Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 1 : Canberra to Port Augusta

Sunday, Nov 25, 2012 at 15:05


Getting started on a trip is often the hardest part of the whole journey, and this trip seemed to be especially hard to get going. Our heads were still full of our trip to England a few months earlier and the weather was cold – it mostly is around Canberra in early August. Still, we had committed to the trip and we would go. Even if it meant saying goodbye again to Lucy, our special border collie, who seemed to know that something was afoot.

So, all packed up, our housesitters settled in and farewells done, we set out on a cold, windy and cloudy morning in early August, heading in the general direction of central Western Australia.

Our plan was minimal. The only fixed item (in that permits had been obtained) was to travel some roads through central Australia that we had not yet travelled and arrive in the WA wildflower belt in time for the spring flowering. Then we would wander south and have a look along the south coast of WA before turning for home in 8 to 10 weeks time. We would camp wherever we found ourselves at the end of each day, using bush and free camps as much as possible, and caravan parks only occasionally.

Our first night would be spent at Hay in the free riverside campsite there. The trip there, through country green from recent rain, but with the wheat paddocks still bare, was largely uneventful. We followed a familiar route through Temora, West Wyalong and Rankin Springs, but at Goolgowi we turned SW towards Hay on a stretch of the Mid Western Highway that we had not travelled before. This flat western country is covered with low saltbush that gives no protection from the wind. Testament to the force of that wind was an unhappy looking group of travellers that we passed - their caravan had rolled, possibly triggered by the wind, and they were recovering what they could from the wreck.

At the Hay campsite there were only four other campers, all in caravans. This is a good free camp that we have used before, but there is not much shelter from a westerly wind. Scouting around we did manage to find a little thicket of red gum saplings that gave us a bit of protection. We stretched our legs with a short walk along the river, pleased to see the Murrumbidgee with more water in it than we had seen for a long time. We heated a pre-prepared meal and turned in early for a cold night, although there was enough wind to keep any frost away.

That first night on the road is always the hardest, when home comforts seem very far away. It gets easier after that, but we have never succumbed to the temptation to use cabins or motels for those first few nights. We sleep in the vehicle and put a tent off the back if required. But that requires unhitching the trailer, so if we are only stopping overnight we try to avoid using the tent.

There was still wind the next morning, but it was not too cold. Travelling west we passed huge cotton farms where, stretching to the horizon, were countless big bales of harvested cotton. We were heading towards Wentworth through saltbush country that looked almost lush, if such a word could be used to describe saltbush. Once in the mallee areas the trees were covered with bud, a good omen for WA wildflowers we hoped.

From Wentworth we drove west, north of the Murray River where, in lakes and billabongs there were now vast expanses of water - on previous trips we had only seen dry mud. What a difference some rain makes. The Chowilla Regional Reserve straddles the NSW/SA border in a remote and dry area of small sand dunes and cyprus scrub. We were on a good gravel road though there was very little traffic. Just over the border into SA tracks led south towards the river where there are a number of campsites beside the maze of creeks and billabongs that make up the Chowilla Game Reserve.

In the Little Gums campsite we found many good and well used campsites beside a billabong. We found a site that was sheltered by a copse of young river red gums that had grown to a couple of metres since the big floods of early last year. Just as well too as many of the big mature trees had died in the drought. It was good to see that young replacement trees were abundant.

Another group set up camp not far away but, apart from bird calls it was very quiet, and beside the water it was not too cold. We slept late next morning and eventually got back on the road heading towards Renmark. There we called in to Maccas for a coffee and a quick check of emails. We bought some fruit from roadside stalls then stopped for lunch beside Lake Bonney. This big lake is now full of water, and the wind whipped up small waves. There were plenty of birds, including many pelicans out on the water. Further out an older shoreline was marked by a row of big, old, but long dead gum trees, quite scenic in a stark sort of way.

Near Overland Corner we took a detour down to the Murray at Heron Bend before proceeding on through Morgan, heading towards Burra. We were making good time, so a quick consultation with our Camps book suggested Redbanks Gorge (Conservation Park) as a suitable stopover for the night. The camping area is in a patch of mallee surrounded by saltbush. We found that fires were not permitted, perhaps just as well as the wind was still quite strong. There were only a couple of other campers, but despite having a number of sites to choose from it was hard to find a sheltered site, so another early night seemed likely.

Before the light faded we went for a walk down to a dry creek bed with high red banks scoured out by occasional flash floods. We were astonished by the mallees there, with huge lignotubers 2m tall exposed by erosion. What a mallee root fire they would make! Sadly that thought would be the closest we got to a fire that night.

Next day the clouds cleared away and the sun came out lifting our spirits considerably. It was an easy drive into Burra, then continuing west through country green with young wheat. Fruit trees were just coming into blossom, the occasional gnarled old plum tree beside an old stone cottage making a nostalgic scene.

At Gulnare we turned north towards Murray Town then towards Port Germein using the road that runs down through the picturesque Germein Gorge in the southern Flinders Ranges. This was a sealed road, but narrow and winding, and picturesque with red rocks and magnificent river red gums.

At Port Germein we stopped for a quick look at the old wharf and associated buildings. These had been upgraded since our last visit about a decade ago with picnic tables and BBQs, although the fascinating clockwork tide gauge had gone – hopefully to be restored.

The tide was well out so we walked out along the wharf until we were over shallow water, surprised at how clear it was. These old wharves have such interesting histories, but in such shallow water it was hard to imagine tall masted ships berthed there, loading wheat in bags carried on board on mens’ shoulders. Less imagination was needed to marvel at a specially built “vehicle” designed to drag boats from the beach out to deeper water, and remain in place through changes of tide, ready to take boats back to shore on their return.

It was a quick run from there up to Port Augusta, despite several wide loads of mining equipment slowing the traffic. In town we refuelled, stocked up on groceries and bought some expensive fish and chips that we ate at the Botanical Gardens lookout.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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