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The Great Central Rd Guide

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Fact File


Distances:

Alice Springs Maryvale station        102km
Chambers Pillar detour                   118km
Old Ghan RD                                 143km
Lamberts Centre detour                  26km
Finke to Kulgera                             145km
Total                                             534km



Fuel and food supplies can be found at:


Alice Springs
Maryvale station                   08 89560989
Finke Store (Apatula Store)    08 89560968
Kulgera Road House              08 8956 0973



Camping permitted at:

Chambers Pillar (small fee’s apply)
Along the Old Ghan Rd
Finke
Kulgera Road House (small fee’s apply)



Notes:


2 Days Recommended to get from Alice to Kulgera.

Old Ghan Rd gets really busy over the Finke Desert Race, this is held on the June Long weekend every year.

Your Trip Right

The Old Ghan Rd




Some time back we bought a fifty thousand dollar campervan to make camping easier… or so we thought!

 Yet, this Easter the “Tvan” was not easy to manage at all, as it was loaded up with food and supplies for the 6 weeks in Docker River (the remote community we live in), plus all the other gear we needed for our Simpson’s crossing in June…, oh…, and plus a single bed for Layla!

 Having said this, we felt that our Easter trip was still going to be memorable, with a great sense of adventure in the air and great scenery to look forward to.

 Easter Saturday saw us planning to head down the Tanami from Yuendumu towards Alice Springs. We were up in this part of the world as, the Thursday prior, we had been visiting my mother who had taken us camping at a rockhole just outside of Yuendumu.







 















As I drove, I couldn’t help thinking it was really nice being a guest in Warlpiri country, especially as the part of the Tanami we were driving from Yuendumu to Alice Springs is really good. There is a high percentage of bitumen and even the dirt road surface is generally quite good, although maybe this was due to the amount of mining activity in the region.

 After doing our shopping for the next 6 weeks at Woolworths, I was keen to pack it all away and get on the road. Unfortunately, our ARB fridge in the Tvan was not working and, with the day getting on and our goal being Chambers Pillar, I must have looked like a mad man running around the car and campervan in the Woolies car park!

 I was plugging cords in trying to find out if there was power getting to the fridge or was it the fridge cord, or just the fridge, that was faulty. Luckily, the fridge and cord were fine, it’s just that there was no power getting to the front box. Our Anderson plug on the car was in pretty poor condition and, somewhere along the line, it had blown the fuse in the camper.

By 3:30pm, all sorted, I had a latte in my hand and we were, finally, on the road—heading out through the famous Alice Springs’ Heavitree Gap and towards the airport.


The turn off to Chambers Pillar is well marked and the road was, by and large, fantastic. Actually, this was my first time down this road so, whilst I can’t say it’s always as good, the fact there were signs saying “4wd vehicles recommended” made me think that there must be times when seasonal problems arise.

The countryside was beautiful as we drove—a typical central Australian landscape. The turn off to Chambers Pillar is at Titjikala, which has quite a claim to fame by having won the “NT Tidy Town Award” on more than one occasion. One other thing which caught my attention was how close the average tourist drives to the community as, usually, in my experience, main roads are a lot further away from the various settlements.

After waving goodbye to Titjikala, the road became a lot less well maintained, more corrugated, windier and, naturally, a lot slower—making for interesting but not necessarily challenging driving.

There is an interesting climb just before Chambers Pillar where we got quite high and it was necessary to use low range gears. From the top there were great views and, for me, this was the real highlight of the trip up to this point. Naturally, the steep descent was more relaxing and, soon, we made it comfortably into Chambers Pillar.


Chambers Pillar, is within station property and it was necessary to open a few gates to get to it.  Just before arriving, we came to a sign which informed us we would be crossing sand hills and to use a sand flag, if available. Luckily, Jess had not long ago forked out $130 for a sand flag in preparation for our Simpson crossing later in the year!

