Thursday, August 1, 2019

South Australia Outback

This trip is centred on the iconic OODNADATTA TRACK, a 650km gravel road that skirts Lake Eyre and follows the path of the original Ghan Railway and Overland Telegraph.  

My 4WD journey will cover a 2000km loop from Adelaide along the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, across the Painted Desert to Oodnadatta, down the Oodnadatta track to Marree, then into the Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound before returning to Adelaide.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Small outback towns and villages have very limited accommodation on offer, and so planning a trip like this requires locking in dates that still have a room available.  This reduces the ability to be flexible with one's schedule.  Here is my "paid up" itinerary, the result of several hours on and other websites.

Thu 15 August:  VA 1384  0610-0830   Brisbane to Adelaide
                            Avis hire car:  Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD
                            Port Augusta - Flinders Hotel Motel   (320 km)

Fri 16 August:     Whyalla -- Steelworks Tour   (80 km)
                             Woomera - Eldo Hotel  (190 km)

Sat 17 August:     Coober Pedy - Underground Motel  (380 km)
Sun 18 August:

Mon 19 August:   Oodnadatta  via  Painted Desert - Oodnadatta Hotel  (330 km)

Tue 20 August:     William Creek - William Creek Campground Units  (205 km)

Wed 21 August:    Marree - Marree Hotel  (204 km)

Thu 22 August:     Wilpena Pound - Resort - (334 km)
Fri 23 August:   

Sat 24 August:     Adelaide - South Terrace Motel  (444 km)

Sun 25 August:    VA 1391  0910-1205   Adelaide to Brisbane

Monday, July 29, 2019

Day 1 - Thu 15/8/2019

An uneventful three hour flight landed me in Adelaide on time at 8.30 am local.  Was an early start in Brisbane - up at 3.45 am, and my booked Uber arrived right on time.  Collected my rental from Avis and took a little time setting it up and getting familiar.  Drives beautifully despite its massive size.

Took nearly an hour to clear Adelaide suburbs.  Made good use of cruise control once on the highway, 110kph all the way to Port Pirie.  Rolling plains of pasture and crops, everything looking a lush green (even more so when seen through sunglasses!).  Driving north one has a row of low hills to the left, inland from Spencers Gulf.  Nearer to Port Pirie for several km these hills are home to many wind farms, their blades turning lazily as they catch the wind coming off the gulf.  South Australia prides itself in producing 100% of its electricity from renewables.

Still a small working port on Spencers Gulf, the town has retained many of the old stone buildings that date back to the late 1800s.  The tall chimney stack of the silver/lead/zinc smelter dominates the skyline.  The ore comes by rail from Broken Hill.  Port Pirie is the administrative centre of the catholic diocese that takes in over half South Australia and up to places like Uluru in the NT.  The 1870 cathedral church was burnt down 40 years ago and replaced by an ugly cement block building which they keep locked up!  I was ready for a light lunch and rest stop, kindly provided by Hungry Jacks.  I then took a stroll around the central area and admired the many old buildings there.  Must have been a city of churches once.  Most of them now are shops or offices or museums.  Was a chilly venture with quite a gale blowing.

An hour further north brought me to this small town that sits at the top of Spencer Gulf.  As I drove on the Flinders Ranges appeared quite close to my right.  They look very scenic in the afternoon sunlight.  The town also has kept many old stone buildings from the past.  It’s seaport origins are evident in the layout of the central city:  narrow lanes (one way only) rather than streets designed for modern traffic.  Found the hotel/motel I was booked in to.  It’s website certainly makes it look much more attractive than the reality shows.  The motel part is a half dozen rooms tacked on to the back of the ancient pub.  Clean but cold!  The advertised “free wifi” doesn’t exist.  Top marks for the dining room food though.  I enjoyed a plate of grilled Spencer Gulf King George Whiting with Vegs.

After a brief nap mid-afternoon I went down to the major attraction here, the Wandlatta Tunnel of Time.  Attached to the town’s tourist information centre, it has been developed to tell the history of the area from creation until today, using many Dreamtime stories from local indigenous peoples.  A really creative mix of dioramas, videos and information placards.  I spent over an hour wandering through the display and would return tomorrow if time allowed.  Drove up to the Water Tower lookout after that and managed to conquer the 65 steps to the top of the tower where one gets a good 360 degree view of the city.  Then a quiet drive around the newer part of the town before the dinner bell called.

