Mt Augustus - interesting dirt roads, water crossings, strenuous walks, great scenery..

Sunday, Jun 23, 2013 at 23:34

Member-Heather MG NSW

Week 11
Mt Augustus,
June 17th
We woke in Gascoyne Junction to cloudy skies and I had little hope of being able to leave for Mt Augustus today. By the time John got out of bed, I had already decided on our alternative plan. After breakfast, we decided to go for a walk to the crossing just to see whether there had been any change in the water level overnight, and expecting it to have dropped substantially, however we were surprised to find it noisier than yesterday and close to the same height, with swiftly flowing water, still too deep to cross with safety, and the barriers and ‘road closed’ signs still in place.
While we were there we spoke to two local council employees who gave us the news that they had just been told to open the Carnarvon Mullewa road, and that the alternative route to Mt Augustus via Dairy Creek and Cobra road was also open to 4WDs, but to check for certain with the Community Resource centre. They also told us that the Northern end of the crossing over the Gascoyne River had washed away and would have to be rebuilt before the road via Kennedy Range reopened, so it seems that will be a few days at least.
A rather forlorn older man was parked near the road junctions, his 4WD covered in dried red dirt. We got talking and he said he had rolled his car and camper trailer some days before when he had been driving on roads to the east, about the time that it was bucketing down with rain last Thursday night, when roads must have been closed, or if not, certainly should not have been travelled on. He said that he had gotten into wheel tracks in the mud, had fishtailed and tipped him, however when I asked whether he was in 4WD he said not, and neither had he dropped tyre pressure. In fact he seemed to know very little about ‘closed roads’ and the penalties involved if caught, or driving on dirt roads generally. His trailer apparently was only fit for the tip but the 4WD was pretty much undamaged, with a few dents and broken rear window. (Later when I visited the resource centre, he had launched into a saga of being a poor pensioner and how he could not afford to be fined etc etc. The staff must hear this story and other similar ones pretty often in the tourist season but remained polite and patient throughout.)
We walked up to the Community Resource Centre a little early for the updated Road conditions so we decided to go back to the van, pack up and then drive up so that once we were officially told the roads were open, we could also buy fuel and be on our way. Until the new Roadhouse/Caravan Park/tavern opens in (probably) August fuel is available from the Council pumps weekdays (or weekends with an additional $10 call out fee). The price we paid today for diesel was $1.88 per litre.
We were finally on the road by around 10a.m.having been advised that the road was open to 4WD vehicles and that this included those towing vans. We knew it would probably be a slow journey and that we should take whatever time was necessary. John dropped the tyre pressure substantially because we were expecting patches of mud, and sandy crossings at creeks.
The wettest parts were on the Carnarvon Mullewa road but we only really got a bit of a wobble up in a slippery patch once, where the road crews were out grading and rolling the road. There were a few creek crossings where water was flowing across the cement flood ways but it was not deep enough to cause any problems and the crossing seemed clear of debris. Otherwise it was just a matter of both of us watching the road ahead carefully, slowing down to negotiate damp patches, and dips where washaways had formed ruts, and deciding which part of the road was least rough. We still managed to hit one deep narrow rut a bit faster than we should have and pulled up to check the van inside and underneath but apart from a few things moving on the floor, all seemed OK. There were few animals, just a few head of cattle and a couple of roos who wanted to play ‘chicken’ with us. There were birds we hadn’t seen before; three black cockatoos, some long legged plover like birds too which John later identified as being maybe dotterels.

Small lakes of water lay beside the road in some places and in others the country looked like it had never seen rain. There were areas of very rocky flat gibber like terrain, jump ups and small rocky low ranges and mesa like outcrops, also the usual hardy shrubby spiky trees and bushes, and every now and then tall white trunked river gums lining major creeks and waterways.
Station Homesteads were situated close to the rivers and some were visible from the road.….I loved it all and found so much to keep me absorbed.
And the road for the last 50 or more kms and especially between Cobra and Mt Augustus was like a dirt highway, red and smooth, making it difficult not keep the speed down. The northern section seemed to be much drier than down south.

