Oooooonadatta

Oooooonadatta

It was a bit sad saying goodbye to Copley for the second time and knowing if we ever got back there again it wouldn’t be for a very long while. I also contemplated how strange it was that such an out of the way town felt so friendly to both of us, more than any of the other places we have visited so far. If we’d been stuck there for two months instead of two days I don’t think I would have minded. But the road was calling and our new, heavy duty roof racks were screaming for a test run so we returned to the bitumen and continued our drive north. It wasn’t too long before we came to Lyndhurst and decided to stop for a spot of lunch. Lyndhurst was a lot like Copley in that the only things there were a caravan park, a pub and a couple of houses but unlike Copley it had a local celebrity, Talc Alf. As we pulled up to the rest stop I saw a bloke with a beard cleaning out the bins and I turned to Matt and said “do you think that’s him?”, sure enough it was and no sooner had we pulled the van up we were driving off again with Talc Alf heading for his house (constructed out of half water tanks) about 2km out of town. Alf’s place was brilliant and he spent a good 45 minutes showing us his studio, talc carvings, art and teaching us about his interpretation of the meaning of letters. We ended up buying a carving off him for $10 which is our first souvenir of the trip, we shook hands and promised to come back if we had to drive south through SA rather than NSW.

We’d made good time driving on the sealed highway and reached the “Historical Inland Town” of Farina (the local restoration group clearly don’t like it being called a ruin as they’d attached their own sign underneath the old one) just after lunch. Farina had been recommended us to Lee and Neil which was yet another great tip from them (cheers guys!). It was a fascinating and slightly eerie place with ruined buildings, streets, and cars as well as a cricket oval and the all important railway station. If you visit between June and July there is an operating underground bakery which sounds amazing. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t open but we still had a great time learning all about the town and its eventual demise.

Before we knew it we pulled in at Marree which is where the real part of the Oonadatta Track begins complete with dust, corrugations, and endless railway relics. Matt and I sat in the pub and drank a beer before settling down in the free camp behind the pub and watching the Inbetweeners 2 movie (the end was filmed in the area and the pub featured for about 30 seconds). The next day we wandered around and looked at the local sites which were, the Ghan engines, the “mostly accurate” camel sundial, and the museum inside the pub dedicated to a postman called Tom Kruise who used to drive the mail from Coober Pedy to Marree in a truck that looked like it would struggle on a normal road. We also filled up with petrol at an eye watering $1.95/l both well aware that it was going to get more expensive soon.

After deflating the tyres to the recommended corrugation PSI of 25 we tentatively began our next leg of the trip. I think both of us were feeling a bit worried about the roof racks as I spent most of the first hour looking up at them through the side mirror and Matt walked around shaking them every time we stopped (which was a lot because every 20km there was something else to look at). We saw a sculpture park that made no sense in any way, I figured the creator was a friend of Talc Alf and there was a greater meaning. There was more old railway infrastructure than you could poke a stick at, abandoned bridges, half falling down buildings filled with graffiti, stockyards, water tanks, a surprisingly large number of lizards, and an amazing lookout that allowed us the joy of walking down to and then across a small piece of Lake Eyre. Towards the end of the afternoon and quite close to camp we visited a conservation area where a number of mound springs were located. These strange hills are the result of pressure from the Great Artesian Basin forcing water and the minerals that it contains to the surface of the earth. We walked around enjoying the unusual landscape but the beautiful pools of crystal clear water had us both craving a swim so we left pretty early to get to our campsite at Coward Springs.

At $30 per night the date farm/camp ground is so far the most expensive place we’d been on our trip but the cost was 100% worth it because they have their own little spring that they’ve turned into a spa for the people staying. Within minutes of pulling up we’d changed into our bathers and jumped into the slightly warm water (29 degrees), it was such a nice way to get the dust off after a long day on the road. Following our swim we decided to pop over to the cafĂ© near the gate and grab a date treat for afternoon tea. The owners were both serving so we had a chat about the date farm and what made them choose to move from their original home in the Adelaide Hills out to the middle of nowhere. We ended up having a date ice-cream each, Matt had coffee and I had chocolate. They were both amazing but I had to admit Matts was slightly better.