That is the longest leg of the journey completed.  Following days will be less tiring from a driving point of view.  Very chilly tonight, with a possibility of showers tomorrow here near the gulf.

Today’s photographic record can be found Here for Port Pirie. And Here for Port Augusta.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Day 2 — Fri 16/8/2019

A very chilly morning greeted me as I left the hotel early and headed for the local McDonalds to get a quick breakfast.  Then it was off west and south some 60km to Whyalla.  Once the jagged Flinders Ranges are left behind, all the hills / mountains assume a standard appearance.  They are table-top flat  of varying sizes.  All the way to Woomera the same type of elevated land to be seen.  The explanation I was given is that areas of very tough sediment formed on the sea bed millions of years ago when the great inland sea covered all this area.  Once the sea receded, water and wind erosion got to work on the landscape, but these “tough” layers protected the softer material under them and so they survived as hills and mountains with a completely flat top.  Today modern technology intrudes and natures art work.  Atop many of them will be found wind farms or tall electricity transmission towers, spoiling the natural environment.

A town of some 20,000 persons, Whyalla hugs the western shore of Spencers Gulf.  In the past it was a major shipbuilding centre, although no relics of that past can be found now.  It is also known as “Steel City” because of its major industry steelmaking.  That has recently been a troubled story too.  BHP were set to close the industry down when a UK based billionaire purchased the ailing business.  Sanjeev Gupta (Indian by birth) is resurrecting the city and the plant giving hope for a solid future.  The steel works occupies a strip of several km along the shoreline.  Each step of the steel-making process has its own major set of buildings / plant, all linked by roads and rail.  The process is totally self-contained.  Coal from NSW is processed into coke, using oxygen manufactured on site as well as water recycled.  Iron pellets from Iron Knob together with scrap metal are super-heated with coke to form molten steel.  This is then shaped, rolled and cut into various product.  Iron ore is also exported from here.  The big bulk carriers have to anchor several km out to sea because of the shallow gulf waters.  Barges are loaded at the plant jetty and transfer the loads to the big vessels.

I enjoyed a 90 minute mini-bus tour of the steel works.  The guide was an excellent educator.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to exit the bust at any stage, so I missed seeing some aspects of the operation I would have liked to see.  Back at the Tourist Information Cent re I then lined up for a guided tour of HMAS Whyalla which is enshrined there.  It was the first ship built in 1941 by the new BHP shipyards for the WWII war effort, and one of 4 minesweepers built there.  After the war it was decommissioned and worked around Port Phillip bay as a maintenance vessel.  When time. Came for it to be scrapped, the Whyalla locals put up $5000 to buy it .. then had to find another $150,000 to move it and mount it back where it was built.  They are presently doing a lot of maintenance work on it.  W e were able to climb all over it, and again had an excellent guide to give commentary and answer questions.  There is a fine maritime museum also on the property.

A prominent hill overlooks the city and the foreshore, named by Matthew Flinders as the Hummock when he visited here on his voyage around Australia.  I spent a little while there taking some photos and enjoying the vista.  A bite of lunch in the Main Street.  Like so many towns of this size, every second our third shop in the Main Street was empty.  The town does have some excellent parks and sports facilities.  Happily the massive industry the city relies on doesn’t seem to cause any problems with smog or other pollution.

After lunch I retraced my way back to Port Augusta, then turned north on the Stuart Highway towards Alice Springs.  Not so far today, with Woomera my target 200 km away.  Stopped at a delightful rest area for a break about the halfway mark, called Range View.  It was located on a ridge, and one had a spectacular view of the many ranges to east, south and west.  The highways here are in excellent condition, speed 110 kph mostly. Just set the cruise control and let the Pajero eat up the km.

Reached Woomera at 4 pm, and was happy to have a short nap.  Dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight.  Will explore the local scene in the morning and head to Coober Pedy in the afternoon.

Today’s photos can be seen Here

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Day 3 - Sat 17/8/2019

The village of Woomera lies on an elevated plateau surrounded by a boring desert that stretches from horizon to horizon unbroken, the reddish brown rocky soil lightly covered by salt bush and occasional mulga scrub.  Ideal country for a rocket research base.  The rocket range began operation in 1947, and stretches west well into Western Australia.  The entire area between Woomera and Coober Pedy is prohibited land.  Travellers on the Stuart Highway are granted exemption, but they may not take any of the side roads off the highway without a permit.

