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Central Australia part 3 - Strzelecki & Birdsville Tracks
The trip from Melbourne was via the Western Highway to Bordertown, then via Pinaroo for an overnight stop on Sunday, 30th June 2002. The next day, we proceeded through Berri and across the ferry on the western approach to Morgan (see photo).
From Morgan, we went on to our second overnight stop in Leigh Creek, via Burra, Peterborough and Hawker. We spent 2 nights in Leigh Creek, so we could look around the area we got rained-in the previous year. On the Tuesday, we were checking out Aroona Dam and a drive to the east of Parachilna through the Glass Gorge. On Glass Gorge Rd, one of the locals escorted us (see photo). We also destroyed our first tyre due to running "Bitumen" pressures [38psi]. The local road rock pierced the rear tyre much like a pin with a fully inflated balloon [BANG]! We got our spare tyre mounted at Angorichina Village and kept the tyre carcass for a jerry can holder as they didn't have any tyres of our type.
On Wednesday, it was time to hit the dirt, but first we had to find a spare tyre. Leigh Creek had one so we bought it. Check the tyres and set the pressures to 30 psi! Off to Lyndhurst, the start of the Strzelecki and check the sign. What a difference to last year's all closed sign!
The Dingo Fence crosses the Strzelecki Track about 103 Km from Lyndhurst. The Fence is currently about 4,850 Km long, down from an original length of around 10,000 Km, still the longest man-made barrier in the world! It is three times the length of the Great Wall of China!
After travelling 221 Km from Lyndhurst, it was time for lunch at Montecollina Bore. Bernie made us a sandwich and had to fend off the local wild (tame?) life. This little fantail wasn't happy to just get a crumb or three from her fingers, he wanted the whole thing.
Now you hear stories about how the centre floods from time to time. This photo has a "tinny" boat, with a damaged side, in the tree, about 10 feet above the ground. This is where the Strzelecki Creek crosses the Strzelecki Track at a causeway. There is no way you could get across the creek when it is 10 foot deep (and probably several kilometres wide).
The trip to Innamincka occupied the rest of the day travelling past the Moomba Oil and Gas fields and the workers township of Moomba (no access to the public). In fact it was dark by the time we pulled into the General Store. After having Tea at the Pub, we headed out east about 16 Km to Cullyamurra Waterhole on the Cooper Creek, to find a campsite. After finding a nice spot, we set up camp and retired after a cup of tea and viewing the stars with no light for miles. We didn't realise how nice until the next morning, when Bernie took this picture! The Bird life was amazing.
We spent two nights at Cullyamurra Waterhole, resting most of the next day, but looking around the area during the afternoon and taking the short trip to the Innamincka Choke. The Choke is where the rushing flood waters in the Cooper, get choked up and the resulting pressure, caused the waterhole to be carved out. I always thought that waterholes in Central Australia were small, like metres in size and here we have this waterhole several Km long and up to 100 metres wide and up to 28 metres deep.
The following day, we packed up and did a day trip from Innamincka, where we filled up with Petrol at $1.18 per litre, crossed the Queensland border, past the Epsilon and Omicron Stations to Cameron Corner, where petrol was $2.00 per litre and is where the three state borders meet. As this trip was just over 200 Km, I decided not to fill up as we did have 20 litres in the Jerry on the roof. We returned to Innamincka via the Old Strzelecki Track, again having Tea at the Pub, before finding a camp spot (again in the dark) at Ski Beach west of town.
The Next morning we broke camp and refuelled at Innamincka, before heading back across the Queensland border, to the famous Burke and Wills Dig Tree, near the Nappa Merrie Station. Burke and Wills established a camp at the Dig Tree site before pushing north in 1861. The party left behind broke camp, but left supplies buried near by, just before Burke's party returned.
From the Dig Tree, we returned to Innamincka via a northerly route, using the Innamincka Flood bypass road. Here we had to stop while the cattle were being driven back to the station.
From Innamincka, we headed 106 Km northwest to the Coongie Lake Reserve. Again we choose to stay 2 nights, having another rest day after the hectic previous 2 days. The Bird life was again prolific and it was fun to sit on the banks of the lake and watch the antics of the birds, especially as dusk arrived. Here a bird takes a last drink before retiring for the night. On the trip out, we destroyed the plastic under engine guard on the sand dune exit. We picked up the pieces and noticed that a rear tyre was looking a bit flat. It was down to 20 psi and I found a nail in the tyre (our second puncture), but left it on with some more air in it until we got back to Innamincka for repairs.
Tyre repaired and race tape holding the plastic undertray together and good night's sleep in a caravan in Innamincka, it was time to head towards Birdsville, via the Cordillo Downs Road. At Cordillo Downs is the worlds' largest shearing shed, now in disuse, but being maintained by 4WD groups and others. Cordillo Downs runs about 7,000 head of cattle on the property, but in the early days, they ran up to 85,000 sheep on 7,800 square Km. The Shearer's rode bicycles up from Innamincka, 167 Km away.
The next 87 Km to Cadelga Ruins was uneventful. After leaving Cadelga, we blew another tyre on the stoney road surface just before the border to Queensland. This had 30 psi in it, but apparently this was too high [not that I thought this at the time]. After changing it, I rechecked the tyre pressures and reduced the fronts a bit, but not the rears as the sides bulge with less than 30 psi. After 30 km, when we reached the Birdsville Development Road, I rechecked and balanced down the tyres ready for the last run in.
