This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels June 2


There was some rain in the early hours of this morning, enough to dampen the ground and make the air smell tartly sharp. The ground soon dried out as the sun got stronger. The cloud of the morning thinned out later in the day.

We have grapefruit for breakfast again. I have missed the morning citrus input.

I did two loads of washing. Our very grubby clothes from the last week came cleaner than I expected.

We drove to the shops, where I put in three rolls of film for processing.

Then we set out for Ayers Rock. At the Entry Station, about 8kms from Yulara, it cost us $30 for a 5 day Entry Pass into the National Park. We could not talk the lady into extending it for a sixth day, so our last day here will have to be a “veg” day – that’s ok.

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Closer to Ayers Rock. The climbing route is up the part that projects closest to us, here.

The drive to the Rock is interesting, as it looms ever larger each time the road twists about and gives a view to it. We went to the car park that is close to where the climbing route up the Rock starts. The climb was closed, because of the earlier wind and rain, but it was opened soon after we arrived, and the clusters of people waiting around stirred into action.

We had only planned to do the 10.6kms walk track around the base of the Rock. Back in 1993, John had wanted to do the climb, but we only reached part way up the chain section before he felt the effects of vertigo and we turned back. Since then, the aboriginal position about climbing has been made much stronger, so we would not consider trying again.

As well as our usual drinking water, we took a picnic sandwich lunch, teabags and coffee  and a thermos of hot water in the day pack, which I carried. We set out in a clockwise direction.

06-02-1999 Ayers Rock ancestral fight scars

The Rock looming over us at the start of the walk

Even though we have done this walk before, it is still a great experience. The Rock really is a special place. There seem to be more sacred Anangu sites that one is asked not to photograph, than when we were last here. I am sure that I have, at home, photos of some of the now banned views.

It also seems to have grown much more vegetation – grass and shrubs – around the track and Rock, since the last visit. Is this from a good current season, combined with fewer rabbits? And/or good work managing and revegetating? It looks superb, anyway.

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A water worn gully with little waterholes, some marked by vegetation

Ayers Rock is made of a hard type of sandstone that is coloured red by oxidation on the rock surface. Underneath the fairly thin layer of surface colour, the stone is grey.

Although it is a monolith – one big slab of rock – the surface has been shaped by wind and water erosion, and the effects of heating and cooling of the surface.  So there are gullies down from the top, in places. Some of these make a kind of chain of little waterholes, down the face, when it rains. In some other areas, the smooth surface has been broken when alternate heating and cooling of the rock has caused sheets to break away and fall down into piles at the base. Wind and water have caused some intricate patterns inside these holes. There are also caves in places – but these are where photos are banned.

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Large scale patterns where the rock surface has broken away – resembles a human brain?

It got quite warm as we walked, and the cloud burnt away. I was sorry that I’d opted for long trousers, having thought that it would be cool and windy.

Ate our lunch “around the back”, with about two thirds of the walk completed.

We saw a Thorny Devil on the walk! At last I have seen one in the wild. It was on bare ground, between grass clumps. It is a unique critter – definitely looks untouchable. It rocked back and forth, rather than going anywhere.

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Thorny Devil trying to pretend it can’t be seen

Also spotted three new birds – singing honeyeater, grey headed honeyeater and a wood swallow.

We were tired by the end of the walk, so we sat at the base of the climbing track, for nearly an hour, and followed people’s progress up and down. Could see several obviously very unfit people who were silly enough to tackle it. Watching same and guessing how far up they will get before giving up, was quite engrossing! The Anangu request not to climb is quite clear, at the base, on signs.

After that entertainment, drove back to Yulara and collected my photos at the shop. They did an excellent job on these, I thought. I bought an “Age” newspaper. We bought fly nets to wear over our heads, as the flies had been annoyingly sticky on the walk today.

Refuelled Truck – 90cpl here.

