Trip report - Central Australia 2015

Nickj

4x4 Earth Contributer
#1
I thought I would share our trip with you hopefully to inspire some of you to do the same or similar.
Well Donna and I and our friend Julie set off very early on Saturday 21st March for another epic 3 week journey into Central Australia. This time, the Oodnadatta Track was high on the agenda as we stayed pretty much on the black top last time in 2011. We had the camper and Pathfinder packed full for what was expected to be an awesome trip - it didn't let us down!
So, our first night was spent in the historic town of Burra in SA. Due to the distance travelled (just under 1000km), we chose to stay in accomodation for the night rather than set up the camper after such a long day on the road. The Olive Grove Retreat was chosen prior and was a real nice little place to stay. We had a pub meal for dinner and headed off in the morning to explore the old town and its many ruins. After much exploring, we found a shady spot in town to make and eat lunch, stock up on fresh food, then headed off for Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. We took the scenic route and turned off The Outback Way to head through Morarlana Gorge and eventually end up at Wilpena Pound. We stayed at the resort and were greeted by many bus loads of school kids, who were for the most, pretty good. We stayed 2 nights here and enjoyed the drives around the ranges and many gorges.
Day 4 saw us take off early for Marree, the start of both the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks. On the way in, we stopped in at Blinman copper mine, Beltana Homestead which is well worth a visit. They have a large working sheep station and the biggest display of all things sheep I have ever seen. And where was the lady from? 10km down the road from home!!
We took the slow trip back to the highway and picked up some of those Ghan Railway nails along the way and also visited some ruins of the previously lived in homes. Back on the highway in Lyndhurst, we stopped off and saw Talc Alf. This is something you should make sure you do if you are ever up that way. Alf is quite an eccentric man who spends his time making carvings out of the local product - talc stone, along with a part time mail job. We stopped for ages and he showed us what he did and explained the meanings of each of our names - according to Talc Alf, often scratching his definitions in the hot red sand with his thong.
Finally at Marree, we stayed at the only open caravan park in town and while basic, was all we needed. Late in the afternoon, our neighbors had just returned from Farina and strongly suggested that we visited there before we left. Not sure how we missed it on the way up, but we headed out about 3:00pm for the 55km trip back down to Farina. It was nothing less than awesome! The many ruins scattered around the once thriving town were great to walk through and photograph. The next day took us up the Birdsville Track to Lake Harry and Clayton Station, some 50km from Marree. The highlight of this trip was a camping spot across the track from Clayton Homestead. It contained a large stock trough (6m round poly tank 60cm deep) with jets placed around the tank. The 5 taps flowed what ended up being 50C water from the Artesian Bore into the tank in the form of a spa. It was awesome!! We met the occupants of Clayton Station but they weren't really up for a chat so we left soon after.
