The Outstanding Oodnadatta Track – day one

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Breakfast wishes from Lyndhurst
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Lake Eyre South
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leaving Leigh Creek
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….. most days 🙂
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Luna thinks she needs to drive
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Farina Ruin
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worth reading when you travel here

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Our addition to the Alberrie Creek Sculpture Park
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Paul flies the DJI Mavic Pro
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Littlies reading about the fauna and flora of Lake Eyre
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no breaks, just being cautious!!
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Luna at the Curdimurka Rail Siding

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The Bubbler mound spring
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The Bubbler – mesmerising!
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View from the boardwalk at Blanche Cup
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Blanche Cup
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Coward Springs spa!
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actually managed a family photo of sorts!
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day time view of Coward Springs spa

After a refreshing night at the Leigh Creek Outback Resort, we headed up the road to Lyndhurst to grab some breakfast and refuel. Paul had already confirmed that the diesel was back online at the roadhouse, and Tam was enjoying the morning air outside when we arrived. She remembered us from our stop after finishing the Strzelecki Track, and was glad to see us back as we headed towards the Oodnadatta Track. Tam adds a thoughtful little touch to all the food she prepares, each bag displaying her handwritten wishes for a great day!

Just past Lyndhurst, we stopped at the Farina Ruin – a sandstone cottage that once housed teams of workers for the Great Northern Railway. The kids marvelled at the fireplaces in each room, and also by all the historical items found at the site, which had been placed on the window sills around the structure. Huge hand-wrought rail pegs, fragments of glass and porcelain, these hadn’t been taken as souvenirs, but instead left for others to enjoy. A massive willy-willy/dust devil nearby was breathtaking. Difficult to photograph, we were able to see the swirling vortex and dust, twisting hundreds of metres into the sky.

Enroute to Marree, the plains gave us plenty to see – hundreds of emus and a flash of bright green budgerigars zipping in front of us.

The southern end of the Oodnadatta Track begins at Marree, and we stopped to have a look at the old railway station before Paul dropped the tyre pressures on the Legend. Knowing that the track is all gravel and stones, it is recommended to reduce the pressure from 36 to about 25psi. This gives a softer ride, and also reduces the chance of damaging the tyres or throwing stones. Our new suspension kit has already been a blessing!

There was much excitement as we saw the sign for the road conditions, and saw that the Oodnadatta Track was OPEN. A chuckle at the sight of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club, complete with catamaran, had us in good spirits.

Our first day on the track was simply brilliant. The Alberrie Creek Sculpture Park had us all wondering how on earth the structures were constructed. Lake Eyre South, 12m below sea level, was a great place to stop and read about the Lake Eyre basin, it’s flora and fauna, and of course, fly the DJI Mavic Pro. The lake is so massive, that it was not possible to fly over it and back with just one battery, plus the salt and heat haze made keeping an eye on the drone very difficult. It’s amazing to think that there is so much life there. On the rare occasions the lake fills, it’s not only the tourists that swarm to it (and the yacht club comes back to life), birds fly hundreds of kilometres, briny shrimp fills the waters, hibernating frogs are revived, and it’s as if the “Pause” button on Life has been switched to “Play” for while ever the water remains.

The Curdimurka Rail Siding is now essentially a ruin, and no longer maintained. A sign asking visitors to respect the history of the property, is all that remains. It is still possible to use the fireplaces in times of need, and one room even had a lawn chair in front of the fireplace, as if it had been used recently. The siding was once a stop on the Old Ghan railway, and also the location for an Outback Ball, which attracted hundreds of attendees.

Before reaching our campsite for the night, we took a detour to see the Mound Springs known as The Bubbler, and Blanche Cup. Completely invisible from the track, these springs are part of the Wabma-Kadabu Conservation Park, and were used by the indigenous people as a source of fresh water. Boardwalks have been constructed to keep visitors off the fragile landscape. Nestled in the mounds of rocks and sand, are deep pools of water bubbling direct from the Great Artesian Basin, whose water is more than two million years old. Lush green grass and water weed surrounds each pool, and lines the path the water takes as it trickles down the mounds forming small natural waterfalls. The Bubbler in particular was completely mesmerising to observe, the sand and mud appearing almost alive as it moved with the force of the bubbling water from underneath. We honestly kept expecting to see something appear from underneath it! It is said that the water once used to form huge columns of water, much the same as a geyser, and it’s not hard to imagine this when you watch the pool.

