"Egret" N4674 - Scott and Mary Flanders
Ed. note: On February 10, 2011, Scott and Mary Flanders, on board their Nordhavn 46, Egret, arrived in the Canary Islands. In doing so, Egret became the eighth Nordhavn to circumnavigate the globe. It had been four years, five months since the couple departed Gran Canaria, intent on seeing as much of the earth as possible, although not necessarily with an end goal to circle the globe. Voyage of Egret documents the Flanders’ entire trip, an endless adventure that has put them in touch with the most fabulous places and interesting people. Much route planning and forecasting was required in order to get to some of their ports of call. But the days of detailed planning are over…for now. “Egret” is now back in Fort Lauderdale, the place the couple called home for so many years, and, ironically, the starting point of their world wide cruising escapade that began with the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally in 2004. They currently travel hither and yon, sometimes by boat, sometimes not. Here, the latest update from the Flanders as they keep us continually apprised.
June 25, 2010
Position: Morven, Queensland, Australia
Today's pictures are a mix of the recent past to yesterday. The sights are coming so fast it is hard to pick and choose to paint a picture of Egret crew's travels thru Oz.
G'Day mis amigos, what a day it has been. It was a marathon day driving from Uluru National Park north to the tiny berg of Tennant Creek. Tennant Creek is a crossroads town and works hard at keeping it clean and promotes itself. A full caravan park, one of two, is its testimony. We left at O-dark thirty this morning for the 1000k ride north. It didn't start well when a medium sized learning impaired kangaroo decided to cross the road in front of the MBE. It came from nowhere even though the shoulders were well cleared away from the two lane road. It passed in front of the MBE with no problem as we were braking hard from 90k's to 35k's or so (55mph to 21mph) when it decided to reverse its course. Bad idea and the MBE's roo bars did their duty saving the front of the car but not the roo. It is sad but unavoidable and will make the balance of the food chain happy when the sun rose and they discovered their next days meals.
Other than pounding out the k's we took a short side trip revisiting an area called Devil's Marbles. This is an area of flat lands and scattered in the middle of nothing are piles of round red rocks. Mary stayed in the car reading while I ran to take a couple snaps from an angle I missed before. As luck would have it a young German couple was visiting as well so I used his girlfriend as a model to give the rocks perspective.
Today it was an early start again. This time the scrub turned into a lighter scrub and our old friends, termite mounds. Yea I know, more termite mounds. First they were thin and spindly, then dinosaur dropping like and in the end, smaller more triangular shaped. And it was big time cattle country with million acre ranches along the way. We stopped in a station house for a coffee and saw our first cowboy rig. There were multiple heavy duty trucks or semi trucks pulling rigs with horses in the first part, and a built in or attached bunk house. The local cowboys use a combination of light aircraft and helicopters for spotting and mustering. Next they use small dirt bikes with a canvas over the tank and carry a dog with them. But in the end it is back to horses, bullwhips and cow dogs to move the gathered herds to the corrals. Reading a local paper and after what we read before, these cattle are raised for the Indonesian market. The cattle are put
into double decker, three trailer road trains (trucks) and taken to cattle ships for the relatively short transport over to Indonesia. A small town further along passes over a million cattle and sheep thru its yards during the year.
A couple weeks ago we spoke to a local who worked the cattle ships for three years. They feed and water the cattle while on board. Once in Indonesia they are supposed to go into feed lots for fattening but he said the corruption is so bad the cattle are "marched thru the feed lots then off with their heads". The one cow per farmer also never happens as it is supposed to. He said what caused him to get out of the cattle boat business was Egypt. He said the baksheesh there is so bad it was impossible. They would let the cattle sit in steel ships and drop like flies until everyone is paid baksheesh. He even had to pay $200 to get his passport stamped to leave the country. Now he and his wife are serving coffee and snacks to tourists in an open air roadside stop.
Soon after crossing the border from Northern Territory to Queensland we stopped for fuel and lunch in the outback cattle town of Camooweal, population 310, established 1884. We were nearly out of fuel from the run from Tennant Creek, just 470k's (282miles) to the west. Headwinds were fierce and blow every day from the SE as the land heats up. Inside the gas station-diner-junk shop-auto parts-ice cream parlor, western music CD racks, magazines about guy stuff, etc were miners mixed with real cowboys who all took off their hats and set them on the crown (to keep their shape, not on the brim). This place was all about trucks, road trains and particularly cattle truck road trains, kangaroo skin hat bands and belts from a master whip maker and so on. We ordered hamburgers and got REAL meat hamburgers. It was a hoot.
Then we were off to the little mining town of Mt Isa. Mt Isa is described as a place where the folks drink more than one beer at night, has 50 nationalities working in the mines and a mayor who in 2008 advertised for "beauty challenged" ladies to come to town and meet the miners. It caused quite a stir and made national headlines. We also got the last powered site in the park and we too will drink a beer tonight to wash away the road dust.
We didn't have far to drive so we had a lazy breakfast then hit the road. This entire area is called the middle outback of Queensland. There isn't much for k's on end but scrub with trees, scrub and no trees, no scrub and brown grass about 6" high, hardly any grass, lotsa cattle scattered here and there, a few sheep and tons of road kill (kangaroos). We hit at least 7 locust swarms. All but two were high flyers but two were street level and we leveled our fair share. Our first stop was a 10 building town with a café. We had a coffee and muffin. Written on the wall were heart stopper entries like an Aussie Dog (dog, bacon, egg, cheese and onions). The local Lipitor salesman probably owns a private jet.
Our next stop was a tiny berg named McKinlay, Its claim to fame is home of he Walkabout Creek Hotel where parts of Crocodile Dundee was filmed including the bar scene. We sat at the bar, had a coke and ginger beer then ordered lunch. The place was a hoot, full of memorabilia as you would expect. From there it was off to Cloncurry. Its claim to fame was Australia's highest recorded temperature taken in the shade. Global warming eh? It was 53.1 degrees C in 1889. (127.6 F)
And now we are camped in Winton, pop 1321. We pulled into the campground and Mary went over and asked for a powered site. The guy drinking beer in the shade said for her to go find one. So we did. She went back to pay and he didn't have time because he was talking to his mates and drinking beer. He said to see the little fella in a hat tomorrow morning. So we will. Winton is a funky one street town with a few tourist attractions so we'll stay a day and check it out. More on that later.
