Exploring the north banks of the Murray River, South Australia.
(Heads up! This is unnecessarily long, picture heavy and rambling. If you are thinking of getting through this in your smoko, maybe park it till later. Or not)
So, with all my trips looking like weekenders this year. It has forced me to re-think my destinations a bit. Rather than picking somewhere in the outback that I wanted to see and then basing the trip around that, whether it be a day or two to get there. Now I don’t want anymore than about 3 hours transit time, otherwise the whole thing is just too rushed, and too much time spent flogging up and down the highway.
As I am finding out having these restrictions (as is often the case) is actually working out quite well. Area’s that before I would have written off as not being a 4x4 touring destination, or nothing there of interest to me, turns out, when you approach it like a ‘proper’ outback trip and get into the detail, there is more than meets the eye.
So, to ‘The Riverland’ an area that straddles three states, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. Named so due to sitting on the banks of Australia’s longest river, the mighty Murray.
By the time it gets to SA it is a sprawling, wide, muddy, slow moving expanse. Not dissimilar to pictures I have seen of the Mississippi River. It is a favourite destination for South Australia’s to visit, have a holiday ‘shack’, do a riverboat cruise, take the ski boat and go water skiing. All good times, was I doing any of that? What do you think...
With my last few trips being to more remote, lonely places. I fancied mixing it up a bit, maybe visit a few country towns we hadn’t been to before. So out came the map, and the forums were ‘lurked’ for interesting details. Soon I had a rough plan, but with only the two of us (and Alby and Rollo!) to please, it was a plan that I could change any, and all of it, as the trip unfurled. Surely this is one of the greatest freedoms of self sufficient vehicle travel? You can adapt your plans as you go, no hotel room booking to stick to, find somewhere you like? Stay there, don’t like it, just keep driving.
So, again I packed most of the gear into the truck the weekend before. You know when you stumble across a way of doing something that works so well, you can’t for the life of you, work out why you hadn’t thought of this before? This way I actually enjoy the process of packing the truck, no rush, finesse the details, less chance of forgetting the burgers. In a local thrift shop I found a new wicker picnic basket, for $9. Nine bucks! I think the lady in the shop was amazed that anyone would want such a thing, this was bigger, and our old one was getting a bit over stuffed. It gave me a chance to re-assess exactly what in there we were using.
Just as well I packed the truck before, the working week was a ball breaker leading up to this weekend. Arriving home Friday, a familar sight was hanging out of the letterbox.
Fresh off the plane from the UK, this will do nicely for some reading material this weekend. Things were looking up, I had a good feeling about this trip.
I’ve seen a lot of consternation and hand wringing about the current state of Jalopnik, losing lots of it’s best writers, fans are worried, etc. Well I’ve been reading this magazine since the start (and it’s forerunner, Performance Car), and it went through a mighty wobbly patch around the 10 year mark. Some of it’s best writers (Dickie and Jethro) left to form Drivers Republic with Chris Harris. Some of the other founding team were obviously ready to do something else, and like a lot of print media no-one was sure what to do about the unstoppable march of the internet and it’s free content. Eventually Harry Metcalf released the reins and in came Nick Trott as editor, for a while things got worse, focus on iPad editions, etc. I’ve never met Nick but I figure he’s a smart guy, he copped a lot of flack at the beginning, but I think he worked out, it was just best to do what they had always done well. So now I truly believe this is back to being the best print car magazine on the planet. The focus is not on the newest models, or catchy exclusives, but just long lavish articles on cool and unique subject matter, with superb writing, by people who can actually drive, and outstanding photography. What better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Evo was the first magazine to go down this route and by getting back to it’s roots, and then doing that better than it’s ever been done has led to them currently thriving in this new world. Jalopnik was a unique concept, so keep the faith and stay with it, so it can get back to being it’s best again.
So, time to hit the road. I wanted to make an early start, to give us as much of the day as possible, but I also just like starting early, as the sun is coming up. For me, it adds to the ‘sense’ of adventure.
A bit overcast, with the sun trying to break through. Weather report was a bit vague for this weekend, we would just have to take it as it comes. Fellow travelers, fellow early starters.
Out past the Barossa Valley, some light drizzle, then onto Truro. A short wait for the bakery (not bad, if you are ever that way) to open, then a re-fuel of sausage rolls and coffee.
