Having packed most of camp the night before, we were ready to break our Willow Springs camp fairly efficiently. Folding the Oztent under a swollen, threatening sky. Seeing the track we had taken into camp, to finish Skytrek, poking up into the clouds brought a smile, we had rambled down there in the dark, having enjoyed the trail all day.
However, today was meant for a new track or two. Bidding farewell, we made our way out of the Station property and headed north. Taking with us, photos and memories of the wildlife we had met, until next time.
Before long we were turning into the National Park. Today we would explore the Bunyeroo-Brachina-Aroona drive, ultimately finding camp along the way.
There had been rainfall overnight so the unsealed track was sloppy, really sloppy. The red dirt had turned into a slurry and we were slipping and sliding, even whilst attempting a straight line, with 4wd engaged. At first we saw no traffic and so this was somewhat thrilling. Without the risk of a collision, I had the entire track to practice. The steering in the LandCruiser can feel like a rudder, a suggestion, at the best of times. Add moisture and we were motoring like a tug boat.
One of the only vehicles we would see, was a large offroad bus. In slow motion we danced toward each other. Both attempting to steer a safe course, without stopping completely. Traction was limited and momentum was a valued asset. Holding our breath, we passed each other, sparing only half a second to wave encouragement at each other.
Between my nautical instinct and the worn Goodyear tyres, we stayed on the road and eventually rolled into a lookout. Pulling up against an equally clay covered Troopcarrier. It’s owners had presumably taken the yonder hike, despite the intermittent drizzle of rain.
As we travelled, very shortly, the area dried out, the sky opened and there was little sign of rain at all.
We descended the ancient creek bed, the track was sometimes non-discernible but the Hema App assured us. Through the water course we must go.
The rocks, large and water worn from bygone floodwaters, older than old. After some rocking and rolling. The neck craning out of the window and through the windscreen was put on hold. We stopped. Killing the engine, the tinnitus shortly began to subside. Enough to hear the absolute minimalist of soundtrack. The raucus birdlife were off somewhere wetter. So here, today, we had the secret comings and goings of smaller, quieter, but no less chatty birdlife and insects.
Attempting to get into our food drawer for some lunch, I discovered the drawer locked. We had left the key at home however. Further argument with the latch however, it didn’t feel ‘locked’. It felt jammed. Shit. David came around for try, at first not quite believing me, and then quickly becoming just as anxious. Maybe we were just hangry. Nevertheless, nothing we could do would get it open. We did however discover, that there was something inside, jamming the lock. And if we wanted to eat, (stove and cookware lived within) we would need to dislodge the lodged.
With no lack of gradient, we found a short safe-ish drop back into the deeper section of the creek and I stomped on the brakes. There was a bit of a racket from the cabin as everything shifted accordingly. David hopped out to test our attempt. Success! the culprit? Mixed Herbs, the height of the jar resting perfectly under the latch. That will teach me for bringing the fancy stuff.
Lesson learned, we bagged the loose small items where we could. Overland storage refinement, on the fly.
With that out of the way, and a brief lunch, we recommenced our tour. Enjoyably, our drawer drama occurred in one of the deepest areas of the gorge, and despite the time and the splendour of the location. We were alone in our celebrations.
Eventually, the trail begins to climb and before long we were up and in a more open air. The shaded red and tall ancient gums were replaced with brighter rolling area of range. Heyson Ranges on our left.
Stopping, we conferred with the map at this junction and were remiss to leave the intrigue of the gorge. However, we were plotting north and so we continued. Getting out at Aroona was another contrast. The area, claimed and farmed in a bygone era was a picturesque valley. A solid homestead of logs with a green outlook. We took a walk, waterbottle at hand, but else wise not prepared for any great hike. This afternoon, the wind was gone and the sun was casting a glow and everything just felt; quiet.
Realising we had arrived so far north, we looped around and headed back towards another camping area. In contrast to the South, the weather here was nothing short of inviting. Warm and golden. Fluffy clouds small and high, nonthreatening.
Trezona Camping area is a picturesque avenue, coursing along the dry Enorama Creek. We spied an old camper trailer yonder, its faded unnatural colour its only giveaway, the peace here was tangiable. The toilet hut, a rich brown timber adorned with a (now empty) water tank, tap and toilet paper; luxury. Neatly blended with the non-descript and unabused campsite.
We picked a clearing, and unfolded the Oztent. Relishing the quiet warmth of the lowering sunlight, I wandered. David, still not 100%, loitered about camp. I went crunching along the dry water course. Stopping to inspect and feel the multicoloured river stones. Trying to read the stories written in the striated rock. Silently guffawing at the way the river gums tendril root systems knitted together a bank, as supportive as it was supported by the arid earth beneath.
Feeling small amongst the gumtrees
Cracks in the earth
Climbing to the other side, a grassy plain. Civilised, and yet re-wilded in its unfenced and unkempt state.
Eventually, I forcibly returned to the gently shaded side of the creek we would call home. It was too dry, the air too still and clear, simply too peaceful for a fire. I am not entirely sure how else to describe it, but neither of us wanted, nay, needed, a campfire.
