Days 9 to 14 of our Big Trip of the Simpson and now the Flinders Ranges

Tuesday, Jul 07, 2015 at 19:50

Member - Matwil

Day 9
We were having a late getaway from Alice Springs to allow us time to replenish our stocks for the desert trip.. WE did a quick trip to Coles after we had packed up the truck and got some more food before heading off to Supercheap auto to get two jerrycans to ensure we had enough fuel for the desert, Not the place to run out.
Once done we met in Bunnings car park and were on the road a little after 10am. Up the Sturt Highway we went, bitumen with an unlimited speed limit for 70 klms. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn but didn't stop as that is the photo that most tourists have. We will have another chance.
We then turned onto the Plenty Highway heading towards the Queensland border with another 70 klms of bitumen. Made good time but soon back to the Dirt road. We pressed on, only stopping for lunch and a couple of wee stops. Funny how we have adopted Scottish customs in Australia. Then the unexpected happened. The guy who had the puncture the day before, got another one in the same tyre. This time a rock had cut through the tread. How is that for bad luck. He was concerned that he now didn't have a spare. I told him I had two inner tubs as back up and he could have one of them. That is the benefit of doing this trip as a group. We arrived at Jervois Station at about 3.30pm. This was to be our last fuel stop before Birdsville, which is 650 klms way. But hard 4WD driving in low range which chews up fuel at twice the rate of normal. I filled up (at $1.98 a litre, it was $2.30 at Mt Dare and $1.48 in Alice) and filled the jerries as well.
The guy who had a flat was able to get his tyre fixed which was a bonus until someone noticed oil leaking was the leader Johns diff on his Jeep Wrangler. John had just had a major overhaul of his vehicle and had spent $6,000 putting in new differentials. It looks like they didn't install the diff seals correctly and we were now going into the most in hospitable place in Australia. He was far from being a happy man. We waited around hoping that the station owner would come back and he could provide John with enough oil to get him through the desert.
While we were waiting two mustering helicopters flew in on their way to a muster on the other side of Alice. This was great change to take some action photos of something we hadn’t expected. As it was getting late we decided to leave John and one other vehicle at Jervous while the others of us completed the 80 KLMS to Batton Hill where we were staying for the night. We set off and made Batton Hill at sunset. This was unfortunate as I was hoping to photography Goyders Piller just out of Batton hill at sunset, which was now impossible. Oh well we will just have to come back another time.
Batton Hill is on Aborigine land and you can only camp there with a special permit. The elder who set it up, died earlier this year but his daughter is keeping it going. The elder used to take children into the bush and show them how the aboriginies lived off the land, gathering bush tucker. He would also take visitors to Goyder’s Piller and explain the significance of the place to his people. This is still done and some people at the camp had the privilege of going out with the daughter and said is was indeed a special experience. We will be back. The stay at Batton Hill was special anyway. They have great wood chip heaters for showers.
Next morning one of the other siblings was there bringing us the guest book to sign. I told him We would be back to photograph Goyders pillar and he said. “Ill be waiting”.


Day 10
We left Batton Hill and started on the Hay River track proper. Louise at the wheel as we have decided that she will drive the morning shift to lunch time and that I will take over after that. Well this track through the scrub has more twists and turns than a politicians answers during an election. As we drove along we had the feeling that whoever cut this road had a bottle of rum before he started and one every hour after that. We soon came to the Tropic of Capricorn where we stopped for a photo shoot. One that most visitors to the NT will not have because the Hay River Track is a closed track. Someone had erected a rough sign on the spot which the GPS confirmed was in the right place. John Jeep was OK as long as you pumped oil into the diff each morning and afternoon, so we were all in good spirit. Finally 4pm arrived so John started looking for a campsite. He found a good one where nobody else had ever been. We set up camp, prepared a camp fire and all sat round and traded stories of our adventure. Awe were tied after the days events so turned in a round 8.30pm.