The dogs were so excited to come on this trip that they followed me around the house, to make sure they don’t get left behind, and once their camping bed came out, Rollo (he’s the ‘large’ one) got in and wouldn’t come out.
Once past Truro the country opened up and the sun started to win it’s battle with the rain.
Over the bridge at Blanchetown, we caught our first glimpse of the Murray, shimmering with the morning sun.
We pressed on to Waikerie, where we would cross the river, to get to the north side.
On to the punt! I love a car ferry, dunno why, just something about floating the truck across the water.
We could see the holiday homes lining the banks of the river and the houseboats. Popping out on the north side it was immediately less populated than I was expecting. My orginal plan had been to criss-cross the river a few times, visiting the towns, now that was evolving to exploring the north banks, let’s see what we could find?
Heading out, I spied a turn off to lead down to the river itself. I figured we should pay these dues, first and foremost. Down an easy track, with the slight feeling of a surface that was not quite what it appeared (see how those tyres are filling up? This would becomes the theme for the weekend, as a driver). We plopped down to a little campsite, on the waters edge. So rare a sight for us normally, the presence of water, is a cool thing.
Also parked up here was this camper trailer, that it’s occupants had seemingly locked up, and headed out for sausage rolls.
We drove back out, surveyed the scene from the lookout, and then proceded to deposit the contents of our tyres, loudly, in clumps all over the bitumen. Different soil up there that what I am used to...
We hung a right on the Goyder Highway, marking the approximate northern limit of sustainable agricultural land. I was heading for a splurge of green on the map called Pooginook Conservation Park, information on this park was lite on, but I was keen to get a bit of dirt under the tyres.
Not far in we found some major excavations. Some serious tunneling going on here. The excavator? Wombat would be my guess.
We follwed this track which basically ran around the outside of the L-shaped park. Sand and scrub, nothing to write home about but we are making virgin tracks, which is always good.
As we did another right angled turn to head along the bottom of the L, heading due west the slight corrugations became more pronounced, causing the Land Cruiser to pogo in amusing, if not, irritating fashion.
“Reminds me of coming back from Claire’s wedding” said N. Recalling the time we attended a friends wedding in the Queensland country town of Goomeri, which is only a small place. With limited accomodation options, we just slept in the back of the Range Rover. Driving out the next morning, the Rangie’s air suspension had a bit of a whoopsie, and unceremoniously plonked itself down on the bumpstops, which we then drove the 250km back to Brisbane on, ’quite’ hungover. Good times...
Some of the crests were getting a little taller so it was time to clip the sand flag on, just in case.
There was the odd splash of colour in the scrub, I’ve always liked this white/blue/grey/green plant and it’s contrast with the red dirt.
We had seen some excavator tracks through the park and seeing them dive off into the bush, I followed. Seems it was just to service, or make access to service the power lines.
No campfires here then.
Good little diversion done, it was back on the tarmac. Next Overland Corner!
Well I always was going to have to come here once I saw it on the map, wasn’t I?
Originally a staging post for cattle drovers, making their way from New South Wales to Adelaide. Now home to a small graveyard, a derelict water tower, a historic inn that is still active and a biological reserve.
It seemed too good a spot, not to stop for a bit of lunch and a beer. Plenty of history inside the pub too, and just lots of cool odds and ends to look at.
It’s very similar in character to an English country pub (not suprising as Englishmen built it) I liked it, for sure.
The business (not the building) is for sale if anyone fancies it? You get a dollar change out of a hundred thousand bucks. Which didn’t seem to bad in the scheme of things, I bet this place pumps it in the summer.
After lunch we headed down for a look at the reserve, it’s a short drive to the river, or a bit of a stroll to the pub if you’ve just pulled up in your house boat. Unfortunately dead trees are a feature of the Riverland, increased salinity levels due to large amounts of agriculture taxing the rivers water reserves, plus Australia’s tendency to have multi year long dry spells, means many trees, some over 100 years old, are no more. Sad.
Only a short way in and it’s very slippery, big armfuls of oppo to keep the Cruiser on track. I pull up, take a couple of snaps, the track leads on over a low bridge, but not really wanting to spend any of the afternoon extracting the 105 from a boggy pit (not to mention churning the track up for no good reason), I decide that this reserve can wait for another time.
