After a quick visit to Lake Eyre, and an equally wonderful drive through Flinders Ranges, I return to the same camping spot that I left yesterday. Still intact and still completely isolated. Exactly what you need for yet another week of good work and good photography. The place almost feels like home now.
After a whole day of driving, after all the heat and wind and flies, it feels so good to wake up to the beautifully warm and still morning, when the air is so fresh, and the sun is rising slowly above the salt lake. There's a couple of other campers in the distance, but they're not a bother at all... unlike flies, who wake up very quickly and swarm all over me. It doesn't matter, though, because I still have a couple of full days off because of the Labour Day weekend, and I firmly intend to stay here all this time and do nothing at all. Apart from photography, of course.
Scenic flights above Lake Eyre begin at 7 a.m. (the ones that start from Marree, anyway; there's a whole lot of other locations), and you're supposed to be there at quarter to. I arrive even earlier than that, and whilst waiting for the pilot and four other passengers I quietly observe a rather lovely sunrise beyond the airfield.
The first day at the new spot is nice and sunny, but later in the afternoon some light clouds begin to appear. After a day's work, I decide to explore the surroundings and see what's out there. The map says that there's quite a big salt lake nearby; perhaps I should go there?
On Tuesday evening, I suddenly realise that I could go and see the Fields of Light, while I'm here. In case you're reading this and the link died, it's a project by some artist whose name now escapes me, and it consists of a huge (three football fields) area covered with LED lights, slightly raised above ground and changing colours slowly. Add to that the starry sky on top of you, and you could get yourself quite an experience.
The night between Friday and Saturday sees me at some rest stop between Barmera and Burra. Well, it could have seen me, if it wasn't so dark and dusty. The sky is completely overcast, and there's a strange suspension of very fine dust in the air, which I can't really smell, but I can see it in the beam of my torch everywhere I go. It's quite windy, too, and very humid. Interesting combination of the elements. During the night it rains a bit, but the morning is nice and sunny and calm.
To go back home, I decide to take a slightly longer road via Broken Hill out of sheer curiosity, because I've never been there before. As I leave Melrose, the scenery is still familiar (I've been a few times to this part of South Australia), but after I cross the NSW border, it's all new to me.
In the morning, I arrive at Ceduna to refuel, wash my car, and shop for a new (less powerful) inverter – along with many, many spare gas bottles, of course. However, it looks like it's a little too late by now, because the more I look at the battery, the more it appears to be the source of the problem. It doesn't hold any charge at all, and drops to 11-odd volts almost as soon as I unplug the solar. Looks like it's time to ditch the sucker... but it's too difficult to find a decent deep cycle battery in these parts, so I need to drive further to try my luck elsewhere. In Adelaide, perhaps?
I work till afternoon, which feels kinda interesting – chatting to colleagues and committing code whilst sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere. However, I do need to find some gas to have my hot meals, after all. Which is why after 12 (Western time) I take off and visit a few more roadhouses... with the same disappointing result. No gas bottles anywhere at all! Dammit. At least I don't get nearly as many of those locusts that bothered me on my way here, although there's still more than a few to fly around.
After some consideration, I set my sites on a route with a rather flamboyant name of The Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail, which is just a fancy name for a stretch of unsealed road between Norseman and Hyden. And near the latter I also have a chance to visit the famous Wave Rock as well. Sounds like a plan, I say!
The morning of the Christmas Eve finds me deep in the mallee that surrounds our camping spot, where I try to find interesting compositions with the outback vegetation and the rising sun. Nothing particularly interesting eventuates, but that's fine: you win some, you lose some.
The sunrise is as spectacular as the sunset before it; but when I check the coolant level, I barely find any. Looks like the bone-shaking corrugations of the Rainbow Valley did their nasty job, so I use my last remaining bottle of coolant to top it up. I'm almost home now anyway, aren't I?
When I wake up and eat my breakfast, I still have no idea whether the mouse is still in the car or not. Just in case, I decide to visit a Bunnings in Alice Springs and buy a mouse trap or two – which is where I'm going anyway.
The morning in the Wolfe Creek is warm, quiet and sunny. It's “summer” up here in the North, after all, and it's going to stay like this for the next few months. Not for me, though; my journey takes me away from these lands of spinifex and boabs and back to the winterlands.
