I wrote the bolded text below for the company newsletter. But the reality is in the unbolded italic text.
Life on the road with Kitty.
Every tour I’ve ever done has specific timings and itineraries. We try very hard to meet these and cover everything listed and we pretty much nail it. But we also like to see if we can fit in extra things: attractions and sights that we think our passengers might be interested in or that we are interested in. These can be preplanned or entirely spontaneous and they often give us some of the best moments of the trip.
Mostly we do extra stuff because we want to do it and selling it as an added extra means we can justify going out of our way/adding time to the day. Spontaneous often means ‘Shit, there is a vehicle problem; what’s nearby that might distract them?!’
Such was the case on this current trip along the Savannah Way.
One of the first planned ‘extras’ was a train trip in the famous Gulflander train, from Normanton to Black Bull siding. This train has been running since the 1890s Croydon gold rush and our passengers were as eager as we were to experience this bit of living history. It didn’t disappoint.
Barry, my work partner, is a train buff and he really wanted to ride the Gulflander and it would involve juggling around our schedule and campsites a LOT. So we sent out emails to all the passengers before the tour asking who wanted to do it and giving the costs. 23 out of 28 – I think that justified it to the office.
They all caught the train at the historic Normanton siding and I drove the bus back along 150 kms of already travelled road to pick them up. I laid out morning tea at Black Butt siding and happily recorded the train choofing in and all the passengers waving at me through the windows. Barry was happy and I got to drive, so I was happy too, and the passengers were happy because there is so little to do in Normanton and it was a free day.
Then, due to logistical issues, we ended up taking a slightly different route through the Northern Territory and so it was a given that we would try to fit in a quick soak at Mataranka Hot Springs. Pristine clear blue waters, at a temperature of 34 degrees Celsius, the waters are supposed to have mineral properties that soothe aches and pains: after some of the outback roads we travelled, most of us were keen to try! A warm soak, a cold beer or ice-cream (or both!) afterwards and this unexpected spa visit improved everybody’s day.
Logistical issues meant that one of our passengers, who shouldn’t have been on the tour in the first place, had a fall and we diverted outback roads to try and fly her out from one of the towns. Two planes a week and both full so it didn’t happen but the Mataranka Hot Springs were en route so we decided to stop an hour for a dip.
The bus passenger air conditioner blew up as soon as we pulled up. No amount of warm springs would improve our day after that and it got worse when we discovered that it couldn’t be fixed for another 11 days.
We were going to be travelling past the Lost City, a national park with amazing rock formations so we decided to build in a time buffer that day so we could spend some time there. A wonderful walk through the rocks for some and bird watching on a waterlily filled billabong for others; it gave people a chance to be off the bus and refresh themselves in a beautiful surrounding.
The air-conditioner was totally not working and it was a sealed bus so the temp in the passenger module was well over 30 degrees. We’d bought everybody their own personal washcloth and I’d issued plastic ziplock bags and instructed everybody to write their names on both.
The idea was that they would dip their cloths into the eskies full of ice and water that we’d placed on the bus and thereby stave off heat exhaustion. The hot wind pouring in down the emergency hatch and two little roof vents at least gave the impression of cooler and the moisture evaporating helped.
But there was no way it wasn’t ever going to be as horrible as hell and every chance we could, we stopped. The beautiful surroundings here distracted some people.
Some of the unplanned things were just little ones, like finding outback ice-creams at Perth ice-cream prices. We liked our ice-creams on this tour, oh yes, we did.
They (passengers) whinged so much when they were expensive. It’s the outback! It costs a great deal of money to just ship them here, let alone keep them so they don’t melt. All the costs out here are so much higher because the cost of basic services is so much higher.
Or a totally unplanned game of breakfast cricket – lucky it was a soft ball but I was the meany ‘mum’ who stopped it after it bounced off the muesli for the third time! I can’t say any of us were great cricketers but there was a lot of enthusiasm, particularly in the commentary from the spectators.
Hand/eye co-ordination amongst the elderly is severely lacking. I got tired of playing outfield when I was trying to lay out breakfast.
Nobody would think that an unplanned stay in an unknown unpowered caravan park could lead to such enthusiasm but there turned out to be so much space and the ground was really soft for tent pegs. And the amenities actually had people spending hours in them, due to clever shower design with stools and lots of electrical points for charging. A gold class standard, by which all other campsite facilities should be judged and found wanting.
We had to stay somewhere in Katherine and this was the only place with group space. Normally, we are cheek-by-jowl with each other, and other campers, but this time we could spread out so we did. I got to sleep half an acre away from everybody else! The ground was soft enough so that pegs went in without a pre-drill.
The shower stalls had little fold down seats and an interior and exterior door, plus loads of hanging hooks. The main bathroom area had enough toilets and showers and there were electrical outlets everywhere so people could charge their devices. it was white and clean and shiny and we all loved it. Some people even took pictures of it and one lady read her book in there for hours!
A lavish cooked breakfast on the beach at Broome. That was a late planned extra from Barry and myself but what was unexpected was the fog. It was thick and damp and not warm at all. But for our group, a cool change was delightful after the sweltering days before and the fog lifted enough for us to see the beach and the ocean and the horses being exercised in it.
God, we tried so hard to end the tour on a positive note. There were at least 14 passengers (half the group) that were too infirm to camp properly – couldn’t do it physically or mentally. One lady came off the plane in a wheelchair, for God’s sake. Strong words were had with the office and hopefully things will improve from now on but the able bodied really resented the feebler members, due to having to do twice as much work, and the feebs resented being resented. It wasn’t a happy tour.
We thought that a full cooked breakfast on the beach at low tide would work really well. We’d eat bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, pancakes, berries and cream, fruit platters in a beautiful place. some people could paddle, others could walk. We could play beach cricket.
When we woke up, the fog was so thick and drippy that the passengers thought it was raining. Everything was sodden. Driving to the beach was a hazard because we could only see fifty metres ahead, even with lights. It was dismal on the beach and we couldn’t even see the ocean.
No plan will ever survive contact with the enemy. Plans will always change and sometimes the end result is better than expected!
Summary of the tour: It was such hard work and had few redeeming features. I averaged a sixteen hour working day, as did my partner, and was fairly constantly supporting people who never should have been there.
I did get tipped, though.
Interestingly enough, one of the ‘good’ passengers posted a shoulders down pic of the crippled lady on the company facebook page, with a long comment on how people like that should never be on a camping tour. I laughed and laughed: it will be yanked down fast but I screenshotted it!