This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels May 22

TUESDAY 22 MAY   ALGEBUCKINA TO ARKARINGA HS   150kms

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.

Early morning, Algebuckina
Our secluded riverbank camp in the morning
The train driver’s perspective
Neales River from the bridge approach

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.

Trakmasters’ camp at Algebuckina

We only had about 60kms to go, to Oodnadatta. Along the way, stopped to have a look at the Mt Dutton Siding ruins.

This siding was in a really open, exposed position
Partly demolished, like so many of the old siding buildings along the Track

There was one lonely grave here – evocative of the loneliness and isolation of the place.

The desolate grave
The Mt Dutton bore that sustained the railway – and siding – here

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.

Along the road to Arkaringa

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.

Regular dry little floodways….

The country had subtly changed and was less desolate.

We stopped by a dry creek bed that was attractively vegetated, to eat lunch.

It was actually a really interesting and attractive spot for a lunch stop
A live tree this time!

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.

One of the widespread and typical Pink Roadhouse signs

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.

More mesa formations in the distance

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!

Arkaringa camp

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.


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1999 Travels May 28

FRIDAY 28 MAY   COWARD SPRINGS TO OODNADATTA   293kms

We were a little slow getting away this morning as the lass “next door” came and asked to have a look at the van. The guy was off to Coober Pedy for tyres – a 280kms round trip on rough roads. If it was his driving style that caused their flat tyres, I hope he has learned a lesson – otherwise he might not get to Coober Pedy! It is worrying for them, though, with the bulk of the Oodnadatta Track still ahead of them.

We did not make many stops today. The first was at Beresford Bore – another former siding. The fettlers’ cottage building there looked to be rapidly deteriorating. It was a similar style to Curdimurka. The Beresford Bore was still flowing.

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Fettlers’ cottage at Beresford Bore siding

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Beresford Bore was still flowing

We took a track near Beresford Siding, for a short distance. This led to the remains of a rocket tracking emplacement – a reminder that rockets were test fired from the nearby Woomera Range; some came this way and landed in these parts.

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This was a rocket tracing emplacement

William Creek was our next stop, where there is a hotel. Apart from a rough camp area behind the hotel, nothing else! It claims to be the smallest town in the world.

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William Creek Hotel

Since just north of Coward Springs, we have been driving through Anna Creek Station – the largest operating livestock property in the world, and part of the Kidman cattle empire. William Creek is on the property. The hotel dates from last century and the building of the Overland Telegraph. I presume it was also a rather welcome stop for railway passengers too. Since the railway closure it must make a living from stockmen from the properties up this way, and tourists. It has become rather a tourist icon.

At the hotel, we bought a beer and a coke – have to do our bit for the local economy! We also topped up with fuel – the hotel sells this, too. $1 a litre!

Here, there is a display of some remains of rockets that have come down in the area.

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Rocket remains. Something like this landing nearby could ruin a peaceful camp!

I took a photo of the quirky Pink Roadhouse sign at William Creek. The family that has, for years, had this  roadhouse at Oodnadatta has – in the interests of the travelling public – put up these signs where they felt directions/information is necessary. They are a real landmark item.

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Not far north of William Creek we stopped for lunch. Took a side track towards the creek channels – quite a pleasant spot. The flies were incredibly thick. One had to be careful to just get sandwich in the mouth!

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Bit of a dip, here

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Another of the Pink Roadhouse signs

Our next stop was at the Algebuckina Bridge – a long, high, steel structure that is very dramatic in this isolation and is the longest bridge in SA. Below it were the mangled remains of a car that had tried to use the rail bridge to cross the flooded Neales River – and met a train coming the other way!

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The train won! Algebuckina Bridge over the Neales River

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What the train driver saw – Algebuckina Bridge

Through today, we’d noticed several dry creek areas that would have made good overnight camp places, as well as the often used bush camping area at the Algebuckina waterhole. I would have liked to stay the night at the latter, rather than pushing on, but John wanted to keep going. With hindsight, we’d have been better off staying at one of these, instead of at Oodnadatta!

With the exception of the Neales/Algebuckina waterhole, the watercourses were all dry. The track was pretty good. I drove for a while, because John got tired. I felt quite comfortable towing the van on the dirt road, but we were not going very fast.

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The Oodnadatta Track

We noticed that the railway alignment criss crossed the road several times on today’s route.

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Some distant hills – south of Oodnadatta

We got into Oodnadatta about 4pm and booked into the caravan park attached to the Pink Roadhouse. We paid $16.50 for a powered site. The amenities were in an Atco building and were not very clean. The toilet paper in all cubicles had run out and was not refilled.

After the basic set up, we went for a walk in the township. It is extremely ramshackle. There is one substantial building – the former railway station, made of stone and now a museum;  one has to obtain a key to go have a look in it, and we were too late. And that is about the “key” to Oodnadatta, from what we saw – lock up anything worthwhile, otherwise it will be broken or nicked!

We saw some falling-down houses. There are a number of indigenous occupied houses, some looking alright, others very damaged, all behind high tin fences. There was a lot of rubbish lying about.

Today was apparently pension day. There was a big group of aboriginals gathering under some trees in the centre of town. There were lots of kids riding bikes around, but we were pleased to see that most were wearing helmets as they tore around.

The Pink Roadhouse is a large establishment – a store and eatery too. But we found it abysmal on service and staffing levels.

We saw that there was an aboriginal school – named as such – and it seemed to be the only one in town. The existence of such a school was, we thought, an encouraging sign that some people are trying to get things together.

It is just a pity that the township has such a neglected, derelict, grotty atmosphere. I think I had formed romantic notions about Oodnadatta, from reading history and novels, so I was expecting a place I could react to positively.

Tea was soup, baked beans on toast, yoghurt.

We are both tired tonight, so we had an early night.

05-28-1999 to oodnadatta