I was inbetween knee operations but felt that the time was ripe for an extended tour of Western Australia and in particular the desert areas. So Judith and I teamed up with our friends, George and Maureen from Darwin and we met up in Alice Springs to commence our travels. We ‘boarded’ our dog Jeddah with friends in Alice Springs.
After waiting for three days to obtain a permit from the Ngaanyatjarra Council to traverse the Gary Junction Road I gave up and we pushed off without the permit. Talk about bureaucratic incompetence! Applying for permits is a total waste of time and energy sometimes as there is no one out there asking to see your permit. That aside, we got out of Alice Springs late in the afternoon and on the spur of the moment decided to camp at Red Cliffs on Ellery Creek.
There had been no rain for quite a while in Central Australia and my recollection of Red Cliffs with its beautiful pool was shattered when we found it bone dry. We turned around and on the way back to look for a half decent campsite, I snagged a rock, which altered the straight lines of the Nissan’s right hand side step. At the same time a small sapling whipped off the bulbar and broke the side indicator light. Nice start to the trip, eh?
Darkness was falling with speed and we made camp on some rocky ground higher up out of possible flood waters, should it by some miracle, rain during the night. This was the first sleep in the new Oztent Ranger. The tent proved to be very good over the coming months and we were very happy with it.
Day two saw us drive through the magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges past Glen Helen Gorge, Haasts Bluff and on to Papunya Community and then further on to refuel at Kintore. We ran out of bitumen at Glen Helen and from there onwards the roads were pretty ordinary with long sections of severe corrugations. Both Papunya and Kintore Communities are a sad reflection of the hopelessness the aboriginal people subject themselves to and a far cry from our more ordered civilization. But there is always hope for improvement and better understanding of the plight of the First Australians.
At Sandy Blight Junction we met up with fellow travellers in a 100 series Toyota Landcruiser, towing a camper. We noticed that one of the taillights of the wagon was loose and helped out with some screws and a screwdriver. They led the way in to Kintore and promptly picked up a nail on the main access road, resulting in a flat tyre. We went and refuelled at $1.59 a litre from a fuel bowser, which was enclosed inside a brick building. When we were done we saw the bloke with the Landcruiser still fiddling with the flat tyre. It turned out that they were from the east coast and that the wheel nuts were rusted on. My mate George, and I, helped out with advice and a breaker bar and managed to get the wheel off without damage.
We pushed off on to the NT/WA border and once there decided to have a cuppa. Soon after the LC people rocked up and stopped to say thanks for the help. While we were chatting the bloke leaned on the front indicator light of his LC. It gave way suddenly and the whole light fell on to the ground, ripping the wiring out along the way. In an instant Judith sang “Oh what a feeling”. How embarrassing! The bloke did not know what to say. Neither did I. They took off soon after that, making excuses that they were in a hurry.
We only made another 10 kilometres west from the border when I spied a gravel pit and decided that at 4pm it was time to camp. The last week of April was still quite warm and a there were a few bities around. The flies were extremely annoying. We scratched around and found enough wood for a fire to cook dinner on.
The countryside flattened out a bit on the way past Kiwirrkurra Community. We did not drive the 3km in to the community. We started seeing lots of camels and over the next three weeks I estimate that we would have seen at least 1000 of them.
At one section of the Gary Junction Road we came across this beautiful piece of road construction, formed higher above the plain and passing through a stand of Desert Oaks. Our spirits were lifted thinking that the road from here one was going to be good. Unfortunately it was only 2km in distance before reverting back to a corrugated track. We made our way past an abandoned community, searched and found one of Len Beadell’s originals plaques and made for Jupiter Well for a rest.
In the middle of nowhere the road reverts to a hairpin bend and the unwary could easily come off the rails (road) at this point. There was also a stretch of severe bulldust for about 20km. Then we passed a road construction gang just before Jupiter Well. They were working on a washed out section of the road.
We spent two days doing nothing at Jupiter Well amongst the Desert Oaks. The flies drove us nuts. A friendly Two-lined dragon lizard made itself comfortable in the camp resulting in many photos being taken.
George erected Jimmy’s Thunderbox, which was located very discreetly inside a toilet tent and downwind from us. It was to be the only time we used this device. It is too cumbersome to set up and the old tried and tested method of bush ablutions works the best. No travellers passed while we were at Jupiter Well.
At Gary Junction, after signing the visitor’s book, we turned south along the Gary Highway connector track, which had no recent visible tyre tracks on it. Sections of the track were quite washed out and had to be negotiated with care.
We could not find the track to Veevers Meteorite Crater, marked at Wau Wau Bore on the map, but after a short search found the overgrown track about a kilometre further to the south. The 16km in to the crater was in reasonable condition with one or two major wash-outs. The crater is quite small and although we searched we could not find any tektites. After about an hour there and after signing the visitors book, we backtracked and camped at Wau Wau Bore that night. We were the third party to visit the crater this year, the first being there on 16 January.