From Marree, our trip took us 180km up the Oodnadatta Track to Coward Springs, stopping at the various railway siding ruins, Lake Eyre, Plane Henge (there was once an art festival there). Arriving at Coward Springs late in the afternoon, we setup camp and had a look around. On the way we took the time to pick up a few of the highly sought after 'Old Ghan Railway nails". Some railway history at Coward Springs and also a warm Artesian Spring, around which a 'stand up' hot tub style pool had been constructed. There were a couple of blokes in it when we got there, so we ventured around for a while. The desert heat got the better of us so we grabbed our towels and introduced ourselves and jumped in. Both of them were traveling separately and one of them was only popping in for a dip on his way through. The water was warm, the stand up position, a little strange.
From Coward Springs, we headed back down the Oodnadatta Track to Borefield Rd which took us south towards Woomera. On the way, we saw some amazing Wedge Tailed Eagles which I think were mating while flying (something I have yet to master). We got some amazing pics of them, who had just been startled at one of the few waterholes, by a dingo who had also popped in for a drink.
We got within 5m of the dingo and got some great pics before he saw us and bolted off. We also saw another dingo who was just sharing a waterhole with a group of cattle.
This time, we were planning to stay the night at Andamooka, but after visiting the camping area, headed back to Roxby Downs after some serious attempts at finding some opals in the many mounds. The camping area at Andamooka consisted of 3 freshly graded camp sites, a playground and a toilet block. We felt so exposed out there!
We got a nice spot at Roxby Downs and cooked a huge dinner in the camp kitchen which we shared with a couple of Adelaide soccer teams who were in town for a comp. The next day, we headed slightly south of Roxby and then headed west though Roxby Downs, Billa Kalina, Millers Creek and Mt Eba Stations. Some of the hugest stations we have been through, some of them were a good 50km between boundary fences and the terrain changed so much between each of them. From hard rocky ground, to soft sandy soil and everything in between. I had to push the poor Pathy and camper hard to keep up at 75km/h through the deep sand in some sections. We stopped at a couple of the stations to have a pre-arranged cuppa, but all of our hosts let us down and weren't home to greet us. This 200+km detour took us across to the Stuart Hwy via the Woomera Prohibitted Area which we had the appropriate permits to enter. We did it once, but would probably go via the black top next time, although it was a good experience. After airing up, the Stuart Hwy took us to Coober Pedy to meet up with Craig, his mum and dad, and Darren and Jenny as planned, who had driven overnight from near our house. We checked in at the caravan park and took a stroll around town. Something to be experienced. Craig and co arrived quite late after picking up his dad enroute south of Lake Hart who was returning from Barramundi fishing in Timber Creek. Although I didn't hear it, some of the locals come around the park late at night with a big stick banging on the corrugated fencing. This seems to be one of there sources of amusement. After a good meal, morning arrived and we looked around town and did some more noodling in the opal mounds.ft, we spoke to a lone cyclist who was riding from Melbourne to Darwin and was on day 16 of his journey. Unfortunately for him, he mistook some chillis for green beans and after consuming one, was heading for the water. We saw him a few km up the highway and he was flying along with a vapour trail, courtesy of said chilli consumption. The noodling didn't produce any serious stuff but some quite nice pieces found.
Week 1 highlights:
Leaving home, filling the tanks with cheap fuel, all destinations, meeting Talc Alf
Lowlights:
Andamooka Camping ground, not getting rich from the opals we found

