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Hello, this thread will document my three week road trip with my family in my NP300 to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs. I'm travelling with an 8 week old, so this is a pure highway expedition - look elsewhere for 4WDing tales! That said, for overseas readers I hope I'll get some pics that interest you. I've just upgraded to a DJI Mavic Pro drone and look forward to getting some pics with it.

I'm writing this at the end of Day 2 from just outside Wilcannia NSW.

With the baby plus my 2.5yo we only really expect to be able to do 6 hours or so of actual driving per day. That translates to about 8.5 hours on the road with toilet breaks etc, and that's pretty much all the available daylight around here in July. That being said, as we progress west, we should get a touch more time in each day. This is important because we have arranged to meet family at Ayers Rock and must arrive on Friday.

So that means, despite weeks of careful preparation and packing, I was dismayed to not set off yesterday until nearly 1030, thanks to some spectacular last-minute tantrums and disorganisation. By the time we'd refuelled we weren't on the highway proper until 1100, and so we will spend the next few days making that up.

Accordingly pics will be a bit sparse for these first few days. Here's my boy at our lunch stop by the side of the Golden Highway (or first pic below depending on how you view the forum):

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Our route took us away from the coast and across the Great Dividing Range watershed just east of Dunedoo. This area is broad acre mixed farming country, and earlier this year was surprised when a series of fast-moving grass fires ignited in wheat stubble and merged into the Sir Ivan fire. It burned for about six weeks and destroyed 136,000 acres of farmland, including 6,000km of fencing and untold scores of stock. Grass fires aren't usually this damaging and the farmers weren't very prepared. A charity organisation called BlazeAid is trying to get travellers to donate a day of their time to building fences. Dunedoo is their headquarters. I don't know how they'll go.

Like much of rural Australia, the fire fighting was almost entirely handled by volunteer brigades - farmers whose own properties were burning rallying to help their neighbours. In all the Rural Fire Service rotated over 15,000 volunteers through here (although many of this number would have been the same person returning for more than one shift). It brings a tear to the eye.

You can maybe see some scorched trees in the background of the shot of my lad on the trailer.

We spent the night in Dubbo in a commercial campground:

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I was expecting cold weather on this trip, but in our messy departure I forgot the bag with the proper outdoor gear in it - a mistake, as I realised when I woke for my morning ****:

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We had another late start scouring the camping stores of Dubbo for some rather inadequate cold weather gear before setting off. Dubbo marks the westward limit of conventional agriculture in NSW. Beyond this you enter what was once entirely sheep station country - huge, unimproved, unpastured stations of millions of acres in the semi-arid mallee scrub. Except as part of a soldier and migrant settlement program in the 1950s and 1960s, huge irrigation networks were dug from the Namoi, Darling, Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, so west of Dubbo you spend half a day transiting some of the most implausibly-located cotton fields you'll ever see before you get back into station country. The cotton harvest seems to be just winding up and all the silos are in full swing - this is the one at Nevertire. They seem to bundle it up and then pack it into shipping containers before loading it onto trains and trucks (excuse the dodgy panorama, I wanted to capture the scale without walking 1km away):

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As the day wore on the soil gets redder and the crops give way to scrub. We passed the copper mining town of Cobar, which has some great relics of its mining heritage on the highway, but those photos appear to be MIA.

The Barrier Highway is mostly two lanes and 110km/h. We had a few close calls on the road with a mother emu leading her nine chicks across the highway; a wedge tailed eagle lifting off from a roadkill carcass with a full belly that barely cleared the roof; another emu that made a mad bolt from safety into danger across my bow; and some useless git driving a caravan 30 under the limit straddling the centreline, forcing me two wheels into the dirt to overtake.

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We ended up stopping just outside Wilcannia, at a station property that allows you to camp on it. You stop in at the homestead and ask and they'll point you to somewhere out of the way. It's us and some road workers from RMS who have set up a rowdy camp for the next six weeks while they repair the bridges over the Darling River flood channels.