Coward Springs is a must stop on the Oodnadatta Track. The owners were happy for us to stay there without charge, and as it turned out, we were the only ones there! We found a shady camp site, and set up without rushing. The amenities at this camp site are brilliant. Drop toilets, but non-stinky! Pressed metal features at all the sinks, a “donkey” hot water shower system, and of course, The Spa. We couldn’t visit the Museum on site (Coward Springs was also part of the Ghan Railway), as it’s open in the autumn/winter months only. Paul and Kirstine pored over the maps, the kids played charades (a new game to keep them occupied), and we had tea and waited for the sun to go down.

It was then that we ventured over to The Spa. Climbing into the small pool, with jets of pressurised artesian water is absolutely a highlight of the trip so far. It made it a bit hard to stand in the one place, and there were many laughs as each of us tumbled and stumbled on our feet. At one point, the only sound was the water moving, as we stood and stared up at the blanket of stars above us.

So much of the day surprised us. In an area that intimidates many would-be travellers, we found pockets of life and abundance. It’s no wonder that these locations kept the pioneers of the day, as well as the indigenous people, alive on their travels. Hope springs eternal in the Australian Outback.

The Explorer’s Way – it begins

As we write this blog, we are in Leigh Creek at the Outback Resort. We’ve treated ourselves to a motel stay and pub meal before going bush. It’s been a huge week, so we’d better catch you up!

Finishing up the Strzelecki Track at Lyndhurst, we were all still on a high from our time at Montecollina Bore. There are no rubbish bins on The Strz, so we dropped our rubbish off at the bins in town. The public amenities are lovely. We truly appreciate flushing toilets over drop loos or none at all! Small things huh? We stopped at the Lyndhurst Roadhouse to get some fuel, only to find that their diesel pumps were offline – waiting on a technician to come up from Adelaide. This roadhouse is a major stopping point, and it must be frustrating for them to have to turn customers away. We weren’t so easy to turn away though, and ordered some burgers for lunch. Boy was it worthwhile! Please, if you travel through or past Lyndhurst, do yourself a favour and grab a burger with the lot! YUMMO!

We topped up our fuel at Leigh Creek on the way south, having no choice but to go that way to find a BP service station, get our window fixed and fridge replaced. A vicious side wind took its toll on our fuel consumption, and we rejoiced as we arrived in Hawker and found a BP servo with diesel!

The Big 4 Discovery Park Port Augusta welcomed us, and graciously extended our stay at a discounted rate so that we could attend to repairs. They allocated us a great site directly opposite the amenities block and near the camp kitchen. It was great to scrub clean in the showers and catch up on some washing.

We caught up on our blogs and social media, the kids dived back into school work, and we made the necessary arrangements to repair equipment. We had some heavy rain one evening, and it whilst we were prepared, it was so awesome to have a member of the holiday park staff come to our campsite and others neighbouring, to make sure that we were ok and not flooding!

Our kids are “open books” as we travel, and always share what we’re doing, where we’ve been, and even what we’re having for tea! Our daughters brought a visitor to camp, having told said guest that “mum speaks German! You have to come and talk to her!”. Birgit, her husband and son, are travelling Australia in a motorhome. From Lichtenstein, Birgit is a teacher of Psychology and Pedagogy. We discussed our journey, theirs, and Luna’s role in our lives. The idea of a Mental Health Assistance dog was new to Birgit, and she shared that many schools in her area take their students, from a young age, to visit aged care facilities and mental health care centres. Meeting the residents and hearing their stories, is designed to make the concepts less confronting, break down the stigma, and build acceptance into future generations. It was truly inspiring to listen to this! Australia has a lot to learn from Europe in this respect. Whilst we also discussed that mental health diagnoses are on the rise, that can also be attributed to the current generation being more willing to speak and seek help. We know that it will take another two generations at least, to have the topic of mental health “normalised”, but it is so encouraging to hear of other countries already making huge leaps forward!