It was now Sunday arvo and we headed up the highway for Kulgera NT where we stayed at the roadhouse/pub for the princely some of $6 each for the night which included hot showers and toilets. I guess they get there money from you topping up with fuel and having a beer in the pub, we didn't let them down. Sunday, we were due to head up the dirt road south of Erldunda, but chose to take the bitumen past Mt Connor, Curtain Springs (where Craig and co stayed for the next 2 nights) while we continued on the Ayers Rock Resort where we had stayed before. The site we were given landed us on top of a nest of angry ants, so we moved across the park away from them. After setting up and heading over for obligatory rock climb, Craig and co drove in and joined us for the sunset photos of Ayers Rock. It seemed to be a bit of a let down at first, then as the sun fell into the distance, the rock came to life.
Did I mention the rock climb? This, is something else you should do if given the chance, but it is one of the most gruelling climbs I have ever done. It is extremely steep and in low 30C temps, very hard on the body and mind. Donna left us mid climb and although I wanted to go back down with her, she assured me she was ok and encouraged me to keep going with Julie. I got to the end of the chain and onto the flat section before I had enough and stopped for a few phone calls. My son rang me from there 6 or years ago when he was there on a school trip, so I returned the favour.
The following day (not sure what day it is now), we packed up and headed out to the Olgas or Kata Tjuta as is is now known. This was a great walk, joined by a few bus loads of tourists. After the walk, we ventured off towards Kings Canyon, catching up with Craig on the way. A fairly uneventful trip, with a stop to photograph a Thorny Devil who had just crossed the road.
Kings Canyon was great and after some sunset shots, we headed out early in the morning for the 3.5hr walk around the canyon. The evenings sleep was slightly disturbed by a few dingoes who frequented the camp after dark. We met up with Craig at the canyon, after we had completed the walk. As it was, they closed the walk at 9:00am due to the extreme heat, so we were lucky to get in there early.
The following day, was the Meerine Loop Rd, a permit road which was in quite poor condition compared to last time. Our slow destination this day was Boggy Hole in the Finke River Gorge National Park. We turned off at Hermansburg and the next 20km or so to the park gate were on the worst road of our trip. A badly corrugated road with little to see on the way, except for a few wild horses and donkey.
Darren took the lead through the park and was first to drop down into the deep deep sand. I unhitched the camper, headed around him and after joining all our snatch straps together, the Pathy easily pulled the loaded GU Patrol and heavy camper trailer out of the sand and sent then on their way. We took the alternate track once we got the camper back on. It was getting dark and we were still a distance from camp where we were due to meet some people we had met at Kings Canyon the day before. Anyway, I finally made a call to stop and set up cam for the night in the dark. We also got the porta potti and tent out for its maiden use. Dinner was cooked, stories told and time for bed. I got up early with Darren (a professional photographer) to get some shots of the early morning sun on the gorges and it was well worth it. After packing up in the daylight, we headed down the track without the campers to see how much further it would have been. It was only really 10mins or so, but I was glad to have made the call to stop the night before. Shortly after we stopped, our friends from the previous night heard the moo horn of the Pathy sound and came over for a chat. We headed back out to the where we had left the campers. After hitching them up, we headed back out to the main road. Not long into the journey and Darren had submerged the Patrol and camper again and the mighty Pathy came to the rescue again. Our other friends also had an issue and got his 80 series quite beached too. If you are ever up that way, Boggy Hole is a beautiful spot surrounded by high cliffs and gorges. The Parks map states "trailers not permitted" but I did speak to them before we left home and that was just a precaution.
Eventually, we got out on the main road at Hermansburg and aired up for the trip into Alice Springs. What a strange town Hermansburg is. Down in Boggy Hole, I had noticed that one of the leaf spring mounts had broken off on the camper, so that was first on the agenda once we got into Alice as it was not possible to do anything about it out there. We arrived in Alice Springs at 2:30PM on Thursday before Easter, looking for an engineering place to weld up the camper. This was no problem for them (apart for the $132 bill for me), but while they had the camper suspended by a fork lift, I touched one of the camper wheels and heard it wiggle. A quick observation told me the bearings were no good and some new ones required. (something I planned to pack prior to leaving home). I got hold of CBC Bearings in Alice and headed over to see them. Upon arrival I had to remove the hub so they could check the bearing part numbers. Once removed, it happily collapsed in front of us, so replacement was the only option. As previously explained, they tried real hard to get me some replacements, but in the end, a new axle was the only option @ $400. Not something I planned on, but the hub wasn't going back on with roller bearings missing... So after visiting Centre Trailers in Alice Springs, a new axle was sought complete with Holden Bearings - something I bought replacements for at Supercheap while in town. We headed out to check in to the caravan park and stayed at Stuart Caravan Park for the next 2 nights (a well earned rest day included). Meanwhile, Darren had not noticed that his treg hitch bolt was loose on the car and it had burred all but a little bit of the thread. They nursed it back to Alice Springs to meet me who had bought them a new one from the trailer shop.
