Dry July - A Land Cruiser and a Range Rover go winter desert touring


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Part 1.

South Australia.

So, this was originally planned as a trip up through the Simpson Desert. However, with the Warburton Crossing still flooded out and closed, meant the route (utilising the much lesser used Rig Road /WAA Line) I had intended to take was out. The main east-west crossing of the Simpson, along the French Line is open (albeit with an 80km detour), this is the route that many tens of thousands of vehicles take every year. As regular readers will know, that sort of thing just ain't my bag.

So we would just tour around outback South Australia. We, on this trip, being myself in the 105 series Land Cruiser and my good mate, The Accountant, in his L322 Range Rover.

I had a whole heap of repairs and maintenance to do on my Cruiser after coming back from our big trip around Australia. So with the steering box rebuilt, wheel bearing service and automatic transmission service, as well as numerous small jobs completed. I packed a relatively small amount of gear, compared to what we took on the big trip (as not only did I more or less know the terrain, but having two vehicles makes a big difference), into Big Bertha and was ready to go.

In the meantime The Accountant was fitting a couple of new front air springs to the Rover, after one was flagged on the service as leaking.

A minor hiccup later, and we were finally off.

Now the Rover had been off road once before, but this was going to be a longer trip, further from home. So it was now sporting a roof rack, complete with spare wheel, fuel, shovel and maxtraxs - very OVERLAND!

What's going on here?

This is an Indian tradition for a good and safe journey, The Accountant had brought spare lemons so I thought I may as well get in on it.

Here's a quick map for reference.

A familiar and picturesque drive north, through pretty country towns and farmland. Clear blue skies and sunshine, that would accompany us for the next week, replacing the clouds and rain the last few days in our home town of Adelaide.

300km of easy bitumen driving brought us to the tiny service town of Yunta. Here would be our last refuel at city-ish prices, and our turn off onto the dirt to head north, to Arkaroola.

I dig they have left the old sign up, still in miles.

I had been to Arkaroola before, however coming up this road from Yunta was new to me. First stop was the ruins of this once impressive hotel at the Waukaringa Gold Mine site.

It had several cellars.

Having fun mate?

We had a drive around the mine ruins in the hills behind the hotel. Then it was time to hit the road. We still had some distance to go, and daylight was running out.

Standard dirt road traffic.

As the sun got low it illuminated the Range Rover's dust trail beautifully. It didn't photograph well from the drivers seat with my phone from a few hundred metres back (who'da thought?), but anyway, you get the idea.

We hit the short road into Arkaroola as the sun set.

Leading in (because bull bar), I fleetingly saw a Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby by the side of the road on the way in. I know these rare and shy creatures are around Arkaroola, but this is the first one I had seen here, and only the second one I had ever seen. So, cool.

From the landscape, the geological wonders, the nature. There are many things about visiting Arkaroola (not to mention just how forward thinking its founder Reg Sprigg was in terms of outback tourism) that appeal. Maybe less obvious is the very period 1970's feel of the 'resort', anyway I dig it. So we had a quick beer at the bar before going to set up the swags - yeah it wasn't going to be that sort of Dry July.

After setting up our swags, we wandered back down to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was full as opposed it being just me dining there the first time I came here. Someone told me that Arkaroola has been sold, but if so nothing has changed. Doug Sprigg is still there as he opened the door for us on the way into the restaurant. We got chatting with a Spanish girl who was working there with her husband, they are travelling to Australia and then to Canada, with a view to possibly emmigrating, as apparently there are no jobs in Spain.

Back to the swags and get a fire going. We stayed up for a few drinks, catching up on each others lives. Before turning in. I had warned The Accountant it would be cold and to bring two sleeping bags, which he did, he just didn't get them properly set up in his swag and woke up cold (it got down to minus 2 deg C). So he slept in the Rover with the heater on - rookie.
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The morning brought those sensations you forget about until you are back in the outback in winter. Cold, still, dry, crisp desert air. Until the sun clears the rocky range, then you warm up very quickly.

The campsite was busy enough, but everyone had their own space.

Frost on the swag.

I got the faithful Trangia out and made coffee and breakfast.

Today we would tackle Arkaroola's 'advanced' 4x4 route. Not because it would be a crazy 4x4 challenge, but probably the only chance to do any technical driving on this particular trip. Plus I had never done it before, and you can't go too far wrong round here in terms on scenery.

