5th May to 8th May
After finally beginning our ‘journey‘105 days ago back in Victoria, we headed out today agreeing that we were finally beginning our ‘adventure’!!!! We have explored a lot of Victoria and South Australia, travelling over 6,000kms, but today was the day we finally leave the black top and head into the ‘outback’ to tackle the first of many iconic must do’s around Australia, The Oodnadatta Track. Our route has us travelling from the south in Marree to the north towards Alice Springs and as custom has it we are beginning our trip with the customary beer and meal at the Marree Hotel. The Marree Hotel is a typical outback pub that holds and displays a lot of history and memorabilia , especially as it is the town where many 4wd travellers either start or finish their travels of the Oodnadatta, Birdsville, Strezlecki tracks and Simpson Desert crossing. The hotel has also set up a room known as the Tom Kruse Museum, which details the life and times of the iconic ‘mailman’ of the Birdsville Track, Tom Kruse. We spent quite a bit of time in the pub and museum, Nik especially as he is currently reading Tom Kruse’s biography, eventually we sat down and ordered our Marree Burger from the kitchen.
We finally left Marree after lunch, stopping to take a photo of the car in front of the infamous Oodnadatta ‘OPEN’ sign, to head towards our next destination, Coward Springs, about 130km’s away. Of course we cranked up the stereo with a bit of Aussie Crawl and cruised on down the immaculately smooth dirt highway. I don’t think either of us have ever felt so Australian!!!Occasionally we had some minor corrugations, but for the most part the road was great, giving us a very smooth ride. However this drive is not just about getting from one place to another and we made a few interesting, quirky stops along the way. First stop was at Wangianna, where a stone sculpture of a man had been erected just off the side of the road.
Further on we stopped to have a good look around at Alberrie Creek. Alberrie Creek was visible from a few hundred metres away and was simply a paddock on the side of the road filled with two big planes, a huge dog made from water tanks and sculptures made from windmills, bits of old rusted metal and general junk. We had to drag the kids away from one particular sculpture which was set up as a ‘music tree’. The kids were banging on all the different bits of hanging metal junk making quite a great racket.
Further on down the track we stopped at the Lake Eyre South Lookout, unfortunly there was no water in Lake Eyre but the view and lookout itself were amazing, the tricks the salt pan played with your eyes led us to believe that it was full of water. The information boards at the lookout were great too giving us quite the geology lesson on The Great Artesian Basin and its unbelievable coverage and contribution to over a quarter of inland Australia. It baffles me though as to why our kids knew nothing about The Great Artesian Basin, surely it should be on the curriculum???
Finally after a long day we turned in at Coward Springs, a natural spring and permanent wetland oasis in the middle of nowhere. Coward Springs is privately owned by Greg Emmet and Prue Coulls since 1991, when they began to plant hundreds of locally native trees, built facilities and restored the original buildings. In 1998 the site was even added to the South Australian Heritage Register. They have done a great job building up quite a lovely campground for travellers to camp at under the many date palms and athel pines. The facilities are very clean drop toilets and hot showers that are heated up with the donkey and they also offers camel tours. However that evening we chose to relax in the springs tub, which were a coolish 29degrees which I managed to tolerate for about 20 minutes before I did a mad dash back to the van to change into my thermals!!!!. The ‘tub’ comfortably fits 4 adults and uncomfortably about 7 kids, so we obviously took turns between our convoy of families. It was very relaxing and we tried to soak up as many mineral salts as possible before we dragged ourselves away to get dinner organised.
The next day we packed up with the help of the resident swarms of flies and backtracked about 6kms to Wabma Kadabu, otherwise known as Mound Springs, a naturally forming mound spring fed by the Great Artesian Basin. Sand and minerals deposit to form mounds that rise above the surrounding flat ground. Green grass, reeds and other plants have then grown around the spring and it’s ‘tail’. There are two mounds here, the first named Blanches Cup and the second one called The Bubbler, as the pressure from the water below actually cause bubbles to be pushed up through the mud and water up to the surface.
After yet another great geology lesson we got back on the track and headed to William Creek, some 70 odd kilometres away. We also made a stop at Beresford Dam, which had the Beresford railway station building still standing along with quite a bit of graffiti on the walls which kind of ruined it for us. The information boards informed us that this dam was fed from the bore and was a stop for the Old Ghan train, there were also still remnants of the Old Ghan rail lying around, although no sleepers could be found as these make good firewood and everyone collects them as they drive along. Whilst we still had quite a smooth drive on today’s stretch of track we noticed there were more sections of corrugations and rough rocky sections which slowed us down a bit but gave us no problems as we drove to the conditions.
We arrived at William Creek in the early afternoon, calling in at the pub first to book in and pay for our night’s accommodation at the caravan park across the road, which the pub owned. After we set up Nik went back to the pub for a few beers whilst I caught up on some laundry and blog writing. The kids had a ball playing and drawing pictures in the dirt in the dry dusty park, we literally had to drag them inside when the mossies came out to play!
The next day we packed up and headed off for our lunch stop at Algebuckina Bridge. This bridge was built in the late 1880’s by 350 men and is made up of nineteen 30.9 metre spans, making it the largest single bridge in South Australia. We had a look around on the bridge and ate some lunch deciding that the flies were too bad to camp overnight so we continued on to Oodnadatta.
The road today had been quite a contrast, out of William Creek the road was smoother than a bitumen highway and we were cruising along at a good speed. However we soon discovered that we had been lucky enough to be travelling behind the graders, so all good things must come to an end and sure enough no sooner had we waved goodbye to the graders then we hit some pretty rough corrugated road. The road was certainly rough, but our Old Man Emu suspension handled it like a dream and we didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, we did wonder how the van was fairing behind us though. We eventually arrived at the infamous Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta by mid afternoon and enquired as to the camping out at the racecourse for this weekends races. We were told to head on down and talk to whoever happened to be there and organise it with them. It turns out the camping was free, no water or power, but some excellent hot showers and flushing toilets so we unhooked the vans and gingerly opened them up to assess the damage from todays dusty and bumpy drive. We were quite lucky as I was expecting to open the door to a flat packed kitchen but we only sustained one broken end of a pipe from a rock underneath the van, unfortunly our travelling mates the Stricklands did cop a rock to the water tank outlet and left a trail of water along the track for a few kilometres. Thankfully they had 2 tanks so all was not lost and a quick fix was done with some glue and magic tape. After our inspections we unpacked and settled in to eagerly await the weekend’s 125th Oodnadatta Races and Gymkhana on our OZLAP adventures……