There are some damn good reasons not to stop in Wilcannia which I might go into later, but for now I'm parked up next to a billabong along with some serial-killer looking man in a ratty old Jeep, sleeping on his back seat. Another ute drove in slowly, stopped a ways off staring at me for 10 minutes, then drove off again really slowly. I wish I'd brought my rifle :/

The property runs on generator power and when they turned off at 9pm, the darkness is astounding. With the naked eye we can easily pick the Milky Way and millions of stars and with my 10x50 binoculars the fuzzy bands of light resolve themselves into trillions of stars. I've picked out Saturn and Jupiter, and with a telescope I could maybe see Pluto. Plenty of shooting stars but no satellites tonight.

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With the generators off initially it seemed silent but in fact the world is full of noises. Most of them creepy. We're only about 1km as the crow flies from the highway, and at this time of night maybe one truck every half hour or so comes past. You can hear its tyres roaring on the bitumen like a jet engine for a full half minute before it passes, and then a whole minute as it fades away again. Kind of odd.

Tomorrow we aim to cross into South Australia where we change time zones, surrender all our fruit to a man at the border checkpoint, and begin to turn northwards.
 

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Amazing trip - keep the pics and write-ups coming; all interesting.
Goes to highlight the fact that most of England has become a nasty urban sprawl - most kids have never seen the Milky Way in the sky, and most people cannot see a horizon most of the time!

I reckon when your kids are grown up you'll be worn out and will then need a 5th wheel to travel about in! :)
 

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Amazing trip - keep the pics and write-ups coming; all interesting.
Goes to highlight the fact that most of England has become a nasty urban sprawl - most kids have never seen the Milky Way in the sky, and most people cannot see a horizon most of the time!

I reckon when your kids are grown up you'll be worn out and will then need a 5th wheel to travel about in! :)


I have been thinking a lot about your fifth wheeler as I scrape frost off my stove top to make tea...
 

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Hah! The Rambler is one the best places I've spent time in, a home from home on wheels! Some kit them for total off-grid use... Not me, I like 240V and WiFi...

Funny about frost, I suppose day/night temps are dramatically different where you are, plus it's the middle of winter. Try mid-winter in UK - never really cold, just very miserable. Hold that, all year in many places!
 

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Hah! The Rambler is one the best places I've spent time in, a home from home on wheels! Some kit them for total off-grid use... Not me, I like 240V and WiFi...



Funny about frost, I suppose day/night temps are dramatically different where you are, plus it's the middle of winter. Try mid-winter in UK - never really cold, just very miserable. Hold that, all year in many places!


I'm currently sitting in Peterborough with another 90 minutes to go before I can comfortably call it a day. We're glancing close to the ocean briefly (close in relative terms, still 100km), but once we turn north into the desert we expect 25-27 during the day and 0ish at night.
 

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Well today was another head down, bum up kind of day to get us back on schedule.

Setting out this morning:
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We almost immediately came into Wilcannia where I needed fuel. I said yesterday you don't stop here. Well it has certainly improved in the ten years since I was last regularly passing through here. Back then big hangs of indigenous kids prowled the streets and caused dramas. Nothing big but lots of petty theft and vandalism. I came back to a work truck once after refuelling it and while I was inside paying, kids stole the bonnet protector! Every house and business in town peered out from a protective screen of security mesh and razor wire.

This all came to a head a few years back when someone burned down the only grocery store in town, leaving a the rest of the community up **** creek as it were. The ruin is still there:
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However the resulting law, order and truancy crackdown appears to have had results. At 0930 the streets were mostly empty.

Wilcannia is otherwise a beautiful town, once a very major river port on the Darling River. When it was founded in the mid-1800s, this was as high up the Darling as the big old paddle steamers could get. The surrounding countryside was given over to sheep grazing on unimproved pastures and wool prices were stratospheric. The town was very rich and an important seat of government in western NSW, with a court house:
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Police barracks:
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...and even a theatre:
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All things considered these buildings, built in African Colonial style, are still in excellent condition. Anyway by the 1920s wool was no longer worth more than gold, the railway had replaced the paddle steamer (and bypassed Wilcannia for good measure), and Wilcannia was passed on by. It's still a big place for this region but is now largely given over to public housing.