We also met with a lady in town who also suffers from PTSD. Hers was caused by the necessity of having to undergo a medical procedure while wide awake. Sounds horrifying doesn’t it? Paul knew of the procedure the lady spoke of, and wasn’t surprised to hear that she had been told while preparing to undergo surgery, that 100% of patients develop PTSD as a result. Her surgeon even took the amazing step of undergoing the procedure himself, so that he could better understand what his patients go through during and after.

Just when we thought we were ready to leave Port Augusta, Paul developed severe dental issue and yet again, we had to extend our stay. Dentists cause Paul severe anxiety, from negative childhood experiences, so when the pain caused him to speak up, Kirstine knew it was serious. Neni’s Port Augusta Dental Care fit us in for an appointment, and were really understanding of our situation. After a thorough examination and an invasive procedure to extract an infected tooth, we took Paul home to rest. Luna wasn’t able to be in with Paul while all this took place. One of the few times where she could be legally excluded because of the surgical nature of Paul’s treatment. The dental nurse was fabulous. Her own husband has anxiety and depression, so she was very focussed on making sure that Paul was as comfortable as possible. She loved that we are travelling through smaller communities to be seen. Her own husband’s experience has been that people will often share their innermost thoughts and feelings with complete strangers. Doesn’t this highlight how important organisations like Lifeline are? When you are struggling, there is always someone who will listen, even if you don’t know who they are.

Today we were finally able to get back on the road, after thanking Sharlene for her support during our stay in Port Augusta. It was lunchtime by the time we got away, refuelling everything at the BP Roadhouse on the way out.

We retraced our steps back through to Leigh Creek, marvelling at the crumbling sandstone ruins of pioneer houses, numbers of emus along the way, and the huge willy willys/dust devils along the plains. With new music on the USB, we’ve entered a new stage of family carpool karaoke.

Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re going to be off grid for a couple of days on the Oodnadatta Track, and also that you can’t hear us all singing from where you are!

Luna – the Mental Health Assistance AND Herding Rescue Dog

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(no children were harmed in the taking of these photos .. just nibbled a bit 😉 )

Montecollina Bore was a gorgeous place to swim whilst in the SA outback. No other people for kilometres around, except for the odd passing road train, it was brilliant having a deep pool of cool artesian water to give respite from the soaring temperatures.

As we’ve mentioned before, Luna ADORES water and swimming. She skipped around us as we walked in the direction of the bore, and once in sight of it, pelted to the edge to launch herself in.

We first discovered that the pool was very deep when Luna, who’d been walking in the shallows, disappeared before bobbing back up, soaked all over, and came paddling back to shore. She’d slipped on the muddy clay and right into the deep water. No “easing into it” gradually the way we humans do!

German Shepherds are exceptionally clever, and have a strong herding and protective instinct as well. We’ve observed in the past, Luna pacing around a pool, vocalising her concern for the kids swimming. If we secured her to the fence by her lead, she becomes anxious because she can’t get to the kids. Here at Montecollina Bore, Luna couldn’t make up her mind if she wanted the kids IN or OUT of the water!

While swimming in the shallows, if the kids splashed too much for her liking, Luna would try and grab them by their arm/hand/clothing, to bring them back to shore.

Then when the kids went to get out of the water, she’d chase them back in to keep them together, or if already out, tried to herd them back out if they tried to go in. Suffice to say, it all became a game, and we had some great laughs with the kids “running the Luna gauntlet”, to get into or out of the water. It was great exercise for everyone, and kept Luna on her toes.

Luna is protective of us all, and is never at ease if one of the pack is absent or distant from the rest. This amazing canine is a devoted part of our family, and somehow manages to take care of all of us. It’s no wonder that she flew through her training to become a fully qualified Mental Health Assistance Dog for Paul. Her instincts, though sometimes conflicted around water, as we’ve described, become solely focussed on Paul when he needs her – vest or no vest. Her dedication to Paul impresses all who meet her.

