Oodnadatta Track – August 2016

Monday, Sep 12, 2016 at 19:38

Stephen L (Clare) SA

For a few weeks prior to our intended departure date for this years outback trip, every road north of Marree was closed due to heavier than usual rainfall. All areas that we hoped to visit were now on hold, and plan ‘B’ and ‘C’ were being put into place in case of the areas still receiving good rainfall and the roads still being closed. Then with luck on our side, all northern areas of South Australia were under clear skies and warmer weather and the roads were slowly opening.

Day 1

Setting out from Clare under perfect conditions, we headed north through the lower Flinders Ranges, and travelled roads well away from the main highway. The countryside was in just perfect condition, but it was still a little early for many wildflowers due to the continuing rain and no real fine warm weather to get them flowering. After driving to many out of the ways places and countless photo stops, we arrived late in the afternoon at our first intended stay, Farina. For Fiona and I, Farina is always a ‘Must Stay’ destination for this history and ambiance of the great campground.

While Fiona was setting up the inside of the camper, I was getting a campfire going, and before the sun was setting, we were both sitting around the campfire and getting ready to cook our evening meal. Sitting back under a perfect night sky, the warmth of the fire made us feel quite drowsy, and as nice as the fire was, it was time to call it a day and settle in for our first night at Farina.

Day 2

Early next morning, it was time for me to get out of bed and to rekindle last night’s campfire and it was not long before the whistle of the kettle indicated that we had boiling water for breakfast coffees. Another one of Fiona’s favourite camping traditions is campfire toast and what a great start to another perfect day. It does not matter how many times we have stayed here at Farina, it is always great to inspect the many fine old ruins of Farina that once stood a proud town. Our afternoon drive had us heading out on the small drive to Witchelina and we only intended being away for a short time.

Arriving at Witchelina, I knocked on the main homestead door to see it if was ok to get a few photos of the place, only to be greeted by friends from Burra that were out there doing their two week stint as Managers. After a great chat with them, we were sent off on the wet weather exit track that now forms part of the new ‘Old Mt Nor’ West’ four wheel drive track. Given the opportunity to drive a track that I had not driven before was one opportunity that we would not say ‘No’ to and we set off and headed for our first stop, the old Witchelina Shearing Shed. After spending a great afternoon seeing more great new country, we eventually made it back to the bitumen road, around 5 kilometres north of Farina and arrived back at camp, in time to get our hot donkey showers and to get the campfire going again. With a great taste of the new four wheel track that was now available, we made ourselves a promise that when we get back to Farina in around a months time again, we will do the full drive to experience more great new country.

Day 3

With a slow start the next morning, it was hard to get away from the fire, but in perfect conditions again, we were heading north again to Marree, with a couple of stops to make along the way. Doing the usual tourist stops around Marree, it was time to head for our next intended camp, Muloorina Station and the great Muloorina Wetlands. The drive out saw the track in first class condition and arriving around 1pm, we soon settled in for a very easy afternoon and now even warmer weather. We thought that we would have the place all to ourselves, but in usual caravan timing, four more caravans and campers arrived around 4pm and set up their camps well away from us. While sitting around the campfire that night, there were a few very heavy spots of rain, putting an end to a good night around the fire.

Day 4

Next morning was dry, but the dark clouds did not look promising and the wind had picked up. By the time we arrived out at Level Post Bay at Lake Eyre North, it was very windy and the clouds were getting darker. Arriving back at Marree, the locals were saying that there was not much rain to be expected, so after topping up with fuel, we headed back out on the Oodnadatta Track under quite dark rain clouds and by the time we had reached the first railway siding of Callanna, we were using our windscreen wipers occasionally. The further along the track we travelled, the intensity of the rain increased and I was now wondering if we should head back to Marree or still continue towards Coward Springs. Our only consolation was that vehicles heading down the Oodnadatta Track towards us were not as muddy as our vehicle, giving us hope that the rain was behind us and not in front of us. This was not to be the case and the rain just became heavier and by the time we arrived at Coward Springs around 3pm, it was now quite cold, wet and a strong breeze to top things off. To put icing to the cake, I thought that a hot shower would make us feel human again, but when I turned on the hot tap, luke warm water was only coming out, so I thought I better make the most of a very quick shower, stripped off put my head under the shower, only to have the last of the warm water vanish and now a very cold shower, coupled with a strong, cold wind blowing under the shower door.

Day 5

Well what a contrast in just 12 hours, with blue skies and the dawning on a perfect day. Seeing it had been a good number of years since we were last here at Coward Springs, we had a real good look around the place before heading off further along the track and to our next nights destination, William Creek just up the road. In distance it may have only been a short day, but by the time we had a real good look at the numerous old railway sidings along the track, the very interesting ruins at Strangways Springs, as well as the drive out to ABC and Halligan Bays at Lake Eyre North, we finally arrived at William Creek around 4pm, where we then made a booking at the pub for tea, and drove across the road to the campground were we set up camp and got ready for an easy night in the busy William Creek Hotel. At first appearance, there did not seem many people at the campground, but when we walked into the pub, it was full and can see why they want people to pre book a meal at the pub.

