Birdsville to Tibooburra

It seems a while since I last posted a blog entry. Perhaps not that long, just that it feels like we have covered a lot of country since then. In saying that it’s been a particularly enjoyable part of the journey, with us feeling like we were getting into more remote areas, on tracks where 4wd is needed for more than corrugations! Not that there haven’t been corrugations, there have been plenty, hundreds of kms at a time of the things! It’s not that I have any affection for them, but they are like flies in the Aussie bush, you either accept them & get on with what you are doing …. or they drive you nuts! (Actually the flies & I still have a fairly volatile relationship – it was with great satisfaction that I squished 7 at once on the back of my hand yesterday). But I digress ………. corrugations. At first they are horrendous. Everything in the car rattles, squeaks & bangs & you drive along imagining the car tearing itself apart …… until you reach a smooth section of road & all of a sudden the car all sounds normal again, & is still in one piece. This in itself is a revelation, & after it’s happened a few times you begin to have a little more faith in the build of the vehicle, & indeed it’s self built infrastructure. Nevertheless much energy is still taken up by the constant scanning of the road in the mostly fruitless attempts to find a less bumpy ride. It’s a tiring exercise, but a little like slot machines. A small win now & again provides the reinforcement to keep trying.

Next comes ‘Corrugation Fever’. When you start believing you saw a grader machine parked ahead where no grader machine is you are displaying the primary symptom. Having insight at this point in time may well be the difference between sanity & corrugation psychosis.

With insight comes an acceptance, acceptance that if you want to travel on unmade roads in order to experience the wonders they offer then you have to stop ‘putting up’ with them, & instead embrace them as part of the experience! Truly- it is possible! I’m never going to love corrugations, they won’t cease to be tiring to drive over, but I can often find myself either feeling thankful that the ones I’m driving over are nowhere near as bad some we’ve felt, & even on occasions somehow able to virtually ignore them & spend more time enjoying the country we are passing through, rather than clinging to the steering wheel just wanting to get past it!

Leaving Birdsville via the Birdsville Track we travelled around 120kms until we came to an old rusty 44 gallon drum, full of rubbish & with the faded words ‘Walkers Crossing’ & an arrow painted on the side. This was our cue to turn off onto a 2 wheeltrack path across gibber desert which stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a rough track cut below the level of the gibbers, giving a strange sensation at times of driving along inside a ditch with ground level at around knee height. When looking across the gibber plains this perspective was quite different to the ‘main road’ experience of the Birdsville Track. The roughness was of concern however as we had around 250kms before reaching Innamincka at the other end. Thankfully after a while (I’m guessing but perhaps 40 kms?) we left the gibber having reached white sand country. After ploughing ahead through some of the soft sand for a while, not knowing what terrain laid ahead, we stopped to lower our tyre pressures. This made an enormous difference & the white sand (which continued all the way to Innamincka) became a joy to drive on. It turned left & right, up & down, level & banked – a 200km switchback ride – so much fun that even when we hit corrugated sections it didn’t stop our fun. No hooning you understand, safety, particularly because of the remoteness, saw us averaging around 50kph. We hadn’t expected white sand, nor indeed the so called ‘pale dunes’ we were passing. These are, instead of red, a pale pink colour. It remains a puzzle (to us) as to how it’s possible to have pink sand dunes with stark white sand between them.

The ‘signpost’.
It was better signed at the other end of the track
Sometimes ‘open’ like this, sometimes between close dunes. An enjoyable drive.

After Walkers Crossing itself we were into mainly flatter & more open country where there was evidence everywhere of gas & oil wells. Many roads leading off with signs saying ’No Public Access’ , although there were also quite a few unlabelled roads, where our GPS navigator proved it’s worth, keeping us on the right track. Mostly the wells were unmanned solar powered ones, with just a small array of pipes coming out of the ground. These feed into more pipes which lead to ‘tank farms’ where large road train tankers collect it from. It’s amazing where road trains get driven! The name SANTOS, is everywhere, all the smaller oil & gas concerns have their product managed by Santos, who have a refining plant south of Innamincka. Any information signs for visitors have Santos’ name on them & even the Jukebox in the Innamincka pub has a plaque to say they donated it. The Innamincka Regional Reserve covers a vast area & is a ‘Multi-use Reserve’. The meaning of that term is not clear to me, but I’m guessing that it lets the oil & gas companies call the shots in exchange for financial support for infrastructure (eg.roads) & the Coongie Lakes National park situated in the middle of the Reserve.

Beyond the pub, a small expensive general store (eg. $1 per small individually wrapped carrot) a fuel servo ($1.70 per litre), a mechanical repair service & a rubbish dump frequented by howling dingoes each night, there is not much else to Innaminka. There are hot river water showers ($2 for 3 minutes – lucky I had 2x $2 coins or I’d have been left wet & soapy!). Surrounding the ’town’ (more like a compound plus a couple of houses) are a number of historical sites relating to the death of Australia’s best known overland explorers, Burke & Wills, who despite their not insubstantial achievements appear to have been somewhat arrogant & unpleasant individuals, their deaths occuring as a direct result of this, whilst one member of their party -‘King’ seems like an altogether nicer & more reasonable chap who survived primarily because of his willingness to show respect & to ask the local indigenous peoples for assistance rather than upsetting them as Burke & Wills did. Not having been brought up in Australia this was new information to me, but I’m sure it’s something every Aussie born & bred youngster would’ve been taught in school.

