29th June to 12th July
After our Red Centre trip and farewelling Mum, we offloaded more ‘stuff’ that we weren’t going to be using over the next couple of weeks to the storage unit. We then managed to squeeze in a 2 week shop, a day of down time and then we were off bright and early on the Monday morning, heading south towards the Oodnadatta track. Our destination and adventure was going to be heading back down to Marree then up the Birdsville Track to go to Birdsville and then out to the Big Red sand dune for the 2015 Big Red Bash Concert, then home north via Boulia and the Plenty Highway. Our ‘rock concert music road trip’ was to be approximately 2700 km with about 1500km of that on dirt rocky roads.
After a solid first day of driving we made it to Marla for the first of many overnighters, we were setup nice and early and just as well as by 5pm there was not a spare inch left behind the roadhouse, the Grey Nomads were out in force!!! The next day after another early start we decided to keep heading south along the highway towards Cooper Pedy where we then cut inland. We needed to get a few hundred more kms under our belt and with patches of rain forecast for the wider area we decided to do as much bitumen as possible. We arrived at Cooper Pedy for a late morning tea and toilet and fuel stop, I must say Cooper Pedy didn’t really have us jumping up and down with excitement. Approaching it from the north we encountered many kilometres of big piles of dirt, it was hard to describe but it gave us a feeling of disregard for the land and disrespect, which I suppose is what we had been told about Cooper Pedy, but we just didn’t like the feeling it gave us especially after spending so much time in Alice Springs learning and gaining an appreciation for the land around us. We also didn’t realise it would be so big or have so many above ground houses, it had an IGA supermarket, Shell service station and a huge playground and skate park where we stopped. So after our stop we headed out of town passing the Big 4 caravan park which already had a line of caravans out the front waiting to get in for the night, we couldn’t help but feel we were ‘missing’ something???? From here we turned left off the highway and headed out east on the dirt road heading towards William Creek, some 140kms away.
We stopped for lunch at a dry creek bed just before William Creek and were amazed at the green grass and plants around, after the rains that the area had over the previous month we were obviously seeing the wonderful after effects of new growth. That night we camped at Strangways Ruins, an old Overland Telegraph Repeater Station which is a significant heritage site that operated from 1872 to 1896. The ruins are on Anna Creek Pastoral Lease which is managed by S Kidman & Co. and has a free camp area with no facilities, the ruins were a short walk away and are well maintained with various information signs dotted around.
After yet another chilly night we headed off the next day for a short drive to Maree, which we had passed through previously on our way north to Alice Springs. But first we once again called into the Lake Eyre lookout and low and behold we saw water in it, well we thought we saw water….perhaps the salt pan was playing tricks with our eyes like it did last time when we were heading north. Yep after confirmation using 2 sets of binoculars and a few cameras with good zooms we were absolutely stoked to be able see water in the Lake!!!!!! After our awesome sight and taking lots of photos we headed off further south heading towards Marree. We had decided to stay the night at Marree, camping out behind the hotel, which was free with a gold coin donation for the showers. We also ended up having lunch and dinner at the pub, a nice break from cooking. We also had a little walk around town having a kick of the footy and visiting the information centre reading many information boards about the history of the towns Afghan Cameleers and town folk.
And so it was that after purchasing a takeaway coffee from the roadhouse we turned onto another ‘iconic’ Australian track for us, the Birdsville Track. Due to recent rains we had a few low water filled parts of the road to pass through, nothing we hadn’t tackled before though, and the ruts from previous vehicles had all but dried out and we had a smooth comfortable drive. We looked around for the infamous Dog Fence, but could not spot it all, obviously is has been removed or simply just deteriorated beyond recognition. We also passed the Clayton Spa and Dulkaninna Wetlands, which are both fed from that infamous Great Artesian Basin we have learnt so much about over the last 2 months. The rain over the previous month had also left its mark in the area and there was grass growing over the normally sparce plains as well as plenty of shallow creeks. We arrived at Mungerannie Hotel just after lunch, Mungerannie is approximately halfway along the Birdsville Track and is also officially where all the three deserts meet, the Tirari, the Strzelecki and the southern end of the Simpson Desert. After paying our dues we chose a spot to camp along the tree line as instructed, we set up and had lunch and watched the very busy procession of cars come filtering in through the afternoon. Needless to say the place was very full that night, luckily the camping are is large so nobody was camped on top of each other. The Mungerannie Hotel camp ground has hot showers and flushing toilets and of the course the pub offers breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as selling fuel. We also went for a short walk to the hot pool just near our campsite, the lady who served us said that it was too hot to swim in this morning but should hopefully cool down by the evening. The hot spring is a bore that has been sunk into the Great Artesian Basin below and the water that comes up is more often than not too hot to touch.
