Tom & Matt’s Four-State Road Trip
Day 13 — Monday, 8th August, 2011 — Tennant Creek, NT, to Alice Springs, NT

 

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A nice easy day

After the wearying day yesterday, we were glad of a relatively easy day today, particularly as tomorrow, although neither of us will drive at all, will be another long day as we get on a coach around 6:00am to travel to Uluru and Kata Tjuta and will not return until around midnight — but that is for tomorrow.

Today we each woke without setting our respective alarms (ie., considerably later than yesterday) and still managed to be on the road by about 10:00am. Tennant Creek seemed bigger than I imagined it might be but still didn’t seem to all that “alive” as a thriving cerntre. I hope I am not doing it an injustice, but that is just the way we saw it. In the 2001 Census, roughly 37% of the population identified themselves as Aboriginal and that tallies with our observations.

We hit the road and headed even further south . . .

 

Open, endless road 

 

You must be getting tired of seeing the road disappearing endlessly into the distance, surely?

Well, that’s what it does in these parts. By the look of the tyre marks, some of the locals have been, to use an Australian expression, “chucking wheelies”. I forget just where this photo was taken, probably only a few kilometres south of Tennant Creek, which woud explain why many local candidates could be found for the source of the tyre marks.

But I took the photo, not for the tyre marks but for the seemingly endless nature of the road.

 

Stobie Pole 

 

In New South Wales we call them telegraph poles or power poles or even light poles. I am told their official appellation is utility structures. They are designed for carrying electrical wires for any of those purposes and, at least in NSW, they are mostly made of timber or occasionally of concrete.

In South Australia and the Northern Territory, they are called Stobie Poles because they were invented by James Cyril Stobie (1895–1953), an engineer with the Adelaide Electricity Supply Company and patented in 1924. They were designed with two steel joists held apart by a slab of concrete in the middle because timber poles were soon destroyed by termites.

This one (and, indeed, most of the ones we have seen in the Territory) has no concrete in the middle but people still call them Stobie poles.

 

A little way down the track we saw a sign to the Devil’s Marbles and, since we had been told be several people that we should see them, we drove in. Here is a panoramic shot of the car park that is as good a view as any of the marble themselves. It is a spectacular site with giant rounded granite boulders stewn across the landscape — some of them perched haphazardly on top of each other, almost as if a giant had emptied a bag of (somewhat irregularly-shaped) marbles. All of them reflect the rusty red colour of so much of the outback, caused by the high iron contenty in the soil. That is our little car at the extreme right edge of the group — you can see what I mean about everyone else driving four-wheel-drives (or, away from this site, road trains, campervans or caravans)! Very few people drive little cars like ours. Yet ours has performed faultlessly.

Devils Marbles panorama

 

Wauchope Hotel and picnic area 

 

 

For many years I have known (and, for about a dozen years, lived fairly close to) the town of Wauchope in New South Wales (pronounced war-hope). We stopped for morning coffee at a picnic area near an outback pub called Wauchope. I have no idea if it is pronounced the same way because we didn’t speak to anyone there. But, behind the picnic area, you can see the Wauchope Hotel.

 

Wycliffe signs 

 

 

A litle beyond the Wauchope stop, we saw these signs to Wycliffe. Kris and Sean had told us about this place which its operators claim is the spot in Australia that has most often been visited by UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects). I have no idea why, in this photo, the sky suddenly seemed dark and there is a mysterious glow in the sky to the left of the picture.

We didn’t go in, even though Kris and Sean told us it would be good for a laugh. Maybe next time? Stop trembling, Matt!

 

Ti Tree roadhouse 

 

We stopped for lunch at the Ti Tree Roadhouse, again using a picnic area and not patronising the local businesses.

Nobody seems to know how Ti Tree got its name but it does not seem to be connected to any of the various shrubs that carry the name ti-tree or tea-tree. To us it looked like many, many other little Northern Territory highway towns that feature a petrol station, a pub and very little else. This one at least seemed to have several houses and, so the first link in this paragraph tells me, is home to nearly a thousand people of whom almost 800 are Aboriginal.

