Murray is the biggest river in Australia, and on its way it passes through New South Wales and Victoria (acting as a border between the two) before reaching the ocean in South Australia. On its way it makes great many twists and turns across the country, and one bend in particular is so large that it even has a name: Big Bend! Unimaginative, but descriptive enough; and, more importantly, it has an excellent, free to use camping area down the eastern bank, which is exactly where I'm going to stay for a while.
On my way between Whyalla and Port Augusta, I notice that the clouds began to thicken on the horizon, and rain curtains begin to appear. There's nothing more scenic than a distant rain curtain, especially on these large ochre plains, where you can see far and wide!
So here I am now, at the other side of the Spencer Gulf. It wouldn't probably be my first choice, as far as campsites go; but I'm expecting a few items that I bought online and directed to Adelaide, so I don't want to move too far away from the city. This place will do for now, even though it takes a certain effort for me to get there along a few very poorly maintained dirt tracks.
Looks like a nice place, I think as I get up in the morning and take a good look around my new domain. Weather's nice and sunny, not a single soul around, the sky is blue, the sea even bluer... especially after a couple of weeks of living on the red dirt. This area couldn't look and feel more different, and the only dirt here is that on the track which got me here, and the only trees here are ten little mangroves a few steps away, struggling for their dear life among the bare rocks and shallow sea waters.
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.
I have visited the Flinders Range National Park (and surrounding areas) a few times before; in fact, this is exactly where my first ever Australian camping trip happened some five or six years ago. It is also interesting to realise that I have negotiated this stretch road (Hawker to Lyndhurst) a number of times from south to north, but never from north to south, because I was always taking a different route to go back. It's about time I should fix that, I believe.
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?
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.
Well, here I am now, at the start of my first working week as a digital hobo. All I have is a laptop, a spare battery under the hood, a couple of solar panels, and a few bits and pieces to create the illusion of necessary creature comforts. Let's see if it all holds until Friday, shall we?
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.
It is time for me to leave the Eyre Peninsula now and travel further west. On my way along the western coast of the Eyre I stop by a peculiar place called Murphy's Haystacks. Situated on a private property, which allows you access for an honesty box donation, there's a small collection of giant boulders, eroded into very intricate shapes by all kinds of elements. They look very bizarre amongst the scorched yellow grass and slowly undulating rural plains.
I've been to the Innes National Park a short while ago, so I'm not planning to stay there for long. In fact, I'm not planning to stay there at all! I decide to take a different road back to the mainland, and the unsealed part of it is supposed to be “scenic”. Well, it kind of is: sea, rocks, and all that stuff, plus the hazy bulk of the Kangaroo Island in the distance. However, the day is very sunny already, and it's very difficult to do good photography in such bright, brutal light.
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?
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.
The rain that was promised has arrived indeed, and it pours slowly over the night and well into the morning. I listen to the rain drops pattering outside the tent as I warm up my instant noodles and eat them with enthusiasm, anticipating my imminent homecoming. After that I pack up my camp (for the last time!) in my rain coat (finally it's getting some use!), rolling up my soaking wet tent as is. The morning is rainy and gloomy when I finally leave the caravan park and deposit the key from the shower block into the mailbox, placed there specifically for the purpose.
I went to sleep quite early yesterday, so I wake up at 4 a.m., no less. After having my breakfast (instant noodles) I decide, for the lack of anything else to do, to pack up my camp, but the decision proves to be wrong. Too dark yet, and too cold, and the light of the torch attracts too many moths. Humans weren't meant to be nocturnal, after all. It's not very pleasant to realize that in the darkness that surrounds you there can be anything at all, and that all your observable Universe is limited by the circle of the pale light from your torch.
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?
The night is surprisingly warm: must be because the Bight is so close. No rain either: also a plus. I hesitate and think about whether I should make it a two-day or a one-day trip back home. I'm not on a schedule, but if I choose two days, what exactly am I supposed to see here? I've been to this area before, so it's not exactly terra incognita. I could go to the Eyre Peninsula, of course, and explore its southern part… but the weather isn't too grand, so it probably won't be too enjoyable. One day it is, then. A thousand kays in one go: tough, but doable. And I won't have to pitch the tent at the end of it, anyway.
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.