Outback Tracks 2007

Birdsville Track through Mungerannie Gap

Birdsville Track through Mungerannie Gap

I had not planned a trip away in 2007 but as winter set in and the days became colder, my asthma took a turn for the worse and I decided that I should go and look for some warmer weather to the north. I had however, set the wheels in motion to organise a gathering of Internet 4×4 Friends at Warraweena Conservation Park in the Flinders Ranges, with the penultimate date as 7July 2007 (07/07/07) and so there was no escape until then. I had not been to Darwin since the late 90’s and decided that I should go there for one last trip and invited my mate, George, from Darwin, to fly south and then accompany me back to Darwin, promising to take the long way around along bush tracks we may not have been on before. We did just that.
Birdsville Track
We managed to get away from Warraweena by midday on 11 July and turned right on to the Birdsville Track at Marree in the late afternoon arriving at Claytons Bore a short while before sunset, to set up camp. This delightful place has modern conveniences, a hot bush shower and a hot spa, fed by very hot artesian waters from the great Central Australian aquifer. The owners of Clayton Station have built this Rest Camp, for the travelling public and they maintain it asking only that travellers look after the facility and give a donation towards its upkeep. We soaked away the southern cold out of our system in the hot waters of the spa.

Clayton Wetlands

Clayton Wetlands

The first 50km of the Birdsville Track is being reconstructed to an all weather road by the Marree Shire Council and was in good condition. ‘Track’ is rather a loose meaning these days, carried over from a bygone era. The ‘Track’ is more like a big, wide, graded road and could be classed as an Outback Highway. We visited Clayton Wetlands in the morning, drove through the Tirari Desert and stopped at Mulka Ruins before topping up with diesel at Mungerannie Pub for our trek across the Simpson Desert to Alice Springs. We also had lunch there and a pet duck hassled us for tidbits of our food. Later in the day, driving through Sturt Stony Desert along the BVT, we helped some other travellers change their shredded tyre for a new one by supplying my trolley jack for the job at hand.

Artesian water on Birdsville Track

Artesian water on Birdsville Track

 

Warburton Crossing

Warburton Crossing

 

 

Mulka Ruins

Mulka Ruins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This crossing lies 8km off the Birdsville Track and 113km north from Mungerannie. It is a flood-out for Goyder Lagoon into the Eyre Basin and Lake Eyre and waters moving south along the Diamantina River. It had been closed for a while early in the winter season due to flooding but had reopened a few weeks prior to our arrival. There was only a small puddle of water in the creek and we pushed on to the outskirts of the desert. The Warburton Track winds its way over the pastoral lease of Clifton Hills Station through some very flat and uninteresting country covered by spindly scrub. When small dunes start to appear the track also follows the fringe of numerous clay capped dry lakes. The Playa Lakes hold small amounts of water after rains and can be treacherous to drive on. Trees which have died a long time ago, are scattered along these lake fringes. We made camp to the leeward side of a dune with plenty of firewood around. A stiff breeze however, persisted until late in the evening.

Gibber Mirage Tirari Desert

Gibber mirage Tirari Desert

 

Where the Warburton Track and Rig Road meet, the K1 Line extends north-northwest to join up with the QAA line near Poeppel Corner. To the west along the Rig Road the traveller is met with a steep sand dune with an early season sand crest. This dune is the first challenge of the Rig Road and is more difficult to cross coming from the west. The K1 Line Track pretty much keeps to a straight line in a dune corridor. It is washed out in places but presented no problems other than being bumpy and corrugated in places and it was not necessary to use 4×4 mode until we had reached the turnoff point to Poeppel Corner. A sleepy Dingo in prime condition posed for photos along the way while Wedge-tail Eagles soared above looking for a feed.

 

Dingo

Dingo

 

Park Entrance

Park Entrance

 

 

Driving the Simpson

Driving the Simpson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poeppel Corner from across the lake

Poeppel Corner from across the lake

There were a number of visitors to the corner on the day we were there. Having been there before on a number of occasions we walked around having a look at the visitor impact on the place had some lunch and then went for a drive to the north for about 20km up as far as an old abandoned airstrip, returning via the western boundary of Lake Poeppel.