Next up is Broken Hill, about two hours away. My photography skills can't do the unique nature of this place justice, but it's probably what you always imagined the Outback to look like. Tiny 19th Century workers cottages made from flattened oil tins and corrugated iron rub shoulders with ornate Victorian hotels and civic monoliths, the whole place overshadowed by enormous slag heaps and mountains of spoil. The streets are called Bromide, Chloride, Quartz, Galena... there are still places selling prospecting equipment and banks offering assaying and precious metal buying. The most productive lodes were long ago amalgamated into the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, which your pension plan and the London Stock Exchange now call BHP Billiton, but in the barren hills for hundreds of kilometres to the north individual prospectors still work their own small claims, mainly after gemstones but silver, lead, gold, copper, nickel, tin and uranium can all be found here.

From Broken Hill, we spent the afternoon looking at this riveting scenery:
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After a few hours it turned into this (I promise they're different photos):
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Sometimes there'd be a wee town, originally established to serve the railway when trains still needed coal and water, with maybe two or three houses still occupied, an abandoned railway siding, several ruins, and a crappy petrol station or pub:
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The wind on these open plains is incredible. Pushing into a stiff headwind at indicated 115km:h my usual towing fuel consumption of 15.5l/100km has risen to 21.4!!

We are now well into South Australia, back on the coast at the very top of the Spencer Gulf in Port Augusta. Tomorrow we turn north to the centre of the continent, arriving on Friday.
 

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I know Wilcannia is probably tiny, but reading this makes it seem not so bad, as most British city/large town centres seem more like Beirut or Mosul.

I lived in a nice middle-class town centre in a nice middle-class town - but still plenty of stabbings outside nightclubs and takeaway joints at weekends, and you could count on your wing mirrors being kicked off every couple of weeks (if you didn't fold them), or plant pots shoved through your windscreen from the local drunken scum etc etc - I wish I could afford to drink as much as they do.... Thefts from vehicles, house break-ins, endless vandalism, shed/phone box/litter bin burnings, vodka bottle throwing etc, from the feral kids off the estates.

Police had little power unless someone actually died or was seriously hurt because the CPS is so useless that they only take 100% sure-bet, serious cases to court - not the fault of the police; they were as p'd off off as everybody else and were pretty decent. A major reason why we prefer fun in the sun in southern Europe.... Or maybe even Wilcannia!


Sorry! Your roadtrip is interesting AND thought provoking...!
 
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To the passing traveller, these places only threaten vandalism and petty theft. If you live there, it's like Mosul under ISIS.

Things like this happen, all the more scary for being 16 hours by road from the nearest police backup:
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-08/gayle-woodfords-killer-to-spend-32-years-behind-bars/8599962

And that's only news because she was white. Horrible to say but I don't think I can dress it up: if you're an aboriginal living in an aboriginal community your chances of an early and violent death, sexual assault, or domestic violence, are off the scale. Lots to be debated about why that is which you can engage with your local social justice warrior about if you wish.
 

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I did a like about your point, not the actual situation!
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
And we're heading back to Port Augusta this morning after finally making an early start:

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Two traps for young players:

1) When travelling with car seats, remove the jack and tools from under the rear bench or you'll be doing it while dripping sweat by the side of a road

2) Release the pressure in the air bag before jacking rear wheels

:(

I have the tech to do my own repairs but much easier and faster to drive back to town to have it done. This place carries BOTH kinds of tyre: BFG AT KO, and BFG AT KO2. And literally nothing else.
 

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This morning's false start was caused by this fellow, about 3" long once removed:
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The rest of the day was driving north along the Stuart Highway. This road connects Adelaide and Darwin and bisects the continent. There's not a lot out here - I plugged Yulara (the town at the base of Ayers Rock) into the satnav this morning - "In 1,000 kilometres, keep left. Then, stay in the left lane."
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The landscape around here is so empty and uninteresting, it's actually interesting. Here's our morning tea stop:
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That landscape a bit closer:
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The map (and place names) out here all suggest water. There is none: this is the bed of an ancient sea. The lakes, such as they are, are either dry sandy beds or more often salt pans. The salty ones do sometimes fill with water - Lake Eyre is the biggest, and it hasn't completely filled in my lifetime, but it gets deep enough for boating once a decade or so. There is, however, a vast underground freshwater aquifer and livestock out here are supported by bores. Often the pioneers would drill the bore and let the water come to the surface under its own pressure and trickle out over the ground. These are called "soaks" and many have been flowing so long they support tiny, unique ecosystems of amphibian critters unique to that particular bore hole.

