Our Return to the Cooper - It just gets better August 2011

Sunday, Aug 21, 2011 at 00:21

Member - Stephen L (Clare SA)




After our first visit to the Cooper Creek Ferry site in June 2010, it was one Outback destination that we had to return to. Those that have camped there will know why and will have similar thoughts and while the water is there, there is no better place to get away from it all and take in the tranquillity, scenery and birdlife that the area has to offer.

With the ferry being put back into operation on Wednesday 22nd of June 2011, it was time to change our plans and we were able to take 10 days off in early August and it was going to include a Simpson Desert trip, with a stay on the banks of the Cooper thrown in for good measure.



Leaving Clare, we had a leisurely drive north and took the first opportunity to hit the dirt and took the back way into Hawker. After a refuel and morning smoko, we set off towards Wilpena and then on to Blinman, where we turned to the west and headed out through Parachilna Gorge where we had our lunch. Reaching Parachilna, it was back onto the main road north and our next stop for the day at Aroona Dam. It was here that we noticed our first Wildflowers. The dam was near to full capacity with the wind blowing the mist over the spillway. After a good walk around the area it was on to Copley and set up the tent in the Caravan Park. Tea that night was at the Copley Hotel, and as usual a great meal was served up. What a small world it is, as I noticed a familiar face sitting at the front bar and it was Larry McMahon, last years first ferry operator on the Cooper Ferry. When he noticed me, I gave him a wave and we both went outside for a good chat. Having been keeping in contact with him, he informed me that we were only day short of catching up with his son, Brad at the ferry crossing.



Next morning it was a casual start and slowly made our way north. At the end of the bitumen, it was time for our last fuel top up before reaching Birdsville, and as usual the Lyndhurst Hotel still has the cheapest fuel in the area and still 30 cents a litre cheaper than Marree, less than 80 Kilometres up the track. Our first compulsory stop after Lyndhurst was at the old Farina Ruins. It then did not seem like very long and we were soon at Marree. We had lunch here before starting out for the Birdsville Track and the Cooper Creek.



Driving conditions along the Birdsville Track can be described as fantastic and there was even a section where road works were taking place and was signposted to 80 kph. For the second year in a row, Lake Harry was still full of water complete with a large flock of sea gulls. Reaching the detour sign, we continued straight ahead for the MV Brennan Memorial to compare the amount of water over the Birdsville Track with last year and it was still a very impressive sight. Retracing our tracks, we were soon back on the detour track and heading towards the ferry site. Knowing that there would be no timber for our campfire on the Cooper, we soon found enough timber for the night and the kayak made the perfect place for storing it.

Pulling up at the ferry site, Peter Ware who runs the Cooper Discover Cruises had just come over to take a couple of people for a cruise on the Cooper, so we parked the car and joined in for a very informative one and a half hour cruise along the section of the Cooper Creek up to where the Cooper enters and become the very large Lake Kopperamanna and then further east past the old sheep crossing. The most significant change in the area was the amount of birdlife that had set up their homes in and along the Cooper Creek, with bird numbers in there thousands and it was great to think how wonderful nature was and how the birds had known to come into the area in the first place. Peter was full of knowledge on all the birds that we came across and the history of the area and what Peter did not know would not have been worth knowing in the first place.

After the cruise we enquired about the helicopter flights that were on offer, and then we set of to the east of the ferry site and found a great camping spot right on the Cooper and soon had our camp set up and a great little campfire going. With the setting sun as our camp backdrop and the calls of the birds as they settled down for the night all added to the atmosphere of camping here on the Cooper Creek. With tea over we settled in for the night by the campfire and the clear night sky was a wash with millions of stars that any outback destination will always highlight. It was had getting away from the cosy campfire, but we knew that we had a busy day tomorrow, so reluctantly we packed up our chairs, then did the usual backs to the fire for the final warm up before unrolling the swag and calling it a day. Even though the swag is very comfortable, I found it hard to get to sleep that night, as the night sky kept me mesmerised as well as the constant sounds of the water birds that were still splashing away.