Luna enhances and enriches our lives, and allows Paul to again live a Life. One he no longer wanted to be part of 18 months ago. For that alone, we can never thank her enough.

We love you Luna!

Riotous rocks, Time Travel & an Outback Oasis

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Dawn at the bore
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114 year old Montecollina Bore
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sunset over the dunes
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Domino constructions despite the flies
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No words .. ❤
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Turning onto The Strz

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Cameron Corner

 

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Time Travel to three states!

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New “window”
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point of impact …
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rock meets window

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refueling from jerrys in Tibooburra
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Showering at Montecollina Bore
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aerial view of the camp at Montecollina Bore

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Cameron Corner
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Dingo Fence at Cameron Corner
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Geographical Centre where SA/NSW/QLD meet

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roast pork in the outback

“Tibooburra” has a population of about 150, and means “heaps of rocks” in the local Wangkumara & Maljangapa language. We pulled in to refuel from our jerry cans using the very clever siphon hose that Paul insisted we buy. No more sucking on garden hose and gagging as the fuel arrives before poking the hose into the tank (not that we’ve had to do this, but you know what we’re talking about!). These siphon hoses with the “jiggler” are simple physics at its best.

Being Sunday, the town was quiet, though we knew that would change, with 350 people due through town as part of a rally event headed to Cameron Corner. The turn to Cameron Corner is actually before the Tibooburra township, so we headed out, excited to finally be on the road to the corner marking where South Australia (SA), New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) meet on the map.

Harsh gravel roads, littered with rocks of all sizes, made for slower going than on the black top or dirt. We could hear the “tink! tink!” of the stones hitting the underside of the Legend and the Cub. A “crack!” changed that in an instant, with Paul declaring that we had lost a window. Kirstine was horrified and turned to see one of the rear door windows transformed into an intricate jigsaw of tiny safety glass fragments. Poor Cooper had tears pouring down his cheeks, as his beloved Patrol was “broken”. We pulled over, as the window began to collapse, and Paul pondered a bush mechanic fix to keep us going. Kirstine climbed onto the Cub to access cling film from the kitchen tub. Chequerboard gets HOT in the sun, did you know that?? 15 minutes later we had a new “window”, several layers thick and secured with gaffer tape. Had we had clear contact on board, that would also have been useful.

Arriving at Cameron Corner, we opened (and closed!) the Dingo Fence, and entered SA from NSW. Tow minutes later we were in QLD at the Roadhouse, before finding the bollard which marks the geographical union of the three states. With one finger, the kids were transported in an instant to different locations and time zones. Our eldest daughter found herself in QLD, youngest daughter back in NSW, and Cooper remained with us in SA.

We’d originally planned to camp at Cameron Corner (the camp site itself is in QLD), however with 350 people and vehicles due, we decided to continue on to what would have been our stop for the next day – Montecollina Bore.

The track from Cameron Corner out to the Strzelecki Track, affectionately known as “The Strz”, passes through pastoral properties and is a beautiful drive over continuous crests and the accompanying valleys. The day became overcast, and there was a cooling wind as we stopped to make quick sandwiches, observed by several cows resting in the shade of a nearby tree.

There are so many colours in the outback landscape. We’re sure most city dwellers think of the outback as desolate, flat and bland, but we guarantee you this is not the case. Some of Australia’s largest properties are in these remote areas. Millions of hectares to run their cattle free range, and water available via bores sunk into the Great Artesian Basin.

Montecollina Bore is one of these. Sunk in 1903, this 114 year old bore has created an oasis in the outback. We arrived late in the afternoon and set up camp. This was also the first tine we set up our mesh room, nicknamed “The Palace”. This room would become our sanctuary from thousands of flies, and provide us with ventilated shade in the heat of the day. After cooking a quick tea, we sat in The Palace, and following sunset, sat in silent awe of the clear night sky and its blanket of stars. Kirstine commented to Paul that she had never that known the constellation of Orion was so detailed. All most people ever see is the focus points – belt, head and the major stars indicating head, arms, bow and legs. But Orion came alive in the Outback! The figure filled out from stick figure, to human form, and was truly a wonder.

