Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Oodnadatta Track

Well, the track finally dried out between William Creek and Oodnadatta, so I girded up my loins (not that I often go around with my loins un-girded, certainly not in this weather) and left Leigh Creek for points north. I have taken the liberty of including lots of photographs of this section of the trip, mainly because of the fact that due to the extremely un-seasonal weather lately, this part of the country may not look as green and healthy for many more years and for those of my readers who have not travelled this part of the country, welcome to the experience. This will be a fairly long post because of the length of the trip and the fact that I will be out of mobile coverage until I reach Alice Springs.

Thursday, 21st April 2011 - Day 860

First stop was only a few kms out of Leigh Creek, but I have determined that whenever I see a "tourist" sign, I'm going to check it out. This was for The Ochre Pits and was a bit of a disappointment compared to others I have seen.

On to Lyndhurst and the sign is pretty self-explanatory. It's funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) that for the last two years, I have been trying to run either the Birdsville Track or the Strezlecki Track and each time it has been too wet. In an area that doesn't receive rain for year after year. Oh well, maybe next year.

The memorial below simply marks the fact that some people from down south built a memorial to mark the start of the Birdsville Track. Like the bloody great road sign doesn't do the job well enough.

On the bitumen to Marree. Hasn't charged at all in the two years since I was last here, but I doubt that it ever will unless the situation changes radically in this part of the country. There isn't even mobile phone coverage here and even Birdsville has mobile coverage. The satellite TV decoder which (finally) arrived back, still doesn't work so I sent a really rude email to Vansat telling them that I would let everybody know about the unit. When I got to Marree I checked my email at the local Internet centre and there was a reply from Vansat, telling me they would send me a brand new unit. My faith in customer service has been restored. I asked them to forward it to Oodnadatta PO and hopefully it will be there by the time I get there. Trying to watch TV with only crappy real-time subtitles is a pain in the bum!

The old NSU loco from the old Ghan train is starting to look a bit sad. Some people seem to think that all you have to do to recognise a heritage site is to dump some form of significant item and that's that. The concept of maintaining some of these items doesn't seem to register and they get very tatty after a while.

The old Blitz Truck bought back some memories. You don't see them around much any more (understandable I suppose, seeing they were built in about 1942 or so), but they were reasonably common in the early 1960's on sheep stations and farms. I drove one on Glengyle Station in 1965 and it would go anywhere a land-rover would go and carry a couple of tons of superphosphate or wool bales while doing it.

There are a lot of vehicles on the road, probably because there is water in Lake Eyre at the moment and it is the school holidays. The last time I was here, there wasn't a single vehicle outside the Marree Pub.

I wonder how long since the Lake Eyre Yacht Club had a regatta, from memory there hasn't been any water in Lake Eyre for about twenty years before last year, and now it has filled twice in successive years.

A little past Marree is Alberrie Creek. There is a ruined railway siding and a homestead, but the most interesting thing is a collection of incredible sculptures made primarily from junk. The last time I came through, I stopped and took a couple of photos, but this time I stopped for a while and took a good tour through the whole area. It is well worth a look.

About 85 kms from Marree, the road passes right alongside the southern extremity of Lake Eyre South and  with the lake being full, it looks like an ocean. I was reading somewhere that the lake is so large, that the water is actually tidal. The expanse is so great that the moon creates tides like the seas.

It's a fair walk from the look-out to the shore through some pretty yukky mud, but who knows, I may never be able to paddle in Lake Eyre again. The water was very, very, very, very salty and I was tempted to do a "dead sea" swim, but the thought of how much of my fresh water I would need to wash off the salt restored me to sanity.

 My first camp is at Curdimurka, which is an abandoned railway fettler's cottage on Stuart Creek. This particular set of cottages has been partly restored by the Ghan Railway Historical Society to an approximation of what it would have been in the 1880's

Friday,  22nd April 2011 - Day 861

I walked down to the Stuart Creek from the siding. About 1 km from the siding. There is quite a lot of water in the creek which flows into Lake Eyre about 10 kms

Friday, 29th April 2011 - Day  868

A week has gone by in a flash and so we say goodbye to beautiful downtown Curdimurka and head further north. At Margaret Creek I was very surprised to see seagulls. This must be at least 500 kms from the nearest point of the ocean and yet here they are in their hundreds.

I stopped for the obligatory rubber-neck at the mound springs, hoping that they might be more spectacular after the recent rains, but no change at all. I guess because they are associated with artesian water rather than surface water. While I was there, there was a city couple with their children and we got talking for a while. He mentioned how incredible it was that the water only came out at the top of the mounds! I gently pointed out to him that the mounds were actually formed by the water depositing lime and he was stunned. I despair of city folks at times.

The gum tree at the Blanche Cup is fed by the water over-flowing from the mound spring and is the only gum tree I have seen for hundreds of kilometres. All that grows around here are some very stunted desert oaks and mulga.

I stopped for a look around at Coward Springs. The restoration works have progressed well and the old engineer's cottage is now fully restored and holds a lot of interesting photos from the days of the Ghan railway.

 The artesian spa is a major feature of this spot, but like last time, it doesn't attract me. Might be a lot different if it was 40degC in the middle of summer. I know I'm a bit of a tightwad, but $10 a night in a camp with no facilities but toilets seems a bit expensive to me.

