Danggali Conservation Park Drive - Heading for another Confluence

Saturday, Apr 14, 2012 at 23:55

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Sunday 1st April 2012 was to be a special day for a couple of very good reasons. Firstly if the days outing was successful, it would mark Fiona’s and I 50th successful Degree Confluence visit and second we were to be traveling through another part of the Riverland that we had not traveled before - through the Danggali Conservation Park.

The route chosen to access the Degree Confluence was through another part of the state that I had not travelled before, heading north of the Riverland in South Australia from the main Wentworth - Renmark Road, a road that we had travelled over many times in the past. Over the years we had seen the small sign pointing north and we often wondered what it would like in that remote part of the state.

Knowing that the days drive would be a long drive, we did not change our clocks back from daylight savings on the Saturday night, knowing that we had to leave early and wanted to make the most of all available daylight driving hours. Up early on Sunday morning, the Murray River at Renmark was like a billiard table and it would have been perfect out with the Kayaks, but that would have to wait for another day, after all we were in Renmark again for 10 days.

Leaving the Caravan Park early, we seemed to be the only people on the move and passing through the Main Street, it was like a Ghost town, with not one person on the street, except one small dog sniffing the posts. At the start or the dirt, we again stopped at the rammed earth information bay display signs with perfect blue skies as the backdrop for one main reason, to drop our tyre pressures, as from now on and for the rest of the day it was going to be dirt roads and tracks as the order of the day.

Those that have travelled the main Wentworth Road out of Renmark will testify to the flat nature of the terrain, with low small bushes as the main ground cover, with the occasional medium size Mallee Eucalyptus tree in the distance, while the flood plains leading down to Chowilla Game Reserve heralded the start of taller trees and in the distance the Giant and very old gnarled River Red Gums.

With a few stops along the way and around 50 minutes since leaving Renmark, it was time to leave the main road and make our way north on the good track signposted “Danggali Conservation Park 31km”. The track immediately had a great feel about it, with the good Red Sand track under our wheels. Cresting the first very small sand rise, it was like we were in another area, with the vegetation changing from small shrubs to thick Mallee on both sides on the track, with small clumps of Spinifex between the Mallee, giving it that true Outback feel.

We were not even in the Conservation Park yet, but the drive in was one of the best drives that we had driven for a long time, with the scenery constantly changing, again adding to the atmosphere. One minute the Mallee was very dense, and then over another small rise the country is open covered native grass plains. Passing through one such clearing and there was one solitary bush growing in an open field of native grass and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. From past outback driving experiences, I knew what would be coming ahead, and just like the southern end of the Connie Sue Highway, the native grasses gave way to thick coverings of Bluebush, giving the area now a complete Nullarbor Plain feel about it. After driving for a few kilometres like this it was over another rise and the Bluebush gave way again to Native Grasses, but this time with another lone tree in the distance and next thing again, it was Anne Beadell Highway scenery with large groves of Black Oak either side of the Track. Fiona and I then commented on why it had taken us all these years to see such great scenery, yet within a 3 hour drive of our home in Clare.

Arriving at the Southern Boundary gate of the Park, the country was now back into Mallee country and how great the country was looking after good recent rains. Even though we were seeing lots of Kangaroos, once inside the Park, they seemed to be closer to the car and it was easy to get some close up images which surprised me. The further north that we travelled, the vegetation was quite dense in many sections and we still managed to see a few things that caught my eye and forced a quick stop. This time it was a small group of procession caterpillars making their way across the sandy track and lucky for them that I straddled them before stopping. The down side was that when I passed over them, it threw them out of sequence, as the once nearly 400mm long caterpillar train was scattered, and now trying to regroup. Walking back to the car, Fiona noticed quite a lot of old Emu faeces and what their meal was - lots of Quandongs from when they were in season.

It was now nearly lunch time, but I still wanted to push on a little further north for some old ruins that I had to see for a very special reason. I could see a very small sign in front of us on the side of the track and it was a detour off into the old ruins of Morgan Vale. Parking the car under the shade of the Black Oakes, we had lunch and then set of to explore the many old structures that were still here. Why these old structures were important for me to see goes back to nearly 40 years ago, when as teenagers growing up, Morgan Vale had once been one of the stations owned by of one of my friends, Andrew, who still lives in Clare.

