Coober Pedy to Winton 23/04/2011-29/04/2011 via Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks by Mrs Kanga

Saturday, Apr 23, 2011 at 00:00


Day 8 - 23/4/2011

Hot Cross Buns for breakfast. Opal Festival on today, one of the two biggest days on the Coober Pedy calendar and we just happened to be here. We paid $5 and went on Faye’s Underground House tour. Very interesting, dug by hand by Faye and two other ladies, took 10 years to complete, compared to new ones today they can dig a room a day with a machine. It was the first house to have a pool which was originally open air but she had to convert it to an indoor pool because of the evaporation and the dirt blowing into it. It is solar heated but the house itself maintains a very comfortable 21-24C year round, no need for air conditioning. Went up to the Big Winch that looks out over town. Had lunch at award winning John’s Pizza Bar & Restaurant in the main street where a local FM radio station was set up broadcasting commentary of the Street Parade that started a 1pm. Police Fire and Rescue escorted the myriad of trailers colourfully decorated, many with children on board. Fire hoses dowsing some of the locals for a much needed shower and the drivers throwing lollies to the kids lining the street, and some for us too. Had a look around the Opal Cave which Faye used to own when she was in town, Andrea bought a opal charm for her Pandora. In the car park there was an old spaceship façade from the movie set of Pitch Black with Vin Diesel. Went to the Desert Cave Hotel where they have an interesting underground tunnel leading to the bar, café and shops, very impressive complex. I bought some charms and we had iced coffees in the café. When leaving the hotel, noticed a local scabbing up cigarette butts from the ashtrays outside, yuk. Walked over to check out the Opal Festival, $5 entry money for the RFDS. Various activities, mainly for the littlies, Toss the Sausage, Tug-0-War etc. Back to camp via the well stocked roadhouse because Gordon needed a new grease gun because neither the one he brought or the one Adriane brought was working. As we sat down for dinner we were treated to an awesome fireworks display from the Opal Festival.

Day 9 - 24/4/2011

Packed up camp then down to the “Old Timers Mine” for the $10 tour. Was greeted by the staff wearing rabbit ears and handing out Easter eggs. Another very interesting underground display and also working demonstration of some of the machinery commonly used to extract the opal. Back on the road just after 10am on our way to William Creek. Road very good condition with only minor dips and washouts, making good time, detour about 20km out from William Creek quite corrugated. Pulled in to William Creek just after 12noon, it was very busy, went to let Wrights Air to let them know we were here for our 2pm two hour flight that Adriane had booked in January and confirmed twice since, most recently two days ago, they said our flight would be delayed about half an hour but only had us down for the one hour flight over Lake Eyre not the two hour one that included the Painted Hills. Weighed ourselves and paid for the one hour flight $250 (Adriane seemed to think the website had said $199 for the 1 hour flight) then went to the William Creek Hotel to see if we could get some lunch. Had to wait a while to get to the bar to order lunch but when we got there we were told they weren’t taking any more orders for another ten minutes. We sat at the bar for ten minutes then were told another ten minutes so waited a bit longer then heard them telling some one else twenty minutes so gave up, paid our $20 for a campsite for the night then went to set up camp. Made our own toasted ham, cheese and tomato sammies then went to wait for our flight. Lovely 23 year old pilot called Andrew came and walked us to his eight seater plane.Gordon sat up front with Andrew on his left, Andrea sat behind Andrew, I sat on the next row back on the right hand side with Adriane in the back row to the left by the door. Smooth take off but quite turbulent while we were over land but Andrew assured us it would be smoother when we got over the water. He was right, it smoothed out beautifully and much of the lake we saw was very flat, apparently partially because it is so salty and dense. He banked around over Dulhunty Island where there were some birds including Pelicans.Apparently some of the lake is fifteen metres below sea level so is one of only two places in the world where it would b e possible to fly below sea level. We could see quite a few people camped out by the lake at Halligans Bay. The whole flight was over a small part of the Anna Creek Station which is a cattle farm bigger than Belgium or Israel or more than half the size of Tasmania. The hour went quickly and we were soon back at William Creek. We booked a table for dinner at six, sat and watched a bit of Lake Eyre video in the air conditioned Information Centre then went back to camp for a cuppa.Gordon had a play with his new grease gun, Adriane had his usual wander around camp and Andrea and I caught up on a bit of computing. Over to the Pub for dinner, Gordon had Pork Ribs, Adriane had the Garfish and Andrea and I decided to go with the pumpkin soup so that we could leave room for the Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and berry Jus. It was all very nice, the soup came decorated with cream in the pattern of a spiders web and the brownie was freshly made, crunchie on the outside and deliciously gooey in the middle, couldn’t quite fit in the two pieces though. Back to camp, helped Gordon pull his dash apart to find out why his brake lights weren’t working, only to find he hadn’t checked the fuse. He replaced the blown fuse, borrowed Adriane’s soldering iron and tidied up some dodgy wiring I had uncovered. Had a chat with the guys that had been camped next to us in Coober Pedy.