The village looks exactly like what it is — a government defence base.  Row after row of identical houses and barracks, with just a small central services area that houses a grocery, information centre, rocket display park, theatre and a hotel.  I stayed at the Eldo hotel which has an excellent dining room.  The motel rooms are renovated barracks behind the new hotel building — quite comfortable and well appointed.

On my drive from Whyalla I frequently noted a large white pipeline snaking across the landscape, often parallel to the road.  I discovered that it brings water from the Murray River at Morgan to supply Port Pirie, Whyalla, Port Augusts and finally Woomera.  None of these have a local water supply available.  Also frequently I could see the Ghan rail line tracking the highway a couple of hundred meters to the side.  Long freight trains seemed to pass about every 30 minutes.

The tourist information centre doubles as a breakfast/lunch cafe, and houses a very informative historical museum of the rocket range and its activities until recently.  The public have only been allowed to visit Woomera for about the last ten years — before that all top secret.  Today most of the work at the range involves satellite launches for Japan and various privately funded research.  There seems to be no military activity now, although the base is still run by Defence Dept.  I hoped to get a look at something, so drove out to the main gate of the range.  Took a photo of the entrance, and was promptly chased away by a guard.

Little else was on offer, so bought a sandwich for lunch later and headed north toward Coober Pedy at 11 am.  Topped up the car with diesel at Spud’s Roadhouse nearby .. $1.80 a litre, $130 worth!  By the way, earlier checking out the driver’s manual to familiarise myself with the 4WD mechanism, I discovered I was driving a Toyota PRADO and not a Mitsubishi PAJERO.  So much for my powers of observation!

The drive to Coober Pedy is mindlessly boring and with several stops along the way took 5 hours.  I stopped at each of the roadhouses along the way and at a couple of well setup rest areas to stretch my legs and have a break.  About 30 km out of Coober Pedy the landscape changed, and began to look more like a lunar scape.  Sammy heaps of rock and soil pointed to where miners have been digging for opals.  Active “mines” can be identified by a mechanical excavator standing next to the waste heap. I get the impression you can only drive out to these areas if you have a mining permit.

I found my way to the Underground Motel.  Booked in and am getting ready to explore the town tomorrow.

Photos I took today are to be found Here

Friday, July 26, 2019

Day 4 - Sun 18/8.2019


A bright sunny day, but with winds gusting to 60 kph raising plenty of dust.  Reached 18C today, so chilly with the wind factor.

My base in Coober Pedy has been the Underground Motel.  Dug into the side of a hill on the town’s outskirts, it has about 8 rooms in addition to the owners’ quarters.  Nicely fitted out for short stays.  There is a communal kitchen with the makings of a continental breakfast provided for when one is ready for it.  The owner is very obliging, and even did a load of wash for me today.

The town gets its name from two Aboriginal words meaning “white fella down in hole”.  Perceptive! The population is about 1800 — no one knows how many really as this is a place some people come to drop off the map, avoid the tax man or alimony collectors etc.  There are a fair few Aborigines here too, and they speak their own language fluently.  They live in the above ground houses as their culture believes bad spirits live underground.  They won’t work in a mine for that reason.  Local school has 200 pupils from prep to leaving.

Last night I found the underground Catholic Church in time for advertised 6.30pm Mass.  As it turned out, the parish priest ( a Passionist priest I knew from years ago, Paul Crotty) was away this week in Uluru (700km away ..the top end of his parish0.  So a young Indian family conducted a communion service competently for the 15 adults and 1 noisy child there.

I then chose to eat at the Outback Bar and Grill, based on its claim to have won many tourist records in recent years.  It is an attachment to the local Shell servo.  The meal was oversized but tasty.  Back at he motel I did yesterday’s blog and hit the bed relatively early.

This morning I did some exploring around the town.  It is quite a higgledy-piggledy assortment of above ground buildings dumped wherever there is space between the small hills that are home to the underground shops, hotels and private homes.  I doubt there is anything such as a town plan!  Apparently miners are great borders.  They reckon being so far from everywhere that nothing should be wasted.. you never know when it will come in handy.  So the cityscape is littered with broken machinery and other discards, giving the place a very untidy appearance.  “We’re not in the running for Tidy Town prizes” I was told.

