Dirt Road Trip.

Well, it’s been a bloody long time since I’ve had a weekend 4×4 adventure. After getting back from our big trip around Australia. My good mate The Accountant and I had a week or so exploring some desert tracks in South Australia’s far north. Apart from that it has been just settling back into the routine of normal life and exploring on my other road/dirt machine.

So, The Accountant and the L322 Rangie would be back for this one, plus my other mate Scotty in his 90’s Pajero (Montero) would join us for day 1. Plus, of course, my 105 Series Land Cruiser. So three quite different trucks, from three different decades. Which in this context, basically all do the same thing (ie; don’t feel you need a ‘serious rig‘ to have some overland fun :).

Some maps:

Our home town of Adelaide at the top, Nagarkat CP that we did on Day 1 to the south-east, Mount Gambier down the bottom and Canunda NP that we did on Day 2 highlighted with the marker.

The same, slightly zoomed out. Adelaide to Sydney is about 1300km/800miles for reference.

Heading down straight from work in Adelaide on the Friday night. Let me tell you there aren’t many better feelings than rolling into work in a packed fourby on a Friday, and then heading straight out of town whilst everyone else is battling home to watch The Batchy or whatever most people do…

So we met up at the country town of Tailem Bend 100km south east of Adelaide. This would give us a headstart tomorrow before hitting the trails. It also meant a night in a swag, a few drinks and a meal in a country pub. Pretty much an essential part of any Australian 4×4 trip.

Observe the swag master… (not the swag master). Photos don’t show it but it was pissing it down at this point, whilst Scotty and I were sat on the Cruisers rear tailgate pissing ourselves laughing.

 


The birds got us up nice and early. We grabbed some breakfast on our way out of Tailem Bend town. Grabbed our permits for the Park we were heading to also, whilst we had internet reception.

We soon turned due east along the Mallee Highway. I’ve driven his road a few times before, heading out on various adventures. However, this time in the morning, and the position of the sun reminded me of driving this way 3 years ago on our way to running the Border Track. That time I was riding in the The Accountant’s P38 Rover (yes, he still has it) discussing what would be the best way to fund and take a year off work from a tax point of view – and here we are now, sun in the same place in the sky, the trip I was planning, done and dusted. Back to normal life and doing weekenders. Nothing wrong with that.

Soon enough we turned due south. Onto the dirt and in short time we were at the entrance to the park.

 

 

Aired down we cracked on in. None of the big stretches of water we had hit last time we were out this way, but you could see where it had been. First stop was the Box Head Homestead Ruins, c1883. An area had been meshed off since last time we were here as it seems the chimney might be heading earthwards at some point. These ruins are all that remain of the unsuccessful attempts to farm this area. Ruins like these seem to be a theme of a lot of the places I get to.

We took some tracks we hadn’t taken before, it is pretty straightforward running here. You could get a 2wd vehicle through here with half decent ground clearance. Anyway, there was plenty of big sky action to be had.

 

We hit an area that a bushfire had been through maybe a year or so ago – the section of the border track  to the west, that we ran last time that literally follows the SA/VIC border is closed for summer, as it is just a north south track with no side roads, and so would not be a good place to be if a bushfire came through the area.

ngarkat-conservation-park-overview-map (1)

Fire brings life as well as death in Australia.

The park is pretty well sign posted with what is public access and what isn’t, I took this side trail just to see where it went as it wasn’t marked No Public Access, after a while the bush started to close in, and in…

We took turns in doing a U-bolt and headed back to the main track.

By now time was ticking on. We started to head back to the highway. The trails good and long, stretching out the horizon. Yumping over smaller dune systems, never has 40km/h felt so fast.

En-route, a short detour up Mt Rescue.

I could see this was going to get steep and popped Bertha into low range. Up we went, about 3/4 of the way up the sand got soft, and deep. Bertha ploughed on, struggling noticeably. Within ten metres of the top I finally ground to a halt bogged in the soft sand.

Looks like nothing as usual but the sand was super fine.

Realising I had none of the three lockable differentials locked, I locked everything up, but the sand was too soft to drive out of the pit I had dug myself. So I backed down a few metres and tried again. Still just digging holes. So backed down a few metres more, to just above the point that the Pajero and the Rangie had got to, where the hill gets really steep.

