Sunday, October 5, 2014

The long road home

Driving to the centre of Australia is exciting when you've never been there before and you don't really have any concept of just how far it is. Driving home is different because you've already traveled each bum numbing kilometre!

To sustain ourselves for the first leg, we staggered our last buffet breakfast at Yulara, managing to put away about 6 courses before we hit the road. Gassing up was painful ( $2.07 a litre), but understandable given the distances to get the fueling there.
We stopped at the Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse and Geoff finally bought the piece of art he'd been looking for from a lovely lady called Valda who had just finished painting it.

We pushed on to Marla where we made sandwiches out of the boot for lunch and then to Coober Pedy. The only place we could find to stay was the underground backpackers. Our rooms were down 2 flights of stairs and through a tunnel. They were pitch dark, tiny, windowless tombs ! And to make matters worse, the shared toilet (yes, just one) was at the top of the stairs. A giant parma and several glasses of wine helped to stave off a panic attack and lull me into some sort of sleep and since none of us were keen to spend too much time in opal town, we got up at 5.30 and were on our way south again. Even at that time of the morning the flies were in abundance. Why anyone lives there I do not know.

Breakfast was in the middle of the desert, somewhere out in Nowheresville.
The view from our breakfast stop.
Rather than retrace all our steps, we headed into the Clare Valley rather than back into Adelaide. What a lovely change of scenery to see all the vineyard green after the desert landscape. We stayed at the Big 4 in Clare which was nice because it gave Taine a chance to run off some steam. No visit to wine making country is complete without a tasting or two so luckily we just had time to pop next door to Kirrihily Wines to try their special shiraz ( and the moscato, sac blanc, riesling, merlot and cab sav ;-) We sought out another pub meal for dinner, cashing in on a $9.95 dinner special. This worked out well for everyone but Geoff ( who somehow confused 'salmon' with fish cakes).

Clare to Mildura is just a short 4 1/12 hours so we made a leisurely start to the day. Accommodation was hard to find in Mildura too because of the Country Music Festival but by this stage we were happy to put our heads down anywhere and the Chiffley motel was serviceable enough. We had a wander down the street ( fortunately just missing the country music ;-) and then drove the 25 kms across the border to Wentworth and the Perry sand dunes. These great mounds of red sand provided an hour of great entertainment - it's amazing how easily entertained you can be after sitting in a car for 3 days!

Sand angels 

I had a hankering to buy some desert plants for the garden so we went to to the Native Garden Nursery the next morning. As luck would have it they are just in the process of closing for retirement so we picked up a few bargains. Friends had suggested we visit Woodsies Gem Shop and even though  it looked and sounded a bit lame on the brochure we were glad we had taken their advice. Woodsie's is obviously a labour of love for the Woods family. Alongside the shop, that sells every setting of every gem stone you can imagine, they have one acre maze and an 'Aladdin's Cave' full of treasures from around the world. Both these attractions cost just $2 per adult and $1 per child and are well worth the small change. How lovely not to feel ripped off at a tourist stop. Aladdin's Cave even had a couple of olivine bombs from Mortlake (although olivine had been spelt incorrectly) and a fascinating display of petrified poo that Taine (and his father) found particularly entertaining!

"Olivene' at Woodsie's gem shop.

Fossilised poo!

As luck would have it, Chateau Mildura was just around the corner so it seemed to make sense to call in there on our way home. We were just able to squeeze a couple of cases of lovely Riverland wine in amongst the bags, plants, paintings, rocks and left over food (truth be told, we ditched the left overs to make way for the wine) and then we departed on the long road home. Driving through the drought ravaged Mallee was depressing. Hundreds of kilometers of failed crops, punctuated by tiny towns with giant silos and empty shop fronts. As we got closer to home we watched the temperature plummet and I swear the 200kms from Horsham were the longest of the entire trip!

By the time we reached Mortlake again we'd driven 5500 km in 10 days, through 3 states and the Northern Territory. We'd experienced temperatures ranging from 11C to 37C and listened to 27 Hamish & Andy podcasts. We'd seen dozens of lizards and emus and wedge tailed eagles, a few cows, sheep and camels and just one live kangaroo. There'd been 3 drops of rain on the windscreen and enough red dust to make our own sandpit. We'd driven through all of Dorothea Mackellar's 'opal hearted country', and loved every minute of it.

If you've never been to the Red Centre, start making plans now.