After dinner I walked a block to a local olde tyme hotel to take a night picture. After I was leaving a race car trailer pulled in (V8 Super Car series). This was a beautiful big rig (3 car Ford team) like you would see at any major auto race. It was lit up like a Christmas tree so I went over to ask the driver if I could take a picture and he said "hey mate, where is a good place to stay?" I told him I was from Florida and didn't have a clue but used to race and could I take a picture. He moved the rig for a better shot, we talked race cars while I struggled to get the colors right and never did. Their next race is in Townsville in 3 weeks.
This morning the little fella in the hat came by and collected 40 pesos for two nights stay in a powered site. He must have asked 3 times "you ok mate, anything you need"?. I whipped the ubiquitious Ozzie saying 'we're right mate' on him and he left. So now the morning queen and her first cuppa is out and about sitting next to me in the sun while my stomach is rapidly shrinking. This is her way of getting even for whatever, sipping her coffee 3 atoms at a time while breakfast isn't cooking. So it goes. More to follow.
We wandered town during the day taking in the sites. There are two 1800's hotels along main street. Actually one burned along with the entire block in 1938 and was rebuilt. We had lunch in the Tattersall Hotel, the surviving olde tyme hotel. Later in the evening it was packed with locals and tourists still doing a good business. We went to the movies in an open air, canvas chair, movie theater built in 1918, burned and rebuilt in 1938. What was a hoot was they used the original projectors and film from that ear. The owners only open on Wed nights and just for a one hour showing of bits and pieces they put together from the past. There were about 30 folks in the theater. We sat in the back and snuggled like ye olde dayes.
This morning it was up and off early for the 600+ k run, staging for entering Carnarvon National Park tomorrow afternoon. We dallied in quaint towns like Ilfracombe whose entire main street was a museum of old cars, trucks, farm equipment, pumps and just stuff. The whole street was lined with camper vans stopping to look. We left about noon and folks were piling into the local caravan park just to walk back and see more. It is great marketing for the little town. Blackall was another spotless little town on the way south. What we don't see during this time of year is all these towns are cut off by road for long lengths of time during the wet (season). Most of the homes are built on stilts to let the water flow under during floods.
The drive south took us thru short grasslands, taller grasslands with scattered trees, much taller trees and thick underbrush, then more golden grasslands under the most incredible skies as the sun dropped. The only downside of the drive south was the staggering amount of road kill. In addition to a zillion kangaroos, we saw a number of dead hawks, our first large snake and three jet black wild hogs.
Tonight we are in the tiny town of Morven. The population has to be in the low hundreds. The town has set up a nice free campground with toilets and showers. The folks who stay a day or more will wander main street and spend money which is what the campground is all about.
So there you have it. A few more days in The Life. Tomorrow we will charge the laptop battery, load the pictures and fire this posting into space. Enjoy the weekend. Ciao.
June 20, 2010
Position: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
G'Day mis amigos, yesterday was a special day. Off we went again to the West MacDonnell Ranges to explore Glen Ellen gorge. Yea, I know, another gorge. As it turns out the gorge was full of water so we poked around a bit, snapped a couple pics then waited for the sun to drop. We waited for a bigger reason than great light to shoot the gorge. On the way in there was a tiny helicopter giving sightseeing rides. To make a long story short we signed up for a 10 minute ride that was slightly customized for us. Then we signed up for more time when they agreed to remove the doors so we could get unobstructed photos. There are two nearby highlights you can only see from the air; the Organ Pipes, an area of vertical basalt columns much like the ones we saw in Tasmania but more colorful. The other area is super special. 26nm away is a circular ring of low mountains in an otherwise flat plain that is the remnants of a long ago meteorite that crashed
to earth. We saw pictures in a photo shop of the ring of mountains and is something we needed to see and photograph. So in the end we dropped the organ pipes and spent another zillion pesos to go directly to the crater, climbing all the way. Well, the helicopter is so small it only makes 40 knots forward while it is climbing. We got within 16nm and ran out of time. To get within the 3-5nm we really needed (we learned after the fact) it would have cost a ton for the extra time. So we did the best we could. I had the big lens so got the best picture of the ring of mountains in the hazy distance and Mary did the close work on other stuff. Her shots came out way better.
All in all it was great fun and we got to see just how vast and wrinkly the outback really is from 5000 feet. (The camp was at 2000' so the climb was only 3000'). We stayed at the ranch for an Ozzie outback barbie and drove slowly back to Alice Springs so we wouldn't hit any road crossing critters. Specially the catt-l beasts (in Oz speak).
Today was a putzing, provisioning, fuel, laundry and so on day. We leave Alice Springs early tomorrow morning for Ayers/Uluru Rock in the morning. For years this iconic monolith was known as Ayers Rock but these days it goes by its Aboriginal name of Uluru. We'll probably stay the 3 days of the pass to get in then will leave and head SE toward Port Augusta down near the south coast.
Before leaving this morning our Ozzie neighbors invited us to stay with them any time we wished. This isn't the first or third or more times this has happened on the trip. People everywhere are so nice. Once we spend an amount of time with folks we mention Egret and our travels (with our accent we are obviously Americans and they want to know our story, so to speak), they in turn visit the website and are enamored with The Life. Obviously it is not for everyone for as many reasons as there are people but none the less most appreciate the independence and adventure we enjoy. If they would only take the first step and go from there they would find out, as many have, what we do isn't difficult but is simply a learning process like any endeavor.