I think that 2007 is the last time that I will drive this track. It is now badly chopped up especially on the western slope of the dunes. The eastern slope is steep in places with very soft sand and I dropped the tyre pressures from 20psi on the Nissan and 15psi on the trailer to 12psi and 8psi eventually. These days I run MRF Super Traction 12ply rating, tubed tyres on split rims, and their aggressive tread pattern makes soft sand driving a little bit more difficult as they tend to dig in to the sand. This is especially noticeable with a trailer in tow. They are, however, of benefit when bogged in sand as they do claw their way out of trouble. One dune stopped us on the French Line and after reversing down the dune three times an alternative route had to be found. I am still amazed at travellers who try to drive these sandy tracks with the highest air pressure possible in the vehicles tyres after asking various people what pressures they were running. This phenomenon, in my view, is the main contributor to track damage resulting in a scalloped out track on the western slopes of the dunes. We met with a group of people driving a 1969 Toyota Corolla car and a small Datsun Ute across the French Line. They were being snatched, by accompanying four-wheel drives, when they could not make it over the dunes. One driver was a young girl on her L Plates. A good place to learn how to drive! I turned off the French Line to drive up to Lake Mirranponga Pongunna to recall a near bog on this lake in 1987 when we did a North-South crossing of the desert in two Suzuki’s. I had found the surface of the lake hard then, and was only cutting across small section of the salt lake when we broke the salt crust and sank into the black ooze below, very quickly, I might add! Some hurried range and gear changes saw us get out of trouble while red lining the tacho to achieve this. No one wants to get bogged on a salt lake.

This day we camped well off the track in a clearing and the Gidgee wood burnt well to cook our tucker and keep us warm before turning in for the night. George had the Oztent Ranger RV tent all to himself for the trip, while I slept soundly inside the Nissan where I had constructed a multi foldup bed large enough to carry and fit my frame on to. I rang home on my Sat phone to give a travel report and to catch up on local happenings. The next morning I found that some oil had escaped from the steering damper. It was still working well but the time was approaching to replace it.

Desert in bloom

Desert in bloom

I had been to Erabena Oil Well to the north on a previous occasion but I had not driven it before heading south. So now was the time to include this track to my list. It was uneventful. We met up with some other travellers from Geelong whom we had met the day before. They were doing a similar run, driving all the tracks they had not been on before.
I had pumped the tyres up again to drive the Erabena Track but soon had to drop the pressures to the previous days levels. Again one massive dune stopped us and I had to go and look for an alternative route. The WAA Line got better as we drove further west. There were patches of light green growth in the dune corridors and desert daisies showing a field of yellow. At Lynnie Junction the Geelong Group drove on to the WAA in front of us and we let them go on ahead dropping back slightly so to avoid the dust.

WAA Line

WAA Line

A short while later we crested a dune and saw a brand new Nissan, spotlessly clean and not carrying a dune flag, on a claypan, waiting for us to pass. We spoke with the solo male driver who was immaculately dressed in denim clothes. He stated that he had no UHF or HF radio or Sat phone, for that matter, and was out for a desert drive. I asked if he had spoken with the mob ahead of us. He said he had seen no one all day. I asked again and he stated emphatically that he had seen no one. We left it at that, said goodbye, and drove on. The following day I spoke with the Geelong Mob at Purnie Bore and they said that they had not seen this fella at all. Strange. very strange, indeed!

Driving the desert

Driving the desert

Purnie Boire artesian well

Purnie Bore artesian well

Dalhousie Thermal Spring

Dalhousie Thermal Spring

e
I was amazed at the growth of the reeds at Purnie Bore. It must be some sort of infestation, as I cannot recall it ever being so before. The tracks were ordinary getting to Dalhousie and Mt dare with stretches of bad bulldust leading up to Dalhousie Springs. Along the way we saw a couple of Para-gliders attempting a desert crossing with a host of support vehicles, some towing garden trailers. I wonder if they all made it across without getting into strife.