The next day we made our way along the Gary Highway to Kunawarritji Community at Well 33 on the CSR, picking up a 60 series LC grille along the way, which from then on served as a shower stand. The welcoming sign at the entrance of Kunawarritji Community is in stark contrast to other communities and you are made to feel welcome here. We filled up our diesel tanks and jerrycans at $2.20 a litre and bought souvenirs and some supplies at the store. I had a chat to Jay Jay, a community elder about the weather and all things pertinent to community life. He introduced me to his son whom he said was a “Yella-fella” seeing as his mother was white. The son seemed to ignore the comment.
Well 33 provided good water and we caught up with our washing, topped up our water containers and took mobs of photos of the finches at the waterhole. The Canning Stock Route south from here was quite overgrown in places and we established that we were again the third lot to pass along this route in 2005. We looked at some of the Native Wells and also for Well 31. The track disappeared in to a thicket. I got out to walk a short distance when the mournful howls of a number of dingoes close by stirred my senses. I made a hasty retreat to the vehicle.
At Muginjerri Cave we found that it had fallen in since the last time we had passed this way in 1994. Between Well 26 and 25 we met our first traveller since Kintore. A man of senior citizen age who told us that he couldn’t stop to chat as he was running out of fuel and was making for Well 26. He was driving a petrol LC. He had not made provisions for the harsh terrain and there was no petrol to be had at Cotton Creek. His mates, he told us, were following a short way behind, and one of them would have to drive to Kunawarritji to get some petrol.
About another couple of kilometres further along we intercepted radio talk of how difficult it was getting over the particular dune. We saw a lady on the crest of the dune next to the track with a two way radio giving advice. I asked what the problem was and she said that her fellow travellers were finding it hard to cross this dune. I said that we would come over and give them a hand to which she replied that if they were having trouble we would too. I convinced her that we would be able to cross over and this we did easily to the amazement of the occupants of the 5 other vehicles . They were all senior citizens, driving new Prado’s, a 100 series with a trailer attached and a Landrover Discovery. When I asked about tyre pressures they were running, the reply was 30psi. I explained to them in no uncertain way to drop their psi to below 20. The lead vehicle fella told me to “Get Fucked” and took off at a rate of knots churning up the dune track with the trailer in tow just making it over the top at his third attempt. The rest followed, each one had to have two goes at this relatively easy dune. The last bloke dropped his tyre pressures and drove over with ease. We shook our heads and drove on. Then we heard someone say on the radio that maybe I was right and that they were dropping their tyre pressures. The rest added, begrudgingly it seemed, that they would do so too.
It was late afternoon when we got to the intersection of the CSR and Talawana Track and after a brief visit to the Capricorn Roadhouse fuel dump at Well23 we made for Georgia Bore.
It was good to get to Georgia Bore and to have a nice quiet camp. The water out of the bore had small black flakes in it and it was necessary to filter it. We managed again to find some dead wood and have a warm fire for tucker and Port before tucking up for the night.
We set out from Georgia Bore around 8.30 in the morning along the Talawana Track and after 9 kilometres in a westerly direction we came across the Landrover, which had been driven by the two blokes who perished out there in March this year. Virtually nothing had been touched or disturbed. Their personal belongings and their places where they had died were left as is. To make things worse, the people who came to retrieve the bodies even threw their surgical gloves and other recovery items, which had obviously been contaminated, into the bush. We were unimpressed. The Talawana Track at this point is shocking as corrugations make any speed uncomfortable. These corrugations must be the result of sustained travel by the truck which delivers fuel drums to Well 23.
Further along the Talawana a wrecked trailer lay by the side of the road. We endured the shaking and rattles, wondering what was going to fall off. Suddenly we were at an intersection where a great big wide graded road meets the track. A right turn and the next 21km took us in to Cotton Creek Community (Parnngurr).
I was aware that you had to ring ahead before entering Cotton Creek Community but had my answer lined up if asked. The Community Manager did ask and I said that I had come in to find out what the protocol was with entering the community. He thought this answer was very funny and we got on well after that. One community elder had 32 dogs lying around his house. We asked another elder about numerous dead camels we had seen on the way in and he replied that they were shot for dog meat. There are around 80 inhabitants at Cotton Creek and at least 500 dogs or thereabouts. Whilst Cotton Creek is not a regular refuelling place they did ask if we wanted diesel. We said yes and then took 50 litres each out of a drum with a hand pump. One, two three, four winds of the pump, to get four litres or thereabouts. Who knows how accurate it was at $2 a litre. Then we bought some supplies from the store and then I asked to see the community elder. We wanted access to the back way in to Rudall River National Park. Cotton Creek is part of the National Park; set a side for traditional use and a No Go area to outsiders. I asked anyway. At first the elder indicated we had to go the long way around. He was worried that it was too isolated and dangerous in view of the recent deaths on the Talawana Track. I explained that I was experienced in travelling to remote places and pointed to my grey beard. He pointed to his. He wanted to know what communications we had. I said HF and he shook his head. Then I said Sat phone and his eyes lit up and said “OK, but you be careful because the river might have water in it”. Then I asked which way out of town and he said he would show us. So he commandeered the Manager’s new Nissan GU with everything on it and showed us the track. We said our farewells and started on the track. Two kilometres from the start point the track divided into 5 tracks. It was then that I discovered that my GPS wasn’t talking to my laptop. So I had to go through the procedure manually. We found the right track eventually. It was very washed out and had not been used for a long time. Part of the track was so overgrown that we had to drive cross-country to get ahead. Always mindful of broken timber and stakes I had to be very careful where I placed the wheels so that we got through safely and that George in his GU could follow in our tracks. When we came to the Rudall River it was bone dry. A sign facing away from us stated that this area was set aside for aboriginal traditional use only and was not accessible to others.
