Tanami Desert Track – 2002


After the drama of fixing the leaking long-range fuel tank (actually the fuel was pissing out, not at all like a dripping tap!) and getting a replacement for the leaking water bladder a few days prior to our departure date, we left home an hour later than planned on Fri Oct 11. Strange role reversal the night before our departure – all three kids warned us against picking up hitchhikers and for us to contact them whenever possible so they’d know we’re safe!!!

The first leg of the journey was pretty uneventful, (except for getting lost trying to find our way north out of Adelaide), good roads, interesting sceneries, happy sing-along sessions to golden oldies, 2 nights spent in comfortable motel rooms, breakfast at McDonalds; hey, it seemed like it would be an easy enjoyable road trip after all – and it was, until we got to Alice Springs!

We had booked into a nice motel and after hauling in our overnight bags, the M.O.T.H. (Man Of The House) muttered darkly under his breath something about the fornicating car fridge packing it in. Hmm.. Not good. Further investigation revealed that the problem was with the isolation solenoid in the dual battery kit. No problem, MOTH contacted the 4WD place in Melbourne first thing Monday morning and was directed to contact their agent in Alice Springs. I must admit everyone was most helpful but there was nothing anyone could do as the kit was faulty and a new replacement would have to be ordered and freighted express to reach A.S. first thing Tuesday morning. No choice but to stay an extra day in A.S. so we went sightseeing to kill some time. Saw some rocks, water holes, more rocks and while I was busy with my camera at Simpsons Gap, I felt something slithered across my foot – I almost died of a heart attack while the MOTH almost pissed himself laughing at me – no, it wasn’t a snake as I had first thought, it was a harmless big lizard  – well, 8 inches is kind of big, right? It was way too hot to do much walking so by late afternoon, we called it quits and headed back to the air-conditioned comfort of our motel room.

The morning of day 4 (Tuesday) was spent at a nearby shopping centre and a hearty breakfast at Holly’s (similar to Wendy’s) was enjoyed before going to the Toyota place to twiddle our thumbs in the customers lounge while waiting for the delivery and installation of the fornicating solenoid. At a bit after noon, we were given the all clear so off we went, heading for the Tanami (pronounced “tenner-my”) Desert track, wondering how far we could go before nightfall. Approximately 450kms down this oh-so-very exciting track and after losing a CB antenna (must have been working too hard, it just broke off!), we decided to pitch tent for the night.

Pulling off the main track, we found a nice secluded patch of flat red dirt and we proceeded to battle with the tent. Boy, that was fun – it took us almost an hour to set up camp for the night – for the life of me, I still cannot see how four men are supposed to sleep comfortably in the bloody tent – dwarves maybe? Anyway, once we had our sleeping quarters organized, it was time to worry about dinner – something quite exciting for the MOTH – chili prawns and calamari with snow peas that I had prepared at home and frozen especially for the trip. It was kind of fun, cooking and dining in the moonlight under the stars and listening to the transistor radio that the MOTH had brought along.

Time to hit the sack and the MOTH had no problem going tosleep.   Not his ever alert missus though  – she always believes in being prepared for the unexpected – she had a neatly laid plan just in case… She had arranged within easy reach – her camera, a very bright torch and a pick hammer – should a wild beast  (pick an animal – dingo, kangaroo, drop bear, the legendary yowie?) decide to attack, she would shine the torch right into its eyes to blind it,   reach for her camera to capture a snapshot of it, then calmly put the camera down and grab the pick hammer to fight off the wild beast before waking the MOTH to tell him she had just saved both their lives!!!!   All night long she lay awake, listening to the mooing of cattle in the distance, the fluttering wings of night insects and waited patiently for sunrise – thankfully, it turned out to be an uneventful night in the bush after all.