We pulled up for lunch at a parking area with Historical Information and saw a couple of places where a bush camp overnight would be possible were we not keen to travel the whole distance in one day.The couple we had talked two in Gascoyne Junction were pulled up having lunch well of the road and they gave us a friendly wave as we passed, then when we were lunching, they passed us and did the same. Otherwise we saw two vehicles, one towing a camper trailer at speed who met us as we crossed a one way floodway and had to pull over to let us through, and the other looked like a local landowner out to survey the road after the wet.

On arrival at the resort, we were somewhat relieved to have found our journey far less stressful than we had anticipated with us travelling so soon after the roads had reopened. Perhaps our previous experiences with travel on dirt roads and tracks while towing a van have taught us something and we can almost be regarded as experienced! We do hope the route we take out of here to Manilya roadhouse will prove to be similar and uneventful.

Mt Augustus was visible for a long time before we pulled into the Tourist Resort around 2.30 pm. It loomed out of the plains, in the cloudy skies taking on very dark and muted tones, the deep red earth on its sides dotted in small shrubs, and with patches of a light jade grey coloured rock appearing like small wet areas. It is so different in appearance to Uluru but still a very imposing huge rock. We talked about our plans to do the summit walk and looked forward to the challenge.

There were three camper trailers parked at the Shop/Office who had also just arrived, so we joined the queue and paid for power for 4 nights, at $33 per night, which is a reasonable price given that power is diesel generated here. The young Irish woman who manned the office told me that heavy rain is expected tomorrow, hardly news I wanted to hear. If we have brought rain here I will be extremely bleep off (but not all that surprised)! We have to be in Exmouth on Sunday sometime but we will probably leave Friday and take two days to travel so that we don't have to travel too fast if the surface is rough.

The campground has great views of the Mountain. We had no difficulty parking in a level place on the big, green, grassy, flat area, with a shady gum tree nearby, close to a power box. I must say it’s pretty nice to have power and be able to use the microwave, induction cooker, coffee maker etc also the heater should it be needed. We have ample water on board and will use the amenities for showers so are not worried about being short of drinking water either.

After we set up we wandered around the Resort, reading information signs and having a look at some very old shelters which dot the campground, stopping also to chat to other campers. There is a small A-van and a group of three campers who spent last night in the Junction with us, one towing a Jayco Outback eagle camper, also three with hardy camper trailers and a couple of tray back campers…I guess it’s not surprising that we are the only caravan here as we have found this before in many places we have travelled to off the beaten track.

The showers are surprisingly good, with plenty of hot water, and curtains to prevent clothes and floor getting splashed. Amenities generally are in an old building in ok condition but with long empty hand wash and paper towel dispensers and hand written notices warning not to steal toilet paper. For us to have flushing toilets and showers here is pretty luxurious! They could all do with a very intensive clean!
We watched one episode of ‘The Wire’, the first on Series 5, after dinner.

