So after being Billy No Mates on my last trip, this one was a bit more popular. I ended up orchestrating 7 vehicles. Some people I knew, some I was meeting for the first time. Some seasoned off road drivers, some just their first or second go.
Disclaimer: Being a large group, etc. This report is a bit patchy and disjointed... As I’m sure many of you are aware, big groups don’t lend themselves to photography/documentation. That’s my excuse anyway. So there are a few photos that are not mine, thanks to the original photographers, you helped a brother out.
As usual I just picked a spot on the map and went from there. I seem to be THE weekend warrior this year, that’s cool, all part of a bigger plan. I was all set up to head back up to the Flinders Ranges then I started to look on the map at other areas you could access in a similar time (as in do-able in a weekend). So I found myself looking at the Ngarkat Conservation Park (pronounced Naar Kat apparently), similar distance but totally different area. new to me, different terrain. What is generally referred to as Mallee Scrub here in Australia.
Ngarkat lies slightly south and then due east of Adelaide, up against the Victorian border, due south of the small towns of Lameroo and Pinaroo.
Within it is the Border Track, this is one of the more well known tracks that crops up in discussion/forums/media form time to time. This track runs directly along the South Australian side of the SA/Vic border, one of the party members sent me these pictures from a friend who had done it before, hence all the recovery gear.
In the end we had nothing like that, with many areas closed for rehabilitation.
Most of us met up early, you have to maximize timings on these weekend trips, and cracked on down the highway.
I was riding with the Accountant in the P38 Rover, while the Captain and his brother Scotty were piloting my Land Cruiser. I didn’t drive for most of this trip, I drove the Rover a bit and my truck a bit, but it’s good to share it around and I’m sure those of us who are used to driving, navigating, photographing, etc, can understand sometimes it’s good to do one less thing.
We met the other half of the group further down the road and then carried on to Pinaroo, so people could fuel up before we disappeared into the dirt section, no fuel or facilities to be seen for the next 24 hours, suits me.
As with the last trip my 105 did the whole thing on the new Long Ranger sub-tank, so my main tank is now my sub-tank, I like this modification.
Being one of those name tracks, there was a collection of trucks at the sign in point for the park, plus the ones we had followed on the way up here.
This is our group airing down, sand flags on, and signing in/paying the small fee for entering the park and a night camping in there. The convoy was the Rover, two 105 series Land Cruisers, two Mitsubishi Challengers (Montero Sport in the US I think) and two Toyota Prado’s.
We headed out into the scrub.
I figured we could create a decent gap to the other parties, by going a slightly different way to the start of the Border Track. It didn’t turn out like that as then a group that was behind us ended just in front of us, anyway it is what it is, not the end of the world (I think I was probably the only one who was really bothered by this anyway).
So we hit the start of the Border track, it literally follows the straight line of the border, often with the border fence alongside. The terrain is sand, a few softer hills, but nothing serious.
Here are the trucks on this trip.
We pressed on down the trail.
Would you trust this man with your finances...?
Up and over many a dune we drove.
All good stuff to build an appetite. Time for a lunch stop, good stopping places are few and far between on this track. No wonder they close this track in summer, this would be a scary place in bushfire season.
Time to unleash the children!
The 105 serves up another tailgate lunch.
So I splurged for a good cargo retention net, 1000kg SWL, love it. Just need to tie down that High-Lift now, that was banging around over the big bumps/air.
That would be the border then.
Pit Stop completed we pushed on.
Soon we were headed up the Hensley Trig, a high point on the track, first there was a soft and bumpy climb leading up to it.
Then a climbing frame at the top, to get a better view of the surrounding scrub land.
It always boggles my mind how the indigenous people could navigate through this terrain. No landmarks to my eye, you could get lost 20ft from the track. I find it daunting just thinking about it...
Views were good from here, but time to press on to the campsite for the night. I jumped in the drivers side of the Range Rover.
I was keen we get there in good time, so everyone had plenty of time to set up.
First there would be some larger sand hills on the way. I gunned the Rover up and over first, then snapped some others as they rolled down the other side.
I think he likes that truck.
Lloyd and family, in the current series Prado.
Pauly and his clan in the Challenger.
By now I realised I was blocking the junction, so I hopped back in the green machine and drove on.
