Mt Dare, Finke, Yulara.
After a big few days in the Simpson Desert yesterday afternoon’s dip at Dalhousie Springs was closest thing to a shower we’d had. We were up again before dawn packing the swags and preparing to head off to our next destination, Finke. The view from the swag at Dalhousie Springs was pretty nice btw.
After leaving Dalhousie Springs we stopped just up the road to top up the water levels in the truck and our hydration packs from a tank in the middle of nowhere. I decided to wait until I had access to a nice big bottle of water to do mine.
The road between Dalhousie and Mt Dare was a bit of a mishmash of reasonably decent gravel and dirt and some of it had been freshly graded. Thee were also sections of Gibber Plains. These are flat areas covered in biggish sharp rocks just waiting to puncture your tyres. It’s not a hard area to ride in but stay in the wheel tracks and gently dodge the little boulders that make their way into them. They are unforgiving.
We also came across the second of two mud sections on the whole route.
We fuelled up at Mt Dare and restocked our trail snacks.
Coffee, pies and sausage rolls were popular too, it’d been a while since we’d been near a shop. Some restocked the esky with $80 per carton beer. It was an interesting place to see and it was nice to hang around for a while. Mt Dare was a cattle station until 1984 when it was taken over by National Parks and Wildlife and became the Witjira National Park. If you are heading west into the desert it’s the last place you’ll get fuel etc. There’s a few cabins there for about $100 a night and unpowered camping sites at $20 per vehicle. Bring your own firewood of you need it, you aren’t allowed to collect it in the Witjira National Park and campfires aren’t allowed in the park proper, including at Dalhousie Springs.
Not long after we let Mt Dare we crossed into the Northern Territory. Occasionally it was a bit hard to tell where the edges of the road were along this stretch.
The photo above and video below show what the road conditions are like out there, although remember there are gibber plains to contend with.
Finke (Aputula) was buzzing, we were there for the Finke Desert Race. We saw signs about changes in the strict NT alcohol laws during the three days of the race. We set up camp near the track not too far from the Finish/Start and across the way from where many of the 4 wheeled competitors were spending the night.
We were half a day behind schedule because of the detour we had to in the Simpson Desert in order to actually cross it. By the time we arrived the cars had finished for the day and we watched the bikes go through. While strolling around we came across this guy who was more than happy to have a chat, pose for photos and even sign the helmets of die hard fans. Toby Price is a good bloke!
There was a haze of dust hanging in the still air that didn’t really settle as the sun set but it was a comfy night in the swag. An early rise the next morning to the sounds of mechanics doing final preparations of the cars/side by sides gearing up for the race start back to Alice Springs kicking off with Toby at 7.15am. Here’s a bit of the combined action, it was a pretty dusty affair.
That track is 240kms long. Hard work I reckon! We watched the cars for a while and it was time to hit the dirt and then a gnarly, windy, deep sand track to pop in to Lambert’s Centre, the geographical centre of Australia. It’s marked by a mini replica of the flag pole on top of Parliament House in Canberra. I have to admit that this track would have been a nightmare of low speed offs for me in the past but after 4 days on the Simpson Desert it was almost a doddle. No problem for the 4WD’s either who were there in abundance. Dodging them on the way in and out was much more hair raising than the sand riding. Some of them were incredibly thoughtless or clearly had no idea about the lack of options a motorcycle has when in a deep sandy rut.
After the visit to the Lambert Centre and morning tea we made our way to Kulgera. Another dusty section but along the way we got to see some magnificent Wedgetailed Eagles. A few 4WD’s flew past us along that road channelling their favourite Finke driver.
We arrived at Kulgera for a late lunch, a shower, and a couple of quiet ales and I did say shower!!!. 6 days without soap and a shave was enough for me! I decided to wait out the bathroom rush adopted to eat a $15 hamburger and have a beer to wash the dust down first. Sadly, because of that I missed out on hot water but it didn’t seem to make much difference to me at the time as I scraped off the layers of red dust!
