August 6, 2014

Outback 2 coming soon

Three sleeps and we'll be off; no later than 6 on Saturday morning, I hope. I'm excited.

There are many interesting prospects ahead during our second road trip into Australia's Outback. We'll be going further north, Winton, and further west, beyond Birdsville on the edge of the Simpson Desert, than before; and dipping into South Australia and New South Wales. There'll be a bit of a Leichhardt* pilgrimage the first day when we'll be roughly following the explorer's 1844 expedition from Warra in the Darling Downs north to Taroom on the Dawson River. We'll be following in a different kind of footsteps – trackways dating from Australia's Age of Dinosaurs – at Lark Quarry south of Winton. We'll have a Min Min Light Experience at Boulia; climb jump-ups and mesas in Diamantina; stay in Birdsville's iconic Hotel, and maybe take a flight to view the Channel Country from the air. Then head down the remote Cordillo Downs track across the Strzelecki Desert to Innamincka (SA). Once back east in Queensland, an early-start birdwatch by Lake Numalla in Currawinya National Park is on the cards; before crossing the Dog Fence into New South Wales and heading through back o' Bourke to the town itself.

We are surrounded by piles of clothes and blankets; bags of weather and walking gear, and pest and sun protection remedies; boxes half filled with car spares and repair kits and food-prep paraphernalia, and there's a small fridge and a large jerry can; two spare tyres, a portable air compressor, MaxTrax and rope/straps; maps and books and other reference materials; walking sticks; cameras and binoculars and an iPad. But there's no camping gear: because we like beds too much, and we'd rather look around than spend time putting things up and taking them down.

A week from departure, however much you think most things are sorted, they rarely are. Last Saturday we went to Mount Cotton for a Land Rover promotion day. You could drive their lastest models under supervision on steep and deeply rutted tracks. It sounds a bit nerdy but it was actually quite useful, and the chap who took us out – and made me do some driving – explained the finer details of the off-road capabilities of our car, which made me slightly more confident about the Cordillo track and the Big Red sand dune. We had serious conversations about tyre pressures and hill descent control. (Sometimes I have to pinch myself.) Off I went yesterday to ARB for a grown-up air compressor. Replacement roo whistles arrived in the post and had to be fitted.
Now's the time for a preliminary check of Outback road conditions in Queensland and South Australia, where, I've just learned, we'll need a desert parks pass to travel through Innamincka Regional Reserve. While listening to Transport South Australia's Road Condition Hotline I heard warnings about 'bull dust holes'. Dust is a common hazard in the bush, especially if it infills deep holes along a heavily pounded track. It's a good idea to familiarise yourself with how to recognise the soft-sand folded areas in depressions along the road and the best methods of negotiating them without damage to your car. Passing other vehicles in bulldust clouds also requires care and patience. You can read all about these driving tips here**.

So the countdown is on. One thing I normally do quite a lot before a trip – checking the weather – I'm not doing much at all. By next Sunday night we'll be 1500 kilometres away from Brisbane and, according to the man who organises the flights over the Channel Country, there have only been a couple of days this year when he wouldn't have flown. Most days are fairly clear and sunny; chilly at night and warm by day. The memory of Tibooburra† doesn't allow me to be complacent, but neither does it prevent me from looking forward to more of this…
Ludwig Leichhardt is my favourite early explorer of Australia – see That man again, November 2011
† see Outback: Kilcowera to Tibooburra, June 2013


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