here by plane and were astounded that the local tour company wanted to charge them $150 each to take them to either Uluru or Kata Tjuta. They approached us when they learned of our plans they asked to join us. We were only too pleased to have them along for company. Like Uluru, the impact of Kata Tjuta only becomes apparent as you get closer.
Like most attractions around here you can select from a number of walks ranging from easy to strenuous, and we chose a couple of medium size walks. Unlike the walks around Uuru the walks here are rocky and in some places quite steep.
No matter which direction you look there are amazing views everywhere and at the same time you have to keep your eyes on the ground to check your footing.

We had a fair bit of rain overnight and there were pools of water everywhere which is probably a rare occurrence around here.
By early afternoon we had completed both our walks and I was ready to head back for a coffee and a bit to eat.
That completes our stay here at Uluru. Tomorrow we head off for a couple of nights in Kings Canyon which by all accounts is also spectacular.