It was still early afternoon and a printed wooden sign alongside the track indicated a track to Graphite Valley. So down the track we went for 10km and a dead end. Some very rough sections were encountered and on the way back George took a wrong approach through a creek and cocked a wheel, much to the horror of his wife, Maureen. But he managed to extricate himself from the predicament. I had a mud map and a Hema map on Rudall River and we were searching for Kalkan Kalkan soak. We never really found it but found a waterhole in the general area. Trouble is it was now a camel watering place and they had made a real mess of the area with their droppings. Darkness overtook us and we camped in the camel dung. Which was quite dry, I might add, and it burned OK in the fire.
Rudall River National park is remote and I got the feeling that CALM would rather one did not go there. The only ‘park’ sign was the one in to Graphite Valley. The rest were crude signs scribbled on 44-gallon drums or hand painted on scrap pieces of tin. The park is quite scenic but not spectacular. This was probably because of the lack of rain. Camels had polluted most of the waterholes but we managed to find a small creek bed out of the main river where there was a swim-able pool and drinkable water. Whilst we were cooling off in the creek a Brown Snake came down to the water for a drink. We sat in the water very quietly and watched it drink. Then it spotted us only a few metres away and wriggled up the embankment and out of sight at a rate of knots!
We spent four days in Rudall River including a drive up to Desert Queen Baths. The flies drove us insane. We saw no one until the last day when two vehicles were spotted in the distance. At the Desert Queen Baths campsite we found a dead dingo hanging from the branch of a tree smelling most foul. Someone was obviously intent on keeping others away. Human or animal!
Now, getting to the baths meant a bit of physical rock hopping, which put me out of the picture. So while the others went for a walk I opted to drive to a nearby cave where someone had made a track right up to it on the side of a hill. From below it looked an easy drive but once at the top I realised just how steep it was. After taking some pics I put the truck in reverse and let her idle down the slope guiding by means of the mirrors. It was definitely a lot steeper than I had first thought
We drove out of Rudall that same day and sped on to Newman along a graded Talawana Road. At Newman we did touristy things. Camped in the caravan park and met up with other internet friends by chance.
After leaving Newman, we visited Wanna Munna rock carvings (petroglyphs) and spent a night at Karijini National Park.
We could not do most of the walks but took pics of all the touristy accessible places and had a good time.
Then we drove on to the mining town of Tom Price where we drove up a 4×4 track to the summit of Mt Nameless and a stunning view of Tom Price, the mine and the Hamersley Ranges. The following day we did a mine tour, which was equally breathtaking in just looking at the scale of operations.
From there it was on to Paraburdoo for a refuel and on to the Ashburton Downs road heading for Mt Augustus. We camped on Pingandy Creek that night and some clouds appeared on the horizon. It did not rain however and we were able to make good time towards Mt Augustus the following morning. Some of the vegetation along this way is quite interesting looking like Bonsai trees. George mentioned something about a black cloud and I said it seemed to be drifting the other way.
We drove on. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, this little black cloud caught up with us. With rain drops the size of 50cent pieces it bucketed down a blotted our vision completely. We were going nowhere. Twenty minutes later it was all over but there was water gushing out of the hillsides. The road was awash with water up to half wheel height. After an hour I still advocated doing nothing and George decided to go for a walk to see what the road looked like further on. It had stopped raining. I rang Mt Augustus Resort on the Sat phone. They gave me the Mt Augustus Station number and I rang the owner, Don. He explained that we would be going nowhere for at least a week if we proceeded towards Mt Augustus as they had had 50mm of rain that day and some the previous week as well.
I asked permission to camp at Dooley Downs Station we had passed earlier and he said that, that was in order. There was no one living at the station. At Dooley Downs I cleaned the rain gauge out (dead gecko) and measured the rain. We made camp at the driest spot on the gibber. That night the frogs came out and croaked their merry songs. We took or torches to see them at the edge of the newly created billabong.