 

Roadhouse sign 

 

 

The pub (Roadhouse) makes the astounding claim to be the most central pub in Australia. I dont know how it makes that claim as Alice Springs(nearly 200 km* further south), being 1,500 km* from Darwin and 1,500 km* from Adelaide, would seem to have a more justified claim to centrality and it features many, many hotels (Australian pubs).

* 200 km is about 125 miles; 1,500 km is about 930 miles.

 

Yellow dog at Ti Tree 

 

 

 

While we ate our lunch, this yellow bitch came snooping around. I am pretty sure that she is not a dingo, though I suspect at least one line of her heritage must have been well acquainted with that breed. We did not encourage her as tourists throughout Australia are told not to feed dingos as (a) they become dependent on hand-outs, (b) they can become ill from eating food to which they are not constitutionally suited, and (c) they can become aggressive if other tourists then fail to feed them. An aggressive dingo is not something anyone needs to face.

 

Highest point on Stuart Highway 

At one point in our journey we crossed the notional line that is the Tropic of Capricorn. There was a small cairn to mark the spot but we were past it before we realised and decided not to turn back. We hate turning back.

But we did manage to stop at this cairn, which looked much more impressive. Its brass plaque explains it all:

THIS CAIRN MARKS THE HIGHEST POINT ON THE MAIN ROUTE BETWEEN ADELAIDE AND DARWIN AS DETERMINED BY THE LANDS AND SURVEY BRANCH, NORTHERN TERRITORY ADMINISTRATION.
A.R. MILLER, SURVEYOR GENERAL NT.
ERECTED 1962 BY A.M. SAHARIV

 

Signs of hazard reduction burning 

 

 

Several times we have seen hazard-reduction burning, though never close to us. Everywhere on today’s journey there were signs that the burning had been fairly recent. Here you can see the charring in the table drain on either side of the road.

 

Signs of hazard reduction burning 

 

 

 

 

This time, as we got closer to Alice Springs, it was a whole hillside in front of us.

 

Hazard reduction burning 

 

But then we saw this and knew that what we had seen previously was very recent indeed — perhaps even earlier that day.

Winter is the only time to do this, of course, as the (relatively) cooler temperatures mean that those conducting the burn can control its spread and restrict it where necessary.

Although I am writing about 8th August, two days later when we were in Alice Springs, a hazard-reduction burn to the west of the city got out of control and the authorities were considering evacuating a couple of suburbs. Fortunately, they didn’t need to do that, but you can be sure we kept one ear on the radio all that day, even though it was some distance from where we were staying.

 

MacDonnell Ranges

 

It was not a long day’s drive, by any means (a whisker over 500 km*) but we were, never-the-less, pleased when the MacDonnell Ranges came into view because we knew that meant Alice Springs was close (the ranges are on the southern edge of the city).

We had booked accommodation in the Swagman’s Rest Appartments and found them to be very pleasant and the staff very friendly and helpful. Each of us had an apartment with a bedroom, a separate sitting room and kitchen with a table and chairs as well as a settee; and a separate bathroom. The only drawback was that there was no restaurant attached and so we needed to get in the car to go and get our evening meals on Monday and Wednesday.

Because of the high crime rate in Alice Springs, the Swagman’s Rest is a gated community with a big high fence around it and, when we got back from Uluru on 9th August (see my next entry), we needed to use our special electronic pass gadget to let ourselves in.

* 500 km is a little over 300 miles.

 

And so here we are at Alice Springs in the very heart of Australia — roughly half way between the north coast and the south coast and also roughly half way between the east coast and the west coast. As I have already signalled, tomorrow we go by coach to visit Ulurtu and Kata Tjuta and that means being ready to leave at 6:00am. So an early start.

Matt’s Video for Days 12-13

Like me, Matt has found it hard to keep up to date with his video postings. This one covers (briefly) all of our journey from Darwin to Alice Springs.

 

 

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