While we were at Broken Hill we learned that the Birdsville Track was closed. We were in two minds as to whether to continue on to Port Augusta or take a different route, perhaps down to the Murray and follow it along and come back to Queensland via Victoria. In the end we decided to continue to Port Augusta and see what transpired.
The road between Broken Hill and Port Augusta is the Barrier Highway for the most part before the road to Port branches off near Peterborough. We travelled steadily along crossing into South Australia at Cockburn then breaking for morning tea at Yunta. From Yunta one can take an unsealed road up to Lake Frome and the Arkaroola Sanctuary (http://www.arkaroola.com.au/). I recall reading a Napoleon Bonaparte novel “The Lake Frome Monster” written by Arthur Upfield (http://papundits.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/book-review-the-lake-frome-monster-arthur-w-upfield/). I was quite a fan of Upfield and still have a number of his books at home.
From Yunta we journeyed onward to Oodla Wirra where we encountered a border quarantine station. The friendly chap on duty inspected the caravan and we surrendered half a zucchini as they vegetables can house the fruit fly the state is trying to keep out. Shortly thereafter we turned off the Barrier Way towards Peterborough and travelled through the town to Orroroo where we stopped for lunch. Then onward to Wilmington and Port Augusta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Augusta,_South_Australia) where we arrived at about 2:00pm.
My Dropbox account had tried to synchronise with my laptop and 60 GB of data doesn’t auger well with a monthly allowance of 8 GB on my mobile broadband account – consequently my broadband has been slowed significantly and very frustratingly. At Port Augusta we walked into town in search of some pre-paid broadband and found a Telstra dealer to accommodate our needs.
Back at the caravan park I was able once again to check emails, banking details and post material to this blog, all at a reasonable speed. Checking the website for the Birdsville Track we discovered there were still problems with the road and we started thinking about alternatives so we could make a decision the next day. Ultimately we decided that if the track was still problematic the next day we would take the alternative route up the Stuart Highway.
Tuesday 15th April night was the evening of the lunar eclipse (http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2014/04/14/3984921.htm) and once the moon had risen above some trees along the foreshore we had a good view of the event and Margaret managed to take a couple of photographs for our album.
On Wednesday 16th we left Port Augusta with Coober Pedy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coober_Pedy) as our nominal destination for the day. We stopped at Pimba for morning tea and to top up with fuel and continued up the highway with various sites and rest areas becoming more familiar as we recalled our journey in 2010 along this route. Unlike in 2010, there was a lot of water in the salt lakes and lots of ponded water along the sides of the road – it was easy to see why the Birdsville Track could be affected by the same rain event that had come through this area. We had heard on the news that flash flooding had occurred in Coober Pedy and evidence of the heavy rainfall that must have occurred was apparent with the shoulder wash outs along the road.
After filling up with fuel at Coober Pedy we drove on looking for a suitable rest area at which to camp; we eventually settled on Pootnoura Rest Area. When we arrived there were three other caravans and a motor home on site, shortly after another caravan arrived – it all looked good. As evening closed in a number of other travellers in small motor homes (sometimes referred to as sardine tins) rocked with the last arrival being a Toyota Corolla hatchback with three young folk who chose to park immediately behind our van. The group of young folk all banded together in the shelter area and proceeded to enjoy themselves. Fortunately the party didn’t go too late and we were able to sleep. Around four o’clock in the morning a couple of prowling dingoes treated us to a chorus of howling but must have decided the camp was not worth worrying about and moved on.
We were up early the next day and on the road by 7:30 am and struck out with Erldunda as the nominal destination. The road to Uluru (Ayers Rock) branches off the highway at Erldunda and lots of people were obviously headed this way. Our first port of call that morning was the Marla Travellers Rest where we topped up the tank with fuel. About twenty minutes up the road we stopped at a rest area to have morning tea. One of the long freight trains that ply their way from north to south was steadily moving south along the rail line adjacent to the highway as we arrived at our rest stop.
Erldunda was reached just after 1:00 pm and we filled up with fuel and food. As Alice Springs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Springs) was only two hundred kilometres further we decided to press on until we reached the town. We checked into one of the local caravan parks and will stay for two nights. When we lived at Blackall we used to see this place advertised on the TV and it always looked quite attractive – in the flesh it does not live up to the advertising and is a very noisy park. The location, in the proximity of the Stuart Highway, the main rail line and the Todd River (where the local indigenous folk gather to hurl abuse, greetings or whatever at all and sundry well into the night) makes the place less desirable. Add the fact that the people in the van next door were robbed last night (the lady’s handbag was stolen in the early morning hours) and we are pleased we are only here short term.
On checking the website last night we noted the top half of the Birdsville Track has been opened to all traffic; there are still warnings on the lower section from Marree to Mungeranie. Maybe if we had waited a couple of days we may have been able to come through the track without any dramas – being very cautious and travelling alone we made the decision to come up the Stuart Highway and will just have to do the Birdsville Track as a separate journey some other time.
Tomorrow morning we will push on to Tennant Creek and expect to be back in Queensland at Camooweal on Monday.