Kulgera is the first Northern Territory fuel/pub past the border of South Australia. You get a feel for the “frontierness” and humour of the Northern Territory here with merchandise covered with CU in the NT everywhere and people actually buying and wearing it! I’m not a prude by any measure, but no thanks!
Kulgera was also very, very busy with people heading home from Finke. Some of us opted for their Budget umm Cabins ($60) which turned out to be a decent idea because the camping area was like Pitt Street, Sydney with people arriving and setting up well into the night while I slept like a log across a double bed. I also wasn’t sure if you could buy take away alcohol at Yulara so I topped up the cans of Gin and Tonic for later in the trip.
We had a sleep in on offer because we didn’t have far to go the following day. I was up early anyway and took the opportunity to have a warm shower this time. It was heaven. And once again I got to spend some time enjoying a beautiful sunrise and the unusual sight of clouds. We didn’t see them in the desert.
We left Kulgera and headed the Stuart Hwy for a few k’s and turned right at Mulga Creek Road. It was essentially a dirt highway through cattle stations that winds south then west of Mt Connor. Often people hading towards Yulara mistake Mt Conner as their first glimpse of Uluru and I’ve heard it described as Fooluru #notuluru. Be careful of cattle through there, they are a bit skittish.
Mulga Creek Road joins the Lasseter Hwy near Curtin Springs which is worth a stop. There’s accommodation, food and fuel there and I understand people who might not want to pay Yulara prices for accommodation stay at Curtin Springs and drive the 90kms or so to see Uluru for the day. The place is staffed by backpackers of course. There’s also public toilets and showers there if you need them.
We only stopped long enough to grab a quick picture. Most of the group were keen to get to Yulara to start our only rest period in the 18 day ride. Yulara, Ayres Rock Resort, is near Uluru. It has a large range of accommodation and facilities from basic (but nice) unpowered camping to a five star resort. A bit of five star pampering for two nights was definitely in order for Rob and I. Sails in the Desert is a nice place to be. We still hit the bar before going to the room though.
I’d been to Yulara three times so while the others did the tourist thing I relaxed, did some washing, scraped red dust from the pores of my skin with the razor, ate, drank and enjoyed some civilised living with a few chai lattes on soy and G & T with slices of lime. Those of the group who had not been Uluru enjoyed scenic flights, Uluru at sunset and other great things to do there. Like me the first time I visited, the visitors were genuinely surprised at the effect this icon can have on you. It’s more than just a big rock for sure.
With that out of my system I was looking forward to hitting the dirt again on day 13 of the ride. We left Yulara, rode through the National Park Gates, stopped for a quick pic of Uluru, you can’t really visit the area without taking at least one picture of it!
continued past the Olgas and turned left following the signs to the Western Australia Border on Tjukaruru Road. This area forms part of the Outback Way, Australia’s longest shortcut between Winton QLD and Laverton WA.
One of the interesting sites along here is Lasseter’s Cave. Harold Lasseter was a famous gold prospector who sheltered in this cave for 25 days in 1931 after his camels bolted. A friendly Aboriginal family found him and helped him with food and water. Sadly he he tried to walk out and 3 days later died ending his search for gold that he’d purportedly discovered as a young man but forgot where.
We managed to squeeze into the cave for a look. It’s a beautiful little spot and worth the small detour.
From there we went past Docker River and crossed the Western Australian Border. I always stop for a border crossing pic when I can.
We continued west on the Great Central Road to Warakurna Roadhouse where we topped up on fuel then tool a short detour to the Giles Weather Station. In a cage there is the original grader that was used by the Gunbarrel Road Construction party headed up by Len Beadell who was responsible for 6000kms of roads out this way. Len’s is a great story too!
The Great Central Road was all dirt with a good mix of surfaces from slippery rocks, long patches of not too deep sand and clay. Nothing too technical if you could hold your nerve and throttle in the loose stuff. We were well spread out along here, it was quite dusty. A bit of speed was also required to smooth out the ruts a bit. I found riding closer to the edge of the road was a bit more tolerable.
We rode along the Great Central Road and stopped in the mid afternoon camping in a bit of a gravel quarry just off the road for the night. It was a really nice spot. Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Warbuton and then onto the Gunbarrel Highway.