Diary—April 2006




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2 to 8 April 2006

Canberra–Yass–Lake Cargelligo–Menindee Lakes–Broken Hill

We left at 4:55pm, 5 April, because we had to leave some time :)
Like the lads from the Bourke and Wills expedition, we didn't get very far on our first day. We did however make it interstate, unlike them, and we spent the first night in a motel in Yass. Hey, we started!

From Yass we traveled to just about the middle of NSW and spent the next night in Lake Cargelligo. Lake Cargelligo isn't very big, a friendly half horse sort of town :)

Then we continued our North-Western trek to stop the next night in a Bourke and Wills camp on the banks of the Darling near the town of Menindee. This was what the trip is about—free camping on a river bank, cooking our meal over an open fire and a brief walk to the flushing toilets! We shared this camp site with Janet and Bill from Coffin Bay in SA and with Michael and Kerrie from Melbourne.

But it wasn't warm enough…so we headed North­West again, through Ivanhoe where our friend Eddie hails from, and on to Broken Hill.

In Broken Hill we have been underground, dined at the Musicians Club, visited Pro Hart's gallery and a sculpture park in the middle of the living desert.


Week 1

Leaving home

Lake Cargellico, a half horse town

Tim on the Darling at Menindee

Broken Hill

Top of Diary

9 to 15 April 2006

Broken Hill–Tibooburra–Cameron Corner–Innaminka–Coongie Lake

We celebrated Sunday with the Broken Hill Baptist church and were treated to an excellent show summarising all the things the kids had learnt in Sunday school during the term. A very welcoming church.

We went to the Jack Absolom gallery and the paintings were beautiful. And then Jack himself came out and chatted with us. He even gave us a few tips on how to fish in the Cooper Creek. My favourite painting of his was of water birds on Coongie Lake.

That night we met Gail and Gaston who were reliving their hippy days by traveling around in their Combi camper. They were due soon to return to Quebec in Canada but were trying to work out how they could spend summer in each place :)

The next night we went out to Silverton, about 25 kms out of Broken Hill. An historic but sparse little town in a forbidding landscape where films like Mad Max (all 3) were made. Much to Hutch's delight there was a replica Mad Max car outside the pub.

From Silverton we went out to Mundi Mundi, a further 5 kms on, to watch the sunset. We had a small issue with clocks and not realising that Broken Hill is on SA time—we were 30 minutes early :) But the scene gave us real insight to what inspired Pro Hart and Jack Absolom and the other 'Brushmen of the Bush'. The sunset was magnificent with brilliant colours changing the landscape as the sun sank.

The next day we left Broken Hill and headed north. It still wasn't quite warm enough :) On the way to Tibooburra we saw a few Wedge Tail eagles—magnificent and huge birds. We stopped for lunch at Packsaddle. While there, we chatted with the postie whose truck had broken down. She was waiting for a replacement vehicle—she'd been waiting 3 hours when we saw her! And on to Tibooburra where we camped at an attractively named camp ground—Dead Horse Gully. We walked around the granite outcrops and looked at a display of the mining heritage of the area. It was a good camp ground with toilets and barbeques.

After Tibooburra we drove, again north-west, to Cameron Corner (where NSW, SA and Qld meet). The white post in the picture is the corner post. At this corner there is a 'Corner store' so we stopped for a drink. There we chatted with Bill who had called in a few years ago and stayed to work for 6 months and has been back regularly since.

On to Innaminka via the Bore track. Many times it was less a track and more two wheel paths across the terrain. At one point, when we had gone at least 30 km from the last marker, we were no longer sure that we were in the right place so fired up the GPS and the Hema maps on the lap top. We found we were on the right path and only 21 km from Innaminka. But, as much of the track could only be negotiated at 40 km per hour, it didn't seem that close.

Pulling in to Innaminka at about 3 pm we decided to stay there rather than go the extra 100 kms out to Coongie Lake. We wandered through the regional reserve to Kings marker—where King of the Burke and Wills expedition was found. We set up camp there and settled in to watch the Cooper Creek slowly flow by.

On from Innaminka, again north-west, we headed for Coongie Lake (pronounced Coun-(as in could)-ghee). Again the track is such that 40 km per hour is a reasonable speed. But the lake and the creek there is so beautiful that it is worth the journey. The bird life was great but as the water levels were low there were fewer birds than could be expected later in the season. We spent the days relaxing, reading, eating the biscuits that Jacki Adams sent with us (thanks Jacki ) and watching the creek. Sometimes we swam tho' the banks were very muddy (up to my knees) and the water cold—but that was grand after it reached about 40 degrees one day.