A little further up the track are the ruins of Beresford Siding and the old railway dam is chock-a-block. It looks more like a lake than a dam. There were a couple of Nomads camped here and they told me that there were some huge yabbies in the dam. How they manage to survive years of dry weather amazes me (the yabbies, not the Nomads)

Water, Water everywhere. Virtually every creek I come across has got water in it. No wonder the track was closed for so long. This is Warriner's Creek south of William Creek.

Almost to William Creek and there is a major change in the landscape. All of a sudden, out of nowhere there are big red sandhills along the track. There must be a branch of the Simpson Desert which meets the track. Only lasted for a few kms and then back to the flat gibber plain again.

William Creek and time for lunch. The hotel hasn't changed in the couple of years since I last saw it, but the tourist centre is going gang-busters with tourist booking flights over the Lake. Bit pricey around here, $4 for a can of coke!

This is another place which has got wrecked rockets from Woomera. Dinkum, during the 50's when they were shooting these things off, you must have been in real danger of having one land on your head, they seem to be everywhere.

More mudholes on the road, and the road is officially open to all vehicles. Luckily, the bottom of the waterholes is rocky, not muddy.

In the afternoon I reached Algebuckina, which has been my target for my next camp. I was going to stop here anyway, but I have decided to try to find the "Big Waterhole" I read about. The ubiquitous signs which have been put up all along the track by the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta led me to the waterhole and BIG is the right word, it would have to be at least 2 or 3 kilometres long and looks like it might be fairly deep.

I managed to find a nice spot to set up, but there aren't actually many good spots. I was lucky there wasn't already somebody here as there is really only the one good spot for a rig like mine, but plenty of spots for a tent or swag.

Saturday, 30 April 2011 - Day 869

Today I took a walk down to the famous Algebuckina Bridge over the Neale River, The longest railway bridge in South Australia, even today. I walked along the river bank and found this strange structure on the river bank. I have no idea what it is, but I suspect it may have been a pylon to carry the telegraph line over the river during flood times. The craftsmanship in the stonework is amazing and it looks as good today as it must have when it was built over 100 years ago.

The water is still flowing over the floodway, but it is only a couple of inches deep.

The bridge is really spectacular. There is a footway built on the bridge for 20 metres or so, so that you can walk out on to the start of the bridge. It is a pity that they couldn't have continued it out to at least the middle so that you could walk right out over the river, that would be really exciting.

The view from the top of the embankment out over the river floodplain is terrific. You would never guess you were in the middle of a desert. It is so green and so many trees. This particular river must either get regular floods, or for some reason holds water through the droughts.

According to the Pink Roadhouse sign, this is the remains of a guy who, in the 60's came to the river and couldn't get across, so he decided to try to drive across the railway bridge and happened to choose a time when a train was coming the other way.

Thursday, 5th May 2011 - Day 874

I'm getting absolutely sick and tired of this dodgy satellite TV decoder, especially as I can't get any radio reception out here, so I packed up and headed to Oodnadatta to see if my new decoder has arrived. It has been over two weeks since Vansat said they would send a new one, but there was the long Easter/Anzac Day break in there. I arrived in Oodnadatta and guess what? because there was rain a couple of days ago, the mail truck couldn't get through. It is due this afternoon, so I took a run (85kms each way) out to the Painted Desert, which was on my itinerary anyway.

It is worth a look, I won't say it was a wasted trip, but the breakaways near Coober Pedy are just as good and only just off the main road. However, if you are going this way it's worth a detour.

You may notice that the weather is very overcast. It has been like this for a week or more and the solar panels haven't been getting much use. It is still fairly warm during the days, 27-28 degC, just no sunshine. YIPPEE! the satellite decoder arrived on the mail truck and it works. I have got TV again. Just as well, I have finished both my crossword books and I have read all of my hard-copy books although I still have plenty on the lap top. Besides Eurovision is coming up soon and I don't want to miss that (OK, so I'm a nurd).

I filled up with diesel at oodnadatta ($1.95/litre) and headed for my next stop. According to the Camps 5 book, there is a campsite at Olarinna Creek, but it is really hard to find. I stopped and had a look around and couldn't see any track so I drove on for 5 kms to see if it was nearby. Nothing!, so I back-tracked to the creek and went for a wander. I found some really old wheel tracks and followed them for about a kilometre in from the road and found a great level area with signs of some old campfires so I guess this is it. I walked back out to the road and drove in and set up. While I was doing so, I noticed that all of the trees had muddy watermarks about 5 foot up the trunks. No wonder the campsite was hard to find, it has been under water for weeks and likely more than once.

The creek is dry now, except for a couple of big billabongs further downstream, but it is a pretty, picturesque site and will do me for a few days. The weather has cleared up so I should be able to get a good charge into the batteries.

Wednesday, 11th May 2011 - Day 880

Well, I've done it again. Because of the delay at Leigh Creek, I lost almost 4 weeks from my schedule and it is starting to get very cold at nights. There is an upside to this however. Since I left Leigh Creek on the 21st April, the flies have been absolutely dreadful. Millions of the buggers, making it uncomfortable to sit around outside the van and absolutely impossible to cook or eat outside, but now the weather is cooling off, they have died down a lot.

I packed up from Olarinna creek and drove straight through to Alice Springs in one hit. I want to start heading north and get to the warm weather again. I am going to head up the Tanami Track again, even though I did it last year, it was a really beautiful trip and it won't hurt to do it again, better than heading up the bitumen and it is 100's of kms shorter than going up to Katherine and then accross to Kununurra. 3 degC last night here in the Alice brrrrrr.

It means I'll be out of range for another 4-6 weeks so - - -

See you soon