Knowing when to turn around and when to push on is key for good exploration in my opinion. Of course you can’t always get it right. We were never not going to get out, with numerous recovery options in the back, but was it really going to add anything that was worth getting covered in muck for? Nah.
Back to the bitumen once again, then turning south to look at Lake Bonney, some ruins sat on the north shore of the lake.
I could see a track that ran around the waters edge. I took a stroll down to see what it was like, as soon as I hit the flat part the souls of my shoes were covered in thick sandy clay like mass, that just seemed to clump together and not want to come off. No matter the colour of the soil here, once it was damp it all seemed to take on this clagging clay like properties. Not coming down here with 3 tonne of truck...
The lake sits to the north of the town of Barmera. We skirted this and headed north east, heading for another riverside town, Renmark. A quick stop here to pick up some fresh baked rolls for dinner, just in time as most things were shutting at 2pm on a Saturday, as is the way in country towns. I was keen to push on though, the area I was headed to to camp was vague on what was there, and I was keen to see what we could find and get set up in plenty of time.
Couldn’t rush past these almond blooms though.
Take a few photographs... Ow! What is that biting me? Seems the soldiers from the ants nest I must have been standing on were mounting their attack. Time to move on.
Heading onto the road to Wentworth, this was one of those dirt highways you tend to get in Australia, especially where regular heavy freight needs to pass.
Picking the sign for the campsite, we took the side track down away from the main road. We found a deserted area that ran along the side of one of the creeks (google maps later informing us this was Monoman Creek) there were campsites on either side of the main track in, one side the road was slightly boggy and the other it had a pronounced crown, meaning it was hard and dry. On the off chance we got rain overnight this seemed to be the prudent option.
You can see how this ground is just ready to soak up any water.
As you can imagine, N and I are pretty slick operators at setting up this camp. Having done it umpteen times over the years. Within about 15 minutes we had our home away from home.
I pegged out the OzTent with a few extra guy ropes, the weather was ok but there was a bit of breeze and it felt like it could do anything. In the end it was no worries, calm and cold but clear.
I’ve talked up the OzTent on here before, and the main thing they market it on is ease of set up and pack down. Yes, that’s great and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However when you live with one in different conditions it’s the quality of accomodation and adaptability that really endear it to you. Multiple flaps and covers, not to mention the optional enclosing panels, means in pretty much all conditions you have spacious and comfortable accomodation. So if you are someone (like me!) who likes a bit of lounging around to balance all that adventuring when you go bush, it’s hard to beat.
So let the lounging commence, where was that Evo magazine...?
couldn’t didn’t sit still for long. Taking a wander around our new locale, photographing some of the cool succulent plants that live down here.
We hadn’t seen another vehicles since leaving the bitumen that afternoon, but three drove past our camp that afternoon, all with a toot of the horn or a wave to like-minded fellows. A Ford Ranger, Nissan Patrol and a couple of generations old F-truck with a slide on camper on the back, now there’s a thought. Still something appealing about a big, simple American pick up.
Time for a glass of Rose as its spring, and think about dinner.
Pork belly rolls tonight. I brined and then roasted the pork beforehand. The belly is one of those cuts you can cook and then re-heat and it’s just as good.
Just done in time to watch the sun set.
We sat round the campsite for a bit, but I tend to stick with the sun when it comes to resting and rising when away (N would probably argue I do that anyway...).
Chilly night ahead, but I remembered to bring the down sleeping bag this time.
We awoke in time to watch the sun crawl up over the creek.
Ok, it’s fresh. Coffee, then breakfast for us and the dogs. Keep warm!
Quick check over the truck.
Strike camp. Lets go.
Today we were trying to follow the Old Coach Road for a while.
An old trade route, however I would say due to the wet winter the water was up generally. The main track was dry and good, you wouldn’t want to test how far the truck would slip into those puddles at the edge of the track.
The wildlife is out in force at this time of day. Kangaroos on the hop.
If you can see Australian wildlife/farm animals, just assume it will try to run in front of you, because it probably will.
As usual there were a few junctions. As usual the mapping was shit. I didn’t want to end up back at the main road (north/left), so I just kept taking right/south at the junctions, including this one marked with a beer can.