This time the Cruiser was just able to get enough traction for forward, rather than downward motion, and so I trickled it forward till we had I was probably doing a heady 1km/h, then gave it the berries. With everything locked there seems to be no time at least one wheels doesn’t have traction (at least in dry conditions) and we romped easily up to the top.

Good view from up here.

 

Photos taken, I did a million point turn to get the 105 pointing the right way back down, for an easy descent.

Back down the tough bit and I found Scotty with the Paj at and awkward angle and unbolting his shovel from the roof rack “It just wants to turn sideways onto the hill…!” he said as I hopped out of Bertha, “Yeah, it will do that” I said, “you want me to try drive it out?” “Yeah, sure”. A bit of jiggering around and I got the Mitsi squared back up with the trail at least. Anyone who has tried backing down a steep hill will know how the truck can quickly seem to have a mind of its own and want to turn side on to the slope (hence my reluctance not to get up hills in one take, reversing down can be a very sketchy business). With the sand so soft, too much lock on the steering and the front wheels will just plough straight on the line of least resistance (ie; down). I learnt this lesson getting recovered myself a few months prior in the Perdika Desert, in some nasty, rocky desert mud. Small inputs only on the steering was the name of the game, for the steering wheel to have any effect at all. I backed the Mitsi down about five metres and said to Scotty “you want me to take it all the way down?”, “if you would”, “ok, you bring the Cruiser down”. So, slowly, slowly, I backed down the Pajero. All down, all safe.

Time was ticking on so we started to head back out to the highway.

Stopping at another set of ruins.

Then it was air up time and hit the bitumen. We still had about 3 hours of driving to get to our destination.

So we just stuck to the bitumen and got to the hillclimb in time to see the lads do their last runs of the day. It was pretty cold and wet at the event so many racing driver excuses were out in force. I’m sure I would have been no different.

We stayed with friends of friends that night. Throwing down the swags in their front garden.


Up early enough to see the racers off. Scotty deciding to spend the day with his brother, left just The Accountant and I to do a bit more exploring on the way home.

We wound up some lesser roads up the coast till we reached Canunda NP. There was a trail that headed up through the park. With an option to reconnect with the bitumen after about 35km, this would probably work out about right and leave us enough time to get home.

It was pretty much straight into soft coastal dunes. Me getting the 105 tilted over at an angle and enough of a dip in-front of me to make me stop, clamber out the side window and reassess – yeah I think we’ll go back and round this one.

 

Sand was soft!

 

As the coastal vegetation started to close in on the track The Accountant stopped to add his novel scratch protecting. After the Rangie took a clearcoat hammering last time we were down this way, he came prepared with office supplies this time. (my Cruiser is well past the point of protecting…).

Laugh ye may. We did! But it did the job.

As you can see we had more overcast skies today. Maybe robbing us of the very best of the coastal views, but hey, there are worse places to spend your weekend.

The big Tata doing its thing.

There are plenty of flooded sections. This part of South Australia gets rain that the rest of the state can only dream of. The chicken tracks easily bypass most crossings at this time of year. There are warnings on the way in that the track might be impassable at times in winter.

The sand was broken up with patches of basalt bedrock, which is where being able to unlock all the diffs comes in handy.

 

The track is clearly marked through the dunes and there is no need to deviate from it, doesn’t mean some haven’t, of course… but generally it looked like most had done the right thing. An official offshoot takes you up this big old dune for a view out over Lake Bonney, and makes you feel suitably small.

There were a few more side tracks that will have to wait till next time (I would like to come back here in winter, when the water crossings are up). Coming down this far is probably a bit much in a weekend, but it was good to get a look at yet another secluded part of our state that you don’t hear much about.

Aired up we cruised into the town of Millicent for fuel for the trucks and the drivers, as it was by now nearly midday, and having opted not to bring any cooking gear on this short escapade we were pretty famished. Still 5 hours home from here, although up the Coorong Road, which is one of the more picturesque drives in the state.

So podcast on, and settle in.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers.

One thought on “Dirt Road Trip.”

  1. I distinctly remember you mentioning we were on the same road when I provided the advice regarding tax perks and taking a year off. Luckily the advice was sound, because I have no recollection of providing the advice, nor the road. It’s the important things that count.

    The Accountant

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