At the Post Office, I mailed off some cards. There was no mail in for us, yet. We had checked this morning and found that the mail is not sorted and available until 4.30pm. It was a good thing that we did check with them, because there is a man with the same name as John, who works at the Resort, and we could have had our mail go astray.

I picked in the washing – all still there, despite the long absence – and put it away.

Then we walked to the nearby lookout hill and watched the sunset. The Rock went a deep red-brown. I intend to try to get different sunset effects on film through our time here. On the way back, went via the shops – still open – and put in another roll of film. I go through it quickly in places like this.

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Waiting for the sunset at the Yulara Lookout

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A little later – sunset from the Yulara Lookout

Tea was vegie soup, macaroni cheese, yoghurt and banana.

It was quite a cool night. There was a bright moon and scudding clouds – very pretty.

I was pleasantly weary from the day’s  activities and went to bed about 9.30. John stayed up computering until about 1am.

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1999 Travels June 1


We had a quick and efficient departure from Erldunda, then joined the regular flow of vans, campers and travelling vehicles along the road to Yulara.

The country seemed far more interesting than I remember from last time – 1993. Maybe my appreciation of the outback has grown?

We had some stops along the way. First for coffee – from the thermos I carry. Then, for a photo shoot of Mt Connor, looming brilliantly to the south. I remembered how, last time, I first thought it was Ayers Rock – a common error, I believe.

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Mt Connor

We stopped at Curtin Springs Roadhouse to top up the diesel. John was getting worried about fuel consumption, even though he thought we had a tail wind. At $1 a litre, it was very expensive, so he only put in 20 litres, being certain it would be cheaper at Yulara.

Closer to Yulara, for about the last 25kms, there were small gangs of aboriginal workers out cleaning along the roadsides. The whole area looked quite spotless.

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The first sight of Ayers Rock

The Ayers Rock Resort – the only place where one can camp – charged us $26 a night, for a powered site, which is the most we have ever paid. The seventh night is free, though not that many stay that long.

We were given a good site – maybe because we are unusual and are booked in for a week! We have been here before and believe we will have no trouble filling in a week. Our site backs onto a reservation, so we have shade from the trees there and around the site in general, and only side neighbours, who will no doubt change several times during  our stay here.

This is another place where people do not allow enough time to see what is here. But I guess it looks deceptive on the maps too, and on the brochures. One sunset view of the Rock, one quick drive out to the Rock and to look at the Olgas; it will only take a day, and one can even climb the Rock in that time, if they want. There – seen it all! There is little real appreciation of the changing moods and light there is out here. And so many travellers, even in this day and age, think Ayers Rock is close to Alice Springs, rather than about 450kms by road.

We set up, then went to look at the group  of shops that is in the heart of the Resort complex, because I couldn’t remember what was there. And I wanted to go to the Visitors Centre.

I bought maps of Watarrka (Kings Canyon) and the West McDonnell Ranges – graphically presented ones, excellent.

Got today’s Australian – fresh news! Bought food at the supermarket, mostly fresh stuff. The prices were, I thought, not too bad, given the distances involved in getting produce here. Got some cash out – we were running low, having been in so many places lately that didn’t “do” cards.

There was, obviously, heaps of souvenir stocks at the shops and many costly items, as one would expect here.  An example was $279 for a hand knitted pullover that I thought was rather poorly made. There were some nice T shirts and polo shirts, but they are a bit expensive – will have to think about those.

John put in some time repairing the back door lock on Truck, which had decided not to work. He eventually fixed it and was quite pleased with himself.

We showered while the tourist hordes were out watching the sunset! There are several coach camping groups in the campground and I did not want to be competing with them, later, for bathroom space.

Tea was vegie soup, steak with onions, fries, eggs for John and tomatoes for me.

We watched some TV – the signal is good, here.

I got tired early and went to bed. John stayed up playing his computer game until 4am! He has had a break through in the game.

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Erldunda to Yulara

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1999 Travels May 31


We did not get up very early this morning, and it was after 9am before we got going. We have driven today’s section of road before, so perhaps did not feel any great sense of urgency to get going.