The next day the clouds dissipated a bit and a clear day was looming. However, we backtracked the 130km to the Ashburton Downs road again and turned right towards Meekatharra. I rang Don at Mt Augustus Station, gave the rain measurement and told him that we were going east. He was very appreciative of the fact that I had called him again.
Somehow we got our maps mixed up and the road to Meekatharra turned out to be about 200km longer than anticipated and both of us did not have a full load of fuel on board. So we were watching the fuel gauges intensely. Nevertheless, we pussyfooted it in to Meekatharra arriving there just on dusk. Then the heavens opened up again and it bucketed down. We grabbed the last two motel rooms in town and settled in for a few cold beers and a hearty meal. I had Kangaroo Road kill, as stated on the menu.
The Royal Hotel has a section of glass in the floor of the bar where you can see down in to the cellar. Below it there seems to be a drunk asleep against the wall with many empty bottles lying around him. Pub serves an awesome plate of food
Along the road we passed through Mt Magnet an old gold mining town. Had a look at The Granites outcrop just before the town of Sandstone. We visited London Bridge (what a silly name) and the Brewery which were very interesting sandstone formations. The Brewery was a cave in the sandstone. It was hewed out some more and a air vent dug in to it and they brewed beer there for some time
We stopped at a lookout on the way to the town of Leinster. There we discovered that the wind blowing up and over the small escarpment whistled through the retaining fence making a haunting sound. Not sure if anyone knew about it.
Leinster is a Nickel mining town. As there was only one motel in town and it was booked out, we stayed the night in cabins at a nominal cost and we ate in the Mine Mess for $11 head as much as you can eat. I think we overdid it!
Cue had some cute old tin buildings.
Leonora was another small outback town with the Ghost Town of Gwalia just to the south. Here people were invited to invest in the old historic buildings and at auction they were sold to locals with the idea of restoring them. This they have done and it is a fascinating place. Sons of Gwalia Mine is close by.
Menzies was another town steeped in mining history
Kalgoorlie is big and busy and the Super Pit is awesome to say the least. It is reportedly the biggest Open Cut Mine in Australia. Here we enjoyed the hospitality of my internet friend, Allyn Cooper, who also organised a Sunday run with the Eastern Goldfields 4×4 Club. A couple of very rough tracks were driven and there was a bloke with a 6.2 diesel 80 series that idled out most of the rough spots making it look so easy.
Coolgardie. This is another relic from the past with a rich history. It has an excellent information centre. There I spoke with travellers from Tasmania who were well set up for life on the road
A short distance to the south-west of Coolgardie, we tackled the Holland Track. It had rained within the last 24 hours and all the holes along the track were full of water. There are various rock features along the route, which twists in and out of the trees and scrub. Unfortunately a huge fire had burnt out a great section of the vegetation in February this year.
We picked up numerous scratches along the body panels of the Nissans and ploughed through endless mud holes. We had a good overnight camp in the forest and a shower of rain chased us in to the tents. Fortunately a wind sprang up later and dried the tents out. The following day we met up with members of the Perth Toyota Club who were restoring signs and other things on the track. By the time we got to the Southern Cross Road we had had enough of this track and made for Wave Rock and Hippos Yawn, two fascinating rock formations.
Close to Wave Rock the GQ’s oil light came on. We inspected everything but found nothing wrong. It would not go out even after we got to Perth so I disconnected the wiring. From Hyden we made it to Kondinin where the rain came down again and so we opted for another night in a motel. We ate at the local pub whose service and food left a lot to be desired. One has to strike a bad one somewhere along the line or so the law of averages go?
We passed by the towns of Corrigin, Quairading, York, Northam and Toodyay (pronounced Toodjay) where we visited old friends.
In Perth and Fremantle we did a family thing and also visited Art Galleries, Museums and ate good seafood at the Kailis Seafood Restaurant at the wharf in Freo. We stayed at the Cherokee Holiday Village where we rented two chalets for a week. Just before we were due to leave the manager approached me and asked where we were going next and when I replied Margaret River he suggested that we could rent their holiday house for the week. The price was right and so we agreed that it would be a good thing.
On the way to Margaret River we visited stromatolites on the shores of Lake Clifton, after getting lost and doing an extra 75km.
We were discussing this house on the radio, which we had rented, sight unseen, and wondered just how bad it may be. When we drove up the road to the address we couldn’t believe our eyes. There was an, as new, Half a Million dollar house set on 3 acres. All glass, selectively furnished, with views and everything you could wish for. All we had to supply was tucker and drinks. Kookaburras and Fairy Wrens kept us amused in the garden while the neighbours red dog came over every morning for a pat and a cuddle. We had a good time at Margaret River. We visited wineries, cheese factories, art and craft shops, a lavender farm and more. I had to give the visit to Lake Cave away as there were 650 steps to negotiate but the photos are a good reminder of a fabulous place that Judith, Maureen and George visited.