It still drizzles in the morning, and I even see an occasional lightning in the distance as I get up and start my morning routine. It’s not as cold as I thought it would be at this time of year. However, I still decide to cancel my second visit to the Breakaways: it’s probably pointless to try and do good photography of that particular place when it rains.
It’s Saturday, 7 a.m., which means that it’s time to start the car, leave the house and head towards (and beyond) more black stumps on my Australian map. Winter starts in just a few days, so I might as well spend these days travelling to the regions where summer never really ends.
The sunrise that follows has some spectacular cloud formations, and I make sure to capture them all while I can. The blessing and the curse of landscape photography: you can have the most beautiful scene in front of you, but you have no control over it whatsoever, and if the clouds or the light change, they change for good. If a sunrise is bad, you can't do anything about it; but if it's good, you're the luckiest person on Earth. Like right now, for instance.
In the morning I take another detour from the Track and venture out into the Painted Desert. The name alone is worth a try, right? It looks pretty bleak most of the way, but as I approach the Arckaringa Station, I can clearly see how the region got its name.
Did you know that Anna Creek Station, the largest of its kind in Australia, is bigger than Israel? Just think about it. An area of land as big as a country, just for your cows. You have probably never even seen a lot of your own property in person. Hell, there are probably places that no one has ever seen so far, except for your cows. And maybe not even them. That's Australian outback for you.
The night was quiet, starry and quite cool. However, at the first rays of sun the temperature rises quickly; and, wasting no time, I head out for a quick walk towards the Yanginga Falls, enjoying the morning scenery around me.
After having slept beautifully, I get up at 5 a.m. and finish eating and packing up before dawn. As the sun rises, I add a bit more oil to the engine (just in case) and take off. Ahead lie Queensland and the mining town of Mount Isa.
I start my day very early, before dawn; but, surprisingly enough, I slept excellent and didn't get a single drop of rain: either it passed me by or didn't start at all. Also, I firmly decide to implement the itinerary change I came up with last night.
At 6:20 am I drive out of my garage in Elizabeth Park. The sun is not fully up yet, but I'm not sleepy at all. Finally! My journey is happening at last! The familiar suburbs roll past my window, changed by the suburbs not too familiar; then it's only farms and greenhouses; and then it's finally Port Wakefield Road, the first country road of my journey. Port Wakefield, a small coastal town, is soon left behind as well, and now I'm on Stuart Highway. This highway stretches all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, but Darwin is the place that I'm aiming for just yet.
Contrary to my expectations, and despite the sheep bleating constantly at the cattle station nearby, I sleep quite well. Off at 6:50 in the morning. The country is brown, plain and dull at first, but graduately becomes more mild and undulating, with patches of muted green here and there. Lots and lots of kangaroos: I almost hit three of them myself within an hour. Plenty of roadkill, too.
Windy night did not make for a good night's sleep indeed, but it's not like I came here for comfort, is it? It's still windy and chilly when I pack up my camp and head out at 7 a.m., but the sun is out and the skies are clear: going to be a hot one today. The landscape becomes more and more flat and featureless as I drive on amidst the quickly shortening shadows.
There's no better day to leave home than Friday the 13th. Especially if it's a four-day trip across the Australian outback. Especially if you're entirely on your own, with very rudimentary car repair skills, miles (hundreds of miles, sometimes) away from any help. What can possibly go wrong?
As I've already mentioned, there's another famous place next to the world-famous Uluru, and it's called Kata Tjuta. It means “many heads” in Aboriginal language, which sums up its appearance pretty good. As opposed to a monolith which is Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a whole set of enormous sandstone boulders, looming up quite impressively on the horizon. This is where I'm going today.
In the morning, as soon as I reach Marla, I make a refuel stop. My Prado, thankfully, has two fuel tanks 90 litres each, but even they tend to run out every so often. Diesel prices bite a little: $1.63 per litre, compared to about $1.20 in Adelaide. Oh well. A beggar's choice.
May in Australia is like November in the Northern Hemisphere, but milder. Australian winter, however, is already at hand, so in our temperate South Australian latitudes it can get quite chilly during the night. Still, the sun gets up rapidly and warms up the inside of the vehicle very quickly.