We camped a night near McDills Yard on the South Australia Northern Territory Border. Through cattle country the tracks were pretty churned up with bulldust patches. Parts of the track were quite overgrown through some of the light Mulga scrub. The track eventually firmed up. Molly Clarke’s Old Andado Station is now a Heritage Site. It is open to the public with no visible caretaker in sight. It is amazing that nothing has been pilfered so far.

Andado Station Track

Andado Station Track

 

Old Andado

Old Andado

Rare Acacia Peuce Trees

Rare Acacia Peuce Trees

At Mac Clarke Reserve we had a look around and then needed to find our way out of it to take the Explorer Territory Track to the start of the Madigan Line. The access track actually skirts right around the Reserve

Arriving at East Bore gate, we were greeted by a sign ‘Explorer Territory’. I knew that the owners of Andado Station didn’t mind travellers accessing the Madigan Line from their property as the late Ian Stabler of Mt Dare, had been doing a lot of work in that area, mapping tracks and working with the station owners. For one minute I thought that that it must be a through road and that there was actually access to the Colson Track from that point via The Twins. Not so, we were to find out. We drove for another 20km and then we left the cattle country behind. It was a sandy track and I had to stay in 4wd mode as the truck lagged a bit. Just before The Twins we spotted an old Case Tractor, which had been left there some years before and wondered about its history.

Old Tractor

Old Tractor

We climbed The Twins and took photos of the plaques placed there, commemorating Dr. Cecil Madigan’s adventure. Then we pushed on further north to see if we could pick up tracks of an acquaintance that had been in the area. We soon found the Hummer’s wide track but they seemed to be all over the place. The drivers had wanted to access the Allitra Tableland going north from The Twins. I found the sand very soft and cresting a steep dune remarked that we would have fun if we were to turn back at all. A short while later I bogged the Nissan to its diffs with the trailer in a jack-knifed position. Ten pounds pressure in the tyres saw me crawl my way out of the predicament like a traxcavator. I could see that in this very soft sand country we were not going to have enough fuel to reach our objective, which was Geosurveys Hill via Camp 8 on the Madigan, and decided to turn back. Now we had a couple of dunes to cross before we could get back to The Twins. I could only get up three quarters of the very steep dune and had to drive almost 5km before I could find a place to cross over. The same went for the two more dunes. We made camp on an open pan below The Twins. A friendly dingo came to watch us no more than 5 metres from the campfire and trotted away into the darkness before we could take a photo. The following morning the dingo brought his family along and they hung about for an hour before deciding we weren’t going to give them anything. The dingos are getting too familiar hence their Latin name, canis familiaris, and not many people go out into that region for them to become tame. Just cheeky, I think!

The Old Andado Track to Alice Springs is decidedly the worst road I have been on for a while. The countryside is quite scenic through the Rodinga Ranges and Train Hills but the road hasn’t been graded for a while and with increased tourist traffic there were some humungous bulldust holes. I tried to avoid most of them but caught the side of one and the trailer dragged the Nissan in to a hole about 1.2 metres deep. We were not going very fast but suddenly all light was obliterated and we were in total darkness for a few seconds and then daylight appeared slowly again as the dust ran like rain from the windscreen. The road beyond Santa Theresa Community wasn’t in good repair either with rounded shoulders and endless corrugations.
Alice Springs
We spent a leisurely 5 days in Alice, catching up with friends, doing some repairs to the Nissan and changing the oil, oil filters, fuel filter and air filter, and stocking up for the next leg of the journey. While we were there, our host obtained permission from the owner of The Gardens Station to visit Jennings Gorge, which lies on the eastern perimeter of Mordor Pound. On the Sunday we tried to drive up Bitter Springs Creek to get to the gorge but I opted for another track as the creek escapade was getting too rough and I had already put a small dent under the left hand front mudguard. Further on we turned off the Arltunga Road and followed another track, which led to a gate. Our journey took us through some hills to a bore and then a later the track into Jennings Gorge. We met the station owner’s daughter and her friend, both riding quad bikes, on that track, and had a chat. The track was quite rough and steep, with broken rock everywhere and took us across a saddle into the Mordor Pound below, from where we accessed Jennings Gorge. We walked to the gorge, after a spot of lunch, when we had driven as far as we could go. Jennings Gorges are a series of narrow gorges and quite spectacular. One can clamber to the bottom of the gorges by using a scree of fallen rock but it is definitely only for the young and fit people to attempt. On our journey out we followed the track along and around the Georgina Range until we got to a station track heading south. Looked out for some old mining activities along some disused tracks. Along the way there was a natural spring as a stock watering point. The spring had been fenced off and it would seem that it is perennial. The whole area is very scenic. After exiting Mordor Pound we found some recently graded station tracks until we came to an illegally locked gate. So it was down to the creek where we put the fence down and up again and made our way back to the Ross River Road where I pumped the tyres back up and drove to Alice Springs.
East MacDonnell Ranges and Cattlewater Pass
We did the touristy bit on the way out to Arltunga and beyond as George had not been in this are before and visited Corroboree Rock, Trephina Gorge, The Big Gum and Arltunga Reserve.