Day 11.
Again up early (6.30am) breakfasted, packed up and ready to move on by nine. At the morning briefing John told us there would be less turns that the day before. What he missed out of the briefing was that it was only three less turns and the bloke who cut this section has two bottles of rum before he started and 2 bottles each kilometer. Crossing the plains and then rising up on a ridge to see a huge flat valley below as far as the eye can see makes you realise how insignificant we are in the scheme of things.
WE got to a place that is marked on the Hema map as the Madigan’s Camp 16. Madigan was the first scientific expedition across the Simpson in the late 1930’s. It appears to be a special place as over the years many 4WD clubs have left permanent metal plaques of the names of the people who have made it to here. We didn't have any metal so we signed the visitor book to leave our mark that we had been there. During the afternoon one of the cars behind me, a Mitzibishi got stuck on the top of a sand hill. He needed towing and when I offered to do it John commented that the Navara D22 would not have enough grunt. I begged to disagree so he let me try, and we pulled the Missy off the hill. The Trusty Navara - Clive does it again. At this stage it is performing beautifully without a hitch. PS the truck is called Clive because it was bought in June 2014 when Clive Palmer was a power broker, big, bold and would not stop for anything – it was only natural to name it Clive.

We pressed on and made camp, again at a pristine spot at about 4.30pm. We were fairly tired so had an early dinner and were in our sleeping bags at 7.30pm.

Day 12
We started the day by getting up a bit earlier so that we could take some photos of the desert before sunrise. One of the teenagers on the trip found a lizard basking in the morning sun and soon everyone was photographing it. As for the landscape the colours out here at that time of the day are unbelievable. We were all packed up and ready to go by 9am and set off for what appeared to be a track similar to the day before. However we soon came to our first sand dune and we were going to learn some new skills. The first dunes was a challenge and some had to make two or three goes at it. We were second last in the pack so by the time it was our turn the track was quite cut up and the sand soft. Louise was at the wheel, in 4W low and second gear, quickly into third and powered across the dunes. “Easy as” was her comment. We powered on but the going was tough, we did 6 kilometres in three hours – that is almost walking speed.