This headed us back towards the creek. All good, then I could see a section ahead that had more slop over the main track. Braking so I could get out and inspect it, I got the gentle pulsing of the ABS and an elongated stopping distance, indicating there was not much grip already.
Yes, I know it looks look like 4/5ths of fuck all. Except the tyres were already slicks.
Ok, so until now I had been running at road pressures. The regular popping back on the bitumen of the previous day meant if I could get away with it I would. However, 35psi was not going to cut it through here.
Straight down to 18, we were through no problems. Past the fishing shack. Initially i thought it was a dead end, then I realised I had been so focussed on gunning it through the sloppy section I had missed the junction. Back on the track, it would run back along the creek further. Super slippery, a few sections to slide and bump through.
So here the truck readily wants to understeer off the track, the tyres clogged with mud. You can either just ride it out and see where you end up, or, if you get quickly back on the throttle, maybe 1/3-1/2, it takes a second but the truck will transistion into oversteer, you have to be quick with your hands, but get the oppo on and you’ll drive out pretty much where you wanted to go.
We followed this back along the creek, then to a junction, then to, yep you guessed it, back to the beer can.
So we took the other fork, then ended up at another junction. The decision had been made for us here.
I’m not rude, but I was very curious to see who lives out here. Anyway, all I know is they like flying.
Another junction, another
winging it guess at which way. To be honest between the GPS iPad and the Long Ranger tank, my confidence for this type of exploring is higher than ever, not much chance of getting 100km in the wrong direction, and enough fuel even if we did.
Another body of water, a wedge of black swans and a couple of pelicans to see this time. They were not happy, at all as soon as I got out of the truck, and took to the air in no short time.
Hard not to fall for a vehicle that brings you places such as these.
Time to press on, across a bridge that spanned this crossing.
N looking chic as always, in sunnies and beanie!
Don’t venture off track.
Another junction, a few hundered metres down, this is as far as this track goes at the moment.
This one too. Normally this level of water wouldn’t worry me, but this surface was something else when you added water.
Then, like a switch, the terrain changed.
On one of the three maps I was working off, there were some ruins out here, and I had half a plan about trying to get to them. So another junction, another check of the GPS, which led us to...
On occasion I have driven around these signs. When you can see that the obstacle is cleared/dried out. This time I had no doubt that this was impassable, at some point. A bit of a drive around, but it was back the way we came in the end.
I saw a side track head off, going in the right direction, I took it. In no time at all the truck was copping a hiding, bashed by the bush and scratches. I’m not overly precious about it, but again, for what?
Time to do a 12 point turn and bail.
I knew we were getting close to the state border with New South Wales, we got to a junction and I took what ‘felt’ like the right way, a couple of km down I could see on the GPS it wasn’t what we wanted, and wasn’t even marked despite being a well defined track, we U-turned and headed back and found the border proper.
The Hema map showed the track running up the NSW side of the border. Although I could clearly see it ran up the SA side, I drove a way into NSW just to be sure, nope, nothing. The map is wrong, not the first time I have come across this. I will send a correction to Hema. This is looking north, SA to the left, NSW to the right, the fence the border.
An easy and good drive out, apart from the large male kangaroo that jumped out of the shadows maybe 3 feet in front of the truck, they blend in so well with the scenery.
We hit the main Wentworth road again. Time to air up.
Take a dodgy selfie.
Have a look how the people of New South Wales express their sheer unbridled joy of reaching the glorious free state of South Australia. By shooting the sign, quite a lot.
Heading back to Renmark, past this interesting sculptured information point.
As with many of these Riverland towns Renmark is picturesque. I especially liked the Art-Deco pub. Defender 130, Land Cruiser 105, Patrol y61 and Troopie for your sweet SFA pleasure.
Also like many country towns Renmark sports an excellent bakery, so it was time for so more tasty pastry treats. There were other treats to see too.
We then hit the road. It was a fair drive back to Adelaide so it was time to do some k’s. I was going back a different way, crossing at Morgan this time.
The soon to be endangered - Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo.
We took the road that wiggled alongside the Murray, a few last views on the way out. You can see how easily the sand stone is eroded.
Then, just at the side of the road. Just the best display of cactus and wild flowers. Spring is such a great time for touring Oz.
Everyone else just zoomed on by. Some people get it. Some don’t.
Thanks for reading along.