Refuelled before we left the roadhouse – 93cpl.

Before we left, I phoned the resort at Yulara to book us a powered site from tomorrow. There seems to be so much traffic going north that I want to be sure of getting in there.

It was pleasant driving. The highway was in good condition. The country was fairly flat, with occasional low hills in the distance for some variety. Watercourses were wide and shallow. The country seems to have had some rain and there is plenty of roadside shrubbery. It may also be that the absence of rabbits since calicivirus was introduced a few years ago, is having an effect.

We were stopped, about 109kms north of Marla, by a young man who had been driving a Subaru. He’d had an accident when he got into the gravel at the roadside, blew the tyres on that side, hit a fencepost and stove in the side. He told us a motorist had stopped, then continued on, with a promise to report the accident and send help from Kulgera, but that had been a while ago and Kulgera is only about 60kms north.

Then a passing south bound driver stopped to see if all was well. He told us there was no tow service at Kulgera, so the nearest service would be from Marla. John used the Radphone to call the police at Marla and they said they would see to a retrieval. It is great to have the HF radio to use at such times.

The driver seemed alright, so we went on our way. He’d told us that he was on his way to start a job at Yulara, so this was tough luck for him. However, he was fortunate not to have been severely hurt, as the road was banked up quite high at this point, and he could easily have rolled right off and over several times.

The rest of the trip to Erldunda was uneventful, apart from crossing the border into the NT at Kulgera. This is now five States/Territories we have been in, so far, this year!

Booked into the Erldunda Desert Oaks Roadhouse caravan facility. It was quite adequate, but expensive, at $18. Like Marla, it filled up greatly, later in the day. We had decided that we’d break our trip to Yulara here, rather than drive over 500kms in a day. We are not in a hurry!

Found there was no fresh milk to be had here. It is not a place one stocks up at!

We went for a walk around the caravan area, then just rested around the van for the rest of the afternoon.

Tea was soup, then pasta with a creamy sun dried tomato sauce. I thought it was alright. John didn’t comment!

We have some TV again.

05-31-1999 marla to erldunda

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1999 Travels May 30


John wanted to drive out to Mintabie, today. This is an opal mining settlement, some 33kms west of Marla. It is little-known, compared to places like Coober Pedy or White Cliffs, but actually produces extremely high quality dark opal.

John loves these mining settlements, and he also thought he might be able to buy some opal from miners out there.

From what we’d read, a permit was needed to go to Mintabie, because it is on aboriginal lands, but they told us in the Marla Roadhouse that due to some sort of administrative hiccup, no one has bothered, for months, about getting permits to go out there, so we didn’t either.

I was really pleased to find I could buy both the Weekend Australian and the Melbourne Age newspapers here – what a luxury!

It was a pleasant drive, on a dirt road, out to Mintabie. We crossed the “new” Ghan train line, soon after turning off the highway. The country was almost flat, and scrubby. Could tell we were approaching Mintabie, by the appearance of white hills in the distance – the huge dump heaps from mining.

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The white dump heaps of Mintabie in the distance

The Mintabie diggings were quite extensive, stretching for kms along a low ridge line. They use machinery, seeming to dig shafts into the sides of deep bulldozed pits.

05-30-1999 at Mintabie opal fields

White dumped material from opal mining contrasts with surrounding red hills

We encountered a man driving an opal mining machine, as we cruised around town, trying to work the place out, and John got out and stopped him. He showed John some opal, but did not want to sell any.

The settlement is small – general store, pub, school, caravan park – which does not look too bad. Had John known that was here, he would probably have insisted we brought the van out! There was the general air of scruffiness that we have found in other mining camp townships, where the land is basically leased. Lots of derelict and old cars around. Stone shacks, a few more substantial. The hotel was built from stone. The store was a large building.

