These are old posts from the now defunct www.overland.kinja.com. Rescued by a good person, before the ship went down. I’m just posting them here for my own record…
Murray Sunset National Park lies in the very north west corner of the state of Victoria in Australia. It is Victoria’s second largest NP, at some 677,000 hectares. It also borders South Australia.
Champ was organising this trip and he rang me mid morning on Friday, the day we were leaving. He had been doing a job at a 4×4 workshop and had got the hot tip that the tracks over the border at ‘Mopo’ National Park were much better fun. He asked me to look it up on my Hema mapping. Nothing. I couldn’t find anything with that name. More searching and googling I found a Mopoke Hut and Mopoke 4wd track within the Murray Sunset NP. It was in the right area, that had to be what this guy was on about.
A quick phone call, we decided to give the new plan a go. I was working in the Barossa Valley that day, so was already an hour up the road. I could use that time to make a quick plan, while the others convoyed up to Renmark, where we were meeting that evening.
I finished up in the Barossa and turned the 105 north east, to pound out the drive up to the Riverland. The sky had been moody all day.
Arriving while it was still light, I grabbed a beer and got down to some quick and dirty route planning.
Mopoke hut was a fair way east, into the park. We would need to make some ground tonight if we were to arrive comfortably tomorrow, not knowing what the conditions were like in the park itself. Information on the park was fairly light on, being so far from it’s capital city I guess. I found one trip report, but that was brief, as it rained heavily on their first night and they just back-tracked out, for fear of getting stuck driving further in.
We would drop in to the park from the north, night drive a bit tonight, find somewhere to camp and then push on for the hut tomorrow.
That pub looks great from the outside, but I didn’t get the best feeling about it’s food. So I had a quick wander to see what I could find. Round the corner was a place doing pizzas, it had a good vibe to it, with a couple of heavily accented Italian kids running the show, always a good sign.
The lads arrived just after dark. This trip was me in the Cruiser, Scotty and Champ in the Pajero and Daz in his Challenger. Pauly in Challenger no 2 was also meant to be here, however his starter motor had failed that morning, he did push to fix it and catch up, but then breaking an exhaust manifold stud, plus the fact we didn’t know where we were going to be, plus the fact phone reception would be zero, meant he had to sit this one out.
The pizza place turned out to be the right call (Smokehouse Pizza, if you’re ever in the area).
Batman dropped in.
Sorry, night photography is obviously not my forte.
Back in the trucks. I got Champ to drive the Land Cruiser so that I could spend some quality time with the GPS. We would be trying to find a track into the top of this park and then make our way south. With the late change of plan no good paper map was available, I grabbed what I could off the net beforehand, but being dark and the Hema showing multiple tracks (most of which I knew might not be there or accessible) being able to focus solely on navigation while it was dark was for the best.
We crossed the border, and after a few false starts we found a trail in. Thankfully here the vegetation was pretty open, the trails were mostly dry, with only the odd water splash and slipping around on the mud as we were still at highway pressures.
The area had supported a number of different industries before becoming a National Park in the 1970’s, so there was relics of grazing, salt industry and mining throughout the park. We stopped at a few on the way through, just as much to break up the driving as anything. The GPS showed us not even on tracks at times, even though we clearly were, I guess that is why the advice is never to rely on these pieces of technology exclusively, however I could see we were still headed in the correct direction.
We drove till about 10pm, then started looking for a campsite, no joke within about 10 minutes we saw a turn off with a sign for ‘Campsite 2km’. The park is free and the campsites are free and don’t need booking, I wasn’t expecting much, but as with all the sites we saw in this park, it was a proper camping area, bush toilet, benches, fire pits, etc. Cue jokes about how I planned this all along, and how these wealthy Victorians can afford all the good stuff!
Amazingly the sky had cleared, so we had some stars to wonder at after we had quickly thrown up the swags. We stayed up for a bit, all in a good mood, this trip already had a good feel to it.
This was about as much of the sunrise as I got, the completely overcast skies were back and would stay with us for the next two days.
We broke camp, sand flags on, aired down – the Mitsi’s down to 20psi and my heavier Cruiser with my usual collection of tools, recovery gear, etc, down to 22psi. Along a different trail we headed back to the main track.
