We continue making our way through South Australia’s outback to start of a long planned Simpson Desert crossing. After running down the Strzelecki Track from Cameron Corner we arrived at Arkaroola Village, a private sanctuary and conservation reserve established in 1968 by one of Australia’s most noted and celebrated geologists, Reg Sprigg.
Arkaroola is nestled in the northern Flinders Ranges, set amongst the craggy red ridges of this spectacular mountain range near which some of the world’s oldest fossils were found. We made camp on edge of the caravan park area with a brilliant back drop then set about finding other members of our Madigan Line crossing group that we were rendezvousing with here.
Our group were soon found and mustered with dinner plans made to dine at the Village restaurant. We had all travelled together previously on one or more trips so the evening went quickly by catching up with each others’ exploits and travels.
A rough plan was made to explore the area the next day, following some of Arkaroola’s 4WD tracks through the conservation park. It was a great day with spectacular scenery, old mining areas and plenty of wild flowers in bloom after recent rain.
After a couple of nights at Arkaroola we moved on deeper into the Flinders Ranges, pausing for lunch at Blinman’s great bakery before winding through the breath-taking Parachilna gorge. From there we dropped onto the Stuart Highway, our first bitumen road after several days of dust and corrugations. This took us to our next camp for the night, the wonderful old town ruins of Farina.
Farina was a bustling town at head of the Ghan railway line in the early 1900s, however when the line was extended northward the town started a long slow decline until it was finally abandoned in the 1960s. The old stone buildings are being preserved by a group of volunteers who raise funds from camping fees and by running the old underground bakery that was built in the late 1800s and now serves tourists with fresh baked goods each winter season.
With breakfast and lunch sorted from the bakery we headed off again to next stop on our tour. We headed northward to Marree, home of Tom Kruse the famous Birdsville mailman, the Lake Eyre Yacht Club and start of the Oodnadatta Track.
We followed the Oodnadatta Track for half its length to William Creek where we stopped for lunch, then diverted to our next night’s stop at Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy also provided a chance to restock with water, fuel and food before we entered the remote desert area.
While in Coober Pedy we took opportunity to glimpse life in this town where so many live and work underground – in this case at the local Serbian Church of Saint Elijah, which has been excavated and built into a hillside of chalky rock.
Our camp for the night was at a Hipcamp site called Kangaroo Ridge, which we chose due to some bad reviews about petty crime and condition of the caravan parks in town. It turned out to be a fantastic place to spend the night, on a jump-up just out of town with awesome views to the south across the desert plain.
Our next day’s drive was going to be a big one across a number of outback roads that were expected to get more sketchy the further we drove.
The first leg was an easy one, a cruise through The Kanku-Breakaways, a small conservation park outside of Coober Pedy that winds through some beautifully coloured jump-up mesa hills.
From The Breakaways we crossed the dog fence and headed north east to Oodnadatta to refuel ($3.20/litre!!) at the famous Pink Roadhouse. This is a great outback icon at end of the Oodnadatta Track and the point at which we would start to head into more serious desert country.
We turned onto the Mount Sarah Station access track and at that homestead turned again toward Hamilton Station – the tracks were in good condition so far and quite scenic as it passed through the relatively small Pedirka Desert. Eventually the track passed into Witjira National Park, start of the Simpson Desert country and launching place for those crossing on the southern tracks such as the French Line, Rig Road and K1 Line.
Dalhousie Springs homestead ruins was a good place to pause and stretch our legs. We elected not to go into the Dalhousie mound springs themselves as it was getting late in the day and we wanted to arrive at Mt Dare before dark – however its worth stopping over if you’re in the area for a swim in the 38 degree waters of the spring catchment.
The last 70km to Mt Dare was, as expected, the worst track we had driven so far on this trip. The track was very corrugated with occasional wash outs that meant taking care in the fading afternoon light. We made it through with loosened teeth but no other damage, then lined up for our final refuel before entering the desert crossing headed toward far away Birdsville.
Reaching Mt Dare brought first part of our trip to an end as this was launching place for the Madigan Line crossing of the Simpson Desert. We set up camp then met remaining members of our group before heading into the Hotel for a celebratory dinner and drinks in preparation for the adventure to commence tomorrow.
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