24-Sep-2006 -- After hearing about the Degree Confluence Project I did some research on the northern territory of Australia and discovered there is a confluence situated “near” an area I frequently spend time in the dry season. A friend of mine runs a hunting safari business NW of the Confluence and during the hunting season,(May to October) I help when he has larger groups of clients booked.
After doing some exploratory trips with the GPS to establish the location of 12 degrees South in relation to the access tracks used to get from camp to various areas of the hunting concession, I discovered that the main access track, which is 60 klm in length and depending on the time of year and amount of water in the various creek crossings and lower lying sections, can take anything up to18 hours to travel, crosses 12 deg south 10 klm to the West of 133 deg East. This was the closest point to the confluence that any of the access tracks could get me, so as a result I had no option but to start the trip to the confluence from here.
I spent the next couple of years doing nothing more than research on the confluence this was mostly spent studying maps of various scales trying to establish the type of terrain I would encounter on the trip to the confluence, most of which would be through dense scrub with a couple of creek crossings and some large sandstone outcrops and at least one large open area of thin vegetation, none of this seemed too much of an obstacle to warrant research into an alternative route, although the confluence could be approached from the West, using the main road to Coguburg peninsula as a starting point.
Prior to the trip to the confluence I had been out bush for about 6 weeks assisting with the day to day running of the camp and had decided that this presented the best opportunity to do the visit, after discussing my plans with a senior traditional owner who had some knowledge of the area I set myself a date and started making plans for what I was sure would be a successful visit to the confluence. All the travelling between camp and hunting areas is done using 4x4 quad bikes (ATV’s) one of which I had been using on a daily basis and was set up with my GPS mounted to the handle bars, this is not used when out hunting but it’s a great game we play while out in the field having lunch to see which of the clients can guess the distance from and direction to camp.
The night before I planned to do the visit I prepped the bike for a trip into unknown territory, checking things like puncture repair materials, tools, re-filling the onboard water tank, filling the bike with fuel, checking oil levels and tyre pressures. I was leaving nothing to chance so I also strapped on some extra fuel and another water bottle as well as packing my rifle and some ammunition. Make no mistake, Arnhemland covers a huge area, and is for the most part uninhabited. I was planning to do this trip when I was the only person out at camp and a very long way from help if required.
D-day started with a light breakfast and packing the last few items onto the bike, lunch, camera etc, I left camp at around 7:30am and as always, with early departures from camp, was no sooner up to cruising speed than I was shivering in the early morning light mist hovering just above the ground, I knew this wouldn’t last long once the suns rays broke through the trees ,the daytime temperatures had been rising in the last week to the mid 30’s centigrade and as always when at ground level far from the coast in thick vegetation it doesn’t take long to warm up. About 20 minutes after leaving camp I stopped to turn on the GPS and started travelling at what would be my average speed for the next couple of hours, about 3kmh, once I had reached 12 degrees South I turned sharp left off the track and started my journey into the unknown, this started with an extremely thick section of Acacia, which was difficult to negotiate but not entirely impossible and I certainly wasn’t about to give up this early in the trip, once through the Acacia there was a slight down hill run to the first of the days creek crossings ,the only one to have running water too, then once across the bush changed again into what would become the type of vegetation encountered on most of the trip, large Gum trees, tall grass, both large and small termite mounds and numerous fallen branches. Usually by this time of year much of this type of vegetation has been cleared by fire, enabling a good view of what obstacles are likely to be encountered, unfortunately for me this was not the case limiting my view of what obstacles lay in the grass and only allowing about a 10 metre field of view.
The next obstacle encountered was a large sandstone out crop and at this stage I was still trying to travel in as straight a line as possible to the confluence, unfortunately after searching for an easy way through this obstacle I was left with no choice but to backtrack and travel around the outer edge of this large rock formation, after doing so I realised this was the sensible choice as the rocks ended abruptly and with about a 10 metre shear drop. There are a lot of things quad bikes can do but soft landings aren’t one of them. travelling East towards the confluence through a couple of dry sandy creeks and more of the same vegetation as before it wasn’t long before another rock formation loomed in the distance, this time there was a clear path through ,almost exactly on 12 degrees South, at this stage I had only about 2.5 klm left to travel.
After about another 1.5 klm travel through, what would in the wet season be, a table top swamp my journey on foot would begin, this was due to the fact that a large dry creek presented too large an obstacle to even attempt this far from where I had set off from about two hours earlier. I parked the bike in the shade and headed off on foot towards the confluence, the creek that had halted my progress was lined on both sides by sheer sandy banks of about 5 meters in height, on the other side of which was the back of yet another rock formation, so travelling on foot was the easiest and obvious choice.
12 S,133 E lies on top of a large sandstone escarpment much of which has been eroded by the forces of nature over time leaving various features in the rock from small holes to caves to large crevasses all of these had to be negotiated in the last few hundred meters from my final destination, all was going well until I was about 50 meters away from the confluence when my path was split be a large crevasse which was too large to jump across or simply step over as I had done previously, I had no choice but to walk 200m along one side until an opportunity to cross became available, then travel back along the other side and locate the confluence. Once I had found the exact spot there was little else to do but take the obligatory photos and enjoy the scenery.
The return journey to the bike was interrupted by me startling a pair of grey kangaroos, I’m still not sure who got the bigger fright, after returning to the bike and re-hydrating I decided that the dry creek bed presented too much of a temptation to ignore ,so I loaded my rifle and re-filled my water bottles and set off on a solo hunt. I will not go into details for the benefit of those who don’t share my passion, but having said that, midday walking a dry creek bed alone in the middle of nowhere knowing that the animals you may encounter could provide a once in a life time trophy opportunity is too good to ignore .After a tyring but successful hunt I returned to the bike to have lunch and ensure all was in order for the return journey to camp, stopping briefly at the last creek crossing for a refreshing swim, then it was back onto the main access track and an easy ride to camp where I knew there was a nice cold celebratory beer waiting