RT2022: Heading South

The Painted Desert

Although it seemed as if we had just arrived at the red centre, the time soon arrived for us to be heading south. We were bracing ourselves for the return to colder and more unsettled weather, but we were not prepared for two separate stormy nights, within the space of five nights.

Our first objective was the station at Arckaringa on the Painted Desert Road, but this was too far for a single day’s travel. So, we stopped overnight on Wednesday 17 August at the Marla Roadhouse. After our experience at the Three Ways Roadhouse, this restored our confidence in such stopovers – it was busy but quiet and clean. The next day we headed off down the Oodnadatta Track as far as Oodnadatta, turned right off at Kempe Road and right again onto the Painted Desert Road, which extends from Kempe Road to the Stuart Highway in the west.

Arckaringa Station

The main reason for choosing to stay here was its proximity to the Painted Desert. We approached the station from the east, passing the Painted Desert on the way, noting that we would return to complete the walk through the foothills. By mid afternoon there was a bit of a breeze which normally dies down by sundown.

We arrived at the station to find a very exposed campground at the rear of the homestead. We parked and set up the trailer, side on to the breeze. By 16:30 the breeze had turned into a full blown gale, meaning that we could not cook dinner (wind and gas don’t mix!), so it was a cheese sandwich for dinner. By the time darkness fell, we sat inside the trailer which, by this time, was rocking about, the canvas was flapping and the bars were bending. All we could do was watch it, listen to it and hope and pray that everything held up, which, thankfully, it did.

In the morning, we spoke to one of the other campers who used to work in the crane business and he reckoned it got up to 100 km/hr. Needless to say we hardly slept until well in to the early morning when the wind dropped. Quite a scary night!

Our plan was to stay two nights, but after such a windy night we decided to leave, in case it was just as bad two nights in a row. On the way back to Kempe Road and on to Cobber Pedy, we stopped and walked around the spectacular scenery of the Painted Desert foothills.

The Painted Desert looking south
Mount Batterbee

In a way, the Painted Desert made the stress and lack of sleep almost worth while.

Coober Pedy

In our research of places to camp in Coober Pedy, we found a small campground on Tom Cat Hill. We had phoned to book four nights, but, of course, we arrived a day early. Although the camp was ‘full’, Des, the manager, suggested we camp on the edge of the hill, giving us an amazing view across the plain to the Breakaways. The down side was that it was a bit more exposed to the changing wind directions, thankfully this didn’t affect us too much.

My main aim was to go to the Breakaways before and during sunrise to catch the special quality of light at that time of day. On Sunday morning, we managed to prise ourselves out of bed at 05:15 and drive in the dark the 30 minutes

The other highlight was attending the last remaining drive in cinema in SA on the Saturday night to watch a movie called Operation Mincemeat, the true story of a major deception during WWII. It was really exciting as this was the first time I had been to a drive in, and the movie was very enjoyable.

As well as that, we visited a couple of underground churches, the Big Winch Outback Experience and a tour round a working opal mine.

During our second day, I managed to book a 7:30 flight over Lake Eyre on Tuesday morning, so rather than going direct to our next destination, Muloorina Station, we aimed to camp at the hotel at Marree on Monday night.

Marree

We arrived at the (free) hotel campground mid-afternoon to secure the last remaining site, squeezed in between a caravan and another trailer. Having paid for the flight at the hotel and had a quick wander round Marree, we cooked dinner in a bit of a breeze. By sundown, we had a full blown gale (again). This time we were set up end on the wind, meaning that the canvas was blowing every which way. Once again, we had the scary experience of sitting and eventually going to bed, waiting for the canvas to blow apart and listening to the deafening noise of it banging around us. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep – again. Not surprisingly, but very disappointingly, I received a text at 06:15, just before the alarm to say the flight was cancelled. As a small consolation, we had breakfast in the hotel, once again we would not have been able to boil the kettle!

The wind was still blowing in the morning when we packed up – rather challenging in the wind, but we made it OK. The forecast was for the wind to continue throughout the day and drop by evening.

Muloorina Station Campground

This campground is located about 50km north of Marree along a track that meanders through a very barren landscape. As we progressed, we started to wonder what we were heading to, but them we saw a line of trees which grew larger and larger as we approached.

Driving into the campground we found some secluded and sheltered areas and not many other campers. Having decided on a spot sheltered from the on-going wind, we set up camp and went to explore. The information we had read about this place claimed it to have a billabong, lots of bird life and a hot spring.

We found all of these, the most exciting being the hot spring. Where the water came spurting out of a pipe, it was too hot to put your hand in. However, further down as the water flowed to the billabong, there was a pool where the water temperature dropped to about 50 degrees, about the same as a hot bath. Not having bathers of towels, this was our destination for the next afternoon.

Before returning to the spring, we drove north along a rather rough 45 km track to the Neck – the narrow strip of land between Lake Eyre and Lake Eyre South. At last, we had arrived at THE Lake, but, no water! So, we set off and walked a round trip of about 6km on the lake. Although it appeared pretty featureless, it was surprising what we came across – small holes where some sort of insect lives and lots of small twigs embedded in the salt. Unfortunately, it was too windy to fly the drone, but I don’t think I missed anything too interesting from above.

Me on Lake Eyre

Back at the hot spring, we spent about half an hour in the mineral laden water and came out looking a bit shrivelled, but all the better for a hot bath!

Yes, that's my head in the hot spring

Initially we were going to stay there two nights, but quickly decided that an extra night was required. This allowed us to get up before dawn to photograph the hot spring before the sun rose, for us to make a return visit to it later in the day and for me to grab some drone footage.

Sunrise

Update

It is now the evening of Monday 29 August, we left Muloorina Station on Friday 26 August. In the intervening period there is still much to report on, but that will have to wait until the next post (which is most likely to be after I get home at the weekend). We have been busy driving and walking and I am finishing this post in a very remote hut south of Blinman. I am not sure when I will be able to publish this, such is the lack of mobile phone coverage.

Apart from the two stormy nights, we have been blessed with amazing weather. I started this post by saying that we were bracing ourselves for colder and more unsettled weather, but with four days left, this has not happened. The days have been sunny, with day time temperatures still around the 20 mark and night time falling to as low as 4 or 5, bearable with the promise of a warm day!

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