I set off with my youngest son Nick ( 31 ) on Good Friday with a tight schedule as he had to be back to his job by may 7th. We headed first to friends at Yowah which is west of St. George and a great place to soak up thermal hot baths and explore opal mines.
It is slightly off the beaten track but not far from Thargomindah itself en route to Nocunda and Cameron’s Corner. There is a superb camping spot at Nocunda. Just set up camp and wander over to the pub for a great meal.
As it happened we had lunch and kept going as we wanted to get to The Corner ahead of threatening thunder storms and potential track closures.
We set up camp at The Corner and after tucker and a few beers at the pub settled down for the night in the rooftop tent only to be almost blown off the truck by a ferocious storm and spectacular lightening display.By next morning the track to Merty Merty was damp and dust free but quite passable.
We soon hit The Srtzelecki Track which is more of a highway these days and apart from some thermal bores along the way is rather uninteresting. The roads north to the Moomba fields and Innaminka were flooded by this stage and impassable so we continued south to Arkaroola Wildlife Sanctuary in the Gammon Ranges . It was established by Reg Spring in 1968 and still run by that family The Gammon Range is said to be 1.9 billion years old.They were thrown up, not by volcanic activity, but by the nuclear energy contained in the uranium of their geology. Uranium mining in the area continues to this day and Lake Frome to the east is full of uranium.
Arkaroola boasts some of the best astronomical viewing conditions in the Southern Hemisphere with three well equipped observatories . The tour of the Galaxy was fantastic. You need at least 3 days here and we did some challenging walks and undertook The Echo back track which is a definite challenging 4WD track. In addition there is The Ridgetop Tour to Sillars Lookout which is a must do but is a guided tour due to the rugged nature. The tour vehicles wear out a set of tyres every 6 weeks! There is a range of accommodation at Arkaroola from basic unpowered sites through to cabins . We elected a powered site as our battery was playing up and we needed to have a charger. As it happened we needed a jump start on Anzac Day as we left heading south once more to Copely where because I was wearing my poppy they opened up and fitted a new battery!
The mechanics at Copely (blink and you will miss it ) handle most of the repairs for a huge area as there is nothing much at Leigh creek now that the coal mine is closed with the decommissioning of the coal fired power plant at port Augusta. The immaculate town of Leigh Creek is all but a ghost town now that its main purpose to service the coal industry and rail link is no longer needed. Such a
The coal mine used to produce 3 million tons of coal a year which was transported to Port Augusta by two trains a day each with over 4000 tons of coal. Armed with a new battery we continued south to Willow Springs Station where we camped for two nights and undertook ”SKYTREK” one of the most popular 4WD treks available in the Flinders giving access to Mt. Caernarvon which at 921 -metres is the highest accessable peak in The Flinders. This 81 kilometre track is very challenging and hard on any vehicle no matter how well set-up.
We saw a Range Rover and a Landcruiser destroy a tyre but our BF Goodrich rubber took it all in its stride and apart from one section where I forgot to lock in the hubs we crawled overcome pretty aggressive terrain without having to have repeated attempts at negotiating the steeper sections.You can check out the website www.skytrekwillowsprings.com.au
Further south heading to Wilpena there are a couple of spectacular lookouts at Stokes Hill and Hucks lookout which give a panorama of The Heysen,ABC,and Wilpena Pound Ranges. At this point we noticed a worrying knock coming from the area of the front suspension. We could not see anything obvious but decided to head for Hawker and the local RACQ equivalent and a hoist. A slightly loose bolt on the right radius arm was noted and tightened and problem fixed.
Meanwhile for some strange reason the driver’s side door jammed shut and could not be opened. We googled the problem and found we were not the first Patrol owners to have this problem. Had to wait until we arrived home for Sean to fix the problem. There was much amusement for bystanders on the rest of the trip over the next five days as we wriggled in and out of the front cabin. Nick who is a big guy found it easiest to enter through the driver’s door window feet first while hanging onto the roof rack!
Back tracking north we made it to Wilpena Pound stopping along the way to take a helicopter ride over The Pound. It is spectacular but quite expensive.I had months earlier booked two nights “glamping” at Wilpena having grabbed a cheap deal through Luxury Escapes on the net. It was so good to relax in comfort and enjoy breakfast and evening meal laid on after camping rough.
We explored the Pound on one of the main walks taking in half a day. The rest of our time there was mostly vegging out and watching the copious wildlife including emus, wallabies and abundant bird life. Finally it was time to head home . We set off for Broken Hill with more thunder storms threatening passing through Peterborough and making such good time on the bitumen we decided to head for Menindee Lakes with a plan to head for Ivanhoe the next day. There are good camp sites at Menindee we were told but as we approached we were advised a major thunderstorm was about to hit so chickened out and took a motel which is just as well as the storm was ferocious in the night.
The next day the road to Ivanhoe was closed and we had to backtrack 100km to Broken Hill and so headed for Bourke. At Bourke we saw just how depleted the Darling River has become . Such a sad sight. By the next day torrential rain had set in and we struggled through it all the way to Moree noting how green the farmland seemed in that area with little sign of drought. The roadsides were teeming with wild goats which unlike the kangaroos seem too smart to be road -kill.
Again we were making good time and kept going and would have made it to the Gold Coast just after dark but on exiting a Caltex Station on hard lock in the centre of Toowoomba the power steering hose decided to let go lubricating the forecourt of the servo very nicely. RACQ ULTRA CARE came to the rescue eventually and we “enjoyed” a tilt-tray ride home getting in close to midnight ,tired but relieved and wondering still how Sean would unlock the driver’s door!! That is another story!