Oodnadatta track June 2011

Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 08:09

Member-Heather MG NSW

Day 9
Thursday 9th June (Rawnsley Park- Blinman- Parachilna-Marree-Farina)
Its a cool morning and I enjoy having the warmth of the electric heater...for the last time for the next few days. Barb and Darrell surprise us and are packed up early..no doubt Darrell is keen to get moving and start to see the real outback country.
We leave Rawnsley Park and turn left onto the bitumen, travelling through to Blinman where we catch up with the others. Its too cool to hang around long in SA's highest town and we turn towards Parachilna, travelling along dirt road for some 33 kms. Its a very scenic drive through the Gorge with a few creek crossings still wet from the last rainfall. We see our last glimpses of the magnificent Flinders ranges and the highest peaks we will see for some time.
Theres a short stop in Parachilna at the Hotel. We (well I...not the others) are disappointed to find it doesn't open for 'Feral Flinders Food' until 11.30 and...surprise, surprise..... the men don't want to hang around for that long, and Barb certainly does not want to eat the food so theres no chance of me swinging the vote. We have a look at the dining room with its impressive and expensively priced predominantly Aboriginal artwork. Darrell buy two schooners (middy size for NSW people) of beer which cost more than $10 and he says has to be the 'dearest f...ing beer in Australia'. I have a disappointing icecream, take a couple of photos and head back to the van to try to get email signal...without success.
We are soon back on the road and heading north. We find the road to Aroona Dam closed and call in at Leigh Creek to buy diesel, take a drive around town and decide it has to be a mining town. These towns all look very new and are clones of one another no matter what state they are in.
About 6kms north we call at Copley, a tiny village with an historic two storey 'Leigh Creek Hotel', and eat our lunch. I manage to connect to the net and receive my emails, also send one written early this morning so that family will know our campsites for the next couple of nights. We stop for a toilet stop and Barb and Darrell drive on in front.
A few kms north John and I decide to have a look at the open cut coal mine and take a short detour off the road to the signposted viewing area. Its a rather impressive sight and I take photos of John in front of a huge truck to send to our three year old grandson, also a couple of the 'big hole' in the ground.
We try to contact the others on the CB however have no luck so we continue and hope to see them in Lyndhurst, the next dot on our map. Here I would love to visit the Sculptures a couple of kms along the Innaminka road but we don't like to get even further behind the others and hope they have taken note of our planned overnight camping spot. I am not sure whether I told them it is south of Marree.
We see the turn to Farina campground and drive in, passing remains of a once thriving town first surveyed in 1878. It was named because it means 'flour' and it was hoped that it would become the 'Granary of the north'. Instead it developed as the head of the railway and the beginning of all the tracks beyond and the original hopes as to it flourishing failed.
At the big flat campground ($5 per person)we do the considerate thing and park our van a good distance from other campers in a spot with a few trees for privacy. There is no sign of our travelling companions...a great start to travelling 'The Track' together!
We set out to walk to the historic ruins of Farina township back up the track a hundred metres or so, and for maybe 10 minutes meet with friends who are doing a 4WD trip to the Simpson desert who received the text message I sent at lunch. They call in just to say hello and we are delighted to see them.
They try to persuade us to follow them...chiefly because they enjoy my camp oven dampers I think! We farewell them and ask them to keep a lookout for the others and to let them know where we are, should they recognise them.
We spend an hour or so wandering around the ruins, taking photos and reading information boards, also walking the short distance to the Cricket ground...bare red dirt with a new cement pitch, only poured in 2010. Its an interesting little place, full of history and we are glad we are spending the night here.
Back at the van, John checks the wheel nuts and covers the ute canopy back window and the van door vent with cardboard to prevent damage from deflected rocks and dust tomorrow. Theres still no sign of the others so we walk up to the twin showers (heated by a wood donkey) and flushing toilet.(all in one little ensuite type building). I have difficulty getting warm water and then it is either hot, freezing or dwindles to a dribble. I persist long enough to have a kind of a wash and then it is Johns turn. He has a similar result with rather more of the hot water...but its too hot....however its better than nothing and for only $5 who can complain! It will be a story for us to relate to others about our night here.
Its almost dark when the others finally drive into the campground. Darrell is rather annoyed I suspect or maybe it is relief written on his face and doesn't have too much to say. Barb is certainly relieved to find us as we are that they have arrived. John helps them set up their camper, warns Darrell that he has parked with one wheel on red hot coals from a previous campers fire, and then retreats from the bitterly cool wind. It seems they waited for us in Marree and thought the campground was north of there.....and maybe I gave them that impression. Whatever the reason, it is a valuable lesson for both of us to stick closer together, certainly within radio contact and we are glad it happened here and not further on in the trip.
