28.05.2013 15 °C
I headed out of Coober Pedy trailing a halo of dust behind me, I was glad to be on the road again after staying 3 nights at the Oasis caravan park in Coober Pedy. I was heading for the remote outback again to re-join the famous Oodnadatta track which will take me to Marree, a classic old outback town about 450km south of Birdsville and where the famous Birdsville track ends. South of Marree the far north Flinders Ranges start which I was keen to explore next, also the Oodnadatta track passes Lake Eyre on the way which I had to check out.
I don’t think I’ve talked much about bull dust, well its remarkable stuff. The gravel roads kick up the dust as you drive along producing this magnificent comets tail arcing across the desert behind you. It’s great for spotting oncoming vehicles as you can see the dust trails from miles away, especially oncoming road trains. But it also gets everywhere, I don’t know how it gets in and spreads itself so evenly throughout the entire motor, no crevice or surface is spared. It seems to bypass the sealing rubbers on doors with abandon and after a day’s driving you’re covered in the stuff, you can taste it on your lips and it covers your glasses with a fine film. I’ve learned to be at one with the dust now and there’s no point trying to stop it. My dad told me a funny story about the French out here who used to leave all their car windows open when driving to let the bull dust out so it doesn’t pile up in the car… their cars still filled with dust anyway!
The Oodnadatta track is a famous old outback road which has the old Ghan Railway running alongside. The railway was used up until World War II to transport troops from South Australia to Darwin at the top end and 3 different trains were used as the railway gages change in each state ( even to this day each state has a different gage for their tracks).
I took a detour to see Lake Eyre, there is a 70km dead-end track taking you to Lake Eyre North, the largest and most spectacular of the salt lakes. The track is rough and corrugated and ends at a well designated camping spot on the shore of Lake Eyre with a toilet block. This is Aboriginal land and you pay $10 for a camping permit at the start of the track in the self-pay drop box. The track was rough indeed and took me a couple of hours driving to reach the lake.
Lake Eyre is a barren spectacle, as you arrive you see can see the lake stretching out across the landscape vast and flat. At first it looks like a massive frozen inland sea, the salt is so white it looks like ice! This is indeed a barren place, I was the only person there and had the campsite all to myself, there was nothing here apart from the vast quiet lake and the continuous wind – no wildlife, no land features… just the vast empty lake.
The Lake Eyre basin is massive in its extent and stretches over most of central Australia and up into the Northern Territory from Wndorah in the West to Alice Springs in the East, any water falling in this basin will end up here eventually but the lake is dry almost all year round apart from a brief spell each year when it comes alive and water fills the lake. Suddenly you have shrimp and moths amongst the flowering desert plants and all sorts of wildlife then it quickly evaporates away leaving more salt and the eerie quiet. When the lake is empty the surface is 12m below sea-level.
You certainly shouldn’t drive on the lake as the salt is only about 3 inches think and can conceal deep mud underneath, your vehicle can become hopelessly bogged up to its belly with little hope of recovery. Also be careful walking out onto the lake as you can lose your bearings pretty quickly in this landscape and end up wondering the lake forever…
After a windy, quiet night at lake Eyre I headed back down the bumpy track to meet the Oodnadatta track again.
Eventually I came to Marree the classic outback town. They have a roadhouse with fuel, a pub and a Yacht Club! Excellent humour I thought as I saw the hut flying a ‘’Lake Eyre Yacht Club’’ banner
Amazingly enough this wee town was originally settled my Muslim Cameleers from the Middle East and even has an old mosque. Camels in the Eighteen Hundreds were used extensively for transport to the remote towns and stations in Central Australia and that’s why there are so many in the wild now, in fact they are a problem now because of their numbers drinking all the spring and bore water in the desert. They also have one of the old Diesel locomotives from the Ghan railway sitting rusting in the desert here.
I camped that night in Farina ruins about 100km south of Marree. A $5 camping fee in the self-pay box gives you a lovely spot with toilets and a gaggle of other travellers to keep you company - mostly in their caravans and 4WD camping set ups.