We also visited an internet friend, Judy, and her family, on a farm near Bridgetown. A good time was had by all and we were sad to leave the Margaret River area. Before we left however the Datto developed a water leak. It was dripping from the gearbox. Much crawling around under the truck with a torch revealed that the water pump had come to the end of its life. On the Saturday morning we drove to Auto One aftermarket shop in Margaret River and unexpectedly found a 4.2lt diesel water pump for $140, which we thought, was a good deal. The Nissan is so easy to work on and after removing the fan shroud, the radiator came out by undoing the hoses and removing two bolts at the top. We had the Datto up and running again within a couple of hours.
Heading South East we were getting in to the Big Fella Tree country. We stayed two nights in Pemberton and did a Tram ride through the forests learning new things about Karri, Marri, Jarrah, and Tingle trees from the tour guide and tram driver who seemed to talk without taking a breath. Had a look at the Gloucester Tree, which used to be a Fire Lookout. My mate George went up about a quarter of the way before chickening out. Me? I stayed on Terra Firma.
The next day we made for Warren Beach in D’Entrecasteaux National Park along a forest trail. There were some detours as recent rains had flooded the creeks and washed river crossings away. We were only able to access the beach south of the Warren River. At a point along the track a sign advised us to drop tyre pressures and as usual I advocated 16psi. We made our way through a very nice coastal wooded area with moss laden trees to come out high up on a pure white sand dune to see the Southern Ocean and the white ocean beach in the distance. About 2km of inter dune driving along very sandy tracks saw us parked on this beautiful beach. But where was George?
“Uhmmmmm ..Just having a look at something, mate” came the reply over the radio. Five minutes later with the GU screaming top revs George burst on to the beach. “You were bogged, eh?” I questioned. “Uhmmm…yes” came the reply. “What pressures are you running? ” “Uhmmm…. 20” Go figure!
The way off Warren Beach looked quite daunting, as the dunes are large and steep. I chose a straight up approach on a sidetrack and only just made it to the top in 1st gear High Range at 3500revs. George had two goes and also made it to the highest point. We got off the dune area safely and headed along forest tracks back to Pemberton getting lost a number of times and having to backtrack on more than one occasion.
Our next adventure was driving through Shannon National Park amongst some of the giant Karri trees. Then it was south via Deeside Road and Chesapeake Road to Signal Point at Broke Inlet. The camping sites did not look too inviting there so we made for the blacktop and Walpole. Accommodation was booked out there and we pushed on for a short distance when I spied a small sign of the side of the road stating Riverside Retreats. Here we were accommodated in a new cottage overlooking the river and Nornalup Inlet. Our hosts were very friendly and couldn’t do enough for us. We stayed two nights. Tame Kangaroos and wild ducks were fed bread every evening. It was an idyllic spot.
The following day we made for the Valley of the Giants in the Walpole Nornalup National Park. The walkway reaches a height of 40metres and is 600metres in length. I managed to borrow a wheelchair from reception and George delighted (and puffed) pushing me along the narrow ramp. It is truly an amazing sight to be able to be in the tree top canopy.
We went early in the morning and avoided the rush, which arrived just as we had finished our walk. Then there is the Empire Walk around the base of the Tingle Trees and just as spectacular.
The rest of the day we toured down to Peaceful Bay and some other tracks in the national park, seeing the Frankland River in flood creating huge amounts of foam on the turbulent waters as a result of tree sap leaching in to the river.
On the way to Denmark we stopped off at the Bartholomew Meadery and ate mead ice-cream.Yummm! Needless to say the girls had a ball buying this and that and some mead wine which we still have to sample. Had a look around Denmark and drove out to Ocean Beach lookout. In Albany we chose the wrong Caravan Park to stay in a cabin. I complained slightly the next morning because the mattress had a hole in it but Judith went to the office and gave them a piece of her mind and we got upgraded to a luxury cabin. That put us all in a better mood. We did all the tourist drives around Albany and must see sights and even saw two Humpback Whales frolicking in the harbour.
From Albany we made our way to Fitzgerald National Park while George and Maureen went to visit a friend in Mount Barker. We were very impressed with the diversity of flora in Fitzgerald NP and the camping facilities were very good with gas BBQ’s and secluded tent sites. We managed a short walk to the beach and saw more whales in the bay.
I had parked the GQ at an angle to get better access from the campsite to the rear of the truck. This is when I noticed oil dripping out of the bell housing. Yes, it looked like the rear engine oil seal was leaking, again! The oil had accumulated in the bell housing. It must have oiled up the clutch plate and the thrust bearing. But everything seemed to be working OK. I was a bit worried about getting home and bought some extra oil in Esperance but never opened the container. A splash of oil always seems to be so severe when it is only a drop. The oil seems to leak more freely when motoring at blacktop speeds but when doing 4×4 treks in the rough the leaking seems to stop.