If it had not been for Andrew, these old structures would have been just that, old structures, but I knew what they now were. The first main structure still standing was once the workman's quarters, with the building being built by Andrews dad, including making all the bricks by hand himself. The original main homestead was burnt down in the early 1960’s by a faulty Kerosene Fridge, with the only structures still standing was the old chimney place, and the cement verandas path that once stood under your typical outback full bull nose veranda. The old horse stables and tool sheds made of Black Oaks still stand, as well as old sheep yards that were again made from Black Oak. The one out of character structure still standing some distance from the old homestead was once an old school building that was removed from Burra and ended up at Morgan Vale around 1902. 110 years later the old building is now not safe to go into and it makes you wonder how many more years will it still stand before the white ants put an end to this fine old structure. It would be great to see a Four Wheel Drive Group or National Parks take on a project of stabilizing the old structure, as this is the last piece of Morgan Vale history that has stood the test of time. After nearly one and a half hours of walking around and taking lots of photos, it was time to leave Morgan Vale and head further north and into New South Wales to log our next confluence.

It was not long after leaving Morgan Vale that the vegetation changed again and back into Bluebush covered plains but still with the occasional Black Oaks. Arriving at the next major road junction, it was time to head East and head out past Oakbank Station and again the Natmap Topo maps were out, as now the main track heads well north of the homestead and this main track looked like it had been in place for years. A little further east of Oakbank Station and the country changed again and the track was still a good sandy track, but being this fare out and close to New South Wales, there were the occasional wash away to keep an eye out for and hit one of these at any speed and would have been disastrous. It was not very long when something again caught our eyes well off of the track - a very large body of water, with no mention of this low area even on the Topo map.

There was no way I could drive by without investigating this unexpected little oasis, so we followed a two wheel track down to as close as it was safe enough to drive without getting bogged, as we had no MaxTrax and it was a long way from anywhere. There would have been hundreds of ducks out on the water and where we were, there were at least fifteen Black Swans. The size of the body of water would have been at least 1 kilometre long, if not longer and around 600 metres wide. With yet more photos of this very unexpected find, it was on further east and we were soon at the Border gate. Once through the gate, we then had to follow the Border fence due south and through another gate.

Unlike other station signs on gates that either say “Keep Out” , “Trespassers Prosecuted” or the like, the sign only said “Domestic Goats - No Shooting”. For me this was a green light to follow the fence line, but before we could go any further, there was one fast deflating rear tyre that needed attention before we could go any further. With the car jacked up and tyre plug kit in hand, I thought that it would be a quick affair and on the way again quickly. A small sidewall cut was the culprit, as if this had been out in the desert, it would have been a string in the small hole and then on our way again, but seeing that we were not traveling at a snail pace and at one stage were going to be using the bitumen, it was off with the old and on with the new tyre that was my spare. The complete process was less then fifteen minutes, but it was not what I wanted, as we still were a very long way from Renmark and there were still many unknown tracks to follow.

The GPS showed that it was around 1.6 kilometres to get to the Confluence and there has been many times in the past when we have had to hike far greater distances to reach our goal. From the previous photos of the first visit, it showed that it should have been right on the actual Border fence, but this was very misleading. As the metres were counting down, we reached a point where the GPS arrow then swung due west and then started to increase in distance again from the confluence. There was no way that we could drive to this Confluence, as there was thick scrub and a State Border fence in the way, so we parked the car under what shade we could find and hiked the very short distance of 160 metres to get those magic figures on the GPS, even if if meant having to do the Confluence Dance...LOL. With our 50th successful Degree Confluence marked, we now headed back to the main track and headed further east before coming to my next intended track that I wanted to follow.

Marked on the Topo maps as a dark red broken line, indicating that it should be a reasonable track to follow. My first doubts were when we first started traveling this track was that this was not a well used track at all, but only used by station people for access to other parts of their station, and after around 7 kilometres of travel, the track deteriorated to the point that where the thick bush either side of the track where now constantly rubbing on the side of the vehicle, but we have been through worst, so we kept going, but at a far slower speed. For one very small section there was no track at all an then again the 2 wheel track appeared, then only to end abruptly at some old stock yards that had not seen any use for a very long time. Searching the area, there was no way that I was going to attempt to try and bush bash through this very dense scrub, as for one I was down to no reliable spare tyre and secondly at this time of the day, it could have taken hours of hard travel and still end up in country that could be far worse than we were in at the moment.