Drive to Ayers Rock/Uluru we did. Along the way we had a bit of a fright. The engine temp gauge was on H for VERY HOT. We pulled into a near by rest stop with tap water and opened the hood. Crispy critter comes to mind. I sprinkled some water on the valve cover and it turned into steam with a snap. Not good. So we got out the stove and made a cuppa while the engine cooled. Later Mary started the engine while I poured a pail of water into the radiator. That was the end of the overheating. I think what happened was we were fooling around with the heater the past couple days and it would blow hot then cool after a couple minutes. I think the heater circuit has a leak but who knows? It's a mystery.
Along the way we ran across a huge wedge tailed hawk feeding on fresh road kill (kangaroo) along side the road. We turned around and Mary got a National Geographic photo of the hawk with its meal. The Australian wedge tailed hawk is the second largest hawk in the world.
We are camped in the Ayres Resort Campground and signed up for 3 days. Australia has two major international icons*; the Sydney Opera House and Ayres Rock/Uluru in the middle of the country. Ayers/Uluru (Uluru is the Aboriginal name) is a large monolith and is similar to an iceberg. A small portion of the rock is exposed above ground with a suspected 2/3 of the remainder below ground. This evening we went to a high vantage point and photographed the rock at 16k's away as well as The Olgas** rock formation to the SE. Both are major Aboriginal sacred sites. We'll learn more about everything tomorrow when we visit the Visitors Center. Later we hope to climb Ayres/Uluru to the top. It's a big deal if you are an Ozzie to climb Ayers so if they can do it a couple old Yanks ought to be able to do it. More to follow. *as we see it. **( The Olgas are Kata Tjuta in Aboriginal and another sacred site)
Yea, well, talks cheap. "a couple old Yanks ought to be able to do it." We did it but it wasn't easy. It's a BIG deal. Uluru isn't as it appears from a distance looking like a pressed mountain of red sand. It is more like iron ore, is very hard and fortunately has very good traction. Uluru is 348 meters (1200' high) and the majority of its sides are 80 degrees from the desert floor. I went to the little boys room 250m (800') out in the desert. Why they located a rest room a hike in the weeds from the car park is beyond me. Mary had already started up and was part way up the chains when I finally saw her. (There is a long, not quite so steep section then posts linked by heavy chain to hold on to.) I made a BIG mistake hurrying up to the first chain. By the time I got there I was whupped. Whupped big time. So lets just say by the time we got thru the chain section that disappeared into the sky I had shaky legs. Mary fared
better. From the end of the chains it was still a steep climb into the clouds or perhaps stratosphere, or even ionosphere. Finally we reached a survey marker at the end of the trail so I could type these words and say we made it. The view at the top was beautiful with The Olgas (another sacred rock formation to the west) in sight, the red desert sands and sparse vegetation in every direction.
It is hard to believe that the Ozzies would let anyone climb this rock without more safety features considering all the rules* they have for everything else. The brochure for Uluru said over 35 people have died on the rock. I can understand it. The climb is obviously not easy looking up from the base but nevertheless we saw numerous climbers who should never have attempted the climb. It was frightening. Only a few carried water for example. Except for kids under 12 all age groups had people who shouldn't have attempted the climb. Of those, most kept going because of peer pressure or pride. Some turned around only when they were too tired to continue and that in itself is dangerous. I'll pass along a few things we learned. It was quite cool when we started. Mary had the sense to wear shorts. I was in jeans and jeans are a BIG hindrance when climbing. By the time you reach the chains you have shed your jacket and hat. It is quite windy
at the top so unless your hat has chin straps it isn't an asset. We both emptied our water bottles on the way back and could have used a second bottle between us. The other thing to do is take your time. We're all so competitive we don't want to be passed. We passed a few and some passed us. Its OK. All that matters is you arrive literally alive and aren't so tired you make a mistake. You can tell from the words it was quite a trial. . (I was going to write a whole tongue in cheek deal about Aussie Rules about everything but decided against it. One rule future travelers to Oz need to know that is nearly universal in our Oz travels so far is don't even think about traveling with pets particularly in national parks.
Next we were off to the visitor's center. Inside was lotsa information about the Aboriginals including a collection of native art. What was most interesting was watching a film about Aboriginal life as hunter/gatherers. It is amazing how they were able to survive at all because there is so little food. It seems their entire focus was getting enough to eat unless it was during a time of the year when food was plentiful. We got to see first hand how in just a very short time how Aboriginals lives have changed. There may be a few isolated pockets or individuals who still live as they did 10,000 years ago but I suspect within a short time that too will change. Unfortunately the transaction is difficult for many, but in time things will be easier as the younger generations get educated.
Then it was off to the beautiful rock formations called The Olgas or Kata Tjuta meaning many heads in the local language. We hung around for sunset shots then are now back in the caravan park sitting in the back of the van enjoying a little suds and vino for Maria.
So what will tomorrow bring? Who knows but it will be our last day in the park AND we'll pass along our latest travel decision......again. We met a nice younger couple with three children here in the park. He was struggling with his new camera and its 4lb instruction book. So we helped him a bit and at that night's photo shoot and again this morning. They in turn talked us into reversing our track 2 days and heading east to Townsville on the east coast then up to Cairns. This is like going from Kansas to Maine to Florida to California (LA then up to San Francisco). After, we will travel down the east coast, turn right across the bottom of Oz back to Fremantle. This means lotsa extra k's but we will get to see a smattering of every state in the country.
Today it was a lazy morning nursing sore quads and doing a bit of photo editing. This afternoon we re-visited The Olgas taking two hikes into the gorges between the rocks. Then it was off to the Visitors Center for a bite and wait for the sundown photos of Uluru. The pictures of The Olgas and Uluru are basically as they came from the camera with a little cropping to get rid of fluff. Early morning and late afternoon both rock groups change colors many times a minute. The colors change from ochre-brown with dark shadows in the afternoon to burnished orange, then a series of deeper and darker reds before fading into a dark silhouette. At sunrise the colors are reversed. The way we took the Olgas and Uluru photo's was by using a tripod, carefully framing the shot and using a remote electronic shutter release to get the sharpest picture possible. We watch the color changes without looking thru the viewfinder and snap the same frame many times to
get the best combination of foreground, sky and rock color. Mary had the better eye for the Olgas picture and Uluru is mine. Mary also picked up on the desert flower picture. Photography is great fun and something else to learn.
