2009 Trip - William Creek to Alice Springs

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 21:13

Member - John and Val

Back to previous chapter Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills


Leaving William Creek we headed towards Coober Pedy on roads that some of us had not previously travelled. The road goes first through sand dunes then through stark gibber country, made more desolate by the drought. From Coober Pedy and its opal mines we turned north towards Oodnadatta. Although at least some of this land is in cattle stations we saw very few stock and marvelled that anything could survive in this dry desolate country. A dry waterhole surrounded by coolabahs made a good camp for the night, and an excellent lamb roast in the camp oven capped off a memorable day.

Next morning we woke to a grey sky threatening showers. How lucky that yesterday we had such a bright clear day for our flight. Still these few showers are giving the country some green growth as we head north into some ranges of low hills. The Painted Desert forms part of these hills; similar to the Painted Hills but more accessible.We walked up around some of the hills with their caps of harder rock. The colours vary from white to black through shades of brown, orange and yellow, with patches of soft mauve and pale grey. A cheeky willy wagtail tried to chase us from its territory, and we found occasional wildflowers along the drainage lines.

Another creek line, another campfire, a few more showers of light rain. A rainbow over the mulga is a rare sight, and there is a pungent smell of gidgee in flower. Stopping for a cuppa we find many wildflowers just starting to come out, and as we travel on there are more cattle, some with calves, all fat and sleek. What a difference a bit of water makes. We stop to inspect old cattle yards made from mulga and river red gum. One set of yards has fallen into disrepair, very picturesque; the other set is still in good condition, obviously still used, not so photogenic.

At Eringa there are ruins of an old house on one of the original Kidman cattle properties, but better still is the huge waterhole a couple of km long and lined by river red gums. What a great place for an early stop and a camp.

From Eringa we headed on back tracks of variable condition towards Finke where we top up on fuel. Finke is an aboriginal community best known as the destination for the annual race of motorbikes and dune buggies from Alice Springs and return. For some part of the distance there is a purpose built track that we drove on for a while until the dips and humps threatened to make us seasick. The road north from Finke runs along the track of the old Ghan railway, using the original embankments and cuttings. In places the old sleepers are still in situ and there are plenty of old spikes and bolts ready to pierce tyres. So, along with the ever present corrugations it was an interesting, challenging drive.

Eventually we turned west and headed for Chambers Pillar. This is a big rock pillar which has made a distinctive landmark in the desert for explorers, pastoralists and the builders of the original overland telegraph line. The colours glow in the sunset, so we climbed the steps up to the base, and took lots of photos as the light changed as the sun went down.

We camped in the small campground in the Chambers Pillar reserve. In the morning Jim had a flat tyre. We also had suffered some damage from corrugations – the pole carriers under the trailer are being destroyed by rocks, and the trailer hitch and safety chain had worked loose. Nothing serious and both found in time, but a reminder of the need to check constantly for any problems with the vehicles.

Another traveller had not been so fortunate. On the long corrugated drive in to Chambers Pillar we found various bits of his gear, including clothes and a big plastic box of tools and spares that had fallen out when he lost the back door from his trailer. These we returned to him at the campground but the poor fellow was still searching for the rest of his rig as we left the next day.

Next we headed west across the Stuart Highway towards Finke Gorge. The mostly dry Finke River is the oldest in the world and has carved its way through sandstone stained almost blood red by iron. The approach from the south took us through small red dunes and big patches of desert oaks; these toughest of desert survivors must surely rank among our most graceful trees with their elegant spreading crowns of drooping needles.

Finally we were into the bed of the Finke River on a track signposted as suitable for experienced 4WD drivers only. It turned out to be not particularly difficult – sand, shingle, some rocky parts, sharp turns, steep inclines up banks. But definitely high clearance, and requiring good navigation in the maze of tracks. Troopy took it all in stride. The gorge is wide and the course of the river is lined with majestic river red gums, while the waterholes are surrounded by brilliant green reeds, all making for a dramatic and colourful scene. There are many beautiful campsites and this is definitely a spot that we will aim to return to and spend a few days exploring.

To finish the day we drove east from Hermannsberg and found a great campsite in the bed of another dry river in the Owen Springs Reserve. This reserve is less dramatic than Finke but more accessible, so we had yet another wonderful campfire to round off a great day.

Finally we are in Alice Springs for a couple of days of reprovisioning and sorting out any mechanical issues before we depart on the next stage of our trip, up the Tanami Track and the Canning Stock Route.



Forward to next chapter - Alice Springs to Bililuna



J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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