Jun-Jul 2007 Hay River Expedition - by Slunnies Dad!
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The 23-day Hay River Tour started from Saturday, 23/6/2007 and finished on Sunday, 15/7/2007. It was a journey of 8200Km mainly in Central Australia. For the local 4-wheel drive enthusiasts, it is a trip across the Simpson Desert from south to north following the routes of Australian pioneers. It is considered to be more difficult than the east-west route. This trip together with previous trip to the Flinders Range, completed my journey form south to north through Central Australia by coincidence. Through these two trips, I have followed through most of the tracks of the Australian pioneers in this area.
We travelled as a group, a convoy of ten 4W-D vehicles and mainly Land Rover of Discovery 2 model. There were 19 of us. We had 8 from New South Wales (N.S.W.), 5 from Victoria, 1 from Tasmania and 5 from Queensland. Simon, my younger son was the initiator, organizer and team leader of this tour. During the tour, we either camped or stayed in motels mainly to taken advantage of the shower facility available. We travelled at least 3-400 Km a day in areas with good dirt roads and about 100Km a day in the desert typically. Except the Queenslanders, we all met at Broken Hills (B. H.) in N.S.W. to start the tour.
We started our 1000 Km + journey from Sydney to (B. H.) very early (4:30 AM) to avoid hitting kangaroos in the dark before we reached (B. H.). We travelled through Orange, Dubbo and Cobar to reach B.H. The next day, we visited during the daytime the abandoned silver-mine town Silverton, the Living Desert (well known for the sculptures in display) and the Art Gallery of Pro Hart (well known past Aust. Artist) and met up with other members of the group for dinner in a Chinese Restaurant later.
The next day began our journey up north along the Silver-City Highway through Packsaddle and Milparinka, then bypassing Tibooburra and through dirt track to Cameron Corner, the corner where the state borders of South Australia, Queensland and N.S.W. meet. This is just a one-pub place and nothing else. We stayed there for the night. We travelled westward along the dirt track the next day till met up with the Strzelecki Track. Along the Track, we headed north to Innamincka, stopping to have a look at the Moomba Gas and Oil Fields. That reminded me of the chemical plant in Little Bay, Sydney. The restored Aust. Inland Mission Hospital in Innamincka now as the HQ for National Parks and Wildlife Services in the area looks good. There is a group of volunteers from South Australia trying to restore the town to its former glory.
We took the Coongie Lake Track to head north to Birdsville. Due to fuel problem, we did not visit the Lake as planned. Birdsville is a bigger town than anticipated but still small in size. We visited the “Working Museum” to see a lot of things used in the past but are still in working order. Those that impressed me the most are the hot-air engine driven fan, the varieties of fencing barbed wires and different kind of water pumps. We travelled down south along the Birdsville Track the next day to Mungaranie through the Outside Track as the intended Inside Track was closed due to bad track condition, a day ahead of schedule. Because of that, one of our team members volunteered to help out in the kitchen to handle our dinner orders in the pub. We had a good time there – drinks and hot spring bath. Mungaranie is half way down the Birdsville Track. I supposed we have to complete the other half in later date. That was the first seven day of the tour. A lot of driving mixed with sightseeing here and there. The trouble on seeing the Australian Outback is the initial distance travelled before reaching the starting point.
Our trip really started from Mungaranie, the starting point of the south to north expedition of Australian pioneers. We intended to reach Poeppel Corner via Warburton and K1 Tracks in 2 days. By about mid-day, we were nearly there already. The trip so far had been pretty tame and members were looking for excitement. The decision was to use the sidetracks to reach Poeppel Corner after proving that the two vehicles with trailer can go through the first two steep sand dunes first. It turned out to be the case. Off we went and full of excitement. We drove through the Rig Road, Noel Track and the French Line (tracks used for oil exploration) to reach Poeppel Corner. We went through sand dune after sand dune. We had our first night camping near a creek. Some were talking about taking advantage of the bright moon light on having a night drive the following night, i.e., drive without using the head-lights.
We started the next day again, full of anticipation for the night ride. Disaster struck for the first time. The cooling fan of one vehicle failed. While going through the emotional turmoil of the end of the trip, the expertise of one member saved the day. The vehicle actually can run as normal without the fan. This was proven by monitoring the water temperature continuously. That event dampened the enthusiasm and brought everyone down to earth again. Preservation of the vehicle is the key factor for such tour. The night ride was out of question.