Further down the track a movement at the side of the track caught my eye, and distracted the Accountant from his beer. We pulled up and leapt out of the Rover. Echidna!
One of Australia’s many weird and wonderful inhabitants, related to the Anteater. It quickly hid it’s head and left us with nothing but spines. Anyway, still cool. Not often you get to see these. Not hiding look like this.
As the trucks rolled in behind us, good time for the obligatory group convoy photo. The weather was kind to us this day.
Arriving at the campsite in good time. We all got set up, I discovered I had an extra passenger when I unrolled my swag. Sorry buddy, this place might be a bit more challenging than my garden shed.
Time to prep some firewood.
Then time for a tree climbing competition.
I definitely did not hijack the tree climbing competition. Definitely not. Ever.
I remembered to pack the burgers this time, we cooked on the fire and ate and drank. Good times were had around the fire that night. Not many times have I regretted not bringing my down sleeping bag in Australia, but that night, it was cold.
We woke to a clear sky and a fire still smouldering. Being the middle of winter we had been lucky with the weather so far. Mostly clear skies yesterday and last night, cold, but clear.
Get that fire going again!
Get some bacon and egg rolls going.
We broke camp. I offered Scotty a steer in the 105. His first time driving off road, we set a steady pace, running through the 4x4 basics, low range, engine braking downhill, line selection, etc. Scotty naturally steering around the tyre stake tempting pieces of scrub like a pro, not everyone see’s them...
We paused for a short hike up Mt Shaugh, lots of things in Australia are called Mt, not many of them are anything like an MounTain. Still it was a good little detour, the stretch the legs and get some fresh air, the kids startling kangaroos, as they ran ahead.
Didn’t seem like a long walk, but the trucks look long way away now (rough sort of white gaggle in the distance).
Bushfire been through here, maybe one season ago.
You could see where the seed pods had opened up with the heat, all part of the process.
Pressing on we wound our way out of this side of the park, briefly back on the bitumen, keeping the speed low as it wasn’t worth airing up and down again. We then turned off into the western side of the park. We shuffled the order of the convoy and moved around the cars, I noticed the bonnet up on the Rover...
“what’s up?” “I’m getting warning messages saying the fuses are blowing” “which fuses?” “dunno, can’t find any blown but the window won’t go up and the heater doesn’t work...” “but it still runs ok?” “yep” “ok, we’ll just press on like this for a while, I’ll ride with you now”
Perfect timing on my part as the weather really started to close in, cold, wind and rain. This track, running along the southern border of the park, was riddled with puddles, so the water would come spraying in through the open window. The Accountant and I sat there gloves, hats, hoods on! We slipped and slithered through a few muddy sections, stopped to try to fix the Rangie a few more times, eventually we got to the end of this track, where we were due to turn off to head back up though the body of the western side of the park.
We cling-wrapped the open window of the Rangie up, to try to give some protection.
Those with families decided to exit here, as did the other Cruiser, the weather had been very cold and wet now, and the kids would be back to school tomorrow. Reluctantly also to leave here was The Accountant, I could see that the Rover’s issues were taking the fun out of it for him, and not knowing if they could get worse it was probably for the best.
That left my Cruiser and Daz’s Challenger (on his first 4x4 exploration adventure, going great guns on his brand new Mickey T tyres) with a passenger each. Without a group to manage I decided it was time for a drive, and hopped into the command post of the Battle Cruiser and gunned it back into the park.
This track turned out to be a bit of a pearler, fast, flowing, sandy, soft enough to keep in interesting but not so much to slow you down very often. Just taking it careful over the blind crests, I cracked on. The odd glance in the mirror to make sure Daz was keeping up ok. The Captain says “at this rate, we are going to beat them home” that wasn’t the plan, it was just time to blow a few cobwebs out. I’ve been pretty critical of ARB of late, but I have to admit the OME suspension on my truck is fantastic. It does a great job of controlling over 3 tonne of mass at high speed, and yet still gives a good ride loaded or unladen. I always thought the Range Rover air suspension was great, but driving the P38 reminded me at time it can feel a little ‘hollow’ and tends to thump into the bumpstops more often than you would like. Back to back with the 105, the difference was clear.