Tonight is our last night in Ayers/Uluru National Park and perhaps our last internet connection for a while so we'll fire this VofE into space. It has been an interesting three days here in the park. We'll leave early tomorrow morning retracing out steps north of Alice Springs to Tenant Creek then turning east.
So there you have it. A few more days in The Life. These past 7 weeks, and coming inland travel doesn't have anything to do with boats, however it does have a lot to do with Life. It's a good mix and time well spent while waiting on seasonal weather. Ciao.
June 15, 2010
G'day Mate Caravan Park, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
We will call today's pictures Cars and Desert Art.
G'day mis amigos, we are sitting in the Red Center of Australia, specifically, Alice Springs, population of about 25,000. Alice Springs is the crossroads town of central Australia where all roads lead to and from. From Darwin it was a long two day trip south thru a slowly changing landscape from the more tropical north to the now desert area of Alice Springs. We spent the night on the road at a rest area designated for a 24 hour stay. It was packed with caravaners and a couple folks living in their cars. The highlights of the trip south were stopping at the Pink Panther Hotel for a cold soda and a pee. The Pink Panther Hotel, bar, restaurant, game park, ranch, gas station, road house and anything else they can do to make a peso was a hoot. I took a picture of the bar with a dead dog lying in front, actually it just looked dead but it was probably breathing. The bar was out of an old movie set and the drink menu was scribbled on the wall with
names like: Brave Bull (the most expensive), Gum Drop, Gold Driver, Strip Go Naked, Income Tax and South of the Border. They had a bunch of birds in cages including a ring necked lorikeet who danced for Mary. The other highlight was coming across a few rusty cars from years ago lying in a field in true outback fashion. These days locals seem to run their cars out of gas or oil and abandon them in the bushes along side of the road. Soon they are vandalized and 50 - 60 years from now they too will look like the olde tyme cars in the photos but not as interesting. (Typically they are older Japanese imports)
As we approached Alice Springs the landscape turned into true desert scenery but with a green twist. They too have had unusual late season rains and the spinafex bushes and scrub trees were green. There is a desert race this weekend (finkedesertrace.com.au) and we got literally the last camping site in town. The town is packed. Our caravan park, G'Day Mate, has a number of motorcycle entrants camped here. So far we have taken day trips into the surrounding countryside sightseeing. There is SO much to see here we will stay for a while. So far we have visited Standley Chasm, a narrow gash between the walls of a gorge. It took two days trying to catch the sun just right for an interesting photo but still need one more trip. Also we visited Serpentine Gorge, and the interesting Ochre Pits. Aboriginal life lives on tradition and word of mouth passing down of the past. (Aboriginals have no written language and speak many different languages among
the geographic groups) Body painting with ochre mixed with water or animal fat was a daily ritual. Ochre pits are few and far between and ochre were trade items among the tribes. This particular pit had not only the traditional white ochre but yellow, orange and the important red ochre. So how long have they been body painting? They found a 30,000 year old mummy painted with red ochre here in Australia. Considering the Egyptians were doing their pyramid deal just 5,000 years ago, 30,000 years ago is a looong time.
Today is a writing, laundry and grocery shopping day with a nearby afternoon excursion our neighbor says is a must see. So we will.
Next day. After chores we took the gravel road that parallels the race track 50 some k's into the desert. Most of the time the track is within 10 to 75 meters from the north side of the road. We scouted where we want to be on race day. They close the road at 6:00 am so we need to be on the road by 5. We chose a hill jump about 31k's down the course to set up and watch. The race starts at 7:30 am, a half hour after daybreak, with the buggys/trucks first and when the last buggy reaches the town of Finke they will start the 500 motorcycles for their race. Yes, 500 motorcycles and about dozens of race buggys/trucks. According to the locals only the Baha Race is larger.
On this scouting trip we saw our first RED, red desert sand dunes. It looks just like the pictures and is just as beautiful. I had to climb the first one like a kid. Looking across the desert from that high was something. Cars coming down the dirt road were glowing balls of red dust in the sun low to the west.
On the way back we stopped at some aboriginal rock carvings from years ago. This is a sacred site for initiated males only. There are three low (10 meter) piles of broken red rock near a shallow clay pit with largish flat rocks carved with different symbols. Because the aboriginals had no written language this is how they communicated. The symbols had meanings like topography, where food and animals were, water and so on. The men hauled water from the clay pit during the wet and would not allow women or children near the site. They would live in this area until there was absolutely no food then move to the nearby ranges where they always had water and food. The reason they waited so long was so they wouldn't strip the food from the ranges by staying too long in that smaller geographic area. The game also moved with the water supply so that was another reason. There are kangaroos in this areas and the only larger meat source are kangaroos and
wallabys who are much smaller than kangaroos. Also in this area are rare these days rock wallabys who thru evolution found safety in the rocky hillsides. Because of the scarce food in the hillsides, rock wallabys are quite small. Mary took a few pictures of the clay pit and in looking at them on the laptop we could see an unusual shaft of (divine?) light extending down from the sun directly to the pit. The clay pit is a sacred site so perhaps it............
I'm sitting outside with ALL my clothes on typing this drivel trying to stay warm while my sweetie (MS) is sitting in our warm house car having her first cup of coffee. Do I spoil the wench or what? What else could a woman ask for but hot coffee in the morning while living in a car?
Today is more sightseeing. Tomorrow is the short qualifying race for starting positions in the Finke Desert Race so we'll check that out and the following day (Sunday) is The Race to Finke.