We took the back roads through the national park through Hopetoun and eventually Esperance. The scenery is breathtaking with high mountains cropping out of nowhere along the coast.
Three days at Esperance didn’t do it justice and we could have stayed longer. We had a good deal on a cabin with stay two nights and get an extra night free. The beaches around Esperance have fine white sand and which in turn makes the waters and iridescent colour, which then gradually fades in to a deep blue. I have only seen beaches like this in the Seychelles Islands.
We made our way to Cape le Grande National Park, which is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest spots in Australia with those magnificent beaches, which, believe it or not, you are allowed to drive on. I think that it may even be possible to drive all the way along the beach from Esperance to Cape le Grande. This was something we did not investigate.
Our last fuel stop was at Condingup on Fisheries Road before we made for Jorndee campsite in Cape Arid National Park. We camped snug in the coastal vegetation in a designated spot. A very tame bandicoot came out of the bush looking for scraps of food and became an instant celebrity with the bush paparazzi taking many pics of it.
The rain caught up with us at last and it poured through the night. We had a very sparse breakfast under a camp lean-to, put the trucks in 4×4 mode and set out for Israelite Bay. Once back on Fisheries Road it carried on a developed road for 2km, before deteriorating to a scrubland track, pock marked with holes, which were now full of water. I stuck to the middle of the track, which normally is the hardest part of the roadway. One hole was deep enough for water over the bonnet but on the whole the track wasn’t too bad. We made it in to Israelite Bay around 3pm and had a look around the historic spots.
Somehow we became separated and while we were looking for a campsite George called up to say that they were going to the jetty. I told them to look out for the mud hole. A short while later the radio crackled. “Errrr, can you come down to the jetty please”. There the GU was, sitting on its belly, in the mud hole. No words were spoken as I winched George out of the bog. At Israelite Bay the seaweed gets pushed up against the dune face and it is more than a metre deep in places. It can even hold water, as we saw puddles, which had formed from the previous nights rain.
I had spoken with the Director of CALM(Conservation and Land Management) at Esperance about the old Telegraph Track. He stated that his staff had not been that way for a while but someone had reported burnt out country and overgrown tracks. He also gave us an information sheet stating that it was not advisable to run the beach unless the tides are .6metre. In winter they are normally 1.5metres and push up right to the dunes. With this in mind wet set off in a north-easterly direction, along an overgrown track. When we had set off, the vehicles had been covered in mud from the previous days driving. After 20km along this track they were scratched clean along the side panels as well as underneath. We saw old telegraph poles and wire lying by the side of the track. It was 47.8km of overgrown track with plenty of scratching to an opening on a samphire flat and a T-junction.
To the right it was 2km or so to the beach, which we still considered too dangerous, to drive on, because of the seaweed (although there were fresh vehicle tracks leading on to it) and about 2km back to Wattle Camp which is a small clearing near an old disused well. After lunch we pushed on skirting the samphire flats and salt lakes until the track stopped abruptly after 17km in some coastal vegetation. We got out and searched but could not find where it continued on although the Raster Map showed it continuing. So we made for the beach.
Now there was minimal seaweed between the sea and the sand dunes. It was 5 hours after High Tide as we dropped the tyre pressures to 15psi. There were some nervous moments along the beach as where the sea had reached the dunes and pooled, the sand was very soft. We kept the revs up and ran the 32km stretch in one hour and ten minutes stopping only to take some photos of the magnificent Bilbunya Sand dunes. These dunes are about 100 metres in height and rise up above the coastal plain inside a perceived 5 square kilometres or so.
I managed to find the exact spot to get off the beach and on to the track, which led up to a fishing camp, known as Culver Camp, halfway up the Wylie Escarpment know locally as The Scarp. The beach actually continues on from our exit point for about 7km where it meets the Baxter Cliffs at Point Culver.
The next short distance up the rest of the Wylie Scarp was quite an easy run as at the most critical and steepest section CALM had laid down conveyor belting to facilitate better traction up the jump up. Once on top we reinflated tyres to 25psi and set off to Point Culver.
This track was 13km return and took two hours to drive, which included a quick photo session. It was all limestone rock outcrops. Back on the Telegraph Track we were travelling at 10km hour and it was a bloody hard drive too over numerous limestone outcrops. We visited Baxter Cliffs Lookout and camped a few hundred metres distance from Toolinna Cove. We had progressed 57km for 8 hours driving and that did not include the 13km return in to Point Culver. We found enough wood to cook a roast on the coals and have a few ales and wines before turning in.
The Baxter Cliffs are magnificent, dropping straight in to the Great Australian Bight. However they are a tad crumbly at the edge and care must be taken not walk too close to the edge. Then there is the added danger of being blown off the cliffs and into the sea far below by a sudden gust of wind. So we were very careful.