It was such a liberating sensation to sleep with all windows open on both the Cub Camper and 3Dog Camping roof top tent. It was a first for the kids, and after a few nerves about see-thru walls and dingos, they embraced the night vision and outlook as they lay in bed.

The next morning was windy! Fine sand from the surrounding dunes filtered through the mesh windows and walls, leaving a layer over everything, and making it ridiculously frustrating to try and boil water on the cooktop to make coffee for Paul and Kirstine!

The wind died off in the early afternoon, and the heat remained. We ventured over to the bore pool, and spent a blissful couple of hours swimming. We have no idea how deep the pool is, but the water was unexpectedly chilly about 1.5m below the surface, so it must be deep! Luna was thrilled to be in water again. We do work to keep her cool, and water is an easy way to achieve this.

The heat got to Paul that evening. A nasty side effect of the medications he needs to take. He retreated to the Cub, and slept under the light breeze created by small 12V USB fans purchased in Wagga for these conditions. Sometimes all you need is air moving, to keep you comfortable in hot weather. We managed to cook a roast pork, complete with crackling, in our Weber Baby Q, so at least Paul had a good tea before falling asleep.

Our last day at Montecollina Bore was a bit rough. No wind this time, but as we sat in The Palace and played card games, we measured the temperature at 46.5C. Kirstine had already taken the kids for a dip in the bore pool, and everyone was under strict instructions to drink water and electrolytes. When Paul was working as an ambulance officer at the remote Olympic Dam mine site in SA, the instruction was 1L per person per hour. Paul set up our 240V pedestal fan in The Palace. How could we run a 240V appliance without being connected to power? we hear you ask.

Redarc provided us with an additional solar blanket, meaning we have combined 262W of potential power generation, allowing us to run our Redarc 2000W inverter for our 240V appliances. We ran the fan for about five hours, and the solar blankets had no trouble maintaining the battery voltage. Trust me, the fan kept us all sane in very uncomfortable conditions! Without it, we may well have had to sit in the Legend with the AC running.

After another swim, we set up the popup ensuite and Smarttek 6 hot water system shower, to rinse off the fine algae from the bore pool, which stuck to any fine hairs on the body! The five of us showered, switching the water off/on, using the shower head, to rinse. We used the 20L water in our reserve jerry can, and didn’t need to heat it up. It was already over 40C!

The next morning Kirstine woke everyone just after 6am, so we could pack up before the heat of the day. Unfortunately, the flies were already awake, so we experienced pack up while wearing fly nets! Dishes were washed in the hot water running direct from the Great Artesian Basin at the bore, and three hours later we were sitting in air conditioned comfort, and on The Strz again.

We left our oasis, and wonder how many people can say they’ve camped there. In late Spring, not so many we’re sure, but in Winter it must be a cracking place to be.

Go see it for yourself!

Praise for Packsaddle

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The journey north from Broken Hill to Packsaddle takes about two hours along the Silver City Highway. Paul thought it would be prudent to break the long trip to Cameron Corner, and contacted the Packsaddle Roadhouse about a powered site for the night. We were absolutely blown away when Mia offered us cabin accommodation instead, AND meals! Really? How generous can one person be??

We instantly fell in love with the country pub when we arrived, and our cabins gave the kids even more cause for excitement – kids in one cabin, parents in another! The AC was very welcome on a hot day, and we laid low, the kids watching movies on a laptop, while Paul & Kirstine kept cool and watched some rugby.

We ventured into the bar for tea, and ordered what turned out to be awesome pub meals! Paul’s steak was massive, and they cooked us a batch of veges to go with everything. Kirstine was pretty sure the kids were going to pop if they cleared their plates, so generous were the portions of food for us all.

Paul & Kirstine played sim card switcheroo, trying to find one that would work at Packsaddle.

Optus? No.

Aldi? No.

Telstra? YES!

A little data block purchase meant that we could let you all know that we wouldn’t have any comms for a few days. If you’re going bush, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back – so we let all of our Facebook and blog followers know. You’re our Someones!!