Early European settlers noted all the rivers flowing west from the Great Dividing Range and surmised there must be a huge inland lake or sea. Many of the first expeditions even hauled enormous boats with them across this terrain for months or even years looking for a sea that dried up before Tyrannosaurs were a thing. Most of our westbound rivers just peter out and disappear - in Queensland's Channel Country the cartographers just gave up and mapped the most likely flows with hopeful arrows pointing vaguely.

Anyway, back to me. The picture above is of Island Lagoon (hence the little sidetrack about water - you can see neither an island nor a lagoon). At the height of the Cold War, the Island Lagoon tracking station (somewhere in this frame) was an integral part of the Woomera Space Complex a little further up the highway. It tracked the satellites and ballistic missiles launched from Woomera, and possibly other things too. You're looking north west across the Woomera Prohibited Area.

Before it became a space port, Woomera was the hub of British nuclear weapons testing. A few hundred kilometres into that photo are Emu and Maralinga, the sites of numerous surface, sub-surface, and air burst tests in the 1950s.

Woomera fell into disuse by the 1970s but still retains a pretty sizeable piece of Crown land and restricted airspace. Coupled with its near radio silence and remoteness, it makes it ideal for weapons testing. Last year the old base was re-opened by the Air Force, but over the preceding decade it was used on and off to test the BAE Taranis drone, various attempts at SCRAMJET engines, the JDAM project (joint direct attack munition), development of new versions of the Hellfire air-surface missile, and the AMRAAM and AIM-9X air-air missiles. Plus other stuff we don't know about.

We will stop in on our way back south.

Most of the road looks like this, hour after hour:
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Occasionally there is a roadhouse to break the monotony:
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We are beginning to see road trains. They are allowed to be longer than this and in days of old they were, but these days operators appear to have mostly settled on three trailers as being the optimum mix of fuel economy and payload:
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Now we are in Coober Pedy, famed for opals and underground housing. We arrived late, so more on that tomorrow, but the night skies are once again amazing. I have an astronomy app I use to find interesting stuff in the sky, but there are so many stars it's hard to find the bright landmarks I'd normally use to find my way! I cannot possibly photograph this, but this pic is from a local business and trust me, it still doesn't do it justice:
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The app tells me tonight I should be able to pick every planet including Pluto, although Uranus and Neptune will need a telescope as they're only crescents. I can't find them.
 

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I forgot to talk about camping arrangements.

Except for our second night on the station near Wilcannia, because we're travelling with kids we have been using commercial caravan parks.

In the larger centres like Dubbo and Port Augusta, these provide what you might expect from a European campground - a toilet and shower block, power and water, a "camp kitchen" which is usually tables, chairs, a microwave and a barbecue, plus kids play equipment. This runs to about $40 per night for four of us if we want the power hookup to recharge the batteries running my two fridges, or about $20 per night if we just want some ground to set up the camper. Unlike European grounds of my experience, most travellers are itinerant tourers like us, although many coastal parks have an (often very seedy) contingent of semi-permanent residents.

In the remote places it can be as simple as a plot in the pub carpark and a trek into the pub itself if nature calls. These arrangements are usually free or at token cost with the expectation you will take your meals and refreshments in the pub. My planned camp tomorrow is at such a place.

It is entirely possible to free camp along the highway and many do, but those with young kids will know the small mercies of hot baths and proper toilets are sometimes worth trading a little freedom for.

That said, the Peter Falconio murder was along this highway somewhere. No one in Australia believes the girlfriend's story for a second, or that the guy convicted is guilty...
 

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This morning we had a quick peek around Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is an opal mining town, established initially as an unofficial settlement of miners' shacks clustered around the richest part of the opal field sometime after WW1.