This was about the same as the puddles we had seen last night.
We pushed on south, the tracks and terrain looking very much like the Border Track from last year, which is not surprising, we were directly north of there.
We then turned due east along Pheenys Track, I know this because around the Shearers Quarters at the camping area we were staying at Daz had found, not only an official park map, but also a visitor survey for us to fill out. Lord only knows why this map isn’t available online, anyway, with this plus the GPS we would be navigation error free for the rest of the trip (I know I probably get a bit too excited about maps, but if there is any place to do that, this is probably it…).
The guy that Champ had spoke to, had talked about tricky sections with ‘chicken tracks’ around them. We were yet to see anything like that, I was wondering that maybe I had picked up the wrong end of the stick and had missed what he was talking about. Fast trails with just a few corrugations, still better than being stuck in the office, don’t get me wrong, but we were hoping for a few challenges along the way.
Then, we started to hit the puddles. Who knows how long ago this rain fell, but with land this flat and overcast like this it would linger for quite sometime.
Mind you, it would seem Australia’s interior has seen an unexpected amount of rain recently, leading to vehicle bogging in un-expected places.
One wonders, what a set of MaxTrax’s would have done there…
Ok, boring stuff over. Now the bog puddles just kept on coming. Some decent holes to drop a wheel into.
Daz getting properly sideways through one of the sections.
All of a sudden the Paj lost power through one of the water splashes, and all was not happy.
Less well protected underneath and the only engine to run a distributor, that was the first port of call.
Sure enough, some muddy water had made its way into the dizzy. We cleaned it out. It appears a seal was missing from the base of the distributor, we tried sealing it up with some sealant but it didn’t fit well and another dry out would be required later. However, it worked enough.
Another fast sections. Then another decent hole. I plunged the Land Cruiser in.
As soon as it went in I knew I was on struggle street. The fast sections had made me lazy with gear selection. This was deeper, I was moving a greater volume of water before and I know straight away that that I needed low range. Too late now, I opened the taps on the 105 and hoped it had enough grunt to push through. One hit slowed our process and then another brought it to a halt. I backed up and grabbed low range but now momentum was lost. Big Bertha was stuck.
Looking closely, you can see the tyres are clogged, plus my front diff has been dragging in the mud. The two hits I felt were probably the same obstacle with the front and rear wheels. Essentially no front drive plus the rear hitting something was enough to strand me. Complete driver error, I knew that straight away. It was close to making it through.
It’s worth mentioning that most of these boggy sections had chicken tracks around. Most. If you are local and reading this, there are sections with no such escape, so you need multiple recovery options, or you’ve got a long walk…
Scotty brought the Pajero around the chicken track. I contemplated MaxTraaxs, but as I was close to out anyway, a small snatch seemed the best option. Sometimes not getting covered in mud is attractive.
I fished out my old snatch strap. One rated shackle off the Cruiser, we borrowed the tow bar pin out of Daz’s Challenger for the Pajero, the ‘deadweight’ bag in the middle and hooked it all up. Champ jumped in the Paj. I gave him brief instructions for the recovery “I’ll start my wheels spinning and give you a toot on the horn, then take off with about 10% more throttle than normal, that’s it. Should be enough. Either way I’ll toot again when it is time to stop” and that’s how it played out.
Snatch straps are so effective at deploying the energy of one truck to another, mostly very little force is required. One person in each vehicle, everyone else well back. Just the smallest jerk (snigger) and out popped the 105. No drama.
We bagged up the muddy recovery gear and chucked it in the back of the Cruiser… The water rushed back into the hidden deep ruts.
Knowing what I had got wrong the first time. I 180’d the 105, drove round the chicken track, gave the tyres a bit of a spin back up the track to fling some mud out. Now properly in low range and maybe just a smudge more speed, hit the puddle of doom again.
Of course, low range made all the difference. Straight through, it still struggled with that diff digging in, but now we had the easy torque to make it through.
Scotty. Who had been concerned about even making it out a few hundred metres earlier. Just saddled up, took the Paj round and jumped right in.
You could see the Mitsubishi struggle a little at the same places where the Toyota had, but through no problem.
Dazzler knew there was no option… Round went the Challenger.
Again on struggle street for a period, but through she came.