After lunch I signed up for a tour of the town and surrounds.  It was in a 4WD mini-bus with an excellent driver/guide.  He was worth every penny of the tour price/. He first took us through a worked out opal mine in the Main Street that has been set up to show off all aspects of the mining process.  Interestingly the rock is so stable that there is no need for the tunnels to be shored up with timbers as is usual in coal mines.  I learned that there are only about 50 active miners left in Coober Pedy, nearly all aged over 60.  Opal is still found, but most diggers never make a living from it.  Each miner takes out a 3 month or yearly lease on a piece of dirt out in the active mining fields (30km each side of the town), only 50 metres square - or 100x50 metres.  They then sink test holes and examine the core from the drill to decide if its worth digging.  Opal is found in small seams in the top 30 metres of rock.  A lot os secrecy surrounds the location of any finds .. and the sales are all strictly cash to avoid ATO scrutiny.  There are no mining companies involved here, it is all small time activity.

Next we visited the Prophet Elijah Serbian Orthodox church, a very large underground space with attached reception hall and kitchen.  No local priest these days, so only a couple of services a year apart from funerals etc.. The church is beautifully fitted out.  A local sculptor has carved various statues into the limestone rock above the altar and in the entrance.

Then it was off to Faye’s house to let us see a not-so-typical underground home.  It was dug into the hillside on 3 levels over a ten year period by three women who also worked in the town.  It has every mod con, and is beautifully furnished.  An above ground level has been added, and this contains a swimming pool and.billiards table.  Today the home is just a tourist attraction.

A 30 km drive north of the town takes one to the Breakaways, a series of variously shaped hills that have interesting Dreamtime stories attached to them.  On the way we stopped to photograph the Dog Fence that passes this way.  Apparently still effective in keeping wild dogs and dingos away from South Australia’s flocks and herds.  The SA government has just announced a $20 million project to upgrade the fence.  We crossed moonstone desert on the way, black pebbles embedded with silica that catches the sunlight and sparkles.

On the way back to town our driver took a detour through an active mining area to let us see up close the working mines.  I wondered why all these disused holes litter the landscape, not filled in.  Apparently it is illegal to fill in or even cover the drill holes or tunnel entrances lest a neighboring lease might tunnel into the hole and have the fill collapse and kill or injure the digger.

It was after 6pm by the time I was delivered back to my motel, so I grabbed the keys and headed up the Main Street to John’s Pizza Bar and restaurant for a quick meal.  Place was packed out, so service was slow but they did serve me a nice serve of barramundi with chips and salad!  Tomorrow I will meet my first stretch of gravel on the trip.  Am hoping for a continuation of this fine weather.

I took far too many photos today and will need to choose a smaller number later.  For now they are all (at risk or boredom)  to be found  here

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Day 5 — Mon 19/8/2019


I have finally reached this fabled “town” Oodnadatta, and the halfway mark of my trip.  Tomorrow I start heading back south for 5 days.

Took a final spin around Coober Pedy after breakfast and then headed north on the Stuart Highway for 150km.  Lots of opal mines for the first 30 km and then just gibber plain and saltbush plateau.  Very regular rest areas along the way, which SA does very well compared to their rarity in Qld.  I reached the Cadney Homestead Roadhouse at 11 am and had a toasted sandwich for early lunch.  Then it was a right turn eastwards onto the gravel of the Painted Desert Road and 170 km to Oodnadatta.  At first some of the road signs were confusing, and it was just as well I was not relying on the car’s nav system .. I don’t know where it was trying to take me!  Just past the Ackaringa  Homestead one passes the Painted Hills.  These are a series of mesas that look as though a giant has passed by and splashed lashings of red, brown, yellow and white paint across their hills.  Probably look better in early morning or late afternoon light, but were certainly an unusual sight.  Not quite worth all the superlatives the PR people give them though!

Arrived at Oodnadatta at 2 pm and tried to book in at the wrong pub.  Sorted that out and am at the Pink Roadhouse Caravan Park in the quite cozy cabin with all mod cons except a decent Telstra connection.  Satellite TV is good, but no free wifi.  Oodnadatta has population of 180, nearly all Aborigines.  No local council, with all services provided by the local Aboriginal Cooperative.  The Main Street is a 200 metre stretch of bitumen, home to the Pink Roadhouse, Memorial Hall, outdoor movies and Transcontinental Hotel.  A short strip of rail still marks where the old Ghan railhead used to be, and the stone Railway Station has been preserved as a local history museum with rooms of very informative photos and text about local history, geography and personalities.  There is absolutely nothing else to see or do here, so I have been putting my kindle to good use and catching up on some reading.