The corrugated part of the tracks also took heavy toll on the suspension of all vehicles. The air-bag suspension of one of the vehicles with trailer failed and again after replacement. The remedy, through Aussie ingenuity was to fill the faulty air-bag suspension with sand and again after compacting through driving. There were plenty of sand around and it worked, though hard on the bottom. Other members shared the load on towing the trailer. One can have fun with such track as well. With your back hard against the seat, one can take advantage of the rapid up and down motion to have a back, foot and bottom message. It can be quite enjoyable.
It was quite a relief when we reached Poeppel Corner, the corner where the state borders of South Australia (S.A.), Queensland and Northern Territory (N.T.) meet. That leaves two more state border corners to go (Western Australia/S.A./N.T. and Victoria/N.S.W./S.A.). We felt good simply because the two vehicles in question had been functioning OK and did not need to return to Birdsville for repair. Poeppel Corner turned out to be a better tourist spot than Cameron Corner. This part of the tour though short, was more interesting and eventful. Most importantly, we started to appreciate how precious water was/is in this part of the World. We had not washed ourselves for two days already.
From here, we continued our south to north journey through the Simpson Desert along the Hay River to Batton Hill Camp. This was supposed to be the main feature of this tour. The journey turned out to be quite tame compared with that to Poeppel Corner. The main event was the sighting of a herd of camels and the visit of the camp site by one of them (?) during the night.
Members at the tail-end of the convoy discovered that a group of camels were travelling in the same direction as us. We all stopped for photos. The camels also stopped and came to our direction to have a look too out of curiosity. Their walking looked like charging in speed to us. For someone standing at the foot of the sand dune, we all looked like a flock of chickens fleeing away from a pack of wolves. It was hilarious.
The saga continued after sunset. A camel revealed its presence by bellowing out some funny noises when we were ready to go to bed at the end of the camp fire gathering. What an opportunity to have fun. Some members started to scare the camel away by using torches and their presence. It only worked temporarily. The ultimate act was performed by two members, still young at heart, of the Group. They did the John Wayne act by charging at the camel, yelling and screaming without realizing the danger they were exposing themselves to. That did not work either. We were all tired and the party was over. On hindsight, that explained why one member thought her stew smelled foul when she took the lid off the cooking pot while I thought someone broke wind (or farted) at the camp fire gathering. It all turned to be the ready presence of a camel standing upwind in the dark. We had not forgotten the smell of wild camels for a log time during the tour.
We took our time to reach Batton Hill Camp by starting late and setting up camp early as we were ahead of schedule. We stopped for sightseeing and photo opportunities. However the worries on fuel shortage and the two vehicles in question were always at the back of our mind. Transmission oil leaking problem started to show up in another vehicle.
In the Desert from Mungaranie to Batton Hill Camp, the environment was interesting:-
• It was vast.
• It was dangerous, one’s track would disappear very quickly if windy;
• The colour of sand changed gradually from beige to red from one end of the Desert to another;
• It was warm day and night except few hours early in morning though in Winter;
• The sky was really clear;
• The air was crisp, fresh though dry
• It was full of vegetations;
• The vegetations varied from area to area;
• Trees exist wherever there are creeks though dry.
• There were living creatures here and there – camels, dingoes etc;
• More birds in areas with trees.
Travelling through this area has certainly changed my impression of a desert. It is supposed to be sand and sand dunes only. I saw beautiful sand dunes and lustrous plants instead at times That was also the first time I saw the Milky Way, Saturn with its rings and so many stars clearly with my naked eyes. Watching sunrise has been on my “Do list” for many years and I had enough of it for the time being. To top all that, one can open up and be closed to Nature without feeling vulnerable.
Batton Hill Camp is a camp site managed by local aborigines. They open up the area to outsiders. It is good to know that they want to control their destiny. The place was crowded with people from the Australian National Geographic Investigation Team. They were there to do a survey on the flora and fauna of the Hay River District. I am looking forward to see their findings when that Issue is out. Anyway, a shower was the top priority. That would be the first after many days.
We were all looking forward to the “Bush Tucker” tour conducted by the local aborigines. It turned out to be a let-down to all of us. With so many groups gone through before us and limited “tuckers” in the area, we did not find any witchetty grubs even after several attempts. We managed to try out the bush banana, yam and the sweet nectars Grevillia. However the sight of red sunlight shining on a stony pinnacle on top of a nearby mountain at the sunset was good enough to compensate for the early disappointment.
