Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Murchison

I remember long ago reading Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken", and in the second-last line he said that he "took the one less travelled by. . ." Well the inland road from Carnarvon to Mullewa via Gascoyne Junction and Murchison is certainly that.

The road heads roughly east from Carnarvon to Gascoyne Junction and then south through Murchison to Mullewa on the Geraldton - Mt. Magnet road. The road is bitumen all the way to GJ (173 kms) and then gravel all the way to Murchison (308 kms). From Murchison to Mullewa the first 50 kms is single lane bitumen, then 100 kms of gravel, and then the last 50 kms into Mullewa is dual-lane bitumen.

I took 17 days to travel the road and during that time, I saw exactly three other travellers using the road. There were a few other vehicles on the road, but these were obviously work or station vehicles. The road, especially in the Murchison shire, was excellent. Very few corrugations and a good, solid surface. You would have no trouble even in a conventional 2-wheel-drive car, provided there hadn't been any rain. There was evidence in several places where there had been some monumental boggings!

Tuesday, 25th October 2011 - Day 1,047

I left Carnarvon bright and early, heading for a campsite called Rocky Pool on the Gascoyne River. Well, there is a pool there and it is very rocky, but calling it a campsite is a bit of a stretch. I pulled up at the "spot", picnic table, barbecue and interpretive sign and then walked for at least a kilometre both up and down the river looking for a nice spot to set up camp. Nothing, not an even remotely suitable spot. It looks like a great picnic area, or a place to take the kids for a swim, but really not suitable for an overnight camp. It was still fairly early in the day, so I kept going.

Just after lunch I arrived in (or it may be more appropriate to say "at") Gascoyne Junction. There were some pretty severe floods here earlier in the year following 11 inches of rain in one hit, and the hotel/caravan park/visitor's centre/roadhouse was washed away. All that remains is the forecourt of the roadhouse. I remember seeing on TV about Carnarvon being flooded, but nothing about this area. This is all that remains of the hotel.

The shire office, police station and the school are all on higher ground and were OK but the low-level areas were all washed away. There was an area called the "Hacker's Hectare" where the shire had placed blocks of stone for visiting amateur sculptor's to hack away at and I understood this was also a camping area. Nothing left, just a big expanse of bare dirt.

I continued on and about 70 kms down the road came to an area of what are termed "breakaways". There were several clear, flat areas at the base of the features so this looks the ideal place to stop for a few days. 

Monday, 31st  October 2011 - Day 1,053

What a great little spot for a bush camp. The rock formations are very interesting and the little hills are easily climbable so there is plenty of opportunity for exploring. There are some REALLY big old-man kangaroos around the area and when you come across one and it bounds away, it can scare the crap out of you.

The weather has been mostly fine, overcast for the first couple of days and then clear and sunny with a nice cool breeze, but yesterday it was very windy and blew up to gale force last night, nearly wrecked the awning before I got it down. Today there have been some really big thunderstorms around but, touch wood, they have mostly passed around to the south of me.

Tuesday, 1st November 2011 - Day 1,054 

Well, my luck couldn't hold forever, today I had one thunderstorm pass to the west, then the next one passed to the east but the third one this afternoon copped me dead centre. It absolutely poured for about two hours, while still blowing very strongly, so the rain was almost parallel to the ground. I chose my campsite well, however, on a sandy rise between two obvious rain channels, so everything is cool.
Thursday 3rd November 2011 - Day 1,056

The worst of the weather seems to have passed, still lots of clouds around but no thunderstorms. A little rain overnight but only light. I actually had to dig out the generator and crank it up for the first time in months, because I haven't seen much of the sun for the last few days and the batteries are getting a bit low. The sound of the generator seems to have attracted some of the locals to check out what's going on.

One good thing about this kind of weather, you can get some magnificent sunsets.

According to the weather reports they have really been copping it down south, so I'm glad I made the decision to wait until November before heading for Perth. I went over to the main track and checked out the road for rain damage, but it looks fine, so I'll take off again tomorrow.

Friday 4th November 2011 - Day 1,057

I have a map-book of WA 4WD tracks and it showed a spot called Bilung Pool on the Wooramel River about 150 kms north of Murchison, which wasn't on the HEMA maps or in the Camps book, and as it was only a couple of kmsfloodways, ant nests and other nasty surprises. Just as well I did. What appears to be a nice, shady, level area right next to the pool, is a really big over-hang which doesn't look all that stable from below. It may have collapsed even by just driving on it. Could have been a disaster. How is this for a view out of the kitchen window?

Sunday 6th November 2011 - Day 1,059

The weather has come good again, not a cloud in the sky and about 28degC during the day and 15 at night. A few pesky bush flies around, but not too bad. I went for a wander along the river and some really interesting rock formations gouged out by the river during flood times. I found a lot of spots where people have been camping and it looks like this might be a popular fishing spot when there is water in the river.