Tuesday 18th June.
Woke to leaden skies and not long afterwards there were drops of rain. Unbelievable!
We decided that so long as it didn’t actually rain, we would pack morning tea and water and drive out to view the engravings or Petroglyphs at the Aboriginal sites at Mundee and Ooramboo, and then do Edney’s Trail, a Class 4 6km return walk to a lookout kind of as a warm up for the summit walk.
It was an enjoyable morning with some interesting scenery and a not too difficult or strenuous walk, some plants in flower, and the aboriginal art was quite impressive. We could see the resort from the lookout at Edney’s.
Back at the van for lunch, the colours of the mountain were too beautiful for me to ignore and I wandered around the camp ground and took photos. After our meal though, I relaxed in the sun and had difficulty keeping awake. John was happily reading on the bed inside and had to be persuaded to drive back out to do the Gum Grove and Kotka Gorge trails although it was only a few kms from the campground. The cloud cover disappeared and, in the sun, we found the walk quite hot and tiring. Apart from some lovely huge, gnarled old river gums with snowy white trunks on the walk along the river bed, it wasn’t all that interesting either. The ants made life interesting whenever I stopped for more than a brief moment and at one point I had the uncomfortable sensation of them crawling up underneath my long legged pants and biting me! Needless to say the other person in my walking party thought that was hilarious and I didn’t get any sympathy!!
On our return journey , John kindly pulled over while I took photos of the mountain and then as we travelled along the red sandy track I happily clicked away. In the early afternoon light, the colours are just wonderful; intense blue of the sky, purples of the Mountain, green vegetation and brilliant orange sand.
Our evening was filled with the usual activities; showers, preparing and cooking the evening meal then washing up and an episode of ‘The Wire’.
Wednesday 19th June.
What a different morning. Clear blue sky and a cooler start with 12 degrees inside the van. I prepared sandwiches and after breakfast and filling in the book to register our walk at the Office, we set out to the Summit track parking area some 15 kms away.
It was just after 8am when we started the walk (12kms return, 6 hours average, rated class 4 and a hard walk). The first 1.5kms was marked gentle gradient however it was a steady uphill with good views over the plains from the time we got out of the river bed, and it got our muscles and hearts working and warmed up for what we anticipated would not be all that easy a bit later on.
We knew we must have been getting closer to the saddle with each step up the second 1.5kms (from the first signpost Gully walk) as it was considerably steeper and really got the heart pumping. It also seemed to be at least three kms before we came to the second Gully trail signpost! My walking pole was extremely helpful in providing stability and taking some stress off the joints and the was first time I had used it in such terrain. I paused and rested, turning to take in the views, whenever it was necessary as I was not out to break any time records. My camera was stored in my backpack as I decided to use it on the way down when there were no shadows and the light was better. I also carried two litres of water and John carried the food and two more litres of water in bottles accessible from the outside of the pack. He walked on ahead and stopped to wait for me at intervals but both of us kept a watchful eye out for the small blue makers which make finding the track easy.
We had a good break and food very close to the top of the steep section, perched on a flat rock with expansive views out over the far ranges and the plains. Then we were back on the track and walking the 2.7 km gentle gradient section, which meandered through small gullies and over rocky outcrops. There were many birds including zebra finches which require permanent water, and small pools of water lay in hollows in the rocks, probably as a result of the brief showers the morning before. I was surprised to see abundant vegetation although it was predominantly spinifex and hardy shrubs, stunted small trees.
The last 300 metres was steep and rocky, requiring a couple of walks along narrow ledges above rocky drop offs but nothing too worrying for people with a fear of heights, and before we knew it, we were on top. Here a large cairn of rocks is cemented in place, built by a man who apparently carried all the materials up or had his mates do so. He also carried up the timber and other materials for the picnic table and bench seats . A heavy aluminium box holds a visitors book and information about this remarkable man, and we added our names and comments before carefully placing it back in the box and topping it with a large rock, as we had found it.
There was a generous stop here so we could have a good look around, as well as have more food and water, and for me to take photos. I set up the camera and used the infrared remote to take a couple of photos of John and I in front of the rock cairn, just to prove that we had made it to the top.