We took another desert loop sightseeing. More gorges, beautiful scenery and aboriginal rock art (this time the rock art was describing how three caterpillars formed nose to tail to form the pressure ridge rising from the desert). Later in the afternoon we decided to head out to an abandoned homestead. The timing would be before dark and we hoped to get some great photos of our perceived homestead. Well, 60k's later on a rough gravel road with washes to cross as the road wandered back and forth across the now dry river we found the 'homestead'. It was nothing more than a pile of rocks and a couple walls. No rusty windmill, rusting farm equipment, a truck or two sitting on rims in the yard and a typical Aussie frame homestead house. Our choices to get back to town were to take the rough road back or hit the 104k road that connects to the main highway. 104k's it was. So we had our own desert race against the sun. We drove hard but not
stupid or abusive to the car, but fast nevertheless. It was a hoot. We had to stop a few times for cattle to move off the road, for Mary to open the 7 gates along the road and slow for kangaroos trying to cross the road. These were the first kangaroos we have seen in the real wild and not along a highway or mooching in a caravan park. They would bong, bong, bong as fast as they could then stop and turn around and stand up. They all did the same. Another first was seeing a dingo in the wild. We heard them at nights howling like coyotes in the distance but had never seen one. We made the highway just after the sun had set and cruised back to Alice Springs.
This morning we got up early and went to the short course (roughly 5 minute course) qualifying race for the Finke Desert Race. WOW!! Did the trucks and buggys get it on or what??? The frontrunners can really drive. After the qualifying race we went to the paddock to look at the buggys and trucks. I enjoy the technology and these guys have tough down to a science. Every steering and running component is quadruple size. What was interesting, I only saw one competitor with what appeared to be truly comfortable and safe (hold you in place) seats. I can tell you from experience having a seat that is comfortable and holds you in place instead of using your forearms and feet to support yourself as you are tossed about makes a HUGE difference. You relax more and don't get as tired. Bottom line here is you are faster, longer. Tomorrow we will go back down the track as we mentioned above and pick our spectator spot.
I didn't mention the motorcycles because it isn't where our interest is but there were literally hundreds. Years ago both our boys raced 3 wheel atc's in motorcross. The quad racers today are space age compared to the atc's of years ago. There are even 5 or 6 insane side car entrants (a dirt bike motorcycle with a rider alongside in an attached side car). In any case it will be a wild day tomorrow.
Now its movie time in the MBE4 back seat. Last night it was a girl movie so tonight I'll get to pick mayhem of some type.
Down the track we went in the wee hours. Just after sunrise we made our final move to the big jump we scouted before. Mary and I split up not knowing where the best spot to shoot pics would be. She was on top to the 20' (6+m) jump and I was at the downhill side. The trick was to prefocus and start the motor drive going as you heard the buggys accelerate up the jump. The big bad black Chevy truck got the high jump award. Wow. Some of the buggys were high in the air as well. Any aspirations I may have had wanting to race in desert offroad (in an earlier life) went out the window after watching these guys. The first 6 or so were well spaced and were running in clean air. The rest.........dust city. Choking red dust you can't possibly imagine. There was little wind so the dust just hung in the air. The track is single lane with nowhere to pass except literally going off road in the outback and hoping you don't hit a rock or tree big
enough to do damage. Not for me. You get the picture. However, I must say it was thrilling to watch.
After a sightseeing afternoon visiting more gorgeous gorges it was back to the caravan park. It was freezing so we woofed dinner again and retreated to the back of the car and watched a movie. We must look like nummers sitting in the car with the glow from the computer making us look like who knows what inside. Oh well.
And today it was back to the BIG jump to watch the cars return. Well, about one third of the cars. The rest went tango uniform (didn't make it). The lead factory Toyota buggy was running a cool, smooth race. Just behind was the big bad hunk of black Detroit iron (Chevy) running at 11/10's. He was a year ahead of the next class competitor but was giving the obviously superior Toyota buggy a determined run for the overall win. David and Goliath. I like guys like this, giving their all. The Chevy jumped high again and barely lifted for the tight right hander then powered thru the left hand sweeper in full reverse lock throwing red desert sand like an excavator. Wild!! The next group was running smooth just trying to finish. Until. Well until a single seater running 11/10's as well decided to jump the ENTIRE jump to the bottom. It didn't work. He got crossed up and ended up UNDER POWER 90 degrees to the track. Spectator and camera folks crowd control was non existent and on the side of the track where the red and white missile (picture 2) was aimed was a local with a movie camera on a tripod. In the dust we didn't know if he got mushed or not but he escaped, but barely. Both Mary and I got a fuzzy picture thru the dust of the guy with BIG eyes heading for Norway. As luck would have it there was a space between the spectator cars the buggy squeezed thru and roared off in a cloud of dust. Kinda cool after the fact but we all went cold until we knew everyone was OK. The guy taking pictures next to Mary went over and told the now returned film guy to beat feet to a safe place. He did. After the camera guy came back he told his wife he hates to flash his badge. We stayed a while later until the limpers (competitors limping back just trying to finish) started coming thru so we left for more sightseeing.
We ended the day with an hour drive to the East MacDonnell Range and an 11k 4WD track to a gorge with lots of Aboriginal petroglyphs (rock carvings). The ride in and out was great fun crossing a number of VERY soft stream beds and steep banks on either side. We are learning 4WD skills a bit at a time by just giving it a go and see what happens. At the worst we would have to wait for a tow. No big deal. The few real 4WD folks we met along the way were probably surprised the MBE4 made it thru but she is one bad machine. Actually, if you put a set of BF Goodrich All Terrain Radials (or a similar tire), two spares, a larger fuel tank and it were ours and not someone else's we have to take care of it would be just fine for moderate off roading. On the way back to the caravan park we hit our third swarm of locusts. This swarm was milder than the other two on the way to Alice Springs from the north. In those two areas of locusts, opportunistic hawks were circling overhead to pick up the critters smacked by cars.
The area around Alice Springs has a lot to offer in the way of places to visit. There are three paved roads heading in three different directions and offshoots off those to sightsee. In addition there are a number of gravel roads, some 4WD only to explore as well. We have two more days in the caravan park so we'll keep exploring before heading south down to the Ayres Rock area.