The first night was a full moon and the dingoes sang to us all night while a flock of 20 pelicans herded fish noisily up and down the creek. The next night we were woken by huge winds blowing sand and dirt through everything. Halfway through the night Hutch dismantled much of our annex as it was getting pulled around by the strong wind. We had intended to only stay 2 nights at Coongie so the next morning, with the storm still raging outside, we decided to pack up and head to back Innaminka. Ross, Francis and Zoe, who set up camp the previous afternoon about 100 m from us, were also back in Innaminka that night as the storm had been too much for them in tents!

Coongie Lake camp Coongie Lake camp from the water Sand dune view of Coongie Lake Sand storm


Week 2

Living Desert at Broken Hill

Silverton sculpture

Mad Max car at Silverton

Mundi Mundi plains

Dead Horse Gully outside Tibooburra

Cameron Corner

Bore Track

Looking for a camp at Kings Marker


Cooper Creek at Coongie Lakes

Top of Diary

16 to 22 April 2006

Innaminka–Cullyamurra Waterhole–Birdsville–Poeppel Corner (Simpson Desert)–Birdsville

This was a week to learn flexibility. First Walkers Crossing (a shorter track from Innaminka to Birdsville) was closed due to sand blowouts, then flooding prevented exploration further north, and finally we decided that the fresh blown ridgecaps on the Simpson would make crossing with Tim too difficult. The Simpson dunes are generally steeper on the east side, but prevailing winds over the past year have created a 1–3m 'cap' of soft sand that is nearly vertical on the west side (see illustration). In Yoda, it was fun (at least to Hutch) but with Tim it would have been interesting and we probably would have cut up the dune tops, making it worse for others. Oh well—maybe in a few years time (any takers?).

Sunday we celebrated Jesus rising from the dead by reading all the eye witness accounts. Then we spent the rest of the day resting followed by a tour on Cooper Creek with Peter. This was an excellent explanation of the creek, its surrounds and its residents (mostly birds) by a man who clearly loves the area and knows it well. The tour is timed for sunset so you see the best of this lovely waterway.

14 km from Innaminka is Cullyamurra Waterhole (apparently this is Dick Smith's favourite outback camp) and the Cooper Choke. The waterhole is gorgeous and almost 100 m wide in places although it doesn't have the same bird life as Coongie Lake. That may change as more water comes down. We heard on the radio of major floods on the Cooper and the Diamantina River but that won't reach Innaminka for some weeks yet. We camped at the far end of the camp ground close to the track out to the Cooper Choke—an area of larger rocks that narrows the banks of the creek helping to create the waterhole. We walked to 4 km (felt like 10—Robin) to the choke and found skulls and carvings in the rocks. That night Hutch cooked our best meal yet—a pork roast in the camp oven with baked potatoes and peas, washed down with a Tasmanian Pinot Noir (thanks smallwineries.com.au) and supported by a bit of blue brie on crackers.

As mentioned, we were advised Walkers Crossing was closed so we took the long road to Birdsville via Haddon corner (where SA protrudes into Qld). The grey post to the left of the white post in front of Yoda is the corner. This was a long drive but took us past memorable sights such as, the corner (corner number 2), Deon's lookout and Bertoota (a pub owned by a truckie but not open to anyone else!). We turned left at the Birdsville Developmental Road and were glad to be putting the flood waters of the Cooper behind us. We got into Birdsville as the sun was setting so after setting up, we went to the pub.

We spent a day cleaning some of the dust out of Tim (from storms not from leakage while traveling) and doing some much needed washing. Funnily, everything dries quickly in 38 degree heat!. At about beer o'clock we went to the pub, again. That night we received a phone call from the office because they needed some help, so we delayed going out to Poeppel Corner in the Simpson for an extra day. You can't readily get internet access using your own computer in big centres like Broken Hill. You don't get more friendly and helpful internet access than in small centres like Birdsville. The folk at the visitor centre there were really great. We were still in town, so we went to the pub that night too.

Finally we get to have a look at the Simpson desert. We drove the 170 kms out to Poeppel Corner (where Qld, NT and SA meet) tackling the dunes of the QAA line from East to West. Hutch counted 139 'significant' dunes—there were many in between. His definition of 'significant' was somewhere between '4wd only' and Robin saying "Oh my goodness". It took us 5.5 hrs. We set up camp on the edge of the dry Lake Poeppel to enjoy the quiet and solitude. Then a tow truck pulled up! He asked if we had been on the French Line (no, well not for more than a km just to say we had been on it) and then roared off over the dunes to rescue a vehicle—turns out it was most of the way along the French line. Then two more vehicles turned up and set up camp 200 m down the track from us—and this was only the beginning of the Simpson crossing season!