Day 10 - 25/4/2011

Packed up and on the road by 8.15am from William Creek heading for Marree. Road really good, take it slow through rocky creek crossing at Warriners Creek though.Stopped in at Beresford for a quick look at some ruins including a big water tank and stand we think was used for the old Ghan railway.There were plenty of spots to camp at the adjacent dam but we pushed on. Saw a flock o f seagulls at Margaret Creek, obviously lost! Then stopped at the Lake Eyre South lookout info boards but no facilities. Adriane chatted with a guy that arrived on his motorbike from Canberra for a look at Lake Eyre, then was turning around to go back to Canberra. About 50kms out from Marree we pulled over for a look at a collection of large interesting sculptures by the side of the road, which included 2 Aeroplanes stuck together and planted by their tails in the dirt and of course the Oodnadatta Hover bus. Passed numerous old bridges and tank stands for the old Ghan railway. Got to Marree around noon where we got fuel ($1.95 per litre) and a snack, the cook had gone walk about so lunch was out of the question. Just out of Maree we turned down the Birdsville Track which is also quite a good road. Pulled in at Claytons Wetlands Campsite and was surprised to find flushing toilets, and hot shower and spa from an artesian bore, all supplied by the Clayton Station for a donation and $10 per night if staying. Slow down for rocky creek crossing at Etadunna Station. Missed the turning for Cooper Creek Crossing but turned back and found it. Had to stop a couple of ks in to change a flat tyre on the Troopy (passenger side rear). Looks like it may have been going down for a while because it was completely flat and almost too hot to touch (89C) by the time Adriane got it off. Back on track within fifteen minutes and made it down to the Cooper Creek Ferry and spoke to some people down there that were fishing. They had caught a feed of Yellowbelly and had also been on the cruise with M.V. Cooper Discoverer Cruises at the Ferry crossing ($50 per Adult). There where lots of birds of prey flying around, no doubt attracted by the large mouse population that Adriane saw a few of and we heard they can be a bit of a problem to campers. As it was quite windy there, we decided to push on to Mungerannie 61kms further up the Birdsville Track. Booked in at Mungerannie ($10 per head) by five then set up camp, nice clean facilities, interesting hats and memorabilia in the bar. Ordered dinner with Pam & Phil for 6.30pm, Barramundi and chips. Dozens of Kite birds circling overhead, must be mice here too. Set up camp near the water quite a hike from the facilities. Dinner was lovely, Adriane, Andrea and I had the Barramundi and Gordon had a T-bone steak, all accompanied with a tasty salad and a few chips. We all emptied our plates and Gordon and I finished off with a lemon tart while Andrea had the Pecan Pie. The water we camped by is fed from an Artesian bore which is also used to fill a swimming/soaking pool which is lovely and warm. Pam told us that if the tap is left running to it then it can get hot enough to poach an egg, so it is always best to test the water before taking the plunge. We were surprised to see the diesel was five cents a litre cheaper out here, than at Marree.

Day 11 - 26/4/2011
Gordon awoke to find his passenger side rear tyre was flat, it appeared to have a slow leak yesterday afternoon. The boys changed the tyre while Andrea and I cooked bacon egg and mushrooms which we all ate in a fly free zone in their camper. Packed up and on the road to Birdsville by 9.30am.Birdsville Track looks pretty good but have decided to keep our speed down a bit today (around 70 - 80kmph), only 313kms to go today. Passed a snake on the road rearing its head up as we went passed then slithering off the track as we stopped. Went along a little further then stopped briefly at a water hole.Gordon took the lead for a while, got some video of his dust in the distance, another fine clear day. About 185kms out of Birdsville we passed a heard of camels in the distance, must have been a few dozen. Passed a trio of vehicles just near a roadside toilet after a boggy sandy dry Caterpillar Creek crossing. Damperanie Creek crossing a bit of a mess but okay if you take it slow. Couple of wet and muddy patches near Goyders Lagoon about 105km out from Birdsville but no real dramas. More mud a bit further on, using the diversion is recommended. Should make it to Birdsville Bakery for a late lunch around 2pm.Crossed in to Queensland at five to two and promptly hit a pink and grey galah but he seemed to bounce off and fly away, obviously a South Australian bird completely disorientated by being in Queensland. Lots of Ibis in the water at the side of the road. Passed the Birdsville Race Track finally on black top then crossed the Diamantina River on the way into town. Until about 3 weeks ago, Birdsville had been isolated by the floodwaters, and the Diamentina is still a fast running river. Booked in to the Birdsville Caravan Park ($25 per powered site), changed clocks forward another half hour, unhitched the campers then straight to the Bakery for a late lunch. Adriane & Andrea had a pastie, Gordon had a Curried Camel Pie and I had a Kangaroo and Claret Pie, very nice of the chap to stay open late for us. Topped up with fuel and left the tyres to be repaired at Barnsey’s roadhouse, he has a big MAN 4x4 tilt tray truck for Desert recovery, what a weapon. Then back to camp to set up the campers and put on a load of washing (4x$1coins). Public Holiday and excess flood water seems to have closed most things round here, apart from the pub of course.

