Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Birdsville Track

10th – 11th June
We didn’t really know what to expect of this famous track which stretches from Marree in the south to Birdsville in southern Queensland, about 500km north. We planned to do this trip in two stages, stopping overnight at Mungerannie Hotel camping ground, about 200 km north of Marree.
As there had been quite a bit of rain around Birdsville about a week beforehand we didn’t know how much damage had been done. We had heard there was a road train stuck there for a few days. We also didn’t know whether the Cooper Creek ferry would be in operation, and if it was, how we were going to manage as our rig is longer than the allowed length of 9.8 metres. So we set off knowing that the road was open to 4WD vehicles only, and not much else.
           The country between Birdsville and Mungerannie is semi-arid, but currently quite green and comparatively lush. We passed Lake Harry, the site of an unsuccessful date farming venture which began in 1897 and folded in 1912. There wasn’t a great deal to see except a wandering dingo and the road was in excellent condition until we reached Cooper Creek.

Lake Harry
Cattle, in good condition despite the feed
The dingo thoughtfully stopped long enough for a photo

           I now know why crossing the Cooper is such a difficult venture – the floodway is 5 kilometres wide. Fortunately, and to our surprise, it was completely dry. In fact, we didn't realise we were crossing the Cooper until we swa the sign at the other end.That was one drama averted and 240 kilometres without event. The remaining 60 kilometres to Mungerannie were more eventful as the road sharply deteriorated, with water and mud the norm.
The Cooper Creek crossing

Mungerannie Hotel
           We reached Mungerannie without event and met Phil the hotel keeper. He seemed perfectly healthy, but later that evening collapsed behind the bar. The Flying Doctor arrived from Port Augusta about 11.30 pm and left at 2 am. I heard it fly out (David slept through it.)
           Our more personal drama of the evening was the proliferation of rats around the campsite. Some were black and others were grey. They were quite unafraid of people, and obviously saw us as easy pickings. However they were sent away unsatisfied. We packed our kitchen away meticulously, zipped up doors with great care, and hoped they weren’t hungry to eat through canvas. I woke around 2 am to hear scuttling and munching noises around the outside of the camper, but they went away, fortunately. The morning revealed that they had gnawed some of the edge of our outdoor rubber mat. Rubber can’t have been too tasty, as the rest is undamaged.
One black rat. There were many more grey ones
           Day 2 of the Birdsville Track dawned bright and clear, so David decided to have a swim in their artesian spa. He put his swimming costumes on the roof rack to dry and they are now somewhere on the track north of Mitta Mitta Bore. Mungerannie has wetlands adjacent to the spa, and it is full of birds – kites or ospreys are everywhere. Hopefully they will dispose of the rats while the snakes are hibernating for the winter.
Mungerannie artesian spa pool
Birds galore
I think this is an osprey. Please correct me if it's not

         The countryside north of Mungerannie is even more arid than further south, and parts of it pass through Sturt's Stony Desert. It was amazing to see a stony desert with large pools of water. In places the track seemed to be passing through a wetland.
Water lying in a stony desert
Like a wetland. The large area of water in the foreground is the road.

            However, the Track itself proved to be the main challenge. We spoke to a man at Mitta Mitta Bore who said that last year it was as good as a highway and he could do 100 km per hour. This year it’s a different story altogether. It varied from excellent and fast, to mud half way across with a dry lane through, to mud all the way across with no dry section, to extensive water crossings. The mud and water track lasted for about 200km north of Mungerannie. Much of the rest of the track was trafficable for one lane only, with the worst sections closer to Birdsville where the other side of the road looked like a ploughed field.

 W        We reached Birdsville without further adventure and no mishaps – except for the swimming costumes. David met Kevin Phillips from the Camper Trailer Group in the toilets at Birdsville Caravan Park – a bit of a surprise as he lives near Canberra.

It started out fantastically
Large puddle with detour
Larger puddle and mud - no detour
Where is the road?
Who ploughed the other lane?


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