The night was cold, wet and windy. The rain lashed down outside the cosy farm house, and we agreed it was surely time to escape the Otways winter for the dry and dusty red centre.
With two weeks to go, the ten travellers in our convoy met for a pre-trip planning session. Most of the group knew each other already, a few introductions were made and we got down to the important business of eating, drinking and trip talking.
Three couples are experienced outback travellers, Howard and Beryl, Malcolm and Olive, Max and Heather. Between them they have travelled many thousands of kilometres across Australia and have had their share of mechanical breakdowns, tyre blowouts, snakes, dingoes, rain, wind and everything else the Red Centre can throw at them. But they still keep going back for more.
The innocents abroad … I mean the less experienced pairs are Brett and Christine, who have been camping with their family for many years, but not four wheel driving in remote locations, and of course Richard and me. Well, I’ll be honest, we are the newbies who ask the naive questions! Especially me… I’ve not done a lot of camping and this will be the first time I have left the safety of the urbanised East Coast of Australia for the outback.
As we tucked into the warming vegetable soup, followed by Beryl’s sausage rolls with Jenny’s amazing tomato sauce, questions and answers mixed with tall stories around the dinner table.
“What do you do about washing your clothes out there? Are there laundry facilities at the camping spots?”
“Yes, in some. The rest of the time just jiggle your undies in a bucket of water and you’ll be fine. We’ll all smell the same by the end of the desert trip.”
“Does anyone know how to fold away the pop up camping shower cubicle?”
We were glad to hear Christine has mastered this feat of manual dexterity.
“Do people really sit on top of the Big Red sand dune (the biggest in the Simpson Desert) with drinks and snacks to watch beginners try to make their way up?”
“Yes, it’s entertainment for the locals, but don’t worry, you’ll have no problem getting up there.”
Some answers were comforting, others less so. We began to feel our inexperience quite intensely.
After dinner, Howard unrolled the map of Australia and the group gathered around to trace the route we would follow from the South to the North of this massive continent.
The start and end dates are fixed. Our leaving date, 17 May, is non-negotiable and was set many months ago. We will leave as soon as Howard’s bulls are put in with the females for their allotted nine weeks a year. This momentous event happens at the same time each year, mid May. This is a little later than our own Limousin bulls, Stan and Galli, who wait patiently each year for Anzac Day for the same reason and who are already wooing and cooing their way around our paddocks. I love the fact that we are planning our trip around the farming calendar. That’s life in the country!
The target destination is Adelaide River. We plan to be there for the Adelaide River Races on 31 May, another immovable date. (An outback horse racing meet will be a first for me.) But wait, you may be thinking that Adelaide is on the South coast of Australia? That’s true, Adelaide is a Southern city, but Adelaide River where we are heading is actually close to Darwin on the North coast.
So we have 13 days to travel approximately 4000 kilometres, including the Birdsville Track and the Simpson Desert. This gives us some contingency, but essentially we will have to be on the road, making good progress to the North every day.
After the races, the convoy breaks up and we go our separate ways. Howard and Beryl will stay up North and drive through the Gulf across to Queensland. Olive and Malcolm will tag along with them. Max and Heather are at the start of a longer trip and will return to Birdsville to pick up their caravan before heading back North with the creature comforts a caravan can offer. It’s not practical to take the caravan across the Simpson so they are leaving it in a secure location there on our way up. Brett and Christine have commitments back at home that mean they will most probably have to take the quickest route South.
I have never seen the iconic Uluru (Ayers Rock) so we will be taking a detour to the West from Alice Springs to visit Kings Canyon and the Rock before we head home.
We all talk through our plans and finally as the group breaks up we agree to meet at 7am on Saturday 17 May to head off on our adventure.
I will update the blog as often as I can along the way so that you, dear reader, can come along with us and share our Red Centre experience – at least virtually!