We woke to a damp grey day at Marla, but were at least tucked up in a dry motel room rather than having to pack up a wet camper. The overnight rain had washed much of the red mud from the rig, but made a mess of the motel carpark in the process. The dust and mud had oozed and dripped to form an outline around it to show where we were parked, like some sort of automotive homicide scene.
Fuel was 60 cents per litre cheaper here than Oodnadatta only 200km away where we last filled up, so the rig didn’t need much of a top up but we squeezed in what we could. To take advantage of the discount rate I optimistically filled our 4x 10l jerry cans also, in case we were still destined for the Simpson Desert. The service station air compressor also made airing up a little quicker, which was necessary given we had a black top run up the Stuart Highway to meet our travelling group at Kulgera.
The morning haul to Kulgera was an easy 180km drive that took us just across the South Australia – Northern Territory border. The rain on the drive also did a half decent job of washing most of the remaining mud from the rig.
We wheeled into the roadhouse parking area and skipped across puddles of rain on the forecourt to get under shelter of a patio area to be immediately welcomed by Dave and Sue, one of the couples we were here to meet. They gave us a run down of events including fact that another couple had gone ahead to Mt Dare the day before and were presumably stuck there.
After heading inside to escape the damp and chill we found a welcoming fire in the roadhouse bar, which made for a great place to kick back and wait for more news. In the end we ordered a hot lunch (with complementary beer to wash it down) and soaked in the atmosphere of this unique setting – Suzzanne even had the chance to do some bra shopping just by reaching to the ceiling…
Eventually other members of our group filed in, most having travelled from deeper in SA than our starting point. By afternoon the only people missing were the couple who went to Mt Dare the day before, and our tour leaders who also arrived at Mt Dare the day before after crossing the Simpson with another group. Vehicles from this group arrived from Mt Dare with tales of deep water and muddy roads, and advised that the Moon Tours team were following behind them but had some repairs to make first. In the mean time the road from Mt Dare and Finke had been boarded closed by the local police, so there was no going that way to launch a rescue.
The rain had been steady all day and the campground beside the roadhouse was half underwater by this stage so given the weather outlook we booked a budget ‘donga’ room for the night to ensure we had dry accommodation. We probably should have inspected it first because it was far from salubrious, but it would save us plodding around setting up the camper if we only ended up here for one night.
We regrouped with our travelling team and caught up with who was who and where they were from and what they drove, by which time it was dinner and another pub meal by the fire.
Around 8pm the Moon Tours team finally made it through, all covered in mud and looking like they’d had a big day. We eventually learnt that it took them 10 hours of slipping, sliding and winching to cover the 250km from Mt Dare. They had some well earnt beers then retired for the night, as did we.
The next morning broke to more of the same, though the rain had lightened a little. After a night in the dank little donga room we were keen to get showered and back onto our own bedding, so we handed back the keys and booked a camp site once learning we would be here another night. We then wheeled around and set ourselves up at a powered site with a tap close by which was handy to wash the remaining mud off everything.
News came through that really knocked down spirits of the group – the Simpson Desert conservation park had been closed and would remain so for at least two weeks due to the wet. Already our trip had been down graded from the Madigan Line to “only” the Simpson Desert, so this latest blow really took away its shine. But not to be beaten, the Moon Tours team asked for a day to pull together an alternate itinerary that they assured us would be worth hanging around for, particularly leaning on Ron Moon’s connections to get us access to some great locations.
Exactly where in the NT we were bound was a mystery but we decided to trust the Moons and give it a try. Join us on the next blog to find out where we end up. 😉