Incidentally, I was daydreaming the other day about the boat and remembered something I didn't pass along we learned the hard way. If you remember we repaired the Seaward hot water heater in New Zealand by welding an aluminum patch on the bottom of the tank where electrolysis had eaten thru. On the way to Tasmania we got salt water in the fresh water tank via the water tank vent on the outside of the hull. (first time ever and the fix is in an early January VofE). We flew an exact replacement hot water heater to Tasmania from the States. In reading the instructions it said if you have high salinity fresh water you must add a zinc (not included but available directly from Seaward). So it makes sense because hot salt water is one of the most corrosive elements there is. We had two dissimilar aluminum alloys (the patch and original special alloy aluminum tank) so the dominate alloy attacked the weaker via the very high salinity water and the rest is history. (basically we had an 11 gallon battery)
So there you have it. A few more days in The Life from the Red Center of Australia. Ciao.
June 5, 2010
Position: Hidden Valley Caravan Park, Darwin, Northern Territories, Australia
G'day mis amigos, last night was special soon after we fired the last VofE into space. The air temperature was just right after dark as Mary fixed dinner. Later in the evening a local band set up poolside just behind our group of campers. They played oldie goldies, softly thank goodness, and we just sat and listened for their hour and a half session. The fruit bats/flying foxes were flying around landing in the trees overhead working on the red blooms called Darwin Woolybutt (no fooling).. Earlier in the day the beautiful, primary color* parrot family birds named red collared lorikeet were doing the same. *Dark red, blue and green. One thing we learned about the flying foxes is because of flying efficiency their hands at the end of their wings and feet have been reduced to just hooks for holding. When the ladies give birth hanging upside down the wee one pops out and they catch it in their folded wings as it drops. Now that's different.
During the evening session we were enjoying our own fruity white wine. Of course to fit with living in a car it was 'good enough' boxed white wine. Actually the box melted in the cooler and it was silver bag wine. And when white wine is that cold it doesn't matter if it's served in a silver bag and a plastic valve or some la di da boutique stuff and a real cork. It tasted great thank you.
After grocery shopping and a short ride this morning we are again back in Nitimiluk National Park at a place called Edith Falls. After setting up this morning we hiked up to the triple falls. So far it is the prettiest falls we have seen so far in Australia. We took a swim in the icy cold, crystal clear water. Shrivel city. We snapped a few pics but will return before dark to our previously scouted vantage point and take a few low light tripod pictures as the sunset lights up the red rocks. We met a couple while hiking up to the waterfalls who dashed out plans for a counter clockwise circumnavigation of Kakadu National Park. Again, unseasonable high water has closed a number of park roads. So in the morning we will head more NW into Litchfield National Park instead.
Drive to Litchfield National Park we did. Along the way we stopped in a tiny berg named Adelaide River. It was time for an after breakfast coffee and there was a few tables set up in the grass with local things for sale and a coffee stall selling coffee, tea, scones and local jams. This was our cuppa tea. We ordered 2 coffees and 2 pumpkin scones. We haven't had scones since super crewman Kiwi Dick Anderson (KDA) left the boat in Hobart. (KDA makes GREAT scones). We thought, judging from the set up it was a charity type deal but in fact it was how they partially made their living serving snacks for passing tourists. Their tables were full when we arrived so they gave us their two chairs and even let Mary hold their 4 month old kid. It was a happy baby and smiled at Mary the whole time I was woofing my scone and was eyeing hers. Then the kid got very red faced so Mary gave it back for the mom to deal with whatever. This is the best way to handle kids these days. Huggem, lovem, holdem and givem back. Then split. And we did.
AND we learned a little more about termite mounds. Aren't you excited? We discovered not one but two new termite deals. One is called Cathedral Termites who build gigundus monuments to themselves. Check the picture of Mary and one example. Her reach is about 7' to give the Cathedral mound a bit of scale. The other types are called Magnetic Termites. Unlike the Cathedral guys who build in shaded areas among small trees the Magnetic build in open fields. According to the kiosk, termites like to live in a narrow temperature range. In open fields the Magnetic termites build strange axe head shaped mounds. They are about 2 meters high (6+') and shaped like an axe buried with the flat end down and the sharp edge up. In this area they face about 10 degrees east of north to receive the most sun on the sharp leading edge. As the sun moves and things start to cool they retreat to the central core. Pretty cool, eh?
So let's think about this for a minute. As smart humans we can artificially control our temperature, right? We can live in a dirt dwelling and keep the exact temps we wish, get into an air conditioned car and do the same, drive to a mall or grocery store and do the same again. But that's not all. We can probably order our goods over the internet and have them delivered. To make things easier for ourselves we can hook up an IV with different liquids including cocktails, use a catheter so we don't have to get out of our comfortable chair and better yet, hook up a feeding tube so we don't have to get up for anything. Then we can sit all day and surf the net, play computer games, watch movies, read other silly peoples blogs who dare venture outside and heaven forbid, go somewhere in a boat or, gasp, live in a car.. AND we can surround ourselves with our wealth like the termites living in the food vault (termite wealth) in the basement.
Soon to be announced is a special chair with ALL things you may ever need including a swell new game called Around the World by Powerboat. In this 40k Stidd chair you have a keyboard that folds to your lap with a push of a button. Using advanced C-Map charts you can choose your new cruise. Cruising guides are downloadable at a keystroke. So off you go in your virtual pilothouse viewing the ocean on the wide screen in front of the chair. While under way and want to look at more than water you may press B for birds and choose your choice of bird or birds from a drop down menu as well as dolphins in the bow wake and an entire plethora of virtual critters. Different weather experiences can be had as well. For example if you choose beam seas you press the BS keys then the up-down keys for wave height. THEN press the N button for Naiad stabilizers (or T if you prefer Tracs) and your rocking chair will settle down as you turn up the Naiad gain or turn
down the seas. When you tire of beam seas or other chosen wave directions you simply press the Ctrl key and A (for anchor) at the same time. Now you are anchored in the gently rocking mode after pressing the GR keys and select movement from the up-down keys. Of course while anchored you can choose what sounds you wish to hear by simply pressing the SOU keys. Sounds can be S. Pacific children playing in the water, singing in church, conversations from visiting yachties, seabirds or whatever you wish from the drop down menu. Clearing customs is even easier by simply entering the country code and typing in the requisite forms while the sound system softly plays foreign language conversations of your new country in the background. Everything is at your fingertips from sights, sounds and smells to stars projected at your virtual location on the overhead screen. Anyhow, you get the picture.
