100 days under canvas Рpart two 

Sitting here in Broome, looking out towards the Indian Ocean it’s hard to conceive of how far we have come in four weeks. Over 5,600 kilometres, through four states and one territory, three time zones and through lush farmland, harsh desert and now stunning beaches. 

 In my last post we were in Alice Springs, collecting supplies and fuel and doing much needed washing. From there, out of mobile range once again to Gem Tree in the East MacDonnell ranges. The purpose there was for fossicking, searching initially for garnets. Never having done this before we had no idea what to expect. 

We were taken to a piece of land that looked as though it had been attacked, piles of dirt and holes of varying sizes everywhere. Our guide selected a hole at random and explained what to do –  dig into the side of the hole, not too deep, pile the earth into a sifter and shake and rub the dirt through it till you are just left with small rocks. Transfer these to the ‘wet’ sifter, plunge it into a bucket of water, wash the rocks, then the best bit – hold it up to the light and look for the deep pink glow of garnets. Neil was digger and I was washer and sifter. The excitement of seeing the glow of the garnets was addictive. We had a good spot and worked hard and when we took our haul back to Gem Tree to be assessed found we had 17 of cuttable size and clarity, a good result!
The next day we felt the exertion of the previous day, so did a walk around the Gem Tree area, with a booklet detailing some of the plants around the place. The above drawings are from objects I found. 

The following day we left, but on our way to the Binns Track, which looped back to Alice, we decided to stop at the Mud Tank, an area where zircons can be found. Zircons, we were told, are the most ancient of gemstones, formed when the earth began, and have been pushed up from 17km below the surface. 

We only had one sifter, a pick, a spade and a small bucket, not the right equipment at all but decided to give it a go. I think we got lucky with the spot we chose as we found a lot. We have no idea if they are any good, but there are some that are beautifully clear. 

The drive along the Binns Track, a winding up and down 4WD track, was beautiful, the scenery constantly changing as we came back through the East MacDonnell Range to Alice. 

We decided to have an extra day in Alice to see the Henley on Todd Regatta – the unusual thing about it is that the Todd River is dry, only running after heavy rainfall, so all the boating events were adapted. The pictures speak for themselves. It was a great day, fun and relaxed with a great sense of community. 

 The Tanami Track was the next challenge, over 1000km of mostly dirt track, but the first section was straightforward, single track bitumen road to Tilmouth Well roadhouse, our first camp spot. 


The next day’s driving was mostly on dirt, not too corrugated and fewer vehicles coming the other way – a couple of roadtrains and three or four 4WDs, not a lot in 370km or so. The sense of being somewhere remote was becoming more palpable, and our bush camp for the night made that clear. Down a narrow track and over a hill we found good flat ground well away from the road. Red dirt, spinifex and termite mounds all around. Clearly there were dingoes about, but we only saw footprints. Lots of small birds but no other animals. We were close to a gold mine and could hear machines working and lights glowing through the night but otherwise we were alone. 



The following day we crossed the border into Western Australia and the track deteriorated, becoming rough, very corrugated with patches of loose sand or rocks. We camped for the night at Wolfe Creek Crater, just delightful after a tough day, so decided to stay a second night and walk the rim of the crater the next day. It’s the second largest meteorite crater in the world, and is an impressive sight. 



Refreshed after a day off – the weather now getting very warm – to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek along a shocking bit of road. The best part was the scenery, the classic Kimberleys region icons of boab trees, kapok (as shown in the image at the top) and the dramatic black rocks of calcified coral reefs that make up the Leopold Ranges. In the pools in Windjana Gorge were large numbers of freshwater crocodiles, sunning themselves on the edge of the water. 

And now we are here in Broome, on the opposite side of the continent. I am sitting beside the camper trailer, as close to the water as it is possible to be, soaking in the view. Glorious!  One more day then on the move again, to Cape Leveque. 

Once again, this has all been done on my phone, so I hope the pictures are clear and the words intelligible! Soon we will be out of range again, but the gaps will get shorter as we head south into more populated areas. 


100 days under canvas Рthe beginning 

Leaving Sydney on a cold winter day, with rain threatening we were looking forward to getting to Central Australia for sunshine and warmth, but there was a long way to go first. We had intended to head west towards Broken Hill via Menindee but discovered the day before we left that all the dirt roads we had intended to take were closed due to flooding – big news you might think but not a whisper of it in Sydney. So we took a more southerly route via Forbes, Griffith and eventually Port Augusta where we started to feel a bit more warmth, and the skies started to clear. Nights still cold though – about 2C. 

Leaving Port Augusta for Coober Pedy, still a few flurries of rain but the landscape was changing to the dry open red soils we love. From 50 km outside Coober Pedy we saw the mullock heaps left by the opal miners.   

 The mining is done by individuals, no large scale operations here. There are plenty of stories of people who have come to the town, struck it lucky and left very rich, only to return penniless some years later, and never find that vein of opal again. But they keep trying. It is home to a lot of Aboriginal people too – hearing them speaking their own beautiful, flowing language reinforces the sense you are well away from the cities. 

The Breakaways is an area just north of Coober Pedy, eroded hills with ironstone caps and dramatic colour variations. The scenery is similar to what we saw at our next camp in the Painted Desert. Although it looks dry and barren, there was an amazing array of brightly coloured flowers on small sturdy bushes, daisies, eremophila, camel bush and many others I couldn’t name. 

Arckaringa station was our next stop – it is a working cattle property, 2745 square  kilometres (or 680,000 acres) running one animal to an acre. And this is one of the smaller properties in the area. 

We set up behind the homestead, there was a simple corrugated iron shed with hot showers and toilets and a big fire pit with benches all around for the campers to use. Camping in places like this is a highlight – peaceful, open, the stars are so clear and people always friendly. Sitting around the campfire at night exchanging stories of travel and life in general is a joy. 

The photos really can’t capture the beauty and variety of colour. Like so much of this country you really have to be in the environment to appreciate it properly. 

After two nights at Arckaringa we drove out, more stunning scenery. Then up the Stuart Highway, two days later we are here in Alice Springs, in the heart of Australia and we are WARM!