Red Dune Country
From Dalhousie Springs we took the shorter track to Mt Dare Station & pub. It claims to be Australia’s most remote pub & is the last place folk wanting to cross the Simpson Desert from west to east can get fuel. It’s an iconic place for 4wd travellers, evidenced by the large array of souvenir regalia which can add to the cost of the fuel ($2.45 a litre for diesel, the most expensive we’ve seen to date – thankfully we didn’t need any having refilled back at Odnadatta for $1.90 per litre). All of the track was interesting in that it took us through more wide sweeping pastel green valleys & plains, with rich red highlights, & then once out of the Witjira National Park through very rocky gibber plains where the track has, we learned later, had no maintainence for several years, This was a very slow & painful experience for around 20 kms, at times the track was difficult to see ahead of us as we lurched from boulder to rock & rock to boulder. Possibly not as bad as I’m making it sound as we did seem to manage an average of 20kph, but it certainly felt uncomfortable (not risky nor dangerous). The last 9kms into Mt Dare was on the road that the sensible people take from Dalhousie (via Bloods Creek) with their distance being longer but the travel time much the same as ours. Our ‘neigbours’ from Dalhousie arrived just after us having found that last 9kms horrendously corrugated. We smiled, considering it a walk in the park to what we had just done!
Not ones to learn a lesson we took the shorter route once again after leaving Mt Dare (having consumed two meat pies …. even us gluten free folk have to take risks sometimes!) on our way to Old Andado Station. The pies were purchased in order to get to the head of the queue just to ask about the condition of the track ahead of us. (“Yeah it’s fine ‘cept for a bit of bulldust here & there” we were told) . Good info, but my pie was still frozen in the centre!.
Bulldust for those who don’t know is super fine dust, like talcum powder which settles into potholes & ruts, making them look shallow, but allowing the vehicle to drop in as though in water, except being accompanied by huge billowing clouds of dust all around the vehicle. The ‘bit’ of bulldust was quite extensive in a few places, mainly in ruts which could last half a kilometre . (Often folk before us had tried to find a way around them & over time succeeded in widening the track to a few hundred metres, all now covered with bulldust filled ruts. The car pulled us through the bulldust without difficulty, the main concern being that we might find our wheels in a rut too deep for us, belly out & get stuck. It didn’t happen & after the first couple of such patches we became a bit blase´ & enjoyed the experience. Much of the track was narrow, single vehicle width, always sandy & often through trees. It was the first track we have been on this trip where we saw no other vehicles for it’s entire length (a little over 100kms)….. just the way we like it!
Just prior to the joining the Finke-Santa Teresa Track (aka the Old Andado Track, aka the Binns Track) we suffered a bout of confusion as we reached Andado Station. Their poorly placed ’No Through Road’ signs (three of them) suggested strongly that we could proceed no further. We later learned they were there to discourage travellers from entering the homestead, but apparently often encourage folk to do so, just to ask the way! As our driver (& with the back up of our map) I took an executive decision after we had turned back, & back again, adding several kilometres to our journey, to ignore the signs & drive on through. Turned out that this is what we should have done first time around. I imagined the laughter such antics might cause to the station’s occupants. 16 kilometres later we crested one of the many red sand dunes we have been driving alongside & drove into Old Andado Station. It’s a beautiful place, the former home of one of the outback’s iconic women, Molly Clark. Molly has now passed on, & lies in her grave just near to the homestead. Her former home, where she welcomed travellers for many years with tea & scones, remains just as it was when she was alive, all her belongings still there. Today a caretaker minds the place, a laconic bushie with long white beard, a well worn hat & a pipe. Never did get his name, wasn’t offered nor asked for. The campground continues as it did in Molly’s day, & the donkey boiler hot showers were a welcome dust cleanser.
Whilst at Old Andado we revised the route we had planned to take. Old Andado was to have been a ’side trip’, with us then going to Finke & up to Chambers Pillar via the Old Ghan Track, a track which everyone we had spoken to who has taken this route recently told us is in very poor condition. Hundreds of kms of horrendous corrugations, not to mention the higher than usual risk of punctures from old rail spikes & the like, off the disused old Ghan rail track.
Discussing which way he would go by preference with the Old Andado caretaker (OAC), his view was that Chambers Pillar was ‘overrated’ & that the track up through Santa Teresa to Alice was in far better condition & way more scenic to boot. And so that is the way we decided to go, in the wheeltracks of friends, Rod & Kerry, who took this route just a few weeks ago. As I write this we are around 160kms north of Old Andado & around 170kms short of Alice Springs in our first camp alone, nestled into the Arakoora ranges, at the southern end of the Rodinga Ranges. The wood has been collected, the fire lit & the afternoon cuppa enjoyed as the sun sinks toward the western horizon. We are on red sand among a stand of small trees which have provided shade. Couldn’t be better. OAC gave us directions to this spot. Bear in mind these are directions which cover 160kms “ At the 4th gate turn off & follow the track along the fenceline into the ranges until you reach a dam”. The track was barely discernible, just two parallel wheel lines, with no evidence of recent tyres having passed that way. We followed ‘into the ranges’ as instructed for 2 or 3 kms, & here we are for the night! A dry depression in the ground not far from our camp looks as though it may sometimes hold runoff water from the surrounding hills, but it’s hard to be certain. There are a few cattle we can see in the distance, who have not moved on in the past couple of hours so there must be some accessible water somewhere here for them. We have our own of course.
We haven’t yet decided whether to reach Alice tomorrow, we may, or we may choose another day of solitude here. This afternoon the only sounds have been the rustle of the breeze in the trees & the ever present sound of crows passing the time of day with each other. Whether tomorrow or the next day our arrival at Alice will be ‘ahead of schedule’ & so we are feeling comfortably relaxed about slowing down.
Now the following morning.
Having time makes so much difference to the experience. Last night silence descended with the darkness, save from the noise of the burning wood in our small fire. Later when the fire had died away & we had retired to bed only the occasional ‘rounds’ of dingo howling broke the silence. Some quite close, mostly away in the distance though. We slept in the Tvan without the tent, & the rear door open – our preferred way to camp – we call it our luxury swag on wheels. We can feel the breeze around our heads whilst the rest of us is snugly tucked under the bedclothes. We could also keep watch for a while in the hope that a dingo may come to inspect us, but they kept their distance. No tracks around our camp this morning. Daybreak brought a morning chorus of birdsong, none of which we recognised but nevertheless enjoyed. Dingos howled again too. We wondered about when they sleep …. probably during the day – although we have seen them during the day. An enjoyable & silly conversation ensued about ‘howling shifts’ . Flies – tiny bush flies are a fact of life out here, their density was such yesterday that MrsTea resorted to using her flynet. As yet I have felt no need, but am sure the time will come. They ‘go to bed’ just before dark & as I write this at 9:45am the first one has returned. Expect he’ll soon let all his mates know of our prescence!
We are staying here for another day.
We followed the Old Andado Track to Alice Springs, arriving in time to do some shopping for provisions, & then found that every caravan park in town was full to bursting. Nearest free camp was 80kms out of town & darkness was falling. We lucked out & discovered we could stay at the local showgrounds & did so. It was a chilly night, OK in bed but getting out this morning was a struggle. Whilst the daytime temperatures we’ve enjoyed have been between 17 & 24 degrees C (+ an ‘hot’ day of 29) night see the temperatures plummet. Just to prove that point visually here’s a pic of a small tree at the showgrounds this morning, where a sprinkler had inadvertantly been left on overnight. Temperature this morning was minus 2.5 deg.C!