Opal mining is largely undertaken by sole miners working tiny claims, and for some reason seems to attract slightly eccentric Mediterranean migrants who hate authority. As recently as the 80s this was an ungazetted town with no street names, electricity, water or government. The three other big opal hotspots in Oz - Lightning Ridge, White Cliffs, and Mintabbie - are still somewhat like that.

These days Coober Pedy has grown up and is a proper little town with a curious quirk - being squashed between the Great Victoria Desert and the Painted Desert, it's hot. Really hot. 50 degrees in summer is not unheard of. And until the Stuart Highway was sealed, the only way to move building supplies here was to haul them overland from the William Creek railway station 150 miles away.

So the residents, who spent the greater part of their days digging holes in the talc, made the obvious choice to live in holes in the talc. Coober Pedy is famous for underground houses, even an underground caravan park! The temperature one metre down is a constant 21C.

This house was dug in the 1920s initially, and expanded upon through the 60s and 70s by local identity Faye Nayler, who also operated an opal mine on the property. She moved out in 1982 and it has been largely preserved as she left it. It operates as a tourist showcase, although the caretaker still lives in it.
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The landscape here looks so much like Mars, it has stood in for it in several Hollywood films and some NASA experiments:
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The rest of the day was more highway work straight up the Stuart Highway. We entered the Northern Territory:
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The NT was originally incorporated into South Australia, but excised prior to Federation. It is not a State, and therefore is notionally the responsibility of the Federal government. They have devolved a lot of power to a local parliament, not unlike Holyrood, but this government is not sovereign and therefore can be overruled by Canberra on matters of even trifling local law, and can't raise its own taxes to the same extent as a real state.

The further north you get, the redder the earth becomes:
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Here's our lunch stop:
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When away from civilisation, we use this to, err, take care of business (rather than dig a hole and squat):
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For lunch we had pulled off the highway into a side track near the railway line. I hadn't seen another vehicle in 30 minutes and I don't reckon anyone had used this track in 2017. Still, when I went to use the bucket, I thought I'd spare my wife the sight of my lily-white **** cheeks in the bush and popped behind a bush with it. Which is just as well, because immediately I dropped my trousers, our little lunch spot turned into Piccadilly Circus and three caravans and a Telstra linesman crew pulled up next to us. I swore. Can't even have a quiet ****...

I'm not sure what it is about some people and a desire, in an otherwise vast, empty desert, to pull up for lunch alongside the only other vehicle for a hundred miles. Some kind of primal instinct to circle the wagons?

Anyway we made it up to Erldunda, where we are camped behind the roadhouse. Great sunset:
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The camp ground here is nice but road trains arriving through the night, or worse parked up with their refrigeration motors running, make for a lot of noise.

Today was not without incident: the Engel fridge in my camper has failed (I'd say either compressor or the compressor control board). Had to transfer the perishables to the Waeco in my car but that has tragically meant my drinks have been evicted to live at room temperature. What is this, the Middle Ages?

Won't be anywhere that can replace my fridge until Alice Springs on Monday. Then I decide whether to risk $600 on a new compressor that might not fix it, or just buy a replacement for double that but with a guarantee it will work... hmmm...
 

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Pics upfront today.

Lunch stop on a side track:
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Proof we made it:
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A tree, for a sense of scale:
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We are in the Ayers Rock Resort campground. It's really just a big caravan park that charges triple the normal price. But there's also 3, 4, and 5 star hotels plus restaurants and all the usual stuff that goes with lots of tourists.

This is the only place to camp within the national park, and it's full. The next option is Curtin Springs Roadhouse, about an hour away just outside the national park, which the rumour network says is also turning away campers. So then you're back to Erldunda Roadhouse on the highway, about four hours away.

We will be doing tourist things for the next few days - I'll still post, but tune back in mid-week for further Navara content.

And yes, this is the place where, in 1980, Lindy Chamberlain famously screamed "a dingo's got my baby!". Wikipedia elaborates further: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_Chamberlain-Creighton
 

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Touristy things checked off at Ayers Rock included a helicopter flight, a few hikes, some aboriginal art, and a fancy "dinner under the stars" (paid for by my mother-in-law as it was obscenely expensive and not really my scene. My travel stained jeans and dusty hiking boots contrasted poorly against the Chinese ladies in $10,000 evening gowns.)