It took us a bit over 5.5 hrs to go back over the dunes to Birdsville. (From my vast experience of crossing 1/3 of the Simpson from both east and west, I would prefer to head from the east—Robin.) Robin's views are explained by Hutch's drawing of the near vertical walls of newish sand on top of the dunes on the western face. We made it to the top of 'Big Red' (it is very big!), but only after 5 attempts, due to the freshly windblown soft sand creating a soft run-up and a ~3m near vertical wall at the top.

We got back in time to shower and then head over to the pub :) There we caught up again with Goldie the barman and Stu, a farmer from Cobram. Stu works part of the year in Birdsville as a mechanic. He explained lots of local things to us (thanks heaps Stu) including the cost of being rescued from the Simpson is you break down out there and that it is not covered by the motoring bodies such as the NRMA.

It was our last night in Birdsville (we love Birdsville and its people) and we ended up having dinner in the pub with John and Nancy from Geelong. This was also the night that Geelong was beaten by one point. (:(—Hutch, ;|—Robin)

Week 3

Cooper Creek sunset

Cullyamurra Waterhole

Camp oven pork roast

Haddon corner

Birdsville pub

Birdsville race track

Simpson track

Sand drift

Dune explanation

Big Red Western approach

On top of Big Red

Top of Diary

23 to 29 April 2006

Birdsville–Mungerannie–Marree–Coward Springs–Coober Pedy–Oodnadatta–
Dalhousie Springs

We set off from Birdsville down the so called Birdsville Track—it was more like a highway and you could have safely sat on 100 kph (or more). On this track we passed through amazing gibber plains where you wonder how it sustains any life let alone the cattle stations that are here.

Mid-afternoon we stopped at Mungerannie. This was a pub which had a hot bore bath. After sampling the hot bath we found a nook in the trees for Tim and camped on the waterhole. The bird life was wonderful, Grebes and Coots and of course lots of Little Correllas. Late in the day two Brolgas flew in. In the morning we were treated to a dancing display by the pair of Brolgas.

We packed up slowly and headed south again to Marree. We arrived at the same time as a number of Vietnam Vets who were there for Anzac day. We went to the pub and met Will who had only been the publican for 9 weeks—we thought publicans had to have always been there—but he did give us some good advice on viewing Lake Eyre. Next morning we joined the Vets at the Anzac day service and gunfire breakfast.

We left Tim in camp and headed out to Lake Eyre via Muloorina. This was an excellent road and took us through the dog fence to Lake Eyre South and then on beside the Goyder Channel to Lake Eyre North. At 15m below sea level we felt we had dived deeper than that and we have been mostly dry doing it (dry suits) but here was much better visibility—you could literally see for miles.

Picking up Tim, we headed north and visited Ghan railway ruins and mound springs. These amazing springs create their own little mountains before spilling over into the desert around them. Often they have beautiful and, given the setting, spectacular ponds. We camped near a series which was also an old railway siding called Coward Springs. This camp site was very impressive—a man and his wife are restoring the buildings, which used to be a small town, and maintaining both the camp ground and the wetlands around. The camp ground came complete with hot showers if someone was good enough to light the fire under the rocket water urn 20 mins before you wanted to bathe.

North now up the Oodnadatta track and across to Coober Pedy. We treated ourselves to a motel room for a night and, in keeping with the community, we took an underground room. It is very dark all the time which meant that you have no notion of what time it is when you wake up—it is the same at 1am as it is at 9am!

In deference to our budget we then moved to a caravan park and did our washing and restocked supplies. In the afternoon we took the famous 'Jimmy tour' (Stuart Park afternoon tour). We'd been told about it by several people on route. Jimmy did not let us down, he has been a resident of Coober Pedy for 43 years and seems to have been involved in everything and captain or chairman (at some point) of almost every organisation and club in town and a champion long distance runner! The new Easter gift race has been named in his honour. He showed us all of the town, many of the buildings (significant or otherwise), the opal fields, the Breakaway mountains and moon plains nearby. Along the way he told us stories—of the town and the people (often him) and the history of this place.

Across the plains again via the Painted Desert. It was a strikingly beautiful place with natural erosion creating minerals of many colours to paint the eroding mountains. From there we went to Oodnadatta where all the things the town has every had still lie on the sides of every street and in people's yards. But the information from the Pink Roadhouse is good value including directions to a camp on the town common called Shepherds Waterhole.