Monday, 7th November 2011 - Day 1,060

I packed up this morning and continued south to Murchison. It would appear that there has been some serious flooding through here recently as well. About 50 kms north of Murchison, there is a 15 km detour along station tracks while the main track is being repaired and a little further on, there was another 12 km detour, but the main road has just been re-opened. Definitely not the place to be when it floods.

It appears that this road is an old stock route from the midlands to the Ashburton. In addition, it is part of what is called the "wool-wagon pathway" and also part of the Kingsford-Smith Mail Run. There are a number of interpretive sites all along the track. Below is the remains of one of the original stock route wells which has been restored.

 I can't get over how good this road is. If I was in a hurry, I would have no hesitation in driving at 100kmh or more. No corrugations, good drainage, good camber on the bends, I have driven on bitumen which was a lot worse than this. Even the locals use the road.

I got to Murchison and stopped at the roadhouse to see if they had any fresh milk. Not to be, only UHT, which I hate. I thought I would check out the fuel price and nearly fell down with my leg in the air! $1.52 per litre for diesel. That is cheaper than it was in Carnarvon, so I filled up. I have been carting 60 litres in jerry cans for nothing it seems. I would have thought that in a place as remote as this, that fuel would be up around $1.80 or more, but it appears that fuel prices are subsidised by the shire council. Passing strange, methinks.

Again, my WA 4wd tracks book shows a feature 12kms west of Murchison, called Errabiddy Bluff, which is not on the HEMA map so after fuelling up and buying a frozen loaf of bread for $4.50 I headed out. It is obviously a station track, but it had been recently graded although a bit sandy in places but on the whole a good road.

On the way to the bluff are the remains of an old out-station building from Errabiddy station which was in use from the 1920's. Stone with mud mortar and the chimney is still standing, albeit with a bit of a lean and you can still see the outline of the walls. I think it would be really interesting to excavate a site like this and I wonder why archaeologists aren't interested. Maybe Time Team would be. I particularly like the old bush dunny which has either been restored or re-created.

A few kms further on is the bluff and very impressive it is too. The block-like nature of the stone at the top makes it look as though it was actually built by hand. It reminded me of the stone buildings of Machu Pichu. Looks like some extreme bush-walking coming up.

Tuesday, 8th November 2011 - Day 1,061

Oh boy, the Penguin is falling to pieces. I noticed that the rear of the roof seemed a bit hard to get down when I packed up yesterday, but I didn't think anything was wrong. When I came to set up last night, I found that the roof bolt on the RH rear strut has sheered and on top of that, as I was winding up the roof, the LH front cable gave way (third time for this same cable). I had to jack the roof up and hold it up using tent poles. This morning I emptied out the front storage area under the bed and checked out the cable. Luckily, the cable had not snapped, it had just pulled out of the cable clamps which had loosened from vibration, so it was fairly simple to fix. The rear roof-bolt has definitely sheered, though and as I don't have a spare, that will have to wait until I can get a replacement from a hardware store. This is the second time that a roof-bolt has sheered (see Tennant Creek, day 588) so I think I will remove them all and replace them with high-tensile bolts.

I went for a walk and climbed up to the top of the bluff for a bit of a look around. What a view! If you look really, really closely, you can see my van in the centre of the photo below. Lots and lots and lots of feral goat's nests up on top of the bluff, but no sign of goats, they must have all been at work.

Sunday, 13th November 2011 - Day 1,066

I only stayed for three days at the bluff, I am running low on some basics like spuds and onions and I am out of milk and bread (although I have some evaporated Carnation milk for my coffee) so I packed up and headed for Mullewa. As I said above, the first 50 kms south of Murchison were single-lane bitumen which was a pleasant surprise. Probably because of frequent flooding, this part of the road parallels the Murchison River. But even when I ran out of bitumen, the road was excellent. I stopped for a breather where the road crosses the Murchison River and there were a couple of nice spots suitable for a bush camp along the river bank.

I made it into Mullewa and re-stocked with essentials, but boy, do they know how to charge - $4.75 for 2 litres of milk and $3.80 for a 650gram loaf of bread.

I headed out of Mullewa towards Geraldton to stop at a spot I camped at just over two years ago, a location called Tenindewa. (day 304 12Oct09). I found it OK and set up. Important note to self: when you are returning to a spot previously visited, read up the notes from before. If I had, I would have remembered that this spot has the worst bush flies in Oz. I assume that the ones that were here before have all passed on, but their grand-children have been fruitful and multiplied. There are HORDES of them. Also, I couldn't camp in the really nice spot that I picked last time, because a colony of bees has set up house in the hollow tree stump where I parked. Jeez, I'm such a whinger.

I will make one more stop before I get to Perth. I found a nice spot in Wannamal last trip, so I'll camp there for a couple of nights and then head to Perth.

See you soon.