It is a very cold night...clear and starry. I go to bed with beanie, bed socks and gloves to keep warm.
Day 10 Friday 10th June (Farina-Coward Springs)
When we wake its 2.5 degrees inside our van and cold enough that the butane canister won't work in our Kovea 'little sun' gas heater. I turn on the gas oven and leave the door open, also make a pot of coffee to warm the van up enough for it to work effectively. I decide that in future on such cold mornings John can warm the canister in bed with him. Funny...he is not so keen on the idea but maybe it will work!
We are relatively lucky as in Barb and Darrells van ( a Jayco Eagle) it is below zero. Luckily the sun's first rays hit us and outside the white frost melts and the land warms up quite quickly. We pack up and are in Marree before 10am, then join the queue to buy diesel. I wander across the road and notice that we won't fit under the awning in the service station without knocking the aircon off the van top so we are forced to reverse. Fuel is $1.95 a litre!
I spend 15 minutes wandering around this very interesting little settlement, taking photographs and reading signs before we finally start for our first day on 'the Track' and the beginning of a long anticipated adventure for me. I take pics of the road signs as we leave town!
John and I lead the way and today we make sure that both vehicles stay together. We pull in at all of the places marked on my map...Callana Siding, Wangianna siding ruins, Plane Henge, and the lookouts at Lake Eyre South where we lunch with views of water sparkling in the desert landscape. There is quite a lot of water around and it is an amazing sight.
I also photograph the landscape as we drive; flat almost bare plains, salt pans, mesas and jump ups...it is ever changing and a surprise, quite different from my imaginings.
After lunch we drop in at Curdimurka Railway siding and then collect some firewood from the roadside, before continuing until we arrive at the Coward Springs campground...an oasis in the desert with trees and lovely camping places. We park in an area big enough for probably 3 or 4 vehicles and have a fireplace in between our vans. Its $20 for the night but we have hot showers and clean toilets so its worth the fee to conserve our water.
Once set up, we drive back the few kms to the Blanche cup and Bubbler Mound Springs which are formed by escaping water from the great artesian basin over thousands of years. They are worth the drive and very interesting.
Tonight we sit around a roaring fire and enjoy a delicious meal of lamb shanks cooked in the camp oven. Because of this we manage to stay up a bit later than last night when the cold drove us to bed early. The campground is quiet by 9.30.
We are surprised as to the good condition of the road thus far. There are few corrugations and to here its a wide dirt highway not long graded I would suspect. We wonder what tomorrow will bring and plan to stay in William creek overnight, a drive of only 80 or so kms, so it will be a later start in the morning.
Day 11
Saturday 11th June (Coward Springs-William Creek)
The night is not as cold as the previous one and the gas heater warms the van very comfortably when I run it for just over half an hour. The first rays of the sun hit the vans and make our campsite very attractive.
After packing up the van John and I go for a short wander to the small stone building near the campground. This now houses historical information about Coward Springs in the days when it was a town on the Ghan railway line and a much busier place.
We check our vehicles and find one of the plastic or rubber light tail light covers missing but all else looks ok. John tapes up the light so dust can't get inside.
We are back on the track not long after 9am and once again have a really interesting journey through variable landscapes...low shrubs on plains stretching flat as far as the horizon, salt pans, red sandhills, dry river crossings and one with pools of water in it, small mesas and jump ups.. it is a continual visual panorama for me.
Along the track today once again are remains of railway sidings and bridges, and an interesting historical site off the road a couple of kms with remnants of buildings and springs which we visit and walk around. The side track is corrugated and we have to slow down to allow oncoming traffic to pass, feeling every slow bump as we move off! It is a reminder that these types of surfaces are better driven at around 60 kph. On the journey back to the track, we drive at a faster pace and have a more comfortable trip.
There is quite a lot of traffic in both directions once again and its obvious that the amount of water in Lake Eyre is making an impact.
We arrive in William Creek before lunch time, pay for a nights accommodation ($25 unpowered) at the Caravan park in the Hotel and set up our vans on adjoining sites in the red dirt. There are flushing toilets and a number of ensuites, also single showers which have seen better days but are clean enough. The water here isn't drinkable though so we use our tank water. We are keen to have lunch in the Pub however soon get turned off when we overhear another camper relating tales of mice running up the walls in the Dining Room. It isn't too difficult to imagine just where they might get to in the kitchen, no matter how hard the staff work to try to keep them out!
After lunch we wander around the park and look at various 'bits and pieces' displayed which have been collected from around the area including remnnts from the Woomera rocket range, drop in at the Takeaway/tourist information/office/cafe and then the Hotel for a look. Here the walls and ceilings are covered in business cards, hats and items of clothing, and other small objects obviously donated by visitors over many years. It's certainly a pub with character or atmosphere! There are mice darting around the floor while we sit and have a drink! Afterwards I wander around taking photographs of the signs and buildings in the tiny town.