At Toolinna Cove we marvelled at the daring fisher people who abseiled down to the beach to fish, They have also rigged up a windlass so as to get their gear and/or catch down or up by means of a vehicle winch. There used to be ladders down the cliff face but CALM have removed them, as they want to discourage this practise.
The track improved a bit the next day. We saw camel and dingo tracks and some very large Red Kangaroos. Mallee scrub-land covers this limestone area and it is quite scenic in places. Judith found a sinkhole and some caves and we then went looking for more. I walked about 30 metres from the vehicle to get a better look and sank up to my thigh in a sinkhole. We moved our vehicles in a hurry to a safer spot!
We passed by the turn off to Caiguna and drove on to the Baxter Memorial and there cliffs were just as spectacular. John Baxter was a companion of Explorer John Eyre and was killed by aborigines in this area according to legend. There is however another story that Eyre killed Baxter because he had lost his mind and was putting their safety at risk. As it is, if it wasn’t for his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, Eyre might not have survived the trek We returned to the road junction and camped in a large natural clearing.
The next day we had breakfast at the Caiguna Roadhouse, refuelled and paid 50c/l for water. They do Desalinisation to get drinking water and there had not been much rain during summer. We weren’t sure of water supplies at Cocklebiddy or Rawlinna and as it turned out there were none to be had. This day George had two punctures with his MTR’s. He was running skinny’s with tubes and it was tiny rocks, which work their way in past the rim, and prick the tubes. At Cocklebiddy we visited the only service station and the owner was away for the day. So we were told to help ourselves by the book keeper who knew nothing about tyre changing. So we split the rims and repaired the punctures. Just as we were finishing another customer came in with a tyre to repair. The lady was in a bit of distress when she learned that there was no one to do repairs to tyres and so George and I relented and repaired her tyre as well. She wanted to pay us but we declined the offer politely. Then we set off along the track to Rawlinna via Arubiddy Station.
At first the road to Rawlinna is a broad graded road but after Arubiddy Station it deteriorates to a track. It is here that one crosses the Nullarbor Plain which is so flat you could see in to the middle of next week. The name was made uo by John Eyre. Null=Nothing, Arbor=Tree
We found an old Citroen wreck on the plain. The track weaved its way through numerous gates and a vermin proof fence. As it was getting dark, I decided to camp. But George and Maureen had other ideas and talked me in to driving to Rawlinna. This I agreed to, against my better judgement. At night tracks take on a different spectre and it is difficult to follow them even with the help of a GPS.
Eventually we could see the lights of Rawlinna but the tracks were now turning west and east and we were supposed to be heading north. We were virtually driving in circles. Somehow we found the right track and got to Rawlinna. The old railway siding has a historic value. The rest of the township is operated by a humungous Lime Mine operation. We saw a light on in a bungalow and enquired to where we could camp. We were directed to the Nullarbor Muster Gymkhana Grounds. “Turn left here over the railway line, then go, maybe 1km, then turn right at the white pole(no sign)” We found it in the pitch dark and set up camp behind a large shed to be out of the bitterly cold wind. Only the next day did we find out that the shed was an old aircraft hangar and we could have fitted both vehicles and tents in there. Oh well!
I had to get directions out of Rawlinna. “Go down that track mate, and turn left at them tyres and go through the gate. That’s the start of the Connie Sue, mate. ” Hmmmm. Tracks going everywhere. Just follow your instinct. This is where the GPS and laptop worked well, even if I had to do it manually.
The first 100km of the Connie Sue passes over station property. There are tracks running in all directions but one can still see where Len Beadell directed his bulldozer driver to sink the blade. More that 40 years later the windrow is still faintly discernible in places. Len of course, was a practical joker, and he named all the tracks he bulldozed after his children and wife Anne. Then he added the word Highway to the name. The majority of the roads and tracks, for which he was responsible in constructing are now only bush tracks.
The right rear backing plate that covers the brake rotor was now loose on my truck and rattling like mad. So with six ocky straps I made a temporary restraint, which held all the way to Alice Springs. There I cut the offending thing off with some tin snips. Also removed the gearbox bash plate as an eagle’s nest of dry Spinifex grass had accumulated under the truck. So the plate also went on to the roof rack.
The first part of this track was very bumpy crossing over many limestone ridges and we were restricted to 40kmh. At 102km a big graded road came in from the west and we found out that this was the Kalgoorlie access road for the Tjuntjuntjurra Community. No less than 8 abandoned Ford Falcons were on this road in various states of disrepair. About 70km further was the turnoff to the community and a self-storing Butterfly water tank.
Another half an hour’s drive to the north we found a campsite amongst the gidgee trees and had a good rest. The following morning I dropped a full jerry of diesel on my leg. Ouch that hurt! A great big lump swelled up below my knee (the bad one) and kept me hobbling for weeks. From this point the track starts to become corrugated and in fact the corrugations did not let up until we were close to Warburton, We were however able to do 70kmh now. We saw Plains Turkeys, Dingoes, Camels, Kangaroos and some Mulga Parrots. A drum on the side of the track indicated a track to somewhere and our maps indicated the Neale Breakaways.
