We were getting pretty good at efficient morning starts, without pressure, after a few in a row.
Continued west on a reasonable gravel road. The Driver – and I – were ever so glad that there was no need to cross the Arkaringa Creek again. But my Road Guide and map did show a number of watercourses to be crossed , so we hoped they were just little, minor ones.
The first part of today’s driving was brilliant for scenery. The mesa like formations of the Painted Desert were replicated in a range that stretched along to the north of our route, and in isolated other formations.
There were regular creek lines with mulga and low trees along them, and lots of wide vistas.
Despite our concerns, there were no more wet and boggy creeks.
We passed the Copper Hills Homestead. This was a small, private, conservation area, excised from Evelyn Downs Station’s normal activities. A camp area had been established there, that I’d read about, back in the late 90’s, at what was reputed to be an especially beautiful area. I had wanted to camp there when we were passing nearby on the highway, a couple of times, but on both occasions John was in a hurry to get south. Now the camp ground was no more, so the opportunity was past. Apparently the place had been bought by a professional person from Adelaide as a private retreat.
Our track emerged onto the Stuart Highway just south of Cadney Park Roadhouse. A sealed road again!
We stopped briefly at the Roadhouse. I phoned and booked us into the Mc Donnell Ranges Caravan Park in Alice Springs, for a week from tomorrow. At this time of year, thought it advisable to book, especially as we had a preference for sites close together. It was a longer time than I would have chosen to spend there, this trip, as we had spent considerable time there before, but John had visions of playing lots of bowls!
Stopped again at the next roadhouse up the Highway – Marla – to refuel. $1.62cpl. It was ridiculous that the fuel cost here – with all the volume it must do – was more expensive than that at William Creek!
Since Cadney Park we’d had the “new” Ghan Railway off to our left, often not far from the road. North of Marla we crossed it on an elevated section of road, not to be seen again until the outskirts of Alice Springs.
We had decided, last night, that we’d try to offset a little of what the week in Alice would cost, by free camping tonight. I thought that the area at Agnes Creek, about 100kms north of Marla, read in my camps book as though it was pleasant, but John was not quite ready to stop then. So, after a slightly tedious run up the highway to the SA/NT border, we checked out the roadside stop there.
The large area was sealed, and there were composting toilets. There wasn’t much in the way of shade, but it was getting late in the day anyway. It would have been much nicer back at Agnes Creek, I thought. However, it would do for the night. We parked up, put out the table and chairs, and considered ourselves set up – at a prudent distance from the toilets!
I was pleased when another van pulled in and set up for the night, and then another one after that. There was some security in numbers, with a main highway so close.
The couple who came in not long after us had a fire container made from a sawn off gas bottle. Great idea this. The ring stand on the base of the gas bottle meant it could sit on the sealed surface, and have a fire going without doing any damage, or leaving any trace. I wouldn’t mind one of those!
They invited us over, after tea, and we sat round their “campfire”, talking. It was all very pleasant.
The place was not as noisy from traffic through the night, as I had feared.
After a fairly early breakfast, we walked back to the bridge, to view it in a different light from last afternoon. Spent some time wandering about there and also around the northern end of the bridge.
The Trakmaster group was away from camp well before us, as a result. That pleased us – meant they would probably be clear of Oodnadatta before we arrived there. We would not be tailing along in their dust.
We only had about 60kms to go, to Oodnadatta. Along the way, stopped to have a look at the Mt Dutton Siding ruins.
There was one lonely grave here – evocative of the loneliness and isolation of the place.
And so on into Oodnadatta, like Marree, once a significant settlement on the Ghan Railway line. Now it had shrunk to having about 200 people living there, half of them indigenous.
A lot of travellers – like us – end their time on the Oodnadatta Track at the township. and from there head west to the Stuart Highway on unsealed roads either to Marla or Cadney Park or SW to Coober Pedy. The Old Ghan Track north of Oodnadatta becomes rougher and more of a challenge to vehicles, heading up to Finke and thence on to Alice Springs. We had driven part of that section back in 1999, as part of our trip across the Simpson Desert.
We refuelled at the iconic Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta – $1.67cpl.