So we headed out to Echo Camp Backtrack.

Just as we got outside the main part of Arkaroola Village, I started spotting more of the Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies. They are very difficult to spot unless they move. However this fella was happy to hang around and have his photo taken.

Well, I've seen more of these critters this morning than I've seen in the last ten years. Hopefully a good sign for the health of their population.

Before we get to the Echo Camp Backtrack, we take a slight detour to check out Arkaroola Waterhole.

Me, looking delighted to be there like usual.

No water in the water hole. It's been twelve years since the streams flowed up here apparently.

We get to the start of the Echo Camp Backtrack, and were straight into it as the track heads up into the hills.

So the Echo Camp Backtrack is just good fun 4wding. Nothing too difficult or dangerous, but challenging enough to keep in interesting. Here are some shots from the track that morning.

Lunch stop was at another waterhole, Bararranna. Again no water in it. This used to be the bed of a shallow sea back in the day.



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Then it was back to the wheelin'.

This below link is a short video of us carrying on like pork chops (seems like it might be quite slow to load - I don't normally do video...)


So yeah, all good fun. At the end of the track you can either start the long loop back to Arkaroola Village, or head a further 11km out and visit the Paralana Hot Springs. I wanted to visit the springs when we were here last year. However, then we were advised the springs were in poor condition and not worth the drive. Well we were only 11 clicks away now so I was going to check them out.

We were now outside the ranges and skirting the edge of Wooltana Station.

Paralana geothermal springsare located on Wooltana, north of Arkaroola. Local granite rocks contain elevated levels of uranium that gives off heat during radioactive decay. Water percolating through fractures in the rock is heated and bubbles out at the surface as a hot spring, with gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, radonand helium. Due to the presence of radon gas, which is heavier than air, staying near the springs for a prolonged period may constitute a health hazard. Living on the floor of the springs is an extremophilealgal matthat survives the warm temperatures of 62 °C and high radioactivity.[17]
From Wiki

Some people there, having driven out from Arkaroola found the springs disappointing. I just liked the freakiness, and the contrast in what is already a somewhat surreal landscape.

These hikers clearly not trusting their infamous Toyota handbrake.

We got a tip there were some ruins worth checking out on a side track on the way back. So we trundled off to find them.

As usual the question pops into ones mind of who came out here and thought "this is a good spot, let's settle here" ? Of course, very different times back then, and maybe this was the best of not a whole lot of options. Modern life is easy.

Whatever this building had been it seemed to have dissolved over time.

Then it was just a matter of looping back to Arkaroola Village. Back through the ranges.

Then it was Portuguese marinated chicken cooked over the fire that night.

Thanks for reading, more to follow.



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Part 2.

Pink sunrise greeted us the next day. We fuelled up and headed out.

Back down the access road from Arkaroola we hung left, north east, this dirt road would take us up to the Strzelecki Track, and on to Innamincka, our destination today.

This track was relatively busy this morning. We passed a group of four pick-ups that were stopped. I checked they were ok "a bit of car trouble, but we'll work it out" hopefully they did.

Then it got back to normal outback rush-hour.

We got to the junction with the Strzelecki Track. This track, now a major outback travel route for tourists and industry alike, was originally pioneered in 1870 by Harry Redford. Who stole 1000 head of cattle in Queensland and drove them all the way to Adelaide in South Australia, and sold them. Through terrain that only ten years prior has finished off the explorers Burke and Wills. The feat so impressed the jury at his trial that they found him not guilty!

The full tale is here. It should probably be called the Redford Track I think.

Almost immediately there was a step change in the scenery, from the red rock desert that we had been in since leaving the Flinders, to now proper sandy desert. This is the Strzelecki Desert, named after the Polish explorer Pawel Strzelecki.

The track is easy going. Dust from other vehicles being the only difficulty, so we kept a good couple of kilometres between us. Unlike some groups coming the other way. It's a pet gripe of mine, I just want to say to them "if you're idea of fun is driving around in your mates dust 100m off his bumper, then that's your business. But at least put your headlights on so other people can see you a bit further away than 10m when you emerge out of the dust..." /rant

There are a couple of different routes you can take to Innamincka, one being the old Strzelecki Track. However we wanted to check out the oil and gas fields at Moomba, so we just stuck to the main dirt road this time.