Unfortunately, just before 5 pm at the Roseberth Station turnoff, some 32 Km from Birdsville, we did another tyre. Now we were in trouble, but luck was with us, I could repair the puncture, with a radial tyre patch, but could not rebead the tyre with my compressor! We waved down another traveller, but his compressor couldn't either, so out with a tube and we were able to get going. We sent them on their way as it was getting late, whilst we repacked the car and followed.
About 13 Km from Birdsville, retched luck persisted and we got a puncture in the same tyre and as it was tubed it went straight down. Now it was 7:15pm and dark. So we started to sort this out when another 4WD drive came along. We asked the girls in the Toyota to send out help from Birdsville, in case we could not sort it. Theo from the Shell garage came out in his Toyota and collected my new tyre and rim and took me on a fast run into Birdsville to mount the tyre and return in a short time. We got going and finally made it in by 9:30 pm. We camped at the camp ground.
After sorting out the tyres, getting better info for tyre pressures (25 psi) and paying for our rescue, it was time to explore Birdsville. The water supply is artesian, straight out of a bore on the edge of town. The water temperature is 90 degrees Centigrade, once piped straight to the houses, but the likelyhood of legal litigation should someone be burnt, has forced a rethink. Now the water is piped into cooling towers before being distributed to the houses. Now they have to have water heaters to heat it back up for washing and showers!
Outside of town, 8 Km to the North, are the rarest trees in the world! The waddi tree [Acacia Peuce] are known to grow in only 3 areas! They grow only 30 cm per year (in good rainfall years) so the example in the photo is an old fellow (up to 500 years old) as they grow to heights of 13 to 17 metres. The wood is so hard that saws and axes become blunt when trying to cut it.
Big Red is the largest of the Simpson Desert dunes. It also happens to be the first, 35 Km from Birdsville. We didn't "play" due to the piece meal plastic undertray. The mounding in the centre of the track was higher than 200mm, the ground clearance of the Subaru Forester, so we would have to repair the undertray. There were at least 4 Foresters in town and at least one did go over it, admittedly with no load on board as they were staying in a cabin at the park.
You MUST visit the Birdsville Working Museum. John Menzies, owns, collects, restores and demonstrates items from the museum during his guided tours which take up to 45 mins every 2 hours. He demonstrated the cardboard record player, playing the kids some nursery rhythms. He operated the hand crank washing machine and had the horse cut it's own chaff. We spent another hour just viewing the other exhibits.
It's worth checking out the local artist's gallery. He had his paintings on show at the Pub when we were there. His paintings are very life like.
After 3 nights, it was time to head South along the famous Birdsville track back towards Marree. We decided to spend the night at Mungerannie in a cabin, before continuing to Marree. At Marree, we took the Muloorina Station road into Lake Eyre to check out the lake without water. We stayed the night at Marree in a better and cheaper cabin accommodation at the caravan park in town than we had at Mungerannie.
We had completed in 2 weeks, what we had set out to do. As we still have 2 weeks, we decided to head to the Eyre Peninsula, via the Oodnadatta Track and the Borefield Road to Roxby Downs and onto Woomera. The displays in town are worth a look. We continued to an overnight stay in Port Augusta staying at the Acacia Ridge Motel, where we enjoyed a stay before in 2000.
We headed off on the Eyre Highway, stopping at Kimba for morning tea and a walk on their local trail. This town deserves to win a "tidy and friendly town" award for their attitude to visitors. On to Wudinna and the local Hill and Turtle Rock. Then we went on to Minnipa and checked out Pildappa Rock [photo]. This is another rock on a smaller scale than Ayers Rock, but quiet interesting in its own right!
We continued to Ceduna for the night, staying in a Motel as we were planning to head to the "Head of Bight" for whale watching the next day. The Head is a fascinating place as to the West, there are steep cliffs rising above the water, whilst to the East we have sandy beaches. They have built viewing platforms so that you can safely view the whales that breed in the warmer waters off Australia. We returned to Ceduna for the night, around trip of some 600 Km.
Now it was time to explore the Eyre Peninsula, heading to Streaky Bay and on to Point Labatt Sealion colony. From Pt Labatt, we paid a visit to Murphy's Hay Stacks, only to find that they had turned rock solid.
We spent the night at Venus Bay and the next morning took 2 hours to do the 1 hour walk twice. Why? To watch the antics of the local dolphin colony.
The next night was spent at Coffin Bay, before heading to Port Lincoln and on to Whyalla for another night. The next morning we went to the Maritime Museum to check out the Corvette Whyalla, the first boat to be built by the Whyalla Ship Yards. The Whyalla was a minesweeper in the Second World War. After the war she was sold to Victoria, where she was modified to do buoy work in Port Phillip Bay as "The Rip". When she was decommissioned, she was sold back to Whyalla for $5,000 and returned under her own steam. It took another $500,000 to move her 3Km across land to her final resting place!
The trip back home was again via Berri as we had missed Bernie's uncle on the way through. After catching up with him it was time to head home.