As would be expected there are great views and we could look down on the Resort where our van was parked. It was so far away that we couldn’ t see more than a few small dots.
As usual we thought the downhill journey would be easier, however it was very taxing on the knees especially, with such a steep slope and uneven rocks and terrain, and we felt every step. I took photos every now and then and once again really took as much time as I needed to choose my footing carefully.
We had another stop for ‘lunch’ before tackling the steep section, partly to lighten our loads but also for energy. By the time we reached the creek bed close to the car park we were pretty sore and weary. In fact I could not be bothered to walk the last 50 metres to view the aboriginal engravings under Flintstone rock, although John did and said they were the most distinct of any we had seen, so maybe I should have made more effort!
We were back in the car by 2pm, tired, but exhilarated to have conquered yet another mountain peak! I signed off in the walk register on our return to the Resort and then after coffee, we both had lovely hot showers to soothe our aching muscles.
This afternoon I also dealt with some small chores, firstly wiping out the floor of the cupboard under the sink where some red dust had managed to seep in, and when it all dried, John applied some silicon which will hopefully prevent the same from happening in the future. I also reorganised the food cupboards and repacked the groceries we have left. The small narrow spaces beside the fridge get warm when it runs on gas and I moved items which may spoil to other parts of the van. Small jobs but necessary.
Thursday 20th June.
Another clear sunny morning greeted us and it was cool enough to run the heater for a couple of hours to bring the interior temperature up from 13 degrees to around 18. I spent a couple of hours from 5.30 writing my journal and looking at photos taken the previous day.
There was no urgency to get out and walk and we had a leisurely breakfast and tidy up before setting out with morning tea and water on the short drive to Goordgeela Lookout trail. Here there is a Class 4 walk of 3 km return which follows a very rocky creek, becoming steeper as the lookout is reached. The walk to the summit yesterday had given me valuable experience in walking up and down sloping rock faces so I didn’t have too much difficulty following the track, and once again was aided by my walking pole. From various places and also at the lookout, there are good views of the Lyons River meandering through the sandplain, and of the Godfrey Range to the North. I took photos and had morning tea and John decided to try to find the cave which had been mentioned back at the Information sign at the start of the track and disappeared soon afterwards, much to my concern. While I sat and waited for him, I realised that he had the car keys and should something untoward happen to him, I had no way of driving back out for help!
Some time later he appeared across the rocky slope, endeavouring to find a path up the hill, and I watched as he gingerly made his way across and then once more disappeared. Another anxious wait ensured until he finally emerged on the hilltop and when he arrived back at the lookout I told him of my concerns. Thankfully no mishaps today but it could happen so easily and a memorable place could become that for all the wrong reasons. We forget that we are in our 60’s and not teens!
On our way back to the carpark, we met a couple who are also staying at the resort and stopped to talk for a while. And our next stop was at Cattle pool, a large deep looking permanent pool which became a valuable stop along the De Grey cattle droving route between the Fortescue River and Mullewa in the 1800’s. Long before white man discovered it, of course it was also a special place for the local Aboriginal tribe, the Wajarri people. It was a picturesque place, the river banks lined with huge ancient gnarled white trunked river gums, and abundant bird life which always flocks to water. I walked along the banks and took photos, observed birds and enjoyed the cool oasis while John pulled out fishing gear and unsuccessfully tried to catch anything lurking in the water below.
By the time we arrived back at the Campground, it was close to lunch time. Our legs felt good having been exercised gently for a few kms and we decided that if we didn’t feel any soreness after the strenuous summit walk, then we must be reasonably fit.
Somehow the afternoon disappeared. We read, me outside in partial sun under the awning, while John preferred to lie on the bed, and I also uploaded and edited the photos I had taken. We talked again to the only remaining people who are staying in the powered area but so far haven’t found anyone who has driven from Minilya roadhouse and Lyndon Roads which is the route we plan to take tomorrow out to the Highway.
