Renting a 4×4 in Coober Pedy and driving it into the outback is as easy as this:
Ask for a car, pack it, find some partner to come along with you, set your alarm clock, go to bed, get up at 3:30am and drive into the desert …
However, getting out of the desert can be much more adventurous and difficult, when the unexpected happened. But one thing after the other. Coober Pedy, our rest day location, should be the starting point for a trip to the Painted Desert and other locations around the opal mining town. Mike and I wanted to go there for sunrise the next morning. All we needed was a car to drive around, because there was no tour offered, which covered our plans. So I stopped at the Mud Hut Hotel on arrival in town, and made a reservation. A nice and shiny looking Toyota Patrol 4×4 was the only choice. Credit card and drivers license was quickly exchanged and the baby was ours for a day. A brief introduction on how to use the 4×4 and off we went for grocery shopping. Back in camp we found Mary, Ursula and Rae who wanted to join us for the trip. All seats were now occupied for an early morning start at 4am, as the drive into the painted desert is about 170km on gravel and sand. At 4am we started into our adventure. Mike drove the car into the black darkness. Mile per mile ticked down on the odometer getting us closer to the Painted Desert. Mike did a good job driving the car in this environment. It was a perfect timing, just when wearrived at the lookout the sun showed up in the horizon, starting to cover the desert, which was up to now dark and grey, in a carpet of colors. Everyone was taking photos of this spectacular event or simply enjoyed the moment. The nearby mountains and plains changed their colors almost every minute, as the sun rose higher and higher. We were the only ones in the desert, besides some cattle. Soon ‘the show’ was over and it was time to return to the car. Mike, Rae and Ursula went ahead, to find it in a different condition than when we left it. the left rear wheel was totally deflated. So they started to get the tools ready to change it with one of the 2 available spare tires. Their faces showed great disappointment when I arrived and they told me, that there was no jack in the car. They had searched all corners and started to lift the floor cover to see underneath. I found the toolset in a compartment in the rear door, but the other compartment, which looked as if it was used to store a jack, was empty, confirming their search result. So what to do? No car around, no phone signal, the UHF radio also not receiving anything. Wait? The GPS indicated a homestead with campsite, ‘only’ 12 km away. Walk there? All rules say ‘never leave the car’ … so we decided to drive slowly to the homestead on the flat tire. However we only came about 5km further down the road, when we recognized that the flat tire will not last much longer on the rough road. So we had to come up with another solution. Having 5 intelligent persons around it took not long and we setup the car on the raised edge of the gravel road, such that we could dig out the flat tire and replace it with the spare one. Collecting wood and rocks to secure the car and dig we worked a good 60 minutes before the 2 wheels changed their position and we could continue with our trip. Having only one spare tire left and no jack, we decided to take the shortest way out of the desert to the Stuart Highway, where changes are much better to get help, if we happen to run into more problems. This said we headed west towards Cadney Homestead, where we camped 2 days ago. Still 70 km to go on gravel and sand, through a beautiful desert. Remembering the good fries at the pub we pulled in for an early lunch stop. It felt so good to have made it back to civilization. Our enthusiasm didn’t last very long. When we returned to the car we found, that the right rear tire was running low on air. What the f… is going on here? We got air at the gas station, pumped it up and hurried down the 160 km to Coober Pedy to return the car as soon as possible. There was no way to visit the other locations which were on our tour list, with this car and the luck we seemed to have today. Mike dropped Ursula, Mary and Rae at the campsite and we returned the car, prepared to complain about sending us into the desert without the right tools. The owner couldn’t believe what we reported. 2 flats on a single trip has never happened before. And a missing jack, absolutely impossible. The car was checked before and it was there. So we went to the car and he opened a small compartment behind the left rear lights and pointed into a dark corner. Guess what we found hidden behind a string of electric wires?? A small hydraulic jack! Which has replaced the one, which was provided with the car by the manufacturer. We were so pissed. Why didn’t they tell us when we rented it? Why is there no label in the old compartment saying ‘Jack was here before, now he is elsewhere’! So, all for nothing, but a nice adventure and good teamwork to rescue ourselves from the outback. And finally the highest one day car rental bill ever and a good story for the bush camp nights ahead of us.
Find more pictures of this fabulous adventure in the gallery below.
Nov. 14, 2014