Surveyors General Corner Part 3 Beautiful Colours and not only in the Opal

Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 07:45

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

We are now at Coober Pedy after a fabulous journey through the Gawler Rangers (part 1 Gems of SA) and then North via Goog’s Track (part 2 Sand and Granite). Here a friend of ours showed us through her family underground home and the delightful scenery of a Coober Pedy sunset as we viewed it from the roof (hill) of her house, -- just magic – giving us a greater understanding of why people remain in this seemingly desolate outback town even after they have given up on the mining work, they love the existence and I now understand why.

All fueled up and the larder again full we headed towards Oodnadatta, along that dusty, stony and corrugated road, past the Jump Ups and into the barren and mostly “nullaborous” plains. The iron stone glitters in the harsh sun light at you and the long pillars of dust trail for kilometres behind the leading vehicles. We passed a tank literally covered with upwards of one hundred black kites roosting or fluttering continuously on and around the tank, a very impressive sight. We turned West along the Cadney Park road for a further 25 kms before camping alongside the dry Goorikiana Creek (plenty of camping places here) . This is just 7 kms from the lookout of the Painted Desert, tomorrows’ destination. That evening a walk along the creek bed revealed plenty of colour and interesting shapes in the vegetation (along with it’s almost septic smell), a photographers delight.

It is hard to adequately describe the Painted Desert of the Arkaringa Hills, the colours and eroded shapes and formations are just brilliant. A couple of kms West of the lookout is an opportunity to take 1 kms easy walk and boy is it worth doing. Perhaps the best way to convey the scenery of this area is through photographs so here goes.

The Copper Hills were next as we made our way towards the North South highway. No where near as dramatic or as impressive but the country side approaching them certainly complimented their more sober colours. A stop at the site of an abandoned station ruins where once again the grave of a 4 year old child sobers your thoughts of the desolation experienced in those by gone days, what a lonely place to leave a loved one. The road through here can be rough in places, corrugated, stony (tyre busters) and dusty but with luck you will have a side wind, as we did, to disperse the dust. It is, however a very worthwhile side trip to view this magnificent part of our country, it is places such as this, why we continue to head out into outback Australia. In my view it would rank as one of those very best drives in this country. Note though the designated camping area on the maps at the Copper Hills appears to be closed. About 23 years ago we visited this area, driving through mud and slush, but the memories of that trip had faded somewhat, now they have been totally revived. Yes!

We were determined to visit the small opal mining hamlet of Mintabie, having driven past the turnoff on numerous occasions over the years. Technically you need a permit to drive to it but as one resident told us later, “ don’t bother it isn’t Friday” ??. We camped short of the town in a disused quarry site and reached Mintabie about 10 am the next day, just a little unsure of what to expect or of the reception we would receive. We made our way into the general store and this was the beginning of a great mornings experience. All the people we met in this town openly welcomed us, went out of their way to talk with us and to direct us to the towns sites. Nowhere more so than when we met 46 year old Tim of the general store, who gave us a run- down of the history, politics and issues of Mintabie. He also directed us as to a tour of the town and on hearing of our destination some advice on what not to miss along the way. The town itself is fairly typical opal mining area, white dump heaps , machinery, dust, few facilities (the general store and a newer pub) and a collection of residences. Interestingly most of the mining seemed to be open cut. It’s hey- day was in the 80’s but now the area only boasts about 100 people. It is surrounded by designated aboriginal land and thus unable to expand leases, at present it stretches for about 7 kms but only 1 ½ kms wide.

We were encouraged to drive around for a look and given directions by another interesting resident, Ivor (and his friendly rottweiler/german shepherd dog) as to where to do some noodling. Now Brenda and I have ‘noodled’ on many occasions but for the others in our party this was the first time and it took a little while for them to see the value in it, but as we started to find a little colour and potch they became quite enthusiastic and enjoyed the experience. Finding our way back to the pub it was time for lunch and a beer. A counter lunch, wow - what a lunch, the biggest schnitzel I’ve ever had and just $8.00. Avanca the publican’s wife and also thecook, had fresh homemade bread for us as well. Then there was Russ who ‘only came to the pub to watch TV’ and who kept reminding us that when we talked to him we were interrupting this, but then he would ask us questions of who, why, what about this … etc…. an interesting chap indeed. As we were leaving, another ½ hour discussion with a fellow Victorian who worked his dozer on the field. We left Mintabie well pleased that we had taken the time to visit this out post, the people were friendly and interesting and the whole area another memorable experience for us. Interestingly though, there were no obvious sales outlets for their local opal. This was an obvious disappointment for Brenda --- and of course me also.

We had to backtrack 35 kms to the highway to cross the border where we were welcomed by the police breath-testing motorists entering the NT. Perhaps it was just as well we had that home made bread !!. No all was OK we were responsible. We turned down the Mulga Park road just 1½ kms from the border. Part of the original Gunbarrel Hwy it is now a well formatted road, wide, graded and in good condition. A few kms to Victory Downs Station where we found a well defined and sheltered camp site just short of the station homestead. We settled in for the night well pleased with our day.

The drive from here to Mulga Park Station was enjoyable with great views of the northern extremities of the Musgrave Ranges to the South (this country is closed but a permit to travel through those ranges would be awesome). A little further on the hills to the South West with their rounded shapes and that pink/mauve colouring made this a great drive. The road became quite sandy in places with the usual corrugations (of course) until the Mulga Park Station where you are required to turn North (the original road is closed) . Once again the country side, now covered in scrub, was enjoyable and to our right that magnificent sight of Mt Connor grew larger and larger and becoming a focal point for us, a large and impressive ridge of rock ran parallel to the road for quite some distance. Unfortunately the road stays well clear of the Mount itself. You can however take a tour to it from Curtin Springs. We stopped for photographs and eventually found a sand hill to climb that gave us spectacular views.Mount Connor (Artilla) is 300 meters above ground level (859 m ASL), is flat topped and surprisingly horseshoe shaped (although this is not really observable from the road). Known as a mesa/ inselberg of eroded sedimentary rock some 200 to 300 million years older than either Uluru or the Olgas it was named by William Gosse in 1873.

On reaching the bitumen close to Curtin Springs the wind had really picked up to gale force and raising an incredible amount of dust. To add to the discomfort I punctured my rear tyre just 200 meters from the turn in to Curtin Springs. We set up camp here (free camping, but only if you don’t partake of their meals and or drinks) to ride out the deteriorating conditions. Late in the afternoon word came through that a family had had a lucky escape as their vehicle and camp trailer had caught fire closer to Uluru. The management rightly became very concerned that the resulting bush fire could impact on Curtin Springs . Fortunately the strong wind took the flames to the South West of the resort. Probably the weather now provided the worst camping conditions possible but as we learned the next day the Uluru camping resort experienced equally as bad conditions as us. Next day however all had settled down to fine weather.
The ‘Rock’ was disappointing this time with very little colour at all, not like back in 2005 when we last saw it change to a brilliant red. Access to areas around the Rock have also changed and unless you are prepared to walk the whole distance there are only a couple of access points from the road. The Olgas – Kata Tjata – provided a brilliant walk the next day for us. The 12 km ‘Valley of the Winds’ circuit walk is well worth the effort as was the wait for sunset on the Olgas. I think the most memorable time in this area was some 27 years ago when I climbed the rock with my kids and whilst at the top came across a group of young people, one of whom was being videoed singing “I’ll Call Australia Home”with the Olgas in the back ground. Back to now, we bush camped out along the Docker River Road well aware that our immediate goal for this trip Surveyors General Corner was now only three days away.

More Photos:-

Next Surveyors General Corner Here at last.
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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