There were several aboriginal women sitting about outside the store; they looked rather derelict and spaced out. Apparently, they were trying to get money from the shopkeeper – there is a bank agency in the shop. He told one that she’d had $200 only yesterday. I don’t know whether the issue was that there was no more money in the account, or whether he felt she would be better off without another big lot of cash to drink away or have taken off her.

John obtained directions from the store keeper to find someone who might sell him some opal. We have no map of the township, of course. I doubt one exists. Because it is not a place that tourists normally visit, there is no such thing as an information centre. Likewise, there is no place for the amateur visitor to fossick about for opal themselves.

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An opal mining machine on the outskirts of Mintabie

After much difficulty in the maze of tracks that is Mintabie, we found the place the storekeeper meant. And there John was enlightened! The local miners sell only to professional buyers and do not worry about the occasional tourist, because the opal is such high quality that batches begin at $10,000 and go to over a million. That was the end of that idea!

We drove around a bit more and found a place to eat our packed lunch. Saw a nankeen kestrel. Then went back to Marla.

Spent the rest of the afternoon reading the papers and having a cook up – a batch of barley and vegie soup, rock cakes, and some tuna and rice patties for tea – they were alright but needed spicing up somehow. Chilli sauce helped.

The caravan park was chaotically busy again this afternoon, but with a fresh set of travellers.

There was a full moon at night, but it seemed unusually small.

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1999 Travels May 29


We got away early today. We will be pleased to leave.

Refuelled at the Pink Roadhouse – 90cpl. That is reasonable for such an isolated place. The driving conditions along the Track seem to be really eating up our fuel. We have gone from getting 8 or 9 kms per litre, to about 6kms, along here.

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We did not stop to look any further around the town, or go and look at the waterholes on the Neales River, near here, which may also have been a better place to stay.

About 17kms north of Oodnadatta, the road divides. The Old Ghan Track, proper, continues north, as the railway did,

This section of the track was much rougher than previous ones. There were a lot more corrugations. There was little to stop for, apart from a coffee break. I found the country interesting though, its vastness, the occasional low hills or creek lines, and the like.

We reached Marla at lunch time.

Booked into the Travellers Rest – sort of a caravan park that was part of the roadhouse. We were charged $18 for a powered site a night – but it is clean, has reasonable facilities, including drinkable water, and there is toilet paper! We paid for two nights because John has a plan for tomorrow.

Upon opening the van, I discovered that the door had come off the fridge and was lying on the floor, along with spilled capers, yoghurt and soymilk, that had been in the door shelf  – all mixed in with a thin layer of red dirt. The motor was running constantly, but the freezer had not defrosted, for which I was most thankful. The swivel attachment that the door opens and closes on, had given way – there must have been a lot of vibration from the corrugated road sections.

With some difficulty, John managed to remove some tight screws, and took the offending part off the door and to the roadhouse workshop. They welded it back together. John was most relieved that this could be done. He reassembled the door.

I had quite a lengthy cleaning up job to do. The spilt milk had seeped into cupboards, at floor level. Fortunately, soy milk will not smell as bad as ordinary milk would have, in time! The floor rugs would  have to be washed.

It is disappointing that the fridge did not hold together better; it is designed to be a marine fridge and I guess rough seas are not as severe as corrugated roads. Now that we were focussed on the fridge, it was obvious that the door was held on only three corners – the top and bottom hinge pins on one side and the top corner where the door fastener is, on the other. The lower corner on that side could flex and try to open when it was rough. John worked out how we could fasten that corner too, quite easily. There was already a little protruding bar, for use by the hinge if the opening side of the door was changed, so it had a pre-drilled hole in. John drilled a corresponding hole up into the bottom of the door, found a small bolt in his collection of oddments, and a small nut. It was a little fiddly, but the bolt screwed up through the hinge hole and the nut and into the door. The nut prevented the bolt unscrewing and the door was held firmly. We hoped this would prevent any future such accidents. Putting the bolt fastener into the door became part of the departure routine and with practice I was able to do it quickly and easily.