The sounds of the small charter aircraft taking off and landing at the small airstrip near the Hotel break the silence of the afternoon, as do some of the other many and varied campers here. Its a busy little campground, but very happy.
John and Darrell buy diesel at $2.20 per litre and complain about it however it will make for some great story telling about being possibly the dearest diesel we see! Luckily John has 20 litres which we have carried for the past few hundred kms so he pours that into the tank. (We have another 20 litres still in the back of the Navara for emergencies.)
We light up a fire in the Little Wombat and cook a damper which is shared after dinner. I also pan fry atlantic salmon to have with our vegetables.
The mice are very plentiful here and not too wary of humans. There are dozens darting around the campsites after dark and John rigs up a trap which he hopes will catch and drown at least dozens overnight! It occupies him for ages and entertains the rest of us!
Day 12
Sunday June 12th (William Creek- Oodnadatta).
John is out of bed early this morning to check his mouse tally...and is not disappointed when he finds 41 bodies in the bucket.
Because he is up early I feel under pressure to start packing up and we are all on our way before 9am. Luckily it is not too cold a morning although we run the gas heater for an hour or so until the canister is empty.
We soon discover that we have been very lucky the previous two days with the road as the surface deteriorates somewhat and we are travelling over corrugations, sharp stony rocky sections, gibber plains and sand. There is one rocky creek crossing with a considerable amount of water running over the road as well, and lots of crests and dips where we have to make sure we are on the correct side of the road in case of oncoming traffic. We find that trying to maintain a speed of 60 kph makes for the most comfortable ride but its hard to do that in places.
We don't see the first vehicle until 10.20 and there are fewer vehicles overall on the road today so many must have turned towards Coober Pedy. We see the same vans and campertrailers as we all travel north and there would be are 10 or so in the park here in Oodnadatta, a busy night for this little quiet town.
The landscape once again does not disappoint with more gibber plains, salt pans, bare flat plains, wooded patches, and red sand hills. I spy one lone kangarooo off the road, a few horses grazing on Anna Creek Station and of course birds, mostly hawks and other birds of prey.
We pull in at a historical marker and then stop for lunch at Algebuckina waterhole on the Neales River. I am very keen to bush camp along the edge of the lovely tree lined waterhole as there is probably 500 metres of suitable space to choose from and no others camping there but am overuled by the men.
Lunch over, we walk to the impressive almost half a kilometre long iron bridge and climb the steps to take photographs from on top. There is a lovely pool of water to put the canoe into but John can't be talked into doing it. At this rate, the red 'Coleman Capsizer' will be carried the whole distance and never once taste water!
So...we pack up and continue to Oodnadatta, wondering why when we set up in the powered sites at the van park ($32 per night). There is a drama even finding power points which work as the woman who owns the place wanders around for fifteen minutes having a 'mental blank'. A very impatient John finally makes me get the electric jug out and test it and we manage to park and set up the van, but not before he and I have a rather public 'misunderstanding' about choosing a place to park ....probably entertaining to the one other camper already there. This happens when he is tired from a long drive!
At the van park, there is no water which we can connect to although that's not unusual in a remote town in the outback and we ARE able to get hot water from a tap near the laundry. We still have drinking water in our tanks so put the pump on and use it once again.
The amenities are interesting....twin showers with curtains and no doors which is unusual for women! I manage without too much embarrassment and enjoy a lovely hot shower...the best for the past few days. I am relieved to find the other lady there is similar in age to me and not a beautiful firm bodied young back packer! There is a sign which advises that if the water isn't hot we are to use the phone at the front of the Pink roadhouse to call the owners for help! Interesting to do when wrapped in a towel I would think!
Barb and Darrell have a mishap with the rear window on the ute when it is shattered by a rock about 15 kms before we arrive in Oodnadatta...a very common occurrence when towing a trailer or van. We had advised him to cover it with cardboard but he could not be told and now is a very sorry man. It will be an expensive mistake.
Day 13 Monday 13th June
Oodnadatta and Painted Desert. (Oodnadatta, Hookey's Waterhole-Painted Desert)
It is apparently 3 degrees outside this morning although the thermometer in the van shows 7. I am enjoying the fan heater until it stops working around 7.30 when the power goes off. There are many disgruntled, cold campers as they and we want to use electricily for breakfast, for heating... and for $32 we feel entitled to grumble. John informes the staff (backpackers) at the roadhouse and they wander aimlessly around the park trying to fix the problem, of course without success!