With the kids freshly showered and relaxing in their room, Paul & Kirstine went out to capture the sunset on the DJI Mavic Pro. The flies eventually gave control of the airspace to mozzies as Paul piloted the drone and chatted with staff and patrons from the pub as the sun set. There’s a lot of interest in drones in Far West New South Wales!

The amenities for guests staying at Packsaddle are just lovely – clean, hot water, everything you need in the dusty outback. The cabins are little pieces of paradise – comfy beds, soft sheets, AC, fridge and TV. They even provide some insect spray. You REALLY must stay here if you decide to venture out to Corner Country!

Continental breakfast, coffee (!) and a photo shoot with Mia, and it was off into an area few Australian’s will ever go to. The tracks were closed last time we wanted to do this trip, so were we excited? Not half!!!

 

Are you prepared for outback travel?

Is logbook servicing really required?  Are tyres really that important? Is pre-trip planning required?

The answer to all three questions is YES!

Prior to our recent trip into the Australian Outback, Paul organised for the Nissan Patrol Legend Edition to have a service done at Silver City Motors (Nissan) in Broken Hill.  The staff there were excellent and the mechanic, Bec, was fantastic.

Bec even allowed Paul to take some photos of the Patrol being serviced. Due to where we were going and with the local knowledge that Bec had of the terrain we were heading into, she opted to do the 40,000km service instead of the 35,000km, as this was a major service which included greasing the front hubs and changing all the oils and filters, so it was more comprehensive.  This was great news as we wanted to make sure the Legend was in tip top condition (which it was of course) before heading off the beaten track.

Next on the agenda was new tyres as the original tyres were really starting to show their age and would not have been up to the task of driving Australia’s outback tracks, which can vary from sealed road to large rocks and sand all within a few kilometres.

When it comes to pre-trip planning, Paul is very thorough, which we’ve documented time and time again.  This first thing on Paul’s list was organising more lighting for around the camp when we are bush camping.  Jemrok/TJM Broken Hill stepped up and supplied us with a complete set of 4 Korr lights and wiring leads/adaptors.  The lights proved to be a fantastic arrangement which lit up our subsequent bush camp exactly the way we wanted.  The fact that they were all dimmable was even better. Simon’s wife has taken over running the Rural & Remote Autism Network (RRAN) in Broken Hill, so he absolutely understands the need to raise awareness and acceptance of health conditions in country areas. From our perspective, and with autism awareness being a cause close to our hearts as well, any support for families trying to cope with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, is ALSO supporting the mental health of these same communities.

Amongst the list of things that Paul needed to make sure was ready, was the refitting of the HF antenna that we had taken off whilst in town to stop it banging on things (the tip is 3.4m high from the ground).  He then did a radio test with the VKS-737 radio network to ensure the Barrett HF radio was working as it was designed (it was of course).  This again proved useful because even though we had no phone reception, we were still able to let people know where we were, where we were headed and that we were safe.

Next Paul considered software to make sure that he could fly his RPAS without accidently breaking the law whilst in the outback.  Unfortunately there are restricted airspaces scattered throughout the Australian outback and many people have found themselves in trouble for flying in No Fly Zones.  Paul had experience with the Oz Runways app from when he completed his Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Pilots course, so he emailed them to tell them what we were doing and to see if they would be willing to help us out.  It was only an hour or so later and Oz Runways replied and gave us a 12 month subscription to all of their software and applications.  This software has been approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), so you know it is accurate and has all the information needed to safety fly any aircraft. It is great to have their support!

Last but by no means least was the fitting of our Opposite Lock Gladstone supplied sand flag.  Sand flags should be fitted to ALL vehicles heading into the Australian outback.  Taller than the vehicle, and seen easily from a distance or in hilly terrain, the flags help to let drivers know there is an oncoming vehicle, essential when traversing the thousands of sharp crests on the tracks.

Vehicle and camper ready, 140L additional fuel, 100L of water and plenty of food on board, we head into the Australian outback.  Stay tuned to hear about the next part of our journey.