The desert-scape just outside of Moomba was worth a stop for some extra photos.

Not surprisingly this was as close as we got to the facility.

However, it still looked suitably 'Mad Max' from a distance.

As we were taking photos, three road trains pulled out of Moomba and headed down the road to Innamincka. So this was our view at the start of the 150km stretch to Innamincka.

Bloody dangerous. Especially with the road-trains seemingly being all over the road at times. However with 150km still to go I didn't fancy sitting here doing 40-60km/h, so when the wind blew the dust the right way and the road was clear enough I started working the Cruiser past the lumbering beasts. Confident in the fact that The Accountant is also an, ahem, seasoned overtaker and would have no trouble doing the same. Especially as the Rangie deploys somewhat more firepower than my Cruiser.

The welcoming party as we rolled onto the bitumen at Innamincka.

There are two businesses in Innamincka. The Trading Post - a general store that also sells fuel, and the pub. However this time of year it is busy with tourists, many on their way back from the Big Red Bash (a music festival held on a sand dune), in Birdsville, just up the (dirt) road.

It not being immediately apparent what the camping arrangements were, I headed into the store whilst The Accountant fielded work calls now we were back in service (that's why he's on the big bucks), the lady who manages the store ran down the options, either just outside town on the creek with a $5/night honesty system, or in the National Parks for about $12/night. Plus we would need an $11 permit for each vehicle to enter any of the parks (this lady was quite a character and this was all explained in the tone of a country person who thinks most people from the city are idiots, but in a nice way...) "is the camping any better in the National Parks than by the creek?" I enquired "nah, it's worse if anything" I thanked here for her honesty "also, it's roast night at the pub tonight", good to know.

We grabbed a beer and chatted to some of the people coming back from Birdsville "what was the Bash like?" "a three day dust bowl, but still worth it". Iconic Australian band Midnight Oil had been headlining the festival, back to touring now the lead singer has given up politics.

We moseyed on down to the campsite and set up. It was busy as expected, but the camps were well spread out, so it didn't feel it. I've camped in worse spots.

This is the Cooper Creek, one of many outback river systems. The locals were glad that some of the water making its way across the country ended up coming down this system, as it has run dry several times in the last few years. Apparently the fishing was at its best a few weeks ago, not that it would have made much difference to a fisherman of my ability...

We then moseyed on back to the pub and joined a few hundred other travellers for roast night, which was pretty much what we needed after a full day of driving.
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So with our original Simpson Desert plans scuppered, and also the nearby Congee Lakes also out of bounds due to the same flood waters. We decided to tour around a few of the historical sites in the area the next day, Leave our small camp set up.

So with our original Simpson Desert plans scuppered, and also the nearby Congee Lakes also out of bounds due to the same flood waters. We decided to tour around a few of the historical sites in the area the next day, Leave our small camp set up.

The morning checks of the trucks found the BFG's on the Rover were showing some sidewall damage. I suggested we check the other side of the tyre (fine) and it might be time to run a bit more pressure in those bad boys.

We headed back into Innamincka to pick up our permits. Whilst The Accountant did more work stuff I snapped a few photos.

Apparently this (below) had been here for 5 days already. There are no auto services in Innamincka (any more), but at least there is accomodation and a pub whilst you wait for someone to drive you out a wheel and tyre. The advertising for these sort of AWD 'lifestyle' vehicles often alludes to the fact they are suitable for camping, etc. The space saver lasted 20km on the dirt, whouda'thought?

Very popular option now down under, these Iveco trucks.

The Cooper Creek is where Burke and Wills, of the ill fated first north/south crossing of Australia perished. On their return from reaching the Gulf of Carpenteria, the northern coastline. Burke and Wills certainly got posthumous fame for their achievement. However compared to many contemporary explorers they had many failings. If you consider their main competitor, John McDouall Stuart, never lost a man, in sixexpeditions into the unforgiving heart of unexplored Australia. Think about that. I do, a lot.

Anyway, today we would tour some of the Burke and Wills historic sites in the area. Firstly to Burke's grave.

Both Burke and Wills bodies were later exhumed and returned to Melbourne for a state funeral.

Much of the expedition's failure is heaped upon Burke's pigheaded-ness, and refusal to work with the Aborigines. No one can question the bravery of any of these explorers though, no maps, no vehicles, no communications and compared to where most of them were from (Europe and the UK) a very unfamiliar and unforgiving environment.