After consulting Barb and Darrell we decide to try to get our money refunded and pay the Pink Roadhouse a visit, expecting to meet some opposition. The staff there must have this request often as it is given to us without delay..and mine in cash despite me originally using my Credit card!
We pack up and move out to Hookeys Waterhole on Neales creek, about 7kms out of town along the road to Coober Pedy and the Painted Desert. It's a deep waterhole lined with trees, much more pleasant than the Caravan Park in town although a little close to the road and the town for our liking.
John and Darrell attempt to fish for a while, even getting the canoe off our car. I go for a short paddle too and its lovely out on the water. Darrell manages to hook a very unlucky sizeable yabby which he eats as part of his dinner, as well as a sardine sized fish! Johns tally is zero!
The main activity undertaken today is a drive approximately 150kms return to the Painted Desert, a highlight of the trip so far. It is a perfect day, clear and sunny although still with a chilly wind. We take lunch and do a short walk from the lookout up to the top of the spectacular many coloured landforms which protrude from the flat land around. The camera is out and I take frequent photos in this outback paradise! The many hued mesas rising from the flat plains all around produce some fine shots.
Back in the camp, John and I enjoy a delicious rack of lamb and vegetables cooked in the camp oven and afterwards sit around in the warmth of the fire, enjoying the huge skies, a starry night and almost full moon.We enjoy the sounds of many birds as the sun drops close to the horizon....including a big flock of correllas which roost here overnight. There is the occasional vehicle past but we are a bit off the road and out of the line of vision of anyone. We retire for the night hopeful that it will be undisturbed by unwelcome visitors as we have broken our usual camping rule...never camp within 30 kms of a town and camp out of sight of the road if you do!!! Darrell is already snoring next door well before our lights are off!
Day 14
Tuesday June 14th (Hookeys Waterhole, Oodnadatta-Marla)
It is a glorious quiet night and we wake to the sounds of birds ..predominantly corellas. We pack up our gear once again, return to Oodnadatta for yet more diesel after driving 150 kms or so to the Painted desert yesterday, and set out on the last leg of the track.
As the morning warms and the road surface dries out the dust swirls and boils up behind and around us. We see little other traffic, although do pass a cyclist who had stayed at the van park in Oodnadatta the night we were there, about 90 kms from the town.
For the most art the road surface is great, although there are some rough bits at the bottoms of the dips and floodways which have to be slowed down for.
With no firm plans as to whether we will free camp again tonight we call in at the only one mentioned in Camps 5 and decide it is too early too pull up for the day at 11.30. Barb and Darrell haven't packed lunch and because they would have had to erect their van to get food, decide to head for Marla. We follow but pull over for a short lunch stop.
On opening the van door for lunch we are greeted by a thick layer of red dust... some of which is still suspended in the air. The ensuite is orange instead of white, and dirtier than on any previous trip and we wonder what has caused it as its not any dustier than anywhere we have travelled during the past few days! We know we are in for a few hours of hard slog once we reach Marla so get back on the road asap.
(A few days later John discovered a crack and small hole in our water outlet pipe beneath the ensuite and once he applied a temporary repair of tape, we had no more problems with dust in the ensuite or anywhere else.)
On arrival at the roadhouse, John buys diesel while I check us into the caravan park ($25 powered, bore water only). There is another 'discussion' re our site and John admits afterwards that he is tired and in future will leave the decision as to site selection up to me! It is a job I am only too happy to do!
As soon as we are parked, I hunt out the laundry with two loads of very dusty washing and then get stuck into the job of cleaning up the red dirt. The worst is swept up, then attacked with water, cleaner and a cloth. Floor mats are beaten and shaken, the floor cleaned and I do my best with the ensuite, wiping it from top to bottom. Some of the insides of cupboards and drawers have fared better than others and the crockery has to be rinsed! It is some hours before I manage to even have a coffee. Eventually the place looks back to its usual tidy self..at least on the surface! I will be cleaning out dust for years... and have only recently managed to clean out the dirt we got inside on our first trip to outback Queensland four winters ago!!
Dinner tonight is scrambled eggs on toast and it tastes absolutely wonderful by the time I have it on the table.
We spend an hour on the phone with the family and catch up on almost a weeks news, I check emails and feel connected to the world again. Surprisingly I did not suffer any anxiety as a result of being without phone or internet for over a week, so I can't be as tragic as I thought!
We find the van park at Marla Roadhouse surprisingly quiet and the amenities are great. One drawback is that they require a code, about 8 digits and letters in length, to open the doors to the womens, however the mens is a straightforward 4. What does that tell you about Men???
I have to write our code on my hand to be able to remember it...what does that tell you about my memory?
I drift off to sleep and realise that our adventure on the Oodnadatta track has ended..already. Despite the dust, I would do it again tomorrow!


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Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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