Great Sandy Desert - Striking north to Lake McKay

Wednesday, Jun 03, 2009 at 00:00


It was surprising just how quickly the overnight temperature dropped away once the wind picked up. I was awake at 3:00 a.m. and up with the sun at 7.15 a.m. to a hearty breakfast of braised steak & onion (BS&O) jaffles washed down with a strong cup of tea. On packing away the roof top tent, I found a problem that will no doubt plague me for the rest of the trip. There is not enough room between the roof-rack bag and the tent to slide the zip of the tent cover. I solved the problem to some degree by relocating several hard cased items from the bag. The main strap securing the fuel cans on the roof-rack had also released. This meant more time on the roof and removal of equipment to get to the bar work and reattach the hook. These problems are to be expected with such tight tolerances in the packing.

There are certain utterances we do not make on these trips, usually revolving around the misfortunes that can befall ones “donuts” (or tyres for the uninitiated). Like bananas on a boat, it’s considered bad luck to mention anything about punctures or flat tyres unless you actually have one. Call me superstitious but more often than not, the first thing that occurs after someone has mentioned it, is a donut disaster. This morning was a case in point!

Just after getting on the road at 09:00 a.m., George uttered a phrase the content of which should never be mentioned. I cannot even bring myself to mention it here but it involved the round rubber pneumatic conveyance facilitation devices becoming square on the bottom. Within five minutes, Peter was pulled over to the roadside in the Hummer with BOTH rear tyres deflating. It turned out to be a fault with the self inflation system forcing him to isolate both wheels from the main air pump and storage cylinder. As if the gods were exacting revenge for his temerity, no sooner were we moving again when it was George pulled over, his front passenger’s side tyre spitting a valve and forcing a hasty replacement by the roadside. I think they are finally starting to believe me.

The road west remained in good condition allowing a fair clip of 70-80 kph and soon reaching the Sandy Blight Junction and heading to Kintore for fuel. Nestled under the spectacular ramparts of Mt Leisler, Kintore might be expected to be in tune with its surroundings. Unfortunately it is a listless, depressing place where the locals lack motivation to do anything and white mans rubbish litters the ground. We couldn’t wait to fuel up and be out of the place. It is such a shame. Diesel was a paltry $1.65 per litre, a far cry for the $2.00 plus of last year. We all took on fuel while Willie visited the medical clinic. The diagnosis was an infected gum rather than the tooth which is good news indeed (well better at least. It’s still painful for W though).

As it was only 40 km to the WA-NT border we arrived at this Beadell marked line at midday. There is an outstation building and bore a few hundred metres north and this provided our luncheon spot, sitting in the shade of the veranda. While not as impressive as the residences in the abandoned Puntawarri community, it is a shame to see these well intentioned resources let go to ruin.

Once across the border into Western Australia, the road condition deteriorated immediately. It is a long time since a grader has graced this area and we were confined to a corrugated and rocky single laned track. The atrocious driving conditions saw the speed drop away markedly The conditions took their toll on one of Willies trailer tyres and it let go in a big way. It must have been down for a while as the tyre sustained a bit of damage although there is still a fair weight in the trailer itself which also adds the stress. Despite the road conditions the scenery remained ever changing and captivating. The Groves of Desert Oak about the Dovers Hills would provide plenty of potential campsites, a magnificent spot to spend an evening surrounded by the rocky hills. At 2:20 p.m. the first glimpses of Mount Webb were gained on the western horizon. I stopped for a few photos before catching the main group as they turned off just west of the Mount and headed inland on an ill defined track. It was good to be back on the narrow winding tracks of the desert although I was wishing I’d gotten the scratch pro on prior to this point of the trip. The heavy scrub left a few marks on the duco in no time, in particular the hardy Holley leafed Grevillia bushes.

The track wound its way across dunes and rocky outcrops and rises of the Elizabeth Hills. The MRF tyres of the lead vehicles were having some difficulty in crossing the sand at times prompting several stops to deflate tyres. Being tail end Charlie I had the Hummer in front of me. It was certainly wider than the other vehicles and ploughed through most brush. It didn’t seem to stop the Nissan from taking a pounding though.

This track is in fact a short cut across to theKiwirrkurra-Balgo Road While only 20 kilometres long, it reaches the Balgo Road some 30 kilometres west of the community. On reaching the Balgo Road intersection, our convoy turned right and travelled for several more kilometres before pulling up in a large bowl shaped area that was surrounded by dunes. It is fairly sheltered with is plenty of wood about. After wood collection, I sacrificed some water to sponge the worst of the dust off the car and then rolled the remaining scratch pro on. I managed to get one good coat on the vehicle with the areas of highest wear getting an extra coat with the remaining product. After that I fitted a shade cloth spinifex screen across the bull bar. Peter gave me a quick lesson in the HF radio but we were unable to gain a clear signal due to constant interference and electrical "noise".

I had a quick scrub and then steak and veg for dinner with a refreshing beverage. The desert remains one of the most awesome places to be in the evening. The sky is so clear, the colours so amazingly vivid. After a fireside gathering it was time to adjourn to the Taj to complete the days journal. Tomorrow it’s on to Dwarf well.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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