The Accountant snapped this rather tasty shot looking out to the Cooper.

Next up was not an inconsiderable detour into Queensland to check out the 'Dig Tree' site. The road out of South Australia is so rough that new tracks have been established in the verge on both sides.

Once over the border, you are treated to smooth bitumen. I wonder what choice words Queenslanders have for South Australia, coming the other way...

Back over the Cooper as the Dig Tree is on the northern bank.

The Dig Tree is where Burke and Wills missed their relief party by a matter of hours, after the party had waited eighteen weeks for them. They left provisions buried and blazed the instructions of where to find them in this tree - which are now illegible, and there is some debate as to what they were in period too.

In an adjacent tree there is a carving of Burke (done sometime later, but still over 100 years old) that is still very striking.

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There was a dirt road north of here that would loop up back to Innamincka.

I found this bizarre tree at our lunch stop.

Back at the pub, the Rangie had pick up a pal.

Back to camp in good time, so time for a fire and a cook up.

Steak and pasta.

Next day we would press on. Across Walkers Crossing to the Birdsville Track.

Thanks for reading.


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Part 3.


We bade goodbye to our little spot on the Cooper Creek.

A quick breakfast and topped off the fuel at the Trading Post. Said goodbye to the characterful owners and hit the road.

Today we would take Walkers Crossing, taking us through the Birdsville Track where we would turn the trucks south and start heading back towards home. I was hoping to get to Mungeranie Station tonight, but not knowing the terrain ahead we would just play it by ear and just bush camp if we didn't make it.

The below map isn't the route we took, which was more direct, but Google doesn't like 4wd tracks. Anyway, you get the gist.

First though we stopped at Wills grave site, to complete our little historical tour from yesterday.

Wills died alone at this peaceful and picturesque spot.

Getting back to the car park we had been joined by some other vehicles. My Cruiser looking seriously underdone in the Overland Jewellery department. I clearly need to work on my 'look'...

Back on the crossing, the trees soon thinned out. I had put my sand flag on as the track was quite twisty and undulating in places.

Another flock of Little Corellas (I think), the same that had greeted me on our way into Innamincka a couple of days ago.

This part of the track was fast with the regular soft sections that meant slowing for. I noticed I was getting a long brake pedal in the Cruiser. I had a good idea what was causing it, and the next junction I stopped to check it out. Jacking up a front wheel confirmed my suspicions. There was noticeable play in the in the wheel bearing, causing the brake disc to push the brake pads back as it wobbled around - this is known as brake 'knock off' and something you will sometimes see racing drivers managing by squeezing the brake pedal slightly just before they hit the brakes properly, so the pads are right next to the disc.

I said to The Accountant, "I'm going to have to sort this".

I had done the wheel bearing service and also new brakes before this trip. This side with the play in it hadn't gone back together nicely for some reason. I had redone the assembly at the time and thought I had sorted it, but clearly not. Anyway, I had the special tools with me for the wheel bearings and so would just reset the adjustment on this corner and then check the other three.

One side sorted, we checked the other three. There was a tine amount of play in the other side front, so as we had everything out I quickly readjusted that one. As I was doing this the first vehicle we had seen since we stoped came by. They stopped and checked we were ok. Everything buttoned back up we packed the tools away and were once more back at it. It had cost us about an hour, but no matter, we were equipped to camp anywhere so there would be no rushing, despite the setback.

Luckily the signage is comprehensive on Walkers Crossing, as there are many service tracks that veer off the main track for the oil and gas fields around here.

I stopped a couple more times just to check everything was hunky dory with the Cruiser, and also to let the tyres down. I had expected once we got away from the creek to go back the rocky country we had experienced yesterday, but heading this was we had stayed in the sandy desert. So with less risk of tyre damage I dropped my pressures.

This creek had seen some water, but it was gone now.

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Heading through the creek crossing that this track is named after. There is a commemorative plaque for Walker, but no word on what happened to him.

We spotted this gas pipeline being burnt off in the distance.

We had been following alongside this dune for sometime. The track eventually wound close enough to stop and have a climb up.

This track was reminding me somewhat of Googs Track, that we had tackled a few years ago. Although this one ran in-line with the dunes, rather than crossing them. It also twisted and turned, whereas Googs is pretty arrow straight.