Here's the rock and the nearby Olgas from the chopper:
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Not in this pic is Mount Conner, a mesa tabletop about 80km east. These three features - Olgas (much taller than Ayers Rock), Ayers Rock, and Mt Conner - all lie in a straight line and where important navigation markers for the early European exploration parties. My map includes the routes of the early survey parties by guys like Goss, Giles and Strzelecki and they all converge on these features and split off again. You can see how they stick up out of the otherwise featureless landscape:
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For the geologically-minded, what's fascinating about these places is they are unique and unrelated, but so close. Ayers Rock is an exposed sedimentary sandstone monolith that has rotated 90 degrees through tectonic action. The Olgas are a conglomerate of igneous basalt cemented into dome shapes by sandstone. Mount Conner is a granite-capped mesa. Not related at all.

The whole area used to be a sea floor - these ridges, really only visible from the air, are fossilised coral. Also visible in this pic is a herd of feral camels - after being introduced by those explorers' parties I mentioned earlier, Australia is now home to most of the world's wild Arabian camels.
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We drove the 50km from Yulara to the Olgas to go for a walk amongst the domes. The indigenous people of the area hold the domes as sacred and access is restricted to two public access points. The rest of the site is used for "secret men's business". Not unlike my shed, I guess. The domes are tall enough to provide permanent shade, allowing small pockets of rainwater to collect and not evaporate. A real oasis in the desert. It last rained here in February.
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Anyway, time to hit the road. Although the route between the Stuart Highway and Yulara is well-travelled, like much of Oz, it has no mobile coverage. At some roadside rest stops they have installed these things, which provide a signal if you rest your phone on the red pole:
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Another road train, this one for cows:
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We took the unsealed option as much as we could today. It's very dusty, in zero wind each vehicle's dust plume means you can't follow within about a kilometre of another vehicle, and if you pass an oncoming car sometimes you have to stop until visibility improves. Not that there is much other traffic - a handful of vehicles in half a day.
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This road is very heavily corrugated. In places the body was flexing so much the doors were popping the seals open. I've earned a few extra squeaks and rattles. Worse, I have copped a lot of rock damage to the tailgate paint where the tyres have flung rocks, they've bounced off the trailer, and into the back of the car. I have a stone deflector on the trailer but it is clearly not 100% effective. Smashed rear windows are a common sight around here.

The vibrations also disconnected the 50A power cable to the trailer which then dragged down the road and destroyed itself. I normally tape it to the trailer so if it unplugs it can't do that - forgot this time :( The abrasion wore through the insulation and fused the two wires together, which popped the main 40A fuse in the trailer. I have no idea where that is actually found - fun times ahead troubleshooting that.

The road took us past the Henbury Meteorite Craters just before rejoining the highway. These were created 4-6,000 years ago when an iron/nickel meteorite split into 12 pieces and impacted here. The event lives on in the oral history of the local aborigines who won't camp near the site or collect water from its craters.

The four largest pieces made distinct craters which are still evident. The eight smaller pieces impacted nearby but only a trained geologist can recognise those craters.

The main crater is two impact sites blended together:
 

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One of the big four dammed a watercourse. It only rains here a couple of times a year but the dam effect and compacted ground means this crater holds water year-round, and has filled with trees:
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This place has been called the closest you can get on Earth to what it might be like on Mars. NASA tested its moon landing and Mars rover equipment here, amongst other places.

It was first discovered in 1899 and not investigated until 1930.

We are now in Alice Springs doing some more tourist stuff for the next few days. Hit the road again home bound in three days.
 

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Found this today. Ignore the blue lines; this is Europe overlaid with Australia.

My route so far (Newcastle, Dubbo, Broken Hill, Port Augusta, Yulara, Alice Springs) is like I started in eastern Turkey, drove through to Athens, then drove up through the Balkans to Slovakia, with a little side trip to northern Italy via Austria.

Next week I decide between popping home via Poland and Ukraine and across the Black Sea, or go back down the way I came to Athens, cross the Bosphorus, and for something different dip down through Syria and Iraq before popping back up to eastern Turkey.

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