Day 6

The drive next morning north of William Creek saw us making many stops and doing the real tourist thing, with dams, waterholes, old railway sidings and the pick of the day being the Old Peake Ruins. The detour from the Oodnadatta Track may only be small, but the 19 kilometre drive will take you around 45 minutes one way, so do not think you can rush the drive in. Prior to the discovery of this site by explorer John McDouall Stuart on the 6th June 1859, this area was very important to the local Arabana Aboriginal people who referred to the area as Yardiya and was associated with the ‘Two Snakes’ Dreaming Story. These Mound Springs are all part of the greater Mound Springs system that start near Marree and continue for hundreds of kilometres and end around Dalhousie Springs. It was the reliability of water from these mound springs that lead to the exploration of the area for the Overland Telegraph Line, Pastoralists and eventually the Great Northern Railway that was to become known as The Ghan. When exploring the area, John McDouall Stuart wrote that these springs were the largest springs that we had seen and named them Freeling Springs, and also discovered minerals in the area around the Peake. The promising nature of this find saw South Australian businessman leased 155 square kilometres on land here in 1863. The joys of this land was dealt a real blow in the mid 1860’s when severe drought saw more than a quarter of the stock perishing. After a few changes in leases, the Station came under the control of the growing Kidman Empire and today, remains under the ownership of the Kidman’s as part of the worlds largest Station, Anna Creek. After nearly two hours exploring the ruins and the old Peake Mine site, it was time to head for our next planned camp, the Algebuckina Waterhole.

With camp set up and the campfire going, it was now time to sit down, enjoy the warms of the fire and watch the Pelicans getting a last minute meal before the last rays of the sun disappeared over the hills and with a clear sky, the stars were just brilliant again, as they are in any outback camp. There is nothing better than old railways sleeper to make a good, hot and long lasting campfire and it was again a perfect time of the day to watch the flame dancing and getting you into a real sleepy trance. During the night, the silence was broken when in the distance, we could hear a road train changing down through its gears that seemed to be going on for ever and was getting louder, and then it sounded like the truck was going to drive right through our camp. We were camped around 600 metres from a main station track that heads further east than the Algebuckina Waterhole and wondered what was going on, only to hear a second road train doing the very same thing. The two trucks were heading to holding yards where they where going to load and transport the cattle. Once the two trucks were through the station gate, the endless changing of gears faded away and the night was back to true bush silence.

Day 7

I was out of bed again by 7am and us usual, my first job of the day is getting the fire going. We had company this morning not far from us on the waterhole, as 5 pelicans were gliding along the still waters and looking for an early morning feed. With our jobs done for the morning, we were in no real hurry to break camp, so we just sat by the fire and had a very easy time until we left camp and headed over to the old Algebuckina Railway Bridge and did the tourist thing, along with around 6 other vehicles. Leaving the bridge, we made a small detour on the northern side and wanted to check out the bridge from the northern side. Back on the Oodnadatta Track again, we found some old dead Gidgee and we soon had a few bags of it cut up and that would come to use the next night, as when travelling by ourselves, we do not take the chance and arrive at a camp without our own supply of timber for our campfire. After more stops to visit more old railway ruins, we hit the busy little town of Oodnadatta. The first thing that caught our eye was the Pink Roadhouse had received a new coat of paint since our last visit and the nice new bright Pink made it stand out more than ever.

The first thing we did was to top us with fuel before having lunch. After lunch we drove around the town before heading further north and where we would camp tonight was anyone guess. The road so far had been in first class condition and the Hamilton Road was the very same. We were surprised to see that the Fogartys Claypan detour was still in place after a number of weeks of fine and warm weather, but it at least gave us a chance to drive the road that we had missed many times in the past. We did stop again and top up our wood supply on some old dead Mulga, knowing that we would be self sufficient tonight in case we camped in an area away from any timber, which was to be the case. We were making good time, so we decided to push on to Hamilton Station and stay at their great little Campground where we arrived around 2:30pm. Once again is was great to have everything setup, the fire organised, solar panel out and then just take in the solitude of the great location. The campground is in a natural setting between 2 small sand dunes and offers camper the feeling of bush camping with the bonus of a camp shelter, bins and toilets. We though that we would have the area to ourselves until around 5.30 when three more vehicles in convoy came in, followed by another solo traveller around 6pm. The beauty of this great spot is that the area is very large, around the size of 2 football fields, so campers were not in each other’s pockets as they say. It was another great night around the campfire and so great to be in country like this that I feel totally at home in, rather that the hustle and bustle of large towns and cities.

