Part 10 - The Strzelecki Track
We're on the home stretch down the Strzelecki Track and into the Gammon Ranges
It has the makings of another perfect day as the sun rises over the Cooper Creek and the birds come to life.
Todays goal is to drive south along the Strzelecki Track and camp in the Gammon Ranges for our last night of the trip.
It’s roughly a 430km drive but should be pretty easy going, so we’re in no screaming hurry to hit the road.
We enjoy a leisurely breakfast before packing up camp and driving into Innamincka to top up the fuel tanks.
Sunrise over the Cooper Creek at Innamincka
It looks like everyone else has the same idea and we end up waiting about 15 minutes in the queue before it’s our turn at the bowser.
Diesel is $1.70 per litre, about $0.40 more than the current city price so not too painful on the pocket.
I put enough in to get us as far as Leigh Creek about 550km away with some in reserve.
Before we say goodbye to Innamincka completely there is one more stop on the way out of town at the rubbish dump to offload a couple of bags of rubbish from the last couple of days.
A murder of crows line the chicken wire fence around the rubbish pit waiting eagerly to see what we leave them, meanwhile a fairly healthy looking dingo sits casually on the dirt about 20 metres away also waiting to see what we leave him for breakfast.
It’s obvious that the original intent of the chicken wire fence surrounding the pit was to keep the dingos out but it's now littered with holes and breakages all around the base allowing easy entry.
Fuelling up at Innamincka
A dingo waits to check our rubbish for scraps after we've gone
As we head south onto the Strzelecki Track it’s soon apparent that this is no longer the tough adventurous track it once was.
The track is well used these days by the local gas and oil mining industry and as such it's maintained to a high standard that can easily support larger trucks and vehicles.
Cruising along at 80 to 90 kmph, the signs of the oil and gas industry are everywhere with numerous smaller tracks branching off to one oil/gas well or another.
The oil and gas is all coming from the Cooper Basin a bit over a kilometre below us. The basin extends across north east South Australia & south west Queensland and has been mined since the first well was drilled near here in 1959.
This was just a few years before geologist Reg Sprigg & his family drove the first vehicle across the Simpson Desert.
Reg was in the oil game and went on to help establish Santos which is now a massive Australian energy company that controls the oil and gas mining in this area.
About an hour and a half after leaving Innamincka we arrive at the Moomba processing plant which is the heart of the Cooper Basin oil and gas mining operation.
There’s a car park just off the track and a public viewing area where you can stretch your legs and see the processing plant in action around a kilometre away.
The plant produces around 20 million cubic metres of gas and 1600 cubic metres of oil per day which is piped to Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney.
Moomba also has Telstra mobile phone range which is the first connection we’ve had since Birdsville so we give Jen a call and spend about half an hour catching up with what’s going on in the outside world.
The Strzelecki 'Track' . . . is better than many sealed roads!
Drilling the Cooper Basin in 1959
The blue area is the Cooper Basin
Moomba processing plant as seen from the visitors information bay
Leaving Moomba behind we continue south through the Strzelecki Desert with its north south running dunes and occasional salt pans.
The Strzelecki Desert was named after the Polish Explorer & Scientist, Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki by Charles Sturt.
Strzelecki arrived in Sydney in 1839 after exploring North America & the Pacific and, amongst many of his achievements, he climbed Australia’s highest mountain and named it in honour of the Polish democratic leader of the day, Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
We pass the turnoff to Merty Merty 50km from Moomba then continue on a little further before we pull over for a quick snack and drink stop.
We also grab the short drop off the roof and the girls take it in turns to disappear behind the bushes nearby.
Lunch stop on the Strzelecki Track
Continuing down the track the Gammon Ranges start to come into view on the horizon, the first ranges we’ve seen since we left the Flinders Ranges nearly 2 weeks ago.
The Strzelecki Track continues all the way to Lyndhurst which we passed through on our way to Marree the day we left the Flinders, but today we’re taking a shortcut into the Gammon Ranges.
At the 278km mark from Innamincka is a turnoff to the left on the the Mt Hopeless Road that will take us through station tracks and into the eastern side of the Gammon Ranges where we’ll camp tonight.
The turnoff is clearly visible on the Hema map and Explorer App on my iPhone but despite that I still nearly overshoot and have to step hard on the brakes to make the corner.
We brought the leftover firewood that we had in Innamincka with us on the roof but I want to make sure we have plenty for tonight being our last night, so we pull into a creek bed along the track and all jump out and scour the area for nice dry dead wood, which there is plenty of.
It’s not long before the roof is loaded up with more than enough wood and we drive the last 60km or so into the National Park, arriving just as the sun is starting to touch the horizon.
It’s only a short drive into the Weetootla Campground and after stopping on the way in to pay the camping fees at the self registration station, we find a nice flat camp site.
There is a few other groups spread around the camp ground but it’s by no means busy and good spots to camp are plentiful.
Theres also a long drop toilet which is in great condition.
Gammon Ranges appearing on the horizon
The Mt Hopeless Road turnoff to the Gammon Ranges
On the Mt Hopeless Road
Weetootla Camp Ground in the Gammon Ranges NP
BYO firewood - always a good idea!