It was a short drive the next day through another abandoned town/telegraph station and then into the quirky pub at William Creek. We stopped for a cheeky beer, it would be rude not to, and played a couple of holes on the golf course. Matt hit a 6 and and a 5, I managed a 10 and a 9 but also shattered Matts only golf tee taking a wild swing at the ball and missing entirely. I’m so bad at golf! We camped up at a peaceful placed called Lake Cadibarrawirracanna (it’s easier to say than it looks) where I found the motherload of desert rose gypsum. Once again with my hat full of rocks I went back to the van to show Matt, they must be nice because even he admitted they were “kind of cool”. We watched the sun set and the stars come out one by one until the sky was alight with billions of tiny dots. It was one of the best night skies I’ve seen so we took some photos of the van, Matt light painted the van with his torch and I focused on the sky. What an amazing feeling, knowing that you’re the only people for at least 70km.

Campground Reviews

Marree Hotel – Cool hotel with museum and apparently good food (we didn’t eat but the restaurant was chockers). I’ll never not appreciate these kinds of places that let you stay out the back for free and use the toilets. It makes a big difference to the budget. $Free – 6/10.

Coward Springs – My favourite place we’ve stayed so far with amazing owners, a beautiful spa, cute welcome messages and amazing date products. Completely worth the price per night and we were a bit sad we couldn’t stay longer. $30pn ($15pp) – 10/10.

Lake Cadibarrawirracanna – The most peaceful place of the trip with only the scurrying of native mice at night or the chattering of budgies in the morning. We were the only people there which added to the magic. No facilities but you didn’t need them. $Free – 9/10.

Port Augusta – Roof Racks can Rack Off

Port Augusta – Roof Racks can Rack Off

Three weeks into our trip and it has all gone a bit wrong with our broken roof rack fiasco and unplanned extended stay in Port Augusta but hey that’s all part of the journey and it wouldn’t be an adventure if bad things didn’t happen every now and again. Our introduction to ‘Gusta was not especially welcoming, we showed up on Friday afternoon after driving down from Copley and started to do the rounds of the local crash repair shops and a welder. The first place we visited was pretty positive about the gutters being fixable but couldn’t give us a quote on the repair because the guy that does it is away until Tuesday. The second place we went to straight up said no, the third said he wouldn’t even look at it. Getting a bit desperate we went to see a welder who actually had a decent look at it and then gave us a more helpful explanation about why he wouldn’t be able to fix it.

The next day we started to have a look for replacement racks and ended up ordering from a shop in town that said they’d be able to get them in by Tuesday. I wasn’t feeling very positive about it because the guy kept messing up the amounts of each part we’d need but we didn’t have any other options. We decided to use the unexpected time that we had living in a motel (thanks RACQ ultimate) to clean out the van, change the linen, wash all the clothes, and take the van to a car wash for a good clean. On Sunday we’d already had enough of the town so we drove out into the country to visit Mount Remarkable and do the Alligator Gorge hike. The scenery was so different to what we have been experiencing for the past week with the beachy suburbs opening up to green farmland. The walk was serene, it was 9km long and twisted through a series of canyons with red stone cliffs towering above us and the creek running along the bottom. We had fun doing the last section of the hike through The Narrows as it was made up of a series of stepping stones we ended up hopping across so we didn’t get our feet wet. At lunch we saw a large lace monitor trying to find a snack and being scared away by a red wattle bird and a magpie.

Monday was a very exciting day for me because I finally managed to get into a vaccination clinic to get my pfizer! Woo hoo!! My one regret from quitting my job was doing it before I got vaccinated, being a healthy 30 year old it has been completely impossible to get it. Fortunately South Australia was giving anyone 16-30yo the jab so I registered for mine using the motel address. No worries at all. I’m going to try and get my second one in the NT, probably Alice Springs in the next 3-6 weeks. In the evening the weather went absolutely feral with lighting, winds of 50km/h and pouring rain. We decided that we didn’t want to cook dinner outside our motel room on our gas stove and headed for the local pub where we ate two very tasty meals, Matt had kangaroo and I had butterfish.

RACQ read us the riot act on Monday and told us without a quote they’d no longer be able to put us up in our lovely motel home so we had to move out as unsurprisingly the first mechanic still hadn’t given us any information about the van. With not so heavy hearts we packed up and left heading towards a free camp via the Arid Botanical Gardens. If you ever have the misfortune of being stuck in Port Augusta this is probably one of the only places I’d suggest visiting. There was a beautiful variety of plants, a wonderful array of birds, and the cafe had scones and cream with quandong jam.