To be honest, this is about as good as risk free 4×4 driving gets. There is no ravine to roll down, there is no tide coming in to sweep your pride and joy away, there isn’t even much to hit. It is remote, but only if you have to walk, multiple vehicles kind of negates that. None of my pals are experienced 4×4’ers, so this sort of stuff is great.
Another fast short section brought us to this.
Easy at the start, but I could see there was a small lake at the end, we walked it.
There was a chicken line over the scrub down one side, but really…Where is the fun in that, plus, we live in the driest state in the world, when do we get to play in the mud?
Definitely low range from the get go this time. My tyres had come up to 24psi with the heat of the fast sections, so they went down to 18psi. I chucked my phone to Champ for photo duties and got on with it.
As is often the case, this one looked bad but was a walk in the park to the previous puddle. Everyone else splashed on through.
Jackson Pollock’s little known work, mud on Land Cruiser.
Another dry section, then another fairly innocuous looking puddle. Tyres down and low range yet still…
You can see clearly the front diff and control arm digging channels, those trenches were deeper than they looked.
Round came the Paj for another extraction. Remember me putting that dirty snatch strap safely in the back of the Cruiser…
While I slipped and slid around on the edges of that muddy pool, trying to get the tailgate open while trying not to take a muddy bath, I told the fella’s the story of Tim’s winch controller being stuck in his rear draws when he couldn’t get in the tailgate, glad I learned from reading that! (not)
I got Scotty to drive the Paj this time. Perfect time for him to get a bit of recovery experience. Same instructions as before, same result.
I was actually keen to see how one of the IFS trucks would go through here, slightly better I would suspect, as their clearance look a little better in that particular area. None of the lads were game though, fair enough.
Ok, snatchy and shackles, go here now.
Back in the lead I cracked on, all the bog holes had been great fun but, had slowed our progress to metres per hour, not kilometres. I noticed I was on my own, hung a U-turn to find the Paj receiving it’s second dizzy drying. All fixed we went again, I kept more of an eye on me rearview, soon there were no Mitsi’s following me, I backed it up. Found Champ walking alongside while Scotty drove, apparently they had a transmission noise after the last set of puddles (there were MANY we didn’t stop and photo) that was getting worse.
We all had a bit of a poke around.
That would be it then. Lack of CV boot plus copious dirty water high pressure dunking had predictable effects. We had a brief discussion over it.
By now were basically in the most remote part of a remote park. It was further to go back than it was to go forwards. On the plus side, the Pajero could be run in RWD most of the time, taking the load right off that part. We had two other vehicles that were quite capable of towing it out of the park (with hindsight, later tracks we encountered might have made this option a bit dicey – this is why I re-fuelled the 105, you might get 80% of the way out and then have to re-trace, you can’t be too prepared for the unknown). We had enough tools and knowledge to dismantle that driveshaft if necessary, removing the shaft and just leaving the ends in place. Enough options. Press on.
Next, the Land Cruiser started making un-holy noises from the front axle. Again there pantomime of walking alongside while it was being driven played out, plus copious checking underneath for holed axle casings, etc. I was pretty confident it was some little stone trapped somewhere in the brake system punching above its weight. We drove on, but the howling did not abate. Having one lame vehicle was no biggie. Potentially two with issues, upped the stakes significantly.
The puddles were starting to take their toll…
I suggested to Champ we call lunch, while I pulled the front wheels off the 105. We pulled over.
Took the drivers side wheel off, felt for excessive heat, put everything in neutral, rotated it around a bunch, shone a torch everywhere relevant. Nuttin.
Did the same the other side, definite sound rotating forward, rotated it backwards and… ker-plunk! something dropped out. Bolted it back together, smashed down one of Champ’s rolls from heaven
First puddle we went through after lunch the noise came back, if I left foot braked while driving it went away, so I was confident it was nothing to worry about, after about 20 minutes it gave it’s last squeal as it finally dislodged.
As we turned south the terrain turned back to dry and sandy.
My truck was mud splatted, but the other two looked liked they were coming out of a war zone after running in my dust.
Yeah Daz, I know, RAD 24/7 you is.
This was good, we were covering decent ground know. We took our last junction to take us to Mopoke Track, on which was Mopoke Hut, our campground for the night.