The next day we didn’t rush off to early as we were only travelling about 150km to a free camp about 120km south of Birdsville, we figured Birdsville would be bursting at the seams and we couldn’t get into the ‘Bash’ campsite for another 2 days. After an uneventful couple of hours of driving past bare Gibber Plains we decided to camp just off the road near a creek and sand dune, which had an abundance of bird life, the kids played in the small sand dune and we sat by the fire watching all the cars drive past heading towards Birdsville, wondering where in god’s name they were going to be camping that night in town.
The next morning we completed the iconic Birdsville Track and rolled into Birdsville, along with what seemed like thousands of other travellers. We couldn’t pick up our tickets from the Information centre until after 11am so we managed to find a park and have a little wander around town, of course heading to the bakery for the infamous Camel pie. Our mates the Leeds (who we were travelling with) had bought the book ‘Birdsville’ written by Evan McHugh who went and lived in Birdsville for a year with his wife and hence wrote a book about it, and had lent it to us to read. So Nik, Bec and I all read it prior to our arrival and felt like we knew all the locals without having laid eyes on them!!! The author had written a lot about the hotel and the bakery so we felt we had to visit these ‘familiar’ places. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones who had this brilliant idea……so we decided to withhold our judgement and opinion of our initial visit to an overcrowded Birdsville and perhaps planned on coming back in over the weekend.
Once we picked up our tickets, got our wristbands and spent a ridiculous amount of money on the Bash merchandise and t-shirts we joined onto the end of a long, long, convoy of cars heading out to Big Red and the campsite. Regardless of the endless line of cars and the choking cloud of dust from the dirt roads we were excited to be heading out to the Big Red Bash!!! We were pumped as we turned right at the Little Red sand dune and then proceeded to stop dead in our tracks and then wait in a traffic jam for nearly two hours to get about 1km down the track to our campsite………… but who cares as we were at the BIG RED BASH!!!!!!! We had been talking about this concert since we first saw it on facebook back in January and had mentioned it to our mates the Leeds way back when in the Grampians and they then decided to join us, so nothing could dampen our excitement, not even a traffic jam in the Simpson Desert. That afternoon we climbed up Big Red, the kids had a ball jumping and rolling down the dune while we sat a watched a magical sunset. Yep, it was all so worth it.
Included in the cost of our tickets was 3 nights camping at the base of Big Red and 2 nights of concerts starting on the Sunday and concluding on the Monday. So after our delay we drove through the masses and found our little patch of dirt to camp on and proceeded to set up. The weekend of entertainment commenced on Sunday afternoon and was hosted by Wilbur Wilde, beginning with Heels on Wheels, Victoria Edwards and Mick Lindsay in the afternoon. They were all great performers particularly Mick Lindsay who got the crowd pumping with a few cover songs as well as his own, he also worked the crowd well. After Mick finished we left our chairs where they were and headed back to the van for dinner and to get some warm clothes as the sun had gone down and it was starting to get very chilly. With full bellies and layers and layers of clothes on we sat back to enjoy some old school entertainers, Frankie J Holden and Wilbur Wilde. The songs were catchy and our girls were familiar with them so we had a great time rocking out to the oldies!!! After Frankie and Wilbur had finished we then watched a laser show on Big Red which was also accompanied by a Top 30 Australian Icon songs, we were all up dancing and having a ball playing the air guitar with Jess doing a solo whilst lying down doing donuts in the sand, what great night!!!!!!
Day two loomed as another great day, the sun was out and the weather was perfect during the day, so we were up early (for us) and decided to take a drive into Birdsville, it was still busy but we managed to have a shower in the shower truck and head to the bakery for a coffee and another quick wander around. After our caffeine fix we headed back to Big Red for lunch and the afternoon concert. The line-up for today was The Mc Clymonts, Diesel, then Jon Stevens and Jimmy Barnes. Even though we didn’t know any Mc Clymonts songs we enjoyed them, Diesel was OK, but needed to ease up on the guitar solo and sing his old songs which I loved. Jon Stevens rocked the afternoon and was a definite favourite with us and the crowd. After our usual change of clothes for the evening we waited in anticipation for Jimmy Barnes. It turned out to be a family affair for Jimmy, with his son on drums and his wife and daughters on backing vocals. Barnsey was great, playing some of his own songs as well as some Cold Chisel songs which the girls knew and loved. We had a great time, however before we knew it the night was over and we headed back to camp and sat around the campfire to chat and reminisce about our amazing weekend.