We called in at the Old Ghan Transport Museum on the way out of Alice and it was a huge display of all vehicles old. Today was a long bitumen drive with the destination of Kulgera again. We set up camp and cooked dinner and was not long before we were in bed.
Week 2 highlilghts:
All destinations, climbing Ayers Rock, walking Kings Canyon again, Boggy Hole
Lowlights:
Breaking a leaf spring mount on the trailer, cooking both bearings on the trailer
It was now Easter Sunday and the easter bunny was in town and had dropped off some of his finest chocolates to the few kids in the park and to our traveling friends too! Today's destination was Painted Desert, or Arkaringa Hills, which on the map, looked to be 45km south of Oodnadatta. We stopped at Oodnadatta and had a look around at the railway museum and Pink Roadhouse. There didn't seem to be too many places in town that were open. The pub looked shut and the caravan park was not very busy. After lunch we left Oodnadatta for Painted Desert which turned out to be 97km from Oodnadatta. We arrived shortly before sunset after stopping for a few pics on the way. Camp for the night was the Arkaringa Station. Due to the high wind, Craig chose a cabin, but Darren and us set up our campers in the dark for $20 per car. The owners (or managers) were only in their 20s and hoping to take up permanent occupancy there in the future. We had dinner in the camp kitchen and headed for bed after a few stories.
Breakfast was had and packed up, the destination for today - Coward Springs back on the Oodnadatta Track. This took us via William Creek which topped the fuel cost for the journey at $2.00 per litre of ULP. you want it, you buy it. And with no fuel for another few hundred kms, not worth the risk but to top up the tank. We also took a detour to the Old Peake township and ruins as suggested by someone.. It was a rough 19km trip each way at not more than 20km/h. The trip was worth the drive though with some spectacular ruins to see. We had a beer in the pub at William Creek and a look around. A real nice pub, again, what seemed a deserted town apart from the pub and maybe the caravan park. No other businesses in town apart from the scenic flight services. We arrived at Coward Springs again just on dusk and set up camp and had dinner.
We had already traveled the journey from here, so we had really decided just to head for home, with a few stops on the way. We stopped in Marree for some home made bread rolls and a locally made sausage roll and topped up the fuel. The next destination - Talc Alf in Lyndhurst where the girls had pre-ordered their names etched into the soft talc stone. We were again greeted by Alf who was no different to last time. An amazing man. From here, we were heading for Hawker and were due to stop with the others at Beltana Homestead, but decided to skip the 17km dirt road to Beltana and headed straight for Hawker. While cooking dinner, I said to Donna "when do we head back up the road to look for Craig and co who hadn't arrived yet?" Then, within minutes, Craig messaged me to say that Darren had ran out of fuel 2.7km from Hawker. I managed to scrounge up some diesel from someone in the caravan park and headed out with Craig to refuel Darren's Patrol. All was done, Darren followed me to the caravan park and Craig and co headed for a cabin in town.
We said our goodbyes in Hawker in the morning as this was our last time together. Darren continuing on to the Barossa Valley and Craig, his mum and dad, heading directly for home, driving through the night to get there. I asked Craig to message me when they got home, which he did at 2:00am. Our journey took us a long way via Sevenhills Winery to Mildura and after several phone calls, found a place with a vacant cabin as would couldn't be bothered setting up the camper for the last night. We stayed at the Aquarius Apartments and got a 3 sleeper cabin. It was quite comfy. We also were right next door to a pizza place so we had pizza for tea. After dinner, we went for a swim in the well heated pool within the complex.
We were showered and packed up by 8:00am so we headed out on the last leg for home - 640km away. We arrived home safely and uneventfully around 3:00pm.
Week 3 highlights:
Chatting to Talc Alf again, all destinations, buying cheap fuel again
Lowlights: having to head home(though we were ready for it.

So all in all, a great trip, something we will do again, but probably with the Birdsville Track in mind.

I will post some more pics in photobucket or somewhere and post the link here.
 

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#2
Great report and pic's Nick, sounds like a great trip with a few ups and downs to keep you on your toes.

Incredible country out there isn't it, your write up makes me wanna pack the truck and head off out their again myself.

Thanks for sharing.
 

BEK

4x4 Earth Contributer
#4
thanks nick for whetting the appetite only 3 months before some of us vics and a west gippian member treck some of those tracks
 
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