Have had a Roadhouse dinner, not tempted to settle for a Oodnaburger or similar.  They rustled up a good meal of chops, chips and vegs with a XXXX Gold to go with it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the gravel road.  The Prado hums along at a steady 80 kph, riding smoothly enough over the corrugations.  At that speed one can enjoy the scenery whilst still keeping a watchful eye out for sharp stones, corrugations, pot holes and sand patches on the road.   In the morning I will get the mechanic here to lower the tire pressures for safer driving.  They have signs everywhere advising one to do so.

Freezing cold here tonight.  Today it made 17C along the way, but is down to 9C already heading for a low of 3C.  Thankfully the cabin is fitted with a good quality aircon that I have set on 26 !  I have discovered that Telstra 4G reception here is very dodgy.  My iPad works OK, but the phone has only one bar and won’t function.  Would be tough living here without reliable communications.  Still, a big improvement on the days when the camel trains met the Ghan here and took loads of goods on to Alice Springs and beyond.  I had a close encounter with a herd (?) of wild horses along a stretch of unfenced road this morning.  Quite a sight, a dozen or more of them galloping as if in the Coober Pedy Cup last weekend.

As usual I will finish this report with a link to today’s photos here

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Day 6 — Tue 20/8/2019


I have arrived halfway down the Oodnadatta Track at William Creek, population 12.  A pub, airfield and caravan park.  As I rolled to a stop outside the pub at 1.15pm. I was greeted by a tap on the car window and a chap greeting me “ Hey mate, you’ve got a flat tyre.”  Sure enough the rear driver side was as flat as a pancake.  It must have happened very close to William Creek because I didn’t feel or hear anything, and the tyre was not shredded from driving a distance on it flat.  So I put on my best “helpless me” look and ventured into the bar to enquire if they had a mechanic on site.  No such luck, but a couple of Wrightsair pilots sitting around with nothing to do offered to change and patch the tyre for me.  By 4 pm, in between their scenic flights over Lake Eyre, they had mended the puncture and fitted it back on car and reduced pressure in all tyres to 26 psi — which I should have done back at Cadney before venturing on to the gravel.  $70 was a cheap repair job as far as I was concerned.

It was a chilly 3C at Oodnadatta when I ventured out to grab some early breakfast.  Later it warmed up to 18C.  The Oodnadatta track itself is in much better condition than I had expected.  At 75 kph the car runs pretty smoothly.  The road varies in condition from smooth to deeply corrugated and sections with sharp loose stones covering the entire track.  You can expect that conditions to change every 3 or 4 km .. nothing boring about paying attention to where you are guiding the wheels.

Not a lot to see on the way.  The road pretty much follows the route of the old Ghan train line, the embankments of which can often be spotted to the side.  A few ruins remain at what used to be stops or sidings:  water tanks from steam days, cranes for loading freight and the odd stone station or workers’ hut.  50 km south one comes across the Algebuckina Bridge, built in 1892 across the (now dry) Neale River.  It is the longest single bridge in SA.  Looks quite imposing with its 19 thirty metre spans.  It has dual track across it:  the old narrow gauge from steam days and the newer standard gauge from diesel days.  A rusted FJ Holden lies beside the bridge .. it was hit by a train when the driver was trying to cross the flooded river by driving along the rails!

The only other substantial ruins I stopped at were the Mount Dutton rail stop.  Halfway to Williams Creek there is a roadside cairn the marks the starting point of the Elders Scientific Expedition.  In 1891 Sir Thomas Elder with 14 men and 44 camels set out from here on a 12 month exploration across into Western Australia the covered 6800 km.  Why they started from this isolated spot I know not, except that they were able to bring all their gear from Adelaide to here by train.

210 km covered today with no living creature to be seen apart from the passing caravan or motorcycle.  It impresses upon one just how enormous our outback is and at the same time how uninhabited most of our country is.

Goat curry is on their menu at the pub for the 7 pm sitting of dinner !  And today’s photographic offering is. here

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Day 7 — Wed 21/8/2019


I am sitting in a tiny bedroom at the Marree Hotel, an historic two story stone building that dates from 1883.  That’s when the railway reached here from Port Augusta to service both the Birdsville Track into southwest Queensland and the Oodnadatta Track north past Lake Eyre to Alice Springs.  I think the bed is the only new item in the room!  One climbs a grand staircase of 25 steps to reach the 14 bedrooms and shared shower/toilet area.  The floorboards all creak.  The downstairs bar is a noisy and very busy place.  There are several dining areas, the smartest set aside for travellers doing the Outback Spirit adventure tour.  I settled for the $25 buffet which served up excellent tucker as much as you want.