The next day was Tuesday and pack up day, we didn’t rush too much though as we knew there would be delays due to the masses of people around. We drove back through to Birdsville in yet another convoy of cars and cloud of dust, called into the bakery for another coffee then waited around to fill up with water. While we waited for the Leeds we went to see the Artesian Bore Head and Cooling Ponds just up the road, this bore was sunk back in 1961 to a depth of 1,292 metres and when the water rises up the surface temperature is a boiling 98 degrees Celsius. It then flows into the cooling ponds to cool before it is then distributed to the town for drinking and household use. We also read about the towns Power Station which is actually one of only a few ‘low temperature geothermal power stations’ in the world. It draws the water from the local bore and the steam from the water is then used to provide the town with around 40% of its electricity, now that’s pretty impressive out here in the so called land of nothing!!!!!!!
Finally we left the crowds and hundreds of 4WD’s back in Birdsville, it was unfortunate that we couldn’t even get near the hotel, or even tackle Big Red in the Silverfox due to the crowds but as we had always planned on coming back here during our Queensland adventures in a few years we weren’t too upset. As we were going to be driving on bitumen today we decided to drive approximately 400kms to Boulia where we would then head west. On our drive north we passed into the Tropic of Capricorn, which was marked with a monument with absolutely NOTHING written on it, other travellers stopped and asked us what we were looking at as they had no idea we were crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, there was no signs or information anywhere!!!! We drove into Boulia around 4pm and luckily managed to squeeze into the only caravan park in town. We all had a much needed shower then had a lovely night sitting around talking to the owner of Farmstays Australia and photographer, Di Watson and her adorable black Labrador, Tilly. Di and Tilly were great company and by the end of the evening the kids were giving ‘Aunty Di’ kisses goodnight. Before we left Boulia, we had a short wander around town, getting a few supplies from the supermarket and visiting the Info centre. Whilst in the info centre we learnt that Boulia is also known as Min Min country, which involves many stories of mysterious lights following people along during their travels. The info centre also has the Min Min Encounter, which is a theatre show with ‘animatronics, fibre optics and loads of other high tech wizardry’. Unfortunately time didn’t allow us to hander over close to $100 to see the show as we had over 200kms of corrugated dirt rocky road, also known as the Plenty Highway, ahead of us.
Our next leg on our journey back to Alice Springs was along the Donohue Highway (QLD side) and the Plenty Highway (NT side) also known as ‘The Outback Way- Australias Longest Shortcut’ which connects Perth and Cairns. The term highway has obviously been used very loosely, as we found both the Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks were in better conditions!!! This road is renowned for shredding tyres, with some stickers even been made up and sold to people saying ‘I survived the Plenty’…….so with that challenge ahead we once again lowered our pressures to 32psi and headed off back west. We made it to the NT border and a station called Tobermorey, which sold fuel and had a basic unpowered campground. The amenities were nothing flash, but the water was hot and the campground was covered in this short lush green stuff, after asking around we found out it was actually grass….. That night we enjoyed a fire and Nik set up the satellite to watch the QLD V NSW State of Origin decider, with a few of the young ringers from the station setting off some fireworks (purchased from NT for NT day back on 1st July) then coming over and watching the game with us. We had a great stay there and were lulled off to sleep by the not so gentle hum of the station generator.
We headed off the next day well prepared for a shocker of a drive in the first 100kms, as according to travellers we had spoken to last night, they came across people who had shredded 2 tyres on that section alone (however their tyres were still at 38psi……). So we lowered our tyres to around 26- 28 and were off before the start of the business day, hoping to drive around 200kms. As we have done before we had actually drove through the ‘bad’ bit before we realised it, we had no hassles and had even reached our destination, Jervois Station, by lunchtime. We then decided to have lunch and push on to our next stop, Gemtree Caravan Park, some 210kms away. This meant we could spend the next 4 days relaxing instead of packing up and setting up again. After a long day we arrived at the caravan park about 4pm and once again were lucky to get the last 2 power sites available, bloody school holidays!!!!! We then spent the next couple of days at Gemtree relaxing and basically just enjoying not having to pack up, drive, then set up. Due to July being peak season there were only limited spots available for the fossicking tours and Roast dinner so instead we spent 3 days catching up on odd jobs and relaxing.
Whilst we had a hectic 2 weeks of driving, packing up and setting up and swallowed enough dust to block our lungs we had an awesome time and would do it again in a heartbeat (except the clean-up of the van afterwards). The concert was a blast, the Birdsville Track was a ton of fun and in whole the journey through the most remote part of the country was awesome and amazing with the scenery and the landscape changing so often. As a family we had a hell of a lot of fun, the music, the outback, the stars (in the sky), the fellow travellers and of course rolling down Big Red is something we will remember and treasure for the rest of our trip and lives. As we all sat around the fire discussing and remembering each of our favourites parts from the last fortnight we also looked forward to our next adventure and destination on our OZLAP……………