Now we are out of laptop battery and that's probably a good thing. So give me a break. Perhaps I'm being a bit cynical.
OK, we're charging again a couple days later sitting here in Darwin at the top of the continent. The weather has settled down and we've seen some more great stuff. We spent the past couple days in Litchfield National Park. We mentioned how much we enjoyed the last double waterfall and now Florence Falls has eclipsed that. Then it was a 4WD (barely) trip to the Lost City. The Lost City is a collection of rocks that look like Roman ruins scattered among the scrub. We hiked that loop. It was interesting. Today we drove around Darwin, visited the I-Site and got information for the next part of our trip. Originally we thought we would spend some time in Darwin but after a day's visit in the congestion we will leave in the morning for Kakadu National Park. In addition to the now typical beautiful gorges there is a collection of Aboriginal rock art in two locations. After Kakadu we're off to Alice Springs in the middle of the country.
There is sort of a milestone coming this week. The last NAR boat will arrive back in the States from the Med. N46 Stachmo is returning after 6 years poking around Europe. Kinda cool isn't it. I suspect they will cruise the U.S. east coast and Bahamas for a while after their little grey fiberglass ship returns. I can't believe it has been 6 years since all 18 boats left Ft Lauderdale on that great adventure. I don't believe any of us will ever forget it.
I'm still thinking about organizing a N. Arctic Rally* to Spitzbergen in 2011 but that's another story. *an informal gathering of capable powerboats joining together for this grand adventure at the top of the world.
There will be some Western Australia pictures coming soon on the N.com, VofE site under Pictures. We hope you enjoy them. We will not have internet connection for a while so we better fire this short VofE into space. Not connected.......oh my. Ciao.
June 1, 2010
Position: Nitmiluk, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territories, Australia
G'day mis amigos, here we sit in a field, in my folding chair, next to a power box charging the laptop and pounding out a few words. It isn't quite like sitting in our cozy little pilothouse but it will do. Today we are in Kununurra, Western Australia at near the northwestern extreme of paved roads. Yesterday on the way in we visited Wyndham which is at the very top of the NW. But lets back up a bit.
It has been unseasonably raining during the normal dry (season). Water doesn't soak in in these parts, it floods immediately and drains away. This entire part of the world is slowly washing away and why there are so many gorges and interesting rock formations. The Kimberley region (NW Oz) is one of the most visited regions in the country because of its beauty and also one of the least inhabited places in the world. In any case we drove north from the rain passing many of the most interesting parts of the Kimberley because of road closures. We missed the Bungle Bungles for example. So we made a major decision in our route back to Fremantle/Perth. Our original plans were to go as far north as Darwin (which we still will) then south down thru the middle of Oz to Alice Springs and Urlu Rock, then WSW across on the Gunbarrel Highway (a major 4WD track) on to Perth. Because the MBE4 doesn't have the range or tough stuff to make the Gunbarrel trip it
would mean a paved road detour as far east as Port Lincoln (not far from the east coast) then across the bottom of the country and up to Perth. This route is thousands of extra k's of mostly nothing. So we will still visit Darwin and explore around there taking day trips out of a caravan park base then slowly head back south as the area dries. On the trip north we took an inland route so where the Great Northern Highway intersects highway 1. On the way south we will take the coastal route back to Fremantle. (unless of course we change our minds again)
On the way north yesterday we paid our highest amount for fuel to date. The tiny town where we spent the night before was out of diesel. Yup, the entire town (both gas stations). So we stopped at the next roadhouse up the road and bought enough fuel to get us up the road to a town. Diesel was $1.78AU/liter. The diesel should have been served to us, not pumping it ourselves. Fuel was so precious we had to prepay for the first time in Oz. Roadhouses serve their purpose however. It is different here than what N Americans or Europeans (or nearly anywhere else for that matter) are used to. Roadhouses fill the gap between towns and we have gone up to 263k's with NO service-towns-nothing of any kind. These oasis in the middle of nowhere are a welcome sight when you need them.
We mentioned we stopped by Wyndham (population 600) on our way north. Near Wyndham is a high point you can drive to with a lookout over the confluence of 5 rivers in the marshy delta. In the car park at the top was a large group of 4WD trucks plastered in decals and covered in mud. I wandered over to see what the deal was and came across a participant and asked her what was going on. There were 25 entrants and 5 service vehicles on a 4WD rally for charity (Variety). They paid an entry fee of $8,000 payable to Variety and joined the guided rally thru tough 4WD tracks running from the south to north. We happened on their last stop and celebration at the finish. So they played in the mud (a couple got bogged she said), had a great time and served a charity. It sounded like a lot of fun.