Just over 100 non stop corrugated kms north of Innamincka, still on white sand (looks soft but it’s deceiving!) is the Coongie Lakes National park, a relatively small park protecting a unique lake environment. It’s a birdwatchers paradise, a large lake of creamy white water completely surrounded by large red sand dunes. The dunes themselves coming right down to the lake’s sandy shores where shady trees & greenery grows. At one side of the lake a spit, made up of another red dune stretches out into the lake. We were able to drive over a few dunes to camp on the spit, where we stayed for 3 nights, enduring a day of near gale force wind & temperature of 41 degrees as we were ‘sandblasted’. The spit however allowed us to shelter from the worst of the wind & Coongie Lakes is without doubt a highlight of this trip. We were able to identify over 25 bird species, many of which we had not previously seen or had been able to identify. There were many more we failed to identify. I’ll include a list of those we successfully determined at the end of this post. The identifying was an achievement we enjoyed, but better still was just observing a range of birds going about their daily business, & interacting with each other right in front of us. Our binoculars & mononocular were well used. Unfortunately photography attempts were less successful as more often than not the birds were a little too far beyond our camera’s telescopic ability, and/or the birds were just to active.

Just after we set up camp at Coongie lake Dad & 2 chicks strolled by.
Sunset first night
Sunset with dust in the air
Lots of Cunningham’s Birdflowers growing across the dunes
So many different birds
‘Milky’ water
The ‘spit’ a few metres from our camp

Whistling Kite
Coongie Selfie  with ‘friend’ on Mrstea’s nose 🙂

Whilst at Coongie we re-evaluated our travel plans, having realised that we would need a bit more time back home to arrange & sort a few things before jumping on the ferry to Tasmania at the beginning of December. Consequently we placed our visit to Fraser Island into the ‘another time’ category & instead head south from Innamincka to get us home a couple of weeks earlier, around 3 to 4 weeks from now.

The drive around part of the lake, over a number of soft sand dunes increased my confidence in dune driving after I experimented with much lower tyre pressures. It also allowed us to ‘meet’ a dingo at quite close quarters. It was in no hurry to get away from us, just casually strolled across a dry interdunal lake, occasionally stopping to turn & look at us.

Back at Innamincka another welcome 3 minute shower cleaned the grime & sand from us before we toured around a number of the Burke & Wills historic sites & ate out at the pub ahead of an early start south to Camerons Corner the following day. A truckie at the pub advised us to take the ‘Old’ Strzelecki track rather than the newer one. It’s a nicer route on sand rather than a rock strewn road. The clincher was the info that there would be over 30 road trains coming up the new ‘Strez’, relocating a heap of mine equipment. As it turned out, the ‘Old’ Strez (signed as a an unmaintained road for 4wd’s only) was in excellent condition. It was a good choice. This took us to the ‘dune road’ across to Camerons Corner. What a blast! Dune after dune after dune, none soft sand, just a non stop roller coaster for 100 odd kms. Dunes all between 6 & 10 metres high, some long & slow, some short & sweet, all with the same “what’ll it be like on the other side?”. Mostly they were good, only a few with holes in the downward slope or sharply curving road from the apex of the dune. This was all red dune country, with dunrs on average only 250 metres apart. Exhillarating!

First roadside repair – broken wire in trailer connection
At Camerons Corner
Re-entering NSW.
Start of the ‘dune rollercoaster’ . We stopped to look at a large yellow goanna, but he was gone by the time we stopped.

Camerons Corner, named after an Australian surveyor in pre- federation times, is where 3 states come together, Queensland, New South Wales & South Australia. New years eve parties are reputed to be good in this remote spot, because due to the time difference between the states revellers can see the new year in three times in a short space of time. 🙂 There are gates in the dog fence between the states with warnings of fines if left open. The ‘Corner Store’ a lone business meeting the needs of travellers operates there, a combined pub, servo, general store & minor mechanical repair service. Whilst there enjoying a cool drink there seemed to be no shortage of passing trade. Some folk camp there, the cost being a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor ‘Mantle of safety’ service. Prices were reasonable given the location & imortantly the owners were genuinely friendly folk not trying to ‘gouge’ the passers by.

Another 140kms got us to Tibooburra just inside New South Wales after a night in the Sturt’s Stoney Desert NP.  We are now at a delightful little campground, surrounded by large granite boulders & owned by the local aboriginal land council, water, bbq’s, tables inside a large shed, firepits, hot showers & importantly a phone signal.

Tibooburra town sign
“Here Boy”
Today’s ‘blogging office’ in Tibooburra

Coongie birds we identified
Pink Eared Duck (aka Zebra Duck)
Lesser Crested Tern (supposed to only live in coastal regions!)
Australian Shellduck
Red Rumped Parrot
Grey Teal
Roseate Tern (Supposed to be an oceanic bird)
Pacific Black Duck
Caspian Tern
Black Swan
Black faced Woodswallow
Orange Chat
Masked Lapwing
Australian Raven
Black fronted Dotterell
Galah (their early morning low level zig zagging acrobatics were stunning)
Whistling Kite
Emu with chicks
Yellow Billed Spoonbill
White Plumed Honey Eater
Red Necked Avocet
Rainbow Bee Eater
Eurasian Coot
Pied Cormarant
Peaceful Dove
White Ibis.
Hardhead (duck) – not quite 100% on this one