I made the decision that if we wanted to get back to Renmark that night, my only option was not to waste any further time in trying to locate this track that was on the map, but to retrace our wheel tracks and head back to the main track that was in excellent condition compared to the faint 2 wheel track that we were traveling on at the moment. We were now back on the main track, but I was not going to give up just yet, as there were still a number of track that were heading south a little distance to the east. How traveling with Ozi in situations like this took all the worry out of knowing where we were or when the next track should be coming up. This track was in good condition and at times it was very easy to sit safely on 80 kph. Once again we came to another body of water on the side to the track, but this time less than a quarter of the size than the one near Oakbank Station. Heading further east, we passed two tracks that should have been as good as the one that we were traveling, yet they were little more than 2 wheel tracks with thick undergrowth close to the track. Time was now my biggest enemy, so I decided that our best, but longest option was to make straight for the Silver City Highway knowing that we could at least increase our speed and pick up time.

Reaching the main Broken Hill - Wentworth Highway, we were now closer to Broken Hill than Wentworth. We pulled over and pumped up our tyres so we could sit back on 100 kph and again studied Ozi to look for another option to get to Renmark, as at our current pace of travel and then slower at night for Kangaroos, I estimated that it would be at least 9pm before we would be back in Renmark. There were 2 options that I had chosen, but again it would depend on the condition of the track to see if we could take either of these tracks and cut out a lot of traveling time. Within 30 minutes we were at Coomah, so I thought that local knowledge would be the best. Stopping there, I approached 2 ladies and asked if they were locals and asked them what were the tracks like that I had chosen. The first one sounded OK, but they said it could be slow going as there had been lots of rain in the district recently, and some sections could be a little sticky - just what I wanted to hear.

Back on the Highway, we soon came to the first track, and again we did not even give it a go, knowing that it was going to be far worse once we left the main road. I now had only one option left and if this did not work, we had to face the fact that it was going to be a late night. Still heading south on the Highway, I now knew that the next track was around 10 kilometres away, and this time, Ozi and the Topo Maps was spot on, with the track at least signposted on the Highway, so down Pine Camp Springwood Road we headed and it was a great relief to know that this was again great road to travel on and it would take us straight down on an angle to the South Australia - New South Wales Border and back on the main Wentworth - Renmark Road. Just like earlier in the day, this was a great road to travel on and we were soon entering the Tawawi Nature Reserve. My biggest regret now was that we could not stop and investigate to area as it was getting late in the day. This is one area that we intend to come back to again, as there is a lot to see in the area. With light now fading fast, we finally arrived back in Renmark just on 6.45pm and the short cut that was a great road to travel on had saved us over 2 hours, so that made us very happy.

Footnote on Danggali Conservation Reserve.

In 1977 Danggali was classified as Australia’s first Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program with the aim to protect representative samples of ecosystems throughout the world. There are only twelve such areas in Australia and around 230 in the World, where it is possible that these areas will remain in a natural state forever, with very few areas in the world able to do that. The ecosystem in Danggali is an overlap between Mallee and the arid land systems.

Danggali is 2532 square kilometres in size, or bigger than half the size of Kangaroo Island. It is 55 kilometres from east to west and 60 kilometres from north to south. The elevation of the Park ranges from 36 metres to 111 metres above sea level, while the annual average rainfall varies between 200 to 250 milimetres. The mean annual evaporation rate is 2400 milimetres per year with a temperature range from a winter low of -7° C to a summer high of 48° C. Apart from the main North - South Chowilla access Track, there are two other designated longer drives within the Park, the 90 kilometre Nanya Pad Interpretive Drive and the 100 kilometre Tipperary Drive. Even though the Tipperary Drive is the only designated 4 Wheel Drive Track, I have been advised by the local Ranger based at Canopus Homestead, that the Nanya Pad Interpretive Drive although listed as 2 Wheel Drive should only be driven in a four wheel drive, due to the changing nature of the track.

For further details and a downloadable PDF Map of Danggali Conservation Park, follow the links from this site : Danggali Conservation Park

If you would like to know more about the Degree Confluence Project and get involved youself, open this link : Degree Confluence Project

If you would to see where we have been to log our Degree Confluence visits, you can open this link : Our Confluence Visits

If you would like a true Australian Outback experence yet within a short drive of another top location in the Riverland of South Australia, I can personally recommend a visiit to the fantastic Danggali Conservation Park.

Smile like a Crocodile
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