Rock Art in Trephina Gorge

Rock Art in Trephina Gorge

Cattlewater Pass is an Explorer Territory track as well and connects to the Plenty Highway from the Arltunga Road. It was rough in places with frequent washouts and it hasn’t been maintained for some time. Along the way we went fossicking in the hills for garnets and found a few low quality stones.

Arltunga Ruins

Arltunga Ruins

Plenty Highway and Sandover Highway
The Plenty Hwy was in good repair and soon we were on strip bitumen heading towards the Stuart Hwy. I topped up with some fuel at Gemtree at an exorbitant price and we also bought some cold drinks and a few nice gemstones. Once we were on the Sandover Highway the road surface deteriorated markedly and it was difficult to maintain a speed over 80kmh. The rounded shoulders of the road had rivulets washed out from previous rains and it seemed as if the road had not been graded for years. There were also hundreds of small dips in the road which one had to slow down for. It was a long corrugated 243km to Ammaroo, where we turned off on to the Murray Downs Station track.

Sandover Highway

Sandover Highway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hatches Creek Wolfram Mine

Hatches Creek Wolfram Mine

 

Davenport Ranges

Davenport Ranges

Davenport Ranges and Frew River Track
The grader had just been over some of the tracks and we chatted to the driver over the radio when we met up with him on the Murray Downs Road. The Davenport Ranges tracks are now in a much better condition than when we last visited here in 1996. Had a good look again around the Hatches Creek Wolfram Mine and then pushed on to Old Police Station Waterhole.

Along the way we met up with another traveller who advised that Parks and Wildlife were conducting cool burns and that the Frew River Track was closed. This track, which is not suitable to tow trailers over as stated on the sign at the gate, takes around 2 hours to drive the 17km of its length. We didn’t see a Road Closed sign on the gate so proceeded to drive the track. About halfway along the track we met the Rangers who were burning the Spinifex in the centre of the track to create a firebreak. The fella asked if we had seen the sign and after saying No, asked where the sign was. On the Stuart Hwy, he said. Ah but we didn’t come in that way! OK No worries and we were let through to drive over the small flames.

Frew River Track

Frew River Track

Frew River

Frew River

Old Police Station Waterhole is a lovely spot but this time around there were a number of travellers and a whole contingent of Parks and Wildlife people including a helicopter buzzing back and forth to disturb the peace. We had a good camp there all the same.

Old Police Station Waterhole

Old Police Station Waterhole

The following day we pushed on to Epenarra Station and the Barkly Highway only to find that the station has closed the connecting track to the highway. When I asked as to the reason the station manageress got hot under the collar and started an unnecessary tirade about this and that and then apologised when I calmly agreed with her. So we took the long way around via Tennant Creek to the Barkly Hwy.
Rockhampton Downs/ Brunette Downs Track
This road was marked on our Hema Road Atlas and we drove the first part along a well-maintained road to Rockhampton Downs but there the road ended. I drove into the station and a very nice young fella drew a mud map for me on the rest of the track to Brunette Downs. Without the mud map we could easily have lost ourselves out there. The Barkly Tableland is in places, a bigger treeless plain than the Nullarbor. Covered in Mitchell Grass, which is good feed for cattle, the early explorers from Queensland settled here to build up their herds. At one place we could see thousands of Brahman cattle on the plains. We met the Tableland Highway just on dusk and soon found a roadside camp with some wood about. There was some early traffic but nothing passed through the night and all we could hear was cattle lowing in the distance.

