The self drive tour of the Sturt National Park, NSW was a first for us in every sense. My Co-pilot reading the historical, geographical facts of the area whilst we ambled along, leaving the township for the beautiful and transfixing country surrounding.
Not only were we thrown into a stunning and diverse corner of NSW but also, were feeling quite alone with the red gibbers. Following a mud-map and mostly defined wheel tracks, we were exhilarated by the experience. Our first time under a true, uninterrupted 180degrees of sky. We kept our eyes peeled for each point of interest along the track. Pulling up to walk around and try and spot the nesting Wedge tailed Eagles in the ravine or the elusive Bustards in the grassy plains.
The birds may have eluded us, but the homesteads and stock runs did not, in fact they would probably outlive us, built to last despite their owners long passed. National Parks had wired off the windows and doors to prevent the feral pigs moving in.
We took our time, and had lunch of tinned salmon on rice cakes with tomato. Our only company were small grasshoppers clicking against the hard gibbers and razor sharp grasses.
We finished our circuit in perfect time to head out to Tibooburra’s own lookout, Sunset Hill – a mound overseeing the namesake boulders that describe the country. Another highlight of our travels, even now. The quartz white earth and the brilliance of the blue sky. Again, alone with Mother Nature’s display, we quietly took it all in. A contrast to the red dirt we had crossed to get this far to the Interior.
After the sun had begun to sink beyond the horizon, so did the temperature. Grabbing a warm shower back at camp, we washed away the explorer’s dust and donned our best packed outfit; jeans and coordinated R.M Williams jerseys and boots. We promptly arrived in town ready for a pub meal and the prerequisite drinks. Bottoms parked on the bench outside the Family Hotel, we supped and passed the evening trading pleasantries with locals and travellers. Asking the obligatory question about the famous mural on the wall. Eventually, the chill and weariness of the day sent us back to camp and bed.
Folding up the Oztent the next morning, we disturbed a few giant centipedes who had moved in during our stay, appreciating the warmth under our tent perhaps. They weren’t scared of us but with gentle persuasion with a booted foot, the finger-thick arthropods were directed away from us.
Fueling up, we said our farewells to Tibooburra and pointed north. We would complete the second self guided tour through the Jump ups, and head through the National Park towards Cameron Corner.
A different environment again, our tour took us up and around to wide open country with bunker-like flattened hills called jump ups, pushed upwards from the earth, aeons ago.
We left them behind for stunted old trees and sandier trails through the National Park. The designated camping areas were empty despite offering toilets, shelter and solace.
Ideal camping options, but unlike my research – the locals had assured us we would be at Cameron Corner in half a day, travelling slowly. Almost disappointed, we came on Cameron Corner so quickly, having traded the lead with one other vehicle, their stopping alternating ours somehow. Each time – waving to ensure each other were ok.
The customary gate welcomed us, contradictory perhaps. But we crossed the threshold successfully and the resident Border Collie gave us the tour. After checking in with the personality behind the bar, depositing my $5 on the ceiling for the Royal Flying Doctors. We claimed a patch of sand for the tent and watched the sunset from the windbreak of the LandCruiser.
Before long it grew cold so we ventured into the pub for chitchat, chips and a fizzy beverage. The family we had travelled in stilted convoy was within. They explained their elder Border Collie was travelling with them, but was a little carsick. After a while, warmed and tired enough for bed, we said our farewells and were rugged up in bed before a passionate argument erupted across the dark state junction. It seemed one local had crossed another, breaking his heart. We had no idea what it was about, but it was dramatic nonetheless until he sped off home. Only the whirr of the generator and the snorting resident horses could be heard until sleep took us.
Packed and breakfasted, we chose to forego the Tri-State Golf and instead embarked on the Merti Merti. We planned to take the Old Strzelecki Track north to Innamincka. We saw a convoy of Land Rovers leave before us. Our first real glimpse at dunes, the trail was smooth on the now deep red sand, interrupted with flagged washouts, corrugations and white course gravel repairs. Keeping left, our first experience cresting dunes, albeit firm, was exhilarating. The changing track held our attention. Before long the Hema app suggested our turn was coming up so we stopped for a rest, watering and photo.
The Earth had changed back to an offwhite, yellow and as we literally swung north, the flora changed too. The sun, behind the clouds added to the general beige haze of the track. Much like the Merti Merti, we had a combination of sand, corrugated sand, and washed out sand.
We met an interesting fellow in a motorhome, crawling along, his motorbike had fallen off and he was cautiously backtracking trying to find it. Worryingly though, he wasn’t sure he had the fuel to afford it. We hadn’t seen it, anything man-made seems to jump out at you out here. But promised to radio him if we saw it further along the road. We did eventually see it, someone had propped it up on its kick stand track side. Else it rolled off and parked itself… we called out on the radio but received no response, I presume he was out of range at his pace compared to ours.
Before long, we turned onto the New Strzelecki, a wide highway by comparison, we rattled into Innamincka. The truck-ridden track had corrugations on its corrugations. The sun came out however and bathed the Hotel in a euphoric glow with its shadecloth against the dust and tall green trees. The flies chased us in. The air conditioning and filtered water jug welcomed us. Soaking up the rattles and tinitus with burgers and perusing the paraphernalia on the walls. We eventually rolled out and plotted a course for camp.
Several bone shaking kilometres later, we turned off and ambled along a washed out sandy track towards Cooper Creek. Spotting no other campers, we had our pick along the banks. Within a few minutes had claimed our patch at the Cullyamurra Waterhole. Clean pit toilets and kilometres of shade, this was the oasis I was promised in my research. Covered by our Desert Pass, we could stay three weeks. We walked as much of the shore length as the light allowed, stretching out after the drive before having a light dinner. Building a small campfire, listening to the pelicans and galahs.
We found evidence of the resident dingos, a chewed out Esky, and its contents – liberated from someone’s camp. As well as footprints in the soft beige dust. Their sad calls woke us a few times that night.