The terrain changed to hard red dirt as if someone had drawn a line on the earth, it was still pretty miserable outside so we had no reason to stop, a large sand ridge was rising up to our left and we would follow alongside that for a while now.
Maybe 10km later, the under-tyre terrain switched back to soft yellow sand just as abruptly as before. Then I could see a track leading up the sand ridge off to our left, but it looked steep, really steep.
We found the turn off and headed down for a look anyway, as expected it was blocked off. I wouldn’t have even attempted it anyway, sometimes the line between brave and stupid is hard to judge, not for this one... We had a quick joke about it, Daz “I knew you were just trying to shit me up” and as it was still cold and wet, jumped back in the trucks and pressed on.
Somewhat further up I saw another ridge track off to the side, this one looked do-able. Maybe...
We peeled off at the very soft and churned up junction and drove to the start of the climb. I hopped out and explained to Daz that I was going to have a go, but he was under no pressure to do the same and if he was not comfortable with it for whatever reason just turn around and head back out to the main track (we couldn’t see where this one went once/if you crested the ridge). I jumped back in the Cruiser and popped it in low range.
Gunning it up the dune, halfway up the Captain “this is easy, we’ll make this no worries” I kept my mouth shut, there were no fresh tracks so there was no way of knowing how soft it would get, and it got much steeper at the top. About 2 metres from the crest the 105 came to a gentle but definite stop. Not so relaxed now, the Captain’s head snapped round to look at me as if to say ‘WTF! What do we do now???’ It was quite steep at this point...
I said “It’s OK mate, we just go back the way we came. Very carefully.” and so I eased the 105 back down the dune, keen to stop the tendency for the truck to turn itself side-on to the slope. I could see clearly where the front axle had buried itself a good 6 inches into the sand at the top. When we got down El Capitan said “are you going to have another go?” “Not unless you wan to go up there and dig all the sand out of the middle of the road”.
Daz, as ever, maintaining his sense of humour drove past us saying “Alright, I’ll have a go now” and promptly did a u-turn. We headed back to the main stretch, we were getting close to the northern edge of the park now. We thought we could see a more direct route out heading west, so we took that, then the sun came out.
Literally like someone had flicked a switch, no wind, no rain, sunshine and blue skies. Mental, but awesome. We stopped, I finally got round to taking a few photos, as we splashed through the puddles.
Captain took over piloting the Land Cruiser and we headed west. It was mostly still solid under-tyre with the odd slick, slippery section. As we headed into one of these I sensed we were carrying a touch too much pace and my “slippery!” call came a fraction too late, as the 105 gracefully started understeering off the track, my next call “gas. Gas!” seemed to register with my motorsport obsessed mate, and a quick dose of throttle brought the 105 sharply back on line.
We got to the end of the track only to find a locked gate, as is often the case in Oz. Mapping is light on detail and that’s just how it goes sometimes. It didn’t matter, spirits were high. With the sun out and the driving fun we had been having on the west side, meant everyone was glad they were here. It happened that this track had led to a large campsite and a sign for ruins, 100m of the track. We walked out through the bush, marveling at the dramatic change in weather, if you looked up you would have thought it hadn’t rained for days.
The ruins were from 1883 and still partially complete (some are no more than a pile of rocks), once we got close we could see what was left of the structure we could see the entire thing was covered in etched in graffiti. Some dating back to the 1930's and 40's.
It got me thinking back to this discussion, and what
The Professor MtDrift had to say about how humans have always felt the need to leave their mark, maybe he was onto something... Anyway, in this instance the graffiti totally added to the spectacle, if it had been just one or two dodgy bits, not so much. With every available space etched on, it looked really mad, coupled with the fact it all had to be scratched into the surface, not the work of a moment. Did I mention the sun was out? Love Australia, even in winter.
We headed back out the way we had come, Daz had his phone filming for a bit.
The Captain forgets he is not in his Evo, and treats the Land Cruiser to a dab of oppo.
There were some really flooded sections on the way out, the Captain courteously steering the 105 round the worst of it. Some there was no avoiding though.
Daz? Well he just powered straight up through the middle, like a legend.
Safe to say he was making the most of his first proper 4x4 trip!
We finally reached the park boundary. Stopped to air up and head for home, another weekend adventure in the bag.