We walked over to the hotel part of the road house complex and bought a six pack of beer from the bar and some grocery items from the store section. The beer cost $12!

Sat outside the van and watched other campers arriving. This caravan section got really busy, later in the day. It does not have separately marked out sites – people choose where to set up – so it became rather Rafferty’s rules in the drive through sections, with people blocking others in.

Tea was the last of the curried soup, then salad, with hard boiled eggs for John and cheese for me. Our perennial staple of yoghurt for dessert.

05-29-1999 to marla

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1999 Travels May 28


We were a little slow getting away this morning as the lass “next door” came and asked to have a look at the van. The guy was off to Coober Pedy for tyres – a 280kms round trip on rough roads. If it was his driving style that caused their flat tyres, I hope he has learned a lesson – otherwise he might not get to Coober Pedy! It is worrying for them, though, with the bulk of the Oodnadatta Track still ahead of them.

We did not make many stops today. The first was at Beresford Bore – another former siding. The fettlers’ cottage building there looked to be rapidly deteriorating. It was a similar style to Curdimurka. The Beresford Bore was still flowing.

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Fettlers’ cottage at Beresford Bore siding

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Beresford Bore was still flowing

We took a track near Beresford Siding, for a short distance. This led to the remains of a rocket tracking emplacement – a reminder that rockets were test fired from the nearby Woomera Range; some came this way and landed in these parts.

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This was a rocket tracing emplacement

William Creek was our next stop, where there is a hotel. Apart from a rough camp area behind the hotel, nothing else! It claims to be the smallest town in the world.

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William Creek Hotel

Since just north of Coward Springs, we have been driving through Anna Creek Station – the largest operating livestock property in the world, and part of the Kidman cattle empire. William Creek is on the property. The hotel dates from last century and the building of the Overland Telegraph. I presume it was also a rather welcome stop for railway passengers too. Since the railway closure it must make a living from stockmen from the properties up this way, and tourists. It has become rather a tourist icon.

At the hotel, we bought a beer and a coke – have to do our bit for the local economy! We also topped up with fuel – the hotel sells this, too. $1 a litre!

Here, there is a display of some remains of rockets that have come down in the area.

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Rocket remains. Something like this landing nearby could ruin a peaceful camp!

I took a photo of the quirky Pink Roadhouse sign at William Creek. The family that has, for years, had this  roadhouse at Oodnadatta has – in the interests of the travelling public – put up these signs where they felt directions/information is necessary. They are a real landmark item.

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Not far north of William Creek we stopped for lunch. Took a side track towards the creek channels – quite a pleasant spot. The flies were incredibly thick. One had to be careful to just get sandwich in the mouth!

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Bit of a dip, here

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Another of the Pink Roadhouse signs

Our next stop was at the Algebuckina Bridge – a long, high, steel structure that is very dramatic in this isolation and is the longest bridge in SA. Below it were the mangled remains of a car that had tried to use the rail bridge to cross the flooded Neales River – and met a train coming the other way!

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The train won! Algebuckina Bridge over the Neales River

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What the train driver saw – Algebuckina Bridge

Through today, we’d noticed several dry creek areas that would have made good overnight camp places, as well as the often used bush camping area at the Algebuckina waterhole. I would have liked to stay the night at the latter, rather than pushing on, but John wanted to keep going. With hindsight, we’d have been better off staying at one of these, instead of at Oodnadatta!

With the exception of the Neales/Algebuckina waterhole, the watercourses were all dry. The track was pretty good. I drove for a while, because John got tired. I felt quite comfortable towing the van on the dirt road, but we were not going very fast.

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The Oodnadatta Track

We noticed that the railway alignment criss crossed the road several times on today’s route.

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Some distant hills – south of Oodnadatta

We got into Oodnadatta about 4pm and booked into the caravan park attached to the Pink Roadhouse. We paid $16.50 for a powered site. The amenities were in an Atco building and were not very clean. The toilet paper in all cubicles had run out and was not refilled.