Rockhampton Downs Plains

Rockhampton Downs Plains

George was bemused at my antics on the Tablelands Highway beef road. Being a single lane bitumen road I tend to want to get out of the way of oncoming traffic so as to save getting my windscreen cracked by rocks thrown up by either a Road Train, or a careless traveller. So I get right out of their way to the side of the road and give them the bitumen. It works most of the time except that some people, especially those towing caravans, are so conditioned, that they go off the bitumen anyway. We refuelled at the Heartbreak Hotel Cape Crawford, after nearly running the tank dry and set off again to drive the Savannah Way to Roper Bar
Savannah Way
This road is in reasonable condition with a few bulldust patches and some corrugations. There are quite a few wet creek crossings. I was amazed to see so many people towing conventional caravans along these outback roads. We made it to Lorella Springs Campground by early afternoon.
Lorella Springs
Lorella Springs Station is 1 million acres in size and it is a working cattle property. The place has an interesting history, which can be accessed via the Internet. The station has branched out into tourism as well and has a well-maintained campground with modern conveniences. A thermal pool at the campground, bar facilities, and Satellite TV all add to the presentation of the site. There are a number of drives around the station to points of interest, and after a late breakfast, we drove out to Sliding Rock, Muster Cave, Bill’s Camp and Eagles Nest. Saw some good country and also some orchids growing high up in a tree. There were small Freshwater Crocodiles in Rosie River. Lorella Springs also caters for the fishing enthusiasts and there is an 80km track to a special Fishing Camp near the mouth of Rosie River on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The station offers a look into the wild serenity of the tropical woodland savannah country and a chance to discover new knowledge of an otherwise untamed landscape.

Thermal Pool at Lorella Springs

Thermal Pool at Lorella Springs

Rosie River

Rosie River

Natural waterslide Lorella Srings

Natural waterslide Lorella Springs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Lost City
I had heard of the ‘Lost City’ way back in the 1980’s but never got the chance to visit. Now I had the chance to see some of it as the NT Government has set about to create the new Limmen National Park. It is named after the Limmen, a Dutch vessel under command of Abel Janzoon Tasman, who in 1643, looked at the coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

 

Limmen River crossing

Limmen River crossing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this stage visitor facilities are few. There are two lost cities within the park. The Southern Lost City, is the more accessible of the two, is 35km south of the Nathan River Ranger Station. It’s a three-kilometre track in from the main road with a two-kilometre easy walking trail among the rock formations. We opted for walking only part of the way, as the sun would have been at the wrong angle for the rest of the viewing.

 

 

 

 

One can wander amongst almost identical rock towers on a one-hour walk. It took 1.4 billion years in the making and these rocks are some of the oldest in the world. They consist of 95 per cent silica and are held together by an outer crust made mainly of iron, giving them a unique reddish colour. Access to the Western Lost City formations is by 4WD vehicle only. You will need a key from the Ranger Station to unlock the gate at the start of the 28km track. It begins just north-west of the Nathan River Ranger Station and ends at a 300-metre walk and short climb to views over the O’Keefe Valley. Call and organise the key prior to your visit, as the Ranger Station is not always attended. Travelling on to the north you cross the Cox, the Towns and Limmen Bight Rivers flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria to the east and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy fishing. Boat ramps and basic campgrounds are provided at the Towns River. You may camp at Butterfly Springs, a beautiful swimming hole surrounded by paperbacks, fern-leaved grevillea ablaze and Kurrajong flowers during the dry season that attract hundreds of birds to the oasis. It’s also home to thousands of common crow butterflies that cover the sandstone wall to the right of the pool and arise as one when you approach. Butterfly Springs is the only place in the park considered safe for swimming, although not suitable towards the end of the dry season as the pool could become stagnant.

Butterfly Springs

Butterfly Springs

At Butterfly Springs I bumped into another bloke whom I chat with via the Internet occasionally. Another good camping area is the Lomarieum lagoon beside old St Vidgeon ruins.