There are 3 caravan parks in Kununurra. All three are nearly full and the season hasn't really started. June and July are the busiest months. One reason for being full is the caravanning tourists and the other is the near permanent residents who live in the parks. As we learn more along those lines we'll pass it along. One thing we did learn last night was about foreigners doing seasonal farm labor. Across from us is a small tent village of young Japanese guys who have been in Oz for 1 ½ years. A car load of them pulled up as we were setting up. We spoke to them and two came over. One spoke good English and told us they were picking melons nearby then presented us with a cantaloupe and a yellow melon of some type. We talked for a while then they went to wash the day's dirt away. We later overheard a young German couple talking to a second German couple (in English) discussing the different nationalities working in the fields. There are
two French fellows, two Italian, the Japanese and themselves. However, I suspect there are more than just those few folks. There are dozens of small tents full of young people. (later) We met a young Dutch couple behind us. He is 24 with a new MBA. He said because of the downturn it is difficult in the Netherlands for work so they took some time off to tour Australia, and later Thailand. Yesterday they found 2-3 weeks work trimming trees. They were thrilled. If you apply for a tourist/work visa you are given a year but if you work in the farm industry within the first 88 days you are allowed up to one more year. One German said he has been in every state of Australia including Tasmania where they picked cherries. Interesting.
Mary is doing laundry and I am sitting in the cool breeze on this slightly overcast day. In a bit we'll take a hike thru the national park bordering the caravan park. This park is touted as a "mini Bungle Bungle". Sure enough, as we walked thru and climbed up high we could see the beehive like, multi colored rock domes. The next day it was a trip back the way toward Wyndham and south down the Gibb River Road. The GRR is a favorite tough guy 4WD track leading north from near Broome. We took the girl top part of the Gibb south to a station (ranch) called El Questro. Along the way we came across a large water monitor lizard crossing the road. Within the station are a number of gorges to explore. The most interesting was El Questro gorge so we gave it a go. It was 2WD for a while then we switched to 4WD. THEN came the water crossing. Mary wasn't going to wade thru the water to the k and a half walk to the gorge itself and a 2k walk into
the far end of the gorge. (she is a bit croc shy) So I was going to go but I didn't want to leave her sitting in the car so was getting ready to leave when a small mini pickup pulled up, switched into 4WD and bounced their way across. It didn't seem that deep but still......... Then two 4WD rental weenies plowed their way thru to us so.......... If the RW's can do it, so can we. And we did. No biggie. We went slow, got no wheel spin and didn't drown the engine.
The gorge itself was different than any we have seen to date. It was quite narrow and was full of tall, thin palms and even ferns in places. This entire area was tropical at one time and these protected areas still contain the remnants. The palms are reaching toward the sun and don't have any wind so they can be tall and thin. Their root base however needs to be tough to survive the yearly wet. (season) There is a small, relatively deep pool at the mid point full of salt water fish in pure, crystal clear fresh water. They are very recognizable as a type of grunt (a snapper family fish).
Next it was a day trip north thru the town of Katherine (6000 folks, 2 car dealerships and most amenities, on to the visitors center in the southern part of Kakadu National Park. We will spend out next bit of time in the park moving slowly from campground to campground. One thing different about this part of Northern Territories vs Western Australia is they have WATER. The local golf course is as green as any in Ireland. The homes have lawns. Imagine that? These past 2 days we have been near the visitors center and will move tomorrow to the next one up the way. This morning it was a cool (temp) walk up to an escarpment looking down onto the Katherine River. The birdlife* here is amazing with all the different, highly colored birds, wallabies** running around by the dozens at night and a zillion kids splashing in the nearby pool all shouting to be heard. Fruit bats squawking at each other were as thick as mangos hanging in the trees along the river. Last night we nearly froze with just sheets (the sleeping bags were piled with our junk in the front seat) so tonight we'll take care of that problem. *Birds visit by the time of day, by species. Each has their times to try and pick what they may from the campers. This morning while Mary and I were having coffee away from the camp table, three birds landed on the stove and checked over the table. One particular dirtbag snatched a beak full of jam from an open jar. **wallabies are like small kangaroos.
Another thing we noticed in our travels from south to north are different types of termite mounds. You have already seen pictures of one type of termite mound, however we have seen 4 distinct types of termite mounds. The first were like the Pinnacles as we mentioned. The second were sorta like Hershey's chocolate kisses.......fat at the bottom with a small tapered twist at the top. The third were like giant dinosaur droppings with blobs hanging off the sides. The nearby fourth type were tall and thin like spires. So what's the deal? Different types of termites or what? It's a mystery. In any case, here in the local visitors park we learned that half of all local mammals, a quarter of all reptiles and a third of all birdlife live in hollows created by termites. They are also a source of food for all three groups. Interesting isn't it?
There are different boab trees as well. A rare few look as if they took a fertility pill and produced multiple siblings instead of a single tree. Others are doubles like twins but mostly they are singles. Boabs gain height rather quickly but as they mature the trunks get larger but the upper branches don't change much. Boabs drop their leaves during the dry. Some are still green living in lower areas and others have already shed their leaves. Boab's have a large seed pod like a husked coconut. Aboriginals carve the seed pod with interesting characters or designs. Interesting isn't it?
When we move tomorrow we don't know if we will still have internet access so we'll fire this posting into space. We have seen so much its difficult to describe it all but at least you will get an idea of just how special Western Australia and now the Australian state of Northern Territories is to we dirt dwellers living in a car. One thing that is difficult are what pictures to choose to bring these stories to life. We finally loaded Mary's pictures and she has some really special shots. We will send our usual 4 with this posting but later we will send a few of our favorites vie e-mail to be posted on the VofE site under Pictures.
So there you have it. A few more days in the dirt dwelling life* waiting on the seasonal weather to swing then we're off wave bashing once again. Ciao.
*Ya know, I may whine at times about living in a car AND you may chuckle to yourself about how you would never degrade yourselves to living in a car but you know what? We will survive and enjoy the experience. This is just another mini adventure we will never forget. We will see and experience things relative few get to see or do. Since our sightseeing walk this morning we have already met two interesting couples. One will be by later this evening for cocktails and conversation. They are recent retirees and are just a month into their new lives and loving it. So yea, we're living in a car but the key word is 'living'. Its sorta like long distance cruising. All pretensions are gone and we as a group (long distance cruisers) are simply enjoying life as it is meant to be lived, free and without care. How important are the next 10 years of your life? Do you wanna be cool or do you want to live?
Ed. Note - The glossary of Egretism terms will be posted on the Captain's Log home page for easy reference.