Day 5 dawned warm, very warm and clear, and after a hasty cup of coffee, we packed up and headed off for Halls Creek, our rendezvous point with friends from Western Australia. The summer sun was beating down mercilessly on us as we traveled along in air conditioned comfort – so far, so good, especially if you are very much into red dirt and rocks, there was plenty of that, hundreds of miles of it, as a matter of fact. There we were driving along, happy that we were making good time when the MOTH muttered an expletive and brought the vehicle to a quick halt – we leapt out and to our dismay, we had blown a back tyre – shredded big time. Bad news – had to do a wheel change under the blazing sun (it was almost 2pm) in 46C (114.8F) heat and all I could use to provide some shade for the MOTH was a cutting board (I had a cap on to protect my head) which I combined with my shadow while the poor bugger battled with the wheel change. Some 40 minutes later, we were able to continue on our way after cooling down with some water splashed on our faces. We stopped by to hastily check out one of the local landmarks (yes, another rocky place – Wolfe Creek Meteorite crater) before driving on to Halls Creek.

Both of us were looking forward to checking into a motel and enjoy a shower to freshen up. Wouldn’t you know it? The hotel, motel and even the caravan park were all booked out! Nearest possible accommodation was some 160kms away, so off we went with sweaty bodies and hopeful hearts.Some 100km down the road, a kangaroo bounded out of nowhere, straight into the side of our vehicle! The MOTH uttered, “Fornicate me!” but I didn’t oblige him. We continued on our way with the MOTH yelling at all the other kangaroos to “Go forth and multiply!” instead of dancing in the street. We were truly out of luck that day – no accommodation at Turkey Creek either but the “mozzies” (my personal terminology for the Aborigines because they all seem to appear from here, there and everywhere just on dusk) were out in full force so we decided to turn around and spend the night at a roadside rest area where we had stopped earlier to examine the damage done when the kangaroo hit our vehicle. Luckily for us, no damage to our vehicle as the kangaroo had hit the front wheel first, then the back wheel but there was no tomorrow for the poor kangaroo.

The MOTH set up his invention of a shower and managed to have a quick wash but I was way too modest to shower in the headlights of passing trucks and cars. Dinner that night consisted of those 2-minute bowl of noodles each and coffee before the MOTH brought out his stretcher bed and made his bed in the picnic ‘gazebo’. I declined his offer of setting up the same for me and made the choice of sleeping in my car seat, making like I was a rag doll, sort of sprawled and scrunched up at the same time. Needless to say, the MOTH had a fitful sleep while I stayed up and watched the almost full moon and tried to search for my constellation in the night sky.

The morning of day 6 saw us downing a cup of coffee beforeheading for Bungle Bungle, an ancient formation of deep gorges and termite mounds/domes – up, down, over and around we drove on dirt tracks and all we saw was the aftermath of wild fires that had recently swept through the area. We crossed two creeks with the MOTH sending me out to test the depth of the water before driving our vehicle through but didn’t cross a third one as it looked rather threatening. We decided that we had seen enough of the dismal views and headed back to Halls Creek.

Upon reaching Halls Creek, we made enquiries at the motel and were told that our friends had arrived the night before and finding no accommodation, it was believed that they had moved on to the next town in the opposite direction to where we had gone. In a last ditch effort to make radio contact, the MOTH decided to give it one last go and to our delight, his friend responded – the motel owners had misunderstood the situation and it turned out that our friends’ friends were the ones who had moved on to the next town. Our friends, finding no accommodation, decided to pitch their tent in the caravan park to wait for our arrival. We checked into the motel immediately and made plans to meet up at the hotel nearby for lunch. Over lunch, we arranged to meet up for dinner that night at the same place. All’s well that ends well? Yea, right!

On our way to join them for dinner, we found that we had a flat tyre – found a roofing bolt embedded in it. So another tyre change of course, using our second and last spare tyre. This involved moving ALL our stuff from the back of the Toyota to get to the spare tyre. I helped carry everything I could and piled them all in our motel room while the MOTH did the tyre change. We decided to forget our woes for the evening and enjoyed an expensive but delicious dinner with our friends and yakked till the restaurant’s closing time. They had to head back to Perth almost immediately anyway as they were expecting visitors in early November so we said our hellos and goodbyes and parted company that night.