Opening my eyes, it seemed like I had only just been to sleep, but the sky was showing signs of the changing light, which heralded the start of another day and another challenge. First chore was to get the fire going again which was no problem with the small bundle of kindling wood that I had ready for such a task. The birds were all landing for their special little spots of the Cooper and Fiona as usual was last to get out of bed. The fire was now taking the chill off of the air and we soon had a nice bed of coals for Fiona to cook her toast. With breakfast over and the few dishes washed up and put away, it was time for the usual 360° turn as we slowly took all the views in from around the fire. As Fiona puts it, this was one special campsite that had that very special feel about it and one that we did not want to leave, but unfortunately we had to keep going, knowing that we were going to return for a longer stay in just over a weeks time.



After the car was packed up and a final gaze out to the many waterbirds on the Cooper, we headed to the ferry site for what was to become one of the best days in our lives. Like a pair of young kids on Christmas morning, we waited for the throbbing drone of the helicopter as it came into view and landed at its special landing pad near the ferry site. From our previous contact with Paul the pilot from the previous day, he eased our concerns about flying and reassured that he had a perfect flying record for the 14 days that he had had his license. When I quizzed him about his time as a pilot, had laughed and wanted to see the looks on our faces and reassured us that he had been fling a long time. Getting down to the serious side of flying, Paul explained all the safety aspects of what to do and not what to do, and even going as far as showing us where the first aid kit was located under the front seat.





It was time to climb into the helicopter and fasten our seat belts and then the helicopter was fired into life, while again Paul was giving us instructions over the intercom headsets of other aspects when we were in the air. With the motor warmed up, it was up and away and from the moment that we had lift off, it was like floating in mid air, with the ride as smooth as silk. My camera was now working overtime as the view from the air is one that can only be explained as totally unreal and mind blowing. We knew the body of water was large from the ground, but seeing it from the air was one experience that everyone said experience, if only once in your lifetime.




Just like Peter Ware on the boat cruise, Paul with full of knowledge of the area and the details of the flooding of the Cooper. Fiona and I continually comment on how unreal the flight and what a fantastic job Paul had. The time in the air soon came to an end and as smooth as the take off was, Paul brought the helicopter down to a gentle landing. While waiting for the helicopter to slow down and safely turn the engine off, we all talked of the experience and both Fiona and I congratulated Paul on his professional approach to flying and assuring us that we were in capable hands. My last words to Paul were that we were coming back and would love to take another flight, as we were both hooked.

Heading north up the Birdsville Track that day, we could not stop talking about the flight and were waiting to return to the Cooper as soon as possible. After our 3 days in Birdsville and 3 days out in the Simpson it was time to head south and the lure of the Cooper was getting louder the closer that we got to the site. Like our first visit, we stocked up on timber well before reaching the Cooper and were surprised that when we arrived at the ferry, there were 6 other vehicles in front of us waiting to cross to the southern side. As you do in situations like this, it was out with the camera and more images of the area and talked to our fellow Birdsville Track travellers. Times seemed to pass at a very fast rate and it was now our time to drive on to the ferry.

Heading back on the track that only seemed like yesterday we came out on, we could see two other vehicles camped at our first camp, but that did not matter, as we soon found another great location on the banks of the Cooper. Like all other camps that were longer than a day, we set up the tent and soon had everything unpacked and a friendly fire going. Like before the sights and sounds were very rewarding and we were so glad to be back on this stretch of the Cooper. Sunset that night was again awesome with the colours typical of a classic outback sunset. Unlike when we were out in the Simpson and could see the native rats dashing around our camp, there were no signs of any rodents at all, but still lifted the bonnet of the car as a precautionary measure. I was just about asleep when I could hear a chewing sound outside and gave the tent a quick hit and all went quite. Next morning we could see what was going on, the rat or rats had chewed the small rubber mat outside of the front of the tent.