Lomarieum Lagoon

Lomarieum Lagoon

It is a short distance from the Roper River and the large water lily covered lagoon is a haven for bird life. It is an ideal place to camp if you have time on your side. There are no facilities though and do not attempt to swim in the lagoon. Further along the Roper River we came a across what looked like a tent city with vans, RV’s and boats all huddled around a popular boat ramp. I sped past not wanting to be anywhere near such a throng of people. We camped at an idyllic spot under the trees at Rocky Bar on the Old Hodgson River crossing about 5km upstream from Queensland Crossing on the river.

Rocky Bar Camp

Rocky Bar Camp

 

Rocky Bar Petroglyph

Rocky Bar Petroglyph

I could hardly recognise Queensland Crossing with the new bridge being built in the time that I had been absent from these parts. At Rocky Bar there are many ancient petroglyphs pecked into the rocks. A bumpy bush track leads top this campsite.

Rocky Bar Crossing

Rocky Bar Crossing

It is a short distance to Roper Bar Crossing on the Roper River and then from there to the west another 35km of gravel road before reaching the strip bitumen Roper Highway and as further 140km to the Stuart Highway.

Roper Bar Crossing

Roper Bar Crossing

 

Elsey Crossing on Roper Highway

Elsey Crossing on Roper Highway

Once on the bitumen we passed by Mataranka and Katherine, visited some old friends at Pine Creek, took the old mining road to Grove Hill Pub where we had a drink with the owner, and eventually arrived in Darwin in the late afternoon. I was amazed at all the traffic between Katherine and Darwin and stunned that there were now traffic lights 35km out of Darwin. The price of progress, I guess.

We had driven 5000km and bush camped every night for close on three weeks.

THE LONG ROAD SOUTH

My friend, Uncle Milton, rang me when I was in Alice Springs and asked if I would like a passenger for the drive back south. He was flying up to Darwin to visit a friend. And so this happened.

Arnhem Highway/ Kakadu Highway/Stuart Highway
After a very restless night at the house of my friends, which is situated near the Darwin Airport, what with about 20 jets taking off during the night, I got on the road after 8am. Refuelled at Woollies to get the best discount and was full with 330 litres of diesel and then made for Virginia where Uncle Milton was staying. He was ready when I got there and we set off after saying goodbye to his friends. Then on the spur of the moment I decided to go and have a look at our home that we built at Bees Creek many years ago. Sadly to say it is now in a very neglected and run down state with dead cars lying everywhere. Spoke with a young fella there who came out of the house.

We then took to the Arnhem Highway seeing sights we had seen before and looking at the development of the outlying areas over the years. The Kakadu Entrance Toll Booth is gone and has been replaced by toilets and interpretive signs on the values of Kakadu.

Kakadu National Park Entrance

Kakadu National Park Entrance

Kakadu National Park Entrance on Arnhem Highway

Long Road Train at South Alligator Pub

Long Road Train at South Alligator Pub

Mitchell Grass plains

Mitchell Grass plains

We saw a large crocodile lying in the mud as we crossed the South Alligator River. At Jabiru Township we spent an hour and a half with Steve Toms, a mate, who runs the successful Top End Explorer Tours. Later we stopped at Mary River Roadhouse for refreshments and called in to see a friend at Pine Creek and enjoyed a cuppa there. I put some more fuel in at Pine Creek. Once back on the Stuart Highway we started looking for a campsite but times have changed and everything is fenced off these days. Eventually I spotted an old track leading off to the left near Edith River turn off and we bounced down this washed out track to camp below the new railway bridge. The river bubbled away over the stones as we set up camp on the sand. Some dingoes howled later on after we had eaten our feed of chicken fillets and vegies. The frozen mangoes we were given by my friend in Pine Creek were delicious. A train passed by overhead at 4.34am and woke us up with a start. We broke camp at 8.15am and refuelled in Katherine. Milton did some shopping and said that Woollies there had an unhealthy odour. We tootled on down the Stuart Highway and had an early lunch at Mataranka before pushing on to Elliot where we refuelled again.

