First off, our apologies for the tardy response to emails and cell calls – we have had no coverage since leaving Coober Pedy on Saturday and our arrival in Alice this afternoon.
We think our departure from Coober Pedy on Saturday morning was just at the right time. At around 4am rain started to fall again and the dirt roads were turning to mud. Unfortunately for us our accommodation was 1km up a dirt road so it was a very slow drive out.
After fuelling up it was back onto the Stuart Highway and northwards. The rain continued and was mixing with the mud on the road to make for very challenging driving conditions. We made a decision that we would drive out of the rain and wherever that happened, is where we would park for the night.
Around 410km later, and directly on the South Australia and Northern Territory border, we made our stop. To be honest we could not have asked for a better overnighter. The rain had stopped, it was a no cost area, we were on flat blacktop, the rest area had lots of trees and toilets were available. By 4pm there were about eight other vans at the site and we enjoyed a very convivial end to the day.
As usual on Sunday morning we were last away from the overnight stop. We had made no firm decision on where the day was going to take us except our commitment to continue north. We visited the outback roadhouses of Kulgera, Eridunda and Stuart Wells and saw some stunning scenery as we drove beside the Finke Gorge National Park. The massive sandstone outcrops silhouetted against the blue skyline were stunners. We even had the good fortune to have a couple of close encounters with dingo and wedge tailed eagles.
We skirted Alice Springs itself and drove a further 30km north to our overnight stop at the Tropic of Capricorn Rest area – so named because the rest area is on the Tropic of Capricorn. The site was just off the main road so there was a bit of overnight road noise but it was another free stop so we are not complaining. We were the ‘seniors’ at the site that night – most of the other travellers were in their early to late twenties. Somehow we were able to fit right in.
On Monday morning we were on the road by 10am and had decided to get off the Stuart Highway and spend the night at Gemtree, a roadhouse 140km NE of Alice Springs along the Plenty Highway and in the East MacDonnell Ranges. We were expecting the road to be dirt but were surprised to find it was blacktop all the way to Gemtree front gate. It was only a single lane road so pulling into the red dirt was a frequent passing manoeuvre.
The area is known as the Gateway to the Red Centre Gem Fields and is famous for such gems as zircon and garnet to name just two. We made our home for the night at the Gemfields Bush Park, 100 hectares of outback bush land but with all the facilities. For $22 we had a nice flat grassy site amongst the trees and about 50metres from our nearest neighbour. As we did not need power or water, we were able to pick wherever it suited us. Our hosts, Aaron and Kate McMaster, made us feel very welcome and Aaron being a kiwi from Masterton, was an added bonus. We had a very pleasant and peaceful stay. If you were passing through, we would recommend a night or two there.
This morning we returned along the Plenty Highway to the Stuart Highway, turned left and explored the 140km back to Alice Springs. We arrived in Alice late this afternoon and are now camped for the night at Ilparpa, about 12km south of Alice city centre.
From tomorrow we have three nights in Alice Springs while we await our intrepid travel companions. Young Janet Brothers from Hamilton is flying into Alice on 8th May and is going to visit the MacDonnell Ranges with us. On the 10th May, Harry and Jane Parker from Nelson Bays on Australia’s east coast are also flying in, hiring a motorhome and journeying with us to the Western MacDonnell Ranges and Uluru (Ayres Rock).
Our next week on the road should be very social.