Blog #14 – Oodnadatta to Finke via Dalhousie Springs – Days 79 to 82 of 180
It seems such a long time since we left home nearly three months ago but the time has flown by. I suppose this is because each day we added to our adventure. After replenishing supplies in Oodnadatta and getting over the sticker shock of paying 198.9 cents per litre for diesel & $84 for a 30 can block of beer it was time to head north to Finke for the desert race.
My planning to this stage had been pretty good but for some reason I had not downloaded the programme for the race so did not realise the race was on the Sunday & Monday so was busting a gut to get to Finke by Friday. All planning was built on that date.
On turning up the Mt Dare Road some 17 klms out of Oodnadatta heading north disaster struck. We pulled over to transfer the beer we had just purchased into the fridge in the back of my vehicle but found that the door lock/spring had broken and we could not get the door open. NO COLD BEER!!!! It almost made me turn around and go back to Oodnadatta and see if their mechanic could fix the issue but as it was getting on into the afternoon, we needed to make a mile and find a roadside campsite for the night (driving at night out here can be hazardous to your health plus I had no headlights). Greg luckily had a spare car fridge in the back of his car so we turned that on to chill our beers. Disaster averted for the moment and off we went again.
Plan was to drive until 1630 or get to Hamilton Station whichever came first and camp up if we could find a place to camp. Finally rolled into Hamilton Station around 1700 hours to find that the road we had planned to use to get to Dalhousie Springs was closed off due to road damage and was not passable. Decision time on what to do. This is where the Aussie outback laconic response to questions on distance became very apparent. A fellow traveler who was going to Dalhousie as well told us that there was a good campsite to be had at Eringa Waterhole “just up the road and not too far”. We should have pushed him a bit harder for an exact distance but according to our Hema maps the waterhole we saw looked to be about 44 klms further on. Decision made – push on. The actual distance was another 70 klm on and it was now dark – I still had high beams and spotlights luckily. By now we were exhausted after driving on rough tracks for 250 klm that day. Doesn’t seem far but when towing trailers and caravans the task is much more taxing on your concentration but we got there. There were quite a few fellow travelers camped up already by the time we arrived but that night was to be a cold camp and cheese & crackers for dinner (washed down by a couple of cold ales) then early to bed.
The young blokes camped next to us had suggested we might want to camp on the other side of the waterhole as they might be a bit noisy. The offer was politely declined as were absolutely knackered and just wanted to sleep. I think the cumulative days of travelling were taking a bit of a toll on us but a good night’s sleep would fix that.
Next morning dawned clear and crisp. We had not unhitched the previous night so it was easy to get on the road early. All the roads but one into Dalhousie Springs were closed due to rain damage from some two months previously and had yet to be repaired. So away we went until we were almost at Mt Dare (9 klm short) to get to the turnoff. Within 200 metres of turning off this road turned into a goat track of biblical proportions. There were washouts and steep rocky parts with very sharp rocks so we had to be careful of our tyres. I stopped a traveler coming the other way to ask him what the road was like further in as it was 61 klm into Dalhousie Springs from the Mt Dare Road – he told me that ”it improved in about another 5 klms” – lying swine!!!! The road was an absolute shocker for the rest of the way. It took us nearly three hours to do that 61 klms. This would have to be the worst road we had ever driven on this trip so far and we would have to repeat it on the way out in two days’ time. We were spurred on by the thought of the 35 degC pool to relax our tortured muscles at the end of the trip into our new home at the campground.
Finally got there to find quite a large crowd already there but managed to get a spot close to the amenities block. Setup camp then off a swim. The water was lovely and warm and the campsite provided free noodles to help you float around and relax. The pool is quite large, around 300 metres long and about 20 metres wide. After a very relaxing two hour soak it was time to get out which was very bracing given the temperature differential and the very cold wind that was blowing. As soon as we got back to our camp the wind lifted again so we put up three walls to keep us relatively sheltered. The wind persisted through the night and into the next day which made it quite cold but did not stop us from going for another swim the next day. We talked to a few other campers about the rear door issue and found that it was not uncommon for this to happen on these dirt roads. I even turned on the satellite phone and rang Jacob Toyota in Wodonga (they service this vehicle) and asked if there was anything we could do. Their response was that unless we could get the trim off the back door to get to the locking mechanism then it was best to leave it until we could get to a Toyota workshop in Alice Springs. Another fellow traveler told us that there was a Toyota trained mechanic at Mt Dare who may be able to help we decided to relax and enjoy our stay.