Lunch under the Banyan Tree at Mataranka

Lunch under the Banyan Tree at Mataranka

Barkly Stock Route/Tablelands Highway/Ranken Stock Route

I had always been intrigued by the road sign which stated NO FUEL FOR 500KM. Having driven past this sign on many occasions it was time to explore the Barkly Stock Route. Twenty kilometres south of Elliot we turned east and we were surprised to see a 110kmh speed limit sign on this gravel road. I always seem to have good luck, as we started on the road only a few days after it had been graded

Barkly Stockroute

Barkly Stockroute

Barkly mirage

Barkly mirage

A perfect damper

A perfect damper

We managed to find a decent campsite amongst a few scattered trees on the open plain, away from cattle, and about 60km east along the route. The day has been nice and not too warm. I cooked a perfect damper with the hot coals at my bidding.

The next morning we broke camp around 8.30am. Vast open plains, covered in native Mitchell Grass, which is good feed for cattle, lay before us. It is said that between 30% and 50% of the Northern Territory cattle are raised on the Barkly Tablelands. We travelled through Helen Springs, Ucharonidge, Mungabroom, Eva Down and Anthony Lagoon Stations.

Mitchell Grass plains

Mitchell Grass plains

Then it was a short drive south along the Tableland Hwy to the Ranken Stock Route via Connells Lagoon Conservation Park. This area is a vast treeless plain, larger than the Nullarbor and growing mobs of Brahman Cattle. We stopped for lunch on the Tablelands Hwy at a Rest Stop and chatted with some travellers. Then later when we refuelled along the Ranken Stock Route in the shade of a lonely Coolabah Tree, we spoke with an English couple that drive a different country each year for their holidays. We passed through Brunette Downs and Alexandria Downs stations and found a great campsite next to a billabong on Lorne Creek just 20km north of the Barkly Highway. I rigged the shower up and we had a well-earned wash. The truck had used a little more fuel this day as we have been driving into the wind.

Road Train approaching

Road Train approaching

 

Better get out of his way

Better get out if his way

 

 

Dust

Dust

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is running well and the trailer seems to be more manageable with the spring over set-up again. I rang home on the Sat-phone to give our position. There were some insects about but they concentrated on our camp light and left us alone. No traffic passed through the night.

Lorne Creek

Lorne Creek

 

Barkly Highway/Austral Downs Road/Sandover Highway/ Urandangi Road to Tobermory
We made an early start the next morning. Had smoko at Avon Downs Rest Stop where free coffee was on offer. Then we travelled the road past Austral Downs to the Sandover Highway and turned left to Alpurrurulum Community and then Lake Nash Station where we called in for some route information. They weren’t overly friendly when I asked to use the short-cut route to Headingly Station. We had lunch in the shade on the outskirts of Lake Nash and I refuelled again using my trusty home made Tanami pump. Then after lunch we went to the end of the track at Lake Nash to take some photos but it was a track where most people fear to tread and I had to do a seven-point turn with the trailer to get out again.

Austral Downs horses

Austral Downs horses

Lake Nash

Lake Nash

The road to the next connector road was ordinary with a few wrecked cars along the way. We got there eventually and then made for Urandangi Community. The place still looks the same and pretty derelict at that. We talked to a couple of old fellas along the road who were heading in the same direction as us. We looked for a camp spot on the Woodroffe River but could not find one suitable. The Barkly Tablelands were still with us and only petered out when we got near Tobermory Station. Along the way we had a good look at a large sinkhole on the side of the road.

Sinkhole

Sinkhole

 

 

After Tobermory Station we made camp a short distance across the Queensland Border in a road works area. I rang home and also rang our friends in Darwin to give them an update on our position. This day we saw Wedge-tail Eagles, Red Kangaroos, a Perentie Goanna and a snake and of course, lots of cattle and station horses. The Oernetie got cranky with us for disturbing his peace and stalked off,

Cranky Perentie

Cranky Perentie

Later in the evening I cooked some pancakes. It took a while to get it right but we ate our fill and fell into bed soon afterwards. In bed by 9pm and no traffic passed during the night. The auxiliary battery has a low voltage reading. It may be the solenoid playing up. At sunrise the following morning I disconnected the solenoid and then connected the batteries in parallel. We broke camp at 8.15am and made for Boulia

.
Donohue Highway/Eyre Development Road
The Donohue Hwy was quite good in places and only a small section was rough. There weren’t any corrugations. We refuelled at Boulia and drove around the town looking at things including a tree full of Corellas.

