AWOL Around Australia… Back Through The Centre

Time to make some kilometres.
Our day spent in and around Birdsville, meant there was no dilly dally now between here and Alice Springs. I wanted to get there before Friday to hopefully pick up the switch from Toyota, and we still had a good 1000km on unknown dirt roads ahead of us. After Lake Machattie we pushed on through Bedourie, and Boulia. The hard left, and west. Across the Plenty Highway, to Alice.
On the way…
A whole tour group of cyclists – when we first drove round (west) Australia, I think we saw one, maybe two cyclists. As with most things out here it is much more popular now. Most we see seem to be having a good challenge, the occasional one doesn’t look to be enjoying it very much at all…
Still plenty of water and greenery up this way.
Outback humour.
We camped that night on the banks of the Georgina River.
There has been water through here too it seems. Although some time ago.
The wild budgerigars keeping an eye on us.
‘Budgees’ are a popular pet where we are from in the UK. Once you see the flocks of these vibrant and vivacious birds in the wild, you would never lock them up. Who puts birds in cages anyway..?
Sunrise. It’s good being in the bush.
Mad lighting against the clouds as we hit the Plenty Highway again that morning, still pushing west.
There was a huge amount of birds in general on the highway that morning, no doubt population explosions due to the water across the country. So unfortunately there was some of Darwin’s theory happening on the Land Cruiser’s front bumper too…
A road-train came along at just the right time for my ‘regular tourist’ photo.
And another…
The Plenty Highway was one of those roads that just gets you from A to B. There didn’t seem to be much worth stopping for along it, not that we really had the time anyway. Pretty rough in parts too, has to be said.
It feels little surreal to be back in the Red Centre at the end of this AWOL trip. As this was our first destination, eight and a bit months ago.
We consider stopping at Gemtree, and doing some fossicking, as we’ve never done it before. But the appeal of grass and no flies for a change, means we push on to Alice.
Feels very familiar rolling into Alice. Almost like we’re locals… It is not a big place so easy to remember your way around. As my phone came back into service a text message from Toyota was waiting for me. So we head there to pick up the new inhibitor switch. We then book into the the same park we stayed at last time. The park is bursting to the seams as we are coming into peak touring season in Australia. So we’re glad to get a spot as there is not bush camping around Alice.
So we take a day in Alice Springs. After I fit the inhibitor switch. I give the Cruiser another good look over, and find another rear shock is in trouble (it was still working fine, just the cover had come un-welded). So I fit the remaining TJM spare – that I bought in Alice when we were here last year, and by chance we were in exactly the same camp spot then, changing out rear shockys… So I now still have the two serviceable Ridepro shocks and two nearly new TJM’s on the truck. Let’s hope it’s enough.
We share some food with the locals.
I manage to knock out two parts of this journal, a bit rushed, but I know this is going to be it for reception for some days at least, and I’m already playing catch-up after coming across the Top End. Same issue with lack of reception. First world problem, for sure…
We stock and fuel up before leaving Alice. Ignoring the Stuart Highway, we take the route I was planning to take back last time we were here (but took the highway, because Alby was crook, R.I.P. little man). This route is the old Ghan Railway line (the modern version is still called that, after the Afghan Cameleers, that opened up this part of the country). Also the route for the Finke Desert Race that is due to take place in a few weeks. We see a few competitors practicing the route (and support trucks come thundering past us) which basically runs more or less alongside the road (if you ever seen those motocross/mtb tracks that people have made in the roadside verge, this is basically that, turned up to 11).
Lunch stop in this dry river bed. Yes, I used low range on the way out.
Camel tracks.
An easy but rough dirt road brings us to the turn off for Chambers Pillar, and some big sky country.
A – there and back detour – as there is not a road through. Now the corrugations are just sandy, as opposed to rocky, I stop to let some air out of the tyres.
Hmmm, the rear BFG is looking pretty ordinary. I didn’t look that closely at the tyres whilst in Alice but now airing down I can see that all the BFGs are not great. Nothing really to be gained by swapping a front tyre with the back (the fronts used to be the backs after all). The Cooper on the other side, whilst looking much more battered than when it went on a few weeks ago, still has plenty of tread. Let’s get to camp and reevaluate then.
The road in is fine, but you can see they’ve had rain.

They advise fitting a sand flag if you have one. Never a bad idea. I crank ours up to full height.
We make camp and I’ve decided, with hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of rough roads still to go, to change the right rear BFG with the new Cooper tyre on the spare. The BFG is still usable as a spare for now, but the tread is dangerously low in places meaning the structure of the tire could start to take hits. Prevention is better than cure, and all that. (I wouldn’t normally run tyres this low off the bitumen, but it’s a big trip nearly at the end, so it is what it is).
That tyre was brand new four months ago.
I take a wander round the rocks.
John McDouall Stuart was the first European to see Chambers Pillar, reaching the site in April 1860, and naming it after James Chambers, one of his South Australian sponsors.[2] The rock formations was once an important landmark for pioneers travelling from Adelaide to Alice Springs[3] prior to the establishment of the railways in the 1920s. Several early explorers including Alfred Giles and John Ross, leaders of the second cross-continental expedition in 1870, have left their mark on the rockface. The initials of each are still visible as J Ross and AC 1870.[4] Subsequently numerous other visitors have illegally added graffiti by carving names in the soft sandstone at the base of the pillar.[1]
To my eye the majority of the carvings seemed to happen in the 70’s. Indicative of when vehicles were first capable of getting here relatively easily and reliably I guess. Hopefully also since then maybe people have realised it might not be for the best if everyone who comes here, carves their name into the rock…
Slightly detracting from the natural wonder of the pillar is this whacking great iron staircase on one side. It’s a shame someone felt this was necessary. It wouldn’t be that bad to access without it.
So the other rock formations, unmodified, drew my eye.
Next morning we back track and then get back on the old railway route to head further south. More bikers are out for practice. Part of me wishes we were a few weeks later, I bet this is a great event as a spectator.
We are constantly overtaken by support trucks trying to keep up with their riders. We also get a great look at the bikes in action as they buck and weave down the course next to our dirt road.
We get to Finke and leave the bikers behind. This is the main route down to the Simpson Desert and the Oodnadatta Track so it would see a fair bit of traffic. Until we spear off, onto the route less travelled.
Thanks for reading.

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