Day 13 and 14
We were up early at 5.30am as we had an early start to try and catch up some time that we lost the day before crossing a couple of sand dunes. Little did we know what was in store for us.
We were at Poppel Corner Oil well and still had a fair way to travel on the Hay River Track. Anyway we got away at 8.00am and made good headway down until we got to the shot line. From there we headed due west for about 19 Kilometers. And finally arrived at the Birdsville turnoff. We continued straight ahead to Poppell Corner which is the boundary between South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This was the start of the Frenchline passing our first sign of wild life we have seen on the road, with a dingo watching our every move. We were soon on the QAA line which runs parallel to Lake Poppel. Some mindless idiots had done wheelies in the salt lake which had broken the crust and made deep ruts. It will take decades for nature to heal the damage. nIts the actions of mindless idiots like this that causes the authorities to lock 4WDers out of more and more areas. The majority suffer because of the mindless actions of a few. My only hope is that their beloved truck becomes bogged next time they do it and it is unrecoverable and then nature will have its retribution. We turned off the QAA line onto the French line to make Poppel corner. I had been writing my blog because Louise was driving, on my iPad. She started to ascend a very steep sand hill as I was closing the iPad cover and we hit a huge hidden bump. Next time I opened the iPad my blog for the last 4 days was wiped, gone and cannot be recovered. I was shattered. So what you have read from Alice is my and Louise’s memory of what I wrote. Lucky I had read to her each blog as I wrote it. Anyway that was soon to be the least of our worries. After the photo-shoot at Poppel Corner, we headed back to the Birdsville turnoff where our lead vehicle was waiting. Now the real fun was to star. We had 166 kilometers of sand hills to cross. Not a problem was our thoughts as we had crossed many sand hills the day before. We were now experts, or so we thought.
The first couple were easy but they gradually became harder. The road we were on is the final link to Birdsville but carries the vehicles from 4 other tracks so it gets a hug amount of traffic. This cuts up the dunes something terrible and makes everyone a new unique obstacles. The ruts and holes are huge. We hit one too hard and bottomed out the front of the truck very heavily. Slower was the key, but the ruts and holes made it a roller coaster ride up each hill. Twisting and turning in every direction. We plodded on crossing dune after dune after dunel all about 300 to 500 metres apart. We lost count and remember them only by how far the truck was thrown in the air, or bounced like there was no tomorrow. On some dunes the choice of gear and speed you chose at the bottom then you would not make it to the top and you would have to back down the soft sand and try again. Every time you try you dig it up a bit more and make it harder for yourself. Soon our leader John called over the radio that all car had to have their most experienced driver at the wheel if we were going to make Birdsville before Friday. As we were all crying out for a shower, and a cold beer at the bar we quickly changed driver. AT this stage we had done about 6 KLMS in two hours. The speed pick up but was starting to take a toll on vehicle and driver. You couldn't take you eye off the track for a second. One of our cars manned by Ken had been bringing up the back each day as he was the most reliable and experienced out of all of us. I was immediately in front of him. We climbed one particular sand hill that caused me some grief and two attempts to get over. It was Ken’s turn and I hung back because I had a fear he might not make it. He got his vehicle to about one metre from the top and there was a big bang and he stopped dead. I went back to help him and to cut a long story short he had a major failure of his front diff. He was going nowhere except on the back of a truck. john came back and rang Birdsville on his satellite telephone. Yes they could come and retrieve his vehicle, estimated cost $6,000, but because of the big bash concert in town would not be for two days. After checking he had plenty of fuel and water, a decision was made to leave him and get the rest of the group to Birdsville. Ken had run out of bear so I gave him my stash of 15 cans. He had a book and he reckoned he was right. Its is a hard call to leave someone in the desert by themselves, but I am sure Ken will be OK. One plus is that there will be a lot of Vehicles passing him so he will have company if he needs it. Out here everyone knows to stop and talk because your life depends on the help of others. Any way John, one other car that stayed back to help and Louise and me headed off to catch the rest of the group which was about 1 ½ hours in front of us. We made the decision that we too would press onto Birdsville even if it meant driving in the dark. With about 8 sand hills to go we crossed one very bad one with Clive bouncing all over the place. AS we came over the top of the dune Clive started shuddering very badly. He was complaining, strange squeaks, rubbing noises and big thump noises every time we went over a rut. Time to stop and take check. I drove the vehicle backwards and it seemed to be OK so we pressed on. Next Dune shuddering again. Was it wheel bearings, Bent drive shaft, problems with universals etc etc was running though my mind. We eliminated each one in turn and decided to press ahead to Birdsville every so slowly. Which is possible until you come to a sand hill and then you have to barrel up, twisting and turning and bounce around, listening to Clive groan and complain and sometimes shriek out. Soon John was saying we only had two or three more to cross and up I went. Something happened when I bounced into the air because when we came down the shuttering and all the other noises stopped. WE finally arrived at BIG RED, the last sand hill to cross. Because of the concert it was closed and we only had to cross little red. Still big but not as big as big red. WE made it across in two goes and was on flat ground all the 30 Kilometers to Birdsville. The sun had set so we got up to 80 and 90 klms an hour and made it at 6.30pm, and hour and a half after the others. WE were buggered we checked into the Caravan park, we put up the tent in the dark forgot the shower and headed off to the pub for a great meal and more than a few beers. Finally made bed at 11pm the latest since I left home ever so long ago. In the morning we checked the vehicle over and it seems to be OK. The best explanation I can come up with is that we must have thrown the suspension out of alignment and then thrown it back into place again. Anyway I will get it thoroughly checked out when I get to Broken Hill.
When we checked the truck next morning, we found that everything in the back had been rearranged. Everything in the fridge was battered bruised and had to be thrown away. A beer popped and the other cans looked like they had been used for target practice. The one complaint we have of Birdsville is that the caravan park is directly under the flight path for Birdsville airport with the end of the runway 200 metres away. We haven’t heard so many takeoff or landings since we lived in Rockdale.
Before we all turned in we had a meeting and agreed that we would spend an extra day in Birdsville to recover for the dunes. It is the best decision we have made. I am sitting here at 4pm in the afternoon catching up on the blog. We have refueled and taken the rest of the day easy other than to thoughoughly check out Clive to make sure he is ready from the trip to Innamincka. That involved a trip back to Big Red to make sure everything was working properly and it is thank goodness.

I have been trying to upload this blog to the internet but Telstra won’t connect an internet page. Must be all the people in town using the bandwidth. Anyway I will try from the pub. That didn't work so I will try just before we go to bed.
Sorry there are no photos but the internet connection is terrible and it takes 5 minutes or more to load a page. Anyway tell next report.
Wanting to explore our vast wide land
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