Kings Canyon, Ayers Rock and the Olgas
(Written by Steve Oct 21, 05)
So we just watched the sunset on Ayers Rock and it was pretty cool. We left Alice Springs 2 days ago and made it to Kings Canyon, but barely.
I have to tell you that I made a huge mistake on the trip down here from Alice Springs.
Geez, it makes me sick just to think about the bone head move I made that could have left us in serious trouble. I rented a Patrol (Nissanís version of the Land Cruiser) and it was a beauty, a 2005 with only 10,000 km. The day all started when we picked up the truck and headed down the Stuart Highway to Kings Canyon. The drive is over 500 km if you take the highway or only 390 if you take the 4x4 short cut, which has 100 km of dirt road through aboriginal land. I asked about the short cut at the rental office and they said it would be quicker but she was not sure if the road would be open because of all the rain in the last few days. When we left our Hotel we noticed a funny smell when we first started driving but thought it must be coming from outside.
So anyways, we are bombing down the highway listening to our favorite CD, Green Day, and all is well. I saw a road house after about an hour of driving and I told Helen I wanted to stop and ask about the short cut (4x4 road) The folks in the road house told us that they had had a lot of rain and they were sure the road would not be open. So we got back in this shiny new truck and were bombing down the highway when all of a sudden a huge sign said Kings Canyon turn in 500 meters. It was the short cut we had heard about. We pulled over and looked at the road. It was dirt and there were some big puddles but the first few hundred feet did not look so bad and there was no closed gate or signs. I said to the Boss (Helen), what do you think? And she said, lets give it a try. I thought, why not, we have a 4X4 and just like my expertise in surfing (???), I am quite the expert when it comes to off road travel, so lets give it a try. We drove down to the Henbury meteor craters and asked some folks what they knew about the road, but no one could help us. One of the people we saw were stopped in a car and when we rolled down the window we noticed a burning smell coming from their car. We just figured that was why the guy was pulled over and he must have been cooling off or something. As we drove, the puddles got bigger but we seemed to have enough room on either side to just drive around them. The only problem was we could only drive at about 30 Ė 40 km an hour and the puddles were getting larger and looking really deep. After 20 minutes of driving we did not see anyone else on this road and I had a bad feeling and was second guessing our choice of short cuts. I asked Helen if she thought we should keep going, and she said she was quite comfy with my driving skills and said letís keep going. We were warned by many Aussies about traveling these roads because if a rain came it could cause flash flooding and wash you away. I looked into the heavens and could not see a cloud in the sky, but if we got stuck we could end up a long way from any sealed road. We drove for about 45 minutes and maybe 25 km and did not see another car; that made me uneasy. The puddles were now small lakes and were very difficult to drive around because the truck went up on such an angle. It felt like we were going to roll over.
A picture of the first puddles we had to drive around, this one was about a city block long and they just kept getting larger and deeper after that. This is where we should have turned around.