John took the Pajero to the fuel pump and filled up with diesel which is $2 per litre here, quite understandable, because of the distances involved in getting it here. We wonder what it must cost to keep the big generator going. There have been a few instances where the power has gone off for a minute or two and then once the hum of the motor is heard, its back on. One disappointment for me here has been that the owners of the station are not visible to people like us as I would find it fascinating to talk to them about life out here. I guess they are too busy getting on with the job as we can observe the cattle truck moving around and also a small plane used in mustering. The big bell which rings at certain times in the day I think might be a call to lunch and afternoon tea, maybe??
Dinner was a one dish meal of mince, pasta, tomato passata and a combination of dried and frozen vegetables and a very hearty, warming meal.
Friday 21st June.
Our last morning with views of the Mountain as our backdrop dawned with clear skies. I was out of bed before 6am and opened the curtains to watch as the suns first rays fell on its sides, transforming them from a drab dull deep brown into brilliant oranges. The other campers were gone by daylight and there were only two tents across the road in the unpowered area, the quietest it has been since we arrived on Monday. I was sorry to leave this lovely place, although we needed two nights to get to Exmouth without having to hurry, and with no way of knowing just what the 350 kms of dirt roads would be like, it was time to move on.
Today our route took us back to Cobra Station and shortly afterwards to Gifford Creek Road, then onto Ullawarra Road, and onto Lyndon Minnie creek Road past Homesteads with names such as Gifford Creek, Mangaroon, and Lyndon. The surfaces were variable, with some resembling a dirt highway and others a goat track and made driving an interesting and tiring experience. There was little chance to become complacent as there were washaways, rough stony sections and quite steep little dips, even small hills. At the road junction near Lyndon Homestead we stopped and parked the van in a big flat area of red dirt, ate our lunch and had a short break.
Back on the Lyndon Minilya Road, the last section of dirt, we began to look for a place to pull over for the night. We saw two vehicles which seemed to be travelling together and they gave us a big friendly wave but otherwise we had seen no traffic since leaving Mt Augustus.
It wasn’t easy to find our bush camp with many long stretches of extremely rocky ground each side of the road. Eventually we came to a place where other vehicles had pulled off a bit although it wasn’t as far from the road as we usually like to be, and the vegetation was too sparse and short to hide us. We decided it was probably better to be able to be seen in case there were hunters out after dark, although there was no signage to indicate this, and we levelled the van and did the minimal work necessary to stay. One vehicle passed by just after we parked.
Being only early afternoon, we enjoyed the complete silence of our camp, with me sitting in the shade of the van with coffee and kindle, while John preferred his usual place on the bed. I didn’t bother starting up the laptop as I knew there would be no real opportunity to spend time online until we reach Exmouth on Sunday, and any emails and messages would be visible on my phone as soon as we had a signal.
We decided not to have a campfire and I slow cooked our meal of Osso bucco with canned, dried and frozen vegetables and risoni, on the gas cooktop, enjoying the last rays of the sun outside while it bubbled away.
We fired up the gas hot water soon after dark and enjoyed lovely hot showers, then watched two of the remaining four episodes of the final Series of ‘The Wire’. Afterwards I tried in vain to sleep, eventually having to turn on the kindle and read, while beside me John snored peacefully. Our night was cool and we woke to temperature of 10 degrees inside.
Saturday June 22nd.
With little to pack up, we left our bush campsite before 8.30. By then, the gas heater had warmed up our van to a comfortable 18 degrees and the sun was shining.
The road was slow going, with many rough patches which had obviously been wet recently. The wheel tracks had hardened and dried and in the roughest parts there had been an attempt to grade the surface but we had to be careful not to get up too much speed as they meandered a bit, where the vehicles had slipped around on the greasy surface. There were also stretches where the surface was corrugated, others where it was stony and rough and some sandy smooth bits which were lovely to travel on.
We reached the Highway and Minilya Roadhouse before 10.30 and suddenly there were vehicles again. John filled the diesel tank, and then put some air in the tyres using our compressor, and my phone began to ‘sing’ as I received many messages and emails from the past 6 days when we have been without signal. I managed to send the family and our travelling companions a text message before we lost it a bit further north just to let them know we are safely off the dirt roads. B & D have spent 5 nights in Coral Bay and are to be in Exmouth today for three nights so we will meet them there at the Big 4 Park tomorrow. There will be much news to catch on, theirs very different from ours.