Unloading our stash of firewood and our swags we get busy setting up camp and Sara is tasked with the mission of whipping up an amazing dinner with what food supplies we have left.
There isn’t a lot to choose from but with some onions and capsicum, canned beans, corn and tomatoes, rice and flat bread wraps left Sara decides that some sort of Mexican burrito is on the menu.
She gets busy cooking it all up in the frying pan and manages to find some sachets of beef stock and miso paste, sweet chilli sauce and other things to add some spice to the dish.
A squeeze of Sriracha hot chilli sauce helps as well.
In our family we’ve long used the word ‘Palaver’ to describe any dish that we whip up that consists mainly of beans, capsicum, onions, tomatoes and usually goes well with toast for breakfast.
So when Sara is dishing out her burrito concoction I ask on a bed of rice and wrapped in a flat bread wrap I ask her if we’re calling these 'Palaver Burritos’ . . . . Savanna jumps in with ‘Palaveritos’ and a new dish is born.
Far from being an average dish made from leftovers, it turns out to be a delicious dinner which we enjoy beside the campfire and vow to add to our dinner menu when we get home.
Palaveritos . . . delish!
As we climb into our swags for the last time on this trip its a clear sky and cold night and we’re soon all fast asleep.
However during the night I’m surprised when I wake up to the sound of rain drops hitting my swag. Unlike the girls’ swag which are completely rain proof, mine isn’t and I only have the mesh of my tent over the top to keep the bugs out.
A quick flurry of activity and I have the tent fly over the top as well and I’m soon back in the swag and asleep again.
Next morning I wake up to a clear blue sky and no signs of wet ground and if not for the fact that the fly is still over the top of my tent I’d be wondering whether I dreamed about the rain last night!
Today we’re heading to Leigh Creek to refuel then south all the way to Adelaide where we’ll spend the night at my Mum’s place before driving back to Melbourne tomorrow.
While we’re slowly packing up and having our breakfast an adult emu wanders past our camp with it’s young chicks tagging along behind.
They don’t seem at all perturbed by us and I grab the video camera and we follow them to get some shots.
It’s a nice distraction but we need to get going so reluctantly we finish packing up and hit the road.
Emu and chicks in Gammon Ranges National Park
It’s an easy 100km drive into Leigh Creek and we take in the spectacular views as the road winds it’s way through the Gammon Ranges.
We also dodge a couple of herds of wild goats along the way.
After topping up our fuel tanks with enough to get us to Adelaide, I’ve moved the car over to the air filling station at the servo and I’m adding some air to the tyres when someone walks around the side of the car and says ‘STEVE!’ . . .
I quickly realise it’s Mitch McCabe from ‘The McCabe Mob’.
We’ve been Facebook friends for a couple of years now but never actually met face to face, and here we are!
I knew they were on the road, having left their home in Lightning Ridge a few weeks earlier for a 6 month lap around the west coast and along the bottom but thought we would miss each other by a week or two on this trip.
After a solid half hour catch up and comparing notes about our trips and places to go and see, we take a few obligatory selfies then say goodbye to Mitch, Mel and their kids.
The McCabe's are heading north up the Oodnadatta Track into Alice Springs then on to the Kimberley and down the west coast - I’m more than a little bit envious I have to say!
Wild goats in the Flinders Ranges
Meeting Mitch & Mel McCabe in Leigh Creek
We’re completely out of food so we head over to the local supermarket and grab a loaf of bread, tub of peanut butter and a few other bits and pieces and have a tailgate lunch.
Leigh Creek was once a thriving town built for the local coal mining operation, but with the coal mine now closed the town is very quiet and it’s hard to see how it will survive long term. If there’s a plan to keep the town going I’d love to hear about it.
We’re the only customers at the supermarket and besides the McCabe’s, we only saw a couple of others at the servo in the time we were there.
With lunch out of the way we spend the rest of the day driving back to Woodside in the Adelaide Hills and finally arrive in the dark (as usual!) around 8:30pm.
The girls are thrilled to see Nana and vice versa and there is plenty of banter as they bring her up to speed with our latest adventure.
Next morning I repack our gear, squeezing our OzTent that we decided to leave behind onto the roof rack, and we hit the road one more time for the drive back to Melbourne. This will be our third big driving day in a row now and I’m ready for a break.
As we drive into our garage in Melbourne, Jen is there to meet us and Buddy the Dalmatian is going crazy - no doubt he was wondering if he’d seen the last of us.
Watch the film of our SA Outback Adventure
It’s been a fantastic adventure and we’ve travelled 5,500km in 20 days and ticked one of our big bucket list goals off the list.
Crossing the Simpson Desert is a challenge for sure, but it’s achievable by anyone with a capable 4WD and some planning.
My hope is that by reading this trip log I’ve given you some ideas and some inspiration to help you plan your own Outback South Australian adventure and to even tackle the Simpson Desert crossing as well.
If you want to see more then watch our 3 episode film series that we have made from this trip 'South Australian Outback Adventure'.
Thanks for joining us.
Steve, Jen, Savanna, Sara & Sienna