After the basic set up, we went for a walk in the township. It is extremely ramshackle. There is one substantial building – the former railway station, made of stone and now a museum;  one has to obtain a key to go have a look in it, and we were too late. And that is about the “key” to Oodnadatta, from what we saw – lock up anything worthwhile, otherwise it will be broken or nicked!

We saw some falling-down houses. There are a number of indigenous occupied houses, some looking alright, others very damaged, all behind high tin fences. There was a lot of rubbish lying about.

Today was apparently pension day. There was a big group of aboriginals gathering under some trees in the centre of town. There were lots of kids riding bikes around, but we were pleased to see that most were wearing helmets as they tore around.

The Pink Roadhouse is a large establishment – a store and eatery too. But we found it abysmal on service and staffing levels.

We saw that there was an aboriginal school – named as such – and it seemed to be the only one in town. The existence of such a school was, we thought, an encouraging sign that some people are trying to get things together.

It is just a pity that the township has such a neglected, derelict, grotty atmosphere. I think I had formed romantic notions about Oodnadatta, from reading history and novels, so I was expecting a place I could react to positively.

Tea was soup, baked beans on toast, yoghurt.

We are both tired tonight, so we had an early night.

05-28-1999 to oodnadatta

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1999 Travels May 27


I got up at 7.15, not sure why I was wide awake at that hour! John slept until 9.30.

I went walking in the cool but pleasant early morning. Watched the lady proprietor water their camels – about seven of them. They get water every second day, otherwise they fill their stomachs too much. They were amusing to watch – and they have beautiful eyes.

I walked to the wetland area/bore overflow and looked at birds. Saw a spotless crake flitting about.

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The wetland created by the bore outflow at Coward Springs

It did not take long for the flies to descend in droves.

The sky looked like it could turn to rain, for a while in the morning, but it lightened off during the day.

After breakfast, John and I went walking along the wetlands and channel. We saw two more new birds – white fronted chat and black-eared cuckoo. This is a wonderful area in the otherwise dry country.

We wandered about and looked at the historical railway remnants here. There are two buildings, one of which appears to be the home of the owners.

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The old engineer’s cottage – with new roof

After an hour or so of walking, we’d had enough of the flies, so retreated to the van for a while.

For lunch, made ourselves spam and cheese sandwiches, toasted on the open fire. Yum.

After lunch, went driving because John decided that he wanted to find some sleeper remains that he could cut and take home to make woodwork items. We found some lovely old red woods – two different kinds it seemed. Two varieties of red gum? Or red gum and something else? John cut a couple of pieces – obviously, we can’t take much, though. I have in mind a pepper grinder – would be great to have as a memento of the Track.

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John cutting up old sleeper for woodwork material

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The old railway alignment, with the road to the left

A couple who came into the campground during the afternoon, and camped near us, had problems. They’d had three flat tyres between Marree and here! That seemed most strange to us but we did not like to quiz them about it. But we wondered: poor driving as in too fast? Too heavily loaded? Or just a really dud brand of tyre. They will have to leave their camper trailer here and go to William Creek tomorrow for repairs. We certainly had no tyre trouble on that stretch and it really did not seem the sort of surface, to me, that should cause issues.

I used the fire to make curried potato and tomato soup, for these cold nights. But I must use less curry next time!

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Making soup

Late in the afternoon, John went for a dip in the artesian spa, and enjoyed it greatly. I just had a shower, which was also great – nice warm water from the donkey heater.

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John in the artesian spa

The sunsets here are truly spectacular.

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Coward Springs sunset

We cooked sausages on the BBQ grill over the fire, for tea, with potatoes baked in foil in the coals. Followed that with yoghurt and bananas.

We sat round the fire again, after tea. There was a breeze, which was pleasant and it kept the mozzies away. The moon was bright, amongst a lot of small clouds.