The land of big skies and little flies...
We have officially made it to Central Australia, the land of big skies and little flies and to be honest not much else! Actually that's not true, it is pretty amazing and although it looks like nothing we have been captivated by the 'nothingness'.
A quick summary of our trip so far....
We started in Sydney on the 10th of June when we picked up our Trak Shak from a lovely man called Brett who was genuinely sad to see his Camper Trailer go. He showed us all the tricks and treats of the tent and trailer and sent us on our way. That night it took us about an hour to set it up in the dark at a caravan park in Penrith. The park was next to the Train station and all that was between us and the trains was a bit of canvas.That night I slept for an hour between passenger trains, freight trains, Annie waking and whaling 'I want to go back to Bridport', and someone partying to some bad 80s music further down the park. Wondering if we are mad going on this trip!
The next few days we spent in Bathurst with Aunty Wilma and Mama. It was lovely to spend time with them both and it also gave us a chance to get the trailer organised. It was nice being in a kind, warm house for a few days after our horrid first few nights in the tent.
Dubbo and the Taronga Western Plains zoo was our next port of call. We rode our bikes around the zoo for the day. It was great and Annie was happy, which made me happy because I was having genuine doubts about whether we had done the right thing doing this trip!
Cobar was next. I was excited to reach Cobar because it was the start of the trademark red outback dirt which made us feel like we had started our adventure. We spent two nights here because we needed a day to fix/organise things. Mick has become extremely handy and strong (note the tone of surprise in the statement) this is a new and extremely welcome talent. He has fixed, built, and wired all sorts of things to make our trip easier and more comfortable.Cobar is a small mining town in western NSW and it didn't take us long to see the sights. It isn't really a destination rather a stopover on a bigger trip.
We are all recovering from colds because it has been freezing and I am wondering if blowing your nose in the shower is ok in a communal shower? Thinking not!
The next day we drove from Cobar to a station between Wilcannia and Menindee called Nelia Garri Station. On the way we stopped at a fancy roadhouse where the tea menu included Lipton or Dilmah- I had a Dilmah! That night we camped on the banks of the Darling River amongst huge old river gums. It was heavenly and the type of camping we are hoping to do more of. We packed up the next day and headed for Menindee... At Menindee you can only get Lipton which was pretty representative of the town... so we kept going to Broken Hill.
At Broken Hill we met up with Marg and Rob (Yaya and Fafa). Broken Hill was surprisingly interesting and we extended our stay an extra night to fit everything in. There was a much stronger arts focus than you would expect in the mining town that is the birthplace of BHP.Pro Hart, the well known Australian artist is based in Broken Hill - remember the stainmaster carpet ad? We had a drink at the Palace hotel where Priscilla Queen of the desert was filmed and Annie channelled her inner drag queen and danced the night away. The following day we went out to Silverton where MadMax was filmed. Take it or leave it!
We met a young rural couple who had just driven the Oodnadatta track, which is where we were heading. They said the track was fine but there were a few mice around and make sure you keep food locked away. Greatest understatement ever...
So we ate all our fruit and vegies and headed across into South Australia.At Peterborough we stocked up on all the fruit and vegies that we weren't allowed to take across the border and headed for the Flinders Ranges National Park.
The Flinders Ranges did not disappoint. It is stunning. A geologist's paradise. There are awesome walking tracks and 4 wheel driving. We camped at Rawnsley Park Station which is still a working sheep station adjacent to the national park. We did a couple of walks, looked at some impressive aboriginal rock art and took an amazing drive through the Brachina Gorge. The area was teeming with wildlife and stunning scenery.
