Sunday, 21 October 2012

Great Central Road – Yulara to Warakurna (Giles)

The Great Central Road is a 1000+km trek from Yulara / Uluru in NT to Laverton in WA, just above Kalgoorlie.  It is a part of a widely advertised route called 'The Outback Way’, which also extends up into central Queensland.

We were keen to experience this part of the country, having never been through there.  The Great Centra Road (GCR) passes through some Western deserts, such as the Gibson Desert, and is also the area which Len Beadell built a lot of his roads along with the Gunbarrel Construction Crew.  We had been interested in Len’s adventures for years, so was good to be able to put it into a little bit of context.
From Yulara, you pass by Uluru, and head towards Kata Juta (the Olga’s).  Just before you get to the Olga’s, you turn left, and head off down the dirt road towards the WA border.  You require a couple of permits to travel along the GCR, given you are passing through Aboriginal Lands.  For the WA side, in our case we had 3 days to pass through, so not too much hanging around.

The first section between the Olga’s and the WA border was a little rough, but nothing horrendous.  We had been on much, much worst.  The bush was similar to what we had been driving through around Alice and Uluru, which included the beautiful and striking red dirt we love so much.

A real highlight was approaching and driving through the Peterman Ranges.  These stood out on the horizon as we approached, and then ended up surrounding you as we drove through Docker River.  We had done a little reading in the past of explorers in the 1800’s travelling through this country, and mentioning the Peterman Ranges.  Was great to actually put context to them.

We also wondered how impressive the little gorges, waterfalls, caves and ridges would be, imaginging that it would be so untouched, and somewhat unexplored.  Given it is Aboriginal Land, not too many people get to see it, but would be pretty special if you were able.

Along the way, we also dropped in to see Lasserter’s Cave.  This was where a guy, Lasserter, held up for 25 days in late Jan, 1931.  He was looking for a huge gold reef he had apparently discovered back in 1897.  The existence of the reef remains one of Australia’s great romantic mysteries. 

In his 1931 expedition, his camels ended up bolting from him, taking all his supplies.  He held up in this cave until he finally made a run for the Olgas where members of his party were waiting for him.  He unfortunately didn’t make it, and died along the way.  The reef has yet to be found.
If you had to be stuck in a cave, it's not too bad as far as caves go

A dry, dusty and hopeless outlook from the cave
It was at the cave, while having lunch, we met a bunch of motorbike riders.  They were doing an organised trip from Perth to Airlie Beach, via outback roads.  What an adventure they were having!

We drove on past Docker River, where we were originally planning to stay.  It was still early in the day, and we were keen to get to Warakurna.

Warakurna is a roadhouse and community some 100kms into WA from the border.  It was a clean, well stocked roadhouse, and a very helpful guy looking after it all.  We organised for a night in the campground, noted we’d be back to look at the art gallery in the morning, and enquired on the drill for the Giles Weather Station tours.

The campground was equally clean, as were the facilities.  We setup camp and slowly got dinner on the go.  We had passed a grader driver working on the road, and not long after we’d setup, he rolled into camp and got into some cleanup jobs.

A little while later, Glenn wandered over to have a chat to him.  It was fascinating.  Kevin was absolutely up for a chat, no doubt because he would hardly talk to anyone all day!  He’d been doing the grading in this area for over a year, and had some great information and views on it all. 

Kevin was saying that bar about 3 weeks of a year, there are 3 graders working full time on the GCR and surrounding roads.  They do access roads for some aboriginal communities as well as mine sites.  Glenn also asked about how they actually did the grading, which we’d been wondering about for ages.

Funnily, when Glenn wandered over, Kevin had just finished using his grader blade as a bead breaker on his Hilux tire.  He was having to fix it, and what better way to break the bead I guess!!!!

The next morning, we packed up as quick as we could, and headed up the road to the weather station.  Giles is the most remote weather station in Australia.  We were really keen to have a tour of the operation, and also see the weather balloon being released for the morning readings, although we were not 100% sure that they were still running.  Luckily for us it was.
Giles, the most remost weather station in the country

Craig grabbed us, being the only ones there, and gave us the run-down on the station.  There were a heap of facts and details, which were great to help know a little more about how it all works.  Giles is the last location in Australia where they manually release the balloons.  The balloons are used to track upper atmosphere wind conditions, as well as temp, humidity etc. 

The balloon is released at 8.45 each morning, coinciding with other balloon releases right around the world.  The balloon rises at a constant rate, getting to a height of 35kms before popping.  At that height, the balloon has expanded to be around 15 metres wide!  The balloon is tracked for direction and height, as well as sends data back to a radar on the ground.  All this information is collated and sent to the Bureau for various inputs.

We learnt a bunch out of the tour, and it was a real highlight of our GCR trip.  It was however disappointing to find out that Craig, who was the maintenance and support guy on the station, as well as the tour guide, was due to leave in 10 days.  Apparently the big bosses had determined that his position was no longer required, and he was finishing up!  The concept was that the weather observers were suppose to do the tours, but word on the ground was that they wouldn’t.  Very disappointing.

We could have sat around talking to Craig for hours, about the station, and the surrounding areas and community.  He had a lot of knowledge and experience, and some interesting views on what goes on.  He had jobs to do, so we let him go.  We looked over the old grader that was out the front, which was used by the Gunbarrel Construction Crew to make a lot of the surrounding desert roads.
The grader used to open up much of the outback in the 60's

Remains of a rocket found nearby

After this, we dropped back into the art gallery for a quick look at the impressive artwork, but we did resist this time. 

It was time to head onwards, and westwards.

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