Day 8

Clear skies and the morning chorus of the birds heralded the start of another perfect outback morning, and it meant that it was time to be out of bed and get the daily routine of rekindling the fire and sitting around the fire while the kettle boiled, for the morning coffee and the thermo. With everything packed up, it was time to hit the track again and we made a small detour to Pedirka before heading further north. Many of the usually dry creeks now were transformed into true little outback rivers and some even requited detours. The old heritage listed stockyards at Eringa were still looking in great shape and then it was down to the waterhole for lunch. After lunch it was still further north and onto Abminga. Those that are into history would be aware that it was from here in May 1939 that Cecil Madigan set out with 9 men and 19 camels to make the first Central crossing of the Simpson Desert. Abminga like all sidings from the Old Ghan Days has seen better times, but it is now the only accessible siding that has not been stripped bare, with all the original railway lines and yards still there, but being in a very sad state of repair. From here it was another stop at the South Australian and Northern Territory Border. We were disappointed to see that the crossing now has no signage compared to when we were last through here to let traveller know that they are passing into another state. If on the other hand you have an eye for survey markers, there is a large cement column marked by surveyors that give the accurate point that indicate the true border. With still a few more stops along the way, we ended the day with another great bush camp just south of New Crown Station, where again the silence of the bush was only broken by the calls of the birds, the distant noise of only one car that went past during the night.

Day 9

Another crisp morning that was going to turn into another perfect day and sitting around the fire it was hard to get moving, but for the first time in the trip, we had a deadline to meet. Heading north towards New Crown and the first thing that had also changed since our last visit in the area was that the main road now detours the station and around a kilometre south, there is now a main ‘T’ junction, with left for Finke and right for Mount Dare. Turning left the wide ride was in first class condition and after a short time; something caught my eye some distance off of the road, with a well-worn track heading to the white object. Not having noticed this before, we decided to check it out and the closer we got to the object, it was easy to see it was a very lonely grave in the middle of now where. On the 10th January 1883, poor young 25 year old Joseph Alexander McPharlin died, and one can only think of what it would have been like out here at that time of the year in such hospitable country and temperatures that would have been in the high forties. Back on the road again, it was not long before we were at Finke. Seeing it was a Saturday morning, Finke was buzzing and after a good look around the town, it was time to head to another location that we had been to many times before, The Lambert Centre. Once again the road into the centre had changed from a single very narrow track to now most of the way two separate track. The Wildflowers were in full bloom and it made a very pretty drive into the Lambert Centre. After lunch at the centre we headed west and a refuelled at Kulgera and had the best $3 hot shower, before catching up with friends at Mt Cavenagh Station, Kelly and Wayne. It was great to catch up with them and the afternoon past quickly.

Day 10

I was out of bed early this morning, but not early enough to beat Wayne who was already working on his Mack. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and head to the Johnston Geodetic Centre, a place that I had wanted to visit for over 40 years. Returning to the homestead, Kelly then took us on a small drive back down into South Australia and to one of their old Outstations, Sundown. This is no ordinary abandoned outstation, but the scene of a triple murder in 1957 that became known Nationally as “The Sundown Murders”. After looking around the ruins, we bid our final good byes and Kelly headed north back home while we headed south for our next intended nights stay, Marla. We made very good time on the bitumen and were set up in the Marla Caravan Park just after 1pm. After lunch we then set out to Mintabie and a look around the area and was surprised at the size of the town. Heading back towards Marla there was another important detour to take, a section of the original old Stuart Highway, a road that we had driven on over 40 years ago. The drive was very rewarding and we were soon approaching the most important land feature that was the reason why I chose to take this detour, Marla Bore. Anyone that was fortunate enough to travel the original Stuart Highway will testify that Marla Bore was a milestone to reach and you then knew that you were then over half way to Alice Springs. Once back at Marla, it was a top up with fuel and back to Caravan Park and early showers. From around 4pm it was rush hour in the caravan park, as the parked was filling very quickly with very type of caravan, camper and Motor Homes.

Day 11

Leaving behind the luxury of the bitumen, it was back onto the Oodnadatta Track and our lunch stop at Oodnadatta. This section of the Oodnadatta Track was like it used to be, very stony and not the type of road to go fast on. While travelling this early section of track we encountered a number of vehicles heading towards Marla and we stopped every time one would approach us, limiting our chance of a damaged windscreen. The moment that we reached the Todmorden Station boundary and turn off, the gravel disappeared and a hard compact road surface commenced all the way now into Oodnadatta. Arriving at Oodnadatta, we caught up with on old Aboriginal man that we met before and had a quick lunch stop before heading south again out on the Kempe Road and then further south out to the Painted Desert. The only trouble now was that the further south we were travelling, the clear blue sky was being replaced by ever increasing cloud cover and off into the distance, they were quite dark and looked more like rain clouds. While walking through to the lookout areas at the Painted Desert, there were a few brief periods of blue sky, but this was soon taken over by even more cloud cover. With threatening shy’s we pulled into Arckaringa Homestead, paid our $20 camping fee and set up camp, with a stiff breeze to keep us company. There were a few lone campfires in the campground, but most other people, including Fiona and I all sat around the communal fire pit chatting until it was time to head off to bed.

