Googs Track October 2009

Sunday, Oct 03, 2010 at 00:00

Member - Graham Watson (SA)

This trip would be our first venture into the real outback and my first real experience of sand driving. Most of my previous trips had been in either the Flinders Ranges or the Brindabella Ranges. While our boys stayed home and looked after the pets, my wife Robyn, my daughter Jenny and myself would be doing Googs Track.
The trip would be with our friends the Wights (Paul, Caroline, Steph and Chris) and their friends the Pfeiffers (Brad, Rhonda, Neil and Sonia). We would not be leaving Adelaide till after lunch on the Saturday because the kids had been away for the week before and were not getting back till lunchtime (and we always seem to leave in the middle of the day even when we plan an early start).
Our Planned itinerary was to drive from Adelaide to Nuttbush Retreat on Pandurra Station 40km east of Port Augusta on the Eyre Highway on day one, drive from there to Googs Lake on day 2, to Mt Finke on day 3. The 4th night would be spent on the Sturt Highway and we would stop over near Melrose on the 5th night.
Met up at our rendezvous point north of Port Wakefield to find that Rhonda was sick and couldn’t make it. We made good time to Nuttbush Retreat which we found quite crowded as there was a football carnival on in Port Augusta. That night was a good opportunity to sit around talking and getting to know Brad, Neil and Sonia. Despite the reasonably close proximity to the road, and the crowd we all had a good nights sleep.
The following morning was all new roads for us as we had not been west of Port Augusta before. The prado towed our camper trailer effortlessly although it meant overtaking took care and a good long stretch of road, not that I was in a hurry.
At Kimba we stopped for the obligatory photos at the half way across Australia sign. By my estimates there was no way you could claim Kimba was at the halfway point when travelling across Australia, but every small town needs a claim to fame and in this case near enough is good enough. The trailer allows plenty of gear and food to be carried, but plays havoc with fuel consumption, and as we had not filled up in Port Augusta I was keeping a worried eye on the fuel gauges by the time we reached Ceduna for lunch. Despite the gauges sitting on empty we still had about 40 litres which was good to know. After a relaxed lunch we got our permits and headed off to the Googs track.
Of course there was another obligatory photo stop at the dingo fence, and this provoked a concerned response from Jenny who had not realised we were heading into Dingo country.
The prado and trailer handled the first sets of dunes without a fuss, but after 20km I seemed to be losing traction on the dunes. The engine had plenty of power but it wasn’t being translated into forward motion. Although the consistency of the sand had not changed I seemed to be bogging down. Rather than pushing on I stopped to see what the problem was. It was immediately clear that I was not bogging down, but the puddle of fluid under the car was an ominous sign. Something oily was leaking out above the bash plate, and out came the tool kits to remove the bash plate.
In the auto 90 series prado there are two hoses running from the transmission to a heat exchanger in the radiator. One hose had ripped out from the radiator and I had lost a large proportion of my transmission fluid. In coming out the hose had stripped the thread on the heat exchanger so there was no way we would be able to conduct a repair with the tools we had available. This was the first event in what was to become a trend of something going wrong on our trips.
We decided to camp at the first suitable spot we could find so Paul was sent ahead to scout out a location and then came back to tow me to our campsite which was only about a km away (Oh the humiliation of being towed by a Patrol 8-) ). While he was away scouting a local from Ceduna came south from Lake Goog. He was able to give me the mobile number and address of the local RAA agent so we could make arrangements for repairs the next day.
The campsite we had found was good, consisting of a large cleared area just off the track, and having stopped earlier than planned we had plenty of time to set up. That evening we had to sort through our load to put essential items in the trailer and those we could live without in the prado.
The next day Brad towed me back to Ceduna while the wives and kids had a relaxing morning in the campsite. Because we had the engine off and the transmission in neutral to try and save the transmission I had no power assist on the brakes. This made it an interesting trip when I started accelerating down one dune as Brad was slowing to go up the next. Not that I came close to his car, but I was trying to avoid overrunning the tow cable as much as possible. The damage to the hose connection meant that the radiator needed to be replaced, and one would not be available for a couple of weeks. This was where RAA premium membership paid for itself, as I was able to have the prado trucked back to my mechanics in Adelaide. It is never fun trying to make long distance arrangements for repairs on a Public Holiday.
After returning to the campsite we rearranged our plans. While it had been disappointing that Rhonda had not been able to make the trip, this proved a blessing as it meant we had exactly the right number of seats available to complete an abbreviated version of the trip. We would stay another night where we were before heading back to Adelaide. Jenny and Steph would join Brad, Neil and Sonia while Robyn and I would join Paul, Caroline and Chris. We would however have a day trip out to Googs Lake first.
Before reaching Googs Lake you come to a pair of memorials to John ‘Goog’ Denton and his son Martin ‘Dinger’ who built the original track. Both lost their lives in separate accidents near the track.
The lake itself is a normally dry salt lake. Compared to Lake Torrens this is much more what I expected a salt lake to be with a white surface rather than Lake Torrens’ yellow surface. It had been raining a couple of weeks before our trip, so I am still not sure whether the reflections in the distance were water or a mirage. I suspect the latter.
We had recorded our campsite in Brad’s GPS (I can’t recall what brand or model), but it was interesting to see that the auto routing software recognized Googs track as a one way track and wanted to take us the 20km back to our campsite via Glendambo and Port Augusta (only a 1000 km odd drive).
That night was a relaxing night without the worries of setting up camp, or having to deal with a broken vehicle. Someone had shed a quantity of firewood along the length of the track to the lake so the boys had a good time building a decent fire with plenty of coals for a camp oven roast and a relaxing happy hour.
The following day we headed back to Ceduna before splitting with Brad, Neil, Sonia, Jenny and Steph heading back to Adelaide while Paul, Caroline, Chris Robyn and myself headed to a caravan park in Wilmington for one last night. As a general rule I prefer to bush camp rather than camp in a caravan park, but I will admit they have their place. The facilities at this caravan park were clean and functional. The powered/caravan sites were pretty ho hum, being basically an open gravelled area. There was however a large area amongst the trees that were suitable for camper trailers and tents. I don’t know if the manager of the caravan park had been having a bad day, or had made a bad career choice, but in all our dealings with him he spent his time grumbling about noisy kids disturbing the tranquillity of his life. While sitting around the campfire that night we were visited by a hungry possum seeking a feed which we indulged with some fruit and vege scraps.
Our last day allowed us some time for a quick look around Melrose before heading back home to face up to the reality of a working life (and the cost of fixing the car). Fortunately the repairs to the car were relatively straight forward, we had found the problem before any damage had been done to the transmission which saved a small fortune.
For more photos of the trip see Photos on flickr
Graham Watson
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