Now, I didn’t set out to do this track. I’m not the sort of guy who goes round ticking off all the well known routes. No bother if that’s your bag, but it’s not mine.
Anyway it was this or the main highway, so let’s do this.
A quick stop at the Ochre Pits gave us a glimpse into the alien landscapes we could expect coming up.
Back on the track. Boy it’s rough though, and busy. Almost everyone towing, camper trailers and caravans. Lots of corrugations, that’ll be the traffic then. About 90km/h seems to be the most comfortable speed, faster than I would like but it is what it is.
Of course being in the middle of the Outback the first thing we stop at is an art installation… We didn’t do the whole thing as it was quite warm and also pretty windy at this point. The planes seemed the best thing – trucked to nearby Port Augusta from Melbourne for free by the relative rail companies – good on them.
Next we got views of the southern end of Lake Eyre.
Now, call us shallow… but we feel like we’ve seen the best salt lake there is to see, Lake Gairdner. Which we saw last year on our Best Western trip, you can drive right to the edge and it’s an ethereal white plain, with a crust like ice topped with water. Lake Eyre is a natural phenomenon no doubt, especially in flood, but this was a close as we got.
Then next, what is this?
Mound Springs! Not something I have ever seen in person but something that has fascinated me ever since I saw them on Ray Mears Goes Walkabout – a documentary partly about John Mcdougall Stuart’s expedition up through South Australia. These springs bubble up fresh water seemingly from nowhere, in the middle of some of the most arid and desolate country one could imagine. N says it’s only myself and the aforementioned R.Mears who get this excited about these, but so be it. I think they are a natural wonder, and rank pretty highly on my list.
These were part of the Wabma Kadarbu conservation park, tomorrow we would find more.
That night we paid for our first night’s camping so far, a whopping $12.50 per person at the excellent Coward Springs. Sounds like nothing, but we were trying to cut down paying for camping every night, very easy to do in Australia.
Coward Springs was absolutely worth every cent. Good camping, how showers – heated by a wood burner, so even too hot for my lovely lady who literally cannot have a shower too hot…
Also a bore sunk into the same water from the Great Artesian Basin that feeds the mound springs, which after my run the next morning I took a dunk in, to refresh my body and also my running clothes.
I notice in my morning check over of the truck, that the ageing ARB rear dampers have breathed out a little oil yesterday. Nothing major just a dust covered vapour on each one. I wipe them clean so I can see if they do it again, take 5psi out of the rear tyres and decide to keep my speed below 80km/h for the rest of the track.
We hit the road again, and after consulting the excellent ‘String of Springs’ guide which we had luckily downloaded at Marree yesterday lunch, meant I was headed for Stangeways Springs.
All along this track are remenants of firstly the Telegraph Line, that was to connect Adelaide to Darwin, and Australia to the rest of the world. Then also the first ‘Ghan’ train line. Named after the Afghan Cameliers, that blazed the trail. Now leading to Australia having the biggest population of feral camels anywhere in the world.
So Strangeway Springs was originally a community to serve the telegraph line, based particularly here due to the large amount to mound springs. In fact most of the original communities along this track were based around these water sources. This is how the indigenous people used to traverse this land, whilst not being the most direct route it was the inly one that you could take and survive. Then using the same springs was how the early white explorers made it through this country too, sustainably at least. So when it was time to put in the telegraph line and then the railway these also followed these ancient trails. Until telegraph was replaced with more modern technology, and the railway was moved further west. Why move such a large engineering undertaking? Too much damage from flooding in this region, beggars belief travelling through here now.
I take a wander around the spectacular mound springs.
Also, I photographed what I think are four different types of Samphire. A mostly coastal, edible plant. Boring? Well it’s my blog…
Oh, and there were some piles of rubble there too.
Each to their own, but give me natural wonder over human history any day of the week.
On through William Creek, another nothing town. I notice fuel is $2.20 here, again I’m glad for the extended range of the Long Ranger sub tank, that thing must have paid for itself by now.
