You drive enough on gravel roads and one day you are sure to get a puncture. But two punctures in three days, with only one spare and a long distance to the only tyre shop for hundreds of kms is one puncture too many!
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at big Nissans and Toyotas all nicely kitted out for off-road driving and wondered is it all really necessary. Well, lets say this…after this last Easter weekends tyre problems I reckon if you are heading out to the bush anywhere in Africa or Australia you can’t be too equipped. Until now Lynette’s comment would be that it’s just boy’s toys, but after getting stuck on the road miles from nowhere even she’ll reluctantly agree that when you travel out back some toys are necessities.
Let’s start from the beginning. This Easter we planned another photography trip out to the far west of Queensland. The idea was to check out the freshwater and saltwater lakes at Currawinya National Park near the small town of Hungerford about a thousand kms west of Brisbane. The trip out was not too bad. After leaving at 4.00am we arrived at 3.00pm. Typical for Australia, the further you get away from the cities the less traffic you have on the road. It’s a nice thing when everything goes well, but when there’s a problem, a car every half hour or so is not the best.
Leaving the tarred road at the small town of Eulo, the last 120kms to Hungerford is dirt. Mostly it’s red clay which if it’s not corrugated is nice to drive in the dry. Judging from sections of the road still deeply rutted from the wet season, it’s clearly not a road to travel when it’s been raining. To solve the problem the local authorities have begun a process of repairing the worst sections by reconstructing with coarse quartz gravel. So the trip is one of alternating from fairly smooth dusty red stuff to rumbling along rough stones punctuated every ten kms or so with cattle grids. Anyway, the trip down to Hungerford was uneventful and we eventually pitched up at the Royal Mail Hotel, our base for the weekend. The Hungerford Hotel is a typical outback Australian establishment and the center of attraction in the town which has a grand population of 13. Run by Graham Fitch, a genial Aussie bloke who is very welcoming to visitors who take the time to stop off to stay the night or have a drink. Graham’s home style TBone steaks washed down by a cold XXXX were the perfect end to a long day on the road.
The Pub with the best cold beer for hundreds of kilometers. Donations to the Flying Doctor Service are thrown up and pinned to the ceiling.
Some old hotel guests waiting for the bus that never comes!
Sunrise over the Dingo Barrier fence that forms the boundary between New South Wales and Queensland. Part of a series of fences originally built in the 1880’s to contain the spread of rabbits, the fences were joined together in 1940 to form a continuous 1,864 km structure which until 1980 when it was shortened to todays length of 5,614 kms it was the longest fence in the world.
The next day we were up early off to explore the bush and hopefully get some rare birds in the lens. The main attraction, Lake Wyara a salt lake, and Lake Numulla a freshwater lake are a short dirt road drive north west of Hungerford. When full, Lake Wyara is a haven for migratory birds and we were hoping to get some good sightings on it. Unfortunately due to the drought in outback Queensland, now in its third year Wyara is basically dry. Lake Numulla although a good 2-3 m below it’s optimum water level still has a lot of water, but apart from a few pelicans, miles out of range, the bird life was scarce.
A Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater taking a dip.
A Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo marching over the red dirt of Hungerford.
Heading back up the road to Eulo to check out the Currawinya camp sites along the Paroo River we crossed a cattle grid and all hell broke loose. I would say if you want to want to shred a tyre, do it in style like we did…except when you are 180kms from the nearest tyre guy on sharp quartz gravel roads you should at least have two additional spares. So next time you see a boy with a toy with two tyres on the back, he has them there for a reason, not to look Macho!
Anyway, after changing on our only spare, we decided to drive 180kms back to Cunnamulla, the nearest town with a tyre guy, only to find everything closed for Easter, and no after hours number available anywhere. So, what else could we do, nothing except to head back the 180kms to Hungerford and hope to god we never got another puncture.
The next day, Sunday, after hearing Graham’s horror stories of having seven punctures in two weeks we decided it was too risky to stay in Hungerford and checked out and headed back again to Cunnamulla with the intention to base up there and spend Monday at the Bowra Nature Conservancy which is known as being one of the best bird photography sites in Queensland. The assumption was that the Bowra roads could not be as aggressive as the Hungerford road, and worse come to worse, Bowra was not too far from Cunnamulla.
Sunday was uneventful, except for the experience of having hundreds of small ticks crawl all over us as we sat under the shade of a tree next to a waterhole having lunch. African ticks are bad enough, but basically they drop off when they have sucked their fill. Australian ticks are real bastards. The crawl over you in their hundreds and then burrow down and make themselves comfortable. Last year, after the last visit to Bowra I had a tick bite on the back of my leg that took nine months to heal…so with that fresh in the memory you can imagine us jumping around like idiots flapping and scratching at everything that crawled. In such times you wish for a tame monkey or baboon that could sit and pick them all, because man’s fingers are designed for holding beer, not picking ticks!
On Monday the tyre shop was still closed so it was back to Bowra for more bird photography. But this time we stayed well clear of the tick spot and eventually set up at another waterhole hoping to photograph birds as they came to drink. It was a good move, because we did come away with good shots of Emus and a huge flock of Galahs drinking. But, as usual there always has to be a BUT to spoil a good thing and this time it was in the form of a violent mid-afternoon dust storm which quickly blew in over the open ground behind the waterhole. Before we could really react and cover things the wind blew over Brother-in-law John’s tripod smashing his lens. Not good!!!
An Emu and Galah’s enjoying a late afternoon drink at a Bowra waterhole.
Leaving the waterhole we had just crossed the cattle grid gate and were a mere twenty meters on the tar road heading to Cunnamulla when we had our second puncture. Damn!!! You can’t imagine the disbelief. Getting punctured on gravel…but not on tar with night quickly approaching miles from anywhere and with no spare tyre. It’s not a good feeling. Anyway after trying to re-inflate the tyre Lynette and myself set out to walk the six kilometers back to the Bowra station house where a bunch of birders who were banding birds were staying, to get help, leaving John to stay with the Landrover. We had hardly walked a kilometer when a farm truck drove up. We hopped in the back and a short while later were back at the Landrover and with camera gear and punctured tyre in the back on our way into Cunnamulla thanks to the kindness of an American birder Allison Roberts. In times like this, your faith in humanity returns. Thanks a million Allison..we will never forget your help.
Early Tuesday morning we were the first at the tyre shop and shortly after that back on the way to the Landrover with a new spare from Dux Tyres, Cunnamulla. Talking to the Dux tyre guys we came to the realization that we will not be the last he sees with shredded tyres compliments of the Hungerford road. His comment was that road alone is worth at least 3-4 tyres a week in business. Interestingly, his reply to me when I asked him which is the best brand of tyre to handle rough Aussie outback roads, was that it does not matter whether you have a $200 tyre or a $500 tyre, they all get chewed up……Good to know from a guy who makes a living solving tyre problems!
So, the moral of the story is. If you are planning a bush trip, get organized. At least have two good spares and a high lift jack. Recovery tracks for deep rutted mud, and a winch are probably also a good idea. And as they always say, have enough food and water with you in case you have to sweat it out a bit before you get rescued. Common sense to most…but in our case, common sense learnt the hard way!
Oh…and make sure you spray your legs with bug spray to stop the ticks crawling up!