"Destination Unknown" Day 6 - Oodnadatta to Mt Dare - Explorers trails, Pedirka Desert & Dalhousie

Wednesday, Jul 06, 2011 at 19:00


Wednesday 6th July 2001
Mount Dare SA

Another spectacular sunrise heralded the arrival of the day at Duff Creek. A pity the boys aren’t out early enough to enjoy it. Ahhh teenagers it’s still all about eating, playing and sleeping. It was a largely overcast morning with some low grey cloud. The breeze had some bite to it as well. Breakfast out of the way, we were soon packed and ready to beat our neighbours onto the track. Today we’d be heading for Dalhousie Springs and Mount Dare.

Our first point of interest on the days travel was Peake Creek and siding. Having been most interested in the travels of one of our Greatest explorers, Ernest Giles, Peake was a significant milestone in his double traverse of the continent in the 1870’s. In May 1875 the Giles expedition left Beltana with 24 Australian camels for the west coast. They made it to Perth that November. After some R&R and being feted in Perth he headed to Geraldton where in January 1876 he left the west coast for a return journey across the heart of the continent. Giles and his party arrived at Peake Telegraph Station on the 23rd August 1876. From the comfort or our heated cab, behind fast glass and cold Engel fridges, you can only marvel at the resilience, fortitude and skill of these early Australian legends.

Our first port of call for the day was the Algebuckina Bridge and the Neal River. It was here that we were almost eaten alive by mosquitoes back in April. It looked like the cold weather had put paid to a lot of those little buggers by this time of the year though. There were quite a few people camped here which is the reason we avoided it. It remains one of the more popular camping spots along the route particularly with the caravanning fraternity due to ease of access.

Opened in 1892 and 587 metres in length, the Algebuckina Rail Bridge crosses the Neale River and is still the longest bridge in SA. In 1926 it was strengthened to carry heavier loads. The original steel was imported from Scottish mills. The later steel is from our own BHP. The last train from Marree to Oodnadatta crossed the bridge in 1980. As kids in the early 70’s we camped a few days at the Neale Creek and can vividly remember the Ghan trains crossing the bridge every few days.

Nearby are the twisted remains of an old EB Holden display the ravages of an angry river and time. As the dreamtime legends tell, this old vehicle once belonged to Fred. During the big flood of 1976, Fred arrived at the swollen river en-route to Oodnadatta. Knowing that a train was not due for a few days, Fred decided to attempt the crossing of the flooded tributary via the rail bridge. He carefully laid sleepers in front of his car to cross the bridge, removing those from the rear and carrying them over the roof and laying them in front of the vehicle as he inched forward. All was progressing well when unfortunately for Fred, then rains had closed the Ghan line to the north and unexpectedly a work gangs train arriving reversing down the track to the south. Well, that’s why Fred’s car is a twisted wreck by the bridge. While his car mightn’t have made it to Oodnadatta, at least Fred survived to tell the tale. His car is there as testament to a good idea gone wrong! The vehicle has also had a visit from “The Carp” who seems to using a bigger stencil these days. Who is that bloke anyway?

Oodnadatta, is an historic town that was an important rail-head between 1891 and 1929 when the rail was extended to Alice Springs. The sandstone railway station remains as a reminder of the days when all freight north was disembarked here for transportation by camel to Alice Springs. The Pink Roadhouse appears to be the main attraction for those passing by these days though. It is staffed by a constant stream of back-packers who were a friendly lot at the time of our visit. Fuel and a pie and we were off again with a light mist falling. The skies did not look promising.

18 km north of Oodnadatta, we bade farewell to the Oodnadatta Track and headed north on the unnamed road that more or less parallels the old Ghan. It heads towards Mt Sarah, Hamilton and Eringa. Being a major access track for the station country, it was in good condition and well maintained. This track follows the floodplain and gibber country that splits the dunes of the Pedirka and Simpson deserts. Both Giles and fellow explorers (and brothers) Alexander and John Forrest, crossed this country around Alberga (Forrest expedition of 1774). We found a grader working on the bypass around Fogarty Claypan. A short time later, just passed mount Sarah Station, we had a morning tea break by the roadside We had a good view across to Mount Rebecca and the Mabel Range.

At Hamilton Station we turned right onto the Public Access Route that heads to the Pedirka Ruins and Dalhousie. Here is was a bit slower going with the road exceptionally slippery around the station bypass. We crossed the stony plains to reach the Ghan line and ruins of the Pedirka Siding but it too had a huge crowd in attendance. In better weather, the countryside north of Pedirka would have provided some great views as we crossed the Emery Range into the Witjira National Park and dropped into the lower country south of Dalhousie ruins. Just bear in mind that the difference between high and low country here is about 30 meters but that decline, over a good distance, provides for quite distant views. While the track was a bit muddy in places, the rain had held off as we arrived at the remnants of the Dalhousie Station. We had a good look around the ruins and springs before completing the last 10 km to the mound springs themselves. We had only just left the ruins when a light rain began to fall.

A convoy of three Prado (I hope that’s the correct descriptor/plural or collective noun for a clutch of Prados) towing trailers passed us while we were at the homestead and we followed them along the last couple of km's along the treacherous track to Dalhousie Spring. The CP was amused to see the tail end charley of this group loose control of his trailer when it simply snaked off the road behind him. The driver did all the right things and managed to get enough acceleration to straighten the thing out and pull it back into position thankfully. Arriving in the light rain, we found the campground overflowing with damp travellers. We set up in the day use area. Through the misty rain, the springs were shrouded in mist, the water seeming invitingly warm. Of course one had to run the gauntlet of the sticky, sucking mud of the access tracks to get there and thongs were soon all broken and abandoned as bare feet became the order of the day.

The springs were a fantastic remedy for the dust, mud and aches of a few days on the road. I had to laugh when looking at the boys with damp hair, visible every now and then through the mist. The resemblance to the snow monkeys of Japan was all too apparent, especially for Justin with his long hair. I think we’d identified a new nickname for him and everyone needs a nickname when travelling! After a thorough soaking, we whipped up some soup for lunch and given the crowded nature of the camp ground, decided to head the 70 odd kilometres to Dalhousie.

The rain lifted a bit as we departed but he track remained slow and slippery. Once out a few kilometres, soil of the plains gave way to a more rocky and solid track base and conditions improved as a consequence. The low ranges and valleys you drive through on the route south are quite picturesque and would provide ample opportunity to find a camp site. I believe these to be the northern extremes of the Emery Range and Mount Crispe.

It was a fairly straight forward run to Dalhousie. With the skies threatening and a big day of driving tomorrow, we managed to secure a cabin for most of the crew. Hugh and I set up camp in the campground while everyone else piled into the rudimentary accommodation. Dinner was had with a few beverages at the pub while watching the final rugby league “state of origin” match (QLD won as expected). There was another large group camping at Mt Dare who ended up being from down the Latrobe Valley Way. We also knew one of them quite well. Small world indeed. Spent a pleasant hour or so around the fire with them showing them a few good camping spots we had found along the way north.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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