Today’s adventure started at the very reasonable time of 6.10am.
Jack the tour guide arrived with Nella and Simon from the Netherlands in tow… but no truck.
This did not strike me a good sign and indeed it wasn’t. The trailer’s axle had snapped.
I suppose that was now my three transportation incidents. So all clear going ahead.
Jack had a station wagon nearby and he dropped us off at a petrol station to grab a coffee while he sorted out the truck.
It also emerged that we three – Nella, Simon and I – were the only people on the tour.
One girl had changed her mind about coming and the other two were Jill and (the other) Jack from my tour.
After they had been dropped at the hospital I had bumped into (the other) Jack at the hostel, looking a little shaky with an update on Jill.
You may remember she had fallen and broken her fingers. She needed an operation, that night, to pin three of her fingers as the fractures were so bad.
They would obviously be unable to join us.
So, tour guide Jack was driving us three up the Stuart Highway in a bus that would normally carry 17.
However, he had also mentioned that tonight’s camping would involve a swag. Hmmm.
Today’s trip was mostly about covering the distance around 450 miles to out overnight camp. There would be plenty of stops at roadhouses, some of them on the quirky side – businesses need to attract as much passing trade as they can.
The scenery alongside was more of the same surprisingly green bush, dotted with hundreds of termites mounds.
As we approached Aileron, our first stop, a black wedge tailed eagle swooped low over the bus. She was so close I thought we would hit her.
Jack told us that only the females are black – the males are brown – and after the tips on kangaroo joey rescue, here’s some eagle preservation advice.
They often eat roadkill and many are killed by trucks as a result. A simple step to reduce the likelihood of death is to pull any carcasses, where you see an eagle eating them, off the roadside – providing you are strong enough to do so.
It may save the life of not only one but two wedge tailed eagles.
They mate for life and if one is killed, the other will sit in a tree by the body of its partner until it too dies.
Aileron, another roadhouse (and a small settlement) is notable for the Big Man.
He’s actually a memorial to a couple who lived in Aileron for thirty years and their ashes were placed under the statue.
Lunch, a couple of hours up the road, was at the Barrow Creek Hotel, established in 1832 – the same year as the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened.
There’s a Telegraph Station next door to the pub which, up until 2001, was the main incentive to invite passing trade.
These days, the main trading point is this is the last pub where Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio were seen before Bradley Murdoch attacked them.
It’s also a great pub and the landlord and his staff are very friendly. We had a bottle (my beer training continues) at the bar while Jack made our lunch.
He did give us the option of visiting the Telegraph Station but he also mentioned the UFO sighting capital of Australia an hour up the road.
He might as well have not told us about anything else as far as I was concerned. Get me to the alien place.
The road stretched into the distance surrounded by greenery on both sides for as far as the eye could see.
The main thing that struck me about the rest stop signs was the starkness of the message: Rest, Revive, Survive. We were heading into the hottest part of Australia.
Just as I was musing on that sign, Jack said we needed to pull over so the truck could run its Diesel Pollution Filtering for 20 minutes, or we risked a breakdown.
Stopping seemed like a good idea.
We continued into alien territory… Wycliffe Well.
For a scifi geek like myself, it was AWESOME!
In the 1980s, a businessman spent 500,000AUD to create an alien themed campsite. Success didn’t last long and the site fell into disrepair.
Jack, our guide was chatting to the guys who run the roadhouse while Nella, Simon and I went off to gawk.
He found out that the campsite is being restored, which explained why some of the murals were done in 2019, and will be reopening for business soon.
X-Files fans, your next holiday destination is here.
The land was becoming progressively greener as we travelled North and we saw more and more pools and streams of water.
Jack made sure we knew that this was remarkable. This area hasn’t had rainfall in two years and last weekend they had 40cm.
The rain presumably hadn’t come in time for the cattle and horses whose drying corpses we saw lying at the edge of the road. We saw no eagles nearby.
Our geology visit for the day was to the incredible Devil’s Marbles.
These were formed by lava bubbling up through rock and the collings granite being sealed under another layer of sandstone.
As the sandstone was cracked and eroded, the granite was split by water entering cracks in the rock, the outer layer crumbled away exposing the granite broken into huge chunks, which have been worn away by the wind.
It’s an amazing spot.
And why is called the Devil’s Marbles? Because the first description by John Lewis (not that one) said the place looked like the devil had been playing marbles.
An hour’s drive took us from the Marbles to Tennant Creek where we bought beer to mark sunset. A little less swanky than bubbly at Uluru but a very fine idea.
We had seen termite mounds all the way up the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs. Here they were much taller and, standing in the grass, they looked like headstones in a cemetery.
The one wearing a Harley-Davison shirt, less so.
We pulled over because Jack was quite taken with it. He was less taken when he saw the rip across the back.
What about make-up and mend?
We were almost at Tennant Creek when we spotted a man lying in the shade of a tree, by the side of the road. He waved a white plastic can and we pulled over assuming he needed water.
Jack jumped out to speak to him. He actually needed diesel as his car had broken down and he and his dingos were drinking water from the creek.
While water wasn’t really an issue he was very pleased with the bottle of water we gave him but said that someone was on their way from Tennant Creek with diesel. He had just hoped to resolve the problem quicker.
We arrived at the bottle shop to buy beer and presented our ID to the police officer on the door before being permitted to enter.
At the till, ID had to be presented again, and not only to confirm that I was over 18. Before taking payment the ID was scanned again and the salesman confirmed that I was not on the Banned Drinking Register.
If I had been, I wouldn’t have been leaving with my beer.
From there, it was a dash down the highway to the Banka Banka Cattle Station where we watched sunset with the beers.
A very nice way to end the day.
After dinner, again cooked by Jack (though we did do the washing up) the swags… and apparently the traditional experience so no net face cover, just a canvas bag to seal yourself in.
Potentially a little claustrophobic?
Possibly, but more to the point, too hot.
Still, the sky was clear and we three lay on our sleeping bags looking at the stars of the Milky Way above us.
I’ve rarely seen such a clear night sky or so many stars.