After refilling fuel and with the cooling fan, oil leaking problems to be sorted out in Alice Spring, we now had two new problems. The vehicle already with suspension problem, had problem with the supporting beam for its second fuel tank. Another casualty caused by the rugged tracks. Removing the whole assembly rectified the situation but with a shorter travelling range. The leading vehicle had intermittent problem with its UHF communication unit, a hand-held unit provided a short-term solution, though shorter in talking range. With two Queensland members heading home to Mt. Isa, off we went again for Alice Spring on the 15th day of the tour.
Everyone was eager to head back to civilization to replenish our requirements for the rest of the tour and to do any repair required. Though interesting, the historical Henbury Meteor Crater site enroute excited only one who is going to study Geology soon.
Alice Spring being the major town/city in this part of the Country, did not impress any of us. It has the typical country town atmosphere but bigger in size. The spare parts did not arrived as planned and being in town on Saturday did not help either. With the intermittent fault in the UHF communication unit fixed, it was decided that 3 occupants of the two vehicles would stay till the problem fixed and rejoin us later. We indulged ourselves with drinks and food that night to regain our appetite for modern living. We were off again to Ayres Rock with two Victorian members less the next morning.
Though with 130 KPH speed-limit on the Highway, this was good opportunity to find out the possible max. speed of one’s vehicle on this section of the Highway. 165KPH was the registered speed on overtaking another one. The road from the Highway to Ayres Rock could be better, 1 lane only. Everyone thought the first rocky mountain encountered on this road was Ayres Rock, it is Mount Conner (or Atila) instead. This flat-top mountain looks good to me. Further down the road, we saw the real one. We took more photos as we were heading towards it. This piece of rock, Ayres Rock or Uluru is really the most photographed one in the World. It did not look that spectacular during the daytime. We rushed to a look-out for it at the sunset for more photos. It was more colourful but in no way the same as seen on postcard. Most likely, it was winter here. We did not realize that the entry ticket to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a 3-day pass.
The programme for the next day was to see the Rock at sunrise, climb to the top of it, visit Mount Olga and attend the outing “Sounds of Silence”. Getting up early was easy once used to it. We were at the vantage point at the foot of Ayres Rock at 7 AM ready for photo shooting. With separate parking arrangements for vehicles and coaches, the eastern side of the Rock was crowded with tourists by 7:10AM. The whole sighting lasted for about 30 minutes. I preferred the sunset scenery. One has to be there to enjoy both. It was too cool and windy to climb it so early in the morning. The decision to do it later turned out to be the wrong one. The Rock was closed to climbers due to strong wind at the top. Well, another excuse to go back there again. We then went to the Cultural Centre for breakfast and souvenirs. There were plenty of good ones but was no room in the car to accommodate them. The next stop was Mount Olga.
Mount Olga is similar to Ayers Rock except it consists of many pieces of huge but smaller rocks instead of one. It was more spectacular and interesting to me. We took the “Valley of the Winds” Walk and completed the circuit in counter-clockwise direction. The first half was not that interesting, just walking and with photo opportunity every now and then. The view from the 2nd lookout was beautiful. You had the view of the valley right in front of you. From that point onward, the view into the valley was getting better and better while ascending. The walk though hard at times, was quite pleasant. It also further enhanced the suntan on our head and hands. On hindsight, walking in the clockwise direction is the way to go for this circuit if time available is limited. It was most unfortunate that we did not have time for the sunrise and sunset viewings as well as the Walpa Gorge Walk of Mt. Olga. We were then in a hurry to go back to the camp site getting ready for the night outing “Sounds of Silence”.
The “Sounds of Silence” night outing was expensive but romantic. The following describes the whole event:-
• Watch the spectacular colours of sunset over Uluru and Kata Tjuta while enjoying drinks and finger food with Outback flavours.
• The setting of an open-air but proper restaurant for your enjoyment.
• Candle light on the table to create a romantic atmosphere and gas burners to keep one warm.
• A lone didgeridoo player provided modern native music to enhance the outback atmosphere.
• A 3-course dinner buffet style with red/white wine to satisfy one’s appetite and hunger. One had the choice of native/outback or conventional food.
• Every mouth of food was full of surprise because one could not see what one was eating, though of one’s own choice. The light from the candle and stars was not bright enough to see.
• The best star gazing with the help of the resident astronomer. The sky was so clear one would really like to pick a few stars and touch the Milky Way.
Well, that was AUD150 worth of enjoyment. Thank you, Simon. It was a lovely birthday present. I did enjoy it tremendously.
