28 June, 2011

Oodnadatta – Easter April 2011.

After successfully completing the Birdsville track last year the next central Australian adventure for me was the Oodnadatta track which runs from Marree (which is the end of the Birdsville track) to Marla on the Stuart Highway (which is the main road north to Alice Springs and Darwin). However, my plan was only ride North as far as Oodnadatta then head South West through the Painted Desert to Coober Pedy.

The first day’s riding was 1,200kms direct to Orroroo along the Calder Highway to Mildura. I have travelled this route ½ a dozen times now and it is one of my favourites, especially travelling through Wycheproof with its railway line that runs down the middle of the main street.

Arriving at Orroroo I was surprised to find the camping ground full and ended up having to spend a surprisingly chilly night camped in the Pekina valley alongside the Big Gum Tree.

Heading off early next morning I soon reached Hawker and then to Parachilna where I bumped into a group of 10 or so Ulysses riders on HDs who were heading north till the bitumen ended at Lyndhurst. I dropped into the Lyndhurst service station hopping to say hello to the owner, who had helped me with my missing transmission oil plug 6 months earlier, but he was not around.

It was then a quick sprint on the bitumen and dirt to Marree before hitting full dirt for official start to the Oodnadatta track and the ride past Lake Eyre to William Creek.

Along the track there is some interesting “heavy duty” artwork which is well worth spending time close up and recording.

At one point the road crosses Lake Eyre via a causeway and I was stunned to see hundreds of seagulls diving to feast on the millions of small fish trapped by the receding waters. The water was so thick with fish there was literally more fish than water between each.

Around 100kms south of William Creek I stopped to camp for the night at Coward Springs – the site of an old rail stop on the Ghan line – and enjoyed the hospitality of Doug and Sue who shared their home cooked pot roast whilst also sharing stories of the road.

Next morning it was time to pack and hit the road to William Creek, but not before savouring the delights of the wood fired hot showers in the campground. The ride to William Creek was quick and easy with a couple of short creek crossings of no real challenge.

There were many 4WDs on this stretch of road as people were using the easter break as an opportunity to take a flight from William Creek over Lake Eyre. I was tempted, but decided the $300 for a 45 minute flight could be better spent and spent the day walking and exploring in and around South Australia’s smallest (pop 6) and most remote town instead. It has some very interesting history espec. given its proximity to Woomera, and the rocket and A-bomb testing which took place there in the 1950s and 60s.

The following day I had roughly another 200kms of gravel track to Oodnadatta. This section fo road was much rougher with many creek crossings although most of them were dry. A particular highlight was inspecting the remains of the Algebuckina railway bridge that are over half-a-kilometre long where it crosses the Neale River –it was huge undertaking when it was built at the end of the 19th century. For the Burgie and we had to ride across the causeway that crosses the Neale River – fortunately it was only a couple of centimetres deep it but it was covered in green slime and quite slippery.

From Algebuckina it was a relatively quick 60km ride to Oodnadatta and I was quite excited to make it to the town which I had passed through 31 years earlier when taking the Ghan back from Alice Springs with my then bike (Ducati 860GT) on board the train as the Stuart Highway had been closed due to flooding.

Arriving at the pink roadhouse I immediately rode around the back to check out the camping ground. As I entered the camping ground it looked deserted but lo and behold parked far over on the left outside a donga were two adventure bikes (owned by Frank and Frank, two QANTAS stewards). On spotting the bikes I did a quick left turn and hit the throttle not realising that I had just entered a sand hole (yep in the middle of the campground) and down went B1, much to my embarrassment. My only fall of the whole ride and it had to be right in front of fellow riders!

The two Franks (no, not their real names) had been on a tour of Australia for 6 weeks and were now heading back home to Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Frank 2, a relatively recent rider was on a KTM 950 whilst Frank 1 who was more experienced, was riding a BMW GS1150. However, neither one of them was enjoying the loose gravel roads, and they were keen to get back on the bitumen again south of Marree.

After a fun evening we all headed off early the next morning with the Franks going back the way I had come to William Creek, and I heading south west to the painted desert. At the roadhouse I asked the hired help (German backpackers) who had been out to the desert two days earlier what the road out to the Painted Desert would be like – their response “went out ther 2 days ago and it was a great road”. Cheered by this I let down my guard..

The route initially followed the road to Coober Pedy and was good riding, until the turnoff to the west at which point it became a bit trickier. Even trickier again, when the track builders decided it was economic to build it through a dry creek bed, but which was now a sea of loose sand/silt that had been swept by recent floods. The first hundred metres was fine and I kept B1 moving at around 30kmh without needing to put a foot down, I then rode through a shallow pool and the sand got deeper and looser such that I had to paddle initially, then climb off and push. After another hundred metres or so I realised it was going to be a struggle continuing so I turned off the motor and decided to walk the creek bed to see how far I had to go.

1,000 paces later and the track moved out of the creek on to a solid footing, by the time I’d walked back to the bike I was exhausted so I plonked my kit down under a tree and figured I’d wait for the next passing vehicle. An hour later I heard the distinct drone of a Suzuki DR650 coming my way and walked across to greet him as he paddled his way through the deep sand before coming to a halt. Sorry, I forgot your name mate, but I do remember you were from Canberra and I do appreciate your push to get me started and encouragement to walk the bikes (running alongside with the motor running) through together. After 200 metres or so Mr Friendly DR Rider figured the surface was getting a little better and he would try to ride it out so I did the same, and lo and behold, apart from a bit of paddling B1 managed to maintain sufficient momentum to pop out the other end.

It was then a quick ride to the painted desert itself and then a couple of more trips through similar creek beds to the turnoff to Arckaringa homestead and back to the main track to Coober Pedy and the a fast 110kmh run down the good gravel road to Coober Pedy itself.

On arrival I decided I wanted to enjoy the unique experience of underground camping (in an old opal mine) and headed south 4km out of town to the REBA campground.

The following day was spent exploring, relaxing and having my spare rear tyre fitted as the old one now had its tyre cords showing in parts and had lots of deep cuts from the sharp gibber rocks on the Oodnadatta track. I was very impressed with the service at the tyre shop – run by an old German immigrant who ran a great little workshop.

The ride down the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta was straightforward and I checked in to one of the Flinders Hotel backpacker rooms in the late afternoon – great value at $25 per night for a room of my own and a roof over for my head for the first and only time this trip – well apart from the mine roof in the underground camping!

The next day was going to be my last night on the road and I had always wanted to explore the upper reaches of the Murray in South Australia. I crossed Murray for the first time that day at Morgan and then crossed it half a dozen more times on ferries as I rode along the northern and southern banks, eventually stopping for the evening in an idyllic setting near Waikerie where I pitched my tent on the river bank.

The next day was spent meandering further along the river to Renmark then a quick scoot across to Mildura and straight down the Calder back to Melbourne in time for a late dinner.