The rain that had fallen while we were in Coober Pedy still lay on some of the tracks which made the road to Dalhousie Springs occasionally muddy and often interesting. Tim and Yoda are now wearing a red mud camouflage thanks to creek crossings and puddles in unexpected places. At one point we had muddy water completely covering the windscreen and the bonnet.

We got through that to find an oasis at both the Dalhousie Ruins and the Dalhousie Springs. The ruins are what is left of several buildings of a cattle station. In the afternoon, at the Springs, we bathed, walked, bathed, slept, bathed and read. :-D It was wonderful having a great big hot bath! (an outdoor ensuite?) We were also joined by a well-fed and fearless dingo. Amazing as it is to see him so close it just feels wrong that he should be so unafraid of people. (Shades of Frazer Island.)

Dalhousie ruins Dingo at Dalhousie

Week 4 Birdsville Track gibbers

Mungerannie waterhole


Blanche cup spring

Underground house


Opal field

We were there

Painted desert

Shepherds waterholeat Oodnadatta


Top of Diary

30 April to 6 May 2006

Dalhousie Springs –Kulgera–Curtin Springs–Yulara–Alice Springs

Another day at Dalhousie, sigh, some one had to do it. We walked 6kms to Kingfisher Springs to the north-east of Dalhousie. Three beautiful pools, not to be swum in but sparkling clear, and lots of dingo droppings! They were piled up in places so we decided they must be territory markings. When we got back we had another warm soak and watched some scientists gathering water samples and data about the main Dalhousie spring. Then we decided not to move on that day so we had a rest and another soak :-)

From the springs we traveled north to Finke via Mt Dare. We were intending to stay, after talking to some residents, of Finke, at Dalhousie but everything was closed due to a NT public holiday and we didn’t get a good feeling of the town—so we kept going to Kulgera.

Rather than taking the same road twice, from Kulgera we traveled most of the way to Yulara via the old Gunbarrel Hwy. (It is called Mulga Park Road now—probably to discourage caravanners from the 'highway') Up past Mt Conner—a remarkably 'ayers-rockish' mesa. On advice, we stayed at a free camp in Curtin Springs, as we were told that everything was expensive in Yulara. Next day (after doing sums) we decided that it was cheaper to camp at Yulara rather than pay fuel for the 200km round trip—and we could sleep in! :-) And we wouldn't have to dodge camels every day!

The MP3s have been great, when out of range of everything else. Riders on the Storm while racing down the Birdsville. Dozing to Pink Floyd at Dalhousie. Encouraging bible talks while traveling through the best of creation (thanks Michael West, an inspired gift!)

Our impressions of the rock came to us after first driving up to it, then walking round it (9.4 kms and the last 1 km was the hardest—Robin) and a 2 hr ranger guided walk to some features at the base of it. The tour was excellent and focused on the aboriginal stories and history of the rock. We both felt it is hard to capture how impressive it is in a photograph. Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) were more impressive again. The best answer, by the ranger, was given to the question: Why change the names to Uluru and Kata Tjuta?—these were the original names, we just reverted back to the original names. There did seem to be some compromise between traditional beliefs and modern culture. The result (according to Hutch) is a decaying culture and loss of knowledge.

We, again on advice from others who had been here, booked for the 'Sounds of Silence' dinner tour. It was magic! A fabulous opportunity to look at both the rock and Kata Tjuta at sunset while sipping champagne followed by an excellent dinner incorporating bush foods and then a star talk and some star gazing through telescopes! F A B! Our table included Garry and Christine—Ozzie bakers, a lady from the UK celebrating a birthday and a honeymoon from the Baltimore, US.

We farewelled the rock at sunrise followed but Hutch climbing halfway up to take some photos. Then a boring drive to Alice. We realized a couple of days ago that it had been 3 weeks or more since we traveled on a sealed road and we found the experience unusual.

Alice will be our base for a while as we do a few minor repairs and stock the pantry. We were greatly helped on Saturday morning by a local welding company who fixed our antenna mount. It had not enjoyed the corrugated roads and had developed a split. We also took the opportunity, on national 'no diet' day, to have a coffee and cake at the Royal Flying Doctor Service cafe, then we toured the complex. And we tried to get a sense of the town by climbing Anzac Hill.

Ended the week by having dinner at a pub (bar) where the Rock Wallabies were playing—a guitar and didgeridoo playing everything from Bush poetry to Angels and Pink Floyd! They even did a version of 'The Devil went down to georgia' based on a golden didge rather than a fiddle. Way cool!

Week 5

Kingfisher Springs

Lambert geographic centre of Australia

Mt Conner

Camel on road to Yulara

Rock at sunset

We were at sunset :)

Watching sunset

Lots of rock

Alice Springs looking to Heavitree Gap