I departed William Creek at 9 am after fortifying myself with their buffet breakfast.  Just over 200 km of gravel ahead, and after yesterday’s experience, not quite so relaxing a drive.  Only made four stops along the way (there was no reason to do any more).

1.  Strangways ruins.  Off the Track a bit and a short walk brings one to a group of building ruins.  Originally a pastoral station here, with its own smithy and woodshed, it was taken over in. 1872 to become a repeater station for the Overland Telegraph (Port Augusta to Darwin).  The only complete building left is a buttressed water tank that looks like a small chapel, and in this arid area it was probably every bit as sacred.  A small cemetery has two marked graves and half a dozen outlined by rocks.  The area is home too a number of mound springs.  It sits on the edge of the Great Artesian Basin, and over centuries cracks in the earth’s surface allowed water to percolate to the surface as springs.  The heavy mineral content dried out around the spring, forming a solid mound that identifies the spring.  The Ghan rail eventually passed near the telegraph station, bringing supplies and staff.

2.  Coward Springs.  This was another stop along the Ghan rail.  Today it features a natural spa bath, 1.3 metres deep fed by a bubbling spring.  Nearby are a couple of restored rail buildings - the Station Master’s home and one to accommodate engine drivers waiting between shifts.  A good little museum has been set up in the old rail siding shed.  Back in the day a bore was sunk here and produced a geyser which they couldn’t cap.  Soon millions of gallons of water had flowed across the flat landscape to form a swampy wetlands.  Later the bore was sealed and capped and just a controlled flow feeds the area now.

3.  Lake Eyre South.  The Track touches the edge of Lake Eyre South further along.  There is a good sized parking area on a slight rise that is fine for photography.  A shelter shed has plenty of information on display.  I discovered that we were 12 metres below sea level there, A ustralia’s lowest point.  The view is not spectacular - just a salt pan as far as the eye can see which merges into a mirage in the distance.  The north lake is half full, but no water has made its way into the south lake.

4.  Alberrie Creek.  Someone has created a number of metal sculptures in a paddock here from junk engine parts and other sundry left overs.  No signage so one has to guess what they are about.  A momentary diversion as Marree draws nearer.

People find ways to enjoy themselves even in remote places.  A number of DIP warning signs along the Track today have had graffiti editing, quite clever.  “Slippery DIP”, “DIPtheria”, “Big DIPper”, “Check your DIP stick”, “Cheese DIP” etc...

Originally known as Hergott Springs, Marree is another small outback town that has seen better days.  Now with a population of 180 (mostly aborigines) it is the junction of the Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks.  The local airport provides scenic flights but I have struck it unlucky.  Near end of season, only 2 planes flying and these are booked out while I am here.  Si I am not going to get to  see the famous Marree Man, huge  figure graded in a large field near here by unknown artist.  The town has relics of the Ghan railway, and a memorial to the Afghan cameleers who provided transport from the railhead here.  One of the huge tasks was supplying poles and wire for the overland telegraph.  Through this desert area no suitable timber grew, so they had to be brought from the south, one every 100 metres.  The repeater stations were about 250km apart and had to be staffed 24 hours a day.  Morse code messages were received from one direction, written down, and then resent further along the line.  Between Adelaide and London one can imagine the scope for mistakes doing it this way.

I now have completed my journey along the Oodnadatta Track.  Tomorrow I return to sealed roads and head for the middle of the Flinders Ranges, passing through several small towns on the way.  As I check out the historical markers I meet on this trip I am in awe of the men ( all men) who passed this way in years gone by, venturing into the  unknown in search of a great inland sea, or a path to Darwin, or finding new pastoral country.  John McDouall Stuart, John Eyre and Charles Sturt are much more than names in a history book to me now.  And there are the modern nation builders too.  Today much of my drive was across a corner of the world’s largest cattle station, Anna Creek, part of the Kidman empire until recently.

If you are looking for photos,  Go here.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Day 8 — Thu 22/8/2019

Today was given over to the drive from Marree to Wilpena Pound in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.  An early breakfast and top up of diesel and I was back again on sealed highway.