The free camp Matt picked was a short drive out of town in a place called Winninowie Conservation Park, unfortunately when we reached the entry we found that the gate was shut due to the “wet road conditions”, we looked down the track and it could not have been further from wet so I decided to call Parks SA and see if there was anyone that could check it for us. After a couple of phone calls I spoke to a ranger from Mount Remarkable who told me it was shut from the 10mm of rain the previous night, I explained how dry it looked and he said the earliest he’d be able to get down would probably be the next day, bugger! Unsure of where we would be staying the night we spent a while looking at the other options and decided on a seaside town but as we were driving out to go there we saw an SA Parks car and sure enough the ranger I spoke to on the phone. He came down, checked the road for us and sure enough it was dry. We spent the evening sitting on the sandy site and enjoying the mangroves while the eccentric care taker Doug talked my ear off about how he worked for the CSIRO collecting data on the campers and taught me about the animals and environment where we were staying.

We both slept so much better staying out in the wilderness again so we were feeling fresh for the drive to Copley the next day after we popped back into Port August for the last time to pick up the roof racks. We ended up stopping thrice along the way, once at Quorn to look at the old buildings and railway, the second time at the historic homestead of Kanyaka and the third stop was Hawker to fill up with fuel. It was an amusing 3rd visit to Hawker which was 3 more than we’d planned to do. Back in Copley we were greeted like old friends by the publican wearing his standard uniform of footy shorts and his hat (a cross between the Harry Potter sorting hat and a cowboy hat) and by the caravan park manager with his greeting of “you two again!” and then by the town mechanic who seemed pretty happy to be gifted the basket that was on top of our roof racks and two gas cylinder holders. He even brought our spare tyre over to the caravan park on his gold buggy. Matt spent the better part of the afternoon assembling the racks and we celebrated with a meal at the pub.

Campsite Reviews

Comfort Inn Port Augusta – A pretty bog standard motel room in a pretty bog standard town. It was weird having a toilet in the same building as where we slept and we enjoyed having a couch. Glad that the RACQ paid for it – 6/10.

Chinaman’s Creek – Beautiful spot and we will probably come back in summer when it’s warm enough to swim. Caretaker was extremely eccentric. Toilets could do with some TLC and loo paper. $Free – 7/10.

Copley Caravan Park – $20 per night and automatically 8/10 because of how nice everyone in the town was and for how good the quondong tarts are.

Flinders Ranges I – Wilpena and Willow

We both have a couple of places on this trip that we are particularly looking forward to and the Flinders Ranges is one of mine, I was therefore especially excited when the rocky outcrops started to come in to view on the horizon and my spirits could not be dampened by the light drizzle that had set in. Matt was equally enthusiastic and had us stopping off so often at lookouts and landmarks that we didn’t reach our base for the next 3 nights until 2pm, despite it only being 40km up the road from the Cradock Hotel. I’d picked Willow Springs Station as our first site in the ranges because of its proximity to Wilpena Pound, the amenities, but most importantly the Skytrek 4WD adventure located on the property. We set up, made ourselves at home, and cooked dinner over the fire.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to find our camp chairs and my towel that I’d left out to dry were covered in a decent layer of frost, the locals have since told me that it’s not uncommon this time of year. We ate breakfast in the camp kitchen, removed the fuel from the roof of the van, took some of the more noisy things out if the kitchen and with key in hand headed off on our drive.

The way that the Skytrek works is that you book it at the station office, pay your $60 entry and get given a a key and an information booklet with all the interest points along the way. It was only a few hundred meters through the gate that we reached the first of 50 points in the booklet, a stream and spring next to a small cliff face. I drove the first 40km stopping off at each of the points and learning more about the environment and what it would have been like to work as a pastoralist during the 1880s in such an isolated place. The driving was not particularly technical and both the van and I managed it without issue. We stopped for lunch in a dry creek bed and spotted a family of emus. Matt took over the second part of the drive because we were warned before we departed that the last 15-20km of the drive was a lot more challenging (to the point where they had put in a route to avoid it entirely if you weren’t feeling up to it). Sure enough after another 20km we reached 2 steep hills which we tackled slowly and carefully with an occasional hit to the bash plate. It was completely worth a couple of scratches on the van because when we reached the top the views were simply breath-taking. 6 hours later, tired and happy we got back into camp.