With the fire rekindled and the sounds of the birds, we could have stayed here all day, but now we had to head off and be at the ferry site by 9.30am for our second and longer helicopter flight. Even though we had been through all the safety procedures a week previously, Paul still did not take it for granted and explained the whole procedure again. We opted this time for the longer flight out to the old ruins of the former Killalpaninna Mission. Just like our first helicopter flight, this second flight had both Fiona and I spellbound and it was just as great as our first time. Again Paul’s knowledge of the former Mission was very impressive and was far better than just visiting the sight without knowing the full details that Paul knew. After a good walk around the old Mission ruins it was time for Fiona to take the front seat and my turn in the back. On our return flight back to the ferry site we travelled at over 3000 feet with views of Lake Eyre in the far distance. By the time that we landed, we had been away for just over an hour and we both felt very pleased with ourselves for being game enough to take the fears that we had and went on the flights.





Being low on timber we crossed the Cooper again on the ferry and went back out to the Birdsville Track for two reasons. The first to see how far the water was over the Northern section of the track compared to last year and the second and most important reason to restock our firewood. We knew where there was lots of old dead Mulga and it did not take long to fill the kayak with enough wood for the rest of the day and the following morning. When we arrived back for another ferry ride, one of the operators that knew what we crossed over for had a little joke with us, saying did we drive all the way to Birdsville to get the wood, as we had been away for a long time. After the ferry crossing we went straight to our campsite, unloaded the wood and got the fire going again. While we were having lunch by the fire there was the sound of a low flying plane, lower than the normal planes that are very common in the area. Looking up we could sea a plane heading for the Cooper, so I quickly jumped up and grabbed my camera and over the next few minutes we witnessed the landing and take off of a new seaplane that was based out of Marree. We were told about this while on the helicopter flight and there was going to be a new tourist service and making use of all the water out here along the Cooper.




With lunch over it was time for our next task and that was to get Fiona out on the Cooper in the kayak. Last year we only brought up my single and with the very fast flowing currents back then; Fiona was not confident to get out on the water by herself.
Out on the Cooper we headed east first and paddled down past the old sheep crossing and then taking advantage of the current, had an easy paddle back to the west and past the ferry site. The flow of the current was not as strong as last year thank goodness and to make the paddle even easier, we headed east again, but this time in the very shallow water of the northern side of the Cooper. There was one time when I wished that I had my camera at very easy reach, as just like when you see on the TV Documentaries, a kite dived down from the sky and as quick as, had a fish in its talons. The moment that the kite did this it was then persuade by three other members of its family as they all jostled and tried to take the fish from the original catcher. Every now and then we would take to the many side backwaters and while doing so in one section not far from our camp we came across five Brolgas. When we were quite close to them, they just looked up, then continued feeding in the shallow water. By the time we paddled back to out camp we had spent a very relaxing two house of the Cooper Creek. It was now time to sit back by the fire and watch the many birds that were continually landing and taking off, jostling for their special piece of waterway on the Cooper. The rest of the day was consumed in relaxing by the fire and taking lots of images of the birds and the changing colours and the sun began to set and night made its acquaintance.




Early next morning there was a lot more noise out on the water near our tent so I got up to see what the commotions was all about and to our very good luck we had six brolgas about 20 metres from the tent. Lucky for me that I had the camera very close as I quietly got out of the tent and then went on to take many images of them as they came even closer. I could have spent a lot of time taking photos, but as Fiona said there are only so many pictures of the birds that you can take. With the fire going we had breakfast and were in no hurry, as we knew that the sooner that we had finish, it would be pack up time and head back down the Birdsville Track for home. The three days that we did spend back at the Cooper were the best three days of our trip and we only wished that we had another week here alone. With the car packed any idling over ready to head off we wondered if we would have another opportunity to return to the treasure in the crown of Outback Australia.






There is such a lot to see out there and this write up could have gone on and on. Another side of this trip was the abundant wildflowers that were all along the Birdsville Track. Some were quite small and others more noticeable. This alone I am going to do another Blog purely on the Wildflowers that we came across.

A trip to visit the Cooper like this should be high on everyones list that love this type of Natural event and the word from the ferry operators is that with the current flows of water still coming down the Cooper, the ferry should still be running until about Christmas 2011.


Stephen Langman
August 2011
Roxby Downs Special
BlogID: 3192
Views: 24756

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