The Neale Breakaways were very spectacular when we got there. Trouble is I drove too close to the small escarpment where water was seeping out of the soil and the GQ started sinking fast. I was in 2wd and had to flatten the pedal to get out of the slush. We had lunch in a secluded area and looked at the many different colours and forms the ochre sandstone can take on. Another track led to an old fuel dump with about 50 rusting drums left there. We wondered if Len Beadell and his crew left this behind.
At Neale Junction we had lunch at the picnic tables, signed the visitors book and saw the plaque where someone’s ashes had been scattered. Along the track we found some Thunder Eggs, which had become exposed to the elements over the years. Close to BM 409 we took a track to the left searching for some aboriginal art, which we had heard of. The details were very sketchy and needless to say we didn’t find any country, which would have supported paintings or petroglyphs. We did however see some good breakaway country. Back on the Connie Sue we progressed a short distance and turned left again along another track which looked as if it had been graded recently but that too petered out in to some heavy scrub after 2km and then the track was heavily washed out. The sun was setting and it was time to camp. George walked over to a pinnacle close by to get a better view of the terrain but reported back that he couldn’t see any other tracks.
On the way back to the Connie Sue the following morning, and driving in to the sun, I hit a washed out section of the track and bent the left hand front steel rim but not hard enough to make it un-driveable. Looked at Ryan’s Bluff and the airstrip to the east, then Hann’s tabletop and then Waterfall Gorge.
There we met a couple from Adelaide (the first travellers we had seen on the tracks since Israelite Bay, (seven days prior) in a new Nissan Navara who had been having all sorts of troubles with aftermarket equipment. They were following ExplorOz Trek notes and told us of a nice gorge about 75km to the east. We decided, maybe next year. While I was talking to them, my crew went on to photograph the hundreds of Zebra Finches, which had come to the water pools for a drink. The finches would fly down, take a quick drink and then take off again in a flurry of wings. Suddenly a hawk swooped down and took one in mid-air home for lunch. Definitely something you don’t see every day. From this point we visited Harness Gorge, McKenzie Gorge and then dropped off the plateau into the sand country again before stopping off at Warburton for supplies. We also visited the Warburton Cultural Centre, which is very modern and has a wider range of New Age aboriginal art including glass-making and basket weaving. I closed my eye when the girls brought out the plastic cards. While purchases were being made I refuelled from my Jerries and then we set off to find a campsite. Along the way I saw a grey camel, another thing I have never seen before. A dingo posed on the road for photos before loping off in to the mulga. Judith saw a possible campsite off the road and we settled down for the night. Only one vehicle passed and we turned all our lights off when we heard the vehicle approaching.
This next day we had our first ice on the windscreen and an omen of things to come. Packed up with frozen fingers inside the gloves! We pushed on along the Great Central Road and stopped for breakfast at a nice bush shelter about 45km from our campsite. It is located off the road and has a water tank, windbreak with seats and long drop toilet. We visited Giles Meteorological Station further up along the road and refuelled at $1.55 at Warakurna Roadhouse (where diesel is cheaper than Unleaded (Avgas)) and had a bite to eat.
Travelling north from there through the Rawlinson Ranges, Schwerin Mural and Petermann Ranges is always spectacular. The road past Docker River wasn’t too bad although still heavily corrugated in places. We stopped off at Lasseter’s Cave now called Tjunti. It is an abandoned Outstation with some modern housing. Camping is not allowed there any longer but a camping area is provided 5km west of Docker River Community. There is a lot of rubbish lying around at Lasseter’s, as the rubbish bins provided are not emptied regularly. In the late afternoon I found a campsite about 1km off the road and 20km from the Olgas. The ice was a lot thicker the following morning and we had to wait for the windscreens to clear and the tents to dry out a bit before moving on.
At the Olgas Lookout everyone went for a walk while I reinflated both vehicles tyres to 35psi(George’s el cheapo air pump had karked it by then). We had a very expensive breakfast at Yulara Township and travelled on to Mt Ebenezer where we stopped for lunch and topped up with some diesel to get us to Alice. Just before the Finke River on the Stuart Hwy we saw an old Toyota 45 series Ute on the side of the road. I stopped and ascertained that the couple from Geelong were in trouble with a snapped draglink. We tried welding it but could not get a good contact. After about an hour we decided to tie it together with a tent peg and some metal clamps. I then gave them one of my tie down straps told hold the draglink in place and we yanked it really tight. It got them to Alice!
The three months on the road had been a great and adventurous journey for us.
Back in Alice our dog Jeddah welcomed us again and kept on nipping our legs to see of we were real
George and Maureen said their goodbyes and pushed on home to Darwin while we had a rest up for a fortnight before tackling tracks heading east from there.