Day 12

Those ever threatening dark clouds were dropping the odd spot of rain and it was a quick change of plans on which way we would travel through to Coober Pedy. Our Intended route was to go through Mount Barry, but the way the clouds were looking, we did not want to take any chances of being caught on wet and muddy roads, so we headed the quickest way to the Stuart Highway and out through Copper Hills. The further west we travelled, the sky became fine, while the sky behind us was getting blacker by the minute. When we finally hit the bitumen, it could now rain as much as it liked, but as it turned out, the further south we travelled, the cloud cover retreated to the east, leaving a perfect clear sky and we arrived in Coober Pedy just before lunch time. After setting up camp, we head into town and headed for the IGA Supermarket and topped up on a few supplies that we were running short on, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. After an easy afternoon we headed out to the Breakaways to catch the late afternoon sun and then came back into Coober Pedy via the Dog Fence Road and the Kempe Road.

Day 13

Clear blue sky and no breeze made a perfect start to another great day and after the usual morning routines, we set out to see the town and a few of the places in the area that we had never spent much time looking at on previous trips here. Seeing it was such a perfect day, we headed back out to the Breakaways just to see those many great colours again and then took a small detour on one of the many side roads that pass through the Opal Mining area. Almost back into Coober Pedy, we had one more thing to do before calling it a day, and it was out on the Mabel Creek Road to one of the very minor creek crossings about 20 kilometres out, to try and locate an old blaze from the 1890’s of a Police man that died by an old waterhole and was buried at the spot. Fiona left the car well off the road and spent the next hour searching for a prominent size tree to carry the blaze, but we just could not find any sizeable tree, with only Mulga trees here now and some were scared by Aboriginals to make Woomera’s, but not the Blaze to mark the spot of a lonely grave. Heading back to town, it was another easy afternoon and another easy night.

Day 14

Time to leave behind the bitumen again and we headed back to William Creek on yet another great road. Just after leaving Coober Pedy it was time for a last minute phone call through to the William Creek Hotel, as the main road conditions sign showed the road from William Creek to Marree as Closed. How could this be, as there had been no rain in the area now for over 2 weeks and the weather had been perfect and the last thing we wanted to do was get caught out at William Creek. The young lady that answered asked me again where the road closed sign was, as she had been receiving lots of vehicles coming up from the South. Hang on she said, I will go outside and see what our sign says…after a couple of minutes hanging on, I could hear the Hotel door slam and she picked up the phone and apologised for keeping me waiting and said that every sign in William Creek for all directions were green, and open to all vehicles. Thanking her for taking the time to check it out for me, it was now east to William Creek. We made a few stops along the way and made the small detour out to Lake Cadibarrawirracanna and it was great to see the outlet arm full of water.

Continuing to head further east, the road was in first class condition and if it was not for the fact that I had my tyre pressures down, it would have been very easy to sit comfortably in many places at 100 kph. After a good run through, we arrived at William Creek just before 12 midday which was far too early to call it a day, so we decided to push on for our final nigh to a camp spot that we always enjoy staying at, Farina. The only major stop we made along the way was when we saw some old sleepers that would be put to good use tonight for our last campfire of the trip. Arriving at Marree it was time for another stop, their great bakery at the roadhouse. The final 50 kilometres down to Farina was an easy run and our early start for the day paid off, arriving at a very good time of the day to set up camp, get the fire going and have a chat with fellow campers.

Day 15

Seeing today was our last day of camping for this trip we made use of the timber that we had, and had a very easy morning around the fire and chatting to other campers, before making a very late start from Farina around 11am. The road was again in perfect conditions and as he headed further south through the Flinders, we only wished that we had more time and would loved to have spent a few more days poking around the area.

With the exception of only one wet day, the two weeks away was perfect and it was great to just take it slow along one of Australia’s great outback drives, even though we had seen it all before. Little did we know that within three weeks of getting home, the whole northern pastoral area was again drenched in heavy rain, closing every road that we had driven, with some sections still closed after a week that they were first closed. You can plan your trip as best you can, but the weather is one thing that we have no control over and can turn the best laid plans right out the window if the sky feels like opening up.

Stephen Langman

September 2016
Smile like a Crocodile
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