I awoke to drizzling rain again, packed up camp and headed out. I re-joined the track and followed a very slow moving (50 – 60kmh) Road Train down to Lyndhurst. I was wondering why the road train was travelling so slowly, normally they batter down these tracks at 100 – 110kmh. It didn’t take me long to work out it was because of the rain. I arrived at Lyndhurst which has one roadhouse with fuel. Another famous outback track starts here heading west, the Strzelecki Track which was originally created by the cattle thief, Harry Redford, when he drove 1000 head of stolen cattle from Queensland along the Strzelecki Creek to Blanchewater Station, giving him the nickname, Captain Starlight. Although he was caught eventually, he was not charged due to the audacious feat of blazing a new cattle stock route, making him a national hero of the day.
Up the Strzelecki track the next fuel stop or indeed anything else worth noting is 475km but I was only planning to travel half way to Mt Hopeless then I would turn south on a track which would take me to the start of the far north Flinders ranges and eventually into Arkaroola a small town with fuel in the heart of the North Flinders.
I filled up with fuel at Lyndhurst and the rain started to get heavier. In the roadhouse I enquired about the forecast and road conditions, the nice lady serving me said they may get 15 – 25cm over the next 24 hours then further showers for a few days following. She also said that some travellers who had just come down the Strzelecki track said it was already pretty horrendous and she thought it likely they will close the road shortly.
Hmm what do I do… stay here and wait out the rain, it could be days before I move again… or do I chance it. I decided to carry on . As I turned out of town onto the Strzelecki track I passed convoys of parked Road Trains beside the road, obviously they were holding still until they knew more about what the rain was going to do to the track.
The rain was quite heavy now, these outback roads turn into a quagmire at the slightest rain, all the sand, bull dust and gravel mixes with the water to produce a lovely 3inch deep slippery mud pool. It looks a lot worse than it appears on the surface and is very slippy. I made the mistake of parking on the verge just out of town to check over the vehicle and nearly got bogged right there… stay well away from the verges in the wet! The deep mud also puts a lot of load on the engine and the back-end fishtails continuously slipping from side to side, it was horrendous!
I carried on cautiously and passed several road trains coming the other way trying to make it to Lyndhurst before they got completely stopped. They were inching a long and I spoke to one trucker out of the window as we both came to a slow stop beside each other. We exchanged road conditions, he had about another 40km to go before Lyndhurst, he would carry on but he didn’t like his chances of reaching Lyndhurst. These truckers will go as far as they can then stop and batten down the hatches and wait it out, it could be days before he moved or saw anyone again.
I managed to carry on carefully for another couple of hours, the rain was still heavy and I passed more struggling road trains, a slight hill can stop these beasts as the mud is so slippy and watching them crab their way down hills is something to behold… from a safe distance of course… give them plenty of berth as they can slide anywhere. I have some excellent video I took of a struggling road train I passed (which will post on YouTube when I can). I stopped beside him and there was 3 of them in the cab looking like they were having fun, the truck with all 42 wheels was inching its way up this incline bit by bit with the drive wheels slipping and I asked them if there is anything I could do to help! Well I had to ask… he said they would make it over this incline eventually.
The rain still came down heavy and I realised the track would now be closed behind me, and probably in front too, so I decided to stop at the top of a rise in a fenced off rest area with a set of shaded picnic tables and that’s all!. I pitched camp and decided to wait out the rain, the road was horrendous and I didn’t want to get bogged, at least this way I can choose where to camp
The rain was horizontal so I parked the motor side on and pulled out the awning to give me some shelter to cook. I was quite exposed up on this rise but better than being low or in some creek bed! The landscape around was barren and it reminded me of the high moors in the UK but with dry yellow grass instead of moss, No trees or shrubs and the occasionally rocky outcrop, the last straggling remains of the flinders ranges as they degenerate into bare, rocky hills.
I’ve spotted a few dingos around and they look big and healthy, looking more akin to their direct Wolf ancestors! I will keep the spade handy just in case
After a night of lashing rain and winds it cleared somewhat, still heavily overcast but the rain had gone. The road was completely quiet and closed I’d suspected. Later that morning I set off cautiously and the going wasn’t too bad, slow but Landcruiser managed it OK. Eventually I got to Mount Hopeless and the comic value in the name wasn’t lost on me. I then turned south to head towards the far North Flinders.
As the Flinders approach out of the surrounding desert it’s an impressive sight to behold. These magnificent torn and twisted rocks rear up out of the desert with suddenness and audacity that’s breathtaking against the vast desert backdrop surrounding them.