50 km south of Marree lies the deserted town of Farina.  What makes it an interesting stop is that a group of volunteers are slowly restoring the ruins to create a museum township.  In the 1890s the town had a population of 600 — a school, bakery, 2 pubs, police station, Anglican and Catholic Churches, rail station and associated loading facilities.  The old town has been mapped and signposted by the  volunteers, and several buildings are resurrrecting from the rubble.  Did I mention the all-important brothel?


Another dying town along the old Ghan rail track.  Not much more than the pub and a caravan park there now.  Just out of town lives a real character who goes by the name of Talc Alf.  He is staunch republican and has been lobbying to have the Aboriginal flag replace the Union Jack in the corner of our national flag.  Alf lives hermit style life, and the talked me blind for 40 minutes with his quirky theories of name meanings and history.  He is clearly a well read, educated and widely travelled 75 year old who now passes his time carving fugues in talc stone.  The hills nearby have been a secret quarry for thousands of years for aborigines after ochre for body painting.  A trade in red and white and yellow ochre (or talc) from here has existed right across the country.  Alf gets slabs of this talc stone and carves it using simple scraping tools.  He has an interesting gallery on show.  He is easily the most interesting person I have met on my travels here.


Several km off the highway Alain’s a gravel road one is supposed to come to the “historic town” of Beltana.  Problem is that when one arrives a sign greets you telling you that Beltana is “closed” .. it has gone for historic to history !  I suspect a few other tiny outposts are heading the same way.  Near the former town is the Afghan Well.  A bore supplies drinking water that flows into a long trough where camels used to drink.  A large holding yard there was used by the cameleers while they organised the loads they were to transport onwards.  The well and trough are still functioning, and today a small flock of sheep was using it to quench their thirst.


Next historic stop was Parachilna with its “historic pub” the Prairie Hotel.  Had lunch there.  They offer all sorts of bush tucker on the menu, as well as pies from assorted animal meats.  I settled safely for a beef pie!  The area is famous for the discover there of  the Ediacaran fossils.  These are fossilised remnants of the very earliest living creatures on earth, leaflike in shape but probably jelly-fish like in structure.  None were on display, but they have some metal sculptures there depicting the major finds.

Wilpena Pound was my next destination.  I had intended travelling via Blinman and down the sealed Flinders Way to the resort.  Somehow I took a wrong turn and ended up on a narrow winding track that led through two gorges, the Brachina  and the Bunyeroo.  The scenery was spectacular, especially when the track wound through a narrow gap in the ranges, with brightly coloured sheer rock faces towering above me.  Eventually I exited onto the Flinders Way and reached the Pound resort at 4pm.. a good hour later than I had planned.

The resort is run by local aboriginal companies, and 70% of staff are indigenous.  All very courteous and helpful.  My room is comfortable and well heated (overnight expected to go close to frost).  I quickly discovered the whereabouts of the guest laundry, rounded up a supply of dollar coins from reception and got my clothing supply back to 100% clean.

Tomorrow I will attempt a walk to one of the lookouts that allow one to view the pound.  Maybe take a drive back to Blinman that I missed today.  And today’s photos are.  here

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Day 9 — Fri 23/8/2019


If you can imagine a large soup bowl, the sides of which are a circle of mountains surrounding  a flat plain of lightly timbered land — that’s Wilpena Pound.  Called a pound because it resembles an animal enclosure.  In recent times it has been home to a cattle station and later a wheat farm.  Now it is National Park.  The resort lies just outside the circle of mountains that make up the central Flinders Ranges.  It has catered accommodation and a caravan park.  There is an IGA store, an information centre, and the main building houses restaurant and bar.

I treated my self to their hearty breakfast  at 8 am, and then took the shuttle bus to the trailhead.  This saves 2km walk each way ( so an hour in time).  The track in is along Siding Spring creek which even in this drought period has running water from natural springs.  After a 1 km walk the old homestead comes in view.  It has been restored and is quite a picture in its sandstone exterior.  Several trackers lead away from here.  I took the one to the Wangarra lookouts.  Quite a steep climb over rough rock for 500 metres.  The lower lookout is a platform that extends off the cliff face.  It gives a 270 degrees view of the pound — really quite spectacular in the mid-morning sunlight.  My knees and lungs decided I should call it quits there.  The remaining climb to get a full 360 degrees view looked almost vertical.  I returned slowly to the trailhead in time to get the 11.15 am shuttle bus back to the resort.


