SUNDAY 13 MAY ARKAROOLA
Today, as the weather seemed favourable (dry!), and we were running out of time, we set out to do the Echo Camp Backtrack drive. John and I had done this on a previous visit, in the old Hilux and it was certainly at the limits of vehicle, novice 4WD driver and nervous passenger at that time. I was curious to see if it seemed as hard, this time round, with the vastly greater experience we’d had since – and with the much more capable Defender.
For M, it would be good practice at driving this type of terrain.
Went to the Office to pay the $40 per vehicle fee to drive this locked off and private track. Signed the required indemnity form and collected the key. The payment was fair enough, as the Resort had to upkeep the track.
The guiding brochure said that the track classification was “Extreme 4WD”, requiring Advanced Driver Experience! If drivers undertaking this route did not check back in at the Resort, within what they thought was a reasonable time, they started up a search and rescue operation, and said driver had to pay any costs!
We drove out past Mt Oliphant, the same road to the north that was the access way for the Ridge Top Tour. A little way after that turn off was the start of the one-way 11km Echo Camp Backtrack, which eventually met the Paralana Springs road, and a (comparatively) easier route back to camp.
The track started off by showing that it meant business! Once through the gate we had to unlock, there was a steep climb up Dinnertime Hill. It was evident that this bit – steep, twisting, loose surface – had caught plenty of drivers unprepared and they weren’t in low range when they should have been! I wondered if any had given up at this point, turned around and gone back?
Overall, the track was much worse than we expected, and certainly seemed much harder than when we did it years ago. Much of the track deterioration, and hence problem driving conditions, was due to poor driving skills – uphill sections cut up by drivers changing gears/spinning wheels part way up, instead of selecting the appropriate gear before starting the slope.
They might say it needs Advanced Driving Skills, but they’d certainly had plenty of drivers along the track with not much driving skill at all!
We needed low range (so-called) in the Defender – actually some kind of diff lock, I think. Whatever, it always worked well. M’s Troopy – in “proper” low range – gobbled up every difficult bit – great vehicle, nearly as good as Truck! Although, we occasionally had campfire “discussions” over which was the more capable vehicle.
There were more very steep downhill sections than I remembered, too. I wondered if they had altered the route, since the 90’s?
We crawled up the very steep, chopped up section at the start of the track , just after the gate. Parked at the Dinnertime Hill turn out for a photo op. I walked part way back down the hill to take a photo.
A short way further on was the first of the very steep downhill sections. One of those where you come up the rise to the crest, with no idea of what is in front, then the vehicle kind of tips over the crest and starts down. I remembered when we first drove this track and I was changing the film in my camera at this point. I got so scared that I opened the back of the camera without rewinding the film first!
Via CB, we advised M to wait at the top, on the crest, and we would film her descending, from a point part way down.
Took a little side track, in to Echo Camp Waterhole, on Arkaroola Creek, which this route now followed for some way. We wandered about for a little while, looking at the creek and waterhole, and enjoying the bush.
A further 4kms on, over lots of ups and downs, and surrounded by brilliant scenery, we came to a track junction – the way out to the left, Barraranna Gorge straight on.
A quick survey showed us that the start of this side track was pretty rough, so we decided to leave the vehicles and walk the 1km to the Gorge.
That little expedition took us about an hour, by the time we explored the gorge a little bit. I was not sure it was worth the effort, but the walk was pleasant enough. It gave us a good chance to take in the scenery, something the two drivers did not get to do much, on tracks requiring real concentration.
There was still a little water in the rock pools in the gorge.
Where we parked the vehicles, to do the walk, was a set of old sheep yards – still standing because they were made of termite resistant mulga.
We continued on the one way track. This became somewhat easier after the gorge junction, but perhaps not quite as scenic.
By the time we reached the junction with the Paralana Springs track, John and I were all gorged and 4WD-ed out! We opted to drive straight back to camp. This was a fair drive in itself – maybe 15kms, and was attractive, along through Claude’s Pass.
I had been trying to remember back and really didn’t think that the track of the 90’s came out so far from the Resort. I wondered whether it had used the route through Spotted Schist Pass, that was now washed out? But the memory can play tricks….
M was still feeling adventurous and went off on a different track to visit Tillite Gorge, which she reported later was not all that special.
We reported ourselves back in at the office. M reported when she came in.
Had our usual night time sit around the campfire. M was really stoked about the type of driving we had done today, and how well both she and the Troopy managed it. Great boost to her confidence!
This slow, quiet socializing was a most enjoyable aspect of this trip, to date. John and I have long had a general policy of not travelling with other people – leaving us free to do exactly what we want. However, M is the one person we have made an exception for. Might have something to do with she and I knowing each other for over fifty years, and having trekked and hitch-hiked our way around parts of the country, in our adventurous late teens! A friendship forged in some interesting “adventures”…..