Bright and early next morning (day 7), the MOTH raced around the little country town looking for a place that was open and could fix the flat tyre. I was left in the motel room guarding our belongings and we kept in contact via our walkie-talkies. With the flat tyre fixed, the MOTH set about changing tyres – it seemed that our run of bad luck hadn’t left us as he broke a wheel stud while changing tyres! With no option to get it fixed locally, we loaded all our stuff back in the Toyota and headed for Kunnunarra, a larger town where we would be able to buy a new tyre and get the broken stud replaced. Praying for some good luck for a change, we drove carefully there and the Toyota people were able to assist us, right down to recommending a place to stay for the night. We stayed in an air-conditioned cabin in a caravan resort that has lake views, swimming pool, spa, etc… (just a fancy name for a caravan park so they can charge more, if you ask me.)

We awoke on day 8, thinking positive that our luck would have to change for the better. Decided to do a bit of sight seeing in the area – Zebra Rock Place sounded interesting so off we went – We drove down a country track or two before stopping to ask for directions from who we thought were locals, turned out they were a couple of young men, tourists from Ireland who have had a really bad couple of days canoeing and were dying for a cigarette. We gave them 4 cigarettes and were amused when they gratefully declared, “Tourists are Gods!!!” As it turned out, we found out from them that this Zebra Rock Place we had been looking for is actually a rock art gallery – an arty-farty place where you can view and purchase rocks and gemstones. We immediately lost interest and decided to go and check out the melon farm – having visions of buying some delicious sweet melons to take home. How dare they!? The farm is closed – melon season is over! Hmmm… Not looking good about our luck changing for the better. Oh well, no problem, who wants to go looking for the Sleeping Buddha rock and the Elephant Rock in the stifling heat anyway? We would just drive on to Katherine – but first, the MOTH insisted on buying me a souvenir from here – a pair of Argyle champagne diamond ear studs. Well, being the sweet easy-going person that I am, I didn’t argue too much over his offer. After the purchase was made, we went on our merry way, stopping only to help a family in distress to get their broken down car onto a trailer.

Not long into our journey to Katherine, we had a meeting with a crow – the crow lost. We went and checked out Lake Argyle, quite spectacular as lakes go, and while we were in this park that had a big old mango tree laden with green mangoes, I decided that a couple of them green babies should come home with me. I got the MOTH to pull down on a low branch so I could reach the fruit and I felt something prick under my foot. Thinking it was a prickle or thorn of some sort, I balanced on one foot to examine under the other and horror of horrors, I saw this huge spider clinging onto the arch of my foot! I simply froze and called out to my MOTH that I had been bitten by a spider! I was too afraid to brush it off my foot in case it decided to latch on to my hand, so my MOTH came to my rescue. I hobbled on to a park bench to examine the damage but fortunately, there were no puncture marks. (I knew there was a reason for me to have slightly calloused thick dry skin under my feet!) My MOTH consoled me by saying it wasn’t a funnel-web spider so I should be okay. Anyway, that put a quick stop to getting more mangoes so we got into our vehicle and drove on to the town of Katherine. Spent the night at a motel there and had dinner at the motel restaurant before an early night.

By this time we had already decided against going to Darwin and Kakadu National Park as we were unsure how long our run of bad luck was going to last, so day 9 saw us on the road heading for home, after buying a tyre valve to replace a leaky one we had (yep, another flat tyre greeted us that morning). Not having much luck with tyres, that’s for sure! Anyway, our next town was Tennant Creek where we stopped for lunch before pushing on to Alice Springs after one of our almost daily calls home   to assure our kids that we are still alive and well. There we were, driving along, minding our own business when who should try to attack me but a big old wedge-tailed eagle! It was feeding on a road kill in the middle of the road and as we approached, the stupid bird flew straight for my side of the windscreen. It hit one of our CB antennas and broke it before hitting the windscreen so the situation could have been a lot worse, I guess. We had phoned ahead for accommodation in Alice Springs and got in just on dark, before the kangaroos come out to play on the roads. Dinner was had at a roadhouse restaurant (diner) – steak, chips and salad.