Day 12 - 27/4/2011

Went on Skinny Dingoes $22 Birdsville Town Tour by coach for an hour, quite interesting and informative. After we got back from the tour we walked over to the Information Centre for a chat with Lynne about the road closure to Big Red. She said to go round it and drew us a mud map showing how far we could go. Then on to the Birdsville Working Museum ($10pp), most amazing collection of all sorts of things from old signs and farm equipment, to toys and household items. Definitely something for everyone, so much stuff to see. Bought a couple of kangaroo leather items on the way out. Back to the bakery again, Andrea and I had a custard tart, Gordon had another Curried Camel Pie and Adriane had “the best sausage roll” he has ever had. We wandered over to the Police Station but no one was there so we popped over to the Hotel for a look then back to camp for a cuppa before heading off towards Big Red.
Lots of bird life, got about twenty odd kilometres in, through a couple of wet patches and one long water crossing before following the tyre tracks Lynne told us about that took us way off track around a huge body of water to the next dune, only to reveal an even bigger body of water. Quite incredible to see so much water in a desert. All sorts of bird life, from coots to ducks, ibis to eagles. The dunes are littered with small burrows and prickles the size of grapes. Adriane’s thongs had worn too thin and the prickles went straight through, drawing blood! Back to town to pump up the tyres and have an ice-cream before a closer inspection of the of the Geothermal Power Station that uses the heat from an Artesian Bore to generate electricity. The water comes out the ground at 99.99C, we gave the cars a bit of a hose down with it but not so hot down the pipeline. Spuds and corn of the campfire lit by the Caravan Park for diner tonight.

Day 13 - 28/4/2011

Packed up and on the road before 9am, time for a quick photo op in front of the Birdsville Hotel before hitting the road towards Betoota. Sign showed road as open to 4wd only. Wet, muddy, boggy bits between the first few dunes then very good road the rest of the way apart from one very long dusty and bumpy detour between shut gates. Pretty obvious we are out of South Australia because we passed long drop toilets and picnic tables and shelters on a fairly regular basis. Two hours in and we have only passed one other vehicle and a grader. Turned on through Betoota then a bit further before we took the rocky bumpy track to Deon’s Lookout for lunch. Awesome view, three cars passed while we were stopped.Gordon and Andrea spotted some wildlife on the way, including a snake, numerous lizards, two kangaroos, two emus and more birds. Lots of wide open spaces, no buildings , no power poles, no driveways or mailboxes. Passed a road crew working on the stretch of road before we turned off to Windorah and on to the bitumen. Black top less comfortable to drive on than some of gravel, road works on the go though. Passed a motorcyclist just before Sheep Creek. Cloud coverage getting thicker but not threatening. Grabbed a bit of fuel ($1.66/l) from blind Merv at Windorah as recommended by Barb at the Birdsville Caravan Park only to find that it was 16c/l cheaper at the other shop in town 50 metres away, humph. Had a quick peep at the solar power station on the way out of town, like big shinny flowers. Going to push on towards Winton and see how far we get. Passed lizards, a kangaroo and a small herd of wild pigs. Turned off towards Winton on a gravel road , making good time, road turns to a dirt track but can still do about 90kph as it is smooth firm and in the middle of open fields. Saw eleven Bustards spaced out along the road and lots of kangaroos at dusk. A Britz camper was parked near Mount Felix for the night which was a great spot for a night, we are going to push on a little further though. Camped at Dingo Creek.

Day 14 - 29/4/2011

On the track by 7.45am as we are trying to get to Lark Quarry for the 10am tour. Dozens of Kangaroos on the road, they are all quite small and light grey coloured with red tinges and faces like our red kangaroos defined muzzles and large ears. Stopped off at Mayne River, the crossing here is really chewed out by the flood waters and only a crawling pace is recommended. This is a really nice camp spot, lots of water and trees. Clear blue skies again, could be a warm one today. Road in very good condition, making good time, only needing to slow down for dips at the occasional creek crossing and keep an eye out for wild life which has thinned out considerably now the sun is up a bit further. Lark Quarry is a must visit for anyone, to see what went on there 95 million years ago, as a large Dinosaur stampeded a 2 different herds of smaller Dinosaurs ( 3000 odd footprints ) was really quite amazing, a lot of these prints look as clear as the day they were made, really fascinating. We made it to Winton around 1PM and bought some lunch in town, made some enquiries about which Caravan Park to stay at and how to catch Yabbies, the local type of freshwater Crayfish, and finished up camping at Pelicans Van Park. The water here is really something else, apparently highly mineralised, and smells strongly of Hydrogen Sulphide, they say it is good if let sit for a while or boiled. We decided not to fill the Tvan water tank here. Adriane got some fuel and had to stop to let a 1.2 metre Bungarra cross the road right in front of the Tatts Pub on the main street of Winton!
Tempus Fugit

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