The establishment of this Roadhouse arose from an interesting history, which originally involved Adam and Lynnie Plate walking down the Ghan Railway track, with camels, in the 70’s. The building and the vintage car in front of it, were painted pink to attract custom, and to stand out in people’s minds. Adam Plate was instrumental in the Oodnadatta Track being so named and becoming a must-do on the list for adventurous travellers. They have done travellers to these parts a great service by placing their distinctive pale pink direction signs all over remote northern SA. We’d found these of great help when we drove across the Simpson Desert’s Rig Road, in 1999.
We browsed the tourist offerings in the Roadhouse. John bought Pink Roadhouse Tshirts for his two grandsons, and a soft, life-sized toy galah for the younger one’s birthday, had them packaged up and mailed from there. I wondered how many mail items had ever been received in Brussels, from Oodnadatta? I bought a stubby holder. M bought a soft toy blue heeler dog – destined to keep her company in “Bessie”, her Troopy.
Despite what we had heard on the road reports, the Road Conditions sign at Oodnadatta said that the Cadney Park road was closed! Bugger!
Then, at the Roadhouse – the source of all accurate information for these parts – we were told that was wrong. The road really was open, but the policeman with the key to change the sign had gone to William Creek for the Cattle Drive start.
So, feeling reassured – and legal – we ventured forth.
Backtracked for 5kms, then went SW on the Coober Pedy road. It was a good gravel surface. There were a lot of little floodways and creek crossings, some of which showed signs of having been wet, but were dry now.
The country had subtly changed and was less desolate.
We stopped by a dry creek bed that was attractively vegetated, to eat lunch.
Fifty kms from Oodnadatta, we turned west onto the Cadney Park road. There were starting to be some dramatic, jump-up type hills in the distance. It became obvious that we were heading for these – the Painted Desert.
Took a short side track to a parking area for the Painted Desert.
The area was covered by gibber stones.
The Painted Desert was once part of an ancient seabed. Uplift and differing erosion rates on hard and soft strata, plus staining from minerals in some of the rocks, have created this rather unique, surreal, and very picturesque little area.
We set out to walk the 2km circuit track that wound around through the hills and gullies.
The varied colours of the mesa formations were strongly contrasting, from deep red-browns, through to white.
I wondered if the indigenous peoples of the area had any particular stories or legends about it?
Some of the exposed underlying rock material looked really soft and fragile. It was clearly easily eroded.
This really was a very different place to any we have visited before, although maybe there was a little similarity to some of the country around Winton, in Qld. It would have to go on my list of my Top Ten Places in Australia. It was so superbly dramatic.
I loved the stark dead mulga standing against the bare terrain. Yes, I know…. more dead mulga!
The little walk took us the best part of two hours, because we stopped so often to admire the outlook round the next corner, and the next……and take heaps of photos.
Eventually, we dragged ourselves away to continue on to where we intended to camp for the night, at Arkaringa Station.
It would have been fascinating to spend the night here, and see the sunset and sunrise on the hills, but there was no camping allowed. This is station property, so one should obey their edicts.
The Arkaringa Homestead was only about 12kms away. We had some ideas of returning to the Painted Desert formations for sunset, or sunrise, or both, to take photos. But these ideas were quickly abandoned after we had churned through the quagmire that was the multiple channels of the Arkaringa Creek.
We could see why this road had been closed, until so recently! Actually, we were rather surprised that it was open! The fact that the creek base seemed fairly firm was perhaps the saving factor. But it had clearly been flowing recently.
I was sometimes surprised at what Truck will tow the van through. In this instance, John had put Truck into low range before tackling the wide expanse of the creek ford – and hoping! Perhaps if we hadn’t known that the homestead was quite close – and therefore, presumably help if we got stuck – we might not have braved what looked quite nasty.
So, not wanting to cut up this part of the road any more, we decided to forego returning to the Painted Desert formations.
We paid $15 to stay in the Homestead camp area and were able to plug into power. This was a rather basic place, but the showers and toilets were adequate. Good use of corrugated iron on the building of these…..
Arkaringa Station was owned by the same pastoral company – the Williams’ – that owned Nilpinna, of the sign we’d photoed over on the Ghan Track. Seems they owned a lot of this part of the country!
It was great that we were able to recharge my camera battery, and also John’s laptop, which he had run down playing computer games last night!
The sunset here was rather interesting, anyway. Vast skies, enough cloud about to make it really interesting.
No campfire tonight.
There was a drilling crew staying in the accommodation section – cabins – who were a bit noisy into the night. Seemed there was a big coal exploration project happening just to the south of here. I hoped that any mining venture in the future did not impinge on this very special environment around here.