Dry July - A Land Cruiser and a Range Rover go winter desert touring. Part 1

So, this was originally planned as a trip up through the Simpson Desert. However, with the Warburton Crossing still flooded out and closed, meant the route (utilising the much lesser used Rig Road /WAA Line) I had intended to take was out. The main east-west crossing of the Simpson, along the French Line is open (albeit with an 80km detour), this is the route that many tens of thousands of vehicles take every year. As regular readers will know, that sort of thing just ain’t my bag.

So we would just tour around outback South Australia. We, on this trip, being myself in the 105 series Land Cruiser and my good mate, The Accountant, in his L322 Range Rover.

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I had a whole heap of repairs and maintenance to do on my Cruiser after coming back from our big trip around Australia. So with the steering box rebuilt, wheel bearing service and automatic transmission service, as well as numerous small jobs completed. I packed a relatively small amount of gear, compared to what we took on the big trip (as not only did I more or less know the terrain, but having two vehicles makes a big difference), into Big Bertha and was ready to go.

In the meantime The Accountant was fitting a couple of new front air springs to the Rover, after one was flagged on the service as leaking.

A minor hiccup later, and we were finally off.

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Now the Rover had been off road once before, but this was going to be a longer trip, further from home. So it was now sporting a roof rack, complete with spare wheel, fuel, shovel and maxtraxs - very OVERLAND!

What’s going on here?

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This is an Indian tradition for a good and safe journey, The Accountant had brought spare lemons so I thought I may as well get in on it.

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Here’s a quick map for reference.

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A familiar and picturesque drive north, through pretty country towns and farmland. Clear blue skies and sunshine, that would accompany us for the next week, replacing the clouds and rain the last few days in our home town of Adelaide.

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300km of easy bitumen driving brought us to the tiny service town of Yunta. Here would be our last refuel at city-ish prices, and our turn off onto the dirt to head north, to Arkaroola.

I dig they have left the old sign up, still in miles.

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I had been to Arkaroola before, however coming up this road from Yunta was new to me. First stop was the ruins of this once impressive hotel at the Waukaringa Gold Mine site.

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It had several cellars.

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Having fun mate?

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We had a drive around the mine ruins in the hills behind the hotel. Then it was time to hit the road. We still had some distance to go, and daylight was running out.

Standard dirt road traffic.

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As the sun got low it illuminated the Range Rover’s dust trail beautifully. It didn’t photograph well from the drivers seat with my phone from a few hundred metres back (who’da thought?), but anyway, you get the idea.

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We hit the short road into Arkaroola as the sun set.

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Leading in (because bull bar), I fleetingly saw a Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby by the side of the road on the way in. I know these rare and shy creatures are around Arkaroola, but this is the first one I had seen here, and only the second one I had ever seen. So, cool.

From the landscape, the geological wonders, the nature. There are many things about visiting Arkaroola (not to mention just how forward thinking its founder Reg Sprigg was in terms of outback tourism) that appeal. Maybe less obvious is the very period 1970's feel of the ‘resort’, anyway I dig it. So we had a quick beer at the bar before going to set up the swags - yeah it wasn’t going to be that sort of Dry July.

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After setting up our swags, we wandered back down to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was full as opposed it being just me dining there the first time I came here. Someone told me that Arkaroola has been sold, but if so nothing has changed. Doug Sprigg is still there as he opened the door for us on the way into the restaurant. We got chatting with a Spanish girl who was working there with her husband, they are travelling to Australia and then to Canada, with a view to possibly emmigrating, as apparently there are no jobs in Spain.

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Back to the swags and get a fire going. We stayed up for a few drinks, catching up on each others lives. Before turning in. I had warned The Accountant it would be cold and to bring two sleeping bags, which he did, he just didn’t get them properly set up in his swag and woke up cold (it got down to minus 2 deg C). So he slept in the Rover with the heater on - rookie.


The morning brought those sensations you forget about until you are back in the outback in winter. Cold, still, dry, crisp desert air. Until the sun clears the rocky range, then you warm up very quickly.

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The campsite was busy enough, but everyone had their own space.

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Frost on the swag.

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I got the faithful Trangia out and made coffee and breakfast.

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Today we would tackle Arkaroola’s ‘advanced’ 4x4 route. Not because it would be a crazy 4x4 challenge, but probably the only chance to do any technical driving on this particular trip. Plus I had never done it before, and you can’t go too far wrong round here in terms on scenery.

So we headed out to Echo Camp Backtrack.

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Just as we got outside the main part of Arkaroola Village, I started spotting more of the Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies. They are very difficult to spot unless they move. However this fella was happy to hang around and have his photo taken.

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Well, I’ve seen more of these critters this morning than I’ve seen in the last ten years. Hopefully a good sign for the health of their population.

Before we get to the Echo Camp Backtrack, we take a slight detour to check out Arkaroola Waterhole.

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Me, looking delighted to be there like usual.

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No water in the water hole. It’s been twelve years since the streams flowed up here apparently.

We get to the start of the Echo Camp Backtrack, and were straight into it as the track heads up into the hills.

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So the Echo Camp Backtrack is just good fun 4wding. Nothing too difficult or dangerous, but challenging enough to keep in interesting. Here are some shots from the track that morning.

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Lunch stop was at another waterhole, Bararranna. Again no water in it. This used to be the bed of a shallow sea back in the day.

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Then it was back to the wheelin’.

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This below link is a short video of us carrying on like pork chops (seems like it might be quite slow to load - I don’t normally do video...)

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So yeah, all good fun. At the end of the track you can either start the long loop back to Arkaroola Village, or head a further 11km out and visit the Paralana Hot Springs. I wanted to visit the springs when we were here last year. However, then we were advised the springs were in poor condition and not worth the drive. Well we were only 11 clicks away now so I was going to check them out.

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We were now outside the ranges and skirting the edge of Wooltana Station.

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Paralana geothermal springsare located on Wooltana, north of Arkaroola. Local granite rocks contain elevated levels of uranium that gives off heat during radioactive decay. Water percolating through fractures in the rock is heated and bubbles out at the surface as a hot spring, with gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, radonand helium. Due to the presence of radon gas, which is heavier than air, staying near the springs for a prolonged period may constitute a health hazard. Living on the floor of the springs is an extremophilealgal matthat survives the warm temperatures of 62 °C and high radioactivity.[17]

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From Wiki

Some people there, having driven out from Arkaroola found the springs disappointing. I just liked the freakiness, and the contrast in what is already a somewhat surreal landscape.

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These hikers clearly not trusting their infamous Toyota handbrake.

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We got a tip there were some ruins worth checking out on a side track on the way back. So we trundled off to find them.

As usual the question pops into ones mind of who came out here and thought “this is a good spot, let’s settle here” ? Of course, very different times back then, and maybe this was the best of not a whole lot of options. Modern life is easy.

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Whatever this building had been it seemed to have dissolved over time.

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Then it was just a matter of looping back to Arkaroola Village. Back through the ranges.

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Then it was Portuguese marinated chicken cooked over the fire that night.

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Thanks for reading, more to follow.

Cheers.

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