We are pretty slow packing up the tent and getting on the road in the mornings. We had planned to drive from Wilpena to Arkaroola in the northern flinders but we ended up camping at Mt Chambers Gorge between the northern and Southern Flinders Ranges. It was a stunning place and is home to one of the most significant Aboriginal Ceremonial sites in Australia. It really was magic... until the sun went down... and the mice came out. This was our first of many encounters with the mice. As we were the only campers at the gorge millions of mice from near and far descended on us. Mice were running over, under and through our tent... I was kept awake all night with rustling, scratching, and scampering and I was praying it was only on the outside of the tent! I think I turned the light on every 3.5 minutes to check the tent (Mick and Annie blissfully slept through).At 2 am after I had heard commotion in Mum and Dads Van (a mouse had got in) I stuck my earplugs in to block out the noises and went to sleep. Mick reassured me that there was NO WAY they could get in...
The next day we wearily pulled into Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. We learned about the naturally occurring uranium and radium in the rock around the area and decided that the hot springs didn't have so much appeal anymore.Instead we went on a bushwalk around the Pinnacles.
As I was unpacking the tent I found a mouse under my mattress. Eww. It is fair to say I wasn't very pleased about this.We eventually caught the mouse after a series of screams, some nervous laughing and comical chasing. Mission "Mouse Proof the Tent" was now on. Every possible hole, zipper and gap was plugged, taped or locked. The tent was now a fortress that even the most cunning mouse couldn't penetrate. That nightagain I drifted off the sleep listening to the rustling, scampering and scratching of the mice, this time with some reassurance they were only outside.
On the way to Arkaroola I read in a SA tourism brochure that the Camel Cup was on in Maree on the 2nd of July. Brilliant!We met quite a few other groups travelling north who were also going for a laugh and a few beers - it was going to be a big event! We had been told not to stay in Maree as it would be crowded and probably not the best place with a young child.
On the way to Maree we stopped in Leigh Creek for lunch and looked at the huge coal mine. This town was originally developed right on the coal deposit so was moved to accommodate the mining.
We had really hit the outback now, it was dusty with big skies and little flies and a real sense of remoteness. We hadn't officially started the track yet as we hadn't reached Maree.
We ended up staying at Farina Ruins, a Campsite, on a huge station about 50 k south of Maree. The campsite was just a paddock with a couple of toilets and a shower in a shed that was heated by a 'donkey'. There was a visitors book in the toilet - an unusual touch but provided some entertaining toilet reading. Again the sun went down and the mice came out - bigger and better than anywhere else we had been. The ground was alive. Mice were EVERYWHERE. I am getting sick of mice because every night I worry that they will invade and I will have mice crawl across my face or up my leg or into my top.So not a lot of sleep that night...
We headed off to Maree looking forward to seeing all our mates we had met who were also going to the Camel cup. I wondered if I should have made some effort with my outfit for the cup. It's the races after all.
Maree looked suspiciously quiet for a town that was hosting its biggest social event of the year. Maree is about 685 km north of Adelaide and evidently has a population of 72. It has a roadhouse, a pub and the Lake Eyre Yacht Club - that's right the Lake Eyre Yacht Club! A yacht club for a lake that has water in it on average 3 times every 150 years. The yacht club manned for 3 months of the year and they have a "regatta" mid July every year. Maree also marks the start of the Oodnadatta track which follows an ancient Aboriginal trading route, which later became the old Ghan Railway and Overland Telegraph.
So I wonder where they hold the cup?According to the cardboard sign outside the pub they hold the cup next week. No camel cup for us. No reason to stay in Maree...
Today we saw Lake Eyre South - AMAZING. Lake Eyre has water in it about 3 times every 150 years so we felt pretty honoured to be seeing the lakes almost full. It looked like a massive inland sea (which I guess it was part of once). We walked to the shore and we were surprised by the mud.
That night we pulled into Coward Springs- a gorgeous little lush paradise in the middle of nowhere. The Oodnadatta track features springs all the way along, some natural and some have been drilled to access the huge artesian basin lying just under the surface of the land. Coward Springs was drilled by some farmers in search of water. The water is about 35 degrees and flows into a wetland. A very basic wooden pool has been constructed around it so you can hop in for a soak.
That evening it rained pretty heavily, the first bit of rain for the trip. This meant the road would be pretty mooshy the next day.
