21-May-2006 -- May 13-25th 2006 – trip organised by Ian McDougall – photos by Ian McDougall and others – story by Ian McDougall & Fiona Hawker
This trip was run under the auspices of the Central Hills 4WD Club Inc, based at Mt Barker, South Australia. The three principal objectives of the trip were:-
• to visit a number of degree confluence points (in connection with the world-wide Degree Confluence Project) on and near the Woomera (Rocket Range) Prohibited Area,
• to find and place a number of geocaches during the trip, and
• to enjoy ourselves in the vastness and beauty of the Australian Outback.
The members of the group, all being friends (and members of the CHFWDC) were:-
1. Ian and Kate McDougall, Trip Leaders,
2. John and Karen Carver,
3. Paul and Dee Drummond,
4. Rob French and Helen Rysuharn,
5. Peter and Fiona Hawker, and
6. Ron and Wanda Heyne.
Being mainly pastoral country where we intended to travel, Ian commenced writing to pastoral lessees some months before departure date, seeking their consent to access their vast leases, and in every case, permission was granted.
Ian also obtained a permit to travel through the Woomera Prohibited Area.
Five of the six couples who had signed up for the trip, met at the Wadlata Outback Centre at Port Augusta early afternoon, Saturday 13th May 2006. Paul and Dee had last minute car problems and met up with the group at Pimba the next day. The weather was fine and as promised by our worthy leader, remained that way for the entire trip.
The first day was an easy, short drive on the bitumen, to the first campsite between some dunes just off the Stuart Highway, short of Pimba. That night started the pattern of Ron and John expertly overseeing the development and maintenance of campfires, used by everyone for cooking, warmth and social focus. Although that first night wasn’t as cold as many we were to experience, we were not acclimatised and were more sensitive to the cold. Ron spoilt everyone that night by shovelling hot coals under our chair seats, an amazing heat – too hot for most of us!
Those first few nights were of a full moon rising early, providing a magnificent spectacle. As it progressively waned throughout the trip, the darker sky enabled stargazing and satellite spotting with the occasional shooting stars for magical moments. With each night sitting around the campfire we were entertained with the never ending quick wit and jokes from John, with Ian doing a valiant job of keeping up with the ever ready one-liners. One night we had a game run by Helen and Rob, another night a sobering and thought provoking reading by Paul. One night there was the spontaneous, entertaining and revealing exchanging accounts of the first meetings of the different couples. Throughout the trip there was the watching and comparing of the various culinary techniques of campfire cooking. Wood gathering was the perennial challenge but in most places we managed very well. We only needed to drive a-field once for firewood - sleepers from the old Ghan Railway at William Creek, which we then had to jealously defend against other opportunistic groups of campers at the campground.
On Sunday the 14th, as with most of the trip, we were packed up and on the road by 9am and quickly embarked upon the first of our geocache searches, off to the left, before Pimba, overlooking Island Lagoon. We then met up with Paul and Dee at Pimba. They had left Adelaide before dawn and so were at Pimba before the rest of us.
The second geocache was found on the shores of Lake Hart, next to the railway track where we also had lunch. An interesting area with a pile of salt, rows of salt encrusted stumps extending out into the ‘lake’ and a sign warning of ‘live bombs and ammunition’ under the salt and mud surface. It was a live ammunition and bombing range.
During the first 8 days, we visited four other confluence points (Lat 31 S/Long 136 E, Lat 30 S/Long 136 E, Lat 29 S/Long 135 E and Lat 28 S/Long 135 E).
We struck camp at Arckaringa Station on Friday 19th, and headed north-east to Oodnadatta, stopping off for a walk in the Painted Desert and of course another geocache.
Back on the main drag and just out of Oodnadatta, Ron managed to get first a puncture to the back left wheel and then less than a kilometre on, the front left wheel. The stopover at Oodnadatta was longer than anticipated so repairs could occur. We had the experience of seeing a fork lift truck used instead of a jack to change the wheels.
Although warned against the flies and lack of wood at Algebuckina, we still camped there Friday night. The warnings were correct but with expert searching we were still able to gather the necessary quality and quantity of wood. That evening, a couple drove into our campsite in a pristine tray-top camper, who as chance would have it, knew Paul and Dee, so we felt able to ask for a guided tour around their camper. A wind sprang up during that night making it noisy and restless for many, and it continued to be windy at times for several days after.
Saturday the 20th, we left early to avoid the flies, and although we also checked out another geocache across the railway track at Algebuckina, we still arrived at William Creek quite early, making it a semi rest day after the mandatory stop off at the café for real coffee (we think it was real). This was the roast dinner day, cooked by all couples in their camp ovens around the fire; a good fire made with the sleepers retrieved by several vehicles soon after arrival. We had drinks at the pub, same old scene, even with one of Ron’s cards still on the wall there from a previous trip. As the night progressed the local studs began to arrive, strutting their stuff! We left them to it.
Sunday was a slow start, and after cleaning under the vehicles with a portable spray unit we had brought with us (a reasonable condition of entry to the next pastoral station, to assist weed control) we headed off to another confluence on Anna Creek Station, the world’s largest pastoral property – (Lat 29 S/Long 136 E). This point is located some 122 kilometres east of Coober Pedy, and 35 kilometres south-west of William Creek. Near the Anna Creek homestead, we left the Coober Pedy/William Creek track, onto a station track. This was a pleasant surprise with a good track, attractive countryside, up to about a couple of kilometres from the confluence, which ended up being on the edge of a dune, a nice change from endless stony gibber plains. It did involve some cross country driving, which cost Ian a front tyre – it was holed (and ruined) by a mulga stake through the sidewall – the only off road casualty for the whole trip.
We left the vehicles well short of the point, and using our GPS units, walked through pleasant low dune country to our destination. Well practised by now, we took our photographs, and walked back to the cars.
So it didn’t take us as long as anticipated, giving us another relaxing, lazy afternoon, then dinner at the hotel. An ok meal, not up to our campfire standard in fact, but nice to sit all together at tables to enjoy the company.
Monday was another rest day. Several vehicles still struck out to visit Lake Eyre; Halligan’s Bay, windy and cold but very busy, swarming with ‘friends’ of Lake Eyre, on a working bee rearranging the plastic poles and tending the shelters. On return to camp, John and Karen were joined by Fiona, taking off in a chartered flight to view the lake from the air. Then another relaxing evening around the campfire.
Tuesday we were on the road again, stopping off to put out geocaches at Beresford and Lake Eyre South and investigating Coward Springs. This was an impressively restored and developed, eco-sensitive campground and wetlands. Then through to Roxby, more shopping opportunities, catch up with phone calls, and a coffee. With some local information, we found a good camp spot just off the road between Olympic Dam and Roxby. However this location of course meant that there was heavy mine traffic noise from about 5.30am onwards! This was coldest night of all – minus 6 degrees, and most of us regretted not having brought gloves the next morning.
Wednesday morning we drove through Andamooka and onto Lake Torrens for another geocache, a virgin for the group. The spot we initially came out of at Lake Torrens was several Kilometres away from the cache, so several of the women decided to walk across the lake inlets with GPS guidance, while the rest drove back to find another possible road – which of course there was only meters away from the point. However the women got there well ahead, in time to find the cache and then hide so that concern was raised that they had been lost!
On to lunch in Andamooka – before back to the bitumen and heading for home. A slight detour into the scrub north of Port August for our final campsite. It was an easy drive back to Adelaide the next day with a stop at Port Augusta – for some to shower, and lunch at Port Wakefield.
Overall it was agreed that this was a most successful, enjoyable and relaxing trip. Our thanks to Ian for yet another well planned and thought through journey.