Our minimalist camp, one the aridity of the Interior welcomed, suited us well. The most demanding aspect of our regime was the air beds, unrolling and awaiting their ingress of air. Cooking was orchestrated from the Drifta slide out table at the rear of LandCruiser. Camping chairs popped, where existing hardware was not supplied. But everything else, stayed in the vehicle, removed and replaced on demand.
As much as we love our weekend or week-long base-camping, Cecil light and near empty, exploring nearby tracks. This mode of expedition drives our imagination. A sense of exploration and vagrancy. Our commitments run only as deep as the tent pegs.
Reheating a chicken and rice dish, we simply sat and observed the Flinders Ranges to simply be, around us. As the light dropped, so did the temperature. A waxing moon lit the camp by the time we retired. Our large neighbouring trunk, naked with decay, casting a wide shadow.
The breeze returned after we went to bed, but it was gentle compared to our Station stay, and likely kept the dew away for another night.
A combination of the quiet camp, shade and mild weather kept us in bed well into the morning. David was sounding and looking clearer, the clean air and necessity of travel, expediting his recovery.
This was our favourite site so far. Between the lack of other visitors, the old growth and the wildly stunning drive to get there. We were reluctant to break camp. However, the windscreen beckoned. Looking back, off course, hindsight is 20:20, our sense of pressing was completely unfounded. We had left home days later than planned, but I had accounted for misfortune or misdirection. However, something, perhaps the horizon itself, pulls the thread and we were somewhat more comfortable facing that unknown milestone, from behind the wheel.
When planning this trip, I used all kinds of information to lay out an approximate timeline, loose enough to enjoy without regiment but still, with half an eye on our ETA back to work. A somewhat complex task, given unknown average speed, or how long I can stop and admire a gibber plain. How rough is a track? As long as a piece of string. We were finding that a track was only the roughest until the next one, and with experience, who knew how that scale was adjusted.
An example of the unexpected, was how quickly we burst in on Blinman. A stunningly cream dusted settlement. Too early for the pub, we were introduced to Quandongs by the General Store. Sunbaking on the verandah, we were speechless. All groans and icing sugar, our first Quandong pies were devoured. Washed down with mug sized espressos. Picking up a few supplies inside, we reluctantly pushed on.
As we wound through the low, cut ranges we counted the wild goats. The landscape adjusting to a rounder, clearer country, that like Burra in the south. Digesting the delights of Blinman, we vowed we would return to this area to explore again. The Hans Heysen adored landscapes had cast their spell. A landscape so independent of humans, despite the European settlement’s best intentions. I imagine the uncut ancient gum trees keeping an ambivalent but constant eye on all in their shade.
It was too early to stop at Paralchina and we left it for a return visit. I had read about their unique menu, and whilst David wasn’t interested at all, I felt the plated ferals suited a lunch or dinner experience rather than brunch. We pressed on.
Following a serious freight line, we rolled into Leigh Creek without event. In fact, it was strangely neat, tidy and people free. There were a few cars parked about, but no sign of their owners. Parking at the shadey shopping complex looking establishment, we walked around. This neatly planned town was such a contrast to the older examples we had been through over the last week. Eventually, I found a sign. It was Sunday. And everything was closed.
Using the Service Station’s air compressor we met and chatted with another traveller. It wasn’t quite a ghost town afterall. But after purchasing a couple of Twirls, we forged onward. Further North, perhaps would provide the few groceries we wanted. And lunch.
If Leigh Creek was quiet on a Sunday, Copley was more so. We pushed on. The horizon unfolding as we travelled. The Outback Way, true to its name. Lyndhurst dots the map with a fuel station, we kept going.
An auspicious junction in the road met us this day. Left to the Oodnadatta Track or right, to commence the Birdsville Track. As it loomed on the Hema, we barely slowed down. Excitement brimming.
Adventurously, we veered. Casually, the road took us. Tyres were strictly speaking, entering the Railway Terrace Road toward Marree. The famed Oodnadatta Track, commencing on the other side of Marree. And for us, tomorrow.
Marree for us was a pleasent stay. Memorable for its underwhelming amenities block, best burger of the trip and of course, the Old Ghan. The collection of relics from the old narrow gauge days are plentiful here, including its Afgan history. Fat palms dot the township.
After chatting with the Hotel propriotor, and enjoying his burgers, we wandered about. Learning what we could about the simultaneously far away and recent history of Marree. It was hot here, a stark contrast to the Flinders Ranges. And as flat as the eye couldn’t see.
Paying our fee at the caravan park, we wanted to make use of his laundry. Whilst our washing churned in the old machine, we restocked our Weetbix, long life milk, and fuel. All at the only shop in town. Synonymous with outback roadhouses, it was dark, dusty and cool. A perfect pantry of the essentials. Engine oil and coolant next door to cereal, soup and toilet paper.
Settling back at camp, we were alone and claimed the bit of shade. We had dinner with the drawn out sunset, the kind that only the Interior can accommodate. After walking over for a fizzy nightcap at the Hotel, we retired for the day.