Day 10 saw us with an early start out of Alice Springs, decided against going down a 100km 4WD track to go and check out Chambers Pillars as we didn’t particularly want to deal with anymore tyre problems. Also cancelled plans to come home via the Oodnadatta desert track and see Lake Eire – we will do that another time and certainly not in the hot summer months – the numerous bushfires that we had seen along the way were kind of scary. We did stop to admire the Devils Marbles on the way to the bustling little township of Glendambo (population 30) where we spent the night. Dinner was roast lamb and veggies special at the roadhouse restaurant next to the motel.

Almost at the end of our adventure – we drove into Port Augusta, South Australia through gale force winds and dust storms – from scorching summer heat to near freezing temperatures – and there we were dressed in shorts and t-shirts! We pressed on after re-fuelling and after our promised safety report phone-in to our daughter, we continued on our homeward journey, spending the night in Bordertown, on the South Australia/Victoria border. Set off for home this morning in wind and rain. Checked out a couple of fishing holes on the way home only to find both lakes/reservoirs have just about dried up. Just as well we hadn’t set our hearts on doing any fishing. Speaking of which, I think we should grab our fishing gear and go fishing to recuperate from this trip. We had traveled 8706km in twelve days and I can hardly wait for the next road trip!

Hey, a thought just crossed my mind – what if the MOTH got pissed off at me for asking every now and then, “Are we having fun yet?” and was trying to get rid of me????? Hmmm… first attempt – heart attack induction with the lizard business, then there was the heatstroke attempt, closely followed by the possible wild beast attack in the middle of the desert, then there was the kangaroo  (who I’m sure was targeting MY side of the vehicle). Oh yeah, he also used me to test the depth of possibly crocodile-infested waterholes,  not forgetting to mention the venomous spider incident, the attack by the killer eagle  and yesterday, the choking dust storm, close call to being blown away by gale force winds and the final attempt today to freeze me to death. Coincidences, you think? I wonder!!! 



We left here on time and had a leisurely drive across Victoria and into South Australia. After passing through Adelaide (quite quickly) we stopped for the night in Port Pirie where we dined in a fashionable restaurant. So good that we even had breakfast there the next morning.

Then we kept going north, passing many picturesque sights to overnight in Marla. From Marla, it was on to Alice Springs where we decided to spend some extra time just relaxing and sight seeing. At Simpsons Gap, Oz made friends with the cutest little lizard you have ever seen. After getting up late, our departure from Alice was delayed till about noon but we still managed to get about 400km into the Tanami Desert before stopping to set up camp for the night.

After a few minutes we had everything set up and sat down to a great meal prepared by Oz (Who else?) Oz loved camping in the wilderness as it was so quiet. Then it was on through exciting countryside to Halls Creek via a spectacular meteorite crater at Wolfe Creek. We were lucky to have packed the right clothes as it can get a little cool out there. We were a little unlucky to arrive quite late in Halls Creek (because of our stops) and found there was no accomodation. The nearest place, Turkey Creek, was 160km away so off we went. On arrival Oz decided to forego the aircon room and camp in the desert again. We had seen a nice little spot some 40km away, near where she had met a ‘roo, so off we went. Once again we dined on fine cuisine, courtesy of Oz. After a quick shower, I crawled wearily into bed for a good night’s rest.

Next morning we departed at 6.30 for the Bungle Bungles. It was a relaxing drive through shady tropical trees and undergrowth, crossing cascading crystal clear streams on the way. Oz insisted in going wading, not at all concerned about crocodiles. Then it was back to Halls Creek where we met up with our friends and wined and dined and generally relaxed once again.

A short 350km drive to Kununurra was the order for the following day where we booked into a resort and did a bit of running around to tidy up loose ends. More sight seeing was on the agenda the next morning then we headed for Katherine via Lake Argyle. Oz became quite attached to rather large arachnid under a mango tree by the Ord River. She also saw a crow close up! We towed a broken down car on to a trailer for a Kiwi bloke, our good deed for the day.

We left Katherine for Tennant Creek and finally Alice Springs. Along the way Oz saw her first wedgetailed eagle close up and was very impressed. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful and we arrived home this afternoon, unloaded the car, had a shower and I am now enjoying a glass of red, the first since we left.

What a great trip!!!!!