How bad weather can improve your travel experience

John and I recently joined a tour, Maralinga and Beyond, which was organised by Vic Widman and Great Divide Tours. Although the itinerary included many places we had already visited and even filmed, we decided to join the tour as there were some highlights we hadn’t been to. Then we found how bad weather can improve your travel experience.

Some of the new experiences

On day 1 our morning stop was at Iron Knob – part mining town, mostly ghost town. The Tourist Centre and Museum, found on the edge of town furthest from the Eyre Highway, offers expansive views towards the mountains lining Spencer Gulf, as well as many interesting exhibits of the mining and town history.

sample of the organ pipe foundations in the Gawler Ranges
Organ pipe formations

The group stopped at Mt Ive Station for a self-drive tour to visit the volcanic plugs of Peter’s Pillars and Lake Gairdner, serene under the setting sun. Then we travelled into the Gawler Ranges National Park for a day exploring the features there, including old huts, dry waterfalls and organ pipe rock formations, historical display that included a pastoral homestead, equipment and way of life, and stunning scenery as seen from a lookout over the valley below.

The bad weather changes the itinerary

Googs Track was next. As one of the elements that we had travelled before, but never filmed, it was disappointing that the heavy overcast obscured the views of Mt Finke. But the light rain did settle the sand on the dunes making travel easier.

Which was good as the plan had been to camp at Googs Lake but the weather report was bad.  Torrential rain and extreme winds were predicted across much of coastal and central Australia. Vic decided to press on to Ceduna for the cover offered by the Tourist Park and the travellers were all very grateful.

In all we were based in Ceduna for 3 nights as rain and wind continued to affect the itinerary.

strong winds across the dunes
Hold on! Strong winds across the dunes

Davenport Creek is an easy drive from Ceduna. Vic’s plan had been to camp there and explore the sand dunes and beach. But the rain, wind and very high tide made access difficult and camping there would have been quite uncomfortable.

But the weather wasn’t all bad. The sun was shining when we did access the dunes at Davenport Creek, but the strong wind was blowing the sand across the dune tops and driving the waves onshore. As we took in the beautiful scene before us, we felt like we needed to have something to hold onto.

Wild sea at the blowholes at Cape Bauer, near Streaky Bay, SA
Wild sea at the blowholes at Cape Bauer

Next day as rain and wind alternated with sun and wind, the group headed for Streaky Bay and nearby Cape Bauer. Again the wind drove the surging sea onto the rocks, where the waves were forced through vertical fractures for spectacular displays at the Whistling Rocks and Blowholes.

It was time to move on for more beaches with a stop at Port Sinclair and surfing mecca, Cactus Beach, before more giant sand dunes and beach driving at Fowlers Bay. At last the wind had dropped and the sand and sea were calm.

Fowlers Bay is proud of its history with information boards displayed throughout the small village.

The bad weather brings surprises

After experiencing the stunning wave action at Whistling Rocks, we had discovered quickly how bad weather can improve your travel experience. But there were even more surprises in store.

There must have been good rains across the central deserts before the heap of rain related to the storm that hit central Australia.

green vegetation around Totem 1, site of an atomic bomb blast
Green vegetation around Totem 1

As we travelled through the Great Victoria Desert we were surprised at how green the vegetation was, including the spinifex (Triodia). New growth was bright green and spread across the landscape. The grasses and new growth along the track were all green including at Totems I and II of the British Atomic Weapons Tests of October 1953.

green spinifex along the Anne Beadell Highway
Green spinifex along the Anne Beadell Highway

But the biggest surprise was at Palm Valley and along the Finke River Track. Visitors there at the time were warned to leave before the storm that swept through and the Finke Gorge National Park closed. By the time we came, the creeks and rivers were full but fortunately for us the floods were subsiding and both were open once more.

John and I had explored the Finke River Track many years before. The only water encountered was the permanent waterhole at Boggy Hole. This time, both Palm Creek and Finke River were carrying water. There were many photo opportunities and scenic delights at each river crossing – all of which provided no problems except one.

As one of the first groups to attempt the Finke River Track after the storm, Vic was uncertain whether we might be able to get through. And then we found one very deep hole. Vic waded in to test the depth, but quickly gave it away when the water lapped at the bottom of his shorts.

checking the water level in the river crossing
Vic checks the water level

Gloom descended on the group until Ian, Vic’s assistant, found an alternative track – overgrown, over rocks and rough, and a safe detour. We all scrambled through and continued our marvellous adventure.

peaceful Finke River with reflections
Finke River reflections

As it turned out, Vic’s natural caution had prevented our vehicles from drowning at the deep hole in the river. Further down the track we came across a stranded vehicle abandoned after going through that hole.

We completed the Finke River Track, having enjoyed the adventure and experienced the beauty of the usually dry Finke River with water in it.

Our trip finished at Alice Springs, a great adventure with wonderful diversity and enhanced by bad weather that improved our travel experience.

The whole story of this trip is found in our newly published video Long Road to the Alice: Port Augusta to Alice Springs. Check it out and order your copy now.