Chopping the tour into two parts, so that we could celebrate Andy's wedding in Fiji in July, has proven to be a great success. Once we had organised secure places for us to leave the car and the van (in separate spots in Alice) we flew off feeling slightly disembodied, as the plane lifted up and up over the Simpson Desert and views of Lake Eyre, heading for Tullamarine. Katie met us and took us home and we had much to catch up on with our gallery-owning daughter. We had a fortnight at home during which time we were able to make contact with friends at the Newham Winter Dance, sort the post and pour a witches brew of nutrients onto the garden to improve weed resistance - all good creative stuff.
Andy's wedding was organised entirely by them on Treasure Island, Fiji. We met Andy and the bride's family at the airport and set off for a week, at the conclusion of which Michelle Travers became Michelle Scott and Andy a very happy chappy. Kate came out for a couple of days and we were all together having a lovely family affair.
There has been a lot of rain through the centre this season, and many roads have been closed. Our plans to meet up with friends at Mornington Station at the west end of the Gibb River Road were very much dependent on the Tanami Track, running north west out of Alice, being open. We headed up there the day it was officially reopened, and had no trouble at all. Rabbit Flat has been an iconic stopping place on the Tanami, where fuel can be had provided you arrive between Friday and Sunday evening. The proprietor Bruce arrived there forty years ago with his newly-wed French wife Jacqueline, sunk a bore, planted an orchard, and they have been the only white occupants of the country there for hundreds of kilometres. Sadly as with all things they will be closing down at the end of the year, and many travellers will have to make other arrangements. End of an era.
Apart from a fairly chopped up road at The Granites where there is a lot of new mining activity, the Tanami was good. The references seem to be unanimous in saying the Tanami is a boring road, but we didn't find it so at all. Helen found the plant diversity endlessly fascinating, and old mine sites are always interesting. Two days driving and we were at Wolfe Creek Crater just short of the junction with the Great Northern Highway west of Halls Creek. Wolfe Creek Crater, 800 metres across, is a relatively recent crater at 300,000 years old. It was first “discovered” in 1947 when a survey team flew over it looking for minerals. It seems extraordinary to realise that these stretches of country that are now so busy with tourist activity were unknown when Helen and I were born!
When we left the Tanami we pumped up the tyres for the bitumen and headed west as quickly as we could, aiming for Fitzroy Crossing 274 kms away, where we briefly detoured to Geikie Gorge. Forty three kilometers west of Fitzroy Crossing we turned north on dirt again, on the Leopold Downs Road. This takes you past the Devonian Reef NP, to Windjana Gorge NP, where we pitched up for the night. We visited Windjana in 2008 and were pleased to make a brief reacquaintance with the place. Bill had purchased the same sort of steam driven satphone as we have, so after much frustrating pointing of devices at satellites and really by a fluke, we made contact with each other and discovered they were on the other side of the Leopold Ranges at Silent Grove, awaiting our arrival. A brisk early morning walk up the gorge to see the fresh water crocodiles and off again, to make the remaining 135 kms in time for hot breakfast coffee with Bill and Jill.