Again the terrain changed. More clay like and spare scrub. Just before we got to Mopoke Track we encountered a flooded section, several hundred meters long, no chicken track around it, in fact the surrounding areas were just as flooded.
We walked it, there was no option but to try to follow the track through the flood. The left side was noticeable deeper. We would go one at a time, as if a recovery was necessary here, it was going to be considerably more involved, with no good ground for a recovery vehicle to work from.
I mounted the Cruiser and took it in to battle. Not too bad to start with, although the clay surface was slippery, as soon as the tracks started to get deeper the truck was slewing to the left, as if being dragged by a giant underwater hand, beckoning it into the deep sludge. I gave it some more throttle and a bit more steering, which was enough to keep the beast straight. There was a raised patch about halfway, I gladly popped the 105 up onto that, and stopped. The next section looked even worse, I really didn’t want to be stuck three quarters of the way into this. Time for another walk.
The other joined me on our mini island, all experiencing the same problems trying to stop their truck getting dragged into the deep left ditch.
[side note; so we were all on different tyres. BFG AT KO2’s for me, Bridgestone Mud Terrains on the Pajero and Mickey Thompson ATZ’s on the Challenger. All pretty much the same size, all quite new. Judging by my highly accurate eyeball-ometer, they all seemed to perform pretty much the same in these conditions, as we all slid around about the same amount in the same spots]
It was pretty comical us all marooned on this little patch of earth, unsure of going forwards but no other choice. Only one way to find out, back to the trucks.
First adore the beauty of the grace and athleticism, that is The Champ.
As it turned out the second half looked worse than it drove, all through easy.
From here it was a straightforward drive to our campsite at Mopoke Hut. The plan was to leave the Pajero here and then just take two trucks north to check out Rocket Lake.
Mopoke Hut was originally built for the cattle herders, probably sometime in the 70’s. it is maintained by a local 4×4 club.
We headed out on sandy tracks to Rocket Lake. That’ll be a dry lake then…
You get used to such things in Australia land.
My old mate Pigface was here.
There was a smudge of water here, down the track.
We headed back to camp. Made a fire and food and drinks.
We had made the decision to drive south, pretty much directly back to the highway. There was another 4×4 track that headed back west through the park, but due to the Pajero’s driveshaft issue that would have to wait for another day. In the end this turned out to be the correct decision anyway. There was enough to battle for one weekend, just getting out of the park, plus the 350km drive to Adelaide once we did make it back to the highway.
Anyway it was nice to take a touch more time this morning. Good breakfasts all round. The overcast skies had meant quite temperate conditions. We had planned for properly cold nights, as that was what we got on the Border track last year, but we had all slept with our swags open both nights.
Morning check over of the vehicles. The odd blown bulb, fluid levels, belts, a look around underneath, check the tyres, all normal stuff.
Cruiser looking surprisingly normal under-bonnet, if a little dusty, no signs of water getting up here though. I’d like to think I am as much un-brand allegiant as they come. However, the thoughtfulness of the design in regards to on-going off-road usage, and the quality of the Toyota fixture and fittings can’t be denied. Electrical connectors, hoses, fixings are all a step on from the other 4×4’s I have owned, and from most vehicles I have cast a grimy hand over.
This is my normal morning routine when I am in the bush. better to spot anything starting to go awry here, than when it reaches it’s final conclusion. Been there, got the T-shirt, don’t want another one…
Packed up we headed due south. Soft sandy tracks awaited.
Low range through there, and then another long flooded section.
Again, all the sides were flooded, including the chicken track. We walked it and found a narrow dry line between the chicken and the main track.
We carefully picked our line through.
Champ guided the other trucks.
Daz, couldn’t resist one last cheeky splash…
Then we were back out to the most accessible part of the part. Pink lakes (not so pink with these skies) and maintained roads meant it was time to air up.
A quick stop at the last mound of salt to be harvested out of this area. Saying hello to a family that had mountain biked it out to this point “A bit muddy in there then?” “Yeah mate, a bit”
From there we headed back to the highway, then to civilisation. The mighty Pajero in the lead, just in case that driveshaft cried enough.
Classic Youth Group on the stereo for me. More great Australian music I had picked up from my time in the Army. Back over the river Murray again, then home.
Thanks for reading along, cheers.