The track itself is just no fun for driving. Almost every surface is rough and requires concentration, but not in a good way. Also the vast majority of the scenery is pretty desolate.
Eventually we peel off again to another side track, for some lunch and some more ruins. This was Peake Telegraph station, once quite a little community it would seem.
The next thing that grabs our attention is a massive old railway bridge.
We dive up for a look. Did we make it across?
I jest, of course. Australia is much too highly regulated for any sort of shenanigans.
Although someone did try it once, when the river below was flooded. Shame they didn’t check their timetable, as the train came right along a smashed their car off the end of the bridge, the wreck is still there to prove it.
There was a small rocky hill to drive up, leading to some good views from the top.
This bridge spanned the Neales River, which at this time the only water that seems to exist is at the Algebuckina Waterhole, again fed by the Great Artesian Basin. Containing its own species of fish, plants and crustaceans.
This was another great bush camp, only let down by signs of other campers not managing to tidy up after themselves. Unfortunately only to be expected on,these ‘name’ tracks.
I check the rear shocks. One is bone dry, about a thumb-print sized leak out of the other. Good, those changes seem to have worked.
As I’m cooking dinner that night, I can see some serious weather rolling in. ‘Fancy’ dinner plans are scaled back to something more basic and we get everything as ready to leave as we can just in case.
It’s still and calm when we go to bed, but by about midnight some serious gale force winds have hit us, plus some fork lightning just for fun. I get up to collapse and roll up the awning, and add some extra guy ropes, to help the old girl survive the wind. We are somewhat sheltered behind a healthily looking young tree and some rushes, just as well all that water is there!
I take the time to have a good look round to see if I can see any fires on the horizon. The country is tinder dry and with winds like this things can get bad, real fast.
I formulate a couple of emergency plans in my head just in case. That hill we drove up yesterday is not far away if we need a better view.
Eventually the winds die down and a small amount of rain falls, making me feel better. We get a small amount of broken sleep, and get up to a still morning as if nothing had happened.
We break camp and push on to Oodnadatta township. Take a quick photo of the truck outside the famous pink roadhouse (which has all sorts of supplies and information inside), get them to make us a quick breakfast and then press on.
After last nights drama and a few days of rough driving we are both ready to get back on the bitumen for a break. With just over 200km to Marla to go.
This section is the roughest yet though. Usual corrugations, potholes and rocks to dodge. Plus also big daddy corrugations, not the sort you can buzz along on top of, but the sort that your whole wheel drops into. The truck is taking a pounding. After about 80km we find a dry creek to pull into. Time to let everything cool off and check those rear dampers. Hmmm, not good.
The ‘better’ one has a proper oil leak. The other has just haemorrhaged all its oil. I was expecting it to be red hot, no so. It was still working fine, but whatever was holding in the oil has quit. Luckily I have one spare. A good mate who works on Cruisers all day long managed to grab me a useable rear spare. I wasn’t expecting to need it so soon, but I’m bloody glad I had it. Thanks Ash!
It should be noted that it was entirely my decision not to change these before this trip. I had taken them off the truck and despite them looking pretty average, the action felt good. I thought they would go a bit further before replacement, I was wrong, but that’s easier to take than someone else getting it wrong.
We drove on more slowly. At times I was driving up the wrong side of the road for miles at a time. The southbound track was considerably less rough, probably due to less traffic. Luckily you can literally see the track ahead for miles at a time, and any oncoming vehicle is signalled by its dust cloud long before you see the actual car.
I stopped three more times to check the dampers. All good, the used spare was fine and the other one wasn’t getting any worse. With no spare I think we would have been limited to about 30km/h or around 4 hours out, so the 70km/h we were doing was a blessing. Not to mention what other damage might have been done if that shock had seized and snapped.
We arrived at Marla with no further drama. Time for some lunch and then just an easy drive north on the highway. The Northern Territory awaited…