We noticed a red corolla at the campsite! Ummm... Crazy.
The next morning we went for a soak in the spring. There were a couple of guys in there and they weren't in any hurry to leave so we ended up joining them - it was a little bit crowded but very entertaining. It turned out that these two guys were German students who were studying in Aus for a semester and had decided to experience real Australia ...in a Corolla. Due to the rain the road has been declared 4WD only so they were stuck at the campsite until the road was opened again! If they drove and got caught they faced a hefty fine. If they drove and got bogged they faced an even bigger fine. I think they planned on just sitting in the spring all day as there was nothing else to do.. there was a pit toilet and a basic bush shower and the spring, that's it.
After the lovely soak in the spring and lots of laughs with the Germans we headed off to check out the Bubbler and Blanches cup, two other naturally occurring springs back up the road. We then headed for William Creek.
William Creek is not a great place. In fact I don't know how anyone lives there.It has 3 permanent residents in the non tourist season one of which is a dog. The only reason we went there was to get a flight over Lake Eyre. The flight was Awesome. A definite highlight. Lake Eyre is the only place in the world you can fly below sea level...The lake is 15.2 meters below sea level. It was incredible and at times a little bit spooky because you couldn't tell where the lake ended and the horizon started. We loved the flight as it was one of the reasons we had driven the track.
I can usually find redeeming features in most places. I think I could live in most places. William Creek is not one of those places. It is really remote, windy and stinks of mice. William creek consists of a pub, an airstrip and a gravel car park they call a caravan park. You can buy fuel, book your camp site and eat a meal all at the pub. The pub does actually have a lot of character, it's just at the moment it's full of mice. We decided to eat there as we had heard good things. We only spotted 3 mice in the dining room that night and we weren't really phased. We are all pretty used to mice now and I said 'how many restaurants have you been to where there have been mice running around the dining room and you have been ok about it'!
So the mouse proof fortress isn't such a fortress. We found two more mice in our tent when we got to William creek. Then the next morning we found a dead mouse - I think he was trying to get out and froze. I'm pretty sure the mice go down their little holes to stay warm in the early morning hours, well that's when it seems to go quiet anyway.
We weren't sad to say goodbye to William Creek although Annie was. She had made some great friends, some young girls who were from QLD.
Off to Coober Pedy. As a treat we had decided to stay in an underground hotel for two nights. Two mouse free nights- Yayyyyyyy.
Coober Pedy is an odd place. 1/3 of the population live underground and there are 'dug outs' scattered all over the place. We checked out some opals, fed some kangaroos and toured an old underground opal mine. The highlight was the tour of our hotel. It was built in an old opal mine. Whilst converting it into a hotel and expanding the number of rooms a huge amount of opal was discovered. The underground church next door was beautiful. Mining for opal is banned in the town of Coober Pedy but if you are 'renovating' and discover opal that is ok!!!
I slept so well at Coober Pedy - no mice!
The Painted Desert was our next stop. We drove to Akaringa station to stay the night. The Painted Desert is a series of hills, or rock mounds each decorated by nature with reds, purples, pinks, oranges and whites. It is incredible and has occurred due to erosion 80 million years ago when the area was a giant inland sea. We drove out from the campsite to watch the sunset. It was freezing but beautiful. The next day we did a lovely hour walk though the hills.
Ackaringa station was nice. There was only one other couple staying there and more importantly there were no mice!
From Ackaringa we drove to Marla. We saw our first dingo and it chased us in the car for a minute just like a dog would. We stopped at the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta for a famous burger. The roadhouse was full of 4 wheel drivers and campers. This is the last stop before the Simpson Desert track and all the people travelling north south on the Oodnadatta track also stop. The roadhouse is classic but the burger marketing is much better than the burger itself! The drive from Oodnadatta to Marla was pretty uninteresting. Marla marks the end of the track and the start of the tarmac for a while. The tyres were pumped back up and we looked forward to some easy driving for a few days...