On Friday it was my turn to pick an activity and I decided that we should try and get a bit more exercise in and do a walk into Wilpena Pound. I made the suggestion to Matt that we climb to Mary’s Peak (the highest point in the Pound) but was met with so much resistance we opted for 2 shorter walks. Matt has since informed me that he is happy to do more bush walking but needs to be trained up a bit before we do 16km hikes with 700m of climbing…fair enough. Our first walk was to the Wangara Lookout where we enjoyed views into the pound and received the happy news that our agent had found someone to rent our house in Glenorchy. Yay! On the way back we did a small 1.2km side loop called Drought Busters that had a number of information boards describing the animals and plants in the area, how they manage in the harsh weather, and the changes of the seasons. We made fantastic time so after lunch we got back on the road and visited Ridgeback Lookout (the best view in Flinders Ranges so far) and drove into Brachina Gorge where we saw yet another emu family but to our great excitement Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies!

All too soon Saturday morning arrived and we once again cleared out our campsite and said goodbye to the family of apostlebirds we made friends with to continue our journey into the far northern end of Flinders.

Campsite Review

Willow Springs Station – I think it says a lot when you rock up at a place and instantly sign on for another day which is exactly what we did. The staff were helpful, Wifi worked well, hot showers, clean camp kitchen, and spectacular night sky. $25pn – 9/10.

Nip into Burra

Nip into Burra

I finished my last post with Matt and I enjoying my woeful first attempt of camp oven cooking so we will take off again from there. We left the farm after saying goodbye to the animals and checking out the view over the river. Our first stop for the day was Waikerie, a surprisingly pleasant little town with orange shaped rubbish bins, massive TV aerials, silo art of a giant parrot, and most importantly the Nippy’s Factory Outlet. I’d like to say that Matt and I were restrained and did not buy a ridiculous number of drinks to the point where we had to stack boxes next to be bed but I can’t. Now in possession of every conceivable flavour of milk me made our way towards our next campsite in Burra.

Our unplanned lunch spot ended up being Morgan, which in it’s day was the second busiest port in South Australia after Port Adelaide. It was an interesting town and we spent a good couple of hours following the historic walk through the village, train station, and port area. I’d strongly recommend stopping in if you are in the vicinity, especially if you have kids as there is a playground that is shaped in one part like a paddle steamer and in the other part as a train station! So cool!

When we rolled into Burra in the afternoon we were faced with yet another pleasant surprise. There is definitely something to be said for travelling around without much of an idea of what you are doing because we are constantly rolling into towns and being amazed with what is there. Burra is so far probably the best example of this as not only did Matt meet a lady working in the visitor centre who was from Burnie with her relatives attending school with him but the town itself was amazing!

Burra was established in the 1840s after copper was discovered on a local property, it was originally a number of different towns known collectively as “The Burra” but combined later on as they began to expand into one another. At the peak of the copper boom the population swelled to make it the second largest city in South Australia after Adelaide. What was so interesting about Burra was the number of historic buildings and how well preserved they all were. For most people the best option to visit these sites is to purchase a Heritage Passport from the visitor centre. The key that is provided to you after paying the $30pp and $50 deposit will get you into all of the main attractions (and they are numerous), I hear that it takes about 5 hours to complete them all. For those of us that wander into town in the late afternoon expecting a standard country town and therefore not having nearly enough time driving around and looking at the outside of the buildings was still highly enjoyable and interesting. My favourite part was 3km out of town where we saw the house from the album cover of Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil!

We set up camp just outside town down a dusty dirt road at a place I found on WikiCamps called Red Banks, the sites were sunny in lowish bushland but with trees that were robust enough to put the hammock out. The next morning we walked to the Red Bank along a dry stream bed and then back into camp so we could pack up and make our way northwards. The drive towards Cradock was fairly uneventful apart from the loss of Matt’s straw hat. We’d pulled off the road (as we often do) to have a poke around an abandoned railway station at Eurelia and Matt decided to climb up the abandoned railway water tank. Just as he got to the top of the ladder a gust of wind caught his hat and blew it into the tank. I was very helpful and found him a new had in Cradock (pictured below).

Campsite Reviews

Red Banks – Stunning location for a free camp with interesting walks and an impressive “red bank” of sand a short walk away. Free – 8/10.

Cradock Hotel – This place was so much fun, the publicans were lovely, beer was cold and the food was delicious. Couldn’t have picked a better spot to do the census “there are 11 people in town and half of them live here”. Free – 7/10 (broken glass all through the camping area).