At this stage I must say I was a little nervous. The Prado is not the most powerful vehicle around and, with our massive load, it was not going to take a big sand hill to stop us in our tracks—luckily, the sand hills we did cross were rock hard.

 

 



















Layla quickly made a friend, which allowed Jess and I to get through the epic set up. Before long I was cooking dinner and enjoying one of the two beers I had allowed myself for the weekend. To our surprise, Layla had made friends with some people we knew from our stint in Blackstone WA in 2008, and it was good to catch up with them—what a small world!

In the morning, we found that the Easter Bunny had visited! For once the epic pile of junk we were dragging through the desert came in handy, as we could easily hide the Easter eggs. However, this abundance of eggs started Layla’s love for chocolate that led to regular tantrums until it was all gone (some 7 days later!).

 After the excitement of the Easter bunny we set out walking for Chamber’s Pillar, along a path which was well maintained and managed. Reading through the engravings on the Pillar was really something, and left us imagining the early explorers who came past this famous pillar as long ago as the early 1800’s—certainly a historical roll call of pioneers!

For Indigenous people, Chamber’s Pillar is considered to be a reminder of the importance of abiding by correct marriage practices, with the Pillar said to be a man and the nearby Castle Rock (quite spectacular itself) is believed to be his shamed wife.

Leaving Chambers Pillar we were planning to head due east from Titjikala and hook up with the Old Ghan Road. However, some of the guys at Maryvale Station shop told us the road had been closed at is was really badly damaged, so we back tracked 15km to the north and linked up with the Old Ghan that way.

All the way down the Old Ghan I was captivated by three things:

1)   The effort that had gone into the earth moving when they had created the railway line
2)   The various ruins dotted along the old line
3)   The Finke Desert Race track

Unfortunately, as I was navigating through sand, the landscape didn’t get much of a look-in between the aforementioned three things!

The Old Ghan was very sandy and we used a lot of fuel—21 L per 100km to be exact. I felt a sense of excitement as we ran parallel to the big dunes, especially as, with our upcoming Simpson crossing, I knew we would soon be taking some of those dunes head on!

Each set of ruins we passed no doubt had a different story, although the ruins that, for no particular reason, really caught my imagination were the sturdy looking ruins at Rodinga. Whilst there appeared to be nothing special at Rodinga, I found it hard to imagine what had determined this location as a settlement in years gone by, and what living at Rodinga would have been like. As an aside, I also couldn’t help but think about the commercial opportunities of doing up one of the ruins into an iconic outback pub!

We finally ended up at Finke and it was really exciting to see the community we had heard a lot about previously. Finke was a town before it was a community, which meant that the buildings were a lot different to what we see in other communities.




 


















After Finke we made our way to Lambert’s Centre of Australia. In fact, at times, it felt like it we were in an RL Stein book where you choose your own adventure and, on the way, there are tracks shooting off in all directions but, ultimately, all lead to the same place. We arrived there just on dusk and discovered a heap of emu tracks—one set of a full grown emu and the rest of its chicks. This made Layla very excited, so we promised her a stop to look at the Emus as we passed through Erldunda the next day.

Lambert’s Centre of Australia was a really great spot to camp and, whilst it obviously gets very busy, this time we, luckily, had the place all to ourselves.

The next morning Jess took a look through the visitors’ book, looking for cousins who had been through the year before, but she could not find them. We did, however, find names of five other friends who had been through there recently.

I was feeling pretty relieved at the thought that this was to be the last camp pack-up for this trip (which included putting Layla’s new single bed back in the camper). However, the joy for life was short lived when Jess pointed out one of the camper’s tyres was completely flat!

We didn’t end up getting away until after 10:00am, which saw us eating lunch at around 1:30pm at Erldunda, and stopped at Ayres Rock for dinner and to let the sun set, as I find driving into the sun more hazardous than driving at night.

Our epic Easter ended at 10:30pm that night back home in Docker River, although it would be a few weeks before we sorted out all of our new purchases from Alice Springs!




Brett Toll