Plenty Highway

Friday, Oct 08, 1999 at 00:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

The Plenty Highway really doesn't begin until you reach the NT border but to get there we had to travel from Boulia in Qld along the Donohue Highway. The entire stretch from Boulia to Alice Springs is about 900km (if you take a few diversions). Typically, the Qld section of the track is in the worst condition with long stretches of extreme bulldust and big holes (making it a dry weather road only) - the NT section is more regularly maintained and graded. However, when we made our crossing from Qld to NT it rained... so the entire stretch was boggy.

Leaving Boulia after lunch we only travelled as far as the Georgina River. The weather seemed perfect but nearing sunset we could see storm clouds brewing. The following day was still dry until we crossed the border from Qld - NT and almost instantly the rain began.






The track quickly became a problem but we continued on until we could go no further. Finding a high dry place we setup camp with the understanding that we may have to sit it out for a few days. (this photo taken after the rain had cleared the following afternoon). Tarp was for rain collection, not shade.

But ... we only got as far as 50km when we lifted camp the following afternoon. This seemed incredible - tropical storms building each afternoon were not what we had expected in this part of the country. With the track already full saturated, the afternoon storm made the track impossible (and the lightening bolts hitting both sides of the track were enough to send me screaming under my seat). We dashed for high ground and protection under a clump of trees and played a few games of yahtzee while the storm passed right overhead. We were concerned that were might run out of water so we put a bucket out to collect the rain but the splashes of red mud reached up over the sides resulting in a bucket of bright red muddy water - we found a use for it, but not for drinking. We managed to collect over 3L of fresh drinking water from inside the car (which is now leaking from the back doors (a remedy to this will be made soon enough I guess).

The countryside changes considerably along the track and although it lacks services and "things to do" it is certainly one of the prettier shortcut tracks that you can do in this area. The overwhelming difference is that although the soil is the same red sandy stuff of the Simpson Desert, the terrain is completely flat, the spinifex grass much greener, and due to more frequent rains over the last few weeks a greater amount of desert wildflowers. Billy buttons, bush daisies, poached egg daisies, yellow tops and native violets carpeted the sides of the road where water had collected in the gutters.

By the third day we approached the Harts (Hartz) Range and so the next thing to get used to was seeing mountains. Our senses seemed to be bombarded, a result of being in Birdsville for so long where everything was either gibber, sand or dust.

Just past the Harts Range Police Station (next door to an aboriginal community) we turned left (south) down a track to the "Racecourse". Probably deserted for 363 days of the year this racetrack becomes a mecca for the outback racing enthusiasts with a crowd of a few thousand on the last weekend in August. Being mid October we were definitely on our own. Just behind the racecourse a track leads south for about 10km and finally reaches the base of a few impressive mountains, the highest being Mt Palmer. Mt Palmer is the highest in the Harts Range and we went to climb it. It took 2 hours to find the right track and then 2 hours to reach the summit but on the way we explored open gaps left by mica miners and enjoyed impressive views. We found black footed rock wallabies living in the "Disputed" mine shaft (where 2 miners lost their lives in a collapse not long after it was opened) and saw many more wildflowers growing amongst the rocky outcrops.

Leaving Mt Palmer we doubled back on our tracks to the Plenty Highway and turned left (south) again just before the bitumen (45km). This track doesn't really have a proper name that we can find but it is marked with Fossicking signs and 4WD warnings. This 60km track winds through some of Australia's finest gemstone fossicking areas and private cattle property and is a great alternative to get to Alice Springs. Coming out near the Clareville Station (Big-Bill-from-Birdsville's parents own this) turn left and you soon come to the Historic Altunga region. We would have made a day trip out here anyway so it was a good trip taking in Ross River Homestead and N'Dhala Gorge (where we camped - alone). The final 80km to Alice Springs passes the Trephina Gorge and John Huges Rockholes, Corroboree Rock and Emily and Jesse Gaps.

So, making it into Alice Springs was like the end of another chapter - and our muddy car looked like we had stories to tell.

David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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