Some snaps from along the trail.

The sand was soft in places. Not the getting bogged soft, just the dab of oppo type soft.

Then back into the red rock desert.

And with that we hit the Birdsville Track. Not knowing how this would be, if it was rough and heavily corrugated like the Oodnadatta Track we probably wouldn't make the station tonight. But as it turns out it was in great condition and we good cruise at 100 clicks fairly easily.

We stopped at the track that leads to Warburton Crossing. This would have been where we would have kicked off our original Simpson Desert plan, but it's been closed ever since the flood waters came through. Of course some wanker had pulled down the road closed sign. We were not remote enough to stop the influx of dickheads. Judging by the water we would experience tomorrow, the crossing was very much still off the agenda, hopefully these idiots are still stuck down there.

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Further down the track we splashed through where this artesian hot spring bubbles out of the desert. Not so long ago a bloke fell in here and was very badly burned, luckily for him someone was able to drive him down to Mungeranie where they gave him first aid before he could be flown out. They resuscitated him three times waiting for the plane, such were the severity of his burns. He lived and is now suing the station for not having the hot spring fenced off properly. So again we legislate for the idiots.

We rolled into Mungeranie, and had a beer (and got the hot springs story) before setting up camp. If this is starting to feel like an outback pub crawl, well it seems that's what it was turning into. No bad thing, all the pubs have great characters in them and were humming with the busyness of peak touring season.

Next day we took a detour out to Cowarie Station, out to Warburton Creek. The Account hadn't really seen much of the floodwaters and wanted to check them out.

Whilst there was still a significant amount of water flowing, as we tried to walk down to it we got a idea of just how high it had been. This was as close as we got.

A good fifty metres from the waters edge we were struggling to stand and slip sliding around like a couple of drunks (touche!). You put a vehicle on that and you'll be recovering it for the next few months. So, safe to say the Warburton Crossing into the Simpson Desert, less than 100km from here, is well and truly still impassable.

All that considered, this was still a beautiful spot now.

With abundant bird life and an incredible fragrance from the plants that had sprung up on the riverbanks. I would love to know if these were native and edible?

Thwarted by locked gates at exploring any further. We headed back to the Birdsville Track and speared on back towards Maree.

A quick reference map for the route from here.

Passing this distant lake on the way, no doubt a depository of the the floodwaters final resting place. Maybe Lake Florence or Lake Tankamarinna according to the map. At first I thought it was just desert shimmer on the horizon but once I stopped and checked with the binos I saw it was genuinely water, the sand cliffs behind are the give-away.

Again we were keeping a decent distance between our vehicles. I rolled into Maree, and was fuelling up and starting to wonder what had happened to the Rangie. As it seemed a longer delay than I was expecting. Had he done a tyre? Or worse...

The answer arrived as I came out from paying for fuel.

The new Rhino Rack roof rack had sheared all its mountings.

Luckily it had done so loudly and so The Accountant was able to strap it down before the whole lot departed from the roof. We estimated the load on the rack to be around 75kg, about what it was rated for off bitumen. However on arriving home and weighing everything, it was found to be 112kg. So overloaded. Weight, as ever, the enemy.

However, I was still surprised. Most quality Australian 4x4 gear is built to take a fair amount of abuse outside it's specs in my experience - look at all the crap I've got having off that Kaymar wheel carrier, spare wheel, firewood and mud clogged maxtraxs that are probably 10kg each. I know it's not apples to apples but still...

However, as you can see I don't run a roof rack, so I don't know anything about them.

Always a bummer when a new expensive piece of equipment breaks, especially first time out.

Let's go find a pub!
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So our last stop would be the Prarie Hotel, Parachilna. We've stopped many time here over the years, but I've always wanted to have their 'Feral Feast' dish. So it was nice that we would end up here late afternoon, and leave only about a half a day drive home tomorrow.

After some boozy chats with the locals at the pub, we headed back to camp 100m up the road and had our final campfire. We awoke to another beautiful outback morning. Before turning the trucks south, an easy few hours on the bitumen today.

I call into Harry's Homemade, just outside Port Pirie, always worth a stop. Loaded up with pickled octopus, smoked fish, camel burgers and buffalo burgers. We push on for home.

Thanks for reading.

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