Our in car monitor for the Breaksafe van brake has started to beep a warning and the red ‘low battery’ light is flashing when John applies the brakes so we will have to have a look at that when we reach Exmouth, and at the literature which was provided when we took delivery of the van. John is pretty confident he can recharge the battery and I do hope it is a simple job as it is essential that it is in working order before we travel too far.
Tonight we are staying at Bullara Station Stay about 90 kms south of Exmouth, which was a right turn off our route and about 8 kms each way, but we thought a better alternative than staying in the only designated 24hour rest area on the road, in a very bare spot some distance south of here..Bullara is a working station, producing meat and doesn’t have powered sites but does have generator and non generator campgrounds separated by stockyards and a bit of space. We chose the latter area without gennies where there were only a few other vans, amongst them the long term camp hosts, and were given a friendly welcome by Tim, the manager of the Station, and allowed to choose our site. It’s $13 per person a night which I guess is reasonable.
There are unique amenities, some with no roofs, and with tree stumps protruding from the interior. They all seem to have somewhat modern fittings though with flushing toilets and hot showers, the water heated by wood fires I think. And, as I mentioned above, there are campground hosts and also a bloke in charge of the communal campfire and damper baking, along with tastings of the sausages which are made from the drought master cattle grown on the Station.
I spent time wandering around taking photos of the place and visited the Homestead to buy T-bone steaks, sausages and mince as our freezer is almost bare, also introducing myself to the hosts and to other campers. The steaks are large enough for both of us to share one so I left one out to thaw for dinner.
Later in the afternoon, we also walked through a couple of gates to the nearest red sand dune as I was hoping to take some good photos however they have been trampled by cattle and ridden over by motor cross bikers who are here for the weekend and have a noisy campsite set up a bit away from the rest of us, with kids and revving bike engines as they zoom back and forth. So I was a bit disappointed by my photographic efforts, however we did enjoy wandering across the brilliant red sand and listening to the many birds. The same silvery white trunked river gums are also dotted around the lower ground where sometimes there must be water, and they are just so beautiful contrasting with the red of the earth and the green vegetation and clear blue skies.
Around 5pm we took our chairs and drinks and sat around the campfire where we were soon joined by others, a mixed group of International visitors from Italy, Britain and France, along with Aussies. We stayed until long after dark and really enjoyed the chance to speak with them. As usual the people who choose these kinds of stays are not the mainstream caravaners and so interesting, often very adventurous. We have been told by a couple of others that clouds and maybe even rain are on the way in the next day or two, not all that good news, however maybe it will be over by the time we check into the National Park on Tuesday.
The damper was very well cooked and kept our hunger pangs at bay but a large part of it was swooped upon and taken by the children who carried it off gleefully to ‘their camp’!
A huge, almost full moon rose and bathed the campground in soft light so using torches wasn’t necessary.
Dinner was T-bone steak, the remaining couple of potatoes mashed, and frozen vegetables, after which we prepared to wash up and have showers. For the second time, as we were doing the dishes, we ran out of water, listening with dismay as the pump gurgled and struggled to pump the last water in the tank. We thought that in Perth we had had this attended to and that we still had plenty of water, despite using it for drinking and washing up for the past 7 days, as we had been showering in amenities except for one night, and had also used an additional 20 litres. Once again it seems that the tank level monitor is not working.
Luckily we had an extra 20 litre water container in the car, and in the dark, John managed to siphon it into the van tank which was enough for him to have a short shower but it’s not acceptable to us to have this situation happen when we do rely so much on our own water supply. It is not good enough to be told to not rely on it and if they can’t get it working when we return home, then they can replace it with one which does while the van is still under warranty.
Meanwhile I decided to try the showers in the campground and had to use one of the open roofed ones as others were occupied or out of order. Unfortunately the only water which flowed was lukewarm at best and I had an uncomfortable, very short wash! Maybe showers have to be taken earlier in the day however it would have been nice to know this! Luckily the temperature here is so much warmer and it wasn’t as unpleasant as it could have been!
By the time we had watched the final two episodes of ‘The Wire’ it was well after 11pm, an extremely late night for us.
Sunday June 23rd.
Woke to cloudy grey skies after a very quiet night.

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