Many people had admired my travelling home so I was happy to extol the superior engineering that went into building my trailer and was happy to show them. It is sad that Drifta no longer manufactures these trailers as they are far superior to the trailers built in China which are not strong enough for these outback roads. The other interesting thing about Dalhousie springs is that it is on the edge of the Simpson Desert and that all vehicles that come across from Birdsville on the French Line, QAA Road or the Rig Road end up here so it can be very busy. The only downside to many of these remote places is that there are no communication services so you really need to be prepared in case of emergencies.
It was time again to pack up (the wind was still brisk) and head to Mt Dare in hope their mechanic may be able to help us with the rear door. So away we went back along the goat track towards Mt Dare some 70 klms away. This time it only took us 2 ½ hours maybe because we picked better driving lines or maybe I just wanted to get the hell off this road. Arrived at the Mt Dare Hotel complex mid-morning to find a queue of vehicles waiting to fuel up. Many of them had come across the Simpson Desert and were very well decked out. I have never seen so many tricked out 79 series Toyota four door utes. They made up nearly 75% of the vehicles we had seen in the past few days. I was getting rather envious of the power that these vehicles generate with their big V8 motors when towing but am not envious of what they will pay to fill them up. Diesel here is $2.27 a litre so you need deep pockets. Next place with fuel is Finke a further 100 klms away and it is $2.40 a litre there.
Thankfully I only needed 35 litres to top my tank but it still cost me $75. We had heard that fuel runs out quite often here so we deemed it wise to fill up. Unfortunately, the mechanic had gone away but their maintenance guy offered to have a look but first I would need to empty everything off the back seat plus take out the ARB cage and all the gear in the back of the car. This is no mean feat to get this done and it took Greg & I nearly 2 ½ hours before I rolled the vehicle around to the maintenance section. We tried every trick he knew but could not get the door open so we called it quits. He was nice enough not to charge me anything for his work. Back to the campsite and repack everything back in. I was exhausted at the end of that exercise. Again, I was surprised at how busy these bush pubs are. Maybe it was busier than usual because of the Finke Desert Race but you had to pre-book and pre-pay for dinner as soon as you booked in for camping.
I had a homemade chicken curry and Greg had a mixed grill. The meals were delicious. Two cans of G&T set us back $27 so they were making a mint out here even if cartage was an issue. For the first time we heard dingoes howling around the campsite at nighttime. We also paid $170 for two 30 can blocks of beer to see us through the next week. There were signs everywhere not to leave food out or leather shoes as dingoes had been known to chew on them as well. It was a very crisp night but good for sleeping. Packed up early and went and had breakfast at the hotel as it was much simpler than breaking out all our cooking gear, washing up the dishes then repacking. When I started the car to hitch up the outside temperature was 4 degC and very fresh.
On the road by 0830 for the last leg into Finke only 104 klms away. The NT border was only 10 klms up the road where we stopped and took the obligatory photos to show we were crossing into our 4th state/territory in the past three months. We had filled out the obligatory health pass for interstate visitors and it was interesting to note the last 28 days had been spent in South Australia so the dreaded word, Victoria, was not mentioned at all.
We had wanted to stop at Charlotte Waters but some mongrel had souvenired the signs so we missed out. The section of road once over the border was quite good and had been graded recently. In sections you could see where large volumes of water had flowed down along the side of the road and washed-out huge channels. Luckily for us these had been repaired and there was plenty of road to maintain around 80 klm/hr. We rolled into the small community at around 10am and pulled up at the general store to stock up on fresh groceries and get some extra drinking water (bore water can be drunk but it does have a very mineral taste). The store was well stocked with fresh fruit & vegetables at a reasonable price.
Now it was time to head north along the Finke to Alice Springs Road and find a suitable campsite to watch the race. But that will be in the next section of our adventure.