With the last 3 Queenslanders leaving the group for north, we were off again the next day to meet up with the one staying behind in Alice Spring for the fan. The other 2 rejoined us on Monday for the “Sounds of Silence”. This time we were onto the Oodnadatta Tack. This leg of the journey was boring and at time exciting. Boring in the sense that we could not stop for sightseeing as the leaking of transmission-oil in the third vehicle was a serious problem now. It needed to be fixed as soon as possible. There was nothing interesting except occasional photo opportunities for relics. The land around was so barren that there was nothing growing nearly everywhere.
We were in a hurry. As such, the leading vehicle, in which I was a passenger, nearly knocked down a cow but collected a few birds on the way. We nearly ran into the back of a road-train (a big truck towing another 2 carriages of goods in this case) which we tried to overtake with the blessing of its driver and in the process, missed a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle by a very small margin. One has to be well behind the vehicle in front in order to have a clear view because of the trail of dust in the air. The incident was caused by the short visible range coupled with the road-train’ sudden stop, for reasons still unknown to me. We were somewhat relieved when we arrived at Oodnadatta for the night.
The pink road-house there was interesting and well known in the area. To our surprise, one can buy a lot of unexpected goods there. Another surprise was the no. of Germans there, 43 at the time in such a small place and in the middle of nowhere. We stuck up a conversation with the Owner’s friendly daughter there. A boarding Year 11 student and home during the school holiday, she told us she will stay in Adelaide when finished school and wants to be a nurse later. One of the female assistants, a blonde, gave one member a hard time jokingly. She wanted him to hurry up with his dinner by standing besides him. Who would miss such opportunity to have fun? We helped her too.
After breakfast in the “Pink Roadhouse”, we were on our way again with 3 N.S.W and 2 Victorian members sidetracked for Coober Pedy. Apart from 1 N.S.W member, all would rejoin the group later at William Creek. Relics along the old Ghan Railway appeared more and more in our photos. Sleepers from the railway have been re-used in the most appropriate way in Coward Spring where we camped for the night. With the exception of old houses, every other building has been built with those sleepers. They did enhance the atmosphere. The size of the spring there was too small compared with that in Mungaranie. The place was full of people, surprisingly latecomers were turned away when we arrived. It is very unusual for a camping site and the traffic on this Track was heavy so far as well. We had a good look around of this place before our departure for Marree the next day.
On our way, we diverted away from the Track for Northern Lake Eyre and later Southern Lake at Lookout next to the Track. Lake Eyre consists of two parts when dried. It is a vast dry lake most of the time. Group photos were taken with fun and laughter. We were still in a hurry to Marree for repair and thus ahead of schedule.
Marree gave us sense of joy, sadness and despair. It was sad because this was the place for the group to part company and joyful because we could go home one day ahead of schedule after 3-week absence from home. However, some decided to look around the Flinders Range instead of going home unexpectedly early. The despair was caused by the extent of oil leak and the failure of the alternator of the leading car just before arriving Marree. Both vehicles could not go any further. To make things worse, the spare parts did not arrive the next day as promised. Further arrangements had to be made again. This was when one can experience the inconvenience on living in the countryside. In the mean time, we wandered around the place. Somehow, I managed to strike up an conversation with some locals of Afghan descendant. They were nice and pleasant people.
After bidding farewell, all departed as planned. Occupants of one Victorian vehicle decided to stay behind with the two problem cars. They were kind enough to drive down to Quorn to pick up the spare parts couriered up from Adelaide. What comradeship! Back by 10:30 AM the next day with the spare parts, the vehicles were on the road again by 12:30PM. We were one day behind schedule by now.
We stayed in Leigh Creek, a surprisingly pleasant township for lunch before our final push for home. We said goodbye via the UHF communication unit at Peterborough before we hit the Highway in opposite direction. We reached Broken Hills by 7:30PM. After a quick dinner and shower in that order, we were in beds early. We were again on the road at 7:30AM for Sydney. We stopped only we had to, such as lunch, refilling fuel dinner etc. After 1100Km of driving, we were home by Sunday, 10:00PM, a day behind schedule.
That was what happened in the 23-day tour to Central Australia. I tried to enjoy myself whenever I could. I only regretted that I did not participate in the camp-fire conversations, though I enjoyed their jokes. My kind of sense of humour does not fit in with theirs. It would only dampen rather than enhance theirs. Would I do it again? May be but towards the NO side now. Who knows? The long-distance driving is too much to me.
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