Corella Tree

Corella Tree

We had lunch a short way out of town in the shade. The Australian Agricultural Company owns, excluding Lake Nash Station, from Elliott in the Northern Territory, to Boulia in Queensland, every station we had driven through. I did some research on them when I got home and they state that they own 43 properties throughout Australia, covering close on 8,000,000 hectares and they run 500,000 head of cattle. The long road to Birdsville then lay before us. There were some stretches of bitumen and some stretches of dirt. Overall the road was good until about 50km out of Birdsville. Close to Birdsville some wag had left a cast iron stove at a road junction and someone else had put a TV and a remote on top of it. I refuelled at Birdsville and rued my decision not to refuel at Boulia where the fuel price had been 11 cent a litre cheaper! I caught up with friends and a distant cousin in Birdsville and our friend, Ruth Doyle, very kindly showed us a secret campsite, where few people have camped before. Today the cordial bottle had leaked and I had to clean the fridge out. It made a bit of a sticky mess!!! I also tightened up the U-bolt nuts on the trailer. Today we saw funny signs, Brolgas, Wedge-tail Eagles, a Goanna, Galahs and Corellas (in their hundreds). The auxiliary battery has recharged again and is working well.

On a previous visit to Birdsville we stayed a week and Judith was invited to participate in a Mosaic Project depicting the essence of Birdsville. Now the Mosaic was complete and erected at the front of the new Clinic

Birdsville Mosaic

Birdsville Mosaic

Birdsville Track again
We were out of camp by 8am and then on to Ruth and Ian for a cuppa and a chat. Ruth also very kindly filled our flask and Milton and I inspected Ian’s “Garden Shed”. We then said our goodbyes and got out of town by 9.30am. The Birdsville Track is a bit of a misnomer these days at it is a wide, graded road, and most of the time in good condition. There were a couple of roughish patches, where the road crossed stony country but otherwise I could maintain a good average speed of around 90kmh.

Birdsville Track

Birdsville Track

It was a 460km drive to Claytons Bore and we got there just on 4.30pm. We had lunch along the way and collected firewood. We had a lovely tub in the spa at Claytons and I rang Ruth to give her an update on our position and then Gina at Warraweena to say that we would be there the next day. It was slightly overcast and for a short time we thought it was going to rain when about twenty raindrops fell from the sky. We had a lazy start to the following day with breakfast and I went for another dip in the hot spa that bubbles forth artesian waters.

Claytons Bore Spa

Claytons Bore Spa

We chatted to other campers about this and that and then set off to Marree after signing the visitor’s book and donating some funds for the upkeep of this great facility. A fierce wind sprang up and soon we were driving into a dust storm. Road workers were completing the all weather sealing of the last 50km of the Birdsville Track to Marree. We stopped and had a quick look at the Lake Harry plaque, which depicts a courageous but failed attempt to grow dates in this barren area. At Marree we drove to Hergott Springs (the original name of Marree), which lies 4km out of the town.

Hergott Springs

Hergott Springs

Then we headed southeast into an endless dust storm. Dropped in to Farina to have a look around in some of the old buildings, as Milton had not been there before. Then we pushed on to Leigh Creek and did some shopping. On the way to Warraweena we stopped and had a cuppa with Keith Nicholls at Beltana, the former owner of Warraweena Station, now in his 87th year. We were afforded the Old Warraweena Homestead as accommodation for the night. We had tea with Stony and Gina and we all had a sip of my specially imported African “Barbed Wire” Moonshine.
The Home Run
I refuelled in the morning and found one trailer tyre looking airless so I changed it. Then Milton and I did a few small jobs around the yard before getting away by midday. I put more fuel in at Hawker and we arrived home at around 4.30pm.
********************
It had been an interesting and rewarding trip to the Tropics and back again. I had seen some new country, some old country, and had caught up with friends. I covered around 10,000km of driving distance and the Nissan ran faultlessly.

Posted in 4x4 Travel Stories.