Now I knew now we should not be out here. If we got stuck, not only would there be no cars driving by to help but the heat might just cause us some major problems because it was super hot out. One of the reasons I thought we should take this short cut was because Nikolas was so ill, the faster we got to our next destination the better, or so I thought. When the above picture was taken we were only 20 kms into this disaster, the temperature outside was in the mid 40's and Nikolas had a temperature of 104 degrees. It was not long before we came to a lake that blocked the whole road and it appeared the only way was to drive through it, but I remembered what Greg (Our Bus driver that drove us through the outback) had said about wet dirt roads. Greg told us that these puddles are all mud and sometimes 4 feet deep and once you get in there the mud just bogs up the wheels and you canít move. So here we are stopped, looking at this lake, and I wanted to turn around but I did not want to go back through the lakes we had already driven through. So I said what I had been saying many times on that day: if I can just get through this one maybe it will get better. That thinking got us in a whole lot of trouble on that day. So I thought it would be better to risk rolling the truck rather than getting it stuck in the mud, so we drove along the angle and had no choice but to go into the puddle at the end. We made it through that one, but the puddles got bigger as we went along and we still had not seen another vehicle yet. We were exactly 50 km into this disaster and if we got stuck now and no one else was using this road, we were in major trouble. We tried to drive around on of these massive puddles but went up on such and angle we almost rolled over so we came up with a plan B. Now after 2 hours we were still moving but now having to drive into the brush, finding trees wide enough to pass through just to get around some of these puddles. Driving into the bush in the outback was one of the biggest No No's a tourist can make, but I was terrified of driving around anymore puddles. It has been 3 Ĺ hours since we left Alice Springs and we have not seen another vehicle and I am freaking out inside now and just want to get the heck (being nice) off this road and for this day to end. To make matters worst we could still smell that burning smell we noticed almost 4 hours ago when we picked up this truck and it seemed to be getting stronger, so I pulled over in the middle of no where and lifted the hood. I was shocked to see the engine compartment covered with oil and then I noticed the oil spraying out of the valve cover. There was no oil cap and then I checked the dipstick and it showed not a drop of oil, I mean nothing! So we are in the middle of nowhere and are out of oil and my 10 year old son had a very serious fever. Oh now we were all freaking and had very little options. We just had to keep driving this truck as far as it would take us or until the engine seized. Hopefully that would be to the main road so we could flag down a passing vehicle.
So, to make a long story a wee bit shorter, Iíll tell you that we survived and made it to the main road. That engine just kept running and running, all the way to a service station in Kings Canyon. It took us 5 hours to take that short cut and make it to Kings Canyon. Thatís an hour longer than if we had just stuck to the freeway (The longer way).
If we had gotten stuck, I would have never forgiven myself. Driving down that road was the dumbest thing I have done on this whole trip and I feel quite foolish about it and did not have a clue how badly that day could have ended. I say this because when I told the lady at the Kings Canyon Hotel that we went down that road she laughed and said, ďYou must be mistaken because that road is closed and the police have advised everyone that it will not open for another 4 days". I told her we made a big mistake and drove it, and she replied (as if we were dumb tourists) that we were very fortunate to have made it and they have had people die out there on those roads. I felt like throwing up while she was telling me this, but we needed to get our son into an air conditioned area so we booked a room at the hotel.
We let Nikolas cool off for an bit and then we drove up to the Canyon to see the cliffs but Nikolas was way too sick to walk.
I called the Avis in Alice Springs where I picked it up and learned that this truck had just gone for servicing and the mechanic must have forgotten to put the cap on. I drove over 500 km with no oil cap and I have no idea how long I drove without any oil. We could have seized our engine up on that dirt road but somehow this truck just kept running. The outback stars must have been looking down on us that day because I put over 6 1/2 litres of oil back into that engine and that proved it was completely dry.
I can hear my Mother-in-law right saying, ďI told my daughter not to marry that guyĒ.
(Picture below) When we made it to the end of the dirt road I felt sick to my stomach but got on my knees and bowed down to this truck. I am not sure how or why it kept running, but it did one heck of a job taking care of my family that day.
Oh thank you, amazing, oil free truck!
The Next day (Oct 22,05)
Like I said we are now here in Ayers Rock and all is well, and we get a new vehicle tomorrow because this one may has some serious engine damage and must be towed back to Alice Springs. Nikolas still has a very high fever for the 3rd day in a row, we are hopeful he will be feeling better tomorrow. He is missing out on some serious rock climbing, poor guy.
I could go on about the Olgas and The Rock but the pictures will hopefully tell the story.
When the sun sets on these massive rocks, the colours are mesmerizing; something you have to see on your own.
So come on down from Cairns like we did (3000 km) or up from Adelaide (1500 km), because it is so worth it!
If you are going to make this wonderful journey across Australia let me give you a few tips from an expert .
Before you leave on any long journey make sure you bring lots of water, always CHECK your oil and donít take any short cuts!
Next stop: Coober Pedy.