On the road again. I just can’t wait to get on the road again …
Invoking Willie Nelson’s famous song has become a bit of a running joke with us every time we climb back into the saddle for another long day on the road.
Except that this time was to be a series of long days, with not a lot of distractions en route. Armed with a ready supply of music, fruit, lollies, coffee and water to sustain us, we were off.
We took three days to drive from Alice Springs up to Mataranka – 1,075 kms almost due north, along the Stuart Highway (aka ‘the Track’!).
Our first roadside stop was a mere 30 km after leaving Alice Springs – the Tropic of Capricorn.
Our next short stop was at Aileron, about another 100 kms up the highway.
The imposing 17m tall ‘Anmatjere Man’ stands atop a hill behind Aileron, where he has been surveying the surrounding region below since 2005. He was joined three years later by ‘Anmatjere Woman and Child’, all beautifully created by local sculptor, Mark Egan.
We were fascinated to see small termite mounds dotting the landscape, noting that they continued to grow substantially as we drove further north. Every now and then a termite mound would be dressed in t-shirts and sometimes pants and hats, and occasionally a whole family of termite mounds of different shapes and sizes would be dressed. It was amusing to see, and certainly helped to break the boredom of the road trip!
Occasionally, the main railway line would run close to the highway, but unfortunately we didn’t see the famous Ghan train. But it was tremendous to see such big skies in the outback.
Our first overnight camp was at Karlu Karlu / Devil’s Marbles, a loooong 412 kms of driving since leaving Alice Springs. But what a spectacular campsite it was … literally, amongst the rock formations, providing us with a ringside seat to watch the sun rise and set over the Devil’s Marbles.
It’s funny, but there really was a very noticeable difference in temperatures since crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. Overnight temps dropped down to 1c in Alice Springs, but this was our first warm night (and HOT day) … down to around 21c overnight and up to 35c during the day. Of course, that didn’t stop us having a campfire! Oh, and the flies were relentless, from just before sunrise until after sundown.
Our next day was an even longer 502 kms, to Daly Waters. We had hoped to free camp along the way but, at a brutally scorching 36c, we were happy to stay in the air conditioned comfort of the car (and out of reach of the flies!) – so we kept driving!
What can we say about Daly Waters? Well, it certainly lives up to all the hype! This was once an important town in the region, especially around the time of WW2, but it’s the iconic outback pub that draws in the crowds now. We stayed at the pub’s adjoining campground, and availed ourselves of the power on offer to run the van’s air conditioner. (We note that this would only be about the 3rd time that we’ve ever run the air conditioner, in over four years since we bought Roe’ving!) We also lounged around in the pool to cool off – it was like an oasis in the desert that day!
Our next day was a much shorter 170 kms, to the small village of Mataranka, at the headwaters of the Roper River. It is home to various thermal pools and springs (more about that in a separate post!), and was the setting for Jeannie Gunn’s early 20th century autobiographical novel, “We of the Never Never”.
We arrived in Mataranka on election day 2019 … to find no TV reception and only enough mobile reception for texting and basic phone calls. There was barely sufficient patchy reception to allow the odd news story to download (ever so slowly). Perhaps it was a Godsend? Who needed to watch the tele to see the election results and hear all the banter, anyway? We stayed for a couple of nights at the Mataranka Homestead, still enjoying power to run the air conditioning, as well as swimming in the local spring-fed waterways.
A contingent of peacocks and hens constantly roamed the campsites. We wondered if they’d eat the apple cores we were about to throw into the bin. Answer … absolutely! And in a matter of seconds!
Mataranka Homestead provided live music entertainment each night, and also a special one-hour performance by 26 year old Nathan Griggs, Guinness World Record holder for various whip cracking talents. Some of his feats include being the fastest whip cracker with both one and two hands (at 697 whip cracks in one minute), and for cracking the longest whip in the world (at over 100m long – the whip is on display at Mataranka). It was certainly an impressive show.
Hopefully, that’s the last of the long driving stints for a while. We intend to slow down the pace now, set down for a few days at a time and really explore as much as we can of local communities and national parks.