After a light lunch I drove the 60 km along the sealed Fliders Ranges Way to the village of Blinman, South Australia’s highest town at 626 metres.  In the late 1800s it was a flourishing copper mining town.  Today just a pub, post office, memorial hall and a cou8ple of old miners cottages remain.  The old copper mine has been turned into a tourist attraction.  I took a one hour guided tour underground.

 Copper was discovered here in 1859 by a shepherd.  He and 3 mates took a year to save the ten pounds it cost to take out mining lease.  Since they had no capital to mine the area themselves they sold the lease to a British mining company for 70,000 pounds.  Miners were imported from Cornwall, and they lived in terrible conditions in tents, working 12 hour shifts.  Family groups mostly.  Boys 10-14 worked above ground, and on their 14th birthday lads could join their dads and uncles underground.  The mine had lots of ups and downs and closed in 1907.  Local Progress Association took over from State mining in the 1970s to develop it as a tourist feature that might rescue the town from oblivion.  The tour was interesting, taking us through the top three levels of the mine that goes down to 146 metres in the main shaft.

On the drive back to Wilpena I called in to a couple of lookouts that give different views of the Flinders Ranges.  Actually the Flinders Ranges are a series of different mountain chains that stretch 400 km across central and northern South Australia.  The Wilpena Pound is central and the best developed for easy access from Adelaide.  On the short drive up to Stokes Hill lookout I passed at least 100 wallabies grazing in the cooler afternoon sun.  Never seen so many in one place before, and they seemed relatively tame.  The rest of the drive back was marked by even more wallabies near the road edge.

Reached 19C today, so pleasant and sunny.  Already tonight it is a chilly 8C, so the heater is doing a good job in my room.  Today’s photos are mostly of mountains.  I am afraid that the camera doesn’t do justice to the splendour of the scenery here.  I think a movie camera that allowed for panning and zooming would much better capture the stunning views I have been enjoying.  But in any case, what I have taken is on show here

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Day 10 — Sat 24/8/2019

The final leg of my journey today — 440 km from Wilpena to Adelaide.  I decided to take a more easterly route back so that I would have different scenery from my northbound leg. The day started out sunny and pleasantly warm at 19C, but on the way through the Clare Valley I encountered my first cloud and rain (just showers) of the entire trip.  Not heavy enough to wash the car though!

I took my time, stopping for the occasional photo, coffee or leg stretch.  Left at 9 a.m and arrived at motel at 4 p.m.  Passed through a lot of small towns along the way.  What characterised most was that they seemed to be struggling for existence.  A lot of historic old stone buildings have been restored and renovated for modern day use.  They all have their own bakery and cafe, which is a wonderful change from service stations with McDonalds attached.

Passed through Hawker, Quorn, Wilmington, Melrose,Murray Town, Wirrabara, Laura, Gladstone, Bungaree, Clare, Sevenhill, Auburn, Tralee, Roseworthy, Gawler, Elizabeth and Salisbury.  The stupid nav system then took me through the main streets of the cbd to reach the motel, a painfully slow process.

Quorn has a steam railway museum, and still runs an old steam train to Port Augusta on the old Ghan track for tourists.  Called the Pichi Richi train.  At Wirrabara the old wheat silos at the railway siding have been given the “silo art” treatment.  Features a farmer and a local bird.  Very colourful and really excellent paintwork.  By the way, most of the rail crossings I passed over on this trip had a small sign erected next to them “Rail crossing not in use “.  Indicative of how the times have changed  for these country towns.  I stopped in Clare at local bakery for lunch.  After that the road was lined with vineyards and cellar doors, mostly small brands not familiar names.  Did pay respects to the Jesuit winery at Sevenhill.  Opposite it was a small cellar advertising “Good Catholic Girls” wines.  Had to get a photo of that !  At Gawler passed by a very impressive looking racetrack.

By contrast with previous days travels, the countryside today was lush green instead of barren desert. Sheep grazing contentedly everywhere.  Colourful yellow fields of canola interspersed the green of other crops.  But the drive into ADELAIDE through the suburbs is just like any other city with its fast food outlets, used car lots, and light industry.  Only the place names would let you know you are not in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne.  Which makes me appreciate all the more the uniqueness of the outback country I have just had the pleasure of exploring.

That brings my travels to an end.  A quiet night here at the hotel, out to the airport at 7.30 am in the morning to surrender the car and line up for the 9 am flight back home.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past 10 days, and especially the small town bakeries that give character to our outback.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about them.

The last of the photos are here